THE CORTINAS were Bristol's only major first wave punk band, and boy, were we proud of them, even if they did go to that bloody Grammar School. Jeremy Valentine (vocals), Nick Sheppard (lead guitar), Mike Fewings (rhythm guitar), Dexter Dalwood (bass) and Daniel Swann (drums) started their short career in 1975, when their average age was just 15, playing R&B covers. They picked up on the emerging punk scene quicker than most, certainly than most of us Bristol yokels, and simply sped up a lot of what they were already playing, but also added new, more overtly punk songs of their own, though the R&B influence was always present.
Their break came when they supported the Stranglers at the Roxy on 22 January 1977, which came to be after Sheppard had approached Hugh Cornwell when the former Bristol University student was visiting friends in the city. The band then played the club quite regularly, and one result of this was the Cortinas signing to Miles Copeland and Mark Perry's Step Forward label.
The classic singles 'Fascist Dictator' and 'Defiant Pose' were the fruit of this union, and the band went on to appear on the front cover of the April/May issue of 'Sniffin' Glue', then in July record a fine John Peel session. Impressive or what?
The Cortinas were snapped up by CBS, but sadly, at that point, it all went a bit wobbly. The 1978 album 'True Romances', and accompanying single 'Ask Mr Waverly', both sounded pretty weak, to punk ears at least, as the band returned to their R&B roots, but by its release the band had to all intents and purposes split, only coming back together for two shows to promote it. Then, the Cortinas were gone for ever.
Or were they...?
Well, yes, actually. But now, out of the goodness of their hearts, the Bristol Archive label have unearthed two previously unreleased sets of material from the band – pretty exciting stuff for fans.
The first, 'For Fuck's Sake Plymouth' was recorded in, of course, Plymouth, and captures the band at the peak of their powers in 1977. The sound quality isn't perfect, but the band belie their tender years to deliver 13 songs as powerful and intense as most of their contemporaries, with Valentine's hectoring vocals and Swann's busy drums beating the initially subdued, polite crowd into submission, helped by a super-speedy rendition of 'Fascist Dictator'. Essential stuff.
The second, 'Please Don't Hit Me', contains the 12 demo tracks that Miles Copeland used to score the band their CBS deal. It would be nice to say that these tracks pulsate with punk rock fury, and it was only the interference of the monster major label that ruined them on the album, but sadly that's not the case. For the most part they are jaunty but unremarkable R&B songs, and even the more lively punk tracks like 'Further Education' and 'Have It With You' lack the inspiration of the earlier singles.
Still, with both albums newly remastered and accessible for the first time after gathering dust for 30 years, this is pure punk gold. Unfortunately, they are only available as downloads, though we are assured that if sufficient interest is shown, they may eventually appear on CD.
For now, go to www.bristolarchiverecords.com
Where Are They Now?
Nick Sheppard, of course, played guitar with the final line-up of the Clash (see pic below), which is sometimes dismissed as a short-lived footnote in the Clash story, when in fact the post-Mick Jones outfit lasted for about two years and toured all over the world. He formed the excellent band Head, with Gareth Sager, formerly of the Pop Group and Rip, Rig & Panic, but for a long time now has resided in Australia and is still a working muso.
As far as I know, the only other Cortina to have continued working in music is Daniel Swann, who moved to San Fransisco and played with Sneetches before going behind the scenes working with the likes of Green Day, Offspring and Rancid.
Jeremy Valentine is now a sociology lecturer at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. It would be a cheap jibe to mention the Cortinas song 'Further Education'. Ah well.
Dexter Dalwood studied at St Martins College of Art and the Royal College of Art and is now a renowned painter whose works have been exhibited in New York, London and Liverpool.
Sadly, the trail of Mike Fewings runs out after he played with Essential Bop shortly after the Cortinas' demise.