Image: Big Corporation circa 1994, left-right, Coral Evans, Rob Watson, Dave Latrell, Matt Burn, Ben Castle
Not every rock’n’roll tale ends with stadium gigs, gold discs and blathering to Graham Norton on late night TV. 99% do not.
That doesn’t mean they end in failure. They’re the hard-earned memories, the wild times, the ambition and vivaciousness, the musical creativity of young lives burning with promise; the precious stuff forever in the slipstream of those lucky enough. This month, the Time Machine is privileged to travel back with Rob Watson to recall long-gone Worthing band Big Corporation and all that came after.
Rob was born in Worthing Hospital in 1971, his dad an estate agent and his mum a book-keeper. He enjoyed school but, after his parents divorced, he retreated into music, developing an obsession with New Order in his early teens. “My step-sister taped ‘Blue Monday’ at 33 RPM instead of 45, not realising it was the wrong speed, so that’s how I first heard them,” he recalls. “I bought a Casio keyboard and a drum machine and would come home at lunchtimes to play them.”
At 17 he moved in with his mate Dave Latreille, and the pair started working on music, with Dave singing and Rob doing the electronics. They were soon joined by guitarist Ben Castle, a friend’s younger brother, who was influenced by Stevie Ray Vaughan. His virtuosic fret-wrangling was incongruous but it worked (“We sounded like New Order with guitar solos”) and the trio’s first gig was Rock Against the Poll Tax at the function room of Littlehampton’s Windmill Theatre in early 1990.
They called themselves Big Corporation and started gigging regularly, playing in Littlehampton, Arundel and Worthing (Maggie’s Bar, Rhapsody Wine Bar, The Southdown, The Fountain, Bensons Nightclub, Thieves Kitchen and more). Local promoter Mandy Austen saw them and began managing them. She put them on at rave mecca Sterns for a night called Direct Kaos, with DJ Fabio headlining the main room.
The band was expanding. By 1993 they’d added second guitarist Matt Burn and vocalist Coral Evans. Their sound had developed “a bit of a skank to it, like Stereo MCs but more reggae”. Ian Grant, successful manager of The Stranglers and Big Country, saw them playing the Inn On The Prom (now Brio, on the seafront) and took them on.
Early incarnation of the band in the Littlehampton Gazette
“I liked their song ‘Life Inside My Bong’,” Grant recalls. “It had an Ace of Base feel to it, which was big at the time, and I thought they could be too. Dave and Coral had presence, attractive at the front, and the whole thing had potential.”
The band moved to London and became “almost the house support band at The Mean Fiddler, playing before the likes of Desmond Dekker and Kirsty MacColl”. In 1994, through Grant, they toured the UK with Big Country, playing 3000-capacity venues. Grant also pressed up 1000 copies of CD single ‘Days’ on his own Phun City label, with Big Country’s Mark Brzezicki playing drums.
“That was the pinnacle,” Rob recalls. “Sony paid for us to go to Easy Street reggae studio in London, the record contract was all but in the bag but then the A&R person left.”
Playing Maggie’s Bar (now Escape Bar & Grill), 1993, Coral on vocals, Rob on bass.
The band laid off Ian Grant and went through a series of managers who promised much but delivered little, culminating in one who was an actual villain. “The way we found him was that a friend’s dad was a warder at Ford Prison,” Rob laughs. “There was this guy in for fraud and somehow, when he came out, he ended up being our manager. He promised us desperately-needed new equipment, but it never happened.”
Big Corporation continued to work hard – even supporting the monstrous Mr Blobby on one occasion – but success evaded them. Coral parted ways with them after developing ongoing throat problems, while the arrival of Britpop meant times were changing. Matt and Dave moved towards a Beatles-y sound that Rob couldn’t embrace. In 1995 he left and moved back to Worthing.
However, the game was far from over. By the early 2000s, after studying Commercial Music at the University of Westminster, he was making a decent living under the moniker Dynamite Sounds, creating advert music for Adidas, BMW, Reebok, Braun and more. Then in 2007 his music was used 20 hours a week on the ITV late-night phone-in show ‘Quizmania’.
“All of a sudden I had a chunk of money in the bank,” he says. “I could relax for the first time in my life and focus. I spent three months locked away, writing my own music. As Magic Fly I mixed reggae with bleeps and, via MySpace, I was signed to New York label Bastard Jazz.”
He released two Magic Fly EPs, but had greater successes with his reggae-flavoured mash-ups as Wicked Devil. A thousand-strong 7” single run of P!nk’s ‘Get The Party Started’ over a rocksteady rhythm sold out, but the one that created the most buzz was his 2008 collation of US band Cage The Elephant’s ‘Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked’ with Max Romeo’s ‘Chase the Devil’, a monster cut that became Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record in the World on BBC Radio One.
Of the rest of Big Corporation, Coral developed an acting career before settling to full-time motherhood, Matt went into business research, and Ben and Dave achieved some profile for their band Ambershades but then went their separate ways. Dave moved to New York and Ben is now a long-term guitarist for James Blunt.
As for Rob, his 2010 album ‘Botanic Dreams’ (as half of duo Different Frequencies) could not stop a gradual career crash. The market around TV ad music had changed drastically. There were tough times, then bad times, but as of 2019 he’s back. He produces library music, is a member of the DJ trio Reggae Doctors (who can be heard entertaining Worthing most Bank Holiday weekends), and his new disco unit, Levan Levan, have a tasty set of tunes ready and are seeking vocalists. Big Corporation may be a memory, but the music just goes on and on.
By Thomas H Green