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on Sun, 05 Nov 2017
A former leading light of the local music scene is set to be remembered with the launch of a new project by Coventry Music Museum. Following the release of its debut EP earlier this year, the museum’s brand new in-house record label will dedicate its first full album to clarinettist and guitarist Steve Edgson.
Due for release later this month, the forthcoming album will kick off a whole new compilation series featuring lesser-known and/or previously unreleased tracks donated by Coventry and Warwickshire artists. It’s hoped that sales will help to raise much-needed funds for the museum’s work, as well as highlighting the wealth and diversity of musical talent in the Coventry as it bids to be the UK’s next City of Culture in 2021.
Having started his career with Analog in the mid-70s, Steve Edgson was a familiar face on the local music circuit for over 30 years, still recording music with the duo Two Giraffes until his death in January 2009. We spoke to his close friend and former Two Giraffes bandmate Sam McNulty to find out more.
“I first met Steve in the mid-80s while he was DJing at The Dog and Trumpet,” he explains. “I’d started putting together a band called The Giraffes, and we needed a fifth musician to add texture to the sound, which was something Steve had always brought to everything he was involved in. So I went down there one Sunday night, and he agreed to come and play some sessions with us, which worked out so well that Steve and I continued to perform together for the next twenty years!”
That fateful Sunday might have marked their first proper conversation, but Sam and Steve had already been peripherally aware of each other before teaming up in The Giraffes, having both played the local music circuit for some years in various other lineups. While Sam began his music career in punk outfit Squad, Steve had started out playing with the experimental jazz-rock group Analog, before going on to play with Ens and later 80s ska band The Reluctant Stereotypes, alongside the subsequently nationally successful Paul King.
“I first saw Steve performing with The Reluctant Stereotypes at The Dog and Trumpet. We were all aware of this sort of strange fellow in little round glasses with spiky hair and eye make-up and flowery shirts, who would just hold the whole stage. Everyone’s eyes would always be on Steve when he performed and for good reason. But the way he was on stage was actually quite different to how he was when you got to know him personally. Looking at him on stage you’d just be thinking about how strange and interesting he is, but then you’d meet him, and he was so personable and down to earth.”
Despite enjoying significant success in the region and accruing a large local following, much like The Reluctant Stereotypes, The Giraffes never quite managed to break out nationally.
“The Giraffes were described as ‘the best band never to come out of Coventry’ - that’s my sleeve note!” laughs Sam. “We were a five-piece right through the 80s and into the early 90s, during which time we recorded three singles/EPs but never got round to recording an album.
“I think everyone who was there at the time agreed we should have made it: at one point we had about ten major record labels chasing us and on various occasions we thought we were about to sign. But because of various managerial changes that we went through, and I’m really honest, mismanagement of the band, it never actually happened.
“The band didn’t exactly split up, but those frustrations meant that gradually key members disappeared and went off to do other things, and by the mid- to late-90s, we were left with just me and Steve, and we formed our own songwriting project called Two Giraffes.”
Over the course of their twenty-odd years playing together, Sam and Steve cultivated a close friendship as well as a strong professional relationship, writing and rehearsing every Tuesday at Steve’s Earlsdon home, before eventually recording the album Twelve Songs by Two Giraffes, as well as the 2010 England World Cup single, ‘Pure Poetry’.
“I’d go over to his house after dinner – it was only round the corner. He’d have half a bottle of wine left from his dinner, and I’d have brought a bottle of wine, and we’d finish both of those. If things were going really well we might open a second bottle of wine, but if it wasn’t going well, that’s when the whisky would come out!
“We’d stay up until the silly hours, sometimes with a few other people, all while Steve’s brilliant, long-suffering wife was upstairs. And I think we wrote a total of about 40 songs that way, many of which were recorded at a place in Earlsdon called Providence Street. In fact, we’ve actually got a finished song called ‘Providence Street’ which has never been released.
“Whenever Steve walked into a room, it just lit up. He was one of those people that everyone gravitates towards whenever they come into a party or a pub or any group of people. He knew how to make you laugh, and he could make you feel comfortable even in the most extreme situations. When we weren’t writing songs, we did a lot of sitting around a fire discussing big philosophical questions, and however small we felt in the face of things, we were always warm and happy in that moment.”
As a musician and performer, meanwhile, he approached everything he did with originality and flair. Although Two Giraffes’ sound was quite different from his earlier, jazzier endeavours, he never lost sight of the spirit of experimentation and eccentricity that characterised all of his work.
“We actively decided to have a Steve in the band as a clarinettist because we didn’t want just another keyboard or guitar or whatever everyone else was doing. His sound was unique. He was artistic in his conception, and always knew how to perform a song in a way that no other musician could. He used various effects pedals to enhance things – an echo, a chorus and a reverb, I believe, which would make things sound ethereal and otherworldly.”
The Giraffes track featured on CMMR’s first album, ‘Come in Out of the Rain’, is one of three to which Steve contributed, along with The Reluctant Stereotypes’ ‘Radical World’ and Crokodile Tears’ ‘Chinese Whispers’.
“We initially wrote ‘Come In Out of the Rain’ for ourselves, but we always had the idea that it could be covered by a female vocalist – Annie Lennox, Kate Bush and Hazel O’Connor were all mooted for that. It’s a gorgeous track, very 80s in style – very atmospheric with a huge chorus. It features beautiful, soft guitars and a big clarinet solo by Steve as well as a vocal from myself which I’m really pleased with.”
And according to Sam, it’s just one of a whole wealth of previously unreleased Giraffes and Two Giraffes material, which may yet have a chance to see the light of day.
“We were still recording right up until Steve got too ill to play any more, so we’ve got somewhere in the region of 20 songs that we’ve recorded but never finished. We’re hoping to release a new Giraffes album called Giraffiti soon. But there’s enough material in various stages to potentially conjure up two albums, which would be great!”
For the present, though, Sam is thrilled to be part of CMMR’s debut album, and hopes that it will be the first of many such collaborations. It is, he explains, the first Coventry compilation of its kind in years, helping to shine a spotlight on the often nationally neglected musical talent in the city.
“There were a couple of releases called Sent From Coventry 1 and 2 in the late 70s or early 80s, which Martin Bowes was also involved in, but I don’t think there’s been anything since then.
“There are still a lot of new acts coming through here, but I’ve got a theory that it doesn’t matter how good you are – unless you’ve got the managerial backing and financial clout to make it work, you’ll always find it hard to move from being local to being national or international. The Enemy were the last big band to come out of Coventry, and they had massive, massive backing. Good will is great, but if acts from Coventry are really seriously going to come through then you still need the backing of a major label, even in this internet age.”
Coventry Music Museum Records' debut album is due for release in late November, launch date TBC.