Thursday, 23 February 2017

Sent To Coventry

             Yeah, it's an old joke,that one in the title. But some of us had no choice and Philip bloody Larkin couldn't wait to get away. It's a joke I'm entitled to crack, as I grew up there. I was born in Keresley (now within the city boundary though it wasn't then-the city still had a wall round it.Ho Ho.)  I went to school there,lived there for over thirty years  and although I've lived in Warwickshire since 1987, I worked there for 38 years after I came home from a brief stay in London. 
      Today I felt I paid off some of my music dues. I finally got round to visiting Coventry Music Museum. It's roughly halfway between the two houses where I spent my childhood and just up the road from where Black Parrot Seaside first noodled away at composing their first original song. Previously I'd seen a very interesting display in the City's Herbert Art Gallery, featuring some of the current exhibits. At the time I'd resolved to go along and take a closer look. But stuff happens. Today I finally made it. It was fantastic.
       Since I was old enough to bop around the living room in Northfield Road to Theresa Brewer, I've loved music. All music. Pop. Rock. Classical. Country. By the time I was eight I'd sung my first solo on stage in a pantomime ( It was Snow White-and **** you all,  I'm damned if I'll tell you which ****** dwarf  I played.)  The Primary School I attended is now a nightclub,and the church where I was once a choirboy is now just a patch of grass. 
        It is an important patch of grass though, because my mum and dad got married there.  it's in Far Gosford Street, close to where The Enemy's Tom Clarke wrote one of several corking Cov. anthems-"We'll Live and Die In These Towns." Something he'd read on a urinal and found rather apposite at the time. It is also within one minute of The Twisted Barrel Brewery Tap where, tomorrow night once again, the band I am currently singing with, Nunc, will be returning for another session of live music. It's within walking distance of where Chuck Berry recorded that epic departure from R & B My Ding A Ling.
         There was once a record shop opposite the church. I bought my first single there. Buddy Holly-" It doesn't Matter Anymore."  I bought my second and third there. "The Lion Sleeps Tonight " by The Tokens and " Because They're Young" by Duane Eddy. ( I still have them!). I was already listening to Elvis and Bill Haley on the family Regentone. But these singles were mine. 
      Coventry Music Museum is a compact but detail-filled walk back through nostalgia. It reflects musical development in Coventry and Warwickshire, from the beautifully haunting (and ancient) Coventry Carol,right up to the present day.It is a multi-cultural set of stepping stones through the city's multicultural heritage. Yes, it features the bigger names, known and remembered fondly world-wide. The Specials:Frank Ifield: King:The Primitives:The Enemy. Panjabi MC. But it also pays homage to other back stories. Lieutenant Pigeon's fall from the perch:  From Bhangra to 2-Tone: from Dando Shaft to Punk. If it had a connection to the City it's there. The bench John Lennon and Yoko sat on when they planted an acorn in the grounds of the new Cathedral. Delia Derbyshire's Tape Recorder-possibly the one she mixed the Dr Who theme on when composing it? 
        Founded by music historian Pete Chambers,it is an Aladdin's cave of treasures and memorabilia. People who don't know the Town well or think it is part of Birmingham could learn a lot by wandering round here. As my own collection of 45's grew,my horizons widened and I learned that not all music came from across the Atlantic. In the 1960's I saw and loved local Pop bands like The Mighty Avengers,The Sorrows and Jigsaw. The city was awash with venues where you could pick up Rock,pop and later Prog, Soul and Ska bands from beyond the city.  I saw The Applejacks at the Football Ground. Led Zeppelin in the Locarno Ballroom. Chicken Shack in the Hotel Leofric. Fairport Convention and Fleetwood Mac at The Lanchester Polytechnic. Bert Jansch at The Mercers Arms. All part of my musical education.   Speaking of which,I attended Caludon Castle Comprehensive. So did Pete Waterman, Paul King, The Pigeon's Steve Johnson and at least five members of Black Parrot Seaside. 
        Ah::The Parrot! What a tiny part we played in the City's musical history,but what fun we had as we did so. Firstly as a daft,madcap 1970's rock band, singing about fighting, and Mr Unusual: about vacuum cleaners and deranged Field Mice. Bringing the Golden Cross to a halt with a simulated fight scene. Then later as a Folk outfit.  Eventually taking gap years..Then gap decades. Bouncing off the edge of Punk ending up attached to the same label as Hazel O' Connor's brother Neil and his band The Flys. Going down to Pathway Studios in Stoke Newington,to record on vinyl ,with Siouxsie and The Banshees booked in before us, and Desperate Bicycles in afterwards. 
      Once we did a CND benefit in The Colin Campbell. Bit of a coincidence-both the Campbell Brothers from UB40 turned up and followed us on stage. We got a management, recording and publishing deal but nothing came of it. Even though our single was on the jukebox in a pub in the High Street. Good reviews in the NME but Squeeze and Kate Bush released their first singles on the same day. No Payola for us. Some airplay on John Peel's Late show on Radio One before we went back to concentrating on mortgages,jobs and bringing up families. Probably for the best. 
       I wandered about today, looking at the posters and ticket stubs and record sleeves,and the memories came flooding back. I guess most visitors have a similar experience. I had a crush on one of The Orchids. They went to Stoke Park-a nearby grammar school, and so to a spotty adolescent like me,they were unattainable. The city was like that-big enough to have a great diversity of music but compact enough so that you were often bumping into someone you knew. Even when they finally made it, few true Cov kids became aloof. 
        There are gaps of course-space is limited and you can't have everything on display. I'd like to see more on  Folk. Swarbrick is rightly featured,but Rod Felton was a proper legend. Kevin Dempsey still gets immense acclaim wherever he plays and Martin Jenkins was an unsung hero and a prodigious talent. I remember Jimmy Jimmy busking in the precinct ( I once owned their single on vinyl). 
         So well done Pete Chambers and co. And your research team. More power to your styluses. I'll be back.