Thursday, March 26, 2020

Colin Armstrong - Coventry Singer Songwriter

Colin Armstrong - 
Coventry Singer Songwriter.
By Pete Clemons

Colin Armstrong was one of the Top Coventry singer songwriters, visual artist and bookshop proprietor to come out of Coventry. He was a member of the folk group Music Box with Coventry luthian Rob Armstrong (no relation) who made guitars for Bert Jansch and George Harrison and together they made an album called Songs of Sunshine in 1971.

Remember Armstrong's book shop in Earlsdon, close to the library?. It was a fascinating place. But, of course, it closed several years ago now, due to the then growth of the internet.

Colin Armstrong playing guitar in his Earlsdon bookshop.

A few years ago I had a chat with its proprietor Colin Armstrong. He mentioned that before the shop he had been involved in the construction of the ring road. He worked, for a while, as a shuttering joiner for Gallifords on the section between Pool Meadow and London Road.

Away from work Colin would go to the Holyhead youth centre where he would sing and play his guitar along with Trev and Bob and other musicians. He would sing his own songs also.

Trev Teasdel has thrown some light on that - 
" I used to see Colin play when he was in Music Box. He got in contact in 1973 when we started Hobo and I covered his musical activities in the magazine (see below). Colin performed as a solo artist for the Hobo Workshop gigs, at the Holyhead Youth Centre. Colin was a great advocate for Hobo and Bob and I started jamming with him and attempted to form a trio. Bob Rhodes was the Youth Worker for Coventry Voluntary Services, and had helped us get the Holyhead for Hobo gigs. Charley Anderson and elements of what became Selecter, used the basement at that time along with Neol Davies. Bob and I played guitar but we were no match for Colin! Nonetheless we did some of Colin's song, a few of mine and some rock and pop covers, at the Holyhead and in a warehouse at the Canal Basin,  ultimately the idea of a trio didn't get off the ground!"

He lived, for a while, in a bedsit on Earlsdon Avenue North from the late 1960s into the 1970s. So he had easy access to and played regularly at the City Arms Folk Club. He would do solo slots with his own songs as well as sing and play in various rock and folk bands.

While at the City Arms he clearly remembered seeing Jasper Carrott appear there. He also remembered when Dave Bennett had just starting playing there. 'After one session, there were a few of us in the downstairs bar having a drink and Dave asked us 'Do you think I should carry on playing, am I good enough'. We all gave him a resounding – absolutely, yes indeed!!. And, as we all know, Dave went on to become a stalwart of the Coventry folk scene'.

Colin, who describes his music as 'funky folk', used to play in the Music Box group until they folded during 1972. This band, of course, included Rob Armstrong (no relation).

He then went down to London to try and get some sort of recording contract and sell some of his songs, without any success.

It's fair to say that Colin's musical career was steady but had not been progressing in the way he had hoped. But then during 1973, at the age of 25, there was a whiff of success and a hope that his big break would be coming at last. The top prize was a recording contract with EMI.

The national competition was organised by the Association of Musical Rument Industries and sponsored by the Melody Maker. As well as the EMI recording contract the prize also includes new instruments and equipment.

Colin found himself as the winner of a Midlands area heat of a national folk rock contest. 'Each musician had a 10 minute spot in the heat and I did three of my own songs – 'Country Boy, Country Bound', 'Blues for Glenda' and Heaven and Hell' – all vocals and acoustic guitar' he said. And he was judged the best soloist from acts all over the West Midlands, and he was the only one from his heat to be chosen to go through to the semi finals in May 1973.

As he progressed into the semi finals he said at the time, 'I'm hoping to do really well in the competition and get another chance. It could also bring in a bit more work for me from the local pubs and clubs'. But it wasn't to be as Colin fell at the final hurdle.

Later on, and before the shop, Colin, went to work for an Earlsdon Engineering firm. Another side line was that Colin was also an abstract painter of some note. He had exhibitions in the Minster Gallery in Hearsall Lane, the Kongoni Coffee Bar and a couple of things in the 'reject art exhibition' at the Methodist Central Hall. It was on Colin's suggestion that Trev did an interview with the Minster Gallery for the first edition of Hobo magazine.

From the Coventry Telegraph c 73 / 74

 From Hobo Magazine

From Hobo issue 1 June 1973) -
"Congrats to Colin Armstrong in reaching the Semi-finals in the Melody Maker National Rock/Folk contest and also to Just Jake, Willow, Naked Light, Just Before Dawn, Bumble and all the other Coventry bands / artists that took part. More on them if poss - later." 

From Hobo Issue 4 (Unpublished version)
"Coventry singer - songwriter COLIN ARMSTRONG, who reached the semi-final in the Melody Maker contest last year, is to enter again this year...Lotza luck Colin..."

Other blogs related to Colin Armstrong 
Hobo - Coventry Folk Scene blog - Colin Armstrong

Hobo - Coventry Folk Scene - Rob Armstrong - No relation but they both played in Music Box. Rob made guitars and also played with Rod Felton in the New Modern Idiot Grunt Band.

Hobo  - Coventry Folk Scene - Music Box

Music Box

Rob Armstrong recalled the days of Music Box in the Coventry Telegraph -

"We called ourselves Music Box, and found quite a following among local folk-music lovers. Songs of Sunshine was our first disc. One of the pieces was composed by Colin and entitled Seaside Sunshine, I had written the title song and there were Scottish songs and a Bob Dylan number. We recorded it on a Saturday afternoon at a house in Cheadle Hulme (Greater Manchester). Rob and Colin, owner of Armstrong's Collectables, in Earlsdon, played as Music Box on the local folk circuit for nearly two years, performing at the Belgrade Studio and Lanchester Arts Festival, as well as several pubs."


To hear more of the Music Box album - follow this link to a page about Music Box...

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