Friday, December 26, 2008

Sent From Coventry: 1980 Compilation Captures The Roots Of 2-Tone

While most people associate Coventry with 2-Tone, the truth is that Coventry had a very vibrant music scene at the end of the 1970’s. This was partly a legacy of the the 1960’s R&B boom and partly an extension of the 1970’s Punk explosion which had made its way up from London (The Sex Pistols and The Clash played a gig together in Coventry). The music scene was also supported by a mix of venues. The large venues catered to the big touring bands, while the smaller venues were key for the development of a local music scene. Finally, local music magazines and independent record shops were key for spreading the word about bands and giving people a place to meet. Indeed, 1979-80 was a golden era for music in Coventry, as there were lots of bands playing different styles of music, who all knew one another and engaged in friendly rivalry. The Specials and 2-Tone's early success also seemed to galvanize the scene.

One of the leaders of the independent music scene was Martin Bowes who was the editor of the Coventry Alternative Sounds Magazine. During the height of the 2-Tone frenzy in Coventry, he was instrumental in organizing and producing 'Sent From Coventry" an album full of local Coventry bands of the day. The album was such a success that it flew off record store shelves and was estimated to have sold 8,000 copies in its first week hitting #8 on the UK Alternative charts.

The bands featured on the LP were all popular local bands who played live regularly and many of the bands shared members, as the whole Coventry scene was quite ‘incestuous’. Musically, there’s an interesting mix of punk and pop (particularly with a disco-esque tinge which reflect the era) in tandem with a strong reggae influence which reflects the multicultural aspects of the Coventry music scene at the time. The album is also a wonderful historical archive of the roots of 2-Tone in Coventry. Three of the bands featured on the album include members of The Specials in their ranks: Machine's drummer was Silverton Hutchinson - the original drummer with the band before he was replaced by John 'Brad' Bradbury; Terry Hall who was the lead singer with punk band Squad before being discovered by Jerry Dammers and Roddy 'Radiation' Byers from the very popular punk band The Wild Boys who feature two songs on the record . Finally, the comp also includes Kevin Harrison the singer of Urge, who had been in Transposed Men with Brad from The Specials and Noel Davies of The Selecter and many of that band's songs went on to form the basis of The Selecter's set including the original version of ‘On My Radio’.

Urge were one of the most popular local bands and were tipped for success. Given Harrison's relationship with members of 2-Tone bands, they toured nationally with both The Specials and The Selecter and released the single 'Revolving Boy' on their own label before signing to Arista where they recorded demos with noted reggae producer Dennis Bovell (bassist with Matumbi). While clearly not a ska band, the band's most well know song 'Revolving Boy" marries an updated Stax groove with a hypnotic dub bass line.

Here is a video of the band performing 'Revolving Boy' live from a show in Birmingham in February 1981:

Machine (later to morph into popular local ska band Hot Snacks) featured Silverton Hutchinson, who left in early 1978 to be replaced by John Bradbury.

Squad were the stars of the local punk scene, having formed in 1977 with Terry Hall as their early vocalist. They released 2 singles (£8 A Week / Red Alert and Millionaire / Brockhill Boys), before Gus Chambers stepped in for Terry Hall who left to join the Specials. They included the song Flasher on the comp. By 1981 the band had broken up and Chambers was fronting 21 Guns who made a single for the Neville Staples record label Shack Records. Their single was 'Ambition Rock'. Unfortunately, Gus Chambers, passed away at the age of 52 on October 13, 2008.

The Wild Boys were a very popular local group, initially started by Roddy Radiation in 1975 and were Coventry's first punk band. The band supported The Buzzcocks, but split up in 1977 just as punk was kicking off. Their influence on the city's music scene was immense and provided the catalyst for the influential punk edge that would emerge later in The Specials. After Roddy left to join The Specials as lead guitarist, the Wild Boys' name was taken over by Roddy's brother Mark. A few months later their reputation was cemented as one of the main draws in Coventry. That reputation was soon to increase even more when they landed two tracks on the "Sent From Coventry" compilation album. The tracks 'We're Only Monsters' and 'Lorraine'were both Roddy Radiation songs.

Unfortunately, despite good reviews, the Coventry music scene lacked the money and the infrastructure of London to help push these bands to the next level. Sadly, because of some internal wrangling, the album's distributors Pinnacle and the label Cherry Red fell out and the record never achieved its true potential. For more information on the compilation and the Coventry scene of the early 80's visit the Coventry Music History Website.

Here is the track list and the download for the "Sent From Coventry" LP:

The Wild Boys -We're Only Monsters
The Clique - Mothers Never Know
The End - Panic In The Night
The Mix - With You
Machine - Character Change
Urge - Nuclear Terrorist

Protege - Protection
Solid Action - Message From A Loner
The Wild Boys - Lorraine
Squad - Flasher
Homicide - Armageddon
Riot Act - Sirens
V. Babies - Donna Blitzen

Sent From Coventry - Side One
Sent From Coventry - Side Two


Charlotte Thompson said...

Hi, my name is Charlotte Thompson and i am born and bread in coventry.

If you listen to the track armageddeon by Homicide on side 2, you can hear the drums coming in from the start and i am proud to say that this is my Dad you can hear.

I know they toured alot around the small pubs of coventry but this is the only thing that shows me and my younger sister just what an amazing era he grew up in. Also he lived on the same raod and grew up with a few of the members of the specials but unfortuanetly i never got round to asking which ones.

Sadly he passed away in 2003 at age 40 but thanks to this record, his amazing drunning ablilty lives on!

I randomly typed in the name of his band expecting not to find anything, when all this apppeared!
so i would just like to say thank you!

Marco On The Bass said...

Hi Charlotte! Its my pleasure. I'm so happy you were able to find your Dad's band on this blog. I'm touched you would leave such a kind comment. Though I've never been to Coventry, it's music and musicians have a very special place in my heart. Thanks again.

gary said...

Hi Charlotte

so sad to hear about your Dad, I am Gary 'Meff' one of the guitarists from Homicide. Your Dad was a great drummer, the last time I saw him was at this recording session (We had basically already split). Time was running out and he turned up with 20 mins to go in the studio with his dad, quickly set up and played perfectly.

Alan Rider said...

Never been to Coventry Marco? Get on the train and do the Two Tone Trail - there is an excellent book by Pete Chambers giving all the key places to visit. Google him and buy a copy. I used to do one of the main Coventry fanzines of the time, Adventures in Reality ( see for details or google) and am currently writing o book on Coventry fanzines and the scene at the time. A golden age as you say.
Alan Rider

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across this site after finding the 21 Guns single in a box in my parents' loft and thought I would see if it was collectable etc. Alan, I was in a band called 'Profile' in the early 80's and remember your 'zine along with the obvious AS (alternative sounds) which I would avidly pick up every month to see if I was in it!! haha
I also found some pristine copies of the Boys & Girls Come Out To Play E.P. and even the original acetate test master from the pressing plant. I am writing a small peice for the Coventry Telegraph at the moment about the E.P and would be very interested in your book.
Regards, Guy Surtees.

Anonymous said...

Oh my god!! I think I've just had a overload of memories. I was recently given a copy of the 'Sent from Coventry' album which I hadn't heard in years. Hearing all the bands and being reminded of all the connections between was like I got thrust back in time.

I remember using the 'Sight and Sound' rehearsal rooms down by what was the old abertour (I know my spelling sucks) for rehearsing with a few of bands that I played in. We never amounted to anything though. I remember having my Saturday job in the market, getting my pay and running straight round to the Virgin Record shop, way before the megastore days. It was where Brad from The Specials used to work, so got to know him and a few of the other guys from the scene from there. I remember the various venues. Saw bands like Pistols, Clash, Adverts etc. It was such a vibrant time for music at least. Cut my first demo at the Horizon Studios that sadly no longer exists.

Could go on for ages, but think I will leave it there. Thanks for the memories guys.