The award-winning music and creative development business inspiring our young people
Transforming lives through music – that’s the mantra of Punch Records. Founded as a small urban record store in Perry Bar selling hard-to-find vinyl for the black music scene, the company has grown into a leading creative music and community business, totally tuned in to the youth culture of Birmingham and beyond. Now based in the Custard Factory, the business creates festivals and experiences, produces, backs and tours international acts and emerging artists, stages music events such as the annual BASS black music festival and reaches out to educate young people through programmes in schools and youth groups. “We are heavily influenced by what is going on around us,” said the company’s founder and CEO, Ammo Talwar. “The market dictates what we do. It’s all about the market’s cultural voice – and we know exactly what that is. We’ve gained that knowledge over a long period of time.”
Ammo’s vision has built the company into an award-winning music development agency, working with private and public sector investors. Clients include big brands such as Coca-Cola, Barclaycard, Selfridges, the Arts Council, BBC and the Mayor of London. It’s all a far cry from the way the business started when the then 24-year-old Ammo set up his shop in Perry Bar. He admits: “I had no intention at the time of working in music. I studied civil engineering and my job was designing doors for prisons and boring stuff like that. My brother was in music, managing an artist and travelling the world which I thought sounded exciting. So I decided to try something in music and opened up the record store with no business knowledge at all and just muddled through for a couple of years.” That period was key in the DNA of Punch Records as Ammo discovered that an ever-growing number of kids were coming into the shop not for the records but to enjoy the live underground DJ shows. “The place became a real community rather than just a shop and we started doing workshops and stuff with the kids. “I saw a massive gap in the market and went round to schools, talked to teachers and got them interested in what they called cross-curricular work. It was basically doing hip-hop education. The teachers got it, the kids got it and I built the business around working with young people.”
His ability to identify and tap in to youth culture laid the groundwork for all the success that has followed. Punch began to host development events for young people as part of what would grow into the company’s extensive outreach programme. From this, Birmingham City Council became involved and now regularly programme events through Punch. The original shop was shut in 2004 and Punch moved to the Custard Factory to work with emerging artists such as RoxXxan, Lady Leshurr (who featured on the cover of our January issue), Decypher, RT and DJ Jezta. The business also toured groundbreaking projects like The Art of Afrobeat, Fight The Power and Soho Road to the Punjab – a landmark exhibition on the history of Bhangra music which has toured the UK and US for more than a decade. In 2006, Punch launched BASS, the UK’s leading festival of urban music. Held over two weeks in October in Birmingham and the Midlands, BASS is a platform championing black culture, arts and music. Nearly 200 performers entertain more than 15,000 people. Punch delivers cutting edge outreach and education programmes such as Music Potential and Desi Moves. Creative training courses emphasise entrepreneurship and resilience, ensuring aspiring emerging musicians and artists quickly become self-reliant and start productive careers. Over a five-year period Punch ran workshops in nearly 90 schools and 25 youth centres and each year over 30 young people are certified on UK Arts Awards.
And while we’re talking about awards, Ammo and his business has been racking up quite a few, including national and regional honours for its innovative and engaging pop-up radio station, BASS FM. Ammo has received an MBE for his contribution to music and young people and is a board member of Birmingham’s performing arts academy BOA and a governor of Park View Academy. In June, he was received an Institute of Directors commendation for leadership in corporate social responsibility at the Director of the Year awards. Punch is also working with the council to deliver the city’s Gallery 37 youth arts training programme, running throughout this summer.