Main-man Madoc had been one of the 20 or so punters when the Sex Pistols had played at Circles nitespot in Swansea in '76, but was never a real feature of the local scene, and only every now and again would he be spotted, with his long shaggy non-punk locks and mostly sporting some kind of brightly coloured miltary tunic, fronting The Tunnelrunners in some God-forsaken you-take-your-life-in-your-hands gig like the Admiral Benbow pub out on Fabian Way. You couldn't just go and see The Tunnelrunners: you had to be lucky, to be in the right place at the right time.
With the legend of the Tunnelrunners' glories grown to almost mythic proportions, the group was eventually nailed down in one place long enough to record a ten-song everything-live session for the local radio station (with Andrew Reader, of Swansea's fabulous powerpoppers The DC10s as 'producer'/cheerleader), and in January 1981 five tracks from the session were released as the "Plastic Land" EP. The group played one final Swansea gig, to show willing, and then disappeared back to the up-England-way college-lives that had effectively finished the group that past autumn.
(A year or so later, with the group uncontactable, the rest of the radio session was transformed into the "100 MPH" EP, though not a single copy of this has surfaced in over 20 years ... only 100 pressed, perhaps 15 sold, the rest trashed by mistake in the 80s.... so not surprising. All together: oops!).
Madoc's guitar-solos (here on "Plastic Land", and on "Forever Crying At Love Songs",) were heaven-sent. The tunes were top. They had fun. Has there ever been a more joyous pop group?
from "lowdownkids.com (June 25, 2006)
Neath trio Tunnelrunners were formed by Roberts and Jones in 1977 and who played around the Swansea area between 1978 and 1982. "We started the band because we were young!" Roberts told me. "Punk came at just the right time for our rebellious teens. The main thing was the attitude - music had become stale and self indulgent. Even we could play punk. The reason we only lasted a few years is because we all went off to college. We played a few gigs when we all came home from holidays but our gigs were once described as "rare as manners in Penclawdd'. "
"The venue in Swansea was the Circles Club. The changing room walls were signed by all the bands and the carpet in the club was sticky. In later years they found a dead body there! This was the first place we played. We had been practicing for weeks with a drummer who pulled out on the night. We told our last minute replacement that we would hold the first note of the song until he got the beat. The PA was set up so that all the vocals were on one side and the guitars on the other. At the start of the night a bloke at the bar was shouting for us to get off and booing. By the end he was pleading with us to get off, claiming we were ruining his night out! When we got off stage our one fan told us not to worry and to go back on and do 'Do You Wanna Dance', (our one and only cover). We told him we had just done - it was so bad he didn't even recognise it. Next gig was at the Heathcliffe Club. Gary Glitter was playing in town so they weren't expecting many people. We were due to be on first but due to the lack of audience, the other bands pulled rank to get it out of the way. By the time we got on Glitter had finished and the place had filled up. I finished the gig with one string - still forming the full chords or I wouldnt know where to put my fingers - the place was in uproar and after that things took off."
They issued an EP for Steve Mitchell's Sonic International Records in 1980, but to little impact. " We loved playing live but always had a feeling of not overdoing it and it became ordinary. The single wasn't that important to us at the time, probably more so to Steve as that was all he did." A follow-up, the100mph EP shared its fate. Only 100 copies - all white labels, no sleeve were ever pressed - just for sale locally. However, just at this time, the local Virgin shop closed down with maybe 20 copies actually sold. The remaining impossibly rare copies were allegedly binned by accident sometime in the 80's.
(Steve Mitchell later had this to say concerning the lost records: " I had the tapes and had released the 'Plastic Land' EP . The band told me I could do whatever wanted with the extra tracks so, when I decided I wanted to press up a second 7-inch, I went ahead despite not being able to contact the band members who had by then moved away. I thought I'd find them at some point. I only pressed 100 copies - all white labels, no sleeve - just for sale locally. However, just at this time, our local Virgin shop closed. The singer of the Pseudo Sadists allowed his goat to piss in the shop during a visit from the area manager, who was already contemplating closing the shop as it barely made any money. I then had nowhere to sell the record. I estimate that maybe 20 copies were actually sold. The remaining copies were destroyed by accident sometime in the 80's when I was throwing out some other white label single I'd made but had too many of (the Crash Action Winners single). Now I dont have one, though my mother does! I have never been able to find anyone in Swansea who actually has the record " )
I asked Roberts about his impressions of the punk scene at that time, particularly in relation to Wales. "When punk first started there was very little in the press or on the radio so there wasn't a uniform like the Sid Vicious clones all in black that came along a bit later. This meant that everyone wore what they wanted and interpreted it as it suited them. This led to what was actually a very colourful scene both in terms of the look and the music. I went to see bands nearly every week including The Clash, The Damned, the Buzzcocks, etc also lesser known bands like the Lurkers who I loved and saw many times. I also saw a very early Adam and the Ants in their tartan gear and the Coventry Specials. My favourite band were the Ramones."
After the band split Jones became a projectionist at an arts cinema, Burton is "something big in computers and travels around Europe". "I am a TV producer/editor," Roberts tells me. "When I'm not making programmes about Hitler's relatives or chasing him up the Andes, I still work on youth music shows, which I have always done. I have edited shows and videos with a lot of Welsh bands that have emerged over the recent years such as Catatonia, Super Furry Animals, Gorkys, Stereophonics etc. So music is still there and the punk attitude definitely helps - both with sorting out the crap and with my freelance lifestyle. I think the best thing I got from the punk era was a healthy suspicion of people in authority."
Your best chance of tracking down any recorded instances of the Tunnelrunners is via the tracks included on the Powerpearls and Teenage Treats compilations. They subsequently reformed in the wake of the interest and were playing live as recently as 1999. "Yes, we did reform a couple of times. We made a film in the mid-80's, it was a musical about unemployment. The arty types at the local art centre hated it. Then we had a more serious go in the 90's which lasted until a few years ago. We had a very good drummer, Guy Lawrence and a very musical bass player, Neil Sinclair. The stuff we did was still pretty raw - we never polished it up and right at the very end we were doing some stuff that sounded pretty much like our early stuff. We quit when the venues dried up and the waistlines expanded beyond acceptable limits."
from "No More Heroes" - by Alex Ogg (Cherry Red Books 2006)
There is an excellent interview of Madoc from the Tunnelrunners on the Terminal Boredom website here
"Plastic Land E.P, released on Sonic International records,1980
100 MPH E.P, the long lost second record was officially released on PunkHouse Records 2013 TIDY 4
Plastic Land EP re-released by PunkHouse 2014 TIDY 7
Plastic Land was also released as part of a compilation, Teenage Treats Vol 4 (Xerox 1999)
Words appeared on a compilation, Powerpearls Vol 4 in 1999
Colours was included on Teenage Treats Vol 10 (Xerox 1999)
More info about PunkHouse Records products can be found here
Colours (Alt. version)
Plus, play along to " Forever Crying At Love Songs "e; by clicking here
Madoc Roberts - guitar, vocals,
Graham Jones - guitar
Jeff Burton - drums