People from the era tell their stories.
» Dave Massey
When I returned to my home city in 1981, after 5 years away at University and playing in bands, I came back to a city which was buzzing - apart from Bristol City's relegation from the top flight! Plenty of music, a new 'what's on' magazine called 'Out West' - the forerunner of Venue - and the chance to build something positive.
So I climbed the stairs to the top floor OW office in the building by the bridge at the bottom of Park Street. I went to see the then deputy editor, Dave Higgitt - still there at Venue in all his tousled glory - clutching the first issue of my fanzine, Future Days.
He liked the look of it, and so tipped me off about some forthcoming gigs and gave me some useful contact names and numbers of local bands and 'notables'.
As I was thinking about what to put in my second issue the visit was timely. So I checked out an eventful MAXIMUM JOY and ANIMAL MAGIC gig at the Folk House; several local bands at OW's 'Rock It' final, as well as meeting and interviewing SHOES FOR INDUSTRY and members of PIGBAG. Those local items combined with some national and internationally based stuff meant I had my second issue done.
From that issue 2 things happened. I'd sent a copy to the NME along with a gig review of roots reggae band, BLACK ROOTS. Much to my delight and amazement I bought an issue the following week and there it was! - my review in all it's uncut glory!! I was the local stringer for the top and most influential music paper!
With that, unsurprisingly, a lot of bands got in touch! I also got a couple of gig reviews for the fanzine from two students, Sarah Gagg and Judith Hearn, who gave me a tape of a local band, THE ESCAPE. Every one of the 8 songs was sensational!! Just guitar, bass and drums used to their utmost, combined with a distinctive voice singing brilliant songs. I was SMITTEN!! They even did incredibly atmospheric instrumental pieces into the bargain. Dark, uplifting, cool and commercial. These guys had all the angles covered.
Just to make it more interesting the main writer, ALAN GRIFFITHS, was, like me, a guy from the east side of Bristol - he came from Downend, not your usual rock & roll outpost. The other 2 members lived in Horfield and Sea Mills. Not 'cool' either. A true sound of the suburbs!
I saw them do supports at Trinity - they had been spotted by the typically sharp eared Mark Simpson - and one of them was reviewed by the local SOUNDS stringer, Richie ' RAB' Barker. He called them 'drab'. I think most of the audience strongly disagreed!
So did the London music business. A tape mail-out (remember them?) got fantastic response from record companies, agents and the music press. Johnny Waller, who ironically wrote for SOUNDS, loved them. So in June 1982 the band got what every local band dreamed of - a full page feature in a national music paper even before they'd released a note!
Waller had combined a visit to Bristol to interview them with a review of the debut gig of some band called Tears For Fears. Wonder whatever happened...???
Lots of great new songs, gigs and more press meant labels starting sniffing around seriously, with the TFF label, Phonogram, first out of the blocks. A deal was done, and after that - disaster! EMIL, the drummer and musical 'conscience' of the band decided major labeldom wasn't for him and left.
The label then mysteriously decided that the band should morph from a Comsat Angels/Killing Joke led vibe into Dollar!! Vidal Sassoon hairstylings - the lot!! A couple of singles limped out, one with 'Eden' - a Radio One session track - on it on the 'b' side that was so dramatically different from the 'A' side, you wouldn't have believed it! EMIL had 'escaped' in time!
But what happened with The Escape was indicative of an increasing interest in matters musical way out west. ELECTRIC GUITARS, TALISMAN and MAXIMUM JOY - all of who featured in issue 3 of my 'zine - had or were getting deals and/or national media exposure. In their wake came a whole stack of new and different acts from all over the city - not just Clifton, Redland and St Pauls - all using local studios like Cave, Right Track, Foxhole, and the especially prolific SAM studio.
All of this dynamited a massive (no pun intended) hole in the ignorant, stupid and fatuous comments of the then NME editor, Neil Spencer, that the only music of merit and interest that came out of Bristol in the 80's was associated with the (ex members of) The POP GROUP.
He expressed this to me in the one (accidental) meeting I had with him at the legendary Carnaby Street offices of the NME. I was there to see the reviews editor, Lynn Hanna, and when Spencer saw me in reception he gladhanded me into his office. The look on his face when he realised I wasn't who he thought I was is PRICELESS in my memory!
Not long after that he wrote me a characteristically factually wrong letter dispensing with my services. I'd had enough of the NME anyway - it was getting unreadable ; the Penman / Morley era of intellectual bullshit of the highest order. So a few months later I rang the legendarily brusque Sounds reviews editor, Robbi Miller, told her what I did and said I could do a better job than RAB - sorry mate!
Once again the first review I submitted - this one of BIRTH OF SHARON and HARRY & HILLARY - was printed in the following issue. Sounds treated me well and over the next 2 years I managed to get printed nearly 50 reviews, features and stories of local, west country and south wales acts and festivals...
This is the story so far, to be continued...
» Next - Steve Risley