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Sometimes writing reviews for Terminal Boredom feels disconcertingly similar to what I imagine the life of a solitary frontiersman chopping down redwoods deep in an unpopulated forest would have been like. Forget about the tired question of whether or not trees actually make a sound without anyone around to hear them, the real question here is what’s the point in exerting all that effort if nobody bears witness to the fruits of your labor? I’m pretty sure someone reads this stuff once it gets posted online, but you sure wouldn’t know it from my inbox. Every once in blue moon though a bit of correspondence comes in that makes it all feel worthwhile. Case in point: I got a really nice email forwarded to me from Madoc Roberts of the Tunnelrunners after I reviewed the Sing Sing reissue of their marvelous Plastic Land single. The eponymous cut off that record made a huge impact on me as an impressionable teenager via its inclusion on the bootleg LP Teenage Treats Vol. 4. There was something really special about the song that stuck with me over the years; it felt like a communiqué from a secret dimension only accessible through my turntable. When I got my hands on the Sing Sing reissue of the first EP I was pleasantly surprised to hear every song imbued with the same captivating magic as Plastic Land, which made me even more intrigued as to just what this obscure band from a village in Wales was all about. With Madoc’s email address now in hand I decided it would be a great opportunity to ask him some questions and see if he was willing to tell the tale of the Tunnelrunners for posterity’s sake. Luckily he kindly obliged and also proved to be a very easy interview subject. What follows is a glimpse into the history of an obscure yet wonderful band whose story is emblematic of hundreds of like-minded bands operating in provincial backwaters across the globe back in the late seventies as punk rock spread its tendrils into locations as geographically disparate as Neath, Wales and Bloomington, Indiana. Thanks to Madoc for the interview and for his patience in waiting for it to see the light of day.
TB: To begin with can you talk a little about how the band formed and give a bit of information about everyone in the band's musical background?
TB: Were you a big record collector? If so, did you pick up records by more obscure bands in addition to bands like the Ramones and Buzzcocks?
TB: I read where you were one of a handful of people who saw the Sex Pistols play in Swansea. Can you tell me a bit about that and what, if any, influence it had on starting the Tunnelrunners?
TB: Can you talk a little about what it felt like to come of age at a time when that excitement was in the air? Was there an optimistic sense of things opening up that went with it? I ask because in my opinion there is an indefinable spirit that goes a long way towards making the Tunnelrunners' music so special. It's hard for me to put my finger on. The songs are great from a compositional perspective, but there's a sense of youthful exuberance and innocence that makes them sound truly magical.
TB: Pardon me if I come across as the typically geographically ignorant American, but where is Neath located relative to Swansea? Do you think operating in the relative vacuum of a more provincial location helped keep the Tunnelrunners' sound individual and pure?
TB: Where you aware of any bands who sang in Welsh at the time like Ail Symudiad and Y Trwynau Coch? If so, do you think these bands were singing in Welsh as a statement or merely because it came natural to them?
TB: Can you talk a little about how the Tunnelrunners place in the local music scene in Swansea? What were some bands you enjoyed playing with? How were you received by the audiences you played in front of?
TB: That story about the first show is great! So punk! You mention Steve Mitchell (AKA Steve Gregory of Sonic International Records, Fierce Records, Pooh Sticks, Low Down Kids, and 45 Revolutions fame). Can you describe his role in the Swansea scene and talk a bit about how he approached you about both appearing on his radio show and releasing the first Tunnelrunners EP?
TB: Do you have any memories of recording the radio session? Were the songs recorded live? The guitar sound on those recordings is just incredible.
TB: How long had the Tunnelrunners been a band at the point you recorded the radio session that yielded both of the singles? Were there more original songs that went unrecorded?
TB: Do you know how many copies were pressed of the first Tunnelrunners single? Were you given copies of the record in recompense or were you just happy to have a recorded document of the band? Can you describe the sensation of first hearing your songs playing on a record?
TB: Wow! Is there still a tape out there of that interview?
TB: How was the record received upon release?
TB: If you can remember, I'd love to hear a bit about the composition/inspiration behind the songs on the first single. To begin with can you tell me what the idea behind "Plastic Land" was?
TB: How about "Forever Crying at Love Songs" and "I Can You Can?"
TB: Lyrically "Average" and "Words" are my two favorite besides "Plastic Land." Can you talk a bit about them?
TB: For those who don't know the story, what was the deal with the second Tunnelrunners single "100mph"? According to the Low Down Kids blog only 100 copies were pressed. Why is it so rare?
TB: Do you have a copy?
TB: I first heard the Tunnelrunners via a bootleg compilation. What are your feelings on the Tunnelrunners’ music being included on bootlegs in the era before the Sing Sing reissue made it readily available? I can understand a band getting upset over being included on a bootleg without permission, but personally I'm very grateful to whoever assembled the Teenage Treats compilation that first exposed me to the Tunnelrunners (along with others like the DC 10's who you mentioned earlier).
TB: What led to the first breakup of the band? Was it just that you were all of age and went off to college, or was some of the excitement and optimism of that initial punk era giving way to a more sobering reality?
TB: What is your take on the music of today? Do you think some of the spirit of the initial punk era has been lost somewhere along the way?
Tunnelrunners on the web here.Pics provided by band.
Interview by Young Steve, 2011. To read other TB interviews, go here.
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