Record Review: Un-Scene! Post-Punk Birmingham 1978-1982 UK CD/LP [part 1]

Un-Scene Post-Punk Birmingham 1978-1982 cover art
Easy Action | UK | CD | 2022 | EARS164CD

Various: Un-Scene! Post-Punk Birmingham 1978-1982 – UK – CD [2022]

  1. Fàshiön Music: We’re The Fashion
  2. Swell Maps: Vertical Slum
  3. Dada: Birmingham UK
  4. The Prefects: The Bristol Road Leads To Dachau
  5. TV Eye: Stevie’s Radio Station
  6. Denizens: Ammonia Subway
  7. The Hawks: Big Store
  8. The Nervous Kind: Five To Monday
  9. The Bible Belt: A Fistful Of Seeds
  10. The Nightingales: Idiot Strength
  11. Lowdown International: Batteries Not Included
  12. Joe Crow: The Final Touch
  13. Nikki Sudden: Channel Steamer
  14. Cult Figures: I Remember
  15. Au Pairs: Love Song
  16. Fast Relief: What A Waste
  17. Vision Collision: Cuba
  18. Dance: Revolve Around You
  19. The Pinkies: Open Commune

When the recent Fàshiön Music collection manifested, I also noticed that the Easy Action label had just prior released a compilation album that was clearly aimed at the tastes and obsessions of this Monk with the”Un-Scene! Post-Punk Birmingham 1978-1982!” As the egg crate soundproofing on the wonderful cover clearly illustrated, this was a tightly curated glimpse of the low-budget D.I.Y. music action that happened in the British Midlands during those years that saw so much music of interest being made in the aftermath of Punk.

Of course we know “We’re The Fashion” from Fàshiön Music. This was the band in their pre-Reggae phase a bit closer to the Punk that birthed them. The sharp, punchy instrumental was a strong statement of intent to open this set. Its languorous verses contrasting with the aggressive attack of the chorus. Swell Maps were a band I’d heard of but not heard for 40 years! They were the first manifestation of Nikki Sudden on this album, where, as we’ll see, there were a few key players in the Birmingham scene who will manifest repeatedly throughout this compilation. “Vertical Slum” launched clearly from the Punk sector, but the song’s fascinating vocal chant coda of “The weather, the leather,” which eventually overtook the the exceptionally brief song to dominate it meant that it landed firmly in the Post-Punk zone.

Larval Proto-Duran MK I

DADA in 1978 – can you pick John Taylor? My guess, 2nd from right.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that one of the feathers in this album’s cap was the first appearance of music by DADA, John Taylor’s pre-Duran Duran enterprise where he was the guitarist. But the repetitive sludge on display here was strictly for fans only. Describing their sound like The Fall thrown in a blender with Killing Joke actually sounds much [much] better than “Birmingham UK” actually was. All five tortuous minutes of it. The live cassette recording was also useful to show the breadth of the album’s sonic footprint. With peripheral archival tapes cheek by jowl with professionally recorded efforts, the effort was made here to show as much of the scene as they could fit; sound quality being a secondary concern.

the prefects
Dave Twist drummed for The Prefects

Apparently, the word was on the liner notes to this album that the sound of The Prefects hit like a bomb in the Birmingham scene, causing DADA to change their course to aim for the aggro-noise target that they pursued. “The Bristol Road Leads To Dachau” might be ten minutes of a pounding headache of abrasive Rock, and in that sense, not terribly different from DADA. But the case could be made that at least The Prefects had mastery of their instruments and tried to give the track a sense of dynamics for its duration. The scary thing was that the tape here was mercifully faded at the ten minute mark. Who knows how long it actually lasted for!

Larval Proto-Duran MK II

After a deadly 15 minute stretch of harsh noise, the arrival of the band TV Eye could not have been timed any better. Their “Stevie’s Radio Station” was an imagining of the Velvet Underground by way of the Nuggets compilation, and was a tuneful janglefest with lead singer Andy Wickett [who preceded Simon LeBon as the vocalist for Duran Duran] affecting his best Lou Reed-slash-SkySakon drawl. Meanwhile The Prefects’ Eamonn Duffy as well as Dave Twist were also in TV Eye, while Dave Kusworth would figure in The Hawks.

“Amonia Subway” by The Denizens was the debut 7″ single from that band, and they managed only one more in 1980, but the “In The Crowd” EP record is is exchanging hands for decent money. Based on the winning “Amonia Subway” I’d like to hear that one as well.

Larval Proto-Duran MK III

The Hawks
Nikki Sudden actually was in a band with Stephen Duffy for a bit!

The trifecta of Duran Duran members concluded with an appearance of The Hawks; Stephen Duffy’s [and ex-DD bassist Simon Colley’s] band after Duffy abdicated the DD lead vocalist spot to Andy Wickett. Meanwhile, half of TV Eye [David Twist, Dave Kusworth, Paul Adams] were also figuring in The Hawks. Making the scene tightly knotted for certain! Even at this tender age, Duffy knew how to write a song and The Hawks were a find band, but while the mysteries of composition were conquered by Duffy, exactly what to write about had not yet occurred to him. “Big Store” was a song that Duffy revisited 20 years ago on The Devil’s album with he and Nick Rhodes dusting off old songs and recording them using vintage synths ca. 1978. A brilliant conceit, but I have to admit that I actually prefer The Hawks original version. And Duffy never sounded more like Bill Pritchard than he did here!

The Nervous Kind were a rare act here that didn’t have personnel crossover with other bands on the compilation, but that didn’t stop me from totally loving their “Five To Monday.” A beguiling Pop song that stands on this album in 2022 as their sole recorded evidence. This was more a case of the band looking to the late 60s for their inspiration and therefore more New Wave than Post-Punk but let’s not quibble. This was a perfectly written, recorded, and performed song. One listen and it will burrow its way into your skull for long hours at a time. It’s a delightfully melancholic “late 60s monochrome overcast Sunday” sort of song.

Next: …Les Femmes Du Brum

About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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2 Responses to Record Review: Un-Scene! Post-Punk Birmingham 1978-1982 UK CD/LP [part 1]

  1. Mel Creighton says:

    Swell Maps! I love their first LP, A Trip to Marineville. Read about Seymour and Let’s Build a Car are great singles.


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