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John Rowley

JR's liner notes for the Cherry Red compilation CD.

In 1980 Hull was a city in turmoil, extensively bombed in the war, what was left of its urban Victorian housing stock was being aggressively demolished by an indifferent local council and great areas of the city were derelict. The collapse of its main economy, the deep sea fishing industry, made for high unemployment and Hull was on the bones of its arse. Elsewhere things were no better with Thatcher and the hapless Reagan giving rightwing politics a new shrill voice and emboldening the National Front and the BNP back out onto the streets.

But even darker clouds were gathering on the horizon. The sacred body of Pop itself was beginning to show the first symptoms of the crippling degenerative disease that would eventually reduce it to what it is today. Caught out by Punk in the late 70's and alarmed at the success of small indie outfits, the record industry set about wresting control back from the musicians. In 1981 we were given the New Romantics and Duran Duran, the first of the pretty, boy bands to hit the charts; something had to be done.

The Red Guitars started life in 1979 as the heroically named Carnage in Poland when Jerry Kidd and Hallam Lewis first met having been selected from thousands by the DHSS to join a Community Arts program. Later that year mild-mannered drummer Sean O'Brien (now Poetry critic to the Sunday Times) was replaced by Matt Higgins and bass player Ian Halstead gave way to Hull's only Rastafarian, Mark Douglas. The name was changed to the Czechs and they set about writing a set of material they described as Eastern European Reggae. Next to join was John Rowley on second guitar and when Mark left to form his own reggae band and was replaced by Lou Howard (Lou Barlow) the band had its final lineup and a new name, Red Guitars. Famed far and wide for playing free benefit gigs for dodgy left wing causes the band had plenty of opportunity to hone their musical skills.

From the start the new material was exciting and different. Hallam was born in South Africa and his chiming, fluid, African-influenced style mixed strangely with the studied political lyrics of Jerry Kidd. The rest of the band drew on different musical influences from the Velvet's to Punk and Blues but what Red Guitars all understood was the 3 minute pop song. So in 1983 they set about recording their first single Good Technology (5 minutes and 8 seconds).

Fiercely independent and suspicious of record companies the band decided to go it alone and created their own label Self Drive distributed by Red Rhino, part of the Cartel of independent record distributors. Money was borrowed from various family and friends and the single was recorded at Hull's Fairview studio. Fairview was (and still is) an unusually well-equipped 24 track studio and the band benefited from the guiding hand of in-house engineer/producer Roy "Moonboots" Neave.

As with hundreds of bands over the years The John Peel show proved to be a major breakthrough, with Peel's "I do think that's an excellent record, I must say" typical of the hysterical over the top reaction to the single. Peel continued to air the record regularly and within the year the band had recorded 3 Radio 1 sessions, appeared on the Tube and The Whistle Test and were to be found at the top of the Indie Charts with subsequent singles Fact and Steeltown.

Both dramatic and bleak, Fact, about the global arms trade and Steeltown, an elegy to the death of the steel industry ensured that the band were fêted by the music press for their articulate, political stance. But Red Guitars also had a real infectious dance side and for the fourth single the band decided on a change of direction. Marimba Jive, a live favorite, had an out and out African groove studded with layers of tumbling guitars and a soaring fretless bassline. Single of the week in both NME and Melody Maker the band went back to Fairview to start recording their first album.

Constant touring abroad and supporting the Smiths on British tours while running Self Drive put increasing demands on the band members particularly those with young families and while the first album Slow to Fade was well received, the cracks were beginning to show. Jerry Kidd left the band in 1984 and while they continued for another 2 years with a different lineup the dreaming was over. This compilation CD is a record of the recording output of Red Guitars over the two years 1983 and 1984 and I feel proud and privileged to have played in the band.

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Slow To Fade  is a rock record with a brain by a group who have a point of view worth hearing.

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Adam Sweeting, Melody Maker 24/11/84.

 

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The Red Guitars: a rare blend of ambitious dance and creative advance. A band for the moment with a keen eye on the future.

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Frank Worral, Melody Maker 21/01/84.

JR on Good Technology

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I'd played the song in a couple of other bands with Jerry and I knew it was good but I went away for 6 months and when I got back Jerry had met Hal and formed The Czechs. When I heard what they were doing I really knew I had to wheedle my way into the band.

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JR on Fact

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All hinged on one little riff that runs all the way through. I remember Hal showing it to me and thinking how neat and easy. The pain in my hand after 3 minutes was excruciating. For me Jerry's finest lyrics.

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JR on Steeltown

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Ethereal and Haunting. I remember two kids writing and asking us to draw a diagram of a guitar fretboard showing where the harmonics were played in the intro. Shamefully I never replied. "Doesn't matter how I vote the same confederacy of fools gets in": Ain't that the truth.

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JR on Hearbeat Go!

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Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Hallam Lewis.

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JR on Paris France

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The only time in the band that Hal was really allowed to flex his rock muscle. I had this old Vox AC30 amp with the V missing (known as the OX) and I would always turn it up to 11 for the outro. I am now profoundly deaf in my right ear.

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JR on Sting in the Tale

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The monster under the stairs. Jerry's fantastic, psychotic nursery rhyme with me, Hal and Lou all trying to out-mad each other on guitars. A personal favourite.

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