Swell Maps

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Swell Maps
OriginBirmingham, England
GenresPunk rock, experimental rock, post-punk
Years active1972–1980
LabelsRather Records, Rough Trade, Mute
Associated actsJacobites, Crime & the City Solution, Phones Sportsman Band
Past membersEpic Soundtracks
Nikki Sudden
Jowe Head
Biggles Books (Richard Scaldwell)
Phones Sportsman (David Barrington)
Golden Cockrill (John Cockrill)

Swell Maps were an experimental DIY, early post-punk rock group of the 1970s from Birmingham, England.


Influenced by the disparate likes of T. Rex and the German krautrock outfit Can,[1] they created a new soundscape that would be heavily mined by others in the post-punk era. Despite existing in various forms since 1972, Swell Maps only really came together as a musical entity after the birth of British punk.[2]

A collective consisting of Solihull based teenagers Epic Soundtracks (real name Kevin Paul Godfrey), his brother Nikki Sudden (real name Adrian Nicholas Godfrey), Jowe Head (Stephen Bird), Biggles Books (Richard Scaldwell), Phones Sportsman (David Barrington) and John "Golden" Cockrill, the band cut the single "Read About Seymour" as their debut in 1977. It is widely considered one of the classic punk era singles,[3] and is name-checked in the song "Part Time Punks" by Television Personalities.[4]

After recording their first John Peel session Swell Maps went into WMRS studio to record their first album A Trip to Marineville, which was released in 1979. It featured hard rocking punk numbers like "H.S. Art" interspersed with ambient instrumentals and other experimental interludes like "Gunboats". The album went No. 1 on the new Independent chart.

The band cut one more album, The Swell Maps in 'Jane From Occupied Europe', in 1980: it featured a variety of genres, from collage-style experimental pieces like the opener "Robot Factory", fierce rockers like "Whatever Happens Next", the ballad-like "Cake Shop Girl", to the surf-type instrumental "Collision With A Frogman".

The band performed abroad for the first time in Belgium and Netherlands, then toured Italy before splitting up in April 1980, then released an album of archive recordings: Whatever Happens Next....

Side Projects[edit]

The band backed Steve Treatment on an EP, released on their own Rather Records label in 1978. They also backed The Cult Figures on a single "Zip Nolan", released on the Rough Trade label in 1979. An EP of experimental tracks of the band backing Phones Sportsman was released under the name of the Phones Sportsman Band in 1980.

Post split[edit]

Epic and Jowe released a single, "Rain, Rain, Rain", with Rough Trade Records under the name Soundtracks and Head , but the album recorded at the same sessions remains unreleased so far. Individual members of the band (especially Nikki Sudden, Epic Soundtracks and Jowe Head) went on to solo careers. The band's catalogue has been remastered and reissued, and several compilations of archive recordings released. Epic Soundtracks died of unknown causes at the age of 38 in 1997,[5] and Nikki Sudden died at the age of 49 in March 2006, in a hotel room in New York City.[6]


Swell Maps have been cited as an influence by bands including Dinosaur Jr., R.E.M., Nirvana and Pavement.[7] Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth acknowledged the influence of the Swell Maps in 1981, writing "As soon as that Nikki Sudden guitar comes slicing slabbing and all out fuzzifying off that crackling vinyl groove you know you’re gonna rock. It’s the best of both whirls: fist-in-the-heart guitar burnin’ rock and ahead-of-its-time songsmith awareness ... The Swell Maps had a lot to do with my upbringing".[8] Scott Kannberg of Pavement acknowledged "Swell Maps was a big influence on our early records ... they had these songs they fucked up somehow to make sound really dirty and low frequency, but they had these great songs underneath all this mess".[9] Tim Gane of Stereolab recalled "When I first bought A Trip to Marineville I must have played it a hundred times or more, just to listen to every single second of it".[8]


Studio Albums[edit]


  • Whatever Happens Next... (1981)
  • Collision Time (1981)
  • Train Out of It (Antar 1986)
  • Collision Time Revisited (1989)
  • International Rescue (1999)[10]
  • Sweep The Desert (2000)
  • Wastrels and Whippersnappers (2006)[11]


  • "Read About Seymour" (1977)
  • "Dresden Style" (1978)
  • "Real Shocks" (1979)
  • "Let's Build a Car" (1979)


  1. ^ Tangari, Joe (22 November 2004). "Swell Maps: A Trip to Marineville / Jane From Occupied Europe". Pitchfork. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  2. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Swell Maps - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  3. ^ Llewellyn Smith, Caspar (18 February 2006). "Don't know what I want..." The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
  4. ^ "Then they go to Rough Trade
    To buy Siouxsie and the Banshees
    They heard John Peel play it
    Just the other night
    They'd like to buy the O Level single
    or Read about Seymour
    But they're not pressed in red
    So they buy The Lurkers instead"
    - 'Part Time Punks' - Television Personalities.
  5. ^ "Epic Soundtracks Found Dead". Rolling Stone. 25 November 1997. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  6. ^ Martin, Douglas (29 March 2006). "Nikki Sudden, Punk Rocker, Dies at 49". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  7. ^ Neate 1995
  8. ^ a b Sarig 1998, p. 245
  9. ^ Sarig 1998, p. 244
  10. ^ Ott, Chris (20 April 1999). "Swell Maps: International Rescue". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 18 March 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2019. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help)
  11. ^ Tangari, Joe (13 July 2006). "Swell Maps: Wastrels and Whippersnappers". Pitchfork. Retrieved 8 April 2019.


External links[edit]