AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #56 : THE SOUND OF YOUNG NORWICH

A GUEST POSTING FROM STRICTLY ROCKERS

Norwich Cassette (1)

Just to prove that it’s not all Cope, Cope, Cope chez Rockers, here’s an Imaginary Compilation Album on a totally different tip.

Way back in the early 1980s the talk was all about the mythical ‘Norwich Sound’, a scene allegedly created by John Peel centring on the University Of East Anglia (UEA) and peopled by the likes of Gee Mr Tracey, The Fire Hydrant Men, Screen 3, Popular Voice, Serious Drinking, The Higsons and The Farmer’s Boys. These were bands linked not by musical style but by postcode. Two bands in particular, The Higsons & The Farmer’s Boys, teetered on the verge of major success, recording a total of seven Peel sessions and a joint ‘In Concert’ programme for Radio One but, despite major-label backing, never quite made the jump to the big-time and, by the mid 1980s, the A&R men were focussed elsewhere.

The Higsons formed in 1980 at UEA, Norwich. An energetic, brassy, punk/funk band influenced by the New York ‘No Wave’ bands and often referred to as the ‘British Talking Heads’. Colin ‘Bilko’ Williams played Bass. Simon ‘No Nickname’ Charterton, Drums. Switch ‘Charles Aznovoice’ Higson did ‘Singing’. Stuart ‘Radar’ McGeachin played ‘One Guitar’ and Terry ‘Individual’ Edwards did ‘Everything Else’.  They first recorded two songs for the now legendary ‘Norwich: A FIne City’ compilation, designed to give exposure to local bands. John Peel picked up on the album but only played the Higsons’ songs!

My introduction to them was through a friend who played me his precious copies of their first three singles. I persuaded him to let me borrow them so that I could tape them but conveniently ‘forgot’ to give them back until two weeks later. Happily I now have my own copies that still receive regular play. Their excellent first album ‘The Curse Of The Higsons’ is now available as a deluxe 3-CD set (‘The Complete Curse…’) with extra singles, b-sides and two incredible live sets. Highly recommended!

Terry Edwards now fronts his own band and is a prolific session player having played with the likes of Gallon Drunk, Tindersticks, Spiritualized, The Blockheads, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Julian Cope (http://www.terryedwards.co.uk).

According to Wiki, Simon Charterton is in Camden based ‘The Aftershave’ and both Stuart McGeachin and Colin Williams have now got ‘proper jobs’ but I wonder what happened to ‘Switch’…???!!!

Farmer’s Boys were BazFrogMarkStan (formerly trading under the name Bang Goes My Stereo). A very British ‘country’ band with, as one reviewer put it, ‘a lack of musical prowess thinly covered by a mask of superficial humour’.

‘I Think I Need Help’ was released in April 1982 and received plenty of evening-time plays on wonderful Radio One which is where I heard John Peel play them. The DIY nature of the band showed especially in the live shows where their battered Casio keyboard/drum machine would be supported, front-of-stage, on an ironing-board. Two further singles followed in 1982 and the third, ‘More Than A Dream’ was re-released by EMI when they signed the band at the start of 1983. They released two albums but essentially were a great singles band. Their cover of Cliff’s ‘In The Country’ awarded them their highest chart position (44!) and a promised TOTP appearance, only to be replaced at the last minute by one-hit-wonders Alphaville with ‘Big In Japan’.

The band split in 1985, Baz, Mark & Stan continued to gig variously as ‘The Avons’, ‘The Nivens’, ‘Dr Fondle’ and ‘The Great Outdoors’ and currently play the Norwich area as The McGuilty Brothers. Keyboard player/guitarist Frog (K.R. Frost) found a home with Julian Cope’s band between 1986 and 1994 (from Saint Julian to Autogeddon). Their first album, ‘Get Out & Walk‘ is available with extra tracks and a compilation of their session tracks (‘Once Upon A Time in The East’) is still available from The Farmer’s Boys ‘official unofficial website’: http://www.thefarmersboys.com.

Serious Drinking formed at UEA in 1981 and included an original Farmer’s Boy, the Higson’s drummer and occasionally, Mr Terry Edwards. They were another Peel favourite, recording 4 sessions of songs about football, love and drinking — often combinations of all three. Their debut EP, ‘Love On The Terraces’, produced by Bedders from Madness, was followed up by an album ‘The Revolution Starts At Closing Time’ and a retrospective, ‘Stranger Than Tannadice: The Hits, Misses And Own Goals Of Serious Drinking’.

Popular Voice were a well-polished indie/funk band, active between 1980 and 1983 often seen gigging with both The Higsons and Farmer’s Boys (where I saw them in support at Bristol Polytechnic). They released two singles in 1982 on Backs and seem to have totally disappeared.

Just to prove I’m not making this all up, here’s a documentary on the ‘Norwich Sound’ (featuring a very young Charlie ‘Switch’ Higson): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmTEq-Sfxqk

OK, so I lied… it IS all about Cope:

Nick Rayns, the Entertainments Manager at the UEA, responsible for putting on gigs by all the Norwich bands, was the ex-Road Manager for The Teardrop Explodes.
• Colin ‘Bilko’ Williams was part of the late-70’s Liverpool scene and played guitar in an early version of Wah! before studying at UEA.
• Frog (K R Frost) is married to Jill Bryson (out of Strawberry Switchblade) who appears on the cover of Cope’s ’20 Mothers’ album.
• As well as playing with Julian Cope, Terry Edwards has also played with Robyn Hitchcock who wrote a song entitled ‘Listening To The Higsons’ and covered Cope’s ‘Charlotte Anne’.
• The Farmer’s Boy’s cover of Cliff’s ‘In The Country’ follows in the rich line of Bah-Bah-Bah songs.

‘The Sound Of Young Norwich’: An Imaginary Album for The (new) Vinyl Villain

The Higsons Side:

1) I Don’t Want To Live With Monkeys (Single, 1981) ‘Hoop Hup / Be Doobie Doobie Doobie / Hoop Hup Be Du Du Doo!’ If there is a better start to any single, I don’t know it! Sheer genius.

2) It Goes Waap!! (Single, 1981) The theme song for their own label.

3) Conspiracy (Single, 1982) ‘Who Stole My Bongoes?’

4) Tear The Whole Thing Down (Single, 1982) Originally titled ‘Burn The Whole Place Down (Before The Yanks Come)’ their first single on 2 Tone.

5) Run Me Down (Single, 1983) Their second, and final, single on 2 Tone backed by the marvellously-titled ‘Put The Punk Back Into Funk (Parts 1&2)’

The Farmer’s Boys Side:

1) I Think I Need Help (Single, 1982) FB’s debut. Released on The Higson’s Waap label

2) Whatever Is He Like? (Single, 1982) Swift follow-up single on the Backs label originally titled ‘Funny Old Mr. Baz’

3) More Than A Dream (Single, 1982) Re-released as their debut single on EMI. With ‘Thanks to the Terry Edwards Brass Experience’

4) Apparently (Single, 1984) The highly polished sound of the major label FB’s with their own horn section and ‘real’ drummer. Reached a staggering #98 in the charts!

5) In The Country (Single, 1984) Curse you Alphaville! ‘Bah, Ba-ba-ba-baaaa!’

Bonus 7″:

A) The Popular Higson Boys – Can’t Get Next To You (A bonus track from the ‘Touchdown’ compilation, 1982) A great cover of the Temptations’ classic featuring the massed bands and vocalists of Popular Voice, The Higsons and The Farmer’s Boys. The compilation is named after the B-side of the Higsons’ ‘Conspiracy’ single and also featured various indie/jazz/funk misfits such as Maximum Joy and Pinski Zoo.

B1) Popular Voice – Home For The Summer (Single, 1982) A beautiful single released on the Backs label. I can find little information about it.

B2) Serious Drinking – Love On The Terraces (Single, 1982) ‘Love’ – check. ‘Football’ – check. ‘Drinking’ – check!

mp3 : The Higsons – I Don’t Want To Live With Monkeys
mp3 : The Higsons – It Goes Waap!
mp3 : The Higsons – Conspiracy
mp3 : The Higsons – Tear The Whole Thing Down
mp3 : The Higsons – Run Me Down
mp3 : The Farmer’s Boys – I Think I Need Help
mp3 : The Farmer’s Boys – Whatever Is He Like?
mp3 : The Farmer’s Boys – More Than A Dream
mp3 : The Farmer’s Boys – Apparantly
mp3 : The Farmer’s Boys – In The Country
mp3 : The Popular Higson Boys – Can’t Get Next To You
mp3 : Popular Voice – Home For The Summer
mp3 : Serious Drinking – Love On The Terraces

ENJOY!!

14 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #56 : THE SOUND OF YOUNG NORWICH

  1. “In The Country”!! Yes!! This song was all over the radio during my first trip to London in 1984 and I always wondered who it was. Had forgotten all about it. Love this song — Thanks, St. Rockers!

  2. Hi, Strictly Rockers. This is not a complaint. Love your picks. Even with only five slots, I’m putting “The Lost and the Lonely” on the Higsons’ side. If Norwich is your thing, a post on The Wilde Club at the Norwich Arts Centre and Baz McHat Records from the late ’80s and early ’90s would be interesting too. Home to Shine!, the Bardots, Catherine Wheel and others in their earliest days.

  3. The Happy Few (1980-83) – On Norwich A Fine City Album, Peel Session, Single. Played with Higsons, Screen 3, Aztec Camera, Flock of Seagulls, Blue Orchids, Ben Watt & Tracey Thorn.

    The Crabs (1981-83) – Peel Session, John Peel roadshow with Farmers Boys and Higsons.

  4. Being from Norwich these are all very familiar and great to see them being given another airing. That era was a great time to be in Norwich, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the A11 wasn’t dualled at that time these bands could have been bigger than the Beatles.

  5. Great to see this. Popular Voice did a wonderful funky/punky Peel session but the singles they released don’t really sound as good to my ears. Higsons My Love is Bent At Both Ends on the Norwich compilation is fab and the peel sessions compilation CD shows their career trajectory from spiky young things to near chart contenders. The FBs were my favourite of the lot as a young teenager and Once Upon a Time in The East compilation captures them in their messthetic prime. Muck it Out is the track that I recall being on Radio 1 lots in 1983, like the simple cousin of Rip It Up. Essential. Of the Norwich scene, I also had a lot of time for Testcard F, Gee Mr Tracey, and The Vital Disorders, the latter of whom came more out of the punk scene rather than the post-punk but are a great Norwich group. Loved them all, and I am not even from East Anglia!

  6. Cheers Craig for the run of comments.

    I’ll take full responsibility for the Bunnymen ICA but the other two were written by guests – it’s something that I encourage. You’re more than welcome to contribute if you fancy it….I’d be well up for a second ICA on Bunnymen or the Roses, or indeed any singer/band you liked.

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