New book celebrates fifty years of musical history in Leamington and Warwick

From left, Keith Hancock, Simon Dullenty and Jim Layton
From left, Keith Hancock, Simon Dullenty and Jim Layton

The history and influence of Leamington and Warwick’s music scene over 50 years is the focus of a new book to be released next week.

‘Fire in the Belly’, written by Jim Layton and Keith Hancock, tells the stories of how blues, rock and skiffle and three waves of punk was influenced by the scene in the two towns.

The Varukers outside the old Bath Place

The Varukers outside the old Bath Place

It will also feature stories about Leamington and Warwick’s record stores, gigs and venues that all helped shape the towns’ musical identity.

Jim said: “The musical landscape in Leamington and Warwick over the 50 years was a place of incredible change and development, from skiffle in the youth clubs in the 1950s through to the complexities of music harnessing world sources and new digital elements in the 1990s.

“Our towns have punched well above their weight in music-making, with national interest coming Leamington’s way in the 1980s and 1990s.

“We hope to pay respect to all those involved, not only the musicians but the shops, fans and promoters, and to tell some lively stories.”

The Rocking Chair Blues Band in the 1960s

The Rocking Chair Blues Band in the 1960s

Jim and Keith carried out research and interviews to trace the road from Arthur Renton’s antiquarian book, gramophone and music shop opening in 1957 to just short of Nizlopi laying claim to Leamington’s first number one single in 2005 with the ‘JCB Song’.

Local bands featured in the book include rock and rollers Woody Allen and the Challengers, punk bands The Shapes and The Varukers, electronic artist Banco De Gaia and psychedelic rock group The Edgar Broughton Band.

Among the stories told is Ozzy Osbourne’s performance at Jephson Pavillion in Jephson Gardens with his band Black Sabbath.

The noise and vibrations from the performance reportedly scared the rats living near the River Leam in the gardens – which then ran across the stage.

The Shapes in the Warwick Arms

The Shapes in the Warwick Arms

Keith said: “Over the 50 years there was some massive creativity and innovation from two relatively small towns, and some villages, in the heart of Warwickshire.

“What is striking is not only the enthusiasm and motivation of the musicians but the supportive infrastructure.

“There are lots of examples where music was enabled by schools and teachers, youth clubs and groups, record and music shops, parental support, musicians’ workshops, readily-available venues, local recording studios and willingness of people, especially the young, to turn out to hear new sounds.

“Despite digital technology and the internet, many of these elements are still around and the town still has some fire in the belly.”

The book will be launched at the newly-reopened Head record store in the Royal Priors on Wednesday July 25.

Owner Simon Dullenty, who also worked at the former Fopp store, said the shop was keen to back the local scene.

He added: “It’s important to have the connection with your local community.

“Leamington has an independent vibe to it and we stock music by local bands so what we plan to do is have a launch day where we have up-and-coming and established artists to play in the store.

“We’re always trying to support local music. I remember putting Nizlopi on in the old Fopp store 15 years ago. We sold the single before it became a hit so it’s an example of what can happen.”

After the launch, ‘Fire in the Belly’ will be available from Head, Kenilworth Books, Warwick Books and Waterstone’s in Leamington.