The period of 1976-1977 was akin to year zero in British music. The establishment was either washed away, withdrew or radically upped their game in the wake of punk. The stripping down to the bare essentials then left something of an ‘anything goes’ attitude amongst a small, but significant number, of post-punk bands such as Siouxsie & the Banshees, The Pop Group, The Fall, Subway Sect and the Swell Maps. The impact of the maps is usually overlooked and not many have heard their small but brilliant output.
The band was formed by brothers Kevin & Nicholas Godfrey who later adopted the names Epic Soundtracks (Kevin) & Nikki Sudden (Nicholas) together with Richard Earl, David Barrington, John Cockrill and Jowe Head. The band was heavily influenced by a firebrand cocktail of early 70s music such as Marc Bolan & T.Rex, the Faces and the New York Dolls alongside experimental German bands such as Can.
Their first self-financed single ‘Read about Seymour’ stood out amongst the deluge of punk singles that emerged in 1977. However, it was their first album ‘A Trip To Marineville’ where they began to fly. Often described as experimental it is perhaps better seen as being playful with a willingness to explore ideas. The album was recorded at Woodbine Street studios in Leamington Spa with legendary producer John Rivers who became like a 7th member of the band often encouraging and guiding their seemingly ‘out there’ ideas into the studio and on to tape. What emerged is at times ram shackled and pushed the boundaries, but also included some mini masterpieces of raw energy and fresh ideas. Tracks such as ‘Midget Submarines’ and ‘Blam’ sound more current now than many bands recording today.
The follow up in 1980 ‘Jane From Occupied Europe’ continued to the experimental theme and became more extreme with tracks such as ‘Cake shop’ and the beautiful ‘Raining in my room’. By this time the band was falling apart and split shortly after its release.
The members went on to various solo projects with Nikki Sudden achieving most success with his band the Jacobites. Ironically having been so experimental in his early days much of his work in the 1980s and 1990s took a fairly traditional rock route often emulating his heroes such as Neil Young and Keith Richards. Tragically both Godfrey brothers died ridiculously young with Epic Soundtracks in 1997 and his brother Nikki Sudden in 2006. Other remaining members of the band have worked together in recent times as the Phone Sportsman Band.
Swell Maps are virtually unknown today although their impact should not be overlooked or underestimated, albeit second hand through bands such as Pavement and Sonic Youth.
Intrigued? Go and buy their albums you will be fascinated, well rewarded and probably inspired.
Read about Seymour (single) 1977
A Trip To Marineville (1979)
Jane From Occupied Europe (1980)
Whatever Happens Next (1981)