'We sent it out into the world. Now it’s coming home'
WRITING GODIVA ROCKS: AN INTERVIEW WITH ALAN POLLOCK
What do Frank Ifield, The Specials, Hazel O’Connor and The Enemy have in common? They are all artists and musicians to be born out of Coventry and have achieved international fame and success.
But few people know the full extent of Coventry’s rich and vibrant musical history, which is the subject of new musical Godiva Rocks, making its world premiere at the Belgrade Theatre this October.
In this interview, writer Alan Pollock discusses the importance of taking ownership of this history and a sense of pride that he hopes to share with Coventry audiences.
What inspired you to write Godiva Rocks?
I’m just passionate about Cov music! After Liverpool and Manchester I reckon we have the best roll call of bands ever – from the early sixties to today. I was involved in the local scene in the late 70s, playing a lot of the iconic venues of the time, like the Heath, the General Wolfe and the Poly (now Cov Uni). At the time I had no sense of how this connected to the music that came before or the great stuff that’s going on now. I love the idea that Bert Weeden’s book taught every young guitarist in the world to play guitar. And that Frank Ifield had had four number ones before Elvis had had any! And that Chuck Berry recorded his biggest-ever hit at the Locarno.
How would you describe the story of Godiva Rocks?
At one level it’s a simple girl-meets- boy story with a massive twist. (Massive!) But really it’s a play about a search – of a boy for his father, and for a missing tape that encapsulates the perfect Coventry sound – the distillation of everything that makes this melting-pot city unique. And of course an excuse to highlight some of the greatest pop sounds ever to
come out of Cov – twenty classic songs from the city.
What do you most enjoy about working with director Hamish Glen?
He’s very trusting of the instincts of the people he works with. I first came across his work when we were both working in Scotland in the 80s. There’s a lot in common between a Glasgow audience and a Coventry one. They’re both up for anything – but you can’t pull the wool over their eyes. Hamish always says that in the end all great theatre is ‘local’
theatre – theatre with a strong connection to the place you’re watching it on the night you watch it. Some people write for critics. I think we both understand that only the audience is important. Especially at the Belgrade, which has an atmosphere unlike any other theatre I know.
Many people associate Coventry as the birth place of 2 Tone, and home to bands like The Specials and The Selecter. Will Godiva Rocks focus on that style of music?
There’s a bit of that, but some great shows like Three Minute Heroes have already covered the ground. So I’ve gone for the whole gamut – everyone from Vince Hill to great ‘80s classics like the Fun Boy Three and Hazel O’Connor.
There’s even a bit of Bananarama (in association with the Funboy Three) to coincide with their recent ascension from the dead. There’s also a couple of lost classics, including the fabulous ‘Hear you Talking’ by Beverley Jones, my great discovery of the writing process and a case of ‘how come that wasn’t a massive, massive hit?’
There’s also a couple of personal favourites – a song by The Swinging Cats, the great lost 2-Tone band that should have been huge. And I’m hoping for a couple of moments where – like in a Tarantino movie – people go ‘I don’t know what that is but it’s fantastic! ’
What will be the biggest challenge in bringing the production to the stage?
It’s always a massive undertaking getting a brand new musical up and running. The technical challenge is huge. But the core team at the Belgrade is one I’ve worked with over and over again, so I know I’m in safe hands!
What do you hope audiences will experience when they see this show?
At one level a warm, funny, human story that keeps them guessing right to the end. But at another an enormous pride:
we, Coventry have produced this music. It came from somewhere inside us – from the people, the atmosphere and the soil of the place – and we sent it out into the world. Now it’s coming home and I hope people can celebrate that.
The production is set during the 1980s, with flashbacks to the Orchid Ballroom (now the Kasbah) in the 1960s. Why did you choose to set it at that time in Coventry’s history?
Quite simply there are a clutch of great songs from these two periods and that’s what gave me the impetus for the story. What if everything that happens in the present is the result of stuff that happened on one specific day in the past – a night at the Ballroom in December 1964? And the effects of that night spread far into the future. That’s the basis of it. Plus the fact that the late ‘70s, early ‘80s is my time, of course, and I feel at home there…
How would you describe Godiva Rocks in three words?
I can’t do it in three but I will re-tell the brilliant story of the Coventry act who went down to London in the 60s to record a slot on a BBC music show – sharing the bill with the Beatles. After the show the already famous John Lennon approached the singer and said ‘Hi, I’m John – where are you from?’ The artist replied ‘Coventry – where are you
I love the cheek of that, and I think that’s the spirit I was aiming for in the show.