Thursday, September 26, 2013

Roddy Radiation

This time Pete Clemon's has focused on Special's songwriter / guitar player - Roddy Radiation (Roddy Byres) who formed one of the earliest punk bands in 1975 - The Wild Boys, who had two tracks on the 1980 compilation Sent from Coventry and went on (post Specials) to form a string of Rock a Billy bands. Pete's article for the Coventry Telegraph will tell you more.




Rebel man Roddy still riffing

Pete Clemons on Roddy Byers of The Specials, The Bonedigger and The Skabilly Rebels


He has more than a hint of James Dean in his appearance and from what little I know of him personally he is a fairly reserved sort of person.

But as a guitarist, Roddy Byers is far less so. It is on a stage that he really cuts loose. He has a controlled aggression which is, at the same time, incredibly innovative.

Of course as Roddy 'Radiation' he is without doubt better known for his lead guitar and song writing activities within The Specials. But, for me, he saves his best work for the other bands he has fronted since The Specials split back in 1981.

Those bands have included The Tearjerkers, The Bonediggers, The Raiders and, more recently, The Skabilly Rebels. And these groups have provided the vehicle for his love of 1950s rock 'n' roll and rockabilly.

The Tearjerkers were in fact up and running while The Specials were still in existence during 1981 and were an outlet for songs Roddy had originally written for The Specials but had been rejected.

Roddy's music has always had that early Elvis Presley/Gene Vincent feel to them and maybe that style just never suited The Specials.

The Tearjerkers had several lineup changes but at the time of recording they had been made up of Roddy (vocals/guitar), Mark Byers (vocals/guitar), Joe Hughes (vocals/bass), Pete Davies (drums) and a wild accordion player called 'Slim Tearjerker', aka Clive Pain, who also contributed to the vocals.


During 1978 'Slim Tearjerker' had achieved the accolade of being named 'Champion Blockhead' when he was selected by Ian Dury in a New Musical Express competition and befriended the likes of The Clash and The Specials which led to his friendship with Roddy.

As well as playing for The Tearjerkers, Slim also turned out for bands like The Boothill Foot-Tappers, The Rough-House All-Stars and The Skiff Skats. He also wrote what he described as a 'masterpiece of a love song' titled 'You're Too Bloody Good For Me'.

The Tearjerkers recorded for Chiswick records where a couple of songs 'Desire'/'Western Song' were released as a single. Some of their other recorded material can nowadays be found on compilations such as 'The Chiswick Story - Adventures of an Independent Record Label 1975-1982' and 'Don't Let the Hope Close Down', a benefit album for the famous London music pub venue The Hope and Anchor not to be confused with the one that once stood at the ring road end of our own Whitefriars Street.

Locally the band played regularly at venues such as The General Wolfe and The Freemasons Arms and the line-up did change several times during their existence. The Tearjerkers eventually split up in 1987 because there had been no major recording success.

Next up for Roddy were The Bonediggers. Again this band was fluid but during its existence the main musicians behind Roddy included David West (vocals/guitar), Sam Smith (bass), and drummers Gaz Muldoon and Jim Pryal. A great piece called 'Bonediggin' was used as the band's signature tune.

The Bonediggers were regulars at the the Tic Toc club and had their unofficial base at The Dive (Lady Godiva) pub. Demos were recorded at The Depot studios at the rear of the Belgrade theatre.



And, in 1990, a three-track EP released on the Rimshot Record Label featured a track called 'De Angelo' and also included a new version of old favourite 'Desire'.

Roddy left The Bonediggers during September 1993 but soon returned to the action with a group called The Raiders.

At the time Roddy was quoted as saying 'Whereas The Bonediggers was Hank Williams meets The Clash then The Raiders are The Clash meets Hank Williams. A good time rock 'n' roll band with a punk attitude'.

In addition to Roddy on guitar The Raiders were Sam Smith on bass, Gaz Muldoon on drums, Badger on Sax and Ian Toughie on guitar and although short lived they still managed to record a sixtrack tape and fulfilled live dates at venues like Sir Colin Campbell and The General Wolfe.

An excellent 18-track anthology CD was released during 2005 which brings together recordings from the above period in either original form or a re-worked format.

It really is a great release and a lot of these songs are still played live today.

In fact the track 'Lorraine', albeit performed on this CD by The Tearjerkers, originally dates back to Roddy's pre-Specials band The Wild Boys. 'Lorraine' was also one of two contributions from The Wild Boys to the compilation album 'Sent From Coventry' that was released towards the end of the 1970s/early 1980s.

For almost ten years now Roddy has fronted The Skabilly Rebels and they play exactly what the label says. Ska and rockabilly complete with a mix of punk, country and blues.

Backing Roddy over the years of this venture is long time musical partner Sam Smith on guitar, the late Iain Howard also on guitar, Jaynie Jones on keyboards, Mac on bass and Drew Stansall on sax, both Paul Ayriss and Terry Downes on drums and many, many others.

2009 saw The Skabillys release their debut CD, which was recorded at Moonbase Studios in Earlsdon and contains 16 tracks of which some are more up to date workings of songs heard during his years as a Tearjerker/Bonedigger such as 'Black Leather Jacket' and 'Judgement Day'.

February and March 2012 saw Roddy complete a 12-date tour of California, Reno, Nevada, and Phoenix, Arizona over in the USA. Rather than take the normal band Roddy teamed up with American talents such as Danny Dean of Danny Dean and the Homewreckers and billed themselves as the U.S. Skabillys and, between them, played a mix of past and present and new songs from Roddy's songbook.

Roddy is undoubtedly his own man or, for want of a better phrase, a true rebel. He was one of the very first people in Coventry to discover punk rock and regularly visited London during its early days as 'pub rock'.

This was well before that particular genre had left the capital. I am convinced that, some day, history will give him the same 'hall of fame' treatment afforded to other musicians from that era. One that I think he richly deserves.



















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