Monday, June 13, 2011

The Neol Davies Jam Session 1970 - And Some Roots of Two Tone.

Picture from The Broadgate Gnome 1970
On face-value, this might seem to be an obscure Umbrella event happening 9 years before the Specials and Selecter put Coventry on the high altar of rock n roll but it hides some subtle developments in early Two Tone musical relationships, lost in the mists of time. 

Vic's Heavy Rock Jam Session was an all night jam at the Coventry Arts Umbrella Club, featuring local Coventry musicians, most of whom frequented the Umbrella club.

Although the title referred to 'Vic' as the organiser, it was drummer Al Docker that organised the Friday night band nights at the time. Later in the year I took over when Al left to form his band Tsar but this was one of the last events Al organised at the Umbrella. As for Vic, no one, including Neol Davies, knows who he was! I seem recall Al being annoyed when he saw the flyer, and we regarded it as error!

Al Docker
However, one thing is clear -  Neol Davies was in charge on the night as the band leader. He coordinated the musicians throughout and negotiated the rock blues number they would jam around.

 "Bring your instruments or just your ears" read the duplicated flyer. It was an all night session starting at 10pm on Friday 14th August 1970 and raging on well past daybreak. We charged 4/- to get in and it formed one of a series of special events around 1969 / 1970, that had included The Transcendental Cauldron and The Music Marathon. The musicians jammed their way through many of the well known rock and blues numbers popular at the time, including Catfish - a staple of the Chris Jones Aggression, who were based at the Umbrella. They would choose numbers the musicians all knew or that were standard 12 bar configurations.

Musicians Involved
Musicians were drawn from bands that practiced at the Umbrella or came to band nights or hung out there. I can't recall all of the musicians who took part but they included Wandering John Vocalist - John Gravenor; members of the Chris Jones Aggression ( a 3 piece blues band) including drummer Terry Flanagan (who also played in Morning Freedom) and lead guitarist Chris Jones himself. Al Docker played drums and Bill Walker - organist and composer with Asgard (a 3 piece in the style of  Nice and Pink Floyd,) and to whom John Peel was associated with. Nack Ed En (of whom we'll hear more of later), comprising of  Loz Netto (lead), Neil Richardson (bass) and John Bradbury (Drums). John Deacon and Larry Hutson. Members of April - a folk rock band and the avant garde jazz rock outfit  Whistler led by Kevin Harrison and more.

Umbrella Jam Session flyer from the Neol Davies collection.

The Jam Session Gets Started
The Umbrella Club was really just a small town-house in Queen Victoria Rd, but its significance to the Coventry music and arts scene was quite sizable. Coventry never had a purpose built arts centre like Birmingham and yet the close-knit nature of this little building brought musicians, poets, artists together in quite an intimate way, often over a midnight coffee and hot-dog in the cramped coffee room.

From 10pm on a Friday night, musicians and music fans would amble in from the town pubs and up the stairs to what was the largest room in the house. These were the days of long hair, beards, trench coats, and young ladies with long skirts, braided hair and Patchouli oil. At these sessions, I sat at a table by the door, taking the money while the bands trailed wires into plugs and tuned up. A flourish of drums, a bass solo and the bending of guitar strings were heard while roadies moved things around and musicians argued about whose amps should be loudest!

This night was a bit different though. This session would consist of musicians, many of whom hadn't played together before and who we often playing on instruments and equipment that wasn't there own. There would be a slow start as musicians warmed up and a random 12 bar would turn into a familiar number. Jam sessions were often a means of trying out new musicians for bands or generating new numbers.

                                                                   Coffee Break
About 2am the band took a break. No alcohol was allowed on the premises (or any other substance - at least officially! ) but coffee and hots dogs were available. The coffee bar was often a cauldron of heated discussions between hippies, bearded folkies, business men and women, and teachers. Different lifestyles clashed but all in a friendly manner. Sitting in the coffee bar, you'd get an education on every topic under the sun from politics to religion. Sometimes Neol Davies would come in with his acoustic guitar or sitar and play. Neol had been a member of the Umbrella since the late 60's and although he played in a blues band called Cat's Grave and later in 1970 - Mead, he also used to guest on sitar with Asgard.

Head in the Drums
On this occasion, during the break,  Twink, a character well known at the time, curled up inside the bass drum, with his trench coat over him, and fell asleep. The drums, which belonged to Terry Flanagan of the Chris Jones Aggression, didn't have a skin on the side that faced the audience. When the musicians reassembled, Twink slept happily on with his head in the bass drum as the band stuck up the next number, we can only guess what kind of dreams (or nightmares) he was having!!

Neol Davies Meets John Bradbury 1970
As Neol points out on his website, (after finding the above flyer for the jam session) it was at this session that he first met and played with John Bradbury.  In his own words Neol says "I have known John Bradbury longer than I thought....".  This connection is significant in that it was Neol and Brad who produced the first official Two Tone track - The Selecter in 1977. The Selecter, as many people will know, was an instrumental written by Neol, with John Bradury on drums and recorded and produced on Portastudio in 1977 by Roger Lomas. The track finally appeared as the B side of the first Specials single - Gangsters. The Selecter, as a band were not formed until after its release in 1979.

The Original Selecter

Although John Bradbury ended up in the Specials and Neol in Selecter, the two played in an earlier band called Transposed Men prior to The Selecter. Transposed Men rehearsed songs later associated with The Selecter, like On My Radio, (which can be heard here on  Kevin Harrison's site). Transposed Men weere Neol Davies / Kevin Harrison (later of Urge), Desmond Brown, John Bradbury, Steve Wynne (later of Swinging Cats)

A long haired Neol Davies playing Sitar - (from his website.)

How Did John Bradbury and Neol Davies Came to be at the Umbrella Club at that Time?

I can throw some light on that: - Neol of course was a long standing member of the Umbrella as mentioned.

Trev Teasdel
In March 1970, Coventry drummer Steve Harrison turned up at the Umbrella to watch a band. I grew up over the road from Steve in Willenhall Wood. In catching up that night, Steve mentioned he was drumming for the Mick Green Blues Band with Tony (Mojo) Morgan on bass. I told him I was writing lyrics and he asked me to bring some lyrics over for his band. I wrote a few new ones and brought my song book along.  Tony Morgan (Mojo) had set one of my lyrics to music - The Elusive Metallic Idol - at least, but the band split up not long afterwards!

Steve Harrison
In May 1970, Steve Harrison asked me once again to bring along some lyrics Nack Ed En.  I turned up for their practice at the Queens Hotel in Primrose Hill Street on the Sunday afternoon.  The rock / blues band were in full swing when I arrived but Steve was not the drummer and none of the members were familiar!  The band explained that Steve had been replaced by a new drummer called John Bradbury.  The other guys in the band were  Loz Netto (later lead guitar with Sniff and the Tears) and Neil Richardson (later bass player with Drops of Brandy).
for a new band he'd joined called

Nack ed en 1970

When the session had finished, we went across to the Dive bar (Lady Godiva) for a pint and we met up with Chris Jones whose blues band played at the Umbrella. After John and Loz had read through some of my lyrics, the guys mentioned that the Queens Hotel was too expensive to hire on a regular basis. I pointed out that if they joined the Umbrella, they could rehearse there free, as did Asgard, Chris Jones and other bands. And so, from May onwards, Nack Ed En rehearsed at the Umbrella.

I would watch them practice in the coffee bar. John was a great drummer, even back then; tight, skilful with jazz overtones. He was also a big fan of Northern Soul and had that Paul Simon hair cut when the rest of us sported long hair . I would watch him break the songs down into sections and get the band to work on the transitions between verse, chorus and middle 8 and while it was the trend for drummers to perform 15 minute drum solos, John's solos were always short, tight and skillful - as exemplified by the solo in Gangsters.

Nack Ed En also played a gig or two during the Friday night sessions at the Umbrella. So by August 1970, the guys were well involved with the Umbrella and in the right place to be asked to join in the jam session. Not long after, Nack Ed En also split up and Loz Netto joined Al Docker's new band Tsar and later Love Zeus. John Bradbury turned up in a range of  bands on his way to being asked to join The Specials in 1979 including playing in an early version of Selecter called Transposed Men as mentioned.

The Holyhead Youth Centre - The Cradle of Two Tone
There's another reason why I think this jam session was important in the formation of early Two Tone relationships:-

After the Umbrella club premises in Queen Victoria Road was demolished towards the end of 1972, I was determined to find a way to continue to support the local band scene. While the local authority finally rehoused the Umbrella in 1974 at the Charterhouse, it was clear there was no place for the band culture. The Umbrella executive weren't happy about this but they had a hard fight to get even this concession from the powers that be and they did support my efforts create Hobo Magazine (Coventry's Music and Arts magazine) and it was after attending an Umbrella board meeting that the Vice Chair - Henry West - also head of Coventry Voluntary Service Council offered to assign his new Detached Youth Worker - Bob Rhodes to our cause and offer us use of the Holyhead Youth Centre for a weekly 'Umbrella like event' which became known as the HOBO WORKSHOP.

Neol Davies and Charley Anderson Jam - Summer 1974
The Hobo Workshop opened July 1974 at the Holyhead Youth Centre, Lower Holyhead Road,Coventry with the aim of providing a venue for upcoming local bands to get started. We had use of the theatre on the ground floor (sometimes used for rehearsals by the Belgrade Theatre).

On Monday July 22nd we gave the floor to a new band Midnight Circus, led by Neil O'Connor (Hazel's brother). Hazel of course would appear on pop scene for another 5 years by which time Midnight Circus were known as The Flys and appearing on Old Grey Whistle Test and John Peel with their single Molotov Cocktail. We also advertised 'a raving  jam session'! Remembering Neol's jam session back in 1970, I rang him to see if he would organise a similar session for the Hobo Workshop. Neol was up for it. 

We'd set Hobo Magazine and Workshop for a number of reasons but it was part inspired by the Mersey Beat and the Birmingham Midland Beat magazines that helped to promote the music scene in those towns. What we didn't realise at the time that Coventry's musical future was literally beneath our feet! As people came through the door, down in the cellar we could hear the early Jamaican ska rhythms that would over the next 5 years develop into Two Tone. My first thought was to invite them up to join in the jam session that I hoped Neol Davies was going to organise later in the evening. Eventually Charley Anderson emerged from the cellar to collect some equipment and I asked him if the guys would like to join in. Charley went down to ask - the guys declined - they were still a bit shy about their music then. I didn't realise at the time but Charley was the youth worker and the guys, Desmond, Aitch - i didn't know all the names at that stage, ended up in The Selecter.

When Neol arrived, I told him about the guys in the cellar and told him i had invited them to join in. Neol said "leave it to me" and disappeared with his guitar down into the cellar. I figured that at some stage he re-emerge with the guys and the jam would commence. We didn't see Neol for the rest of the night - he stayed down there jamming and talking to the guys. I think this was the beginnings of those early jam sessions with Neol and Charley's band that later led to a number of bands and the eventual formation of Two Tone. 

Analog at the Hobo Workshop 1974 -
From Coventry Evening telegraph
Meanwhile upstairs we put on new bands every Monday, including giving first gigs to jazz rock bands Analog and Trigon - whose members later combined to for another Two Tone band The Reluctant Stereotypes - with Paul Sampson (later producer of the Primitives), Steve Edgson, Paul Brooks and others. A young Dave Pepper (later of the X Certs) had his first gig there with his first band Phoenix. and many more. Fission - another jazz rock band with medieval / classical and Hawkwind influences in played several times for us - led by Johnny Adams, who later played guitar for Squad after Terry Hall left, they were on the verge of a possible Island label contract but split up instead!!

The full story of the Hobo Workshop is covered on another of these Hobo sites, but by early 1975 we had moved venues to upstairs at the Golden Cross, where many of the musicians drank. In recent years they had established music gigs and discos upstairs and the Hobo Workshop set up upstairs on a Monday night. The place was often packed. On one night, and I think it was shortly before the hobo Workshop closed - thinking it was doing the business, we literally had the future in that little room - although no one would know it until later.

One of the bands was yet another jazz rock band (the trend at the time) featuring Horace Panter on bass. This band doesn't feature in his autobiography - Ska'd For Life. It was before Horace joined Breaker, and I knew the band as Ricky's Band, featuring Ricky on acoustic guitar and vocals, Horace Panter on Bass and Andy Cairns on lead and rhythm guitar. I can't recall who the drummer was now. I'd been jamming with Ricky and had met Andy Cairns at henley College - we'd been jamming too, sometimes around some of Ricky's riff's and Horace had advertised for a "Happy Band" in Hobo and after this unit formed asked if they could play at the Hobo Workshop in 1975, upstairs at the Golden Cross. Neol Davies came along to that session with Charley Anderson and I think Desmond. John Bradbury was also there according to my notes. They weren't all playing together at that stage - it was still very early as far as Two Tone was concerned but at my request, Neol organised another Umbrella style jam session. Luckily there were some great local musicians in the audience who took part. John Gravenor of Wandering John was back in Coventry and did some blues vocals. Nicky Hawkswell, an artist and former  R & B singer with 3AM joined in, Andy Cairns, Ricky, Phil Knapper (older brother of Stu Knapper) later of punk band Riot Act, Bill Jackson, singer with folk rock band April, John Rushton formerly of jazz rock band Analog and many more.

So the Umbrella Club jam session in 1970 led to much more!

Here are the letters to Hobo from Horace Panter in 1973 and 74.

Hobo No3 in which Horace's advert for a band appeared Feb 1974 
with it's appropriate Two Tone Blue cover!

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