My Spanish friend Diego, who is living in Manchester to learn English, finds the phrase ‘sending someone to Coventry’ endlessly amusing.
‘What is so bad about Coventry?’ he asks, over and over. ‘Please stop asking me and go and find out,’ I tell him – but now the lazy so-and-so could just read this article. Andy, who writes songs under the moniker Atlum Schema, is frustrated and heartened by both Coventry’s musical lull and coming renaissance…
What grabbed me about what he said was that the band had decided to diminish the number of local shows they were playing, looking instead to concentrate on bigger cities: Birmingham (19 miles west of Coventry) and London (95 miles southeast) where they would more likely be able to make things happen.
The question that came to mind was why they felt they needed to do this, was it indeed true that for any local artists aspiring to take their music to the masses they would have to get out of the area in order to make this a reality?
Is the local music scene in Coventry and Warwickshire really that deplorable? There are, I think two answers to these questions – both yes and no.
When it comes to bands and music, Coventry has a small city syndrome. It rests upon its laurels of past success and lacks any real progressive drive, finding itself an emulator rather than innovator of exciting music, stumbling on success instead of searching for it.
A perfect example of both these aspects is evident looking back to the late seventies. Coventry was on the map as an exporter of 2 Tone records and ska bands such as The Specials and The Selectors who made waves worldwide.
There is rightly great pride in the city for this moment in music history, but rather than building upon any success it has tended to sit back on it and aspire to the past rather than seeking out what could make them proud in the future.
That said there is still a huge amount going on in the area; it is often a stop off for touring bands of all sizes with lots of venues to accommodate all levels of need. It is not through a lack of places for local music to grow and develop that causes the desire for bands head to ‘the city’ but instead what I believe to be a comfortable, uninspiring and disparate music culture.
Coventry lads The Enemy are another, much more recent example of success for the city and their footprint is still evident, but again they are a band that somehow got through, due to huge strategic industry involvement rather than as a product of a flourishing scene.
They were a big deal in the area and their name was everywhere, but I knew very few people who had actually seen them play prior to their immediately massive success which thrust them full-speed into an industry fuelled hype-fest during 2007, and then… they were gone.
One problem in the area is that rather than interesting one-off events that promoters, artists and fans have time and reason to get excited about, there are loads of regular weekly nights (mostly acoustic) that attract sparse audiences. The cause and effect of low turnouts generally results below-par acts too.
Promoters are desperate to fill loads of slots with anyone willing to do it (generally for free too) – the need for quantity therefore far exceeds the need for quality. It is not through a lack of great bands in the area that there is this sense of mediocrity, it is rather through a grass roots infrastructure that has become stuck in its ways and very inward looking.
It is not all doom and gloom however as recently there has been an awakening in the area to the problem and artists, music lovers and venues have started to really consider how to make things better.
There is a rich culture of art, poetry and music in the city, which has massive potential possibilities if we band together and move forward as one rather than everyone getting stuck in their own little area of individual quicksand that no one else really cares about.
Despite the tone of this article I am actually on the whole excited about the music scene in Coventry and Warwickshire over the next few years. I’ve been discovering many great local bands and believe that if they stick with it and actually do a little bit of work themselves to make the scene great rather than pining after the grass up the M6 or down the M40 it will be a fruitful and exciting place to be.
I would love to hear from anyone with similar experiences, wherever you are and any advice you have for moving things forward. In the meantime watch out for Being Jo Francis, Akeal, Post War Years, Don’t Move! Lee Mitchell and Men in Caves, just a small puddle in the huge pool of local talent. Now let’s make things happen…
So why not help Andy make things happen? Listen to his excellent music and download his equally good album at atlumschema.com.