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The Varmint Show

making tracks

In the first of British Archaeology's occasional series, John Varmint has selected the song 'Air Raid Shelter (Pillbox)' by The Human Cabbages.

The Human Cabbages (THC) appeared briefly on the Coventry landscape of the early 1980s, recording a few songs and featuring on the Coventry Compilation EP Boys and Girls Come Out To Play, notable not least for having a pink side (for girls) and a blue side (for boys) (Chambers 2007: 92). Now, having disappeared for a quarter of a century, THC are back. Steve Teers, the creative force behind the band, refers to the 'quite bizarre resurgence of interest in what was a relatively brief burst of teenage angst and passionate musical fire back in the heady punky DIY days of the early 1980s'. In 2008 they rehearsed together for the first time in 27 years and played a charity gig in Ealing, West London. In 2010 they will be gigging again, on 26 June on Rosa's Farm in Lydiate, north of Liverpool. And the archaeological connection? THC may have the distinction of being the only band to write a song about a Second World War defensive structure (but we eagerly await news of others). As Steve Teers told us:

It's at the top of a field in Baginton, just outside Coventry. We discovered the place when we were kids and used to cycle there and hang out on Sunday afternoons (hence the lyric: 'Air raid shelter... Baginton... we'll be there... Sunday afternoon'). We always called it the Air Raid Shelter as it's basically a solid concrete underground room accessed by a couple of stairways, but someone pointed out once that as it was on top of a hill it was most likely some kind of look out. Many legendary parties and acoustic gigs took place there over the years, including a 'Where's Sid?' party shortly after Mr Vicious's untimely death. The silhouette on the cover of the EP is from a photo-shoot we did there the morning after a particularly epic party of Belgrade Youth Theatre types (featuring one youthful Clive Owen, I recall).

Teers describes these recollections 'triggering a mental expedition' and goes on to describe the 'Air Raid Shelter' as, 'a place we could call our own as we were never hassled by farmers or local land-owners'.

In fact the structure is a Second World War Battle HQ from which the airfield defences of RAF Baginton would have been controlled during attack (which wouldn't sound good in a lyric). It seems appropriate to include this as our first selection, given the central role of the CBA in the Defence of Britain Project (1997–2002), during which thousands of other such sites were recorded, often for the first time. We frequently hear of the 'unsavoury' people and activities these places attract, often as justification for the removal or permanent closure of these structures. One suspects some people might have thought that of THC, had they known they were there. Yet there is another side: the philosopher Paul Virilio talks of 'playful warring, after the real warring', and that's how we feel about this: the 'Air Raid Shelter' as play-thing, as inspiration and as home.

Human Cabbages Cover

It appears the Pope is coming to England for the first visit since 1982. On the last papal visit the Pope held a mass at Baginton Airport. On 19 September 2010 Pope Benedict will do the same. In 1982 Steve remembers playing a subversive gig at the 'air raid shelter' just a few hundred yards away, on the same day, which they billed as 'supporting the Pope'. Perhaps they will do so again in 2010.

Steve Teers' last email concluded: 'So now you can see for yourself – we loved the place! So many of us grew up there. I still haven't had the chance to see if it's still possible to access the place but will try again this summer – and maybe take my daughters along, too…'

Download MP3 of the song (2.85MB)

Right-click the link above and select 'Save Link As...' or 'Save Target As...' from the menu to download. You can then play it from you computer in your media player.

Reference

  • Chambers, P. 2007. Godiva Rocked to a Backbeat: A Pictorial Journey Through Coventry & Warwickshire Music, 1960s – 1980s. Tencton Planet Publications.
  • A recent view of the Battle HQ at Baginton (2003) can be seen on Flickr.

All images are courtesy of Steve Teers, click for larger versions.

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