Coventry – once a city of music?

This article appeared in Pete Chambers Backbeat columns of Coventry Telegraph on Thursday the 2nd of October, and deals with a period in which Coventry had a good many thriving folk clubs, and was offering many performers who were later to go on to have popular success the opportunity learn their craft in front of audiences.

 

I can recall being at sessions in which  the fine Scottish balladeer Gibb Todd, Finbar Furey (with brother Eddie), my friend  Seán Cannon and a (then) work-colleague, Pat Cooksey, were all  participating. Occasionally, it felt like the the best of Ireland’s folk revivalists had upped sticks and moved into Coventry.

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Coventry Telegraph

 

Colin opens a new chapter in music

THE name may be familiar, though many readers will acquaint the name Colin Armstrong not with music, but more likely with books of the secondhand variety.

Colin as he is now.

Colin as he is now.

The truth is this is the very same person who until recently ran Armstrong’s Books and Collectables in Albany Road, Earlsdon.
 
Until books took over his life, it was music that dominated it, and the good news is that Colin has left his book-selling behind and it looks like new songs and even an album are on the cards. 
 
 
 
 

 

 
Colin was not Coventry born, the Scottish accent is a prime giveaway, 19-year-old Colin and his 20-year-old brother Flint arrived in the city in May 1966 looking for work.
After a hearty breakfast at Lyons Café, it was off to the Labour exchange where they got jobs as labourers, working in a building yard opposite the Walsgrave Pub and living at Stoke Guild House off the Binley Road. After sampling their first English pint in the Meriden Tavern (later the Alhambra) they soon began taking in the local music scene (as they had in Oban in Scotland) in the pubs and clubs of Coventry.
Pretty soon the Armstrong Brothers were in full flight, playing acoustic blues and folk in places such as The Admiral Coddrington, The Mercer’s Arms and Warwick University.
Colin said: “The music scene in the Midlands in the 1960s was brilliant. What more could two young lads from Scotland want? Plenty of women and music. I played with the folk group the Moonshiners, and was a member of Omega, a rock/folk/blues outfit formed by ex-Peppermint Kreem’s Paul Kenelly and Arthur Allbrighton, there was lots of potential, but we only did the one gig then split.

“From there I joined the Lanch’-based rock band Charge as a singer. We were getting nowhere fast. I went solo, writing my own songs and playing solo spots at folk clubs including the Lanchester Arts Festival. I was at a party one night; I got drunk and banged my old Gibson guitar off the wall. Someone suggested I take it to Rob Armstrong who made and repaired guitars. We ended up having jam sessions and the music seemed to spark, so I joined as singer/guitarist in the band Music Box with Rob.”

Music Box recorded an album in 1972 entitled Songs of Sunshine on the Westwood label. It’s now very collectable, and has taken on a life of its own. One reviewer recently said: “Here is an album about a more intimate, predominantly acoustic music. Flutes, chimes, and gentle organ sounds. It spins tales of faraway lands, sand, sea, castles, kings, queens and even Peter Pan. Bet you thought only Donovan made ’em like that? Songs of Sunshine is incense and innocence, folk rock ‘n’ flowers. Well played, tastily arranged… and overlooked.”

The album has now made it on to CD and even download with American and Japanese sites selling it.

Colin said: “When Music Box folded I thought I would try looking for a recording contract in London. I handed in my demo tapes, even singing my songs in their offices. A couple of music publishers showed an interest in some of my songs, but I was really looking for something better.

“One night I was singing in a London pub and when I’d finished my stint some people came over and said they liked my songs; they turned out to be the US band Three Dog Night. I hung out with them for a couple of weeks, but nothing came of it.

“In 1973 I came back to my bedsit in Coventry and I entered the Melody Maker National Folk/Rock Contest and was accepted for the Midlands heat as soloist and won that and got as far as the national semi-finals.”

Colin moved on to join the folk group Rocky Road, playing Scottish and Irish folk songs and a bit of country, doing four gigs a weekend in the London Irish pubs. Later joining the rock and blues band Shambles at Warwick University, eventually settling on a solo career.

For the next 24 years Colin’s time and inspiration was taken up by his bookshop. Though in 2003 he did strap his guitar back on to record three of his songs on CD that included the now popular New City Song, written about the rebuilding of Coventry after the war.

In 2006, Colin finally left his bookshop behind him, giving him time to concentrate on his music and song writing. We should expect something new from him, in the near future. If his past compositions are anything to go by, the future looks bright for this true gent of the book and music scene.
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I posting this to remind myself that one day, when I have the leisure, I should find out whether the late sixties and early seventies in Coventry were as good as I remember them to be.
POSTSCRIPT.

Dated 06/10/2008

There are some better reproductions of the photograps there.

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