A new compilation album, Un-Scene!, delves deep into the archives to recover rare and previously unreleased tracks exploring Birmingham’s post punk scene between 1978-1982.
Compiled by scenester and musician Dave Twist, it features tracks from bands such as The Nightingales and The Au Pairs alongside lesser known acts, such as Fàshiön Music (later to become simply Fashion) and Swell Maps, as well as several acts key in the development of Duran Duran. Among them are The Hawks and TV Eye.
The Hawks were fronted by first Duran vocalist Stephen Duffy, and pre-fame Duran member Simon Colley, while TV Eye included Andy Wickett, who replaced Duffy in the pre-Simon Le Bon band, and co-wrote hit Girls On Film.
But perhaps the most fascinating for Duran fans is the first ever release from DADA, featuring future Duran Duran bassist John Taylor (then playing lead guitar). Their contribution, the grinding, Birmingham UK, was recorded at The Crown, Hill Street, in 1978, and rescued from a cassette tape.
Dave Twist (who played with several of the bands on the compilation, and was instrumental in the belated recent release of The Hawks’ debut album, Obviously 5 Believers), tells BirminghamWorld more about the project ...
It’s quite a tight snapshot for the album - just four years, ’78 to ’82. Why this period? What made it so special?
Aren’t those years between our 16th Birthday and turning 21 quite special - pop-culturally - for everyone? And these are mine. It was special I guess because it came immediately after the great opening of the door that was punk. That idea that you could be actively up there and that you didn’t need to be passively down there and gazing up any more. Even if ‘up there’ was only the stage of your favourite night club.
What was the scene like during this period? What venues were popular?
The great punk clubs in the city - Rebeccas and Barbarellas - were coming to an end and so we were always on the lookout for other venues - The Crown on Hill Street (which, unknown to us at 17 had been the home of Henry’s Blues House and the birthplace of Black Sabbath) gave DADA a Sunday night residency - TV Eye and The Swell Maps followed us in.
The Golden Eagle, further up Hill Street, became important too and The Prefects, the early Duran Duran and The Au Pairs all played shows there. The Cedar Club, where The Move had formed in the mid 60s, was still there and I have a flyer that features most of the bands that appear on Un-Scene! all listed there over a couple of months in 1979. The Star Club, above a Communist bookshop just off the Bristol Road was also open to booking your own shows - The Hawks played there regularly and I remember seeing what might have been Dexy’s Midnight Runners first ever show there.
Do you think there was a distinctive ‘Brum sound’?
Probably not. And that will have contributed to the scene not finding the kind of clear focus that might have made it more commercially viable as an easily understandable ‘thing’. Hence I guess, at least in my head, we were an un-scene.
The TV Eye track, Stevie’s Radio Station, has a real proto-Duran Duran vibe! In fact, there’s quite a few nuggets in there for Duran superfans, isn’t there?
Well, the early Duran (featuring Stephen Duffy) and TV Eye (featuring Andy Wickett) all rehearsed in the same shared house on Cheapside, Digbeth and, amid regrettable acrimony, we managed to swap singers. Andy took his free-form a cappella with him to Duran. The Hawks wound up with Big Store - also featured on the compilation - which had been a standout in the early Duran sets.
So things travelled both ways. I guess the real nugget for the superfan is the DADA live recording. It’s the only sonic evidence of our existence, and it features John on lead guitar. The band has been covered in countless bios, but until now, no one has actually heard us. We both listened to it and felt that it had real worth as a post-punk document.
Any good anecdotes about the pre-frame/ future-Duran guys you could share?
There’s the stuff in the bios that really focusses on the in-fighting and breakups. Its not a period that I come out of with very much credit I’m afraid. Thankfully, we’ve re-connected in recent years and decided that - life being short - its nice to be able to talk again.
The craziest night I can recall? Seeing Duran after our bust-up, but before their rise - was a bloody and violent show at, of all places, the Cellar Bar at Birmingham University. The rugby club took huge exception to the look of the band and what began as heckling moved through the band being pelted with food, to an assault on the stage, which ended with Roger [Taylor] using his crash cymbal on its stand as an axe on one of the ringleaders. I helped them to throw their gear into the back of the vehicles they’d come in - a couple of cars. No time to break anything down or case-up - just to make a getaway.
The Prefects, Dada, The Bible Belt... sounds like you were busy at the time!
You’ve left out The Hawks! In terms of finding people in the city who actually shared the same influences, attitudes and look, it was a really small scene. I started as a singer but soon figured that, using odds and ends of drums and cymbals I’d managed to ‘borrow’ from a neglected corner of my school’s music department stock room, I’d be in much more demand. I played my first radio session for John Peel only a few months after deciding that I was a drummer.
Why do you think Birmingham didn’t get the same attention as a city like Manchester?
When Stephen Duffy and I did a series of interviews at the end of last year to coincide with the release of our recordings with Dave Kusworth as The Hawks, he often answered this question by pointing out that Birmingham didn’t have that ‘adult’ on the scene - a Tony Wilson or a Bob Last or a Bill Drummond. We were all terribly naïve and we needed that too. The closest we had was Bob Lamb, of the Steve Gibbons Band, who had a small studio that almost everyone used to record in. But Bob was an engineer not an entrepreneur.
Are there any acts on the comp’ who you think really should have made it, or made a bigger impact?
The Hawks are the one that any number of people seem to think were the great lost commercial hope. We were too early for what became known as ‘the scene in between’ but had many of the stylistic quirks and sensibilities in place that you’d have found in The Smiths or the early Primal Scream just a very few years later.
Fast Relief are another - their track on the compilation was recorded for The Au Pairs 021 record label, but the label collapsed on the eve of its release. Its a terrific record and it hasn’t been heard before its inclusion here.
Obviously, an album/CD format has limitations in terms of length - were there any acts who you’d like to have included, but just didn’t have the time/space, or perhaps couldn’t track down the tunes or rights?
Rights were an issue with the two bands that really should also have been here - both Dexys and Felt proved to be unobtainable during the time we were pulling this together.
Any plans for a Part 2?
You know, the lockdown months were just perfect for looking back, for opening up old boxes of photos, tapes and ephemera. It was great to have that to focus on amid the worry and madness. I worked in the pulling together and design of three albums that all come from this same time-frame - this compilation, The Hawks’ Obviously 5 Believers and the imminent release of a Prefects live album too. I think, maybe, that’s enough nostalgia, enough of my life flashing before my eyes, for a while now.
I think it would be wonderful if someone with a different set of connections was to pull together a companion volume of late 70s / early 80s Reggae from the city.
What are you up to nowadays?
I still play in a loud rock ‘n roll band - Black Bombers - and, even as a 61 year old, I’m still thrilled to be able to say that we have a new 7-inch single released next month! I produce artwork for other music projects, and most recently I’ve been delighted to design for a couple of archive releases from two of my teen heroes - Iggy and The Stooges and Mick Ronson. I also design for Rotunda Industries, a Birmingham based apparel company. And I walk my dog.
* Un-Scene! Post Punk Birmingham 1978-1982 was released on 25 March 2022 by Easy Action.
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