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Graduate Records

Graduate Records is mainly known for signing the Birmingham group UB40, who have become the most successful reggae band in the world.

David Virr started Graduate Records in 1969 as a record shop in Dudley which grew, at one time, to a chain of six shops around the Midlands.

In 1979 after listening to John Peel’s radio show, David decided to start his own independent label. The first few singles only scraped into the indie chart but then, UB40 were signed & in January 1980 released their first single- ‘Food for Thought’ which reached No 4 in the main chart & went gold in the UK.

Graduate Records was the first independent label to have such a big hit without a major record company being involved…

Two further UB40 singles were released in the same year & both were top ten hits. UB40’s first album ‘Signing Off’ was released on Graduate Records in August 1980 & went platinum, remaining in the UK charts for over a year & scoring a big hit worldwide. ‘Signing Off’ has since been re-issued on CD by Virgin Records. Some of the tracks Graduate Records was involved with were included on ‘ The Best of UB40 Vol 1’ & also on ‘The very Best of UB40’ on Virgin Records.

Graduate also worked with other successful artists such as The Maisonettes who had a big hit in 1983 with ‘Heartache Avenue’ on our Ready, Steady, Go! label which was a top ten hit & went silver in the UK as well as being a big hit right across Europe.

Graduate were also very fortunate to have worked with Clifford T. Ward for several years until he passed away in 2001. His 1995 album ‘Julia & Other Stories’, first released on Graduate Records is now re-issued on Cherry Red Records who have also released the albums- ‘The Anthology’ in 2002, ‘Both of Us’, ‘ Bittersweet’, ‘ Hidden Treasures’ & ‘This was our love’ in Nov. 2003.

In 2003, The Fight, a young punk group from Dudley recorded a cover of a song by The Circles called ‘(I’m running around in) Circles’ for their mini-album ‘Home is where the Hate is’. This was out in the USA & released worldwide on the Fat Wreck Chords label.

David Virr also acted as a Music Advisor to record companies & artists, including Pete Best, the original drummer in The Beatles.

Rap collective Roll Deep adapted our track ‘Heartache Avenue’ into a rap version re-named ‘The Avenue’ & released by Relentless Records, The single did very well getting to No 11 in the charts. It also featured on their hit album ‘In at the Deep End’.

Rising Star Entertainment

Attached to the Rising Star record shop and run by music entrepreneur Cecil Morris, R.S.E. put on a number of events featuring the reggae bands from across the city.

This poster is advertising two gigs at The Digbeth Civic Hall feat Eclipse & Shades of Reality and UB40 & Beshara and was sent in by UK Vibe founder Steve Williams.

Hare And Hounds


The Nervous Kind, Hare And Hounds 2012 via Paul Harris

Situated in the South Birmingham suburb of Kings Heath, the Hare and Hounds has been around since 1820, but has stood in its present form since 1907.  This, along with the beautiful and unique Art Nouveau tiles that line the entry hall and staircase, is a major contributing factor to its current Grade II listed status.

Although playing host to local Birmingham legends UB4O’s first ever gig in 1979 (recently commemorated by a PRS Music Heritage award and plaque), it is only in the past 7 years that it’s really established itself as one of the most important and influential music venues in the country, playing a vital part in nurturing the city’s vibrant music and creative community.

The pub boasts two downstairs bars which host regular food evenings, a pub quiz and weekend DJs whilst the two upstairs venues feature live music & club nights spanning jazz, indie, funk, reggae, hip hop, soul, house, D’n’B & comedy most nights of the week.


Beshara 1982
Beshara were formed 1976 in Moseley, Birmingham and were founded by the late Elias Pharoah (Bass) and the late Ray Watts (Rhythm Guitar) who then recruited Errol Nanton (Lead Vocals) Dixie Pinnock (Drums) and Michael Nanton (Keyboards). They were formerly named ”Cool Dimension” and ”The Kushites” until 1979 when the band settled on the name Beshara meaning ‘surprise’ in Arabic and ‘mystical’ in Swahili. Over the years the line-up of the band changed along with the roles of various members but as of 1980 the ever-present nucleus that was widely known as Ray Watts (Lead Vocals-Rhythm Guitar), Dixie Pinnock (Drums-Backing Vocals), Michael Nanton (Keyboards-Backing Vocals) and Tony Garfield (Vocals – Bass) remained. To add to their harmonies which were now their trademark and their brand of social commentary on lovers rock and cultural reggae, there was even more emphasis on Ray Watts’ natural born voice to the people, Tony Garfield’s riveting bass lines, Michael Nanton’s distinctive keyboard style and Dixie Pinnock’s hard hitting dynamic rhythm.

Throughout the years Beshara gigged extensively all over the UK in the nation’s major colleges, universities and clubs attracting multi cultural audiences. The band never released an album but released 13 singles and enjoyed success with early recordings such as ”Men Cry Too”, which reached number 6 in the reggae charts and was championed by David Rodigan and the late John Peel. ”Glory Glory” featured the complimentary and contrasting qualities of percussionist Raymond ‘Bongo Simeon’ Walker on this much sought after 12” and ”Shadow Of Love” although gaining slightly more commercial interest than “Men Cry Too” reached number 11 in the reggae charts. Beshara received much acclaim when they toured the UK and played alongside UB40, Abyssinians, Beres Hammond, Simply Red, Dennis Brown, Bad Manners, Leroy Smart, Sugar Minott, and John Holt. In the late 1980’s the band was headhunted by I Jahman Levi to back him on his African and European tour, which saw Beshara perform abroad for the first time. The 80’s also saw them achieve well-earned TV exposure by appearing on ‘The Rockers Roadshow’, ‘Black on Black’, ‘Here & Now’ ‘Format V’ and ‘Together’. They were then commissioned to record a score for a BBC Boxing Documentary.

Beshara also appeared as a gospel group in the BBC Drama “Preacher Man” starring the acclaimed British actor John Rhys-Davies who is best known for his roles in “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, “The Living Daylights” (James Bond) and many more. The band won an award from the Hummingbird’s 1st Annual Black Music Awards in 1987 for ‘Best Sound recording’ in regards to their song “Candi”. Magazines like Black Echoes described the song as “… a commercial bouncer, but solid, revolving around criss cross harmonies, a strong upfront lead and a well oiled busy band sound…” The Magazine also described Beshara as “… so professionally polished and accomplished it makes you wonder why they aren’t huge stars (and ‘live’ they are just as slick, water-tight)…” The early 90’s saw them travel to America to record an album which to date is unreleased. In 1992 Beshara were asked by BBC Radio WM to perform a live concert in Birmingham, which would concurrently be broadcasted live and not only did it gain rave reviews once aired, but also from fans at the concert. However, during the same year the band decided to part ways only to reunite again in 1998 and begin recording what was set to be their debut album in 1999. Sadly Ray Watts (Lead Singer) passed away in the year 2000. Due to this the remaining members of the band decided they could no longer stay together without him and went their separate ways.

In 2000 at the Hyatt Hotel Birmingham, Beshara were presented with an award for their Contribution to UK Reggae music by Street Cred magazine; guests on the night included Jamelia and Brenda Emmanus (BBC Clothes Show). In 2001 the ex band members arranged a memorial tribute concert for Ray Watts at the Irish Centre, Birmingham which led to Beshara performing and sharing the stage with Steel Pulse along with many other artists from Birmingham including Skibu, Reggae Revolution, Jeremiah, Birry The Poet and many more.

2005 saw the ex band members reunite to perform at the ‘32 years of lovers rock’ anniversary concert at the Hackney Empire in London. The concert featured the UK’s biggest lovers rock stars and the band received an astonishing reception, as it was the first time that many of the audience saw members of the band live after years of hearing their songs on the radio and in the clubs.

There’s no doubt that Beshara was an important training ground that eventually led to the main members of the band either recording, backing or touring the world with I Jahman Levi, Pato Banton, UB40, Steel Pulse, Aswad, Luciano, Beenie Man, Musical Youth, Apache Indian, Inner City, Macka B, Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs, Half Pint, Reggae Revolution, Johnny 2 Bad and XOVA while sharing the stage with, Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, Shaggy, Burning Spear, Third World, Yellowman, Black Uhuru, The Wailers, Steel Pulse, Santana, Brazilian greats Jorge Ben Jor, Skank, and Cidade Negra, recording at Eddie Grants studio in Barbados, featuring on major TV shows including Top of the Pops, GMTV, MTV and performing at venues and festivals such as The Sydney Opera House , Reggae on the River, House of Blues, Womad, and The legendary Maida Vale studios. Not forgetting flying on Stings private jet to perform with him in Italy on a television show while still finding time to write and perform on Grammy nominated albums by various artists.

Unreleased material by Beshara will become available in the near future.

Past Members:
Elias Pharoah (Bass)
Errol Nanton (Vocals)
Paul Cunningham (Bass)
Byron Bailey (Saxophone)
Steve Morrison (Trombone)
‘Fluff’ (Toaster)

Past Session Musicians:
Focett Gray (Lead Guitar)
Alan Francis (Trumpet)
Cornelius Wynter (Bass)
Asha Barnes (Percussion)
Raymond ‘Bongo Simeon’ Walker (Percussion)
‘Skins’ (Drums)
James Renford (Saxophone)
Decordiva ‘Dicky’ Gayle (Guitar)

Now this was a gig!


Wide Boys

The Wide Boys were originally self managed, and then they were managed by Pete King (Fearless Productions) for a while, and went onto do some recording for Simon Cowell (then of EMI I believe) under the name “The Last Detail”.
The band played a mixture of Reggae and Rock, and the driving force was Simon Smith, who wrote most of the songs.

Various people passed through the band during its time, and the band toured the university circuit extensively, did the usual pub gigs in Brum, a couple of gigs down in London (Electric Ballroom and Dingwalls) and appeared on a BBC TV programme, which was recorded in Manchester.
The band released a single on the Big Bear Record Label (Jim Simpson) in 1980 called “Stop That Boy” The B side was “Heart of Stone”.

The band was also included in the EMI album “Bouncing Back – A Birmingham Compilation” (1980) with several other bands including, UB40, Steel Pulse, Fashion, Steve Gibbons Band, and several other bands.
The Album track was called “Forty Million”.

The Wide Boys supported UB40 on several occasions, and both bands were based (at their beginnings) in Trafalgar Road, Moseley. In fact, as the Wide Boys started gigging before UB40, on more than one occasion UB40 were support act to the Wide Boys.
The band members were (in no particular order and probably not exhaustive):
Simon Smith (Lead Vocals, Guitar and Songwriter)
Malcolm Smart (Lead Guitar)
Johnnie Web (Keyboards and Guitar)
Joseph G Jones (support vocals)
Steve Fever (Percussion and Vocals)
Steve Ajoa (Lead Guitar and Vocals)
Tony Keach (Bass)
Brett Ross (Keyboard)
Steve and then Jim (On Drums)

Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra

I’m pleased to announce that Made in Birmingham: Reggae Punk Bhangra is now available to watch online. Directed by Deborah Aston, herself a punk from the days of The Mermaid, Barrel Organ and Powerhouse, and made by swish films for the Birmingham Music Archive, Made in Birmingham tells the story of the evolution of the three genres of Reggae, Punk and Bhangra in the city over a period of about 20 years; mid 70s to mid 90s.

In making the film we wanted to show how musicians and audiences from the three music genres interacted and cross-pollinated in shared spaces and places in making and consuming music in the city and how the music that was made reflected the social and cultural politics of the communities of Birmingham and of the time in Britain’s second biggest city.

Uncovering and repurposing old and rarely seen archive footage of bands like UB40, Steel Pulse, The Au Pairs, Musical Youth, Beshara, The Killjoys, Spizz Energi, Swami, Fuzzbox, Apna Sangeeta and others, are interspersed with interviews with those who were there at the time –  UB40’s Brian Travers, Paul Foad and Pete Hammond from the Au Pairs, Musical Youth’s Dennis Seaton, Steel Pulse’s Amlak Tafari and David Hines, The Beat’s Ranking Roger and dozens of others.

We had a great time making it, hope you enjoy watching it!

Bob Lamb’s Home of the Hits

Sent in by Penga:

Bit surprised to see only two listed can I suggest Bob Lambs Home of the Hits built after his success recording Signing Off by UB40 at his Cambridge Rd cellar. Saw Ocean Colour Scene, Ruby Turner, Warlord and the current Slade there + What band, The Catch and remember those great new years eve parties with loads of musos jamming in the 16 track studio.

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