Monday, March 16, 2009
The Reluctant Stereotypes - Coventry's Avant Garde Art Ska
King were always a guilty New Wave pop pleasure for me. I happened to be living in England at the time they were popular in the mid-80's. They were a uniquely British pop creation and sensation featuring an amalgam of new wave haircuts, day glow colored suits and spray painted Doc Martens. They were the pop music equivalent of a Jackson Pollack painting come to life. However, if you listen carefully to their biggest hit "Love & Pride" (which hit #2 on the UK charts) you can hear a distinct ska/reggae bass line and upbeat ska guitar. Well it turns out that's no surprise given the band's namesake Paul King, had been a member of Coventry art rock ska band Reluctant Stereotypes.
Riding on the back of the 2-Tone wave and the Coventry sound of The Specials and The Selecter, Reluctant Stereotypes — which not only contained King on vocals but future Primitive/producer Paul Sampson on guitar, Steve Edgson on clarinet, Colin Heanes on drums and Tony Wall on bass — played reggaefied jazz rock. The songs include pointed-but-arty lyrics, prominent clarinet work, ska/rock rhythms and jazz level musical standards. However, unlike their 2-Tone bredren, the songs include a more free-form, less-soulful approach and stricter adherence to Police-like white reggae rhythms. The band signed to WEA and recorded and released their first and only album called 'The Label' which included the singles, "Plans For Today" and "Confused Action." They even got a shot of fame when they appeared on the UK music TV show 'Old Grey Whistle Test' and toured with The Specials.
Here is video of the song 'Reverend Green' featuring the original singer Martyn Bates who was later replaced by Paul King:
The band's clarinetist Steve Edgson (who sadly passed away late last year) shared his memories on a BBC web site called "Were You There for Two Tone" dedicated to collecting people's 2- Tone experiences. Edgson says of his days in the band: "I was in a band called Reluctant Stereotypes and we went on a seaside tour with The Specials and Bodysnatchers in June 1980. It was great fun playing to packed houses and getting a good (mostly!) reception. One thing that stands out is travelling to the gigs on the coach with the bands and Rico (the trombone player ) muttering about the sins of alcohol as we were kept waiting for various pastey faced band members who had overdone it the previous night! I also remember singing Frank Zappa songs with Horace and Paul Sampson! Heady days of youth.... "
The band's drummer Colin Heane's shared his recollections with 2-Tone historian and archivist Pete Chambers in an article in the Coventry Telegraph:
THE road to success can sometimes be littered with casualties. Take Pete Best and The Beatles, a perfect example of "right place, wrong time". Like Pete Best, Colin Heanes was a drummer, also like Pete, Colin was asked to leave a band on the edge of success. The band was Coventry's flamboyant King.
The late 70s early 80s - what a great time to be in a band from Coventry," reveals Colin. "Of course we all owed this to The Specials. "What a pity they can't collectively sort out their differences and do some more shows. "Around this time I joined a band called Reluctant Stereotypes. I had learned to play drums on a very active club scene around Coventry.
"Wisely my parents had encouraged me to do an apprenticeship as a carpenter, which has stood me in good stead. "Around the time we signed a deal with WEA Records Jerry Dammers offered to release our first single on 2-Tone. "The Specials were just about to release their fifth single Stereotype. You don't have to be Einstein to realise that the publicity generated by this would have been massive for us. "That would probably have got us on our way chart-wise. I'm sure Jerry could see this too, but we chose not to jump on the bandwagon."Jerry to his credit didn't push us too hard. Although at the time I'm sure he was too busy to push too hard anyway."
The Reluctant Stereotypes were one of those local bands who were on the cusp of success, no one at the time would have bet on them not making it. The band consisted of Paul King (vocals), Paul Sampson (guitar and vocals), Steve Edgson (clarinet), Tony Wall (bass) and Colin on drums. They even appeared on the Iconic TV show, the Old Grey Whistle Test.
"The Reluctant Stereotypes were an incredibly hardworking band," continued Colin, "as our tour schedule from the time would prove. "So through a lot of hard work on the road we did build a reasonable following around the country. "An appearance on the Old Grey Whistle Test enabled us to play to bigger audiences which was also good. "Unfortunately, just after we signed our deal with WEA the company received a lot of bad press about hyping new acts.
"They were a big enough company to say okay we won't hype anyone for two years. All the record companies did it. it was just bad timing for us. "This could sound like sour grapes on my part. "It isn't, I'm just trying to give an accurate account of what we went through at the time. "Some of the most stick-out memories of being in the band for me were, as I'm sure most musicians of the time would tell you, being stuck in the back of a transit for hours on end. "I can still see Steve Edgson now with a paper bird's beak wedged in his glasses pecking on the window of the van at other motorists. "I'm surprised we didn't cause a lot of accidents. It's amazing what you will do to break the boredom when you are stuck on the motorway for hours on end."
Sadly, after a lot of record company support the Reluctant Stereotypes failed to hit the big time and called it a day. Paul Sampson and Steve Edgson went off to form the Pink Umbrellas. As for the others well, here's Colin again. "After The Reluctant Stereotypes split Tony Wall, Paul King and myself formed Raw Screens later to become King. King did go on to have chart success. "For me that came at a price. I was sacked just before the success came (I was sacked for many reasons, but I suppose mainly because I speak my mind).
"I was very bitter about this for a long time. I couldn't, it seemed at the time, go into a pub in Coventry without someone calling me an idiot for getting kicked out of the band."I emigrated to Australia in 1987. I didn't come here to escape the stigma of being the drummer who was sacked by King. "It was more to do with warmer weather. Plus my wife has always had an adventurous streak. It was good to be in a place where no one knew who I was. "I did come back to live in Coventry in 1997 for a few years but the cold weather didn't agree with my family. We now live back in Brisbane and have a great life here in the sunshine.
"I still look back nostalgically on those times and have a lot of fond memories. I miss the music business even now and would have loved to have been more successful but it wasn't meant to be. "There are a lot of elements that fall into place to make a band successful I think we had a lot of them. But some bad judgment calls put us behind the eight ball so to speak."
I was amazed to learn that the Tone And Wave blog recently found the band's very hard-to-find and out-of-print LP 'The Label'. I've been on a quest to find it for some time and now that I've found it, I'm happy to report that I've never heard anything like it before! It's very unique and definitely an acquired taste, but the musicianship is top-notch and the clarinet adds a unique sound to the songs. Edgson is clearly the 'Saxa' of the band and his melodies along with King's vocals are what you remember most. I'm happy to include a download of the album below. I know a number of hard core ska fans who have been looking for this album for some time. Enjoy!
The Reluctant Stereotypes - The Label