Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Buzzcocks in Coventry

Pete Clemons with his latest article for the Coventry Telegraph. They recently played the Godiva Festival and back in the 70's they played Mr Georges with Neil O'Connor's punk band - The Flys who continued to tour with them after that. I saw the Buzzcocks gig at Tiffany's with Penetration c 1978.

The punk band The punk band that still gets that still gets me buzzing!

by Pete Clemons

I WAS personally delighted when I heard that the Buzzcocks were going to headline the Friday evening of the Godiva Festival 2014. Having seen them play live on many occasions I do admit that they really are a guilty pleasure of mine.

This band is one of the UK's most popular and successful groups to have emerged from the punk rock era. For well over thirty years they have produced a host of studio and live albums. And, today, they continue to influence many a young, up and coming band.

The idea for e Buzzcocks came about during early 1976 and had been inspired by an early Sex Pistols gig attended by Bolton based students Peter McNeish and Howard Trafford.

Guitarist McNeish became known as Pete Shelley while vocalist Trafford became known as Howard Devoto. To complete the band they were joined by bass player Steve Diggle and drummer Mick Singleton on drums. By April 1976 and after a few gigs Singleton had been replaced by self taught drummer John Maher.

By mid1976 the band were touring with the band that had inspired them, namely e Sex Pistols, as well as touring with e Clash on the infamous 'White Riot' tour. And then toward the end of that year they had entered recording studios in Stock-Stock port to record a number of tracks, of which four would end up on their first record release 'Spiral Scratch.'.

Released during January 1977 on the band's own New Hormones record label, 'Spiral Scratch' became an almost instant cult classic and, due its limited production run, the record soon became a much sought after release. The Buzzcocks had created a fast, fresh sound and the pop world had not heard anything quite like it. is was a true musical revolution in the making. 

By February 1977 Devoto had left the group and the band had to reshue. John Maher remained on drums, Steve Diggle shifted to guitar, Pete Shelley took over vocal duties as well as retaining his guitar parts and the band recruited bass player Garth Smith who had known Shelley from a previous band.

Howard, Devoto returned to college but would resurface a year or so later with a new group called Magazine. A totally different story but Magazine went on to become a quite superb band in their own right.

By mid-1977 the Buzzcocks were attracting the attention of major record labels. And it was this latest line-up of the band that played Coventry's Mr Georges Club during October 1977. is gig became significant for two reasons. One was the fact that this gig would be Garth's last for the band and the other was that the Buzzcocks had been supported by Coventry band the Flys.

Described by guitarist Neil O'Connor as one of the best ever gigs by the Flys, the band were invited to stay on as the opening act for the Buzzcocks for the remainder of that tour and at the same time attracted the attentions of EMI records.

Shortly after that Coventry gig the Buzzcocks, who by then had been signed to the United Artists record label, released their first single for that label. 'Orgasm Addict' was the only single to feature Garth Smith who, by the time the record was released, had been replaced by bass player Steve Garvey. 

The Buzzcocks were now recording sessions for John Peel and becoming more and more noticed by the wider public. Their next single 'What Do I Get?', released during February 1978, was their rst to reach the UK top 40 charts. ' was followed in March by their wonderful debut album 'Another Music in a Different Kitchen'.

A further three visits were made to Coventry by the Buzzcocks during 1978. A couple of those gigs were at Tiffany's, of which one I recall was where they were supported by another amazing band called 'Penetration'. The third visit was at the Coventry Theatre to promote their second, and equally brilliant, LP release 'Love Bites.'.

* Arguably the band had their finest hour when the single 'Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)' was released during September 1978. For me personally it was just another great single by the band. But its longevity cannot be denied as, even nowadays, the song seems to crop up with regularity on the radio and television as well as being instantly recognised by the masses. 

After several more singles, a further visit to Coventry eatre during 1979 and a third LP titled 'A Different Kind of Tension' released the same year the Shelley, Diggle, Garvey and Maher line up continued right the way through till when the Buzzcocks eventually broke up to pursue solo careers during 1981.

However that 'classic' line-up then, seemingly out of the blue, regrouped once more during 1989 for a US tour that included an appearance on the TV series 'Bedrock.' .' Many bands were featured on this lucrative TV show but only on the condition that it was the most recognised line-up of the group which would perform. And, apart from a brief stint by ex-the Smiths drummer Mike Joyce, the band remained together again until 1992.

During 1992 Tony Barber joined on bass and Phil Barker on drums, replacing Garvey and Maher, and it was this line-up that embarked on a tour with Nirvana and again with Pearl Jam during 2003. An album titled 'Trade Test Transmissions' was released the same year. is had been e Buzzcocks rst release in 14 years.

To date the nucleus of the Buzzcocks has always remained as Shelley and Diggle. During April 2006, Phil Barker left and was replaced by Danny Farrant. And in April 2008, Tony Barber left and was replaced by Chris Remmington.

During January 2009 the Buzzcocks embarked on a UK, European and American tour which they titled the 'Another Bites Tour' where they played their first two albums in full as well as completing the gig with an encore of their other hit singles. Support came from another 70s punk band the Lurkers' and the tour called in at the Leamington Assembly.

Another out of the blue moment happened during November 2011 when a couple of shows featuring Howard Devoto, John Maher, and Steve Garvey were announced. Both the reunited line-up, plus the current line-up took to the stage for two very special shows held at the Manchester Apollo and the Brixton Academy. 

The Buzzcocks have an incredible legacy and over the years many bands have cited the band as a major influence. And many, I think, do indeed owe this unique group a debt of gratitude. I am sure that the Godiva Festival will remember them for a time and will be left with some nostalgia for an age yet to come. 

Penetration who supported the Buzzcocks at Tiffanys in Coventry 1978

Neil O'Connor's The Flys who supported the Buzzcocks at Mr Georges and subsequently toured with them.
Neil was Hazel's older brother for those who may not know.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Nick Drake - Pete Clemons Asks "did he play in Coventry?"

Pete Clemons has posed a question for his latest article for the Coventry Telegraph. "Did Nick Drake play a gig in Coventry?". There are things that hang on that but Pete will explain in the article.

Did city gig make Nick Drake stage shy?
by Pete Clemons
A MUSICAL question I have had, for a while now, and tried to find a definitive answer to, is one surrounding Nick Drake. It is whether or not he ever played a gig in Coventry, which would solve a riddle about one of my all time favourite ever singer songwriters.

Nick Drake was born in June 1948 and died on November 25, 1974. He grew up in Tanworth in Arden, Warwickshire, was educated at Cambridge University where he was an accomplished sprinter (I believe he still holds the university record for the 100-yard dash) and it was there where he discovered the English folk scene.

His love of folk music led to him signing to Island records in 1969 where he recorded three almost perfect albums. Sadly the wider audience at that time, and for whatever reason, failed to notice Nick and his albums barely sold 5,000 copies each after their release.

No footage, as far as I know, exists of Nick and relatively few photographs were taken or interviews conducted. 'is lack of all round success led, in turn, to bouts of depression and insomnia that in the end had a major bearing on him losing his life at such a young age.

Since his death, and in particular from the beginning of the 1990s, Nick's popularity increased dramatically. It is said that his music has been an influence on such luminaries as Paul Weller, Pete Buck of REM and Robert Smith of the Cure. And those influences spread to the artists' extensive individual fan bases, and beyond, and suddenly it seemed the true genius of Nick Drake had begun to be realised. As a result several posthumous albums and compilations have been released along with various books and articles.

Apart from busking around France and parts of the UK in his early days Nick Drake only ever played a handful of official live performances. Depending on what website or list you look at the total number of recorded events Nick Drake participated at has never gone beyond 20 or so gig dates. And among those confirmed, no date has ever been given for a gig in Coventry.

The websites containing his gigging activity show that he once played a gig in Smethwick. The exact date is unknown but indications show that it was sometime during autumn 1969 at a venue for the Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds works social club. Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds were more commonly known as GKN a company who, at that time, produced cast iron products.

On that particular evening in question Nick performed to an inattentive crowd between a works dinner and a disco that was scheduled for later in the evening. One of Nick's closest friends was singer songwriter John Martyn. So close were they that John had written one of his most famous songs, 'Solid Air',' especially about Nick. 'I know I love you, and I can be your friend, I can follow you anywhere' is a line from that particular song.

John, it seems, remembered the works dinner event well. And some years later, during an interview on Radio 1, John reflected on that particular experience: "It really destroyed him' and that he thought that they (the audience) would have rather listened to the Troggs. So I think that was a major blow to his confidence. I remember him being defencive about it for days and days."

I then read a Nick Drake biography by the well respected author Patrick Humphries. I was completely astonished to read on pages 124 and 125 of the paperback that Patrick had written the following passages which related to gigs played by Nick during late 1969. It was based on more recollections made by John Martyn: "He primarily played for his own amusement. One of the things that contributed to his utter detestation of the whole thing was that he was once booked to play at a Coventry Apprentices Christmas Ball. In those days, Purple Haze was 'in', and there he was singing 'Fruit Tree' and all those gentle breezy little ballads and I can just imagine them swigging back Carlsberg Special and giving him an awful time. I know that gig lived in his mind and he'd talk about it quite regularly." 

" Another source, an unconfirmed eye witness account of the gig, states that: "Nick came on at about 9pm. They were still clearing away the tables and chairs from an earlier dinner. Without a word he proceeded to play and an audience of 10 to 15 people who had stayed and gathered in front of the stage. the rest of the people in the hall continued to arrange chairs, clean up after the meal or just chat. After five or six numbers he just packed his guitar in its case and walked of stage." 

Facts and other things can easily be forgotten over the passage of time. But John Martyn would surely have known if he had been in Coventry or not. Particularly as John's partner at that time was Beverley Kutner who happened to live in Coventry. John Martyn knew Coventry fairly well at that time.

Another factor is that Patrick Humphries is a great writer and I just could not imagine him publishing something without the full facts being fully researched and checked.

Seeing those passages in Patrick's book was all I needed to start my search for evidence and after some considerable time I came across an advert for an Alvis Apprentice Christmas Dance at their Sports and Social Club on the Holyhead Road (nowadays the home of the Alvis retail park). It was held on Friday December 19, 1969.

Admittedly, Nick Drake's name was not on the advert. the band shown on the advert, as scheduled to appear that night, was called ''The Big Idea.' .' But everything else about the whole event seems to fit. It would certainly not be the first time a band or artist had played at an event and whose name had failed to have been included on the advertising flyers.

One of the many things Nettlefolds (GKN) were famous for was the manufacturing of iron castings for the automobile industry. Alvis were of course a major player in the manufacture of cars and heavy artillery for the armed services.

So the links between the two companies were denitely there. So much so in fact that during 1998 Alvis plc acquired the armoured vehicle business of GKN plc. A long shot I guess, but, reading this article may just jog the memory of someone who attended the Alvis apprentices dinner and dance.

I could, of course, be way o| beam with my thoughts, however, I just think that John Martyn's memories, along with his knowledge of Coventry at that time, are just too strong to ignore. I really do think my suspicions hold some water.

Having said that, and even though I really do think it happened, I do so with mixed feelings. On one hand I am convinced in my mind that Nick Drake did perform in Coventry during the winter of 1969. Yet, I get a sense of guilt that Coventry could possibly have been the city and provided the audience that destroyed him as a live performer.

An unfinished song by Nick Drake and Beverley Martyn finished recently by Beverley on her new album.