Saltley Festival

Julian was a key community arts worker in Saltley in the late 1970s and early 1980s who worked at Saltley Print and Media Workshop, Saltley Gate, and up until 1984 was involved in organising the Saltley Festival. He was also involved with Saltley Community Association and several other local organisations. Having left Birmingham for Blackburn in the mid-1980s, he worked at the Action Factory in community arts and community development in Blackburn and the wider North West region of England.

Here he talks about his memories of the Saltley Festival

Barry Coleman and myself (first workers at SPAM -Saltley Print and Media) brought some experience of Carnival/Festival activity, having previously worked in Small Heath, contributing to Small Heath Carnival. Festivals provided an ideal vehicle for bringing people together in a shared experience to celebrate our differences and our commonality. We  therefore instigated and moved towards a Festival as an ideal way of bringing the community together. Because like many other people working in community development, we were aware that ignorance breeds contempt. And if you can break that ignorance down, bring people together that share the commonality of experience, you are going to have a more united, cohesive community. And the Saltley Festival was an integral part of that.

So, what started as a Saltley neighbourhood event grew in content and profile over the years to attract participants and audiences from further afield.

Children, outside Norton Hall, getting ready to join the float procession.

In the early years the Festival was supported by local groups and campaign/awareness initiatives such as Rock Against Racism, The Law Centre, Norton Hall Community Centre, The Naseby Centre and, through the Children's Painting Exhibition, all the schools in the area of Saltley and Alum Rock. The Adlibs Comical Capers came about as a direct result of the Festival and contributed to all the Festivals as did the wonderful staff at Adderley Play Centre. Local musicians and poets were quick to take up the opportunity to contribute and thanks to the graphic skill and printing know how of John Mills at the Law Centre, everything was squeezed into the free Festival programme.

Norton Hall's Float 1978.

The Festival started with a big statement on the Saturday of festival week with a procession of upto twenty themed floats, many people in costume and plenty of music representing the range of community/campaign groups active in the area. The procession moved slowly and noisily down the Alum Rock Road arriving at Adderley Park for a full on day of live music (thanks to Armond and the Saltley Music Workshop crew), children's creative play activities provided by Norton Hall, SPAM and Adderley Park Play Centre, who also provided refreshments and toilet facilities for the hundreds of people attending. There were stalls and displays by campaign groups engaging with people throughout the day, a large scale Festival Mural was created and three or four performances by the Adlibs Comical Capers always drew large audiences. Grants from a variety of sources (notably The Barrow and Geraldine Cadbury Trust) enabled us to bring in theatre and performing arts groups from further afield and make the entire Festival week a FREE EVENT! 

Musical bands preforming at the Saltley Festival, 1984

On the Big Day we would have a Pantechnicon lorry on site at 7.30 in the morning, decked out as a stage, with a PA system, a big one, for bands to come and play. And we attracted bands from all over Birmingham, young musicians working through, to more established bands. And of course the Steve Gibbons Band which would always finish it. Steve would turn up with an array, a glitterati in terms of musicians, and they’d do the last set, probably to about 400 people by then, because it was always about 12 o’clock.

Young musicians, Saltley Festival 1978

There were other musicians there too, young musicians coming through, so we promoted a lot of music. We had giant mural paintings. We put up a big screen of maybe 30 or 40 feet long and 20 feet high, with scaffold on it, and children would paint a picture on it, a collective picture. We’d got organisations showing what they did, exhibiting, and giving leaflets to people and information to people about community initiatives, and about issues that were important to people in the area. We brought in drama groups from other parts of Birmingham and further afield who had an empathy with what we were trying to do.   

All friends together, Saltley Festival 1983

There would be thousands of people. Year One was very much a Saltley focus, but the word got around, because at the time there was nothing happening in Birmingham anywhere else but it built up a profile very quickly. I remember the second year, or third year you got bands from all over Birmingham ringing up, saying, “Can we play Saltley Festival?” This was the place to get some real experience of live and direct to the people, music-wise. And the year before they left to become the megastars and great musicians that they are, Earl Falconer and Ali Campbell, of UB40,  both helped me to organise the Saltley Festival as a whole.

Fun and frolics at the Saltley Festival, 1978

There was the “It’s a Cop Out” day. Which was again open to community groups and others to form teams, to take part in crazy games around particular political issues.There was a wonderful slogan  “If the Tories get up your nose, picket”. So we would have the picketing game. We would have the “how to liberate your necessary resources from the local supermarket”. Really they were anarchistic if you like, very socialist in perspective, games that were great fun but again conveyed a message about the us, the have-nots, and the haves.

And that was a fundamental line there, that people in Saltley were working class people from all parts of the world, and it was a poor area, and it had had a bad deal from central government, as is often the case, and is still the case and is very much the evidence case of this government, because they’re not making the bankers pay for the mess they’ve created, they’re making the poor people pay.


So, there we have Saltley Festival, running with those two big events, but in the week we’d have the..."oh, how do we promote it?" One of the things we did was we had a Crazy Pub Crawl, in fancy dress, which was a bit bizarre really, but hey, it got in the pubs, it got people taking a programme, we printed a programme, we gave people programmes. It got people coming to things like the Roots and Poetry Night at the Havelock Pub. The Havelock Pub was not a focal point in the community, it was a pub struggling to survive, but hey, on one night during the Saltley Festival Week it was full and that brought poets from different parts of Birmingham, because again it was a platform for poetry and there weren’t many of those around at that period.


All in all it was a very buzzy day. It was an afternoon and a late evening into the very late, of live music, lots of food, all sorts of food of course! Often supplied by local shops, you know, the kebab shop, the Indian restaurant, the Greek restaurant, oh, they all came down, it was a real Aladdin’s Cave of stuff, for cultural activity, for young people, and for old.   

All dressed and ready to go, Saltley Festival 1978
Children at the Saltley Festival, Adderley Park, 1984