A Rock map of Great Britain would feature the south east heavily, concentrating on London and the home counties. The northwest would also show a lot of activity, the jewel in the crown being the Beatles of course although by the late 70’s Manchester was presenting as the second most important city of music.Scotland, mainly Glasgow has always proved to good breeding ground for rock but it was a long way away from the only place that mattered which was London.
Rock music was essentially an urban activity if, for no other reason that where most people live and where it was easier to find a drummer or bass player to complete the band. For some reason Prog had featured heavily on the south coast with Robert Fripp hailing from remote Dorset and Greg Lake from the Bournemouth area. It would only take a couple of remarkable characters to create a ‘scene’ and its convenient to think of the idiosyncrasies of King Crimson as being at least partly attributable to their genesis away from the mainstream.
Punk had eventually proved such a catalyst that by the end of the 70’s new bands were springing up in provincial towns all over Britain. There were only two ways that those of us in the provinces could learn about the outside world and that was the Radio (namely John Peel) and the music papers (namely the New Musical Express) if they didn’t pick up a band that combo was pretty much dead in the water but by 1979 there was a huge appetite for new bands to be picked out as the next big thing by the media.
For the first time in my life I had started buying singles, there was a couple of reasons for this, firstly I had a little more money on a student grant, at least until my savings ran out. The more significant reason was that there was a huge influx of really great singles from bands who might never get to make an album and anyway I couldn’t be bothered to wait for a year for that to happen.
The Tours were a classic example of this new breed of band. They hailed from Poole, which I think is still in Dorset, and announced themselves to the world with their self produced single ‘Language School’ . I assume I heard the record on John Peel, it couldn’t have been anywhere else, and was instantly hooked. I went out and bought the single, our local record chain Selectadisk and Virgin both stocked a whole load of independent singles. Supply chains were now in existance, it it was on John Peel it would probably be in the local record shop, if you lived in a city of course.
I played and played ‘Language School’ and well as it’s pretty good B side ‘Foreign Girls. I was living in a shared house, each of us had a cheap record player and different sounds would blast out from different bedrooms most evenings and weekends. ‘Language School’ is typical of a lot of self produced 45’s, its not exactly hi fidelity and to this day I only know about 50% of the lyrics but it featured a fantastically simple but effect guitar hook and was simply one of those songs that grabs you from the first millisecond it blasts out of the speakers.
John Peel announced it was his second favourite single after the Undertones ‘Teenage Kicks’ which was enough to start a bidding war among the major record labels. Virgin won, and that was the kiss of death for the band.
I’ve written before about how the whole business of ‘making it’ in the music business is only partially about talent and far more about an individual’s ability to handle disappointment,,boredom, bullshit and general adversity on a daily basis. The Americans are far better than the Brits at this which is why they gave us Kiss.
The Tours actually decided to tour, I assume it was after the Virgin signing, and came to play the Polytechnic in Nottingham. I couldn’t persuade anyone to come with me but, such was my love of the band, I decided to go on my own. Typically I remember very little about the gig, however as I was leaving I came across the band making their way to their dressing room.
I have never been one to go back stage or accost famous people in the street, really I have nothing to say them which either party would find interesting, but in this case they were heading up the stairs as I was heading down, they were hard to ignore, especially as they were carrying guitars and looking sweaty. ‘That was great’ I said (so it must have been a good gig), the bass player stared at me and the others ignored me. It could have been worse, a friend of mine told Terry Hall of the Specials how great the band were at a gig at Nottingham University and was subjected to a stream of abuse about ‘student wankers’. Today, of course, you would be stopped for a selfie and signed up to a mailing list at the very least by any new artist struggling to build a fanbase but in the 70’s it was uncool to court attention.
The reality of the situation is that the Tours were a bunch of young men thrown together with a bit of talent and a smidgeon of ambition but not really equipped for the rigours of a rock life. The band were blessed with two songwriters Richard Mazda and Ronnie Mayor, that can often be a great thing for a band re Lennon/McCartney or Strummer/Jones but sometimes the egos and competition gets too much, and this was the case with the Tours.
Also Virgin, having bought the new shiny pop sensations didn’t really bother to promote them, there was one more single recorded and an album that wasn’t released (until 2009). The band, who had started up so promisingly, had split by 1980.
Hopefully since then they have lived happier lives than they would have done as a touring band , only Mazda has maintained some sort of media life as a songwriter and actor.
There was a kind of happy ending with the band reuniting in 2017 for a one-off local gig. It was a labour of love, even recruiting their original guitarist to make the band a 5 piece.
They sold 13,000 copies of ‘Language School’. I still have mine somewhere which, if I ever find it I will expect to sell on eBay for about 99p