The Early 1990s Local Music Scene

You Are Now Entering A Time Machine…

Throughout the 1990s my high school friends and I would frequent the local Norwich music scene, checking out big bands as they came to town, or just checking out local band nights. Our gig going increased with age, and then tailed off as life (studies, work, relationships…) got in the way. Although it wasn’t every week, there were some weeks we would catch 2 or 3 gigs in addition to visits to nightclubs. It just depended on who was playing and who was able to come out that night. A night out was a night out and we tried to go out a much as we could. Over the years the reasons stopping us going out changed from having homework/exams or parental overruling, to having work the next day or even still being hungover from the night before! Lack of money was a constant challenge too, though the watered-down 50p-a-pint prices helped.

Whether it was one of the main concert venues like the UEA’s LCR, The Waterfront or Norwich Art Centre, or seeing a band at a nightclub or good old pub (like the Brickmakers, Bedfords, Eaton Cottage…), there was always plenty of places to go see live music in Norwich. Of course, there still is. For me, the period in the early to mid-nineties was a great time and local music in Norwich seemed to be on the up. Shortly afterwards domestic responsibilities took priority, and my available time to go out to see live music dwindled.

As Homer Simpson once said: “I used to rock and roll all night and party ev-a-ry day. Then it was every other day. Now I’m lucky if I can find half an hour a week in which to get funky.”

As the memory decays I decided to write this article to refresh my memory of a few local bands I had seen or heard of during this time-period. Most of the time I saw them on local band nights or as support acts for bigger artists. There are a few bands included on here I hadn’t seen because as I wrote the article I decided to expand it to local early 1990s bands that I had heard of too. It’s not all of the ones I know of; For example, I could’ve easily just gone through the “Shoot the Canary” compilation CDs and listed them but that would’ve been overkill. Also, I think many of the artists on there didn’t have any other material released. Nonetheless, I may rework in the future and expand, especially if I happen to remember some more!

The Waterfront (photo taken a few years ago) – one of several places I visited to attend concerts.

I had high hopes that I would be able to find videos for some if not all of these local Norfolk bands on the internet; Surely someone had a camcorder at these gigs or they made a promo and put it up YouTube? It turns out I was over-optimistic. Still, if you’re reading this article and think, “yeah, I have that a video of that band” please let us know. We’ve added all the videos that we could find to a playlist on the NorfolkPlaces YouTube Channel, so it would be great to add some more!

Before we continue, there is a loose cut-off point, with bands formed prior to 1996 making the list. That’s because around this time my gig-going reduced somewhat. Life gets in the way of having a good time!

Okay, Cue The Music…

Let’s kick things off with Catherine Wheel. Members of the band hailed from Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft,  The band was active from 1990 to 2000, releasing five full-length albums. Although they never quite achieved notable commercial success, they were well-known through their touring and were tipped for big things. Not everyone gets to record a track (and shoot a video!) with indie royalty like Tanya Donnelly (member of Throwing Muses, The Breeders, Belly and also a successful solo artist).

At the time of writing, lead singer, Rob Dickinson, is still active as a solo artist. A random fact I discovered (and I probably knew but had forgotten) whilst putting this article together is, Rob’s cousin is Iron Maiden frontman Bruce Dickinson!

There are quite a few Catherine Wheel videos on YouTube and other material on the internet. Video-wise, the obvious choice has to by Judy Staring at the Sun featuring the fantastic Tanya Donnelly.

Basti were a band with a punkier funkier sound. Raw, energetic, eclectic, tangible music, Basti burned  very brightly. Formed in the late 1980s by members of two Norwich bands, The Herman Herd and Eva Valve, Basti only released one album (B, in 1991) and a handful of EPs, but, along with some awesome gigs, it was a enough for them to carve out some local notoriety as a band that should’ve gone on to greater things.

Canaries fans might like to dig around on the internet to find a track called Spag B.S.P.F.C. Whilst you’re searching, here’s a track to listen to called Spongey.

I was hoping to put something on here about a band called Des Lynam All Stars. This mid-nineties four-piece band formed at the UEA. They achieved some interest from record labels an even achieves some mainstream media coverage, but didn’t really make a dent, leaving only self-released materials, live recordings and demos. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Their track ‘I wish I had hair like Trevor Sinclair’ was included on Totally Wired 26’ CD (a free CD with Totally Wired magazine). Of course, if anyone has a link to a DLAS video or audio please let us know.

The Honey Buzzards were an interesting one. For a lot of local bands the first time I had heard of them was when their name appeared as a supporting artist on a ticket, or, in a few cases, when the “+ special guests” happened to be a local band and as a collective audience their name was discovered from the base-drum cover or from whispers in the audience permeated by the bands friends.

Although The Honey Buzzards were indeed a support band when I first saw them in the 1992 (with Kingmaker at UEA), however, I was already aware of them. What I was not aware of was their local roots – I honestly though they were from Manchester! At that time Madchester was riding high, and The Honey Buzzards fitted that vibe.

One thing to be aware of when searching for this band is the presence of a more recent American band that has adopted The Honey Buzzards moniker. It is annoying in this day and age that people don’t search the internet to see if their band name hasn’t been taken already. It’s not the first time it has happened, for sure, and to bigger bands too. The same thing happened in the last few years to one of Bristol’s finest bands, The Seers (from the late 1980s early 90s – seriously, check them out!) who have been gazumped by some US country band. It certainly lessens the enjoyment when streaming music when your choice of music is interrupted by some “imposters”.

Anyway, I digress. Here’s Star Happy by The Honey Buzzards.

Another band I have struggled to find a video for is Magic Johnson. They played BBC Radio One’s Norwich Sound City in 1992 alongside The Bass. Jah Wobble, Brand New Heavies and Des’ree. But beyond that, there is little information out there.

Venus Envy’s line-up included Karl Minns (Nimmo Twins) and former Magic Johnson drummer Steve Barney. Steve is a renowned drummer, who has drummed for the likes of Annie Lennox, Mike & The Mechanics and Anastacia. Once again, there are many incarnations with the same band name.  There was an American band of the same name around the same time, another UK band a few years ago and there is now an Australian band performing under this name. After several hours of searching, there doesn’t seem to be any videos on the internet.

Next up, Yoghurt Belly . Singer Karen Reilly is now part of art music act The Neutrinos, who don’t quite make it on this post as they formed at the wrong end of the 90’s, but they’re worth checking out. The video we’ve included on the playlist features a very brief clip of the band but it is mainly about an art exhibition. There were a couple of other videos (Skinnier & Male Grooming from the E.P. X-rated Pecs) on YouTube but the uploader has slowed down the vocal!

I recall seeing Yoghurt Belly at The Norwich Art Centre at least once, and also at the Waterfront too. They had a distinctive sound, played with good energy, came across a bit bonkers but bizarrely fantastic.

If I recall correctly, some if not all of the members of Twelfth Century Drawing Machine went to Hethersett High. I might be mistaken, as I’m going on my own foggy memories from the early nineties when I went to 6th Form with the younger brother of one of the band. So, as a kid I’d heard of them and I’m pretty sure the aforementioned younger brother would sneaky a tape on in the school common room. Despite knowing of them I never actually saw them play live. Some of there material is out there, including on the on the Shoot The Canary compilation CDs. Once again, there doesn’t seem to be any videos to show.

The Spinning Jennys. Once again, there are other bands of the same, current and past. The one that heralded from Norfolk only released one single, but they also appeared on compilation albums too. There single release was called It’s It It It, though they did have another track on a flexi-disc too. With a title like that you’d think it would be difficult to find the right track on YouTube. Nah. I found It’s It It It.

Named after a Monkees track on the 1969 LP, Instant Replay, The Shorty Blackwells perhaps would be considered not well known in these parts. Prior to researching this article I always assumed they formed at UEA in 1991, however, the majority of the band went to Keele University. So why the Norfolk connection and my UEA assumption? Well, one the band, Saul, did indeed go to UEA. So, hurrah! They stay on the list!

Nonetheless, I know to local music lovers, The Blackwells will still be considered an obscure inclusion, especially as they weren’t exactly performing at the larger local venues . However, for me there’s a backstory. In the early summer of 1992 I was studying hard for my A-levels. Okay, that involved listening to music and pretending to study, but let’s not go there. I was informed of a gig at the UEA with (I think) a 50p entry price. I had heard they were a Monkees cover band – who doesn’t like The Monkees?

Some of my mates had A-level exams the next day, but I managed to persuade them to join me. Now, The Shorty Blackwells were never going to pack out the UEA’s LCR, but it as still a surprise to be ushered in to a smaller room nearby. A rather cosy, intimate gig followed. Plenty of chat between band and audience, and some Monkees classics (complete with double-button red shirts) too.

A few years later I was asked to create a T-shirt for their Music for Mooks world tour (2 pubs in London and one in Cambridge), and I still have the prototype t-shirt (below) and I may have another mint condition one knocking around (I’ll have to dig through my band t-shirt collection sometime!). I think there was only somewhere between 10-20 of these made.

shortyblackwellstshirt
I was pleased to find some of their videos, though they are from more recent gigs. Yes, they still play and record sporadically, and some Monkees songs make the playlist, though I don’t think they’ve played anywhere in Norwich since Saul’s, UEA days.

The Rachel Papers. There’s very little info out there on the this band, other than a 6-track demo tape. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be any videos on the internet of their performances (e.g. the Norwich Art Centre or the Waterfront). Of course, a search on the Internet is harder due to the Martin Amis book and the film based on the book, starring Dexter Fletcher.



The Ouagadougous (once known as The Ouagadougou Township Rockers)  are (were?) an Afro-jazz Roots inspired band that can trace it’s time line back to 1978, and may still be active. The band played often at the UEA’s LCR and The Waterfront (they even supporting the legend, Desmond Dekker, at one of The Waterfronts first gigs).

Here’s a YouTube video from their website. There are also a couple of their tracks on SoundCloud.

I’m including The Lee Vasey Band on the play list because it seemed like every time we went out in Norwich in the early 90s, we saw Lee performing solo or with his band in a pub. So, from my point of view Lee Vasey was very much part of the music scene even if it wasn’t necessarily home-grown original music. Lee has been on the scene since 1987 and is still going strong. Lee and his band are popular, accomplished musicians playing an array of well known songs.

Goober Patrol  – This is one of the ones I didn’t get to see. Whilst researching the article I found out they’re still on the go (at the time of writing), so there’s still time (though going out past 9pm feels like it’s past my bedtime!) This Norwich punk band formed in 1988 and have 7 studio albums to their name.

I also found quite a long (45mins) concert video on YouTube you my want to check out.

In 1989 another bunch of university students got together to form a band. Unlike many student bands, The Bardots had promise. Although they released two albums they faded fast, but if you can get a hold of their records you’ll hopefully see what I mean. Here’s a track called Pretty O.

Like The Lee Vasey Band, if you’ve been in Norfolk for a decent period of time in the since the mid- 90’s there’s a good chance you’ve hear of or seen Agent Orange. Okay, so they are a covers band who mainly play weddings and corporate function, but they are good at what they do and I did see them a few times in the 90s. What can I say – I got dragged to a few weddings! I recall they played a particularly good set at a Norwich Union corporate event at the Norfolk Showground. I can’t recall specifics (it was a very good night!), but I’m sure it was them.

For a lot of musicians growing up in the latter half of the 20th Century, appearing on the John Peel show was the stuff of dreams. Well, the band Magoo, formed in 1992, achieved just that. At the time of writing Magoo are still on the go. Fans had to had to wait until 1995 for Magoo to release any material. Here’s A to Z and Back Again from their 1997 album, The Soateramic Sounds of Magoo.

There was a few videos out there of KaitO, including this live footage. Sadly it wasn’t filmed in Norwich (actually in Houston, USA). The band formed in 1996, and had a good 10 year run before calling it a day.

The penultimate band on the list is Stare. They formed in Formed in 1990 and split in 1992.  The video for their eponymous debut track (video below) was shown on the ITV’s Chart Show, MTV and VH1 and the song was hit-listed by Radio 1 for 2 weeks. Stare reformed in 2011, releasing their debut album in 2012. We happened to find a video of the reformed band playing in 2012 (Not this one below, but it’s on our playlist). Once again, another band where fans had to patient, waiting until 2001 before the first of 2 LPs came out.

I’m going to finish this piece off with a band called Republic. I saw them support The Buzzcocks at the UEA in October 1990. What I call my first proper gig I attended, and what a gig! The Buzzcocks were awesome but I couldn’t help thinking a lot about the support act too. At first I wasn’t aware that they were from Norwich, but when I found out it was a lightbulb moment. Are there other great local bands to discover? I hope this article proved that there was and still are.

So far I haven’t been able to find anything for Republic on the internet. I think I may have a Republic t-shirt and vinyl (I think it included the fantastic tracks Fading Fast/God Is Angry) somewhere in a cupboard. But if you’re keen to see them, well…..Republic started out as The Kaiser’s Advisers, so here’s some footage of them from 1986.

Whether you were out and about following the music scene in Norwich at the same time as us (hello!), or if you’re of a younger generation (lucky so and so!) exploring music now, or just a casual reader, I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief dip in to early-90s music. It was joy to compile, although it made me feel even older than I already did! It reminded me that there was, and still is a lot of great musicians coming out of Norfolk.

Please note: The videos included in this article and the YouTube playlist are all third party videos. We do not own or control them. Please be aware that third party videos can contain ads or links. NorfolkPlaces are not responsible for the content, ads or links in the aforementioned videos.

 

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