Although it perhaps never had the same iconic national status as the Cavern, the Factory or Barbarellas, there is no doubt that JBs was a legend in terms of the West Midlands music scene. Spawned from a collaboration between two youth clubs, the Quarry in Upper Gornal and the Coneygre Club in Tipton, JB’s was founded in 1969 by a couple of wannabe disc jockeys, Johny Bryant and Colin aka Sam Jukes, initially as a somewhat run down disco in Dudley Town Football Club’s pavilion before, with the involvement of booker Roy Williams quickly evolving into a locally very successful live venue. On July 1, 1971, it relocated to its new home in Kings Street, Dudley, a building that would remain its home for over 20 years before relocating to Castle Hill (during which time, Sam had left to start his own offshoot, JB’s Junction 10) until finally closing the doors for the last time on Jan 9, 2011.
Although often thought of as a hard rock or metal club, during its lifetime JB’s played host to a wide range of bands, of both local and national repute, covering all parts of the musical spectrum. Now the club’s story is told in JB’s The Story of Dudley’s Legendary Live Music Venue, a fabulous, informative and thoroughly entertaining new book put together by artist Geoff Tristram, a mix of archive photographs, Tristram’s year by year, month by month history and anecdotal reminiscences from the club committee members and such names as Steve Gibbons, former Express & Star journalist Robin Wilson, Damon Albarn, Dave Newton from the Mighty Lemon Drops and John Penney of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin as well as a postscript by Robert Plant.
Reading it is like taking a time machine trip through almost four decades of West Midlands rock history, rediscovering such long forgotten characters as Jimmy the Con, remembering those that have passed, such as JBs and Beacon Radio sound engineer Richard Willis (who engineered almost all the band sessions for my then rock show) and recalling JB’s regulars and visitors like Little Acre, Argent, Robert Plant, The Stranglers (including an hilarious anecdote about one member of the audience telling an obnoxious Hugh Cornwell what he thought of them), Man, Dexys, Still (which featured Tristram’s brother David, now a successful playwright, on bass), Brinsley Schwarz, Supercharge, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Johnny Cougar, the Manics, the Wonder Stuff and countless more, the final live gig (as far as the records tell) being Danny Vaughan on Dec 10, 2010). Among the many memories, my favourite has to be the legendary JB’s anecdote when, with Saxon going down like a lead balloon with the 50 or so disinterested punters, an increasingly desperate Biff Byford called out for them to pretend they were 5,000 and local character Dinko Dyson snapped back, “yo pretend yo’m a fuckin’ band an ‘we’ll pretend we’m 5,000 folks.” A joy to read, it’s an affectionate tribute to an integral part of local music history that helped launch the careers of hundreds of major bands and felt like home to thousands of punters. Here is perhaps no better way of underlining exactly what JB’s meant to people than recalling the fact that Steve Gibbons refused to travel to London to record Top of the Pops when he charted with Tulane because he had a residency at the club. You can bet the Beatles wouldn’t have done that for the Cavern.
Although yet to be officially confirmed, it seems there been a split in the ranks of THE TOY HEARTS, arguably the country’s finest swing and bluegrass outfit, with guitarist Sophia Johnson apparently having decided to quit and relocate to Texas. Word is still awaited as to what the future of the band will be and whether dad Stewart and sister Hannah will continue with the name.
Released last November (with the review delayed by Royal Fail), GOODNIGHT LENIN make their long awaited album debut with In The Fullness of Time (Static Caravan), one that highlights their increasing Americana influences, most especially that of Neil Young (The Reason could have come straight from Harvest) without losing their former folk colours.
An affection for late 60s American folk-rock is also evident with A Cautionary Tale, an acoustic based number with military snare that evoke thoughts of The Byrds’ 5th Dimension while also conjuring the cascading euphoria of the chorus to Fairy Tale of New York.
There’s always been a wintry air to the band’s sound, their shimmering, chiming guitars, ringing piano and trebly, echoey vocals capturing the crisp freshness and sparkle of rural snowscapes, heard to potent effect on the tumbling love unfulfilled of Weary and the yearning mid-tempo ballad You Were Always Waiting, which gradually builds to a cascading waterfall of a chorus.
They also do anthemic with the best of them, notably on the tremulous swell of piano ballad Tell-Tale Heart and the organ backed waltzing Carry The Burden of Youth In Your Heart which climaxes like a choir boys terrace swayalong. Building to a multi-voiced epic singalong finale, the amped up, snarly electric guitars of Old Cold Hands serves reminder that they have solid muscle too while, elsewhere, gently rolling piano ballad Another Day marries Young and Lennon while acoustic swayer Constant Lover nods to Phosphorescent and also elicits thoughts of classic Robin Gibb. The album closes on another wintry soundscape with the guitar jangling, military beat, vocally soft-toned Electric Leaves, an excursion into West Coast psychedelic folk rock tinted that leaves you with a tingle down the spine. Although too late for 2014, given it’ll be repromoted when the band set out on a full tour in March/April, this is a guaranteed inclusion in the year’s Top 10 Best.