Eclipse are one of the great lost reggae bands of Britain.
Contemporaries and friends of Birmingham legends Steel Pulse, Inner Reggae Rhythm would be the only album Eclipse would release during their time, and this was strictly limited to between 500-1000 copies, no one was ever sure how many were actually pressed up!
Eclipse hailed from Handsworth, an inner city suburb of Birmingham, located just a few miles from the city centre. Home to the city’s Afro-Caribbean community and one of the true centres of British reggae activity, Handsworth, at the time, was also one of the main migrant areas of Birmingham, the centre of the city’s South Asian and Irish communities as well as white working class Brummies. Such a mix of different communities meant the area became a cultural melting pot with a vibrant music scene; home to numerous pubs, clubs, labels, record shops and bands.
Born in Jamaica, Neville Whittingham came to England with his family at the age of twelve in the late 60s, where they settled in Birmingham. Music was in his blood. His uncle was Sidney Crooks of The Pioneers, and ‘Longshot Kick de Bucket” fame, and who would come to have a central role in the Eclipse story.
Coming from Jamaica gave Neville a headstart on his school friends when it came to the newly emerging soul, ska and reggae scenes beginning to develop in Birmingham and other parts of the country. He’d grown up listening to American soul and r&b, The Temptations, Curtis Mayfield and others, via the American radio stations that Jamaicans could pick up on the island.
This interest in music saw Neville join a number of bands in Handsworth but it was while attending Brooklyn Technical College that Eclipse would begin to take shape.
It was 1973/74 when Neville would meet what would become the founders, and mainstays, of Eclipse; brothers Basil and Derek Samuda and Cedric Allen. Meeting at one of the many regular Blues Party that took place all over Handsworth, Neville struck up a friendship with the Samuda brothers that was centred around music and a shared love of groups like the Heptones and Leeroy Smart and the People and would be cemented by the three often meeting in one of Handsworth record shops.
No longer as prolific as they used to be, Blues parties where a central hub of black culture in the the 60s and 70s. Safe havens, free from dubious door policies often found in the city centre bars and clubs, Soundsystems would attract substantial crowds to venues all over Handsworth, eager to dance to the latest, most cutting edge reggae and dub, imported from Jamacia.
As Freddie and Neville recalled
“Blues would take took place everywhere. You only had to go out in Lozells or down the Soho Rd, there was loads going on, you could could stand and listen to the music coming out of the houses, pubs and clubs. It was buzzing! Clubs like the Bunny Johnson, the Rialto, the Monty, or the Rainbow. Even in town, clubs like Rebeccas, Barbarellas, we’d go all over. I remember the main one was the Cedar Club, it was turned over to Doc Holliday of Frontline and it became a reggae club. Then there was the Shabeen or Frontline as it was known, FCF, Alcazar and Ridgeway, Tashas and the Santa Rosa. Just loads of palces really.”
Soundsystem crews would compete against each other for the right to be recognised as the best in Birmingham. Winners of such clashes would be partly decided on the resonance of the bass pumping out of the speakers and quite literally through the crowd, and on the quality and rareness of the tunes played. DJs would go to extreme lengths to hide, or disguise, the records they were playing so as not to give rival crews any helping hand. Tactics would include putting false labels on the records or simply covering them up with a white sticker so other crews couldn’t read the artist, song or label.
The other focal point for the black community in Handsworth were the records shops, and two in particular, Black Wax in Lozells, and Brain Harris’ shop on Grove Lane.
Neville takes up the story: “Oh man, Black Wax stocked everything, imported straight from Jamaica. Artists would come and do shows and then record for them and they would release it on their label. I’d just go in and listen to see what stuff was coming out. You had to be quick in there though, turnover was rapid, if you wanted something, or knew something was coming out, you had to be first in that queue or it would be gone! I remember that Saturday was the day for new tunes. The place would be rammed. It was a cultural hangout, everybody would go to that shop, you’d get the soundsystem guys in there, people buying up stuff for their collections, our parents would be in there buying, and then on Sunday they’d play you all these different types of music, played all day long. We’d listen to everything; Jim Reeves, Tom Jones, Christian tunes; a real selection. It was a ritual!As I got older though I did go to Summit and also Don Christie, he was over in Sparkbrook I think and then at the Rag Market. Eclipse actually released a record through Don a bit later on.”
Freddie though would only go to Brian Harris, “I wouldn’t need to walk over to Lozells, I had Brian Harris round the corner on Grove Lane. Why walk over to Lozells? I think Brian had the better reggae music, stuff from Trojan and his main release day was Thursday. A bit earlier than Black Wax”
For Jacko, all the record shops of the day were on his radar ” I’d go to all them, you had to really, otherwise you might miss out!”
Neville, Derek and Basil Samuda and Cedric Allen would meet at a house in Westbourne Rd – just around the corner from the now almost mythical 37 Linwood Rd, the house where Steel Pulse formed, and then would rehearse in the cellar – and would rehearse upstairs at the Red Lion pub on the Soho Rd, a big solid Victorian redbrick building, and a popular haunt for the black community.
Joining the band initially was the mysterious Juliette who provided vocals to the cover songs Eclipse played. No one was quite sure why, or when, Juliette departed, but, when she did, Neville took over on vocal duties as the band took their first tentative steps of writing their own material.
First, though, they needed a name. Neville again, “ There was no real reason or meaning behind the name Eclipse, we were sitting down, thinking of a name, and Derek just came up with it off the top of his head and it stuck. And that was it, we were Eclipse.”
Memories are a bit hazy on the exact location of the newly named Eclipse’s first gig but, as Neville recounts, “It was probably The Crompton Arms. We had a lot of members coming and going at the time but we had a core now, and this is probably 1974, perhaps going into 1975, me on rhythm guitar and vocals, Derek on drums, Basil on lead, Cleveland on bass and Cedric on guitar Also Aggro was doing some vocals but wasn’t with us long.
There was a loads of bands playing at this time, all over town, some great bands; Cornerstone, Black Symbol, JALN, Iganda, Natrees, Afrikan Star. I remember thinking that Velvet Shadow were a big influence on us, but they were more, I don’t know, sweetified?, commercial almost. And of course there was Steel Pulse. They were our biggest competition at the time. But it was a friendly rivalry. We’d go to each others gigs, support each other and compare our bands, I loved it!”
Freddie, “Talking about Velvet Shadow, Everett their drummer, who’d go on to drum for the Beat, taught Derek, our drummer how to play. And Saxa was playing sax for them as well. They were good, excellent in fact, they’d mash up the place, and we’d watch them, learning. They were way above average. The sound they made, the singing. We wanted that. Yea, musicians would go and watch each other all the time.”
Eclipse learnt quickly and soon established a name for themselves around the city for the quality of their playing, the tightness of their sound and their growing songwriting skills as principal writer Neville, began to draw on all the new sounds he was hearing in the pubs and clubs of Handsworth and interlink it with his own roots based music.
Eclipse’s first record though would be a cover of The Beatles “Hard Days Night” backed by their own song “She’s Gone” released by Bob Lamb later of UB40 fame, Eclipse were introduced to Bob by the legendary Don Christie who owned one of the Birmingham reggae shops, Don Christie Records.
The record was notable for the diverse crowd it played to. The A-side “Hard Days Night” was played out in the bars and nightclubs in town, while the B-side, “She’s Gone” was a firm favourite in the numerous Blues Parties in Handsworth and further enhanced Eclipse’s reputation as they continued to play gigs around the city.
One more single came out on the Pioneer label, “Daylight Robbery”. As Neville remembered “Agro Pearson and me sang on Daylight Robbery but nothing really happened with it, it wasn’t until Freddy and probably more so Jacko joined that things started to kick off for us and where we really developed the sound that most people will remember us by.”
Freddy takes up the story; “I started by playing with the great Saxa in a band who played in a pub, I was still at school. I then joined a three piece called The Black Aces. I loved their music and they asked if I’d join the band. So I played a gig with them and they gave me £25 for playing in a pub. £25! That was it, I was like WOW, I can play music and get paid? I’ll never have to ask my parents for money again. So that’s how I started. Then a group called Soul of Man, who were on the scene and played a lot and had a good reputation, were looking for a guitarist. I remember, they wanted me to play with them but I was still at school so they had to come to my house to ask my parents if it would be ok for me to join. They came round with a guy called the Witch Doctor! I joined them and Everett was on drums as well. I remember we played one gig with Eclipse. Anyway Basil, who was known as Brush, and Derek would drop by rehearsals and would try and poach me! Derek would pester Everett to let him have a little bash on his drums and Everett would go green! Derek, boy, he was moving up to a different level. I’d think, wow, this guy is good! And they finally asked me to join in 76/77, about the same time as Jacko, I took Cleveland’s place. If you look at the credits to the album, Nigel Brown and Cedric Allen are also credited but they’d left then really. So the foundation of the group was really
Drums: Derek Samuda
Keyboards: Basil Samuda
Bass Guitar: Michael Carter
Rhythm Guitar: Freddy Peck
Lead Guitar: Nigel Bowen
Percussion and Backing Vocals: Neville Whittingham
Lead Vocals: Clancy Taylor “
Everyone agrees that the final, missing piece of the puzzle, was completed when Clancy Taylor, aka Jacko Melody, joined the group as lead vocalist.
Jacko, “I was just walking down the Dudley Rd one day, I was 14/15 years old, and I went into Cecil Morris’ shop, Rising Star Records. I knew Cecil as he was doing Rising Star Radio and would go on to do the legendary PCRL station, anyway I went into the shop and I could hear this banging noise coming from the basement so I asked Cecil what was going on. I remember he just said, there is a band called Eclipse rehearsing down there, go have a look, they’re looking for a singer. And I was like “oh, really?”
So I went downstairs and just stayed at the back listening for half an hour or so. Eventually they stopped playing and asked me what I was doing there? I said I’m a singer and they were like “Ok, sing this then!” They played me a tune and I sang it. I killed it!! And that was it, they asked did I want to join the band, there and then. And I said I don’t know!”
Neville interjects “ I had to ask your mom because you were so young! I had to go ask her if it was ok for Jacko to come to London with us in a couple of weeks to record an album. When I heard him sing, I couldn’t believe it. He had this huge maturity, a big mans voice from a little kid, it was like, where does that voice come from? We’d booked the studio time and I knew Jacko would take us to the next level. We now had the voice to match our sound.”
Jacko “ I was always at the Blues parties, grabbing the mic, you couldn’t get me off it! And they remembered me from those Blues parties too. Boy, I used to get beaten for going to those Blues, but it was worth it!”
And just two weeks later, Eclipse would head to London to record their only album “Inner Reggae Rhythm”.
Sydney Crooks helped by booking the Strand Recording studios in London, trusting that if Neville said he had songs ready to record, they would be good. The band took their cue from other Jamacian artists and recorded the album in under a week. Recorded in one take, with no overdubs apart from the Pioneers backing parts, Jacko was locked in the vocal booth one night with just a bottle of whiskey for company and told he wasn’t leaving until he’d recorded his vocal parts!
Returning to Birmingham, the band were excited at the possibilities that lay ahead. Pleased with the finished album and knowing Sydney’s links in the music industry, Eclipse hoped the album would be picked up by a bigger label and distributed. But it wasn’t to happen despite the critical acclaim they got back in their home town.
Neville; “ We wanted the album to be picked up. When we listened back to that album after it was recorded, we thought yes, this is the start of something. When we came back to Birmingham with the album, I remember sitting down with David Hinds from Steel Pulse and when he heard this he was amazed, he said ‘bloody hell!’ He was like ‘this is brilliant, I love it’. He was telling all the Steel Pulse guys ‘you’ve got to listen to this!’’
I think it gave them a kick up the bum! They definitely went into a different gear after hearing our album. Thats how it was though, friendly competition. If they made a step up, we wanted to make that step up as well.”
The album is one of the great lost British root reggae albums. Inner Reggae Rhythm deals with themes and issues that were ahead of their time and still resonate today.
For the band members, this was an important aspect of the album and is something that are particularly proud of:
Jacko, “The album deals with themes of reality, what’s happening in the world at that time, every bad thing that was going on, is in those songs”
As the main songwriter Neville recalls the process of writing the songs, “I remember being in bed and waking up and writing the songs. The album spoke about society, not just black issues or black society, but it spoke to, and of, poor people in society that what we were living in and with; black, white, asain, young old, everyone. The lyrics in general were about what is happening to the poorer side of society as that was what we were living in. The riots in Handsworth, Tottenham, we were singing about this four years earlier. Those lyrics are still relevant now.”
Freddie, “Thinks like family issues, unemployment, racism, marginalisation. The breakdown of family life. It was all in there. Our families had higher expectations of us to be career people. They would look down on you until they saw you perform and saw crowd reaction, then they got it! We connected with audience as all a Birmingham gigs were packed. I think they saw themselves in us.
People still say now that when we talk on that album, that album was like a prophecy because those things came true. When I listen to the songs, I listen to the writer, Neville had a great talent as a songwriter. Totally underrated.”
Released on the Baal imprint the album came out in the summer of 1978, only 500 or 1000 copies were pressed and the band had a couple of boxes to sell or use as promos. With no manager, label support or booking agent, Eclipse started to book their own gigs in order to promote the album. Support slots with the Heptones, Prince Lincoln and the Royal Rasses and Culture at the Regal Cinema on the Soho Rd, a tour as the backing band for Prince Far-I on his first British tour followed but no major label or distribution deal was forthcoming.
Undeterred, Eclipse hit the tour circuit harder, playing gigs across England, Wales, Scotland and further out in Europe, especially Holland where they would sell copies of the album from the back of the van and ended up headlining festivals at the famous Paradiso club. But it was the University circuit were Eclipse would seal their reputation as one of the best live acts in the country, playing with, and playing off stage, bands such as The Beat, Selector, Paul Young and the Q-Tips and Big Country. Jacko recalls that The Beat would tell people about the band and urge them to go and see them they were so good. A couple of music press reviews started to appear and the band at last appeared to be attracting attention with A&R reps turning up at venues like the legendary punk and reggae 100 Club and the Roundhouse in London. But still nothing materialised.
The band kept writing and gigging, getting involved in support gigs for Rock Against Racism with UB40, the Au Pairs, The Beat and another great Brmingham reggae band Afrikan Star, opening for major artists like Louise Marks (where the crowd went mad for Eclipse), and a major support with old friends Steel Pulse at the Hammersmith Palais. But Inner Reggae Rhythm was now confined to the past and still nothing had happened for them and despondency began to set in in the mid eighties some ten years after the band had first formed.
Neville takes up the story. “We’d been going ten years and never really got to where we should have. We’d seen Steel Pulse, UB40, the Beat and other contemporaries achieve success but it never happened for us. For a time, we were one of the best live bands in the country. No one would dispute that, we had a rock solid reputation. You know, our reputation was so good I remember Brindsley from Aswad asking if they could take Didi (Michael Carter) as their new bass player, so tight was our rhythm section. I said no!! I’m still really proud of the album as well. It’s a great roots reggae album. But we recorded a couple of other tracks at Outlaw Studios with Phil Savage on his 021 label, I think it was “Bleed Fi Dem” in 1981 but still nothing. The break up was natural really in the end, we’d come so close but just didn’t have that little bit of luck we needed at the right time. And it all just came to an end. Some of the guys have got health issues now and when the end came, it was a weight off our shoulders I think.”
Jacko and Freddie nod in agreement all three agree they would play together again.
Let’s hope it happens.
Now re-released as Corrupted Society, you can finally hear the brilliance of Eclipse. Their music and the things they sing about are still relevant today. You can get it from http://reggaearchiverecords.bandcamp.com/album/corrupted-society