As I’m sure those who were there would recall, back in the mid-late 1980’s Birmingham had a burgeoning live music scene with many long-demised venues serving all manner of musical tastes with the plethora of live bands on the circuit at that time. Whilst the Railway in Curzon Street, the Barrel Organ in Digbeth and Edward’s Number 8 in John Bright Street are frequently cited and recalled as prime examples of the local gig ‘industry’ back in the day, one venue appears to have slipped from the radar; Mega’s Wine Bar on Old Square.
Whilst the name conjures-up images of trendy lounge lizards and laid-back jazz piano, Mega’s Wine Bar actually served-up a stream of local – and some not-so-local – indie, rock and alternative bands and was certainly a thriving gig venue on the circuit and was located above Mega-Active which, if memory serves me correctly, was a kind of indoor ’boutique’ market – that was located in the centre of the building seen above at the Junction with Corporation Street (to the right) and Old Square.
You entered Mega’s Wine Bar via a flight of stairs with the venue itself being a long narrow room. From the front of the room (imagine standing in it with your back to the windows fronting onto Old Square) there was a square-shaped seating area with tables occupying the front third of the venue and then the bar began on the left-hand side running parallel to a slightly raised seating area surrounded by a medium height wall/railing. As you walked along with the bar on your left the raised seating area ended just before a corridor at the end of the room to the toilets and in that little corner between the raised seating area and the walkway to the toilets was ‘the stage’. Not that it had a stage as such, just a corner clear of furniture!
The word ‘intimate’ is often overused when recounting gig venues of yesteryear but in the case of Mega’s Wine Bar it’s never been more apt! The place was small, very small, and an old friend (once of local bands Voice of Dissent and The Reason Is) contacted me recently who had played there, and who had seen some of my gigs there, and reminded me that at the end of the raised seating area – ie: immediately in front of the band onto the ‘stage’ – was a gap in the walling through which audience members would walk to get to the toilets. Thus, numerous times throughout a gig the guitarist or frontman would have to stand aside (nearly always mid-tune) as someone squeezed past to get to the loo – or for their return journey: such was the unique nature of this arrangement that ironic applause for an inbound/outbound toilet seeker would often break out during their return and/or departure!
Unfortunately information is nigh-on impossible to come by as to when Mega’s Wine Bar was operational. I played there 1986/7 and am aware of bands playing there in 1988 but beyond that – and indeed before that – I would assume that it functioned merely as a wine bar: if anyone can tell me any different I’ll be pleased to revise this entry.
Some of the bands I recall from there were This Year, Sleepwalk, Mighty Mighty and the splendidly named Jesus Christ and the Six Disciples (of whom only one arrived for the gig with a drum machine that broke-down mid-way through the set!). Ken Worthing, guitarist with Gunlaw (www.kenworthing.co.uk) , kindly allowed me to use the poster above from a gig they played there back in the late 80’s which attests to the fact that I hadn’t dreamt the place up – so scant is the information attesting to its existence today I was beginning to wonder.
Mega’s Wine Bar was a great little venue with many peculiar quirks and it would be great to hear from anyone who played, or drank, there.