Things you could do in ‘80s Birmingham you can’t do now

Remember dancing at Faces and Edwards No 7, shopping at Lewis’s and going to gigs at the Odeon, the Triangle and the Imperial - and watching TV triumph Tiswas?
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In 1980, something big happened in Birmingham. A new band called Duran Duran gained two members, Simon Le Bon and Andy Taylor, and signed their first record deal.

The rest of the decade belonged to them as they stormed the charts, both in the UK and America, and even recorded a Bond film theme. Brummies could still see them play at their home at the Rum Runner club on Broad Street before its 1987 demolition, as well as a massive gig at Villa Park in 1983.

As for how else we entertained ourselves in the decade of the leg warmer and Rubik’s Cube, here are some things you could do in Birmingham in the ‘80s that you can’t do now.

Faces nightclub at Five WaysFaces nightclub at Five Ways
Faces nightclub at Five Ways

We boogied at Faces and Powerhouse

The New Romantics put on their best frilly shirts to go to Faces at Five Ways, now the Park Regis hotel, Millionaire’s or Pagoda Park. Other nightclubs where you might have boogied to Wham! and Whitney Houston include Edwards No 7 (and 8, before it became a rock venue), Peppermint Place and the Powerhouse on Hurst Street.

The Dome opened in 1985 after a major refurbishment, rebranded from The Night Out. It was named after the domed metal structure and lighting rig over the dancefloor. It was certainly the glam place to be and is now the O2 Academy gig venue.

Burberries on Broad Street became Tramps, now demolished with plans for a 42-storey tower of luxury apartments. The Click Club there was the home of alternative disco with gigs by the likes of The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself and Half Man Half Biscuit.

Tramps on Broad Street in ‘80s BirminghamTramps on Broad Street in ‘80s Birmingham
Tramps on Broad Street in ‘80s Birmingham

Where we ate and drank

Wine bars were as big as our shoulder pads in the ‘80s. We sipped our drinks and watched the laser show at Hawkins at the top of Corporation Street or Henry’s on Hill Street, which promised “a touch of class” with its cocktails and cane furniture.

Or perhaps you had your pre-club tipple at Kaleidoscope on John Bright Street, Le Pub on Cannon Street (formerly The Parisian) or Tressines on Newhall Street, more recently Glynn Purnell’s Ginger’s Bar.

Food wasn’t particularly sophisticated in the ‘80s. We thought we were cosmopolitan eating burgers at the LA Lounge in the American Food Factory, or pasta in its San Francisco Diner.

Food came with a live DJ at this New Street restaurant, down the road from Pizzaland. Being taken to the Wimpy on Smallbrook Queensway was a treat, while Rock Candy Mountain was also popular in Harborne.

Lorenzo’s in Digbeth was the haunt of some of the biggest stars of the decade, from Nigel Mansell and Ron Atkinson to Barry Manilow and Cliff Richard.

American Food Factory advert from 1987American Food Factory advert from 1987
American Food Factory advert from 1987

The ‘80s shops we miss

If there’s one Birmingham shop that’s most fondly remembered, it’s Lewis’s. This department store was huge, built in two halves divided by The Minories, and it had it all – even a Pet’s Corner and a roof garden. It had a hairdresser’s and sold groceries and fresh fish, and fabrics to make your own clothes.

The Christmas grotto was legendary. Sadly, it closed in 1991 and is now offices and the County Court. Hamley’s toy shop opened on Bull Street in 1985 in the old Grey’s department store (it’s now demolished) and there was also Barnbys for toys, opposite Snow Hill Station.


Let’s not forget all the little shops you’d find in the subways, when the city was a warren of underground passageways. Old Square, beneath the roundabout where Priory Queensway met Corporation Street, was packed with independent retailers. We miss them, though Brum is certainly more pedestrian-friendly these days.

But you could forget shopping on a Sunday. All the shops were closed then, because Sunday trading didn’t become legal until 1994.

Lewis’s in ‘80s BirminghamLewis’s in ‘80s Birmingham
Lewis’s in ‘80s Birmingham

Where we watched ET and Indiana Jones

Birmingham has lots of cinema screens now, but very few of them – apart from the Mac and Quinton’s Reel Cinema – were around in the ‘80s. Instead we queued in the subway beneath Pagoda Island to see Crocodile Dundee and Back to the Future at the Odeon Queensway, which closed in 1988.

We also saw films at the Gaumont on Colmore Circus (now The Wesleyan) and the Futurist on John Bright Street, which became Spearmint Rhino and is now a restaurant. When the ABC at the major Bristol Road traffic lights closed in 1988 it became a McDonald’s drive thru.

Odeon New Street in ‘80s BirminghamOdeon New Street in ‘80s Birmingham
Odeon New Street in ‘80s Birmingham

The great gig venues

The seventh hall of the NEC complex, a huge indoor arena originally called the Birmingham International Arena and currently Resorts World Arena, opened in December 1980 with a concert by Queen.

But where could we see bands in the now forgotten venues? Before it was turned back into a cinema in 1988, the Odeon on New Street played host to gigs by Black Sabbath, Elton John, Blondie, Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper.

U2 played the Locarno in 1981 before they were famous. Courtney Pine and The Nightingales were among the acts at the now-demolished Triangle arts centre at Aston University. Before it burned down in 1984 and later became the site of the ICC, Bingley Hall on Broad Street had gigs by the likes of The Jam and The Clash.

Do you remember the Imperial Cinema? The Balsall Heath venue, now pulled down, played host to early ‘80s bands like Orange Juice, New Order, Psychedelic Furs and The Fall.

The Midlands Hotel in ‘80s BirminghamThe Midlands Hotel in ‘80s Birmingham
The Midlands Hotel in ‘80s Birmingham

The hotels we visited

The Midland Hotel (named after the railway company that built it in the 19th century) on New Street hosted Hollywood legends and was where Enoch Powell gave his infamous Rivers of Blood speech. Popping in for a drink in the bar was popular in the ‘80s. It’s now the Burlington.

What were the grand offices for Tube Investments became The Swallow Hotel at Five Ways at the end of the 1980s. At the time it was considered the city’s only prestige hotel and where Bill Clinton came in 1998. It’s now a Marriott.

The glass-fronted Copthorne Hotel was considered very fashionable when it was built at Paradise Circus in 1987, but has now disappeared beneath the recent redevelopment.

We also remember dining out at The Grand Hotel in the 80s and are delighted you can now do that again.

Silver Blades Ice Rink in ‘80s BirminghamSilver Blades Ice Rink in ‘80s Birmingham
Silver Blades Ice Rink in ‘80s Birmingham

Where we hung out

Teenagers flocked on a Saturday afternoon to queue up the long ramp to the Silver Blades ice rink, next to the Wholesale Market. Now, apart from the pop-up Christmas rinks, you have to go Solihull to ice skate.

Jeff Banks, Selina Scott and Caryn Franklin told us what to wear on The Clothes Show, the Pebble Mill-made TV series that launched an annual huge shopping and catwalk experience at the NEC in Clothes Show Live.

You might also have watched Formula 3000 cars race down Bristol Street when the Birmingham Superprix took place from 1986. Or, if you were really lucky, you were locked in a cage and had buckets of water thrown over you. It would be child abuse now, but back then it meant brief fame because you’d managed to get on Tiswas. The anarchic Saturday morning TV show, with Chris Tarrant, Lenny Henry and Spit the Dog, was filmed in the ATV Studios on Broad Street.

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