Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Remembering Coventry band The Ramrods - Pete Clemons

It's been a while since we've had a new Pete Clemons article, not because Pete has slowed down but because of various changes at the Coventry Telegraph I believe. However, with the election out of the way, Pete has a new article. His articles are now on line as a matter of course but we will continue to document them here on with the rest of  Pete's work by his own request.

Pete Clemons has chosen to write about Coventry band The Ramrods - later major 5 which featured Danny Cunningham (Ex Squad) and later, Dave Pepper, formerly the X Certs.  Dave Pepper himself has a direct relevance with Hobo Magazine and Workshop - we gave Dave's first band Phoenix their first gig at the Hobo Workshop, Holyhead Youth Centre in 1974 (the band were only 16 or 17 at that stage and finding it hard to get a first gig) and the band were earmarked to play the Live Concert in the Coventry precinct in 1974 to promote the work of the Hobo Workshop. Unfurtunaltely the concert was shut down by the police for no good reason before Dave's band got a chance to play. The history of that concert is covered on another of Pete's articles here http://coventrygigs.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/hobo-workshop-concert-that-led-to-7-day.html

Remembering Coventry band The Ramrods

Dave Pepper who was in Coventry band The Ramrods

Incredibly, 2014 marked 30 years since Coventry band, The Ramrods had a change of name, as well as direction and became known as Major 5.

These groups hardly seem to be mentioned nowadays. And that milestone went largely unnoticed. Yet, in my opinion, both of these groups contained some amazing talent, were very solid, consistently good but, sadly, were under achievers.

This oversight could well be down to how big 2-Tone was and how it possibly overshadowed everything else going on at the time. Another factor may have been down to the rise of other Coventry bands around at that time like King. It could have been their image. But one thing is for sure. Despite their best efforts, and a few false starts, The Ramrods and Major 5 never quite had the breaks they deserved.

Music in the 1980s was very much about image. Economically, the grim 1970s were now making way for a decade of growth in people’s income and lifestyle. This growth, to a degree, was reflected in the music. The Pet Shop Boys, for me, summed up the 1980s in their song ‘Opportunities’. And TV channels, such as the newly formed MTV, emphasised the image aspect also.

Danny Cunningham

It was all as if the people who were running the music business were adding more of their influence and indiscreetly trying to push music in a certain direction while the musicians themselves were, at times, trying to take it down another route.

MTV made its debut on August 1, 1981. The first music video to be played on that particular channel was appropriately The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’. The whole industry, it seemed, was under change as the focus seemed to shift from the art of simply writing music and lyrics and began to concentrate more on the fashion and the theatrics of it all.

Personally, I felt it was a slightly confusing time. Punk and post punk had come and gone and now this new wave of music, which for me felt like the complete antithesis of what had just gone by, was beginning to kick in. Yet, at the same time, punk bands still continued to spring up and some were touring with this new wave of groups.

Danny Cunningham

The Ramrods formed during 1979 and were a rock band that played venues like the Hope and Anchor and The Whitley Abbey pub. They sported a leather jacket, torn t-shirt and denim image, similar to that of The Ramones , I guess. At their peak many people rated them as the best local band around. They wrote their own original music and were very good at it. ‘Prospect Street’, ‘Give ‘em a Reason’ and ‘Solidarity’, for example, are still incredible tunes and to this day remain among writer, Danny Cunningham’s, favourites. And these were just a few of the many really excellent songs the band had in their set.

The pedigree within The Ramrods was equally impressive. The band’s lead guitarist and main song writer, as mentioned, was Danny Cunningham. Danny had previously been a member of  Squad. His brother and rhythm guitarist, Barney (Burzy), had been a member of  Criminal Class. Initially the bass player was Kevin Tanner. He was replaced by Clint Morgan who, in turn, made way for Cliff Hands. On drums was Billy Little. Later on the band included Dave Pepper who joined on keyboards. But after Cliff Hands left, when The Ramrods were by then known as Major 5, Dave took over the bass duties as the band reverted back to a four-piece.

By the end of 1983 The Ramrods finally appeared to be going places after they managed to persuade Trevor Long, the manager of  Haircut 100 and with whom they toured with, to look after them as well. Long managed to get The Ramrods some prestigious gigs supporting Culture Club on their autumn 1983 tour. He also set them up to support ex- The Jam drummer, Rick Buckler’s band, called Time UK, on their October 1983 tour.

When I recently asked Danny Cunningham if he had any memories of that time he recalled when The Ramrods were due to support Culture Club at the Victoria Hall in Hanley. Up till then it had been a bit of a struggle for the band who did not have access to their own van and, as such, had to beg and borrow lifts where they could. The driver for that particular gig should have arrived at 4pm but never got to pick up point until 4.30pm. It was then a bit of a race up the M6. But the van driver had not realised that Culture Club were a band and toured Hanley looking for a club called Culture Club until the band set him straight.

Trevor Long also paid for the band to go into the studio. The resulting tapes were hawked around London and several record companies were sufficiently impressed enough to send representatives to a Ramrods gig at the Lanchester Polytechnic during October 1983. The Ramrods then spent a week during March 1984 recording at a London studio at the expense of RCA records with a view to a contract. Sadly, neither of those potential deals failed to materialise.

It was during July 1984 that Danny and Barney Cunningham announced that, after two years of being known as The Ramrods, the band now had a new image and would become known as Major 5. Their new look was unveiled at The General Wolfe toward the end of that month. And during August 1984, Major 5, along with other bands such as The Furious Apples, European Sun and The Hawaiian Surgeons, featured in the Coventry Festival – a precursor for the Godiva Festival .

April 1985 then saw Major 5 support The Pogues at the Lanchester Polytechnic 's ‘End of term bash’. A report of the gig stated the following ‘It would have been impossible for any band to have stolen the thunder from the magnificent Pogues but the one band who did give them a run for their money was Coventry’s own Major 5. In the downstairs bar at the Poly the group played a confident set of hard American influenced rock songs that were oozing with quality and fire’.

May 1985 then saw the band involved in many contract negotiations with an agency called TriTec. Trevor Long, who was still involved with the band’s interests, had even flown to New York to investigate an American recording deal.

August 1985 saw Major 5 spending several weeks in London. While there they performed at venues as diverse as Crazy Larry’s nightclub and The Half Moon at Putney. The band also spent time with the visually stunning and outrageous band Sigue Sigue Sputnik . At some point, around this time, Dave Pepper had met up with Tony James, the bass player of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. It was clear that this meeting inspired Dave.

The earlier association with The Pogues led to Major 5 landing the support slot on the band’s ‘Rum, Sodemy and the Lash’ tour during November and December 1985. This led to the band appearing on one of the biggest stages in the country, The Hammersmith Odeon . This happened on December 8, 1985 Major 5 along with The Tall Boys.

Dave Pepper

As good as they were, live, the pressure was beginning to show within Major 5. The last gig date I can find for the band was an appearance at the Dog and Trumpet during December 1986. The band had several line-up changes over the course of that year.

Mark Patrick had replaced Dave Pepper who by now was involved in his own futuristic band Blitzkrieg Zone which took off at the beginning of 1986. Cliff Hands had also left the band. He had been replaced by, firstly, a guy called Chris from the Wonderstuff and Pop Will Eat Itself gang who, in turn, was later replaced by Mick Teddler.

Nowadays Danny and Barney Cunningham are still heavily involved in the local music scene. Danny’s long running band Gdansk still continue to perform regularly in and around Coventry. But very occasionally you can still catch The Ramrods. Still complete with original members and still playing original songs. They appeared at The Spencer Club as recently as 2013 when they warmed up the audience for The DT’s. They also appeared at The Arches Club during 2014. Given the rehearsal time they give themselves, they are in my opinion, still very impressive.

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