Angel Racing Food

Single  (Little Teddy label: (LiTe750)  2003

“Venus Bigfoot” / “Last Servant” / “World Turned Upside Down”.

Album:  ”ARF” (Topplers label CD: TV015) 2007

World Turned Upside Down

Venus Bigfoot

Last Servant

Ravenous Scavengers*

Butcher Shop Lassie

Clockwork Sparrows*

Film Buff*

Dead Man’s Shoes*

Ketchup Money*

Nostalgia*

Guinea Pig

Jowe Head (lead vocals, guitar, sound effects etc), Lee McFadden (guitar, vocals), Mick Frangou (drums), Nick Smith (bass, backing vocals on *), Chloe Herrington (alto sax, bassoon), Zoe Gilmore (cello).

Another, later, session was recorded but has hitherto been unreleased:  ”The Moleman of Dalston Town”, “Sweet Anaesthetist”, “Lily Gilders”, “Do The Crustacean”, featuring drummer Jeff Bloom..

Music and Art in Georgia (USA), during October & November 2015.

I currently have a paintings on display at two venues in Athens, Georgia:  KA Art , and at Lo Yo Yo.  Here are some of the pieces on display.  I shall also be playing some music in Georgia next week:

Sun 25-10: Live session at Radio WREK, Atlanta, 10-12pm.

Mon 26-10 Reception at Lo Yo-Yo Record Shop

Wed 28-10: Concert at Hendershots, Athens.

Thur 29-10: Concert at Eyedrum, Atlanta

Fri 30-10: Reception at KA gallery, Athens

Sat 31-10: Wild Rumpus parade / Concert at Flicker, Athens

Jowe Head & The Demi-Monde, live in Camden Town, Friday 28th November

We’ll be playing some grand new tunes from a new project: “Ars Longa, Vita Brevis”, a set of songs about some remarkable artists, namely: Hannah Hoch, Kurt Schwitters, Josef Beuys, Kurt Schwitters, Louise Bourgeois. Expect a good dose of Theremin, analogue synth, bowed saw, cello, and a couple of duets between the divine Catherine Gerbrands and myself.  Also in the line-up:  Tim Bowen (cello), and Ravi Low-Beer (drums).

Mid-summer invocation at Hundred Years Gallery, 22June 2014

With my band The Demi-Monde, I led a procession and invocation to the sun outside Hundred Years Gallery, at the recent solstice weekend, followed by a concert inside the gallery.  I had made a totem-pole sculpture, and wrote a poem especially for the occasion: “Long Live the Sun”, which we used in the procession.   In the concert, we also performed another new piece called “King of the Corn”, based on the traditional song “John Barleycorn Must Die”.

Guest performers were Rotten Bliss (aka: cellist / vocalist Jasmine Pender)  and Quimper, an electronic duo.                                       All photos by Mary Lemley

New album from Jowe Head and the Demi-Monde

“Confessions from the Twisted Tower”
Album available now on CD from the Topplers label

http://www.topplers.net/

The album is now available in downloadable form through the usual suspects:  Amazon, ITunes, Spotify, etc. 

Here are the featured musicians on these tracks: Catherine Gerbrands (xylophone, autoharp, bowed saw, vocals), Tim Bowen (cello), Ravi-Low-Beer (drums), Nicky Heinen (flute), Phil Martin (violin), Lee McFadden (bass guitar), Trevor Davies (drums).

Now I aim to get it out on vinyl on long-playing record, so watch this space!

 

Valerie and her Week of Wonders: Concert on 5th January

Valerie and her Week of Wonders shall play a concert on Saturday 5th January at The Stag’s Head in Hoxton, 55 Orsman Street, London N1-5RA.

This band features the divine voice of Catherine Gerbrands, the cello of Tim Bowen, the percussion of Trevor Davies and myself on vocals, guitar and bass. Also appearing: Bird Radio and Phillip Martin.
This event is free!  It is also to celebrate Catherine’s birthday.

That Rough Trade Scene (1978)

When I first visited Rough Trade as one of Swell Maps in 1978, I was impressed by the creative atmosphere, the camaraderie and the commitment to independent anti-corporate ideals.  RT was then based at the original premises at Kensington Park Road, next to Portobello Market, and the area was still somewhat down at heel but exciting – well before that “Notting Hill” film was made, and before developers moved in to “posh-up” the neighbourhood.   This was still the Westway of songs by The Clash, and reggae sound-systems and squatted Victorian villas.

After our first single, Swell Maps were offered a manufacturing/distribution deal with RT, whereby we would deliver the master tape of a record plus artwork; RT would get it made and handle the distribution to wholesalers and shops.  The best of all possible worlds!  We had total command over the sound and appearance of the record, and they would handle the burden of the practicalities.

The RT shop was at the front of the modest premises, and the distribution /mail order office at the back.  One would encounter Jeff Travis, Richard Scott, Sue Scott, and Peter Walmesley, at the centre of all the frenetic activity.  They were directors, and made all the crucial decisions. There was a constant flow of stocks of records and fanzines from small labels and producers, with the musicians usually delivering stock themselves, and meeting each other in a haphazard, serendipitous way.  Sue Donne attended to the mail-order deliveries and dispensed her own brand of anarchic wisdom.  Upstairs on the first floor, there was a front room which was gradually taken over by an rapidly expanding business: sisters Sue and Barbara Grogan booking gigs and handling publishing rights, Scott Pierring handling radio promotion, and various people running the label accounts.

Daniel Miller had a tiny corner to run his Mute Records Label; later he would need a large team of workers and an entire building, of course!   He earned great respect with his own ominously awesome single ”Warm Leatherette”/”TVOD” under the name The Normal, before producing some innocent synth-pop discs under the name of the Silicone Teens. A man of excellent taste and judgement, he also released records by Fad Gadget and DAF, then discovered Depeche Mode and Yazoo and Erasure, to achieve enormous success world-wide.  In the 1990s, Mute re-released the Swell Maps albums on CD, perhaps as an acknowledgement of their roots.

Musicians would tend to hang out at the back of RT in the tiny first floor kitchen, many of them rolling up spliffs and getting stoned there.  I recall with embarrassment the occasion that I went to borrow a power adapter from that kitchen for a Swell Maps gig around the corner at Aklam Hall, because there were not enough sockets for the amplifiers’ power supply.  In my haste, I had forgotten to plug the fridge supply back, so the thing de-frosted overnight.  Alas, this caused a flood which spread to the room below, damaging boxes of other bands’ records.

Swell Maps would often crash out at night in the second-floor flat as a guest of Sue Donne and her collection of ska, Hank Williams and Elvis Presley singles.  One night, I turned up unexpectedly, and the place was empty – no-one home!  I knew no-one else in London, alas.  I had to furtively crash in the multi-story car-park opposite, on a cold night with only one old discarded blanket to keep me warm.

My friends in Swell Maps, Epic and Nikki, would sometimes work in the shop at the counter, as I did once or twice myself.  I recall them telling me excitedly that they had sold a copy of our first Swell Maps LP to David Bowie, who was checking out the new releases in person, bless him!  We soon found ourselves rubbing shoulders with amazing musicians and kindred spirits.  The Raincoats, Kleenex, Doctor Mix & the Remix, Scritti Politti and Television Personalities come to mind.   Those bands all had similar deals with RT and we would share bills at concerts and hang out together.  We were particularly close to The Raincoats, and we would sometimes jam with Gina and Ana on that Television Personalities song “Part Time Punks”, or one of their tunes, like “Fairy Tale in the Supermarket”.  It was particularly inspiring to observe the rise of a female voice in “alternative music”, which was virtually unknown before, and at best seen as a novelty in rock music circles before.

We also met up with our old pal from Solihull, Spizz, who had some success on RT with his Spizzenergi single ”Where’s Captain Kirk?”  We also met Mark Stewart and The Pop Group, who along with The Slits had escaped to RT from deals with other, larger, labels.  On the other hand, Stiff Little Fingers left RT to get a more lucrative deal with Chrysalis – a major label.  They explained in the press at the time that they would rather be associated with “real musicians” like Billy Idol rather than “the likes of Swell Maps”.  Despite having dug their early RT records, which were marvelous raw bursts of energy, I couldn’t help thinking “good riddance!”  They didn’t surpass those efforts at Chrysalis.

After RT had earned some modest early successes and media attention, Epic and myself suggested rather cheekily that RT would turn into the “new Virgin”, and Travis might become the “new Richard Branson”.  It was only a joke, but there was a germ of truth there.  In those days Virgin actually still had some credibility as an “alternative” label; after all, they brought Faust, Henry Cow and Gong to the world!   But after years of being thought of as a “hippy” label, then taking the risk of signing the Sex Pistols, Virgin latched onto that “new wave” sound and milked it, because none of the major labels seemed to be very interested in punk and it’s offshoots at first.  Branson saw the commercial potential, and after Virgin’s commercial success with Sex Pistols, they were all greedily snapping up any cute band with tight trousers and spiky hair, if they could come up with some catchy tunes.

In contrast, RT started out as the definitively underground operation.  In the late 1970s, the RT image was one of asceticism, of having a stance of anti-sexism and anti-rock and roll, of being politically charged and against corporate decadence and any glamorous frippery.  Later, when Travis signed The Smiths, there was a discernible change in their approach.  RT strove for success in the “mainstream”, but there was a certain crusading zeal involved. – the sense of an intellectual elite attempting to educate the masses. The people at RT seemed to project a crusading zeal about bringing “independent values” into the mainstream, and waging a war on the major record companies’ bourgeois reactionary grip on our culture.  Selling as many records as possible was part of the deal, though!

Ironically, it was the arrival of a refugee from Virgin that personified the radical stance at RT: Robert Wyatt.  Following the shift in A&R policy to punk and new wave at Virgin, it seemed that he was unwanted there. Jeff Travis – in one of his many inspired signings – brought him to RT.  Wyatt acted, it seemed to me, as a catalyst for the left-wing ideology of RT at the time.  I remember him appearing on Epic’s solo single for RT, and I was happy to give him a lift home with his wheelchair to Richmond.  He was in a hurry, and I found out why when we arrived; his wife Alfreda gave him a real roasting for nearly missing the chance to vote in the local election!  I think that one can safely assume that he was being urged to vote for the local Communist candidate.

The RT work-force originally ran itself as a co-operative.  Apparently, even the directors earned the same wages as some spotty newcomer stacking shelves. Jeff Travis and the other directors had to do some of the more humdrum activities like packing boxes in the beginning, before they each got their own office.  Policies and record releases were discussed at meetings, and debates raged into the night about whether some releases were ideologically sound.  “Sense of Belonging”, the single by Television Personalities, was the subject of a protracted, bitter, debate regarding the cover, that of the face of a battered child. Many interesting characters came and went.  Most, but not all of them, musicians: Barbara Grogan’s lover Keith Allen worked as driver at RT while trying to get his comedy career underway.  He also drove Swell Maps to gigs for a sideline to make a bit more dosh.  He was enormous fun to have around, and more than a bit naughty!

Red Crayola arrived in the UK in 1978, and played some blinding shows as an aggressive, spell-binding hard-core duo – Mayo Thompson and drummer Jesse. Mayo was an active member of the Art and Music movement, and his obtuse, fragmented style of music and lyric composition seems to be a product of this. The first Red Crayola album from 1967 came out of the hard-core Texan psychedelic scene that also produced the Thirteenth Floor Elevators.  I had never heard this music before, so hearing the re-issue of these albums was a real revelation.  Myself and other kindred spirits had been on something of a “scorched earth” trip before then, scorning anything that was produced before the Sex Pistols came along. Hard-core psychedelia produced by “hippies” such as Red Crayola and the Thirteenth Floor Elevators was very illuminating and inspiring.

Mayo then came to RT as a sort of cause celebre, and made a great Crayola album called “Kangaroo?”, featuring our Epic on drums, plus Gina from the Raincoats and Laura Logic on sax.  Mayo went on to be a resident producer at RT, showing excellent taste and discipline. Mayo’s rise in the RT hierarchy seemed to coincide with RT releases starting to sound more “professional” and overtly commercial.

The success of “The Sweetest Girl” by Scritti Politti, and the arrival of Aztec Camera and The Smiths also significant.  These were all clever musicians who could rely on their inventive, intellectual lyrics to impress the cool brainy youths, while winning over the radio producers and wider public with their retro cultural references, catchy tunes and sophisticated production values.  Green Gartside of Scritti could talk about Jacques Derrida and post-structuralism in interviews with NME, but his cute androgenous voice and coy lyrics got him coverage in Smash Hits and gave him a breakthrough into that hitherto unexplored territory – day-time national radio!  The rest of us were content to try and get played on John Peel’s Top Gear radio show at night, which was much more of a minority niche.

After the demise of Swell Maps in 1980, Epic and myself made a single called “Rain, Rain, Rain” for RT under the name Soundtracks and Head, featuring the beautifully gritty, soulful voice of my friend from Manchester, Carmel McCourt, who was starting to perform in a trio called simply Carmel with her man Jim who played bass and was briefly with me in a band called Beevamp.  Soundtracks and Head made an album as well, but this was deemed too experimental even for RT, and we didn’t work with RT, separately or together, ever again.

Eventually, the label and wholesale/distribution business became such a prosperous, self-important operation, that the directors felt that the shop had become rather surplus to their needs, so the two businesses separated in 1982.  The shop continued to be managed by Pete Donne, Jude and Nigel around the corner at Talbot Street, and still prospers there to this day, with two more London branches.  Ironically, their distribution empire became too large and unwieldy, eventually falling to bankruptcy in 1991, and dragging the label down with it.  Happily Jeff Travis relaunched the label in 2000, and flourishes to this day, with that man Travis still discovering exciting new talents to share with the world.

Television Personalities, Psychedelia, Mods, and the Creation connection.

Television Personalities, Psychedelia, Mods, and the Creation connection.

I first met Daniel Treacy in 1978, when I went to meet him at his mother’s flat on the King’s Road in Chelsea with Nikki Sudden.  He had corresponded with my band Swell Maps when he had released his first single “14th Floor” roughly at the same time as we had with “Read About Seymour”.  We were exact contemporaries, and we had much in common in terms of our experience with trying to make our way in the wonderful world of music.  We loved his songs on the follow-up release, the “Part Time Punks” EP – very witty and satirical.

Daniel seemed very shy, modest and reserved, and I could not quite reconcile this with his admission that he had worked in Led Zeppelin’s office for a while, given their wild reputation.  I later discovered other facets to his character:  his charm, his angst, his amusing impressions, his hedonism, his witty satirical aspect and his melancholia.

In 1980, the TVP’s made an ill-fated live appearance at Jeanette Cochran Theatre.  As I remember it, I arrived while Joe Foster and Mark Sheppard were already on stage jamming, and the atmosphere was tense.  I asked Nikki and Epic what was happening and they said that Dan had disappeared.  He later claimed that his drink had been spiked with some acid by a foolish well-wisher.  I was summoned to the stage to play and to sing, and Nikki also joined in, I recall.

Later, the Maps ended up as label-mates with the Television Personalities on Rough Trade, when RT released the TVP’s “Sense of Belonging” single.  He caused some controversy there, because the cover – featuring the bruised face of a battered child – was divisive, and some of the staff wanted to stop it’s release, so Dan left the label in disgust.

As a fan of the TVP’s myself, I would go to some of the gigs and follow their progress, and was digging the first two albums. By 1981, Edward Ball had replaced Joe on bass, and later Mark Flunder took over.  Dan had recovered from his pharmaceutical mishap and was in great form.  I was persuaded to add some “performance art” elements, go-go dancing, spray painting and sundry tomfoolery to performances at The Venue in Victoria and at The Living Room club that Alan McGee had opened at Manor House.

I had met Alan when he was still a humble clerk at British Rail office in Liverpool Street station.  He was happily married, and living soberly and frugally in a comfortable terraced house in Tottenham. He was the only person that I knew who did not indulge in drugs or alcohol; I was impressed!  He told me about his plans to start a record label, and he was picking my brains about how Swell Maps had done it; he was a real fan of Dan and the TVPs, and was very proud to have them playing at his club.

In 1982, I helped Alan to record some of his own songs onto 4-track tape on the TEAC recorder that I had installed at my tiny run-down flat at a tenement building in Stoke Newington.  One or two of these tunes appeared later re-recorded by Biff Bang Pow or Revolving Paint Dream.  He managed to persuade me to help him fold, assemble and sleeve his first Creation single, by The Legend, in his previously orderly front room.  In return, I would take my towel with me and have a bath there, since I was living in relatively primitive conditions.

I was amazed to be asked to join the TVP’s as the bass player on the eve of a tour on the continent at the end of 1983, replacing Mark Flunder.  Mark had left, exhausted, after a chaotic tour of Italy, which had apparently involved the Mafioso and an extortion racket.  By that time, Joe had re-joined switching to 12-string guitar, and David Musker had joined on organ, with Jeffrey Bloom taking over on drums.  Despite the TVP’s leaving Rough Trade under a cloud,  the “Painted Word” album had been swiftly released on a different label, and was well reviewed; it seemed that some serious action was in prospect, so I gladly agreed.  Our new line-up of the band was sounding great!

We had a great tour, despite me injuring myself accidentally on the first night and losing much blood in Biel, Switzerland.  We travelled by boat and train, lugging around David’s Farfisa Organ and our guitars from station to station.  It was organised by Thomas Zimmerman, who set up his Pastell agency as a college work experience exercise for his degree!  We worked with Thomas for any years, bless him.  It established us with an enviable cult reputation on the German scene, and we were followed around by a bunch of chic young German mods on their Vespa  scooters.

We also supported Dave Gilmour of the Pink Floyd at that cathedral of rock music, the Hammersmith Odeon, promoted by that venerable entrepreneur Harvey Goldsmith.  It seemed that they had discovered that Dan had written a song called ”I Know Where Syd Barrett Lives”, a homage to the former leader and visionary of the inspired early version of Pink Floyd.  On that basis, we were offered the support slot on Gilmour’s tour.  We viewed this as a great opportunity to make a few waves in front of an audience of complacent hippies, who we expected to be ignorant of Syd’s genius. We viewed Gilmour as the stooge who was moved in when while other three treacherously kicked Barrett out of the band, “progressing” to become cynical stadium-rock pseudo-psychedelic charlatans .  We played a raucous set, featuring a wild medley of early Floyd numbers, and Dan reciting Syd’s address during a moving rendition of “I know Where Syd Barrett Lives”.  We were thrown off the tour for our efforts, and we were told to get lost by a suited thug, one of Goldsmith’s heavies, who tersely handed over our fee.

We featured, among other bands, on Creation’s first ever album, called “Alive in the Living Room”.  This was recorded on a cassette machine at various shows at Alan’s club, which switched venues from time to time.  The reasons for the move are evident on the recording: Our version of “Three Wishes” was rudely interrupted by a police raid!  Soon after, there was a serious row in 1984, and Joe left, taking David with him to start a new band.  At first, Joe claimed the name Television Personalities, and there was bizarre stand-off at a London venue, with two versions of the TVP’s glaring at each other from opposite walls!  Eventually, he was persuaded that his cause was futile, and he retreated, joining Alan to help him to run the Living Room and Creation Records.  He soon made a name for himself as the producer for Creation’s primitive, urgent early records, particularly those of The Jesus and Mary Chain.  He also made a great single for Creation under the name Slaughter Joe – “I’ll Follow You Down”.  We continued Television Personalities as a trio – Dan, Jeff and myself – for the next nine years.

As a trio, we developed a unique rapport, and evolved an interesting “modus operandi”.  We would very rarely hold rehearsal sessions, and new songs might be worked out at sound-checks or based around improvisations.  We developed a core of about fifty original songs to draw from in live performances.  These would be supplemented with various cover versions – some period pieces from the 1960s, and some from the pop charts of the time, which would sometimes coalesce into a collage-type medley, again unrehearsed and spontaneous.  I remember a set list being written a couple of times, but quickly abandoned when actually mounting the stage!  The emphasis was on Jeffrey and myself listening carefully to Dan’s introductions on guitar, and joining in with the hope that we’d heard and understood correctly!  Sometimes, if unchecked, we would play very long sets – occasionally around three hours; we would never have the problem of running out of material, that was for sure.

Dan set up Dreamworld Records as an antidote to him being messed around by his last two record companies.  His first label Whaam! had been liquidated because George Michael had appeared on the pop scene, and wanted a monopoly over the use of the name Wham!  Apparently, being an ignorant philistine, George had never been aware of Roy Liechtenstein’s painting “Whaam!”, which had been Daniel’s inspiration.   George made a generous out-of-court settlement on the condition that Dan didn’t use the name again, so Dan chose a new one, Dreamworld, and used Mr Michael’s donation of dosh to fund the new label.

Dan released other bands on the label, too.  One of them was The Looking Glass, the brainchild of Gordon Dawson and his mate Alvin, who enlisted a percussionist who declined to use a conventional drum-kit, preferring to use a shopping trolley full of toys and curious found objects; they were brilliant!

Gordon went on to play with another fine Dreamworld band: The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, which featured Lorna (aka: Emily), Dan’s partner at the time.  Gordon and Alvin also occupied the old Ambulance Station on the Old Kent Road in south-east London, and promoted bizarre events there, which the TVPs often played at. That was one crazy scene – it was a frenzied version of what I’d imagine the UFO club was like in 1967, only more hazardous!  The people attending were invariably spaced out on speed or psychedelic pharmaceuticals, and wore weird threads; their electricity supply was particularly dodgey, but they always managed to produce marvellous environments and a spooky vibe, using action-panting, mannequins, sinister cine projections and slideshows.

The TVPs released only one single on Dreamworld: “How I Learned to Love the Bomb”, a monster of a track that showed Dan at his most outraged and topical, released as it was at the height of the cold war in 1986 during a tense nuclear face-off between USA and USSR.  With typical perversity, Dan decided to release the longer version on 7 inch vinyl, the shorter edit coming out on 12 inch!

We had actually recorded an entire album, “Privilege”, soon after that, but Dreamworld ran out of money.  In 1989, Daniel was persuaded by a character called Clive Solomon to release this album on his Fire Records label, on the condition that he could re-release the four previous albums.  Was this wise?  Was Clive to be trusted?  Of this, more later!

Swell Maps and the “Solihull Vibe”

Swell Maps and the “Solihull Vibe”

It all started back in 1972.  I was shy teenage schoolboy science-fiction addict, constantly bullied by insane teachers and crazed boys in a madhouse called Solihull School.  I met a kindred spirit called Adrian, who was also into music.  He had started to play with a fellow called David and his younger brother Kevin.  Later we got to know John and Richard.  I got hold of an old acoustic guitar and a Russian balalaika, and proceeded to join in.  The idea seemed perfectly natural and intuitive; we would met at least once every week in various permutations and make a peculiar noise together, while recording what we had played – in order to listen back and marvel at the results.

There were various names, such as Cardboard Giant (Adrian and myself), Myrowe Fall (Adrian and David), Sheep Police (Kevin, John and myself), and Incredible Hulk (David and myself).  The sounds varied from abstract electronic noise to peculiar songs and whimsical tunes.  We had little money, so we bought second-hand guitars and we used radio sets rewired to accept the signal from an electric guitar as amplifiers.  There were also electronic devices made by friends, and percussion fashioned from furniture, kitchen utensils, etcetera.  We’d record onto a cheap portable mono cassette machine and lean towards the built-in microphone when we felt the need to chant or attempt to “sing”.  We did not attempt to cover other peoples’ songs at all; that was not the point.  We did not want to copy other bands, or to sound like anybody else at all!

As the years progressed, we gradually acquired more recognizably professional-type gear, such as elements of a drum-kit and cheap amplifiers from junk shops.  It started to sound louder and more like some monstrous mutation of rock music.  We had a wide range of influences to make our sound unique:  Nikki was into T.Rex, New York Dolls and The Rolling Stones.  Epic loved Gong and Can.  I was into Bowie, Soft Machine, King Crimson, Van der Graaf Generator and Captain Beefheart. David was digging Faust, Roxy Music and Stockhausen, John liked Henry Cow and some jazz, and so on.

During 1976, Adrian was mainly in London, busking and reporting back every month on the music scene happening there.  Meanwhile, Kevin and myself were at Solihull Technical College doing the Art Foundation course.  We met up with my old school-mate Kenneth Spiers (aka Spizz), who fancied himself as a singer.  We briefly had a sort of garage band together, and rehearsed together at my local church hall; I remember lugging my amp down to that place in a wheel-barrow from my parents garden!  We started playing Mott The Hoople and Bowie songs.  We later met Spizz again on the Rough Trade label, and he made some great records with his band Spizzernergi.

Adrian was habitually writing loads of clever, catchy songs by this time, and he was developing confidence as a singer.  To a certain extent, the rest of us became inclined towards developing his material with hm, but when he wasn’t around, things were noticeably more experimental, non-vocal, and sometimes down-right weird.  By 1977 we were aware of the punk scene in London, and of Buzzcocks in Manchester, who had released their own single on their own label, which was original and inspiring.  We decided to give it a try as well.  We called our label “Rather”, an abbreviation of “rather rude”, which was a reference to an amusing quote from the droll lips of  Robert Fripp, I recall.  We recorded three tracks in a cheap studio, found an affordable printer and a pressing plant who gave us a good price on a small run of seven inch singles.  Unbelievably exciting!  Even more thrilling was our first play on John Peel’s radio One show, and our first review in a music paper.

Adrian called himself Nikki, Kevin became Epic, David was dubbed Phones, after a character in Stingray – a puppet show on TV.  I became Jowe, after a Brummie expression for “fool”.  It was all very self-effacing, like a satire on more aggressive “punk” names.  We also encouraged others to record with us for the label.  Steve Treatment was a busking pal of Adrian, and we backed him on his 5 songs for an EP.    Gary and Jonathan were two more art students who had a great song called “Zip Nolan”, but no band, so we backed them on two wild tracks for a single.

Soon, remarkably, we were offered a manufacturing and distribution deal with Rough Trade, and by 1978 we had released four singles and an album out, containing highlights from the hours of material that we had recorded.  Rather than keeping Nikki’s more conventional songs and the more experimental side separated, we decided to integrate it all.  This approach confused a lot of people, and some found the  diversity too much to take in.  Others found our style too messy.  However, many people enjoyed what we did and we cultivated a growing number of admirers, thankfully.  We played live in London and around the UK on a regular basis, and even played over the sea in the Netherlands, and lastly made a tour of Italy.  Alas!  We were growing apart, and we were starting to have arguments; the alliance was cracking.  Despite a visit to the USA being planned, we decided to call a halt to it.  Perhaps operating live as an approximation of a “rock band” was not true to our nature, and we all needed to try different styles of expression. The band collectively bought the 4-track TEAC reel-to-reel recorder that we’d recorded most of our records on, from John Rivers at WMRS studio, so we could experiment with our various projects.

We continued to work together, as we had at first, in various pairs and trios.  I recorded a project with Epic, including the Rough Trade single “Rain, Rain, Rain” featuring my friend from Manchester, Carmel McCourt, but the album was never released, the finished tracks being released under my name and that of Swell Maps.  Epic started a separate project with Richard, and also played drums from time to time with Nikki.  David contributed to my recordings, and those of Nikki. In 1980 I inhabited a house in Londesborough Road, Stoke Newington, opposite Richard and Epic, so we were actually neighbours for a while!

Richard made a remarkable album, “The Egg Store Ilk” upstairs at Londesborough Road on our 4-track recorder.  Epic made a memorable single with one of his idols, Robert Wyatt.  He then played drums with ex-Birthday party men Mick Harvey and Rowland Howard in Crime and the City Solution, and again with Roland in These Immortal Souls.  Epic cultivated the haunting, distinctive piano style that he had displayed with Swell Maps, and later developed his fine singing voice and song-writing with a series of solo albums, which are well worth seeking out.

Epic died in 1997; I must admit that I had not met with him for a few years.  Sadly, we had lost contact with each other. Nikki and I played a set of Swell Maps songs together as a tribute to him in Berlin.  The same week, we recorded a version of one his songs, “She Sleeps Alone”, with a great Berlin duo called Vermooste Vloten, which ended up on their excellent second album “Ngongo”.

At this point, Nikki and I managed to stay contact each other more regularly, and make plans together.  We had planned a concert together in Berlin but, alas, he died in New York City in March 2006, only a few days before we were due to meet in Berlin. Nikki led a number of bands, notably The Jacobites, The Last Bandits and The French Revolution, pursuing a prolific recording career, and touring regularly right up to his premature demise.

I played a set of Swell Maps songs at tribute concerts for him in London and in Berlin, with Lee McFadden on guitar and Max Descharnes on drums; we even had the pleasure of Richard joining us on guitar for the London show.  This was a bitter-sweet experience, of course; it was a desperately sad occasion, but it was such a thrill playing those brilliant songs once last time.