How I wrote Bristol

How I wrote Bristol

How I wrote Bristol

Roger Cook on Lovers Of The World Unite: “It wasn’t the kind of tune that anybody could sing while waiting for a bus”

Eight local songwriters, including Roger Cook and Beki Bondage, tell the stories behind some of our home city’s classic songs


1966 Columbia

“It was based on something that was happening in the 60s, the socialist/communist slogan, ‘Workers of the world, unite.’ It was quite a banner-carrying crowd of people and one day I just had the bright idea of saying, ’Why not Lovers Of The World Unite?’ That was just before the brotherhood thing started with flower power and it just seemed like a good idea and so we wrote the song. We were almost certainly on the road as David & Jonathan. Most of our songs were written on the road during that time, but I can’t remember exactly where.

“That particular song would have been written between the two of us with the consent of both of us with regards to the lyrics and the music. I wrote most of the lyrics because it was a song that originally came out of my head. Believe it or not, we wrote using ukuleles. Both he and I played ukuleles and at one point we got a couple of tenor guitars, which have four strings. But I believe that was written on ukuleles.

“I knew we’d written a hit. It was a very catchy tune but it wasn’t the kind of tune that anybody could sing while waiting for a bus. It was very rangy because both Roger [Greenaway] and I could sing very high and pretty low, so I think the song probably covers about an octave and a half. It wasn’t really a singalong song, it was a performance song for he and I.

“It was the beginning of that whole brotherhood, put some flowers in your hair, thing that was going on and the lyric reflected that. It was just a statement to make at the time, we weren’t the first people to be thinking along those lines but we came up with the song and what was a very catchy title.

“When we wrote that song we had the Harold Wilson government which was a totally socialist government, pink going on red, and so the title resonated with the people at the time but I feel the song is still relevant. I think if somebody was to record the song with the sounds and attitudes that are being used now it would still be popular. It’s a timeless message, I’m living in the Trump era and there are great divisions in America politically and that song would be perfect right now for over here.”


1980 Riot City

“I’m not entirely sure what year I wrote the lyrics but they would have been scrawled in an old school exercise book. Back in the 80s I would give sheets of lyrics to original Vice squad guitarist Dave Bateman and he would write chords around them, which is the opposite of how I write these days. Generally, Vice Squad guitarist Paul [Rooney] comes up with a riff and I find a vocal melody and sing a chorus and he finds the chords underneath, but as teenagers in the old band we didn’t know how to construct songs or how to play our instruments, which turned out in our favour as it meant we couldn’t copy the ‘real’ bands and consequently we sounded quite unique.

Last Rockers is a typically depressive adolescent song about nuclear war and being too young to die but too late to live. CND was pretty big at the time and members of my family were active in the movement, so it was something I was very aware of. Like most teenagers, I felt I was immortal and I believed punks were the ‘last rockers,’ the final youth cult before the apocalypse. I was obsessed with punk and all I wanted to do was sing in a band and be part of it, so I would often romanticise the idea of punk in my lyrics. It was easy to wallow in pubescent hormones and self-pity and glorify your tribe when you lived with your parents and they paid the bills!

“Once Dave had written some music around the lyrics he told me that he’d ‘written the perfect song,’ which of course he hadn’t, but he’d certainly written something that sounded quite different. We borrowed £200 and recorded the song in Cave Studios, an eight-track facility in St Pauls, along with two other songs.

“Several bands have covered the song, which is the ultimate compliment. There is a Canadian band called The Last Rockers and a Colombian band called Los Ultimos Rockeros who cover Vice Squad songs and a Last Rockers TV channel, plus we have our own label called Last Rockers Records.

“All these years later I think we were quite courageous being in a band so young and making things happen, we got banned from virtually every town in the West Country at one point because of violence at gigs, yet we kept going and eventually signed to EMI and made it as far as the USA – pretty good going for four clueless kids. I do wish that I’d waited ‘til I was older, at least in my twenties, before I’d joined a band and started songwriting as no-one is at their peak creatively in their teens. Nonetheless, Last Rockers seems to have stood the test of time as a punk song.”

Read the rest of this feature, along with more artist interviews, news, tips, reviews and gear in Songwriting Magazine Autumn 2018 > >

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