In 1977, a band released their debut single. Over the next few years they released three more and recorded a handful of sessions for John Peel. They released their debut album in 1979, and the follow-up the year after before splitting up, having not sold a lot of records but proving to be hugely influential. Joy Division? Well, yes – but tonight, Matthew, we’re here for Swell Maps, or to be precise, Swell Maps C21 as they are billed.
Bannerman’s pub in Edinburgh is absolutely busting at the seams, with many of the city’s 1980’s indie scene in attendance, including Andrew Tully of both Jesse Garon and the Desperadoes and Rote Kapelle, whose photos adorn this piece. The support act are local heroes The Thanes. They give us an excellent set, that shows how they took the Nuggets compilation, the 60’s surf sound and ran from the American west coast to the Scottish east coast. Opening with ‘Dishing The Dirt‘ they give us fifteen songs over nearly an hour and a number of other highlights, including ‘I Cry‘ and early single ‘Hey Girl.’
Swell Maps were formed as long ago as 1972. The line-up included Jowe Head, Nikki Sudden, Phones Sportsman, Epic Soundtracks, John Cockrill, and Richard Earl. It’s safe to say that the school registers may have had different names down in some cases, but those who have claimed them as an influence include the likes of Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, R.E.M, Pavement and Nirvana (not too shabby, huh?) The line-up this evening is lead by Jowe Head, and also features David Keegan on guitar (once of c86 legends The Shop Assistants and the Pastels, now running a bike shop in the Highlands). They open with ‘H.S. Art‘ the opening track from their debut A Trip To Marineville. Receiving rapturous applause, Head explains that the evening is dedicated to the (sadly departed Soundtracks and Sudden) and then goes straight into ‘International Rescue.’
It’s strange to think this is only Swell Maps second ever Scottish gig. It’s a packed space with a wide-ranging audience (in my mid-40s, I’m neither too old or too young, which makes a change sometimes). To listen to Head and the band play is not only to hear how they influenced others, but also realise just how important they were. Born out of the same DIY scene that would also give the world Scritti Politti, not only did they lay the groundwork for what would become known as indie, but also showing how the freedom of punk would show that post-punk would have even far more freedoms. It’s always worth going back to the source, after all. Especially when we get the classic singles ‘Read About Seymour‘ and ‘Let’s Build A Car‘ as well as tracks from the second album – Swell Maps In ‘Jane From Occupied Europe’ – like ‘Cake Shop‘ and ‘Helicopter Spies.’
And they wonderfully subvert the idea of encores (rockist?!) but suggesting they could leave the stage and come back on to do more songs or the audience could cheer for more and they’ll carry on playing. The line-up may be different by necessity, but the spirit of what started fifty (!) years ago is still there, still pointing to possibilities in rock music.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.
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