John Barrow and Gaz Birtles founded the SWINGING LAURELS. Gaz had
been previously fronting a Ska/Rock band in Leicester, THE NEWMATICS,
where John would make regular guest appearances on sax. It was during
this period that Gaz and John decided to experiment with an old
Elka organ Drum machine and a Roland SH1 Mono synth. John went out
and bought an Akai 2 track reel to reel tape recorder and they experimented
at writing and recording sax and synth tracks. At this point in
time they were mostly instrumental tracks. This relationship soon
developed into a serious project and a name for the duo was needed.
Whilst taking photo's in a local cemetery Gaz was trying to think
of a name for the band and as he passed a wind blown Laurel bush
he thought SWINGING LAURELS!! Crap, but true!!! Gaz and John tried
to seduce the Newmatics with their new found direction and name
but they were having non of it. So, with the help of Newmatics drummer
and songwriter, NIC MURPHY, they went into 8 track WOODBINE STREET
STUDIOS, LEAMINGTON SPA, and recorded SWING THE CAT, and PEACE OF
MIND under the experienced guidance of producer JOHNNY RIVERS. Johnny
was/is (?) an eccentric, experimental producer who helped and encouraged
the band to try out wild ideas. It was during this session that
Johnny bought out his newly acquired gadget, THE CLAP TRAP and suggested
putting it on the tracks. Especially PEACE OF MIND. This was a sonic
revelation to the band then. Synthetic claps over a live drum beat!!
Amazing!! When the finished track was later played at a club in
Leicester the reaction was immediate. This was a totally different
and commercial track that sounded great to dance to. Not that clever
these days but back then before sequencers and computers it was
at the forefront of technology!!
The success of the demo made Gaz and John realise they were probably
onto something bigger than the Newmatics, which was coming to a
natural end anyway, and they went into it full on. They recruited
trumpet player DEAN SARGENT (from Johns past as a part of the brass
section for soul funk outfits, SISTER BIG STUFF and BLACK GORILLA)
to play Bass Synth. Then they advertised for a synth/keyboard player
and MARK O'HARA fitted the bill exactly.
After reworking some of Gaz and Johns doodlings from the 2 track
tapes and writing new songs themselves they were ready for their
first gig. For this they decided to hit all of Leicester in one
night!! Adverts were placed in the Leicester Mercury and the fun
began! 5 different venues were found where they would play 4 songs
at each venue then jump into the back of Mark's Escort van and go
to the next venue. From the first gig (THE WHITE HORSE in Oadby)
to the last one (THE HAUNCH OF VENISON - now the ORANGE TREE on
High Street) they went down a storm and people followed them from
one venue to the next. A fantastic way to get your new band creating
1981 On the strength of 3
or 4 instrumental tracks Gaz and John got a publishing deal with
ALBION PUBLISHING. After trying to get them with a record deal,
Albion decided to put out PEACE OF MIND on their own label, ALBION
RECORDS. This went on to reach the No 1 slot in the embryonic
1982 THE SWINGING LAURELS
were gaining national music press attention and building a solid
reputation as session brass players.
During a hectic year they:
a Radio One session for JOHN PEEL
a 4 track. EP A TASTE OF... on DINING OUT RECORDS
to major label giant WEA RECORDS
session brass on the FUN BOY THREE hit THE TELEPHONE ALWAYS RINGS
several TV appearances including: TOP OF THE POPS | CHEGGARS PLAYS
POP | SATURDAY SUPERSTORE | SOMETHING ELSE RIVERSIDE | GENERATION
video to promote the track was produced by ULTRAVOX vocalist MIDGE
URE and featured cameo appearances by: BANANARAMA, MADNESS, ULTRAVOX,
ALEXEI SAYLE and DAVID "KID" JENSEN.
recorded brass sessions included:
JERRY DAMMERS produced single for 2-TONE RECORDS by THE APOLLINAIRES
called THE FEELINGS GONE
on an album by WORLDBACKWARDS for ILLUMINATED RECORDS
session with teen chart toppers MUSICAL YOUTH (produced by the
FUN BOY THREE)
single by Coventry band SPLASHDOWN
on the FUN BOY THREE follow up hit SUMMERTIME
with French chart act 24hrs
work with Coventry band TEAM 23 who were managed by Specials drummer
(they later transformed into chart toppers KING)
chart acts, SHAKATAK, MARI WILSON, CLASSIX NOUVEAU.
first SWINGING LAURELS WEA release, RODEO, hit the streets in September
and featured the distinctive percussive influence of SCRITTI POLITTI
drummer TOM MORLEY, but despite saturation Radio One airplay, was
restricted to lower reaches of the national chart. CULTURE CLUB
producer STEVE LEVINE lent his expertise to the second single Lonely
Boy which originally featured a fine vocal contribution by BOY GEORGE
but due to contractual objections by his record label Virgin Records
was eventually released minus his efforts.
1983 saw the SWINGING LAURELS,
in their own right and as a special guests of CULTURE CLUB, at the
request of BOY GEORGE who was a self-proclaimed fan. They were special
guests on both of their sell-out UK tours in March and December.
A JANICE LONG RADIO ONE session was followed by a highly-successful
Dutch festival tour where they supported NICK LOWE and OSIBISA as
well as headlining dates.
This year also saw the band part company with WEA Records the SWINGING
LAURELS formed their own label identity, HAPPY RECORDS based, at
their Leicester studio HAPPY HOUSE.
1984 The first HAPPY RECORDS
12" single ZOOM (TAKE THE TEST) achieved critical acclaim and
in promoting the disc they appeared on RADIO ONE road shows hosted
by disc jockeys PETER POWELL and ADRIAN JOHN. This recording featured
the guitar talents of Leicester friend, RICH BARTON who later went
onto play with one of Leicester's formidable guitar bands, DIESEL
PARK WEST. The B side also featured the experimental track, RAMSI
RAMSI RAMSI which used a backwards tape loop taken from a GOONS
radio broadcast that makes up the main sonic background to the track.
1985/86 the band changed their
name to HAPPY HOUSE and were to feature regular guest vocal appearances
by ex-Specials vocalist RHODA DAKAR. Happy House also saw the band
incorporating a live drummer in the shape of PHIL BIRTLES - Gaz's
1987 ushered in another SWINGING
LAURELS 7"single, PUSH AND SHOVE through Happy Records.
1988 John and Gaz along with
Coalville trumpeter, TONY ROBINSON, were the session brass section
with Food/Parlophone Records act CRAZYHEAD, most notably on an eleven-nation
tour of Europe and Scandinavia as special guests of godfather of
punk IGGY POP.
1989 This was followed by
a live T.V. appearance for the Thames Television series THE CONCERT
in and a slot at the prestigious READING FESTIVAL.
A chance to audition for BEAUTIFUL SOUTH was passed over by John
as he had to commit himself to his day job but Gaz and Tony and
new sax player, KEV BROWN, from Nottingham were successful in getting
the job as their session brass section. A job they still continue
with to this day!
1990 NO LABEL RECORDS reissued
PUSH AND SHOVE by the SWINGING LAURELS.
1991 For NORMAN BEATON, star
of Channel 4 world wide hit sit-com DESMONDS, they supplied brass
alongside SPECIALS Trumpeter and trombonist, ADAM FLYMO for the
reggae track, DIDDLY SQUAT. Unfortunately Norman died shortly before
the track was scheduled to be released so the track was shelved.
1992 tracks on an album by
top ska exponents SKA-BOOM on EXTREMELY NICE RECORDS
1994 - 1997 Compilation CD
albums featuring some earlier brass section work including:
THE 2-TONE STORY and the NO. 1 SKA ALBUM (featuring versions of
the APOLLINAIRES track THE FEELINGS GONE
FUN BOY THREE compilations THE BEST OF THE FUN BOY THREE & REALLY
SAYING SOMETHING (featuring BANANARAMA), THE BEST OF THE FUN BOY
THREE & COLOURFIELD (featuring various mixes of The Telephone
Always Rings and Summer of 82).
1996/97 heralded re-runs of
FUN BOY THREE, TOP OF THE POPS appearances on UK GOLD television.
1997 A six track SWINGING
LAURELS CD was released entitled BE SOMEONE, this was a back to
roots recording session of just Gaz and John on an 8 track recorder
and Atari computer re working some earlier unreleased tracks, BE
SOMEONE, and MY INTENTIONS. It also featured the new instrumental,
CHICAGO. And just because they could, they also included remastered
versions of their earlier vinyl classics, PEACE OF MIND and SWING
THE CAT and DISCO LAURELS.
2000 saw the release of BE
SOMEONE released by Internet label www.peoplesound.com and in the
same year John completed a highly successful UK/Irish tour with
BABY GENIUS as special guests of THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH. BABY GENIUS
also scored a prime time TV appearance on BBC's Children in Need
with LOUISE and ATOMIC KITTEN.
2001 A 15-track SWINGING LAURELS
compilation album GREATEST BITS was issued and tracks were recorded
for an album called LEARNING TO COPE WITH HAPPINESS by THE CHARMERS
2002 In November a re-run
of an earlier Top of the Pops appearance with the FUN BOY THREE
was shown on BBC2's TOP OF THE POPS TWO.
2003 tracks were recorded
with NORMAL POSITION for their album RAVE KILLED THE ROMANCE.
2005 John and Gaz are currently
adding brass to the new album, KING MARTHA by Leicester's IST, due
for release in August.