Twenty Twenty Five Missed Beats - continuing the story of Portsmouth's music scene

When it comes to cheerleaders for the Portsmouth music scene, you’ll have to go some distance to find one more fervent than Tony Rollinson.

Saturday, 30th January 2021, 9:51 am
Musician, music fan and writer, Tony Rollinson holding a copy of his book Twenty Missed Beats, with a copy of the accompanying album 14 Missed Beats, and a painting of Tony by Ian 'Sonic' Parmiter. Picture by Paul Windsor, 2021.

Loathe as he is to be the centre of attention Tony has been doing his best to push sounds from the city to the fore for some time now, whether as a performer, manager, fan or writer.

In 1996 he had his book Twenty Missed Beats published, chronicling the local scene from the heady days of punk to the then-present day.

The book’s initial print-run sold out and copies are only on offer these days for much more than the original prices – Amazon has used copies listed from £44, new from £923!

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He is now planning a second volume, which already has a publisher attached, to bring the story up to date.

Tentatively titled Twenty Twenty Five Missed Beats (to mark the 25 years since the first book) this is not intended as a mere backwards looking exercise – Tony intends it to encourage and inspire the current and next generation of acts.

Twenty Missed Beats finished as Britpop was becoming the dominant music of the time, and Tony sees parallels there with the first book.

He says: ‘The success of Oasis – it's almost like punk again – it led to loads of bands starting up and loads of young people going: ‘I'm going to form a band’, and that's really one of the legacies of Oasis. Even more than Blur or any of the other bands – Oasis really hit a nerve.

Emptifish performing live, from left: Tony Rollinson, George Hart. Picture: Paul Windsor

‘It was a real boom time.’

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South Specific - celebrating the Portsmouth music scene in 1980 and 2020

The idea for a sequel had been bobbing around for a while.

‘I thought about doing this a few years ago on the 20th anniversary, but I was doing the Emptifish thing then so I was too busy.’

Portsmouth band the Autons (l-r) Dave Auton, Tony Auton, Ray Auton. Picture by Jonathan Brady (071491-4660)

Yes – Tony helped revive one of Portsmouth’s best-loved ’80s acts, a band who were a key part of Twenty Missed Beats’ narrative. As a huge fan, Tony was instrumental in helping to compile a ‘best of’ album which was released in 2016.

Tony played bass with them on their first few shows before departing.

One of his other bands will also be part of the story – The Autons, whose track Snakes made it to number two in legendary DJ John Peel’s Festive 50 in 2006.

‘That's such an achievement, and Radio One were playing Snakes loads. We were playing all around the country and no-one knew any other song we did, it was like being a boyband,’ he laughs. ‘But you're out there, beyond the city of Portsmouth.’

Thirst, who were managed by Tony

And it is this desire to break the music out beyond Portsmouth that was crucial to the first book – and will be for this one.

‘The original book was asking why is nothing heard from Portsmouth? The “missed” word was the most important word in that title – the rest of the country has missed out, and then there’s also the ideas of music being out of beat and out of time.

‘Why are there so many missed opportunities from this city, and why does that happen?

‘It’s not as if you're looking at Liverpool who've had The Beatles and The Las, or Manchester with Joy Division and Oasis and The Smiths – it just hasn't happened.

‘More recently here there's been bands like Kassassin Street, and Ricky – I remember Ricky and their World Cup Song.’

The indie band recorded a song for the 2006 World Cup, and had the idea of recording thousands of school children on the chorus. It was picked up by the national press and radio, but sadly its release was devilled by problems beyond the band’s control and it flopped.

Kassassin Street, winners of Best Band at the Guide Awards, January 2014. Picture: Sarah Standing (14166-6457)

‘I want to retell that story because it's so important. To me, I found that very moving – and I read that in The News.’

Tony also managed bands like Screeper and Thirst who scored acclaim from the NME and Kerrang! and landed some high profile tours. But again, never quite broke through in a lasting way.

’It's going to be a story, and I think the story it has is really cool and exciting.

‘It says something about how this city has changed from a dockyard city to a more university, destination city.

‘It is supposed to be about the future as well – it's not just going to be a list of what's happened.’

The city's venues are also an important part of the story.

‘The original book had a hand-drawn map of Portsmouth with all of the venues on it, and even by that point, loads of them no longer existed.’

And it is an ongoing theme that Portsmouth has always been lacking in a variety of proper venues.

‘We need more small venue, somewhere you can build an audience, build your chops, get tight, actually make some massive mistakes, learn what songs people don't like, learn how to do a show.

‘We have to get that punk rock DIY ethos again – right, let's make some smaller venues, let's get those chops and really do it.’

As Twenty Missed Beats was released, The Wedgewood Rooms in Southsea was starting to hit its stride – and the book had its launch night there.

‘I think we had like five bands and then loads of acoustic acts in between. Cranes,’ one of Portsmouth’s biggest musical exports, ‘were kind enough to turn up and do an acoustic set, which was incredible.’

There was also an accompanying album, 14 Missed Beats, and VHS video compilation..

‘We had the launch for the video at Portsmouth Arts Centre – we showed them all of their videos back-to-back, and as each one came up the other bands were taking the mick. It was like the cinema scene in Gremlins.

‘But it was a brilliant night, and of course people hadn't seen themselves, it wasn't as if many Portsmouth bands had done videos at that point. It was exciting.’

Tony hoped the book would be a catalyst, bringing attention to the city – and it did briefly.

‘It was part of the Britpop thing and evolving and talking to national press about the bands and say there was something going on here.’

It is also a love letter of sorts to the city.

‘It is a community city, it is a close-knit city, and to see people playing music, whether it's at a festival or the South Specific 2020 project where people are donating money to a charity which has a big presence in this city.

‘I think that speaks volumes about who were are and what we are.

‘That's what's happening on the ground right now. Back last summer, there was that band Hallan on 6Music with their single Modern England – I bet I was as excited hearing them on the radio as they were because they're from my city.’

‘And there all of these other acts, it's like, come on – you're as good as anyone else!

‘It's all about shouting about how good we are! Go and get it - that's the attitude I want, I want that swagger, that swagger that Emptifish had.

‘If people like us make a bit of noise and then others can run with it.’

And Tony is looking to that day, beyond talk of pandemics and lockdowns in the book:

‘Hopefully we all come through, but how do we come through it and how do we bust out of the other side?

Hopefully it makes it right up to the minute.’

BE PART OF THE BOOK

Tony is keen to include as many of the acts active from 1996 to the present day as possible.

The original book contained an appendix of acts, A-Z, with the same planned for this volume, so everyone who responds will be included.

Anyone who’d like to be part of the book, please send Tony the following details:

* Band name

* Date formed

* Date split

* Band members: Names and instrument, including where born and year (ie, Portsmouth, 1977)

Releases

* Title

* Format (vinyl, CD, etc)

* Label

* Catalogue number

* Where recorded

* Produced/engineered by

* Year released

* Major gigs, where, when, who with?

* Major achievements: Radio play, support slots/festivals, headlines?

Further questions

* What do you think of the Portsmouth music scene? Something quoteable, but interpret the question anyway you like.

* How has it been for you in Lockdown 2020-2021? Again, interpret how you like.

* If you were asked to cover and record one song by another Portsmouth band (not your own band) which one would you choose and why?

* What is the one song/recording of your own that you feel is the best/an achievement you are proud of? Why?

Portsmouth based band Ricky who were hoping for chart success with their 2006 England World Cup song. Picture by Steve Reid
Hallan, who gained good radio play for their last single, Modern England