|NEON HEARTS 1977-81|
|In the summer of 1977, Steve Heart quit Birmingham-based Suburban Studs following musical differences (the band feeling a saxophone player inappropriate in a punk band) and returned to Wolverhampton to form a new band. He'd already written several songs and soon began recruiting members.
First recruit was his cousin, a bass player called Paul Raven. Then came drummer Keith Alien, another local musician and friend of Paul's who was asked to join after Steve heard tapes of him playing.
A guitarist was required. Keith knew someone, so dispensing with the idea of advertising, an audition was arranged in the attic bedroom of Keith's house in Lower Street, Tettenhall. The guitarist was Martin Ratcliffe (later known as The Inferior Member' on the bands first single). He was shown the songs and his playing fitted them perfectly.
At the time, Keith was working in a town centre shop called Langdon's Electric Music. His boss, Pete Langdon, allowed the band to rehearse in the empty flat above the shop. From then on an intensive rehearsal schedule was put into force with the band rehearsing for 3 hours every night, followed by a pint at the pub.
After a few months rehearsing, the band had a
considerable amount of material written and the time felt
right for Steve to contact Ron Lee (of Lee Sound Studios
and Pogo Records) to arrange a demo recording session
and to get his thoughts on the band. Ron was a contact
Steve had made whilst involved in session work at Lee
Sound. This contact had been instrumental in getting the
Suburban Studs their first record deal on the Pogo label.
The band, still unnamed, recorded a selection of their
material. Ron and his producer, Del Spence, liked the band
but thought a stronger vocalist was needed, thus putting
the dampers on Martin and Steve's shared vocal efforts!
So, armed with a tape of their material, the band began
looking for a singer. They put the word about but had little
Then good reports came of a solo singer, with an acoustic
guitar, playing local pubs and clubs, but doing his own
songs and a few Bowie covers. The band wasted little time
in tracking down Tony Deary (later to become Tone Dial) to
a bedsit in Marchant Road in the suburbs of
Wolverhampton. After one or two meetings, the band (now
five members) was complete.
Intensive rehearsals continued. Soon the band were
musically very tight and a prolific song writing unit had
Many days and nights were spent at Tony's flat writing new songs. Lots of spare time was used writing and arranging in a spare room at Martin's place, ready for rehearsals. They decided to call themselves Neon Hearts.
In autumn 1977 the band were satisfied with their songs, so they booked a demo session at Ginger Studios in Aldridge, near Walsall. The studio was owned and run by Phil Dawson and was literally a garage built on the side of his house.
Phif was also an engineer-producer at Birmingham's Radio BRMB. BRMB was the station to be on, with presenter Robin Valk taking a huge interest in local music. Neon Hearts fast became one of Valk's favourites, and so their music was heavily featured and they did several interviews for the show.
After the first sessions at Ginger Studios, two songs were recognisable as exceptional; 'Regulations' and 'Venus Eccentric'. These were to become the double A-sided single released on I st December 1977 on the band's own label, Neon Hearts Records, based at bass player Paul's home in Tettenhall, because of its convenient location.
Studio sessions were paid for with dole money clubbed together by the band. The single was financed by a loan from two Wolverhampton businessmen, one of whom was Pete Langdon. Later, most of the band were to live in the flat above his shop, using it as the main base for all band activity.
The first pressing of the single in its oversized (8" sleeve) sold so well that the band was able to pay back the loan almost immediately. During this initial period the band found themselves under investigation from the Social Security offices, who were disappointed to discover they were legitimate and not making a fortune at their expense!
|Neon Hearts were Wolverhampton's first punk band, and were born in 1977. And like so many others around the country they tried their hand at breaking out of the Midlands and hitting the smoke and fame. But like so many others before em, fate had other plans! I might be biased but I think they were a fucking great band and definitely deserved more recognition than they ever got. Well here's their story told via Sax player and founding member Steve Heart...|
|The fledgling Neon Hearts circa late 1977 in the Market Subway in Wolverhampton's city centre.
The pretty scantily clad 'Venus Eccentric' was bassplayer Paul Raven's girlfriend
|The debut 45 (above) in those oversized sleeves. I remember buying my copy in the old Sundown Records shop at the back of the Royal London pub. The band picture on the back sleeve was taken outside an old scrapyard next to the Ash Tree pub at the junction of Parkfields Rd/Dudley Rd for all you Wolves trainspotters.
And despite Bob Geldof's misgivings (below) John Peel played it to death on his highly influential BBC Radio 1 show. A classic dose of Punk Rock! - Peter Don't Care
NEW WAVE CLONES (Part 2)
NEON HEARTS: Venue Eccentric / Regulations (Neon Hearts Records).
The label's the wrong way round for a start. They've got a sax. If you can't do the module you've gotta try the slide. O.K? This isn't what we meant, boys.
(Bob Geldof - NME December 3rd 1977)
|With the single riding high in the indie charts, Neon Hearts began gigging frequently, playing nationally, including several London dates. Encouraged by the response from the audience, they decided to stay in London for a few days and push themselves to several record companies, unfortunately without luck.
The band were not deterred by this minor setback. With a large following and not many places to play in Wolverhampton, Neon Hearts approached one local pub owner to see if they could hire a room, as a venue, on a regular basis. The owner was a local musician called Chico Arnez, the pub, The Lord Raglan. The room was hired on a, 'let's see how it goes' basis.
On the first night, in April 1978, there were about 150 people queuing outside, all dressed in punk gear, but all well behaved. However, the landlord panicked and tried to cancel the gig. The band ensured they would prevent and reimburse any damage and so the gig went ahead. The night was a great success and saw the beginning of a regular weekly gig. Bands were booked from all over the area and the acts were paid well, although only expenses were guaranteed.
|The Lord Raglan pub as it was and home to early Wolverhampton Punk and a few queers. The gig room was situated at the back of the pub just behind that white van. Menace recorded a manic live performace here back in the summer of '78. The pub is now demolished.|
|Central to the Birmingham scene was a salubrious club named Barbarellas. The band played many memorable gigs there, including spots with Generation X, Ultravox, Radiators From Space, The Clash and The Cure.
The band were now beginning to attract a lot of record company interest.
One company was contacted via a music journalist who'd seen them live in London and was hawking the single to labels. John Mostyn of Birmingham's Oak Agency went to see them play The Lord Raglan (which they did about once a month) and was highly impressed. He began booking the band and got them onto the highly desirable 'University circuit'.
Throughout this period record company interest increased, but was narrowed down to two main candidates. Unfortunately for Neon Hearts' future, both band and their advisers picked Satril, a satellite company of WEA and signed with them in May 1978. Soon the band were gigging as far afield as Canterbury University, Leeds F Club, and Exeter Roots. John Mostyn later managed The Beat and Fine Young Cannibals, proving his eye for talent.