Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Dirty Stops Outs - Coventry Music,venues and Entertainments in the 1970's

Dirty Stops Outs - Coventry Music, venues and Entertainments in the 1970's-

New Book Out by Ruth Cherrington.
Available from Amazon Uk Here 
And Waterstones and HMV in Coventry.

Review by Pete Clemons

A recently launched book titled ‘Dirty Stop Outs 1970's Coventry’ is currently available from outlets like our own HMV shop, Waterstones and Amazon. And a really enjoyable read it is too. 

It’s a fun, retro coffee table type book, but important because it’s a form of record of the sort of things that were happening in our City back then and includes a lot of the great venues and events of the time.

Author Dr Ruth Cherrington is a Coventry kid herself, growing up in Canley, and remembers places like the Locarno, Lanchester Polytechnic, the Market Tavern, the Climax, the Dive Bar (Lady Godiva), the Plough amongst many others very well, as she was a regular visitor to them.

Author Dr. Ruth Cherrington at Coventry Music Museum.

Ruth has written previously about working men’s clubs, not only on a website but also a book titled ‘Not just Beer and Bingo!’ Again, it is a social history of working men’s clubs, inspired by Ruth’s own experience of using clubs from a very early age with my family. Ruth’s local one was Canley social, right across the street from her family council house.

To bring our book to life, Ruth has including people’s personal memories and experiences, anecdotes etc. It is, after all, about ordinary people, those who went to the pubs, clubs, discos, cafes, as well as those who provided the entertainment.

The book mainly covers the nightlife (although some of the day light is included) that was happening during the decade. It is one of a series - authors in other cities such as Sheffield and Manchester for example are recalling their memories and attempting to commit it all to paper. And they have not stopped at the 1970s. And other decades such as the 1980s are also beginning to be explored and remembered. So this is an organic project.

Musically, it of course covers 2 tone – how couldn’t it – but not just the giants of that scene, namely The Specials and Selecter. The book also drills down to bands like The Swinging Cats and also give due respect to the building considered to be the birth place of 2 tone – the Holyhead Youth Centre.

One of the plus points is that the book attempts to represent everyone. Even those who considered themselves, and were possibly viewed upon, as outsiders are remembered here. So from that angle it is very inclusive. Everyone remembers different bits of their formative years and it all builds for a wider picture.

Trevor Teasdel summed things up nicely ‘Probably everyone felt like an outsider to an extent, even if they were in the thick of it, as there was no way to see it as a whole like we can now in retrospect. And there was no social media to catch up with people afterwards or see the bits you weren't at. It's when you put all the jigsaw pieces together that you see it as something you were part of’.

And that, for me, is exactly what this book achieves here, but in a loose way. It’s not perfect but it does cover a lot of ground.

LINKS - Ruth Cherrington's Facebook page for the Dirty Stop Outs Book - join up!

Publisher Neil Anderson's site for further books in the series at ACM Retro http://www.acmretro.com/

Below Pete Chambers captured a pic of the book on the shelves of Coventry HMV store in good company with some of the Two Tone books.

Hobo - Coventry Music and Arts  Magazine and Workshop 1973 - 75 - which of course runs these Coventry music archives - gets goodly coverage! The magazine was founded by Trev Teasdel and John Bo Bargent - who is pictured below holding a copy of the book and Hobo Magazine at the book launch at waterstones in Coventry.

Below some photos of the 2nd book launch at The Coventry Music Museum

John Bo Bargent at the Coventry Music Museum

Pete Clemons himself sneaking out of the Coventry Music Museum with a book!

And yes we have to blow our own trumpet - Hobo Magazine is in the book!

More Photos - These from the Earlier Book Launch at Coventry Waterstones shop.

And more from the Coventry Music Museum

Robin Trower Band

Robin Trower Band
by Pete Clemons

The fact that so much has been mentioned recently of the music from that period, I have
found myself listening to a lot of releases from 1967. And one of those songs on my playlist ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ topped the singles chart that year for six weeks as well as scoring well in the U.S. It is indeed hard to believe that that song is now 50 years old. 

And listening to ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ again led me to listening to several albums by Robin Trower who had been the guitarist on that Procol Harum hit. Robin was actually the guitarist on the first four Procol Harum albums but, while he had been developing his craft, he had been a huge student of BB King. And that led Robin to his next venture.

With Procol Harum, Robin had to work within a tight framework. And as time went on those limitations became more of an issue for him. No matter how good he was playing for Procol Harum it was against the tradition of the band for him to cut loose. So in July 1971 he made the brave decision to leave this successful band and go it alone.

After leaving Procol Harum, Robin formed the band Jude with Clive Bunker drummer and ex Jethro Tull, bass player James Dewar ex Stone the Crows and the then unknown Glaswegian singer Frankie Miller who had had relocated to London and had been discovered singing in pubs and clubs late 1971. However soon after it formation Clive Bunker left the band and Frankie Miller had begun gigging with Brinsley Schwarz. The Jude project aborted within months without leaving any recordings. But Robin and James Dewar had found a musical compatibility. Plus they had the material at hand for an album.

With James Dewar also taking on vocal duties Trower set about putting together a trio. And that first line up, formed early 1972, and would see the introduction of ex Quiver drummer Reg Isidore. With no gigs behind them, a debut album ‘Twice Removed from Yesterday’ was released early 1973 and it certainly delivered as James Dewar proved to be a more than capable vocalist.

The slow, relaxed blues style of the album along with extended guitar solos set the scene for future releases. The Robin Trower Band made an immediate impact particularly in the United States. The album also touched on the BB King influence, mentioned earlier, by way of including a version of ‘Rock Me Baby’. A second album ‘Bridge of Sighs’ released in 1974 solidified the bands popularity in the States as it gained considerable success over there.

During 1974 Reg Isidore left due to musical differences and was replaced by American drummer Bill Lordan who had formerly been a member of the Sly Stone Band and stayed with the Trower band until late 1987. Lordan debuted on the album ‘For Earth Below’ which was released early 1975. And with this release came, at last, real recognition in the U.K. as the album appeared in the top 20. By now The Robin Trower band were pulling audiences of 50,000 plus in American stadiums. A live album followed during 1976, again charting in the U.K. And yet again though, both this album and ‘For Earth Below’ proved to be hugely popular in the U.S.

The trio of Trower, Dewar and Lordan would essentially stay together through to the early 1980s completing several albums such as the Long Misty Days and In City Dreams. Although during this period the band were also augmented by American bass player Rustee Allen, who brought with him the element of funk.

And this added element possibly also played a part in the much lauded formation of Bruce, Lordan and Trower during the early 1980s. These early 80s albums with this line-up marked a change in style, as Trower was now working alongside Jack Bruce on bass and vocals. The resulting music was punchier and a bit less emphasis on soloing. Bruce said at the time ‘I've always had an affinity with what Robin does so there was common ground’.

Their debut album titled ‘BLT’ was advertised as follows ‘Robin Trower and Jack Bruce, two of the most talented and influential musicians of the seventies, together for the first time on one album. The L.P. captures the excitement that is their music for the eighties’. As good as the album was, the times were changing, and the eighties brought with it a whole new music scene which, for a while, eclipsed all that went on during the 1970s.

Robin Trower and Jack Bruce would collaborate again. This time, on the Seven Moons project released during 2008. With Trower’s guitar work and Bruce’s improvisational skills it is a pity we never heard more from them as they were a formidable pairing. Jazz rock drummer Gary Husband completed yet another trio for the live in the studio sessions. Again these were highly enjoyable releases.

Now in his 70s Robin Trower is still active and continues to thrill with his touring and the releasing of occasional albums. Having said that, I recently read that Robin had been ill but not in a debilitating way and recently cancelled a tour. His gigs in the UK though are, nowadays, few and far between but still well worth the effort of getting up and getting out to if you get the chance. It’s not often you get the chance to hear someone live who once gave Robert Fripp a few lessons in the art of bending notes.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Show of Hands – Coventry Cathedral

Show of Hands – Coventry Cathedral
By Pete Clemons

Concerts in cathedrals are usually extraordinary events. The acoustics, the lighting, the ambiance, you just sense in advance that the proceedings in hand are going to be very special indeed.

And this was certainly the case when one of the leading lights of the current British folk scene, Show of Hands, performed there recently. Singer song writer Steve Knightley, multi-instrumentalist Phil Beer and double bass player Miranda Sykes performed an impressive set that was both conducive and respectful of the surroundings. By that I mean there were none of the more raucous anthemic type tunes that Show of Hands are also capable of delivering.

Show of Hands was concluding a recent tour that has taken them into a mix of houses of sanctuary and other ancient buildings up and down the country. And this tour also took in the, relatively, more modern setting of Coventry’s ‘new’ cathedral.

The audience size, for what I saw beforehand as a weakly advertised gig, was quite impressive. There was a sizable crowd present to witness this performance.

The gig itself opened up in unique fashion as Steve Knightley slowly made his way up the centre aisle, toward the tapestry and stage, from the rear of the cathedral, with both Phil and Miranda approaching him from the direction of stage left and right respectively. Together, and acapella, they sang ‘The Old Lych Way’, a dark tale of Dartmoor. Their combined voices reverberated spectacularly around the cavernous building.

The band then took to the stage and went straight into a song about quarrymen followed called ‘The Preacher’. And this kind of set the theme for the evening. Set mainly in the corner of England that the band originates from you heard stories of lives and experiences, from a time when people lived and worked off the land and dug out the minerals.

But as always in folk music, there is also a time for compassion and love. And this came in the form of ‘Smile She Said’ and ‘No Secrets’ which also happens to be the title of a book the band have just released that celebrates the Show of Hands history.

During the concert song writer Steve Knightley clearly displayed an affinity with Coventry as he recalled his days of studying at the Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) where he gained a degree. He touched on the days when he ran the folk club there, his rooms of residence being a ‘safe house’ for other musicians travelling through the area. And he remembered well the ‘Parsons Nose’ fish and chip shop and surrounding area where he recalled that it was best to beat yourself up first before you got beaten up anyway.

The band finished off their set in a similar way to which they had started. This time it was an acapello version of ‘Keep Hauling’ where, to be fair, they did encourage audience participation with the chorus. It was a fine ending to a very memorable gig.

Credit must also go to support artist Kirsty Merryn who possesses a delightful voice that, not only accompanied Steve Knightley on one of his songs, but had him doing likewise on one of hers. Kirsty was plugging her debut album ‘She and I’ which celebrates the past lives of prominent women. And she also took advantage of the wonderful acoustics that our wonderful cathedral possesses.

Buildings like these were designed for singing and musical performance. We can only hope that the cathedral continues to further open its doors to encourage the more popular variety to a wider audience.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Crokodile Tears

Crokodile Tears

by Pete Clemons

I recently spent a delightful hour or two in the company of a couple of Coventry musicians who, it is fair to say, have both been at the bedrock of a large part of the local music scene for almost forty years.

We chatted and reminisced about how and where the pair first came to meet up, the bands they have been associated with, and the music they have created from the late 1970s and through to the present day.

But as you will read, and as tends to happen in these situations, a web began to weave around interactions with other bands and other associations they made along the way.

I am talking, of course, about Christopher Sidwell and Alf Hardy – collectively known nowadays as Crokodile Tears. Christopher was born in Meriden but has lived in Coventry for the vast majority of his life while Alf is one hundred per cent Coventry born and bred.

Crokodile Tears could be considered a satirical band. But both Christopher and Alf are very serious musicians although they do enjoy injecting humour into their music. As such, the songs they create are a mixture of serious and tongue in cheek. Alf is a multi-instrumentalist including guitar and keyboard while Christopher plays guitar and, after many years, is now proficient on the Stylophone.

Christopher, for almost all of his life, has been into writing songs and this interest was shaped by his own enjoyment of bands like Pink Floyd, particularly their early sound, and the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band who combined music with surreal humour. He formed his first band, The Digital Dinosaurs towards the end of the 1970s. Digital Dinosaurs entered a couple of battle of the bands at the ‘Lanch’ which, incidentally, were won by The X-Certs and The Swinging Cats. Although the Digital Dinosaurs were, not so much interested in winning, but more finishing last by creating the worse sound they could manage. John Bradbury, of the Specials fame, drummed on some Digital Dinosaurs album recordings as both Christopher and John had known each other at Binley Park School.

Meanwhile at around the same time one time King Henry VIII pupil, Alf Hardy, was with a band called Johnny Matthews and the Big Time Show Band. This was a performance art band that only played a couple of gigs at venues like Busters and General Wolfe. I did notice a wry smile appear on Alf’s face when he recalled this band.

Alf went onto a band called Evil Wind that tended to move within the club scene at venues like the Hope and Anchor and, later, the Colin Campbell. On one occasion the Digital Dinosaurs were supporting Evil Wind at the Hope and Anchor and toward the end of their set Christopher ended up getting custard pie’d by Alf. Evil Wind, it turned out, was way ahead of their time in terms of Vic Reeves style comedy. Now known as the custard pie incident, this is how Christopher and Alf met. In fact Christopher ended up joining Evil Wind for a short time.

During 1983 Christopher formed his first phase of Crocodile Tears. Initially this was a solo project but then it grew into a duo when Paul Sampson who as well as being a producer, already fronted his own band The Pink Umbrellas, teamed up. The band grew again as, basically, the rest of The Pink Umbrellas, namely Steve Edgson, Robin Hill and Barry Jones also worked with The Crocs. And it was with this extended line-up of Crocodile Tears that released their debut album during 1985. The album itself was recorded at Cabin Studios where Paul Sampson would become the house producer. And despite the Pink Umbrellas disbanding, this format of the Crocodile Tears line up would continue through to around 1986 when phase 3 of the band would begin.

Going back slightly in time to the very early 1980s there was a band around called Hot Snacks (or Snax). When they disbanded, towards the mid-80s, there emerged a song writer called ‘Ollie’ also known as Doc Mustard. You may recall seeing him busking in town with his dog Paxo. Ollie’s song writing led to a musical partnership with Jerry Richards who became known as Doc Mustard and the Colbalt Kid. Ollie (or ‘Doc Mustard’) released the single ‘Nuclear Boogie’. And it was through Doc Mustard and the Colbalt Kid that Alf Hardy first came across Jerry Richards who had arrived in Coventry via Wales at a very young age. Around 1998 Doc Mustard actually helped record and performed on an unreleased second Crocodile Tears album imaginatively called, ‘Crocodile Tears 2’.

The crossing of paths for Jerry and Alf would ultimately lead to the creation of Tubilah Dog who existed between 1985 and 1990. Apart from local gigs Tubilah Dog, who also included during their existence Steve Mills - Vocals, Tim Kelsall - Bass, Andy Copeland - Drums, Mark Bannister - Rhythm Guitar, John Oddy - Bass and Ashley Dreher – Bass, Steve Hands – Drums, quickly established themselves on the free festival circuit alongside bands like Spaceman 3, Suicide and Hawkwind. Tubilah Dog also produced their sole LP the ‘In Search of Plaice’ album. And for those who are familiar with Hawkwind will notice a play on words at work here.

The free festival scene, attended by Tubilah Dog, gave rise to many new alliances. Some of which would continue for years to come. Alf Hardy, for example, linked up with Peter Kember, also referred to as Sonic Boom and best known for being a founding member of the experimental rock band Spacemen 3. After the demise of Spaceman 3 Alf became a part of future Peter Kember projects like Spectrum and Experimental Audio Research (or EAR).

The early 1990s also saw Alf being invited to work as an engineer at Cabin Studios by its original creator Jon Lord, who would eventually take over its day to day running, after Paul Sampson decided to relocate to London. With all these overlapping musical projects it was a busy time for Alf who was also sound engineer at the Stoker on Binley Road. Alf would remain at Cabin till the studios demise during 2008.

During his time at Cabin there were many highlights and Alf remembers names like U.S. band Silver Apples and Black Sabbath lead guitarist Tony Iommi recording there. The lesser known 60’s band The Purple Gang also recorded there with Paul Sampson. As did Bad Manners, which by all accounts, was a great laugh. He even remembers (as does Chris) tripping over Cerys Matthews while she slept in her sleeping bag one morning just as Alf was arriving for work. Her band Catatonia had chosen to record at the venue and had lived in house during the sessions.

Another memorable session at Cabin occurred during 2003 when a band Jerry Richards was associated with, DanMingo chose to record there. Together with Jerry were Steve Swindells, Jon Moss and Winston Blissett each being members of Hawklords, Culture Club and Massive Attack respectively. ‘Shabba Ranks (‘Shabba’) was also present along with an un-named girl singer.

Jerry Richards had met Hawkwind’s Dave Brock at the previously mentioned festivals during 1987 and this meeting led to a collaboration of the two bands known as HawkDog. That initial meeting would prove to be significant and lead to Tubilah Dog supporting Hawkwind on several tours. Later on Jerry was invited by Dave Brock to join Hawkwind as lead guitarist in 1995. This, again, would lead to extensive touring through to 2002. And so the associations continued as Jerry would play bass in Nik Turners band, Space Ritual, following the departure of Dave Anderson. In parallel to a lot of the Hawkwind based activities Jerry also run other ongoing projects such as Earthlab and Paradogs that can be dated back as far as 1992.

And continuing the Hawkwind theme, during 2008, Jerry Richards was instrumental in resurrecting a band closely associated to Hawkwind called Hawklords. Hawklords, a loose collective, were originally active during 1978/79, released an album called ‘25 years On’, and was the last time poet and lyricist Bob Calvert was involved with the band. Joining Jerry in this reformation were Steve Swindells, Harvey Bainbridge, Ron Tree and Dave Pearse. And to this day Hawklords continue to tour and release new music.

But back to Crokodile Tears, and phase 3 of its history. And, for those following this tale then you will have already noticed the, by now, incorrect spelling of the word Crocodile. Christopher, by now, had reinvented the band and his musical partner from the Evil Wind days, Alf Hardy, teamed up with him once more in 1992. To differentiate the phase 1 identity of the band from the phase 2 version, Christopher removed the second ‘C’ and introduced the letter ‘K’ in the word Crocodile. In fact, for the purposes of related artwork the ‘K’ was actually the ‘K’ used on the Special ‘K’ breakfast cereal. Not only that, but for phase 3, ex Digital Dinosaurs guitarist Gordon Francis (The Amazing Gordoni’) and singer Elspeth Whisten (Elli Bongo) began to hook up with the band, further enhancing the bands the bands versatility. Eventually, that difficult second album, titled ‘Dodoism’ emerged for the Croks during 1997. Afterwards, a privately released third album,'Peacrok', was issued to be followed by an album called 'Go for the Jugular' in 2005. This album phase 4 for the band saw them finally hooking up with Jerry Richards when commitments allowed him to.

Since then, things have picked up a pace in terms of recorded releases as The Croks released an album in 2007 called ‘Gullibles travels’, three years later 'Words of Wisdom?' (featuring phase 5 singer Amy McGuigan) followed by ‘If Hippies Ruled the World’ and finally, and most recently, ‘Made in Meriden’.

Mingled within those albums are several Croks songs that even relate to Coventry. These include 'Under the elephant', 'The Merry-Go-Round', 'Gullibles Travels’, 'Cathedral Lanes' and 'Much too good for Foleshill' along with many more. Another song titled ‘My Favourite Weathergirl’ was written about Central TV weather girl Charlie Neil. And what’s more, Charlie was well aware of it – check out her Wiki page. Charlie dropped it into many a conversation.

Alf amusingly describes the style of Croks music as ‘Coventry and Western’. And all in all, The Croks have recorded and released an impressive total of eight albums. Nearly all are still out there in physical format or available to download. And to this day Christopher Sidwell and Alf Hardy continue to play live acoustically as a duo or as a trio with long-time contributor guitarist Jerry Richards.

Christopher always writing and currently and are currently recording as you read this. New songs to be unleashed on an unsuspecting world include ‘Erwin’ and ‘Bobby’. ‘Erwin’ is a song described by Christopher as one ‘I wrote with Alf that shows our softer, more thoughtful side’. He continued ‘I write very differently with Alf’. ‘Bobby’ is a typically daft song that I tend to write on my own, it is a protest song of sorts about ‘comb overs’.

Funnily enough both of these new songs are about fame – something the Croks have yet to experience! Christopher is now retired and spends his time as an artist and as a grandfather. Alf is also retired and in his spare time he creates jingles. But both are still devoted to the Croks, maybe more so now that more time allows. Male crocodiles are, apparently, especially vociferous in their bellowing so who knows what the future holds for this pair of free spirits. A couple of new albums planned for the future ‘Old Skool’ and ‘The End of an Error’ are already in the advanced planning stages……….


Massive thanks to both Christopher and Alf for both their time and contributions in completing this article.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Cavern Club and the Belgrade Theatre

The Cavern Club and the Belgrade Theatre
by Pete Clemons

Hands up. Of all the gigs I attend, I really do enjoy the 1960s package tours. And, judging by their audience sizes, I am not alone. These shows are so popular and I guess that the folk who attend them revisit a period of their younger days listening to the music. I know I certainly do.

A tour recently pulled in at The Belgrade Theatre. And once again it was an absolute delight as the years flooded back. The show titled ‘Rocking and Rolling with Laughter’ had a Liverpool theme to it as it featured original artistes who had performed during the early days of The Cavern Club.

The Dakotas, Billy J Kramer’s original backing group, began the proceedings with songs such as ‘Bad to me’, ‘Do you want to know a secret’ and ‘Little children’. They then backed Victoria Jones who very impressively covered Cilla Black favourites: ‘Alfie’, ‘You’re my world’, ‘Anyone who had a heart’.

One time Opportunity Knocks winner Bernie Flint then took to the stage recounting numerous stories and performing several songs that included his huge seller ‘I don’t want to put a hold on you’.

The Dakotas returned to do the honours as they supported Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley of The Mersey’s as they performed hits like ‘Sorrow’ and ‘So sad about us’.

After a short break The Dakotas opened up once more but this time they performed their own tune, an instrumental called, ‘The Cruel Sea’. They were followed by comedian Mick Miller who certainly entertained the audience for twenty minutes or so.

Finally it was the turn of The Merseybeats to take you back in time as they included their huge sellers ‘I think of you’ and ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’ along with others within their set. Joining them on stage during their set was special guest Beryl Marsden who floored you with songs such as ‘Boys’ and ‘Baby it’s you’. In between songs at one point Beryl, who once supported The Beatles, was trying to remember if she had ever sung in Coventry before. She concluded that she didn’t think she had. But, if you ever read this Beryl, I am sure you once did and that was with Rod Stewart in the band Shotgun Express.

All in all it was a wonderful and well-presented evening. These musicians best days in terms of chart success may have been decades ago but they still know how to entertain.

But what was mystifying was the size of the audience which was a lot less than I had expected given how these gigs are normally attended. As I mentioned earlier, these events tend to sell really well but I couldn’t help thinking about the advertising.

Where normally, with 1960s package tours, the names of the bands appearing are the first thing you see on advertising posters etc. But in the case of this tour the artistes names are buried under a host of words explaining what the show is trying to recreate.

A real pity and an opportunity missed, in my opinion. It was a slight blemish on what had been a hugely enjoyable evening.