27th Sep, 2020

MUSIC MATTERS: John Barrow book sheds light on Newmatics, Fun Boy Three and Bad Manners

By Pete Chambers

A few years back, Leicester musician John Barrow published a book entitled ‘How Not To Make It In The Pop World’.

A sort of sideways glance at his career as a session musician and as a member of various bands. The book proved so popular that an updated version has just been released.

I remember John in the Leicester band The Newmatics. I hounded them for a demo tape so I could play whenever I pleased. I was duly rewarded, and I’m glad to say I still have the tape, including their self-penned track ‘Kids Are Alright’, a dynamic song that I still love to this very day.

John mentions the gig in his book and remembers it like this. “We supported Bad Manners and another Ska chart band at the Dog and Trumpet venue at Coventry. Lead singer Buster Bloodvessel was in good form that night. Quite a few of the 2- Tone people hung out at that venue which was really a large pub.”

John left the Newmatics and joined the soul/funk outfit Black Gorilla then formed The Swinging Laurels. As their sax player. He soon became involved with another local band, Team 23. They were signed to Race Records, an independent label run by Brad, the Specials drummer. Team 23 included Jim Lantsbery in their ranks, he would eventually find fame as the lead guitarist in King..

Back to John’s book: “I was called with astonishing news. The manager of the Fun Boy Three, Rick Rogers, had been in the crowded audience at our last Hope and Anchor gig and liked what he saw.

“It transpired that the Fun Boy Three were on the lookout for a brass section to play on their next single. The track was called The Telephone Always Rings, from the debut album Fun Boy Three, where it appeared minus brass.

“Dave Jordan was producer; he relayed to us what was needed as our parts were committed to tape. They were pleased with the results so we packed up, said our goodbyes and ordered a cab to take us back to St. Pancras railway station.

“Terry Hall sat next to me in the back of the taxi; he was going to Euston for his journey back to Coventry.

“I asked Terry how well he expected the record to do, having had so much success in the past and he told me very candidly that as long as it sold 100,000 copies, he didn’t care!

“He expected the single to debut well into the top 75 from advance sales alone. The Telephone Always Rings was released on April 26th on Chrysalis Records and the sleeve credits announced, “Featuring the horns of the Swinging Laurels.” In its first week of release the record made a chart debut at No.68, which was what Terry predicted”.

John’s book is well worth getting hold of. These extracts are just some of the Coventry related pieces. He has also worked with Boy George, Iggy Pop, Jerry Dammers, The Clash and the Beautiful South.

It also includes updates of John’s fight with cancer, his work with The Fun Lovin’ Criminals and the day he signed the ‘Star Door’ at Coventry Music Museum.

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