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Confetti - Your Future

A History of Music in Nottingham (1100 - 2005)

1 April 05 words: Al Needham
illustrations: Rob White

The official LeftLion History of Nottingham music from 1100AD - 2005AD...

Illustration by Rob White

12th Century
Local minstrel Alan A’Dale brings the noise in a lute-and-flute style, but falls in with the local criminal underworld and loses his record deal. Seeing as there were no such thing as records then, that wasn’t such a bad thing.

Elvis releases Heartbreak Hotel and Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock ushers in mass outbreak of quiff-sporting and seat-slashing – but where is Nottingham’s contribution to Rock n’ Roll? The nearest thing we can claim is a Grantham lad called Roy Taylor, whose skiffle band makes it onto Come Dancing before going solo and renaming himself Vince Eager and having a decent amount of hits.

George Martin and Dick James (The Beatles’ producer and publisher respectively) release the Robin Hood song (yes, that one). This is the only Nottingham/ Beatles link I can find, and yes, I do know its rubbish!!

Pop music still struggles on somehow without help from Nottingham, although local scholar Paul Oliver writes Blues Fell This Morning, a massively influential book that – quite possibly – Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger looked at, giving them the inspiration to form bands. So you could claim that Nottingham is the home of the Blues. If you’re a bit mad.

Rock n’ Roll is on its last legs, possibly because no-one from Nottingham was involved. However, local cinemas were playing host to loads of gigs, the most vital of which was Little Richard’s historic comeback performance when he stopped messing about with gospel and returned to his outrageous best in, er, Mansfield. However, loads of British bands are grafting in the clubs of Hamburg, including West Bridgford’s The Jaybirds more of whom later…

Some bands form in Liverpool, and make a bit of a scene. But stuff that, because (finally!)  Nottingham makes its first stitch in the tapestry of Rock. Not only did The Honeycombs have a female drummer, they had something even rarer someone from Notts. Yes indeed, ‘tis Alan Ward who twangs that gee-tar on No.1 top fave rave Have I The Right, before resurfacing ten years later in less family-friendly rock group, erm, Bastard.

The good news is that a Nottingham singer appears on telly every week banging out hit tunes. The not-so-good news is that it’s Leslie Crowther, murdering cover versions of Beatles songs on Crackerjack with Peter Glaze. However, give the man his props – when Ace Face Mod Raves the Small Faces go a pianist short when they appear to sing All Or Nothing, Leslie fills in.

The Beatles and Stones make regular appearances at the ABC and Odeon in town, and your Auntie or Nana probably went – and still moan about how they couldn’t hear anything or see owt. But more importantly, Nottingham lad Dave Rowberry replaces Alan Price in the Animals. That organ bit in We’ve Gotta Get Out Of This Place? Pure Notts, youth. Sadly, the Animals split up a year later and Dave is written out of the band history, not even being mentioned in the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame.

At long last, something vaguely resembling a Nottingham music scene starts to grow. By this time, town was rammed with pubs that put on gigs by local bands, and top dogs in Notts at the time were Sons and Lovers and Whichwhat. Both of them eventually sign record deals, both of them have big hits in Germany, Japan and places like that, and neither of them make so much as a dent in the UK charts. Sigh. On the upside, Selectadisc opens in town.

The Jaybirds realise their name is a bit pants, seeing as it’s now the psychedelic era, and change it to Ten Years After, who are arguably the most successful band to ever come from Hoodtown with four Top Ten UK LPs in a mere 18 months, all in a bluesy Hendrixy style with guitar solos that went on for ages.

By now, the concept of playing gigs at cinemas is old hat (not to mention chatty as fuck – after the Beatles and Stones played the local Odeon, the place would reek of adolescent piss), leaving Nottingham with no major music venue. However, the Boat Club establishes itself as the place to be, with appearances by Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield and a seminal gig by the newly-formed Led Zeppelin (even though legend has it that Jimmy Page got stabbed there). Meanwhile, Elton Dean, longtime associate of Elton John and Long John Baldry (and a Nottingham lad), joins Soft Machine, a highly influential band who ushered in the monolith that was Prog Rock. Nottingham’s sole contribution to Woodstock: Ten Years After.

Illustration by Rob White

The Age of Rock is finally upon us, and who’s this catapulting into the charts at No.2, long of hair, wide of flare and devil-may-care? Why, ‘tis Deep Purple with Black Night, of course. But who’s that on drums? None other than Ian Paice, formerly of this parish, who played with local bands such as Georgie and the Rave Ons. He also played with the Velvet Underground and Whitesnake.

Possible the most barren period in Nottingham music lore, only punctuated by the debut gig of Paul McCartney’s Wings at Nottingham University, which was a really big deal at the time (c’mon, how were we to know they were gonna end up shite?). Apparently, Macca just rang them up the day before and asked if the venue was spare.

As Glam holds the nation in its thrall, the Nottingham music scene plumbs new depths, with nothing on the horizon. Having said that, if you lived in Notts at the time, would you go out looking like Ziggy Stardust on a Saturday night? The final kick in the teeth comes when Alvin Stardust (from Mansfield, for Christ’s sake) rockets to No.2 with 'My Coo-Ca-Choo' and No.1 with My Jealous Mind. In proper Mansfield fashion, he was a right moody-looking bleeder, so much so that children’s TV thought about banning him in case he frightened the kiddies. Men in Mansfield pay tribute to Alvin to this very day by sporting massive sideburns and not talking much.

Yessss! Nottingham arises from its torpor when the mighty Paper Lace destroy the competition on Opportunity Knocks (imagine The X-Factor with more moustaches, bigger hair and less twats in it). From there, a record deal – and before you could say “Nottingham gets its first No.1”, Nottingham gets its first No.1, with Billy Don’t Be A Hero, the official National Anthem of Nottingham (even though it’s about the American Civil War). They would have got an No.1 in America as well, but some Yankee teef’ bwoy called Bo Donaldson beat them to it. Never mind; the next release, The Night Chicago Died made it all the way to No.1 in America and No.3 here. The follow-up single The Black-Eyes Boys only dented the chart, but they would return…

Perhaps the most seismic moment in Nottingham music history, this; a couple of American session musicians who’ve known each other for year finish a gig at local chicken-in-a-basket venue The Heart Of The Midlands after backing up an unknown soul singer, and wind up chatting in the Bentinck Hotel, after one of them’s had his wallet nicked. On the spot, they decide to form their own band. Their names? Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards. The band? Chic. True story.

‘Tis the era of Punk, and the daddies of them all The Sex Pistols, play the Boat Club. It’s been said that when they played Manchester in the same year, everyone in the audience went out and formed bands. When they played Nottingham, alas, everybody went out to the chip shop and got the last bus home. The Nottingham Punk scene consisted of youths in bin liners hanging about Slab Square in bondage trousers bought from Viccy Market, and no bands from the city ever did anything. Which, when you think about it, is a very Punk thing to do.

Nottingham becomes the centre of the music world, sort of, when the manager of the Virgin Records shop in Clumber Street (it’s now a Superdrug) is arrested for covering his shop window in Never Mind The Bollocks posters and charged under the Indecent Advertising Act (passed in 1898!). Weeks later, Nottingham Crown Court is besieged by the media, as the word ‘Bollocks’ is fought over. John Mortimer, for the defence (yep, the bloke who wrote Rumpole Of The Bailey), calls upon an English professor from Nottingham Uni to explain the origins of the word. Before too long, the Judge decides the charge is, well, bollocks – and acquits the manager. Next day, the shop is absolutely plastered in posters and record covers with ‘Bollocks’ on them…

Records by football teams on their way to Wembley are ten-a-penny, but who would have the cheek to release a record when they haven’t even won anything yet? Nottingham Forest, Paper Lace, and 20,000-odd Forest fans, of course, who release We’ve Got The Whole World In Our Hands for no real reason at all, apart from to show off a bit and get Robbo on Top Of The Pops where he belonged. It goes to No.28 here, and (amazingly) No.1 in Sweden. On a similar Forest tip, punk band The Lurkers release their debut LP Fulham Fallout. If you look at the audience photo on the inner sleeve, you can clearly see future honorary Nottinghamian Stuart Pearce pogoing…

Air Supply, a rather cheesy Australian band of the type you usually hear on Neighbours when someone gets married or on Simon Bates’ Our Tune, have their only UK hit with I’m All Out Of Love which gets to No.11 (No.2 US). So why are we mentioning them here? Because lead singer Graham Russell was a Notts lad.

The bowling alley in town is named in a shock expose in The News Of The World. People having sex in the alleys? No. Bowling balls full of heroin? No. According to the article, local ‘Pop-crazed Kids’ who were into The Jam would go in, hand over their tatty Golas, put on bowling shoes beloved of their hero Paul Weller, and leg it out, costing the alley thousands of pounds.

For years and years and years and years and years, we didn’t even have a proper music venue, never mind any bands to fill it with. If you want to see The Jam, The Specials, Dexy’s Midnight Runners or anyone else, you have to go to Way Ahead and get on a coach to Birmingham or Leicester. Sigh. But all of a sudden, two new venues spring up. The Royal Concert Hall opens, and just up the road The Heart Of The Midlands transforms into Rock City. Goodbye scampi and the Brotherhood of Man, hello sticky carpeting and Alien Sex Fiend. On the record front, Justin Fashanu releases Do It Cos You Like It. The sentiments pre-date Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood by a full year, yet fails to do owt.

Mash down Babylon! (and Bulwell, and Bestwood) The Naturalites have a massive UK reggae No.1 with Picture On The Wall, and get on The Tube and all sorts. Sadly, they didn’t convert that into any proper chart success, even though UB40 had loads of hits at the same time with rubbish cover versions. Bah.

Another Nottingham youth who has to emigrate in order to get a hit; John Parr, who scored big with the theme tune to crappy Brat-Pack film St Elmo’s Fire, which went all the way to No.6. Meanwhile, a fey young muso called Neil Tennant crashes round his cousins flat in Notts, and while he’s about to crash out on the settee, writes the first line of West End Girls, a massive No.1 hit. Nottingham’s only participant at Live Aid- a drunk and excitable Su Pollard being interviewed at a club (“So what did you think of Elvis (Costello)?” “Ooh, has he been resurrected, then?”)

A massive year for Nottingham music. Corinne Drewery and Swing Out Sister reach No.4 with Breakout, but more importantly, encourage girls to wear black bobbed haircuts and hoopy stockings. Sadly, her triumphant homecoming at Rock City is ruined somewhat when her Mam throws a bunch of flowers onstage, hitting her squarely in the face and knocking her unconscious. But even better than that, the mighty Su Pollard sings the theme tune to Starting Together, a docu-soap about a newlywed couple and it goes all the way to No.2, only being held off the top spot by the frankly inferior When The Going Gets Tough by Billy Ocean. Is there nothing this woman can’t do?

Another near miss for the Trent Tempo: Krush, a couple of nice young lads in bicycle shorts and gold chains, create the first UK House record to hit the charts. House Arrest goes to No.3.

The Public Enemy gig at Rock City is named as the 40th most important event in the history of popular music mainly because before they went onstage, they decided to perform Bring The Noise for the first time ever and were worried about performing an unknown tune. Unbeknownst to them, everyone in the audience had spent twelve quid (a lot of money in them days, kids) on the imported soundtrack of Less Than Zero, and proceeded to go mental. The gig was also immortalised by Chuck D walking about the audience signing people’s trainers, and Flavor Flav shouting “Public Enemy No.1 in Nahdinham! Public Enemy No.1 in Derby! Public Enemy No.1 in Mansfield” at the end.

The hottest Reggae sensation in New York is Trevor Sparks, who releases massive-selling cover versions of Bye Bye Love, On The Wings Of Love and Under The Boardwalk. This comes as a great surprise to residents of Hyson Green, who used to know him when he was called Trevor Chambers and went to Scotholme Junior School. Sadly no longer with us, as he died last year.

Illustration by Rob White

Katie Garside joins Daisy Chainsaw, rips up a few dresses, gets them all dirty, and scores a one-hit wonder with Love Your Money. The stresses of being an Indieboy wank-fantasy force her to pack it in, alas.

Wicked Bad Fresh! KWS go to No.1 with Please Don’t Go, a cover of the KC and the Sunshine Band record that was supposedly recorded as a plea to Des Walker not to leave Forest, and appear on Top Of The Pops looking like a bunch of nightclub bouncers and cabbies. Sadly, they didn’t follow up with tunes called 'What The Fucking Hell Is Going On With Forest', 'Oh My God We’ve Been Relegated', and 'Why Is Platty Buying All These Crap Italians?'

Meanwhile, local Thrashmongers Lawnmower Deth play the Marquee. More importantly, they give Loughborough band Manslaughter (the group featured in the BBC Teenage Diaries documentary In Bed With Chris Needham - which is the best documentary about pop music ever and pisses all over Spinal Tap) the support slot. Whycliffe releases his debut LP, and the Stereo MCs, with Notts-born frontman Rob B, have loads of hits.

Finally, some credible Notts bands spring up. Tindersticks release their debut LP, which is named Album Of The Year by Melody Maker. They gain all manner of critical acclaim throughout the 90s, yet can’t manage to convert it into chart success. Bah.

Reef go to No.6 with Raise Your Hands, assisted by Carltonian Kenwin House on drums. Meanwhile, Pantera lead singer Phil Anselmo overdoses on scag while listening to a demo of Notts Sludge Metal band Iron Monkey. Despite promising much with debut release Our Problem, lead singer Johnny Morrow passes away and the band fall apart.

After years of getting pissed about by record companies, Six By Seven release European Me off their own backs, which the NME calls one of the great all-time debut singles. Again, despite the music press loving them to bits, they remain one of the great all-time underground bands. Grr.

Pitchshifter establish themselves as one of the premier D&B/Industrial auteurs with their third release,, which is full of punky chelp and tunes the milkman would find very hard to whistle. Over in St.Anns, Big Trev forms Outdaville, the UK’s premier hip-hop collective. Featuring Lee Ramsay, Scorzayzee and C-Mone (to name but a few), they were rumoured to be talking to Sony but it fell through.

Brian Harvey gets scalped outside The Works.

Xylophone Man dies.

A Drop In The Ocean demonstrates beyond doubt that Nottingham is rammed with bands and artists across the musical spectrum, and the future has never looked brighter. We think.

To be continued on LeftLion…

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