THE SOUNDS which put Leamington and Warwick on Britain’s musical map over the course of five decades are recounted in new book Fire in the Belly.
It pays homage to the movers and shakers who helped shape genres such as blues, rock and skiffle and three waves of punk as well as the record stores, gigs and venues from 1950 to the turn of the century.
Musical pacesetters included rock and rollers Woody Allen and the Challengers and punk band The Shapes, while the Edgar Broughton Band and punk outfit The Varukers were among the acts who established themselves on the national stage.
Many of the surprising and often bizarre stories from the period are told in print for the first time. Co-authors Jim Layton and Keith Hancock carried out interviews and research to trace the road from Arthur Renton’s antiquarian book, gramophone and music shop, which opened in 1957, to just short of Nizlopi laying claim to Leamington’s first number one single in 2005 with the JCB Song.
Jim said: “The musical landscape in Leamington and Warwick over the 50 years was a place of incredible change and development, from skiffle in the youth clubs in the 1950s through to the complexities of music harnessing world sources and new digital elements in the 1990s.
“Our towns have punched well above their weight in music-making, with national interest coming Leamington’s way in the 1980s and 1990s.”
The towns played host to all manner of musical events, from balls, dances and receptions to a 24-hour ‘jiving marathon’, mini-festivals on the Campion Hills and sometimes raucous ‘Twang and Twist’ rock-pop concerts.
The Edgar Broughton Band – one of John Peel’s favourite live acts – is a name well known to blues and rock fans.
But some of the more off-beat and bizarre episodes from the town’s musical tapestry are also relived, including when co-author Keith’s former band, The Jay Bee Kay Peys, managed to win over an expectant 350-strong crowd who had turned up to see the Bee Gees after a case of mis-advertising.
The Leamington band, who rolled out a few covers, still hold the record for attendance at the Pump Rooms. More rebellious and disruptive times followed with progressive rock in the 1970s – including a performance by heavy metal godfathers Black Sabbath at the Jephson Pavillion in the Jephson Gardens, usually noted for its blooming beds and spa waters, on May 17, 1970.
Even before Ozzy and co took to the stage, the gig attracted controversy for being on a Sunday.
Legend has it Ozzy got his bat-biting idea when the noise and vibration from the band scared river rats who ran across the stage – some as big as a cat.
Punk’s arrival also upset the genteel order of things, with legendary local band The Shapes among the ‘first wave’ that arrived in the mid-1970s.
The authors go back through the doors of The Crown Hotel in Leamington’s High Street, a place of incredible importance in the evolution of blues and rock music in the town, while also exploring the many pubs, cafes, haunts and characters who contributed to the local music scene.
Keith said: “Over the 50 years there was some massive creativity and innovation from two relatively small towns, and some villages, in the heart of Warwickshire.
“What is striking is not only the enthusiasm and motivation of the musicians but the supportive infrastructure. There are lots of examples where music was enabled by schools and teachers, youth clubs and groups, record and music shops, parental support, musicians’ workshops, readily-available venues, local recording studios and willingness of people, especially the young, to turn out to hear new sounds.
“Despite digital technology and the internet, many of these elements are still around and the town still has some fire in the belly.”
The book is available from the newly-reopened Head music shop in Leamington’s Royal Priors.
Owner Simon Dullenty, who also worked at the former Fopp store, said: “It’s important to have the connection with your local community.
“Leamington has an independent vibe to it and we stock music by local bands so what we plan to do is have a launch day where we have up-and-coming and established artists to play in the store. We’re always trying to support local music. I remember putting Nizlopi on in the old Fopp store 15 years ago. We sold the single before it became a hit so it’s an example of what can happen.”
Head is supporting an ‘alternative sounds’ night featuring local acts including former Specials man Roddy Radiation and Jackdaw with Crowbar at the Zephyr Lounge on September 29.
* Fire in the Belly is available from Head, Kenilworth Books, Warwick Books and Waterstone’s in Leamington. Email [email protected] for further details.