In 1980 Hull, like many northern cities, was a place down on its luck. Extensively bombed in the war, what was left of its urban Victorian housing stock was being aggressively demolished by an indifferent local council and great areas lay derelict. The collapse of its main economy, the deep sea fishing industry, made for high unemployment and Hull was on the bones of its arse. But the national outlook was also bleak with Thatcher along with her favourite cowboy, the hapless Reagan, giving right wing politics a new shrill voice and emboldening the National Front and the BNP back out onto the streets.
But even darker clouds were gathering on the horizon. The sacred body of Pop itself was beginning to show the first symptoms of the crippling degenerative disease that would eventually reduce it to what it is today. Caught out by Punk in the late 70’s and alarmed at the success of small indie outfits, the record industry set about wresting control back from the musicians. In 1981 we were given the New Romantics and Duran Duran, the first of the pretty, boy bands to hit the charts; it was the beginning of the end.
The band started life in 1979 asThe Czechs when Jerry Kidd and Hallam Lewis first met on a Community Arts program to be joined later that year by Matt Higgins on drums and John Rowley on second guitar. With the addition of Lou Howard (Lou Barlow) on bass the band had its final lineup and a new name, Red Guitars. For the next 4 years this band crafted and played some of the most original, intelligent pop music around and so very nearly made the big time..
From the start the new material was exciting and different. Hallam was born in South Africa and his chiming, fluid, African-influenced style mixed strangely with the studied political lyrics of Jerry Kidd. The rest of the band drew on different musical influences from the Velvet’s to Punk and Blues but what Red Guitars all understood was the 3 minute pop song and in 1983 they set about recording their first single Good Technology (5 minutes and 8 seconds).
Fiercely independent and suspicious of record companies the band decided to go it alone and created their own label Self Drive distributed by Red Rhino, part of the Cartel of independent record distributors.
As with hundreds of bands over the years The John Peel show gave the band its breakthrough, with Peel championing the single and getting the band into Maida Vale studios to record two sessions for his late night slot. Peel continued to air the record regularly and within the year the band had recorded more Radio 1 sessions, appeared on the Tube and The Whistle Test and were at the top of the Indie Charts with subsequent singles Fact and Steeltown.
Both dramatic and bleak, Fact, about the global arms trade and Steeltown, an elegy to the death of the steel industry ensured that the band were fêted by the music press for their articulate, political stance. But Red Guitars also had a real infectious dance side and for the fourth single the band decided on a change of direction. Marimba Jive, a live favorite, had an out and out African groove studded with layers of tumbling guitars and a soaring fretless bassline. Single of the week in both NME and Melody Maker the band went back into the studio to start recording their first album.