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COVENTRY MUSIC MUSEUM – We chat with founder Pete Chambers BEM

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

As part of the Music Awaydays to Coventry we headed to the Coventry Music Museum. A museum dedicated to the music of the city past and present. We interview Pete Chambers, the founder of the museum and a passionate supporter of all Cov and Warwickshire music.

We are here in the Coventry Music Museum supporting Coventry music from the past and present. Could you tell us bit more about CMM? 

Right, well the Coventry music museum started originally as an idea and was sort of created in Coventry University- that was The Lanch (the Uni had been called The Lanchester Poly and the bar The Lanch). The Uni has been very important to the whole city and the cities music, so the CMM started there and unfortunately we only lasted 10 months. We were looking for somewhere else and suddenly we found this place, it’s not far from where I live. Anyone who comes along knows this spot is a lovely little backwater away from the street. And with all the shops and everything it just works perfectly. 3 years ago we set up shop here and it’s been a struggle to get it sorted e.g. looking for funding. It was like the black and white train going along the tracks and every so often we got the money to buy new tracks and move along a little bit but that’s how the whole thing kind of happened. We built gradually, new cabinets and eventually 3 years ago we opened. To be honest we have never really looked back, its been amazing, much better then we would have expected it to be. Straight away as soon as we could qualify we were on trip advisor, number 1 for two years. Anyway we were number 1 for 2 years and now we are always in the top 2. So we’ve been in the top 2 for three years and For an independent museum that’s basically run by myself and my wife Julie with our great volunteers who surprise me every day with their brilliant ideas, its just wow. We all work together and its basically such a great story, I say that with my impartial hat on but I think we have done really well. Everyone that’s helped has done so much and there’s really this family feeling. The people that come through are genuine, they pay to come in and have a look at what they want to see.

You think about the general public and they are really so great!

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

Coventry has strong music heritages, what/who influenced you the most to set up the CMM?

Well it’s a gradual thing and I’ll have to go back a little bit and ramble slightly. What started the whole thing besides my pride in my city and love of music is that a few years ago my friend was approached by 2 Japanese girls in Coventry city center and they were looking for the 2Tone museum. My friend had to say there isn’t any 2 Tone museum and there’s no place that evidences its origination in the city. They were aware of this global brand but Coventry and the councils weren’t hosting it.

He told me this and I was absolutely disgusted so I set out do something and what I did was I created the 2 tone trail. There was somebody that actually did it in the Q magazine, the idea of going to different locations around Coventry that were pertinent to the city of Coventry so it kind of started there. I wrote this book called the 2tone trial and we actually devised a trail around the city, to all the different places, funnily enough a lot of the venues sold alcohol but that’s probably the same with any music genre. We put this together and sold badges at the tourist office which felt great and at last we had something tangible and people could come to Coventry and when they were looking for the origins of 2 Tone they finally had something. That inspired me and of course was it was never going to be enough. I went to the local museum the Herbert and staged a temporary museum, a precursor to what we have now. They couldn’t keep it permanently, which was a good thing in a way as it spurred the creation of our own museum. There were lots of other things like the walk of stars outside the BBC, another reason for that is we knew there would be a vote for The Specials and the fans could go and see something tangible. So that’s how it all started, we eventually had a stall in the market that had a stall all about 2 Tone for the 30th anniversary in 2009. Then from there we were at Cov Uni and now we are here.

I wanted to broaden it because by profession I am a historian and obviously we are aware of the brand and integrity of 2 Tone. But we haven’t just got one genre or artist here but a whole range of genres and to many people a whole way of life.

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

What are your thoughts on the music and sub culture scene now in Coventry? What do you reckon are the greatest changes throughout the years?

Right, okay well there’s still a great scene. We do a thing up there called Artist of the Month and I write for the local Coventry Telegraph. I’ve just written a piece today about Whizzy a young rap artist and he’s great and has just been taken up by an agency which is what I’m writing about today. We have a wall of top ten hits in the museum and we ask our guests to vote, its all the top 10s to come out of Cov and Warwick and 2011 was the last one up there so were waiting for someone to come along. There are other bands like The Commonjets who I think are coming today; Wilde and Ellipsis are doing amazing things. Yes there is a scene and I don’t know if we are heading for the charts now but everything a bit different and the music scenes strange.

There are changes, I mean, my music column is printed but also goes online. In the early days it was all about the paper and hard copies, about 5 years ago the Telegraph decided that the online content would take precedent to anything. So I personally find that a massive change, writing about music it’s a very different thing in my world. It’s great that is now goes worldwide.

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

When you away from home, what do you miss the most from Coventry?

Well I suppose it’s predictably the museum. I mean I was here working one Christmas a few years ago. It’s me and Julies baby. Just to explain that, we come here on a Sunday and I see other people going to work and I think look at that poor sod working on a Sunday and we’re coming in here but I think hang on, we’re at work too.

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

We love that CMM is linking everyone up like a family; we know that there was the exhibition Celebrating Sir Horace for last few months, what else does CMM do to support and Coventry music scene?

Obviously the city of culture bid is coming up. One of the things I love doing is the 2Tone trail and there are other trails. There’s a natural thoroughfare that goes from here to the Empire. Anyway it runs from here to there and I’ve called it the Coventry mile, I come up with these maps and things. Just last week it was announced that Delia Derbyshire, an electronic music pioneer, is to have a road named after her. We got a lot of good press for that. Already people are talking about Doctor Who fans coming to Delia or Derbyshire Way. The next exhibition we are launching on the 20th of Jan is all about The Enemy. They’ve lent us all their stage stuff, amps and even his iconic green telecaster, I mean these are iconic things and we are pretty excited that we’ll be looking after this stuff. I’ve done commentary and its a big map of all the important places, there are a lot of these maps and trails that all connect with Coventry and it all kind of works so we like to be doing that.

I’m lucky that I know most of the musicians that have come out of Coventry and they are really helpful, every now and again you get someone who’s maybe a little doubtful of display but of course we take care. On the night when we opened we had a lot of these musicians that came and they saw it, the vision and them it was oh you can borrow this but more, I want you to have this. Its just gathering dust somewhere so it’s better for us to showcase it. This is the thing too, there was a big scene of bands in the 60s that never made it but they all got recording contracts, most were managed by Larry Page who went on the manage The Kinks and The Trogs and he had all these mad ideas. And its kind of like, you wouldn’t necessary know that but you might see a guy down the pub who was a huge pop star in the 60s and you’d never know.

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

Coventry is bidding for the City of Culture 2021 bid, how is CMM supporting it? 

Well as I say, we are trying to push all these things. We are hoping the music makes a large part of it. I went to a workshop about it and loads of people were talking about 2 tone. The only thing I’m a little concerned about is whether 2 tone is overtaking the whole thing. I mean yes Coventry has this great genre as an origin. But it’s not only 2 Tone that’s come out of Cov. I get irritated when people call it the 2 Tone museum because no, it’s the Cov Music Museum but it can’t hurt to bring 2 Tone fans in. You can’t avoid the fact the museum is hugely dedicated to 2 Tone and it’s a good thing. We have boards that say that say we are supporting the bid and we like to get images of guests from overseas with the sign. We do a lot of things, a lot of literature, I’ve done a book I mentioned before, we just did something named 50 Articles in Sound (1). History of Cov and Warwickshire music in 50 objects, its great, we get loads of our volunteers involved. We went through lists of what deserves to be involved, I will make sure to get one to you. Another thing we have added is a guidebook to the museum.

What’s the plan of CMM in 2017?

Well we have The Enemy exhibition that is a massive thing that opens the year for us so were excited about that, it opens on the 20th. We already have our 2018 exhibition planned which is all about the Irish community called from emerald isle to sky blue city, how the Irish put the Craig into Coventry music.

Underground inspires and is inspired by British subculture, both contemporary and from the past, since 1981. Is there a sub-culture that inspires you? Which subculture you identify the most?

Well, right back in the 70s I was a suede head, basically a skin head whose mum wouldn’t let you shave your hair all the way off. I’ve always lived close to here and we were christened the Ball Hill mafia so in the 70s we were wandering up and down these streets doing no good to all and its crazy to think if someone said that I would have a museum here when I’m in my 50s I would have never believed it, its crazy. Last year I was on the honors list for contribution to Coventry museum so that was amazing, this time last year I knew about the honour but I had to keep my mouth shut. Yeah so all those things are surreal when you look back.

So back to the question, in the 70s I was listening to all the Reggae and Trojan music and all those albums. Then in the 80s it came back with the 2 Tone, I had gotten rid of all the clothes but I re-acquired them and it started again. Of course I was more of a Rudy at this point. But yeah it’s been a constant; From then on the 2 Tone has always been there. We’ve always wanted to make Coventry a Ska city and I like to think I’ve played my part in that. We’ve always got something going on here in terms of gigs and what not.

Coventry Music Museum - Underground England blog

Go visit Coventry, go visit the Museum and the trails. The Museum is open Thursday to Sunday and it is located at the 2 Tone Village on the Walsgrave Road.

The Coventry Music Museum

The 2-Tone Village

Unit 7, RO 74-80 Walsgrave Rd

Coventry,CV2 4ED

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