My City In Music – Coventry

My City In Music – Coventry by Nina Baker

There was a time when “Being sent to Coventry” was a bad thing. In the shadows of the war-beaten cathedral, the vast expanse of 60’s concrete and the ring of steel, bemusement and buttock-clenching fear that is the Coventry Ring-Road…

…But times have changed. The cathedral is now dwarfed by 6 stories of flat-packed Swedish heaven, luxury duplex apartments now sit where there used to be burning tyres and there is a growing feel-good factor in a city often overshadowed by it’s larger Brummie cousin.

Coventry Cathedral

Coventry Cathedral

Don’t shout it too loud folks…..But Coventry is cool.

But what about the music – How has this changed with a city trying to reinvent itself?
Well in one hand it has not changed at all. In the same way that Liverpool will never shift the association with Merseybeat, 40 years on Coventry will always be synonymous with Ska and Two-Tone. These are the Godfathers, the icons and are STILL the Gods of music in the city. Jerry Dammers, Neville Staple, Pauline Black, Horace Panter, Terry Hall – These are the names still spoken about on the streets.

Jerry Dammers of the Specials

Jerry Dammers of the Specials

A visit to the Coventry Music Museum, run by music historians Pete and Julie Chambers, is an absolute must and explores the rich musical tapestry the city has been built upon. But look further and you will see what wide reaching influence the music of the region has had. Without Coventry, there would not have been Sheeran, busking Specials covers outside Habitat. Winehouse, Mars, Ronson were all brought up on a cocktail of Motown, Jazz, Ska and Two-Tone. The bands that we hear on the radio today with the reggae tempo, rhythmic vocals and flashes of brass, if you distil the content and strip back the production, you will find the backbone is pure Two-Tone.

I had the pleasure of supporting The Selecter twice last year, to jam-packed crowds, seemingly their appeal is as strong as ever, not just here but across the globe. The Coventry music of yesteryear, if anything, seems to be growing almost half a century on.

The Specials

The Specials

So what does that mean for the local artists of today, are they following in the footsteps of their musical forefathers?

Well…….No. In the same way that Oasis were criticised for stripping licks from The Beatles, it is never wise to imitate greatness. The texture of the music in Coventry and surrounding areas has evolved and now lies in very different places.

The first camp is the indie rock scene. In the aftermath of the nuclear explosion that marked the arrival of The Enemy nigh on 10 years ago (yes, it is that long) a thousand clones were spawned, some of them actually rather good.

The current crop, Yes Sunshine, Sixty-Fours, Drop Down Smiling, The Ellipsis, The Prophets, The Commonjets, are all tipped for big things. But If I had to tout a band who I think could go all the way it would be Go Primitive from just down the road in Rugby. They are cross between Placebo, MUSE and Megadeth, with crunching riffs, gripping hooks and technical complexity.

And that is before I talk about their live show. With any rock band you want to be entertained and they give it in droves. I played a festival two years ago where they were also on the bill. When they lit up their afterburners, the post-apocalyptical roar magnetised the crowd away from the main stage to the other side of the field. I felt sorry for the act on the main stage that day, but was busy being dragged subliminally towards the wailing guitars and pounding drums. Before I knew it I was in the centre of rock bedlam. They have changed their line-up a couple of times since then but the same formula remains and they are starting to get the plaudits.

Personally, I was really surprised when 18 months ago Russian Gun Dogs decided to call it a day. As they had everything in my eyes, an almighty following, a distinctive sound, some great songs and a really strong image. We will never know the full story but it looks like there was an implosion in the band, they were on the brink of taking off and the next we knew it was all over. That was a great shame.

The second camp, and by my eyes the fasted growing, is that of the folk and country artist, which in the past 2 years has grown and multiplied in great swathes. On any given night somewhere in the area there will be a night of folk music somewhere of exceptional standard.

The baton holders for the past few years have been The Fallows who’s romping-stomping style has always been a great tonic with festival crowds and with songs like “Front Row” and “Run Like A Dog” they have the sort of commercial appeal that has seen them played on “Radio 2 and BBC 6 Music.

They appear to be on hiatus at the moment with front man Ross Darby doing his own solo projects and as a duo with Lizzy Coughlan. Ross’ campaign to reach the UK Top 40 on a budget of £99 with his song “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” was exceptionally well supported by the local community, raising funds for Coventry Cyrenians charity for the homeless. Fair play to him.

The pool is deep and rich in the world of folk – Leamington Spa’s Wes Finch, The Folly Brother, Speak Brother, Barricades Rise, it is a wonder why during the rise of folk and country over the past 6 months this area has been seemingly been overlooked. I am hoping that this is just an oversight and not a permanent feature as we need one of these artists to emerge as a player.

If I had to chose an artist and fire them to the top it would be Kristy Gallacher. There is nothing manufactured about Kristy, she is pretty girl who plays great songs, with a voice like silk and fingers of fury. She is a sweet little thing, but with huge amounts of steel, I have seen her play to all sorts of crowds and she commands them, on her own, solo, all 5 foot something of her. If the musical landscape changes and embraces the folk singer-songwriter, as it has threatened to do but has never quite made it, then Kristy Gallacher could be a name to watch.

The third and final camp is that of the commercial artist. It has a solid array of talent, though the numbers getting recognition certainly do not reflect the endeavour.  The last artist to breakthrough was Lucy Rose, but that is 3 years now. Too long. Despite this there have been successes worthy of mention.

Rugby’s Emily Burns arrived as a teenager a few years ago to much expectation and quickly moved to London to build on her unquestionable talent. In recent years she has been working out of Abbey Road and has enjoyed commercial success and performed on the BBC Introducing stage at T in The Park. The next couple of years will be key for Emily to define her sound and push on.

Emma McGann with her blend of feel good pop has been a regular on the BBC network, including Radio 1, growing a huge fan base globally through some very clever methods – She uses webcasts, online forums and even has her own radio show – If anyone deserves success it is Emma for pushing the boundaries for what is possible as an independent artist. Her current single “You Mess Me Up” is just outside the Top 40, which is remarkable. She is talented, brave and a very clever girl and somebody, somewhere should latch onto that.

Emma McGann

Emma McGann

But there of course are others in the wings. Hip-Hop artist Afrojosh who has had an incredible year, singer-songwriters Joe Dolman, Holly Aires and James Taylor-Watts (who at 17 has just signed a deal with Island Records), dance acts Stigmatised and Jordan Clayton, any one of these could easily prick up the ears of Huw Stephens and be catapulted into the mainstream. This region is due an overnight success, in the same way that Jake Bugg has put Nottingham on the map, we need an artist to cement Coventry as a major music hub.

So is that everything? No. Because I have left the most significant thing till last.

This city has a beating heart of music through adversity, venues closing and people less willing to put on music. There are exceptions such as The Tin & Millsy‘s who have always provided local artists opportunity to play and in the case of Kasbah the opportunity to support major artists, but in the main the infrastructure has declined over the past 20 years.

Throughout this period, through recession and austerity, the people of Coventry still have something that no other town or city can claim. It has the last great FREE music festival – The Godiva Festival. Now in it’s 17th year, the Godiva Festival is the annual pilgrimage to Memorial Park to see 3 days of incredible live music from multi-national bands and local talent, gratis, preis-frei, for nothing.

Bands such as The Happy Mondays, Biffy Clyro, Kasabian, The Fratellis, The Lightning Seeds, Shed Seven, The Human League, Super Furry Animals and so many more have played over the years, last year to a record crowd of 120,000 people.

What sets Godiva apart is that it is a community festival, a friendly festival, an impartial festival, if you play good music then you can play at Godiva Festival. I have and it was the best experience of my life. This is not for the booking agents and labels to flex their muscles and get their act on another festival stage, you are INVITED to play and this results in a line-up year on year that is very unique.

There are rumours that 2015, due to council cut backs, this could be the last 100% free Godiva Festival, but whatever happens from here on in, it will remain, it is part of the culture of the city and it will never be able to stop. Whatever the future, kudos to Coventry City Council for the past 17 years. If you are near the midlands on the first weekend of July I thoroughly suggest you head towards Coventry – You will not regret it!

So in summary – Coventry – Rich in music history – Fertile in music future – Why look elsewhere?

By Nina Baker

About Nina Baker

Nina Baker My City in Music - Coventry

Nina Baker My City in Music – Coventry

Nina Baker is a pianist singer-songwriter from just Warwickshire. She lives on a farm and writes and records in a former stable block.

She is a softly-spoken English rose with lyrics like thorns. A classically trained pianist who combines classical score with blues, pop, skiffle, rock, folk, jazz & country to express her emotions. Her great influence is Chinese maestro Lang-Lang and has been likened to Tori Amos, Regina Spektor and Delta Goodrem.

Nina has warmed up for Robbie Williams and Monty Python at the London O2 and supported Mark Morriss, Foxes, Henrik Freischlader, Jill and Kate, Mick Flannery and Ella Eyre on their UK and European tours. Nina has a particular ritual when on tour – Before every performance must visit a tea-shop for tea and cake!

Nina was hand-picked by BBC Introducing to attend their Master Class and she came runner-up in MTV’s Brand New for 2013 unsigned competition, impressing the MTV select panel who stated that “Nina brought something really unique to the competition, a mixture of light and dark makes her songs stand out”.

In 2014 Nina’s debut track ‘Single Bed’ won ‘Best Song’ in the 2014 Best Of British Unsigned Awards, and she came runner up in the ‘Best Female’ category.

Her much acclaimed debut album was released at the end of 2014. Self-written, self-funded & self-produced, it is sweet on the outside & bitter in the middle.

“With elements of pop, rock, jazz, blues, folk & classical feeding the musical heart of her self-penned debut, Baker has cut a great, difficult to pigeonhole record. The attention she pays to arrangements ensures that each of her thirteen songs is superbly textured & structured. This is fine stuff.” (R2 Magazine, UK)

The album titled ‘Quite Frankly‘ (dedicated to her late grandfather Frank Baker) is a big-scale, uncompromising production. It is a roller-coaster of rhythm, soaring highs and wallowing lows and is widely regarded as one of the best albums of 2014 by an independent artist.


6 thoughts on “My City In Music – Coventry

  1. Very good article, I did not realise how much good music was coming out of Coventry. I think I will be heading to Coventry this summer to check out the Godiva Festival!

  2. I have been checking out these bands this morning, some real quality here. I live in Manchester now, but hail from Birmingham, quite honestly I had no idea there was so much going on in Coventry. Is it time for Coventry to have it’s time in the spotlight again???

  3. Fantastic read! A lot to be proud of here in Coventry! And couldn’t agree more about the Godiva festival! Long may it continue!

  4. As a ‘Coventry Kid’ I really enjoyed this piece (although I’m not sure I should use the term ‘kid’ as I was at school when Two Tone exploded!) It’s great to see so many young talented artists still coming out of this area, my personal favourites being Go Primitive, Drop Down Smiling, Joe Dolman and The Ellipsis. Oh and that Nina Baker.

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