Part two...when I met up with Dave Twist to discuss the 'UnScene' compilation, I'll admit to only knowing of a handful of the acts that are on there - bands like TV Eye, The Nightingales, Au Pairs, The Prefects, Swell Maps and The Hawks.
Since then, the real joy of this compilation has been discovering all of the other acts, finding out that journalist Adrian Goldberg was initially the lead singer of Lowdown International or that pianist Cara Tivey who is mostly known for her collaborations with Billy Bragg and The Lilac Time but is also an excellent composer in her own right, was the keyboardist for the splendid Vision Collision. Then there's Denizens and Fast Relief and...I could go on and on. And none of this is juvenilia, these are great songs. And this leads to my next question for Dave...
OL: Looking back at the collection, who (or what) do you think should have been bigger? I don’t mean Duran Duran size bigger but adored by the NME and John Peel bigger?
DT: Well, the Hawks are the one band that everybody looks to and says ‘why?’ because that band had the people in it that it could have happened with…
Of the other bands, maybe The Nervous Kind because, again, they were very capable, and they were doing that 80s does the 60s style thing. If they'd dressed up like some new mod band, they would have been signed but they didn't! In Birmingham, there’s that slightly quirky thing of not quite fitting in, of being and doing your own quite wilful thing. Critics could call it stubborn I suppose.
The conversation turns to the subject of live venues, those around the country that are still going and those that have disappeared. Twist notes that when his current band (Black Bombers - of which more next week), play The Hope & Anchor in London, he knows the venue's remarkable history as he looks over to see where The Damned's 'New Rose' was filmed. Eventually, via Manchester's celebrated Factory and Liverpool's cherished The Cavern Club, we return to Birmingham…
What about those lost music venues in Birmingham, what does Dave feel about how that part of the city’s history has been treated?
DT: Well, going back to Dada, which I guess was some kind of the beginning of Duran Duran - even though it was only John at the time, well that track on the UnScene album was recorded at The Crown on Hill Street.
Also, upstairs at The Crown is the famous Henry's Blues House, which is where Black Sabbath started off. So there you have it, there’s a building that is in the centre of the city, which saw the origins of two of the biggest things that ever come out of Birmingham (Black Sabbath and Duran Duran), but we do nothing with it, there isn't even a plaque there! It’s just a boarded-up pub…
Dave sounds saddened about how the building has been so neglected:
DT: When I did my art degree, about 20 -25 years ago, I managed to get in there to take some shots, because I wanted to photograph that room and …it’s the same room, it’s still there, it’s just all boarded up now.
Mind you, if they did open it up, create some sort of theme park, I’d just moan that they didn’t get it right! …which probably means that I’m as Birmingham to my core as everybody else (laughs).
OL: I want to talk about your archive of musical memorabilia, the stuff that features on your Instagram feed and has been used on this, and the other albums you’ve helped put together. How much of this stuff do you have?
DT: The collection is probably (pauses), …waist-high! The crazy thing is that as I’m so much more of a fanboy than an actual egotistical musician, I haven't gotten that much of my own stuff. I very much regret the amount of personal stuff that I didn't value at all at the time yet somehow, I’ve managed to cling on to something like Joey Ramone’s toenail clippings.
Sorting through the boxes was my lockdown project, I couldn’t go out, so I went through all of this stuff that was in boxes that were hidden away in cupboards.
(There is a pause, then he continues…)
I suppose that The Hawks project (the ‘Obviously Five Believers’ that was issued last year), was the biggest mission for me and it was the nicest. That was the one where, when I actually put the record on, I genuinely shed a tear. It was like, this took 40 whatever years but here's the record! And in a certain way, it also seems like the closing of a door. Very sadly, David Kusworth (who Dave was in TV Eye, The Hawks, and various Kusworth projects with), isn't around anymore (he died in 2020 before The Hawks album was completed). He's very much the one I kept working with through good times, and really quite trying times too.
I don’t think there’s another archiving project to do…well until somebody throws one in front of me.
I start to ask Dave about the designs he’s created for Rotunda Industries, the Birmingham pop culture inspired company that has, amongst other things, placed the Rotunda, the 1960s’ fibreglass bulls that adorned the Bull Ring, and the ‘Mr Egg’ logo onto a series of T-shirts. Initially, Dave doesn’t go into much detail and then realises something…
DT: ...I suppose it goes back to what I was saying about celebrating the history of music at The Crown. Why is Birmingham so shy and retiring?
OL: ...I think that we may be born with it? Maybe it's part of our psyche...?
DT: ...Yeah, I’ve still got a huge amount of that in me! So, I suppose one of the things that Rotunda Industries is about acknowledging the past, having a laugh but pushing forward. Maybe other cities embrace their past achievements, Birmingham tends to stare at its shoes and say ‘yeah, it’s alright I suppose.’
And going back to the bands that could have been popular, like TV Eye and The Hawks, they were kind of flashy, kind of good-looking bands and there was almost a sense in Birmingham of ‘who do you think you are?’. Whereas in other, cities people would have gone ‘these are obviously future NME cover stars’
This feels like it's an appropriate place to end, with the hope that maybe, just maybe, we are moving gradually away from our shy and retiring old selves. Before I leave I thank David, I explain that although I’m proud of Birmingham being known as the ‘Home of Metal’ – I’m glad that he has helped to celebrate the music I have an affinity with. That this compilation, the Hawks release (and of course the Robert Lloyd and The Nightingales documentary), are helping to spread the word.
Over forty years on, we are finally getting to see the unseen. Let’s celebrate it!
Read the first part of our interview with Dave Twist here
(Tomorrow we discuss the post-punk beginnings of journalist Adrian Goldberg)
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.
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