Swell Maps were an experimental British rock group from the town of Solihull near Birmingham in the West Midlands. Formed in the early Seventies by brothers Nikki Sudden and Epic Soundtracks, they were joined by Phones Sportsman (David Barrington) and bassist Jowe Head. The lineup was later bolstored by guitarist Richard "Biggles" Earl and John Cockrill. Although they emerged during the punk era and their music reflected the rough and ready garage rock then in vogue, it also included elements of Krautrock and the avant garde, created in the DIY spirit of the age.
After several years of making home recordings, the group were inspired by Buzzcocks self-released 'Spiral Scratch EP' to book into a studio and record debut single 'Read About Seymour' in September 1977. Issued on their own Rather label, it was later reissued by Rough Trade. Debut LP "A Trip To Marineville" was issued in 1979. The Maps issued one more album before disbanding in 1980.
Most band members went on to have solo careers. Jowe Head subsequently enjoyed a long stint as a member of Television Personalities.
Links To Peel
Although not reflected in the documented track listings currently available, Peel played the Maps' debut single 'Read About Seymour' numerous times on release. The group included a photograph of Peel on the record sleeve, which may have helped to attract his initial attention .
When repeating their debut session on 20 November 1978, Peel reads out a postcard sent in by Nikki Sudden in which he demands that their friends Television Personalities be given a session. . Swell Maps were an acknowledged influence on Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, who supplied sleevenotes for the compilation LP "Collision Time Revisited" (1989) (reproduced on this blog).
In 2017, Jowe Head recalled the influence and impact of the John Peel show in an article published on the unofficial Television Personalities website :
"John Peel was, of course, one on the top our mailing list when we made our first single 'Read About Seymour'. He immediately started playing the record as soon as he was given a copy... Thereafter, each of us took turns recording his shows each night in the hope that he might play our song again, which he did, regularly. We produced that first studio recording ourselves, inspired by the first releases by Buzzcocks and Desperate Bicycles, and then we found the pressing plant and printer to make the discs and covers for us; we packed them all up in a bedroom, and sent out copies to John Peel, and a few journalists. We also did a modest mail-order operation for a while. It was all self-financed by wages from menial jobs that we saved up. Peel playing the record made all the difference in getting the record into the shops and distributed more widely. Rough Trade were impressed enough to take as many copies as we could give them. And when they ran out, they reissued it for us."
The group were invited to record three sessions for the programme. Jowe remembers the group's first visit to Maida Vale:
"It was a thrill to be asked to record a session, at BBC's Maida Vale studios. We were still developing some of the material that ended up being recorded later on our first album, so some pieces like 'Harmony in Your Bathroom' and 'Full Moon' were still a bit rough-and-unready, but it was an ideal opportunity to be bold and try them out. My fondest memory was Epic and I dashing into the toilets to fill up a jug with water, then using a pair of straws to make a bubbling sound for 'Harmony'. In our excitement, we splashed some of it on the floor and near one of the microphones, so we were only allowed one take, but it was very effective, with some reverb added in the mix, but we were reprimanded very firmly by the producer and engineer for causing so much chaos!"
He goes on to reflect:
"Remarkably, each of the three sessions was repeated, and Peel would play each of the four singles repeatedly and many album tracks as well, so he was a valuable supporter throughout our brief but eventful "career" as a band. He was also a great mentor, in terms of having exposed us to some of our formative influences: Faust, Can, Henry Cow, The Damned, Sex Pistols, and so on."
Festive Fifty Entries
Three sessions. Second session released on "Whatever Happens Next" LP, Rough Trade ROUGH21 (1981).
- Read About Seymour / Harmony In Your Bathroom / Full Moon In My Pocket - Blam - Full Moon / International Recue / Another Song
- Bandits / Vertical Slum - Forest Fire / Armadillo / Midget Submarines
- Big Empty Field / Bleep And Booster Come Round For Tea - Secret Island / (Let's) Buy A Bridge / The Helicopter Spies - A Raincoat's Room
Other Shows Played
The list below was researched only from the database of this site. Please add further information if known.
- 26 January 1978: Read About Seymour (7") Rather 
- 27 January 1978: Ripped & Torn / Black Velvet (7") Rather 
- 17 August 1978: Read About Seymour (7") Rather
- 09 July 1979: H.S. Art (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 16 July 1979: Vertical Slum (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 18 July 1979: Spitfire Parade (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 25 July 1979: Full Moon In My Pocket / Blam! / Full Moon (Reprise) (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 01 August 1979: Loin Of The Surf (album – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade ROUGH 2
- 04 August 1979 (BFBS): Unknown
- 07 August 1979: Gunboats (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 09 August 1979: Don’t Throw Ashtrays At Me / Midget Submarines / Bridge Head (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 11 August 1979 (BFBS): Loin Of The Surf (LP – A Trip To Marineville) Rough Trade
- 16 October 1979: Real Shocks (7") Rough Trade
- 01 November 1979: Read About Seymour (7") Rough Trade
- 28 January 1980: Let's Build A Car (7") Rough Trade
- 02 February 1980 (BFBS): Let's Build A Car (7") Rough Trade RT 036
- 04 February 1980: Let's Build A Car (7") Rough Trade
- 07 February 1980: Let's Build A Car (7") Rough Trade
- 21 February 1980: Let's Build A Car (7") Rough Trade
- 12 August 1980: Dresden Style (7") Rough Trade
- 02 September 1980: Let's Buy A Bridge (LP - ... In "Jane From Occupied Europe") Rough Trade
- 15 September 1980: Border Country (LP - ... In "Jane From Occupied Europe") Rough Trade
Phones Sportsman Band
Swell Maps contributor Phones Sportsman issued a solo single in 1980. Although unacknowledged on the record sleeve, he was backed by the rest of the band.