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, Television Personalities
Past membersEpic Soundtracks
Nikki Sudden
Jowe Head
Biggles Books (Richard Scaldwell)
Phones Sportsman (David Barrington)
Golden Cockrill (John Cockrill)

Swell Maps were an English experimental DIY, early post-punk rock group from Birmingham, England who were active between 1972 and 1980.


Influenced by bands such as T. Rex and the German krautrock group 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]

The band consisted 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" 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. In 2007, The Guardian wrote of the album that it "combined furious punk noise-outs such as HS Art with ambient instrumentals and other experimental interludes such as Gunboats."[5] They recorded a second album, The Swell Maps in 'Jane From Occupied Europe', in 1980.

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

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]

The band's catalogue has been remastered and reissued, and several compilations of archive recordings released.

Soon after the band's demise Soundtracks and Head released a single, "Rain, Rain, Rain", on Rough Trade [6] Ostensibly this was the first release from a forthcoming album to be titled Daga Daga Daga, however it was not completed. Richard Scaldwell (Biggles Books) used the name "Richard Earl" when he released an album, The Egg Store Ilk, in 1981 but retired from music thereafter. Other members of the band continued to make music at varying levels of prominence; Nikki Sudden achieving solo success alone or with Dave Kusworth. Epic Soundtracks was a member of Crime and the City Solution and also sustained a solo career. Jowe Head has continued an extensive career as a musician and visual artist; he was also a member of the Television Personalities for many years.

Epic Soundtracks died of unknown causes at the age of 38 in 1997,[7] and Nikki Sudden died at the age of 49 in March 2006, in a hotel room in New York City.[8]


Swell Maps have been cited as an influence by bands including Dinosaur Jr., R.E.M., Nirvana and Pavement.[9] 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".[10] 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".[11] 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".[10] Other notable bands to name them an influence include Cornershop,[12] The Pastels,[13] and Deerhunter.[14]


Studio Albums[edit]


  • Whatever Happens Next... (1981)
  • Collision Time (1981)
  • Train Out of It (Antar 1986)
  • Collision Time Revisited (1989)
  • International Rescue (1999)[15]
  • Sweep The Desert (2000)
  • Wastrels and Whippersnappers (2006)[16]
  • Mayday Signals (2021)


  • "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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Ankeny, Jason. "Swell Maps - Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 8 April 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Llewellyn Smith, Caspar (18 February 2006). "Don't know what I want..." The Guardian. Retrieved 24 August 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  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. ^ "1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die". The Guardian. 23 November 2007. Retrieved 15 September 2020. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Henderson, Dave. "The Jowe Head Top 20". Fire Records. Retrieved 11 October 2020
  7. ^ "Epic Soundtracks Found Dead". Rolling Stone. 25 November 1997. Retrieved 8 April 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Martin, Douglas (29 March 2006). "Nikki Sudden, Punk Rocker, Dies at 49". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 April 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ Neate 1995
  10. ^ a b Sarig 1998, p. 245
  11. ^ Sarig 1998, p. 244
  12. ^ [1]
  13. ^ Freeman, John. "Stephen McRobbie Of The Pastels' Favourite Albums". The Quietus, 3 June 2013. Retrieved 11 October 2020
  14. ^ [2]
  15. ^ Ott, Chris (20 April 1999). "Swell Maps: International Rescue". Pitchfork. Archived from the original on 18 March 2009. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  16. ^ Tangari, Joe (13 July 2006). "Swell Maps: Wastrels and Whippersnappers". Pitchfork. Retrieved 8 April 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)


External links[edit]