Chapter One: ‘The Heaviest of Bastards’ – Instrumental zine explores the love ‘twixt human and musical hardware

Words by Ed King / Photography by Connor Pope

On Friday 8 September, upstairs at Tilt, fifty people will be thumbing through the pages of their very own limited edition new zine, Instrumental. Well, forty-nine. Birmingham Review has bagged one already.

A sixteen-page exploration of the relationship between a musician and their musical hardware – presented in high contrast red, white, and black – Instrumental is series of five self-narrated love letters, where musicians from the second city talk about a piece of kit, or instrument, they hold close to their creative heart.

Collated by proud Brummie Billy Beale, guitarist in The Devil and Saint Joseph, with photography from Ewan Williamson and Emily Doyle, Instrumental offers a rare and real insight into the personal journeys of sound from some of Birmingham’s more embedded musicians, in a colloquial tone you don’t have to be an engineer to enjoy.

As the copy on the front cover declares, Instrumental is about ‘Objects from Birmingham’s music scene in the words of their owners’. And it’s a fantastic piece of self-publishing.

“I’m a musician, and I think all musicians have this relationship with equipment,” explains Billy, nursing a half a Sunday-afternoon-something from Tilt’s wall mounted craft beer menu. “Some people are much more sort of utilitarian, and some people are more romantic or nerdy about it. I’m definitely more the latter.”

Beautifully anecdotal, this gorgeous looking zine is both funny and endearing – telling stories from the ethereal explanation of a hand-crafted sitar, to the near car toppling rescue of a Hammond T-Series amp that gives both this article and Instrumental’s first chapter their title. But being a part of the city’s music scene, and close to your subjects, was it hard to find the right voices?

“It really was just who was around, you know, who made the time for me,” admits Billy. “And I was conscious about getting a mixture of disciplines and styles and people from different backgrounds and stuff. So, it’s a naked attempt for me to just meet different people and ingratiate myself to them.”

One aspect of Instrumental that stood out was that no one featured in the zine is named in their story, leaving the content to take centre stage – save for a somewhat clandestine list of contributors on the acknowledgments page, you wouldn’t know who was in it. And you could argue with no byline there’s no ego, but in a world not known for shrinking violets…

“I think I always came to them with, like, this is the idea of it… and you’re not going to be in it. Your stuff will be in it, your words will be in it, but you won’t. And everyone was like, that’s fine. That’s cool.”

And on the flip side, was it ever in danger of becoming too geeky or too voluble? Once you opened the Pandora’s box of pedals and impulse musical purchases, was much left on the cutting room floor?

“Not really. I mean, there was one person gave us a lot of time was really super generous, but I had to just go through just think what’s the most sort of entertaining or informative parts of this,” Billy explains, as editors everywhere sigh in solidarity.

“But this is the thing, musicians love talking about stuff, although I think sometimes they’re quite cagey about it – if you’re at a gig for example, and it’s not a great environment to have a normal conversation.

“So, to create an environment where that’s what we’re doing, we’re talking about your stuff and your relationship to it, there wasn’t a lot I ended up binning because it was all good. And I wanted people to feel like their voices were in there.”

Instrumental screams honesty, with the lack of profile pics and personal recognition again leaving you to focus on the stories. And the storyteller free to tell them.

But what about the aesthetic, which looks great on screen (BR had been emailed a preview PDF before the interview) but throws more tactile punches when you hold it in your hand? Instrumental carries an immediate artistic impact from cover to cover, with the ultimate layout and design from Emily Doyle.

“I was looking at, would you believe it, 50s catalogues for guitars, and they just have this strange kind of visual language and identity. Other than front covers there’s no human element to them; but the design, the print style, was just really inspiring. So, I thought wouldn’t it be cool to talk to people that I know, that I’d like to get to know, but sort of divorce it from the people in that way, like a catalogue?

“I met Ewan (Williamson, photographer), here at Tilt actually, and I showed him the catalogues on my phone and explained it’s going to look a bit like this. Do you reckon you can shoot this? He is an absolute pro; he knows what he’s doing.

“Then when he was editing the photos, he was like ‘I’m just making sure you probably going to print either black and white or two colour, or whatever.’ And I was ‘yeah, just high contrast.’ He absolutely smashed it; I couldn’t be happier with the work everyone’s contributed really.”

Printed at Birmingham’s hidden design gem, The Holodeck, the style was further carried by the studio’s own approach. Billy adds: “I didn’t really choose the paper, and the colour formatting is just because of the printing method that The Holodeck does. But this was my ideal version all the way through.

“At the beginning I was thinking, can I afford it? Should I just get it done in black and white? And then it ended up being within budget to get it done exactly how I want to do it. It really works because the old catalogues would have been done in a very similar way.”

A self-published labour of love, only 50 copies of Instrumental have been printed and will be available to buy over the counter, for a mere £5, at the official yet low key launch event. And whilst Volume One is proudly emblazoned on the front, at the time of writing we can’t put money on the table over whether Volume Two (or Three) may appear.

“I’m kind of waiting to get this out there and see how it does,” tells Billy, “before I decide to put my energy into doing more. There’s a bit of momentum now that I’m promoting the launch, and people have said ‘Oh, I’d be up for doing this’, but I haven’t planned it yet.

“It’s I think, at best, it’s like to one or two other volumes, and then it will just be a nice little triptych or something.”

But the launch party we can confirm, at Tilt on Friday 8 September. And that it’s free to enter, with DJs from Birmingham’s recently launched Kikimora label playing from 5pm to 8pm – after which half the room will be heading to The Night Owl to see Brian Lightning.

“8 September, it’s a Friday,” reiterates Billy, “and it’s free in. Just please buy a zine if you come, and buy some beer and give Tilt some money. But just turn up. There’s a lot of gigs on, it’s a Friday night, so I’ve timed it so people can come on their way in or out of town – too or from work or a gig, whatever.”

“I hope it’s (Instrumental) just got its own identity, and it is what it is,” continues Billy, as we leave the science lab tables, chairs, and beautiful curved window of Tilt’s upstairs private hire, “and it resonates with people.

“But if you like grassroots music, scenes, live music, or you’ve ever been to your gig and saw someone and thought ‘they’ve got a good guitar, what keyboard are they using, how do they make that noise…?’ Then check it out.”

Instrumental will be launched at a free party at Tilt, Birmingham City Centre, on Friday 8 September – with DJs from Kikimora playing from 5pm to 8pm.

For more on Instrumental follow the zine’s Instagram account at

For more on Tilt visit
For more on The Holodeck visit