Swell Maps were a British experimental rock group of the 1970s from Birmingham, that foreshadowed the birth of post-punk.
Influenced by the disparate likes of T. Rex and the German progressive outfit Can, they created a new soundscape that would be heavily mined by others in the post-punk era. Despite existing in various forms since 1972, Swell Maps only really came together as a musical entity after the birth of British punk rock.
Consisting of brothers Epic Soundtracks (real name Kevin Godfrey) and Nikki Sudden (real name Nicholas Godfrey) two Solihull based teenagers, plus Richard Earl, David Barrington, John Cockrill and Jowe Head, the band cut the single "Read About Seymour" as their debut in 1977, soon after the brothers left Solihull School (also home of Spizzenergi). It is widely considered one of the classic punk era singles. Epic's drumming mixed with Nikki's unique melodies crafted over the assorted threads cast by the six musicians set the band apart from the others. After recording their first John Peel session Swell Maps went into WMRS studio to record their first album A Trip to Marineville, which was released in 1979. With hard rocking punk numbers like "H.S. Art" interspersed by ambient instrumentals and other experimental interludes like "Gunboats", the album marked the band out as innovative non-musicians. The album went #1 on the new Independent chart.
The band cut one more album, The Swell Maps in 'Jane From Occupied Europe', in 1980, which pushed further into post-punk territory. They displayed their ingenuity for creating everything from industrial surf instrumentals like the opener "Robot Factory" to perverse ballads like "Cake Shop Girl". Even while they were falling apart during these sessions they were pushing the musical boundaries beyond what punk originally had to offer. They sought to release much of their early forays in lo-fi experimenation in the compilation, Whatever Happens Next…, before splitting up.
Since their split the legend of the Swell Maps has grown, through their influence on the C86 bands, lo-fi, and other pioneers like Sonic Youth and Pavement. Individual members of the band (especially Nikki Sudden, Epic Soundtracks and Jowe Head) went on to solo careers. The band's catalogue has recently been remastered and reissued and further dips into their archives can be expected. An EP of especially zany tracks was released under the name of the Phones Sportsman Band in 1980. After an interval of over 25 years away from music, the Phones Sportsman Band has now reformed in January 2008.
Epic Soundtracks died of unknown causes at the age of 37 in 1997 and Nikki Sudden died in March 2006.