A Trip To Marineville – Swell Maps

Was there ever a more shambling, joyful racket than Swell Maps? Who could resist a band with members names like Epic Soundtracks and Biggles Books? The punk simplicity of the tunes with unexpected bits of piano or ‘found’ sounds of whatever seemed to be lying around the room and boy-ish lyrics which brought us instantly back to that innocent time when we didn’t worry and we only wanted to play. Minks’ drummer, Tom, always used to be singing ‘I Got A Full Moon in my tail-light’. Beneath the silliness and interesting noises Swell Maps had that rhythm which put them above the ordinary punk rock group. It was a loose rhythm but it rocked no less than a Stooges groove did. And listening now, I know that Swell Maps tunes like Robot Factory would have fitted right into the drum n bass grooves heard 15 to 20 years later!

But no sooner were they here than they were gone. Epic Soundtracks released a beautiful single with Robert Wyatt and then went on to play for Crime and the City Solution (whose bass player, Harry Howard, auditioned for The Jasmine Minks) and make some sublime recordings as a solo artist. Nikki Sudden had a long and fruitful career. We supported him at Alan McGee’s Living Room. I thought Johnny Thunders was on stage when I saw him but the voice was pure Nikki Sudden. He seemed like an old-fashioned troubadour, you’d hear about him in Berlin or New York. Jowe Head played a lot with us, either with the TVPs or with his own band, The Palookas. Jowe was a lovely person and his enthusiasm for playing and promoting music never ceased to amaze me. One time he came to see us at The Ambulance Station in The Old Kent Road. He told me after the gig that he was tripping on LSD. All was going well with our set until I pressed my fuzz pedal and he said he could hear it and see it!

It’s impossible to represent all these amazingly talented people with one tune. I’d should really choose an early tune like Real Shocks which has that abrasive Nikki Sudden voice with Epic’s frantic drumming and piano break which seem to send the song into another realm altogether. But the solo Swell Maps choices are too good to ignore. Jowe Head’s ‘Cake Shop Girl’ is brilliant and Nikki Sudden’s ‘Great Pharaoh’ with that great line, ‘You’re just the boy from nowhere who fell out of the sky’ is a rocker. But Epic Soundtrack’s Jelly Babies sounds amazing hearing it again…

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