Archive for December, 2008

The Drones – Valer Records – 1977

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

Just Want To Be Myself

Bone Idol

Second 7″ single from this Manchester band, first release on Valer Records though, text below courtesy of allmusic.com.

The Drones were a British punk band from Manchester, comprised of guitarist Gus “Gangrene” Callendar, bassist Steve “Whisper” Cundall, vocalist/guitarist M.J. Drone (Mike Howells), and drummer Peter “Perfect” Howells. They began as an R&B-influenced pub band named Rockslide but made the transition to punk after its first waves struck. Having gigged in their first incarnation since early 1975, the band made the change of name and style after acquiring Howells in October of 1976.

 

 

Most bands in the thriving Manchester punk scene stayed in the city, but The Drones relocated to London. They became one of the pioneering punk bands that performed in the first few months of the now-legendary Roxy Club in Covent Garden. Unappreciative XTC fans took to rioting during their opening set. They supported The Vibrators in January 1977, headlined in February, and supported X-Ray Spex and Chelsea in March.

 

Later that year they supported The Stranglers on tour.

 

 

The Drones set up the O.H.M.S. label to release the  7″ E.P ‘Temptations of a White Collar Worker’ in July of 1977; the EP was produced by Manchester scenester, future NME scribe, Art of Noise member, and author Paul Morley, who managed the band for a brief period. The group landed on the Valer Records label for their second release, the rather successful ‘Bone Idol’ single, which was issued only a couple months after their debut. The band appeared on two influential early punk compilation albums ‘Streets’ and ‘Short Circuit: Live at the Electric Circus’.

 

 

The LP ‘Further Temptations’ was released in November, containing both sides of ‘Bone Idol’ and re-recorded versions of two songs from their first 7″. Morley had acrimoniously extracted himself from the group just in time to review the record; much of the shared venom had to do with Morley’s support of the group’s competition, including a young band called Stiff Kittens — the band that would later become Joy Division. After their first LP, the Drones signed with Island offshoot Fabulous. The sessions were never completed and the band split in 1979.

Rico – Fab Records – 1967

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Silent Night

Jingle Bells

Not Rico’s best moment by far, but still a nice slice of christmas spirit 1967 reggae style.

Text from geocities.com.

Rico attended the Alpha Boys Cottage School in Kingston where he learned to play trombone. His tutor was another pupil of that school, two years older than Rico, the now legendary Don Drummond. Many of the other important musicians from the early days of Jamaican recorded music have been his school mates. Classical music was in the center of his timetable at this school.

His school education was followed by an apprenticeship as a mechanic during 1952 to 1954.

From 1954 to 1957 Rico continued his musical education at Stoney Hill Music School. During these years his musical influences were the two jazz trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding who released several common albums in those years.

Rico had his first studio engagements, among them (we think it was in 1956) Rico participated as a member of Clue J. And His Blues Blasters in C.S. Dodd’s very first session to record Easy Snappin’ with Theo Beckford.

During 1957 and 1958 Rico was playing three months with Eric Deans Orchestra, replacing Don Drummond (mostly in Latin and Cuban styles). He won at Vere John’s Opportunity Hour and thus built a name in the local music scene. Life was hard and it doesn’t wonder that Rico lived from hand to mouth. He had to play for food with the fishermen on the beach near Kingston. In Rico’s words: “Because you were poor and had to eat, you stay down where the fishermen draw their nets, so you’d have food every day. Fishermen always give you fish, they like to hear you playing.” (from an interview in 1973, quoted by Cane-Honeysett, 1995)

He spent much time in Count Ossie’s rasta community in Wareika Hills near Kingston. Percussionist and burru drummer Ossie teached Rico another side of music – Sheet music at school, jazz on the streets and African vibes over there in the hills -. Rico remembered his experience: “They’re more developed, mentally and musically, than the average musician. When you play with them you can really explore. Most of what I know I learned from playing with them.” (Williams 1981)

While he lived in the Rasta camp with Count Ossie in Wareika Hills, he worked at a barber’s shop in Kingston.

While the Jamaican recording industry changed and grew rapidly in the field of self-produced popular dance music, Rico got more and more involved as a sought-after session man. He went on recording with various session groups, namely Clue J & The Blues Blasters, Count Ossie’s Group, Smith All Stars, Drumbago And His Orchestra and for all the important producers – Clement Dodd, Duke Reid, Vincent Chin, <Lloyd Daley – and as Rico’s Group or All Stars for Prince Buster. Duke Reid (producing classics like Derrick Morgan’s “Lover Boy”) and Vincent Chin (Randy’s) engaged him for their very first recordings. While Rico helped at Randy’s, Chin produced Rico’s first sides under his own name: “Rico Special” and later “Rico Farewell”, the second as his goodbye to Jamaica and shortly after released in the UK by the young Island Records label.

At the end of 1961, at the age of 29, Rico emigrated to England.

Thanks to the imported Jamaican music on records Rico’s name was already known within the immigrant community in London when he arrived. Thus it was no problem to start recording for the same people: Importers like Emil Shallit, Siggy Jackson (Melodisc/Blue Beat) and others started to produce records in London. Rico’s first sessions were done already in 1962 by Planetone; at the same time he played the London club scene, for six month with Georgie Fame’s Blue Flames.

Clement Dodd remembered in an interview from 1994 that it was Rico who inspired the Beatles to let their hair grow. It is said, that the foursome attended a lot of West Indian parties where Rico played because “he really kicked up a storm”. (Hardbeatnews, 2004)

More and more singers came from Jamaica to London, composed a tour band and recorded in London studios. For instrumentalsts like Rico this meant work and it’s no surprise, that he can be heard on many records, e.g. on tracks by Prince Buster, one of the best tracks was “Barrister Pardon”.

Finally, in 1969 two LPs had been released with Rico as the featured artist: Reco in Reggaeland (on Pama), Blow Your Horn (Trojan) and another one with him as mayor soloist Brixton Cat, credited to Joe’s All Stars and released by Trojan.

Despite of being active in the music scene money was never enough. Occasional jobs and assembly-line working were necessary to earn a living.

Jamaican music had changed from ska to rock steady to reggae. Rico Rodriguez joined a group which is completely unknown today but was described by him as one of the most talented reggae bands in the UK: The Undivided lived as a backing band for Jamaican reggae artists touring the UK.

When Island Records re-entered the reggae market Rico came onto the list of session musicians for the fast growing enterprise. His first sessions took place in 1975 and were released as Toots’ Reggae Got Soul and Jim Capaldi’s (non-reggae album) Short Cut Draw Blood.

In the Island studios Rico met a man named Dick Cuthell, with whom he went together for a good seven years. Cuthell, an engineer on Island’s paylist, recorded a demo for Rico which opened the way to Rico’s first trip to Jamaica in 15 years and the seminal recording of Man From Wareika with some of the best Jamaican studio musicians; the release follows in 1977.

With an critically acclaimed sols album Rico was engaged as a support act for Bob Marley & The Wailers on his 1978 tour in Europe. Rico had a chance to play in front of audiences and to build his reputation towards the European public. Island prepared a new album for Rico, but tried to direct him towards a more easy listening style. Some 12” single had been released which were planned to become the core of this new album. Already given a catalogue number it was never released.

Meanwhile Rico had received a phone call by a certain Jerry Dammers, who looked for Rico to play with his band, The Specials a remake of “Rudi A Message To You”. The song was already recorded in two version by Rico, one for Dandy (Livingston) in 1967 and one credited to Rico himself from 1969. After the success of the Special’s music Rico (and Dick Cuthell) became associated members of the group, participating in their touring and recording activities. Rico played on the groundbreaking albums Specials and More Specials, he contributed to The Selecter’s debut.

“Despite the exposure he’d been given by working with The Specials, Island surprisingly did not renew his contract when it expired in January 1980, leaving him free to record for 2 Tone. They did make a half-hearted attempt to get The Specials to back Rico on a live take of “Guns Of Navarone” to be released on Island, but nothing came of it and so that it was.” (George Marshall, 1990, p. 65)

In 1980 Rico was going to release his first single “Sea Cruise” on the 2 Tone label. He toured with The Specials but left for Jamaica accompanied by Dick Cuthell where he was in the studio to record for his next LP That Man Is Forward. Later in 1980 Rico toured with his own band and on Dec. 21 he joined the Police in their concert for “So Lonely”.

In 1981 he played another great solo on the Specials’ last single “Ghost Town” maybe the best single of the 1980s and surely the best horn solo in pop history.

Ian Dury made him public to his audience while singing “… listening to Rico…” in his hit “Reasons To Be Cheerful, Pt.III)”. All these activities made him a central part of the 2 Tone story: he represented the Jamaican roots within The Specials’ and the other group’s music and made his instrument and his style attractive to the pop music market.

The history of a Christmas festival dates back over 4000 years. Ancient Midwinter festivities celebrated the return of the Sun from cold and darkness. Midwinter was a turning point between the Old Year and the New Year. Fire was a symbol of hope and boughs of greenery symbolized the eternal cycle of creation.

The term “Xmas” instead of “Christmas” is Greek in origin. The word for “Christ” in Greek is “Xristos.” during the Sixteenth Century, Europeans began using the first initial of Christ’s name…the “X” of “Xristos”…in place of the word “Christ” as a shorthand version of the word “Christmas.” Although early Christians understood that the “X” was simply another form for the name of Jesus Christ, later Christians, who had no knowledge of the Greek language, mistook “Xmas” as a sign of disrespect. Eventually, however, “Xmas” came to be both an accepted and suitable alternative to the word “Christmas.”

Many of today’s Christmas traditions were celebrated centuries before the Christ Child was born. The Twelve Days of Christmas, blazing fires, the yule log, the giving of gifts, carnivals or parades complete with floats, carolers who sing while going from house to house, holiday feasts and church processions are all rooted in the customs observed by early Mesopotamians.

Many of these traditions began with the Mesopotamian celebration of the New Year. The Mesopotamians worshipped many gods, the chief of whom was Marduk. Each year as winter arrived, it was believed that Marduk would battle the Monsters of Chaos. In order to assist Marduk during his struggle, the Mesopotamians held a festival for the New Year. They called this celebration Zagmuk and the festivities lasted for twelve days.

The King of Mesopotamia would return to the Temple of Marduk and swear his faithfulness to the god. The tradition called for the King to die at the end of the year and then return with Marduk to battle at his side. To spare their King, the Mesopotamians utilized a “mock” king. A criminal was chosen and dressed in royal clothes. He was given all due respect and the privileges of a true king but, at the end of the celebrations, the “mock” king was stripped of the royal garments and then put to death, thus sparing the life of the real monarch.

The ancient Persians and Babylonians celebrated a similar festival which they called the Sacaea. Part of that celebration included the exchanging of places within the community…slaves would become masters and the original masters were obliged to obey the former slaves’ commands.

In Scandinavia during the winter months, the Sun would disappear for great lengths of time. After thirty-five of such dark days, scouts would be dispatched to the mountain tops to await the return of this life-giving heavenly body. When the first light was espied, the scouts would hurry back to their villages bearing the good news. In celebration, a great festival would be held, called the Yuletide, and a special feast would be served around a fire burning with the Yule log. Huge bonfires would also be lit to celebrate the welcome return of the Sun. In some areas, people would tie apples to the branches of trees as a reminder that Spring and Summer would eventually return.

The ancient Greeks held ceremonies similar to those of the Zagmuk and Sacaea festivals. The purpose of this feast was to assist their god Kronos, who would battle against the god Zeus and his army of Titans.

Members of the pagan order have always celebrated the Winter Solstice…the season of the year when days are shortest and nights longest. It was generally believed to be a time of drunkenness, revelry and debauchery. The pagan Romans called this celebration Saturnalia, in honor of their god Saturn. The festivities began in the middle of December and continued until January 1st. On December 25th, “The Birth of the Unconquerable Sun” was celebrated, as the days gradually lengthened and the Sun began to regain its dominance. It is a general pagan belief that the Sun dies during the Winter Solstice and then rises from the dead. With cries of “Jo Saturnalia!”, the Roman celebration would include masquerades in the streets, mangificent festive banquets, the visiting of friends and the exchange of good-luck gifts known as Strenae…or “lucky fruits.” Roman halls would be decked with garlands of laurel and green trees, adorned with lighted candles. Again, as with Sacaea, the masters and slaves would exchange places.

Saturnalia was considered a fun and festive time for the Romans, but Christians believed it an abomination to honor such a pagan god. The early converts wanted to maintain the birthday of their Christ Child as a solemn and religious holiday…not one of cheer and merriment, as was the pagan celebration of Saturnalia.

As Christianity spread, however, the Church became alarmed by the continuing practice among its flock to indulge in pagan customs and celebrate the festival of Saturnalia. At first, the holy men prohibited this type of revelry, but it was to no avail. Eventually, a decision was made to tame such celebrations and make them into a festive occasion better suited to honor the Christian Son of God.

According to some legends, the Christian celebration of Christmas was invented to compete against the pagan festivals held in December. The 25th was sacred not only to the Romans, but also to the Persians whose religion of Mithraism was one of Christianity’s main rivals at that period in time. The Church was, however, finally successful in removing the merriment, lights and gifts from the Saturanilia festival and transferring them to the celebration of a Christian Christmas.

Christmas means “Christ’s Mass” and is the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth and baptism. Although December 25th is generally accepted as being the time when the Christ Child was born, the exact date has never been chronicled with any degree of accuracy. There is neither scriptural nor secular evidence to establish the exact moment. One thing is relatively certain, however, the event did not take place in December. Since the child was born when shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8), it is unlikely that shepherds in Israel would have been sleeping outside with their flocks during the month of December. In Winter, the herders would have led their sheep outside only during the daylight hours…the nights would have been far too cold. It is known that during the very early Christian centuries, the birth of the Christ Child was not celebrated in any manner. However, tradition dictates that the occasion has been commemorated since 98 A.D. In 137 A.D., the Bishop of Rome ordered that the birthday of Jesus Christ be observed as a solemn feast. In 350 A.D., Julius I (another Bishop of Rome) selected December 25th as the observance of Christmas. This date was made official in 375 A.D., when it was formally announced that the birth of Jesus would be honored on this day…the announcement also allowed some of the older festivies (such as feasting, dancing and the exchange of gifts) to be incorporated into the observance of Christmas. The use of greenery to decorate homes continued to be prohibited as pagan idolatory but, over the centuries, this too became an accepted custom of the festivies.

HOPING YOU ALL HAVE AN ENJOYABLE AND SAFE CHRISTMAS

All the best from Tony D, Gerard, Alistair and Penguin x

Mission Of Burma – Ace Of Hearts Records – 1980

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Academy Fight Song

Max Ernst

Punchy debut 7″ single by the godfathers of ‘Grunge’ Mission Of Burma, bands like Dinosaur Jnr, Volcano Suns and Buffalo Tom would follow in the demise of this band in 1983. Text below, a christmas gift to KYPP from allmusic.com.

Of all the punk-inspired bands that came out of Boston in the early ’80s, none were better than Mission of Burma. Arty without being too pretentious, capable of writing gripping songs and playing with ferocious intensity, guitarist Roger Miller, bassist Clint Conley, drummer Peter Prescott, and tape head Martin Swope galvanized the city’s alternative rock scene, and despite a too-short existence, set a standard for excellence that has rarely been equalled — a standard the band upheld when they unexpectedly reunited in 2002.

Burma’s music is vintage early-’80s post-punk: jittery rhythms, odd shifts in time, declamatory vocals, an aural assault similarly employed by bands such as Gang of Four, Mekons, and Pere Ubu — Burma’s peers as well as their influences. Also, conspicuously present in the mix was the proto-punk of the Stooges and Velvet Underground (with just a dash of Led Zeppelin and Roxy Music), bands that inspired Burma’s darker songwriting impulses and tendencies toward longish, repetitive jams capable of boring holes into your skull. What Burma added was a sonic texture through the use of extreme volume. Roger Miller’s guitar enveloped the band in thick, distorted cascading chords, erupting into squealing solos and (intentional) squalls of feedback. With Prescott and Conley furiously bashing in support, the band’s sound was extremely physical (ask anyone who saw them live) to the point of leaving the audience feeling slightly bruised, battered, but extremely happy.

After releasing an explosive single (“Academy Fight Song,” still one of punk rock’s greatest songs) on Boston’s then-hippest indie label, Ace of Hearts, Burma released two excellent records in just over a year: the Signals, Calls and Marches EP and their only full-length studio album, V. The former was poppier, but in a breathtakingly intense way; the latter dark and ominous, lacking in riff-heavy punch, but still delivering a wicked blast of aural chaos. Unbeknown to fans, this was the beginning of the end. The massive volume, a key element in Burma’s sound, had taken its toll on the band members, especially Miller, who developed a severe case of tinnitus that hastened the band’s demise. (Always the trooper, Miller played the band’s final tour wearing a protective headset used on shooting ranges to prevent his ears from absorbing more punishment.) After a bittersweet farewell tour in 1983, the shows were released as a live LP entitled The Horrible Truth About Burma, an occasionally thrilling example of their considerable stage prowess. Miller since went on to a career as a solo artist and with his non-touring band Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Prescott formed the wonderful Volcano Suns, who released a half-dozen records all worth checking out, before starting Kustomized with ex-Bullet la Volta singer Yukki Gipe. Clint Conley produced the first Yo La Tengo record and then left the music business. He went on to work as a producer at Boston television station WCVB.

N.E.M.B. – Green Records – 1981

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008

Torture

The Middle Room

Non Erotic Male Bonding N.E.M.B. has to be one of the weirdest names for a post punk group around. I have no information at all on this outfit, except the record sleeve tells me they are from Baltimore and the record label is based in Tampa.

Does the band name suggest they are part of the gay scene over the pond, or does the ‘Non’ part of the name suggest the exact opposite? I neither know nor care which way the band members (all male) swing, but I DO hear The Gang Of Four, I also hear a touch of Classix Nouveaux, or perhaps ‘Pornography’ era Cure mixed up with Big Black. Can you imagine such a sound?

Only Nic can help with this post as I know nothing more of any value to add…sorry!

UNIT – D.N.A. Recordings LTD – 1995 – 2007

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

There follows a selection of tracks chosen by the band members of UNIT from most of the CDs that are available to purchase. Details to follow on how and where to purchase them from. Also there are some texts written by the recent members of UNIT which will also make this a very large and informative post, which you may prefer to print out rather than reading via a computer screen!

I have witnessed UNIT several times now and they are worth supporting, photographs (above) taken from a relaxed performance at Housmans Bookshop in December 2007 taken by myself. Let’s get started…enjoy.

KAMPFBEREIT – NO SLEEVE ARTWORK
The Loch And The Glen

High Rise Weans

Kings Cross ETC

SONS OF THE DRAGON: 

 

Chinese Youth

The Boy From Hanoi

Cambodian Kim
 
FIRE AND ICE:

Good Morning / Fractured

Sick Man Of Asia

New Order

UNTIED AND UNITED VOL 1:

For Sarah Strange

Johnny Todd

Ode To Johnny Kepler

DARE TO BE DIFFERENT:

Orders Of The General

Make The Bastard Cry

Asian Avenue

ROCK IN OPPOSITION VOL 1:

Ngye Gue

Resonance Rocks Out

Hungary 1956 / 3 Fingers

ROCK IN OPPOSITION VOL 2:

Ogune

From This Day On

Come September

ROCK IN OPPOSITION VOL 3:

The Leg Irons

The Buddist Response To Western Aggression

Little Severin

ROCK IN OPPOSITION VOL 4:

Daze Of The Weak

Trung Goes To Germany

1.1 x 10

Discography / Bibliography

The Apostles

7″ singles

01) Blow It Up, Burn It Down, Kick It Till It Breaks. 1983

02) Rising From The Ashes. 1984

03) The Curse Of The Creature. 1984

04) The Giving Of Love Costs Nothing. 1985

05) Smash The Spectacle! 1985

06) Death To Wacky Pop! 1986

07) Anathema (unreleased). 1987

08) No Faith, No Fear. 1988

12″ albums

01) Punk Obituary. 1985

02) The Lives & Times Of The Apostles. 1986

03) The Acts Of The Apostles. 1986

04) How Much Longer? 1987

05) Equinox Screams. 1987

06) The Other Operation. 1988

07) Manifesto (unreleased). 1988

08) Hymn To Pan. 1989

Most of this material is available in digital format from BBP, BOX 45404, LONDON SE26 6WJ.

Between the end of The Apostles and the start of UNIT, I devoted most of the decade to creating and producing the magazine SMILE. This ran for 27 issues from 1991 to 2002. Initially inspired by the art and Dada magazine of the same name founded by Stewart Home, it soon found its own identity thanks to the hard work contributed by the Smile Collective: Lucy Williams, Keith Mallinson and Rob Colson. Most of these issues are now available on-line as internet downloads – somewhere.

UNIT

7″ singles

01) Cameo For Earth. 1995

02) Paradigm. 1996

03) Love Song. 1997

04) Richard Dawkins Is Together With Us! 1998

05) Giai Phong. 2000

12″ albums

01) Relationships. 1994

02) All New Pugilistic Styles. 1997

Compact Discs

01) Kampfbereit. 1996

02) We Are Your Gods. 1999 (includes 2nd 7″, 3rd 7″ and 2nd 12″)

03) Sons Of The Dragon. 2001 (includes 5th 7″)

04) Fire & Ice. 2002

05) Untied & United: Volume 1. 2002 (includes 4th 7″)

06) Dare To Be Different. 2003

07) School Farm Bungalow. 2004

08) Rock In Opposition: Phase 1. 2005

09) Rock In Opposition: Phase 2 (Double CD). 2006

10) Untied & United: Volume 2. 2007

11) Rock In Opposition: Phase 3. 2007

12) Rock In Opposition: Phase 4. 2008

13) Class War (Double CD). 2008

14) Untied & United: Volume 3. 2009

15) Untied & United: Volume 4. 2009 (includes 1st 7″ and 1st 12″)

Most of the CDs are available from UJ at www.unit-united.co.uk.

UNIT – A BRIEF HISTORY

UNIT is currently a trio of musicians, artists and film makers who consist of Luc Tran (that’s me), UJ and Andy Martin. We’ve just released our 13th CD but the spine on it says it’s our 10th album. No, I haven’t quite sussed that out yet either. I don’t like all the music we’ve done – but I can’t think of a single track that isn’t interesting or unusual.

The first phase of our career saw Lawrence Burton, Nathan Coles and Peter Williams join forces with Andy Martin and Dave Fanning, both of whom had previously been in an unsuccessful performance art group called The Apostles in the 1980s. The intention was not only to venture into the avant garde territory that Andy and Dave had investigated during the early years of the 1990s but also to record again, properly and with professional production values, nearly all the works previously committed to old fashioned vinyl by The Apostles. However, much of the decade was spent producing Smile magazine with music definitely taking a subservient role at this time.

From 1994 to 1997, UNIT released their records under the name Academy 23 to avoid confusion with a fairly successful German avant garde group who were also called UNIT. This outfit disbanded early in 1997 so we reverted to our original name with the 7″ EP Richard Dawkins Is Together With Us. After 2000, we elected to concentrate mainly on writing, performing and recording new music in as many different styles and genres as we could manage, given the technical limitations of certain group members. Our only tenuous link with the previous format of the group (and The Apostles before that) was our deliberate hostility toward capitalism and the commercial music industry and our support for Class War, the paper and the idea.

Most people understandably think of UNIT as ‘that group with all the Chinese lads in it’ but this only applies to the second phase of our career which commenced in 1999 when Ngo Achoi, Lang Kin Tung and Gieng San Man joined Andy Martin and Dave Fanning to form what was really a new group. It is this group with which most people are familiar, thanks to the tireless promotion and distribution of our work undertaken first by Achoi and then by UJ, who set up our e-mail account and website. When ‘Sons Of The Dragon’ was released it heralded our intention to put Chinese people on the independent music map. We wanted to prove to the world there was more to us than cooking and kung fu. Rap music had Jin Au Yeung in America and LMF in Hong Kong but in the sphere of pop music, the avant garde and punk rock, the demographic remained resolutely white…so we decided to change all that, despite the open hostility directed at us by certain people in the UK such as Fracture, Idwal Fissure and Head Wound who clearly didn’t want a bunch of Chinkies spoiling their scene.

Two other group members deserve a shout out: Chinese guitarist and vocalist Garlen Lo and Vietnamese saxophonist Thanh Trung Nguyen. Garlen stayed for just over a year but left the group because he wanted to play only twee little pop songs – nothing wrong with that, of course, but it’s not what we’re about. Trung, like Garlen, comes from a wealthy background and so, also like Garlen, found our struggle to save up enough money to pay for studio time and release CDs, inexplicable and strange. His musical origins are in jazz, especially the big band jazz of the 1930s – very odd for a 16 year old! He managed to stay with us long enough to appear on all four Rock In Opposition albums and he played at most of our prestigious concerts in 2006 and 2007 but his parents objected to him being in a pop group and they most definitely objected to Andy (many people do) so by the end of 2007 we became a trio.

If it had not been for Hackney Chinese Youth Club in Ellingfort Road (which, sadly, closed in 2006), UNIT would not exist, at least not in its present state. That was where I met UJ and Andy and that was how I came to join UNIT as a drummer and keyboard player. Garlen Lo is in fact the only member of UNIT who doesn’t originate from HCYC. The famous Birmingham poet Andy Nunn introduced us to the Kill Your Pet Puppy chat room. Through that I discovered the history behind the UK punk scene and I learned about the whole Crass / Class War divide, the miners strike, Margaret Thatcher, Greenham Common, the Poll Tax riots and all the rest of it. To think there was a time when people my age used to go on demonstrations and start riots when the government gave us shabby treatment. Now we just turn on our laptops, plug in our I-pods and download another programme to keep us amused.

Mick Penguin has kindly made some of our tracks available free for all you lucky people. The albums from Sons Of The Dragon onwards are all available from us for around £5 each. All the earlier stuff that’s currently deleted is soon going to be reissued on CD. Meanwhile, you can check out much of this gear thanks to the work Mick has contributed. A friend of mine, Linda Hong, also calls me ‘Penguin’. This is probably significant.

Luc 2008

INSPIRATION

When a boring pop group is interviewed by an equally boring music journalist, one of the most boring questions that can be asked is ‘What groups have influenced you?’ The real purpose served by this question is to persuade the outfit to mention to list a few (preferably trendy) names that can provide cultural signifiers by which the readers may identify the musicians. For example, The Creeping Nobodies cite The Velvet Underground (yawn), the Jesus & Mary Chain (yawn) and Blur (yawn) as being among their three major influences. For me, I would make damned sure I avoided such a group like the plague. The trouble is, for all I know, such a group may actually perform and record music that is both original and interesting, despite their wretched taste in music.

UNIT are a typical example here. If someone asked Luc, UJ and I to each name our 3 favourite groups or artists then the names you’d arrive at would be (perhaps) Shocking Lemon (Japanese power pop), LMF (Chinese gangsta rap) and Tze Ting Fung (Chinese pop singer) – Luc; Rage Against The Machine (American alternative rock) Opeth (Swedish heavy metal) and Dream Theatre (American progressive rock) – UJ; Manowar (American heavy metal), Shocking Lemon, Peter Brötzmann (German free jazz) – me. But we also listen to Henry Cow, Graham Bond, AMM, Egg, Skrewdriver, Jethro Tull, Sun Ra and Hellbastard. Anyone who purchased an album by UNIT in the hope that the music and lyrics would reveal any similarities to any of the people listed above would be bitterly disappointed. There are three reasons why our music sounds so unlike that of any other group.

1 Myself and Luc don’t listen to music very often so we never find ourselves unduly burdened by a head full of tunes written by someone else.

2 Most of the music to which UJ listens is so alien to what we could or would write and play ourselves that the possibility of a direct influence is negligible.

3 The primary influences on us originate from the disciplines of cinema and literature rather than music.

4 Every member of UNIT has always agreed, without exception, to adopt one of my perennial mottos: “you will never achieve creative fulfilment by emulating the work of others.” This means we deliberately inhibit, whenever possible, the invasion of external musical influences into our group.

I was once in a rather wretched little pop group with pretensions vastly in excess of its abilities but since we were all young teenagers at the time I shall pretend that is a valid excuse and hope anyway that most people have forgiven us our trespasses against the good name of music. I left that silly little band in 1989 and entered the rave scene with a level of enthusiasm that was inversely proportional to the amount of intelligence required to pursue such an activity. The music business – especially the punk music business – had left a sour taste in my mouth and the brazen hedonism of the rave scene was a welcome relief from all the pompous bollocks that so many third rate punk bands spewed out during the previous decade.

Throughout the 1990s I continued to write music and essays but the desire not to surrender, the belief in my own ability and the motivation to continue upon my own difficult creative route originated from a literary source, not a musical one. The poetry and prose of Andy Nunn, the Birmingham Bard, may not be familiar to all readers of this essay if you are reading this in Britain. However, if you live in France, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway or Finland, you will probably have heard of and probably read at least some of the works of this notoriously difficult but ultimately rewarding writer.

The French avant garde arts magazine Nouvelles Parade (now sadly defunct) was the first professional publication to feature reviews of our music and literature in its pages. It also featured the work of Andy Nunn, printed always in English with excellent translations into French (by Jean Pierre Duval) next to each poem or prose piece. By the late 1990s nobody wanted to know UNIT. Our music was highly unfashionable and our work was regarded with contempt by the establishment. It did occur to me – briefly – to pack it all in and do something different. Then I read the revised version of Cosmography (part one of The Silent Colossus) by Andy Nunn. This in turn inspired me to revisit what I used to regard as the bleak, grim, relentless despair of Second Desert (part two of The Silent Colossus). Upon this second study I realised that what I was reading was a work of monumental profundity, a universe captured in two pages. I knew then that everything mattered because nothing matters.

I realise that last sentence sounds like something written by a teenage philosophy student who’s been at the crème de menthe. Well, I stand by it. I even defend it, because that is precisely what occurred to me after I’d read this superlative work a second time. I knew that if I stopped writing music and essays then I would be guilty of cowardice in the face of the enemy. I would also deny myself the right to self expression in media that had always proved satisfactory and convincing in the past. Both Andy Nunn and I are from poor, working class families. People of our social status are not supposed to like avant garde classical music and the poetry of T S Eliot and Ezra Pound. We’re supposed to listen to Oasis and read The Sun. Had Andy been born in, say, Bedfordshire – had his father been a local councillor or management consultant – had he gone to Ampleforth School instead of some secondary modern hell hole – his poems would already have been anthologised by Faber & Faber and be discussed on Radio 3.

Where is the Eden we lost in God,

the great utopia damned by ideology?

Walk away from this grand charade,

this craven unconscious collective,

this mesmerising spectacle,

and I will show you a graveyard of megalomania;

I will show you the desert in the heart of humanity.

This extract from The Covered Room (part three of The Silent Colossus) is a pithy summation of the futility in the search by mankind for any kind of deity, idol or saviour. After World War 1 we lost our belief in the God of Christianity and not before time; it is just wretched that so many millions of innocent young men had to die horribly in order for us all too see sense and logic. After World War 2 we lost our belief in the god of national socialism although again a further 6 million innocent people had to die horribly. (Is that not a tautology? Can we death ever not be horrible? Perhaps, if you suffer in agony from an incurable disease.) After 1968 we lost our belief in the god of peace and love acquired through psychedelic drugs. After 1977 we should have lost our belief in the god of punk rock as means to achieve social change except that for many teenagers, the truth was too unpleasant to tolerate so, heaven help us, they found Crass and the ‘anarcho-punk’ scene. They worshipped at a new altar, shrouded by black rags, spellbound by empty gestures and the rhetoric of crisis, where any suspicion of deviance

from the holy tenets was vilified with just the same obsessive fanatical zeal as that displayed by any contemporary mad mullah of Islamic fundamentalism. When (for example) Pigs For Slaughter and Kill Your Pet Puppy dared to add class anger, humour and colour to the proposed revolution, their creators were ostracised and treated with foam flecked rage by people who simply had to convince themselves that they were RIGHT and everyone else was WRONG. That is how it must always be when you worship any god.

Most other people, whose creativity was greeted with 2 decades of being ignored and ostracised, would have long since given up and grown old before their time in some dreadful marriage and mortgage routine in a dead end job they despised. That would have been the easy way out. Andy chose the difficult route, the turbulent route, the triumphant route – victory in obscurity! This is no mere antimony for surely it is better to be victorious in obscurity than defeated in eminence. In other words, any arse hole can be an empty headed celebrity but only a rare individual can be a genius, especially a genius forced to work in a wasteland.

It is far easier to make a name for yourself in music than in literature – even a third rate composer can usually write at least one memorable tune that people will remember, especially if it is recorded by a pop group. A third rate writer has no such refuge – he / she must cultivate their craft and strive toward excellence yet even then there is no guarantee of a reward. You can’t hum the latest poem or novel by a writer while you’re stacking shelves in Tesco. This is also partly why there are very many more pop groups than poets. I can still remember (despite my strident attempts to forget) many of those abysmal punk fanzines of the 1980s with their soul searching ‘poems’ – God help me, rarely was so much drivel printed by so many in the name of self expression. Most of the ‘music’ churned out by the related bands was equally dire but, with a powerful studio production and an impressive record cover, this wasn’t so immediately apparent – you could tap your foot, pogo or wallow in a drug addled haze to it so its true lack of merit was not so immediately apparent. In literature you have nowhere to hide.

There is a series of live music and poetry events in the West Midlands called ‘Open Mic’ which allows anyone and everyone the opportunity to make their music and read their literary works to audiences throughout the north west. For reasons that still remain unknown, Andy Nunn has been denied access to this forum. His work is evidently not acceptable to the politically correct chattering wretches who run this concern, even though you’ll never find swear words, sexual filth or racially offensive material in any of his poems. No, what you will find is an ability to stare unblinking straight into the gaping maw of the abyss – perhaps there is too much reality in his work and the organisers consider it too frightening and disturbing for the delicate sensibilities of the average Friday night audience?

En passant, if the poetry of Andy Nunn is so excellent, why have we never set any of his texts to music? Because, unlike mere lyrics, all his poems and prose provide their own sound-tracks; they would be trivialised or spoiled if they were set to the music of other people, even people as empathetic to his words as ourselves. I once attempted (in 2002) to set Second Desert to music – I failed – of course – how could I ever succeed? That I even tried to set this magnificent text to music proves that at the time I still had not completely understood the poem. If I had then I would never have attempted such a futile exercise.

In UNIT we recently released our 10th official album (or 12th if you include 2 collections of compilation tracks and unreleased pieces from earlier studio sessions). It is arguable that most of this would never have been achieved had not the poetry and prose of Andy Nunn provided us with the impetus to strive toward excellence and use as our motto: no surrender!

Andy Martin, December 2008.

MORAL PANIC

In 1984, a music group called The Apostles (in which I played a minor role) was interviewed by Garry Bushell, a journalist for a sordid little fashion magazine called Sounds. I had earlier made a wager with one of the other band members that I could have us interviewed by one of their journalists before the end of the year. I wrote letters to their letters page; I sent them a copy of one of our records with a letter designed to appeal what I believed to be the main obsessions of the main journalists who contributed to the paper. To cut a long story short, I won the wager, collected my £5 and we made complete fools of ourselves on page 7 of this paltry publication. After that, I realised I had committed one of the few major errors of my career and I promised myself that never again would I be interviewed by any commercial newspaper or media channel. If this seems an extreme, if not monastic attitude, consider how the press and media actually operate.

Older readers – those of my age – may remember that infamous photograph of Leah Betts on a hospital bed with plastic tubes up her nose in various newspapers during the early 1990s, small pictures of her parents underneath looking understandably distraught. Ms Betts was a teenage girl who allegedly died in hospital as a result of taking an ecstasy tablet at a rave party. The press vengefully fulminated against these drug peddling thugs who epitomised the rave scene. In reality, ‘these drug peddling thugs’ were usually other teenagers who were simply fortunate enough to obtain a decent supply of E’s on a certain night.

Your parents or grandparents may remember shock horror stories of a similar nature with regard to mods versus rockers, hippies versus skinheads and punks versus just about everyone. In each case various youth subcultures are subjected to a media campaign that virtually amounts to persecution, an attitude the media bag justifies by its alleged defence of the decency of the general public. (Note: this is the same decent general public who voted in Thatcher and then Blair for no less than three terms each with the result that in just 29 years, Great Britain has now become a virtual police state.) All this adheres to an organised and quite deliberate formula constructed by the media as a means by which to increase newspaper sales and maintain television viewer ratings. This disgusting apparatus of cynicism devoted purely to profit and prestige originated in the 1950s.

The 1950s – Teddy Boys

During the decade that followed the end of world war two, Great Britain endured many turbulent changes to its character, its industry and its people. Food rationing ended, petrol rationing ended and televisions became sufficiently affordable that most people could possess them by 1960. In fact it was the royal coronation in 1953 that consolidated the advent of television as a nationally accepted adjunct to the wireless and the cinema. (By the end of the next decade, it would reign with such supremacy that it would supplant both the radio and the cinema in importance, but that’s a later story.) Then in 1958 the Windrush travelled from the West Indies to dock in Liverpool and unload the first major wave of immigrants into the country.

Two further changes are important here. The abolition of conscription was supported by many military leaders since it implied that only those young men who really wanted to join the armed forces would apply and therefore the strength, quality and integrity of the army, navy and air force would be significantly improved as a result. As the nation gradually but steadfastly rebuilt its infrastructure after the devastating bomber raids of the war, there were plenty of jobs in the construction industry. A consequence of both these factors was that the nation witnessed teenagers with money to spend and time to fill. London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and most of all Coventry were pockmarked by bomb craters and wrecked buildings – an appropriately prescient landscape on which the first real youth subculture could display its rituals. Teddy Boys (the name derived from the long Edwardian coats favoured by the young men) swiftly made a reputation for themselves as violent louts who loitered around cafes, carried flick knives and ripped up the seats in cinemas. Their music was rock and roll, a harmless, insipid dilution of rhythm and blues, neutered and sanitised for the white market since the kind of music created by those black boys in Yankee-land was still too raw and strange for most British youths to comprehend. That said, they did accept the more popular elements like Little Richard, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.

To the newspapers, the radio and the television editors and executives, this new youth trend was a marvel. Reports of the phenomenon, when printed accurately, provided a slight increase in sales and viewer ratings but when their behaviour was exaggerated and embellished, profits went through the roof. The media machine thus enjoyed its very first venture into the creation of a moral panic. Their methods were clumsy and naïve but since the population was still recovering from the war and trying to keep pace with all the other changes happening in the country, nobody realised this at the time. As the cold war between Russia and America developed and the commencement of the space age was heralded on October 14th 1957 with the launch of Sputnik 1, the Teddy Boy phenomenon became old fashioned and irrelevant.

The 1960s – Mods & Rockers

The early 1960s witnessed an increase in financial security, a decrease in unemployment and a greater sophistication among the teenagers of Britain as they soaked up the latest trends and fashions imported from America, in particular the beatnik movement and the less commercial form of black rhythm and blues. After the initial excitement of the Liverpool beat music scene, heralded by The Beatles, British teenagers graduated to the London R&B scene epitomised by The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Small Faces, The Kinks, Manfred Man and The Graham Bond Organisation. The term ‘mod’ was derived from a fashion magazine of the period in which new trendy clothes were modelled by Cathy McGowan – and a new youth subculture was born. The emphasis was upon looking sharp and taking pride in your appearance. If Mods worshipped a character from Greek mythology, it would be Narcissus. In short, it was a movement with nothing to say but it looked well smart while doing so.

This period also marked the advent of another media invented term: the generation gap. Newspaper writers were encouraged to propagate the idea that teenagers and parents were inevitably alienated from each other by the generation gap, portrayed as an abyss over which no bridge could be built. Anyone who sat and used their brain for more than 3 minutes soon realised that the notion was quite preposterous, of course, but for a while the notion convinced many people among the lower orders that this mysterious generation gap did indeed exist and was another ‘sign of the times’ (another media concoction), like drugs, long hair and a lack of respect for authority.

The Rockers were motorcycle enthusiasts who can be regarded as the prototypes for what became the Hells Angels by the end of the decade. Their uniform was primarily black leather and their music harked back to the old days of rock and roll. They rode BSA and Triumph motorcycles, generally of well over 100cc engine capacity. The Mods disdained such brute power – they preferred Italian made Vespas and Lambrettas adorned with many badges and mirrors so that these 50cc scooters puttered along like so many metallic peacocks. Some of the more adventurous young men even took to wearing eye make-up. The response from the rockers was predictable: utter disdain and contempt. I can empathise entirely – had I been born 15 years earlier, I would definitely have been a rocker!

The 1970s – Hippies & Skinheads

The cold war appeared to grow decidedly hot as the war monger John Kennedy was assassinated, American troops invaded Vietnam and Mao Tse Tung declared a cultural revolution in 1966. There were riots in France in 1968. Violent demonstrations against the invasion of Vietnam spread across Europe. (As a poignant digression, we should note that virtually every demonstration against the invasion of Vietnam held in Europe voiced a protest in defence of the Vietnamese against the incursion of American militarism, such that rarely was any direct sympathy expressed for the American soldiers themselves; the mass rallies in America were held to demand the return of the American troops, not because they wished an end to the slaughter of innocent Vietnamese people but because they believed it was grossly unjust that so many American soldiers should be maimed and killed in a futile war.) Militant black rights activist Malcolm X had already been murdered at a public meeting in 1965; the pacifist Christian civil rights activist Martin Luther King was then assassinated in 1968. A group of militant socialist students called The Red Army Faction in Germany kidnapped and executed war criminal Aldo Moro. A similar group called The Angry Brigade set of bombs and machine gun attacks on the streets of Britain, their targets (in which nobody was ever killed) being police chiefs, the police computer, fashion boutiques and the Miss World competition, among others. Suddenly the world was no longer a safe place in which to live.

The advent of skinheads toward the end of the decade represents one of the more curious phenomena in British youth subculture. Unlike the teddy boys and hippies, the skinheads were not only of British invention but they could hardly have originated from any other country. The uniform – savagely short hair, union shirts, ill fitting trousers held up with braces and big boots – was such a dramatic change from the prevailing freak mode of dress that many parents initially welcomed its adherents. In fact, hippies and skinheads both owe their genesis to the evolution of mods. The more cerebral and generally middle class mods mutated into hippies while their intellectually challenged and primarily working class brethren devolved into skinheads. Note: that is a profoundly sweeping generalisation and there were plenty of exceptions. We must avoid the cliché that working class = dim, middle class = bright, after all.

The media were initially uncertain how to tackle skinheads. That they were a new youth subculture indicated a probable source of sales revenue for the newspapers but here were young people (mainly men) who were clean, smart, sported short hair, generally refused illicit drugs, claimed to be patriotic and they despised hippies. If you omit the words ‘clean’ and ‘smart’, what you have there is an accurate description of the majority of British men, then and now. The Daily Express and the Daily Mail (predictably) greeted skinheads with considerable approbation, primarily as a means to pursue further attacks against hippies.

Ben Sherman shirts, narrow cut two-tone suits and Chelsea boots were common appurtenances to mod attire. These clothes were always expensive and one advantage of the stripped down skinhead uniform is that it doesn’t demand such an excessive slice taken out of the wage packet at the end of the week. The hair was generally kept fairly short for mods until the mid sixties when everyone and their father started to acquire sideburns, moustaches and ears covered by hair. (Even some politicians, attempting to be trendy and fashionable, would grow their hair a little longer than was previously acceptable – although typically they only latched onto this idea during the early seventies, i.e. 5 years late.) In 1969 when the first skinheads appeared, Ben Sherman shirts were in evidence but the ‘smart skinhead’ look, complete with sheepskin coat, was not common until the end of the year, no doubt prompted by the girls who became impatient with their boys looking too much like escaped psychiatric patients for their tastes.

The adoption of music performed almost exclusively by black musicians remains a curious aspect of the cult. Mods were passionate about American soul, true, but only a small number of them had much time for blue beat, ska and its more famous progeny, reggae. For two or three years, reggae became the musical standard for skinheads, some of whom sported razor cuts (thin lines shaved along the scalp where a parting would normally be), a fashion directly stolen from West Indian youths known as rude boys. This is the prime difference between the first wave of skinheads (1969-1971) and the revival (1980-1985). In 1982 the band Skrewdriver released a 12″ single called Back With A Bang, an anthem written to celebrate the skinhead revival in all its dubious glory. At this time, perhaps in response to the increasingly arcane sentiments expressed by punks, skinheads adopted their own form of fashion and music, known as ‘Oi’. This was ‘their’ cult – only, it wasn’t. The term ‘Oi’ was invented by a third rate, middle class music journalist called Garry Bushell who wrote for a second rate pop music magazine called Sounds which was to music magazines what The Sun is to national newspapers. By 1983 there was an impressive stable of white nationalist bands to provide the soundtrack to the skinhead pantomime: Brutal Attack, The Afflicted, Combat 84 and Skrewdriver being the most obvious examples. For the record, The 4 Skins and The Last Resort were never ‘white nationalist’ groups per se although most of the band members of both groups would express sympathy with such sentiments.

The mods’ use of the union flag (erroneously called the union jack by the press – actually our national flag is only called this when flying from a ship) was quickly discarded by the hippies who generally regarded any symbol of national pride with contempt. This decidedly unpatriotic attitude was completely logical for a nation of young people who lived in a country run by a government who regarded America as its older brother and that older brother was busy terrorising innocent farmers and peasants in Vietnam. However, the skinheads (also known as ‘bovver boys’ at this time) adopted the symbol in a more strident manner. For some, it was merely a shroud behind which stood a swastika. That said, it was not until the second wave of skinheads appeared during the early 1980s that the astringently fascist elements of the cult became de rigeuer. When I was at school, we were shown a recording of a BBC television ‘play for today’ starring Michael Robbins as the father of a teenager who becomes a skinhead. There is an excellent verbal exchange in which the father, after close scrutiny of his son dressed in his regalia for the first time, remarks ‘Look at the state of you. How much did all that clobber cost? Anyway, I don’t know why you bothered – you should’ve joined the army, son, they’d give you all that for free.’

This was a most perceptive statement by the writer since every aspect of the uniform is indicative of the old fashioned working class combined with signs of servitude: the shaved hair equates with prisoners, with mental asylums and the armed forces. The union shirt with its lack of a collar and the ill fitting trousers held up by braces are straight out of so many paintings by Lowry – when you went to work for your master in the fields or the factories, you didn’t wear your collar; that was reserved for your Sunday best when you went to church and offered prayers to God that you were still alive and able to eke out a wretched existence on whatever pittance you were paid for your labour each week. The steel toe capped boots were a further necessity for men who worked in fields and factories where heavy gear was shifted and damage to the feet was best avoided by such protective footwear. So to summarise, skinheads were a parody of the old fashioned British working class and further they were the epitome of right wing reactionary values advocated by people frightened of change and progress. For this reason, skinheads were far more acceptable to many ordinary people in Britain than hippies with their left wing, revolutionary beliefs and outlandish attire.

The hippies derive their name from a beatnik slang word – hip – as in ‘being hip to what’s going on’. However, the people the press called ‘hippies’ never used the term to describe themselves. Their chosen epithet was ‘freaks’. During the latter days of the mods, experimentation with drugs had become frequent. Their enthusiasm for amphetamines (such as blues and purple hearts) had gradually been supplanted by a new appreciation of hallucinogenic substances imported from America, the most ubiquitous being LSD. As this crazy substance acquired ever more consumers, mods began to mutate into freaks – the hair became longer, the trousers more flared, the clothes more colourful, the music more bizarre. However, LSD alone was only a contributor, not a prime mover. The treatment of Irish nationalists by the British state and the brutal horror inflicted on innocent Vietnamese people by the American military were regarded by students around the world as typical symptoms of capitalism. Capitalists were conservative, grey suited middle class middle aged supporters of military regimes and the oppression of minority groups – indeed these properties were essential in order for vast profits to be accrued by their exponents. You don’t become wealthy by being decent.

The second half of the decade witnessed the oil crisis and the collapse of the nation as a result of a weak government that allowed itself to be bullied by Marxist rat-bags who infested the unions. With a dramatic increase in both unemployment and homelessness, coupled with power cuts and the three-day working week, the star struck mysticism of the hippies quickly became not only irrelevant to the majority of working class youth but also actually rather offensive. The sudden eruption of punk rock in 1976 was inevitable since it was a vituperative response to a subculture that had long ceased to represent the issues that affected working class young people. The irony is that the hippie movement gradually evolved from the beatniks who were disaffected middle class intellectuals from bourgeois families; the culture was therefore organic and derived largely from the people it represented. However, punk rock was completely fabricated by fashion designers like Vivian Westwood and art school philistines like Malcolm McLaren whose cynical manipulation of public malcontent was clever but callous and utterly self serving. Such people had far more in common with Tories than terrorists. Therefore, punk could never seriously represent ordinary working class youth despite its pretence at doing just that – a pretence that was alarmingly successful for a couple of years.

The 1980s – Punks

For the media, the 1980s could have been very tedious if youth subcultures were their only source of horror stories. This is because there were no genuinely new subcultures available for them to create a foundation upon which to construct a new moral panic. Punks still existed but they had become serious, grim and boring; the skinhead revival offered nothing of much interest apart from their allegiance to neo-nazi political groups but even that was hardly new. An early newspaper editorial (from the Daily Express) spent three paragraphs fulminating against punks with a stream of sarcasm, verbal vitriol and outright bigotry; it then concluded that a small gang of football hooligans could ‘see off’ these punks any day of the week. The implication here was that football hooligans were more socially acceptable (at least to the editors of the Daily Express) than punks – a bizarre conceit when we read how the same newspaper called for every public sanction possible from conscription to permanent incarceration for these same football hooligans. When confronted with the media we soon learn that this years foes are next years friends and vice versa.

For anyone over 30 years of age, the 1980s will be associated indelibly with riots, civil disorder, the promotion of war, the protection of privilege and the brutal oppression of homeless people by draconian laws against the use of empty property. The unions were finally crushed. The miners were robbed of their right to protect their livelihood and the true face of parliament was revealed as the false veneer of democracy melted under the medusa glare of the tin pot lady. Since newspaper editors and media moguls accrued profits from the system of government that prevailed in Britain at this time, it was evidently in their interest to support it and therefore to attack any individual or group who voiced protest or criticism. Certain intelligent elements within the punk scene (despite the apparent contradiction in terms implied by that choice of words) combined with articulate representatives of the protest movement (such as Class War) offered a cogent critique to the bellicose warmongering of the Thatcher regime and increasing numbers of the public began to take notice. This was quite unacceptable to the government so where ever police truncheons failed, the printed word and the moving image were invoked – with considerable success.

This was achieved not by attacking the punks directly but by suggesting that whenever ordinary people instigated or participated in civil rebellion against the more disgusting examples of state violence, in reality the true instigators were anarchists and punks, that it was the participation of these criminal elements that were actually responsible for the burnt, smoking vehicles, looted chain stores and injured policemen. Before the end of the decade, the words ‘punk’, ‘anarchist’ and ‘criminal’ had become as interchangeable as ‘robber’, ‘thief’ and ‘bailiff’. Through newspapers, television and radio, the population were told that the ordinary British public would never riot and behave so dreadfully, that these incidents were merely provoked by punks, anarchists and other criminal elements. So the ‘problem’ was defined as anarchist punks set on causing trouble purely for the hell of it with people like Ian Bone as their spokesperson. Ian Bone was chastised in a banner headline by the Daily Mail as ‘the most evil man in Britain’.

This is interesting since a decade earlier, Tom O’Carroll (the leader of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a perfectly legal body set up to represent and provide a discussion forum for paedophiles) was greeted one morning with his photograph in the News Of The World over a banner headline that read ‘the most evil man in Britain’. I am unusually fortunate to have met both these gentlemen. Mr O’Carroll was neither a child molester nor an active paedophile – but those facts did not induce people to purchase newspapers so the News Of The World opted for a more engaging epithet with which to entice public interest. Mr Bone certainly hates inherited wealth and unbridled privilege, especially when people endowed with those qualities use their position to maintain the poverty of ordinary people – but then so do plenty of honest clergymen (and such people do exist, difficult though that be to believe).

The cause was simplified as greed and selfishness on behalf of these ‘criminal elements’ – this coming from people (newspaper editors and media moguls) who are themselves the epitome of greed and selfishness. Once again the key participants (Crass, Ian Bone, Class War, Ronan Bennett, Iris Mills and so on) were stigmatised. By this time many of the leader writers began to believe their own fairy tales and their calls for government action became perfectly hysterical. A response from the authorities was ultimately provoked when in the infamous ‘battle of the bean field’ near Stonehenge a large crowd of unarmed and peaceful freaks, punks and travellers were physically assaulted by heavily armed police thugs which resulted in dozens of innocent people being hospitalised while not one policeman was ever indicted. The socialists predictably blamed the government for this outrage – we blamed the true guilty party, namely the newspapers and the media.

The 1990s – Ravers

By the 1990s the media bag pattern had become so familiar that we, with the advent of the Internet to assist us, had become rather too knowledgeable and too sophisticated for the process to function quite so smoothly. Since the ravers did not seek enemies or confrontation with other subcults, the media were not able to fabricate the youth wars of previous decades. However, being bad losers, they resorted to another tried and tested means of assault upon our culture: fear and the family with drugs as the pivot upon which this ridiculous edifice teetered. The press and the police were often initially supportive or at least articulated mild commendation in their reports of early raves. They expressed an appreciation of the scarcity of alcohol, the absence of violence and the significant number of different ethnic minorities included among the clubbers. However, reports of this nature do not sell many newspapers or increase television viewer ratings. So, rather than tell the truth, the media searched for a scapegoat – and, thanks to our perennial desire to alter our state of consciousness, they found one and it was a beauty: ecstasy.

When Leah Betts took an ecstasy pill at a private party in the early 1990s, the media machine enjoyed a field day; they loved every moment of it. There was never any genuine sympathy for the poor parents. Each tear shed by her mother was another tick in a profit margin box for a newspaper and the newscasters of each channel drooled over the luxury of being able to express their meticulously contrived outrage. Richard Branson, the pathetic loser and failed human being who has relentlessly tried, without success, to convince us all that money is all you need in order to have a decent life, went public with his call for a ban on ‘acid parties’, not because he cared one iota about what young people actually did at raves but because he sought to identify himself as a respectable pillar of the establishment in order to encourage confidence among shareholders for Virgin Airlines and Virgin Railways, the two ailing, failing companies he desperately wished to save from extinction.

Would this media campaign have been so successful had Leah Betts not been female, young, pretty and white? Of course not – the media machine has always thrived upon the depiction of innocent pretty young white women as victims in its pages. This is not merely editorial laziness; it is an expression of the lurid perversion exhibited by typical editors and producers who tend to be white, male, fat, middle class, middle aged and unhappily married. Strong, independent women who refuse to be victims are not the kind of people the media machine ever finds particularly interesting unless there is a drug scandal or lesbian angle they can exploit. Meanwhile, the problem remained: the media machine has always found it expedient to nurture perceived differences between youth subcultures and actually invent differences should none originally exist. Thus the ravers, bereft of an opposing gang, were subjected to the only other means by which the media could attack it: direct assaults upon every aspect of their lifestyles, complete with fallacious ‘facts’ quite blatantly fabricated in order to incite public consternation and resentment.

The Public Order Act of 1994 presented us with the very first utterly blatant example of social control in the manner of national socialism, that is where no attempt was made to disguise the fact. This was a law that deliberately tried to prevent people from holding their own parties on their own premises with their own money. Even more impertinently, it actually tried to define a musical form in order then to criminalize it. Thus we had foisted upon us these strange Daily Mail definitions of rave music concocted by the State that were designed to provide boundaries beyond which our cultural expression was not allowed to stray. In Germany in the 1930s, jazz was outlawed as degenerate Negro music and banned; the 1990s British government of John Major tried to outlaw rave music in precisely the same manner. That it failed is a credit to our ability not only to merely break the law but to disregard it entirely. Besides, there was too much money to be made from it in the new clubs where diluted electronic sonic doodles often replaced the genuine article but by that time (i.e. the late 1990s) most younger clubbers either couldn’t tell the difference or no longer cared anyway.

So exactly how does this ‘disgusting apparatus’ function? It operates in accordance with 5 distinct stages.

1) Identify A Problem. With mods and rockers, the problem was the extreme violence of inter-gang fights at seaside resorts. That this was vastly exaggerated (and occasionally even invented) was ignored at the time so it was able to became normal practise for all newspapers, radio and television news programmes. With skinheads the problem was defined as physical assaults on innocent spectators at football matches. With hippies the problems were drug abuse, unacceptable political activity and laziness. With ravers, the problem was almost exclusively drugs with occasional emphasis on noise and antisocial behaviour.

2) Simplify The Causes. The media machine generally seeks to hide or at least disguise the real reasons behind antisocial behaviour, especially if these reasons provide any justification for it or are likely to induce public sympathy for the recipients of the media scrutiny. Therefore, any cause that may motivate a form of behaviour will be reduced to its most basic component, even if this process results in an account that is so inaccurate and unfair as to verge on fiction. This even applies to miscreants outside youth subcultures. For example in the recent industrial action taken by postmen, most newspapers reduced the cause of their strike to mere greed: they claimed the postal union demanded more money, when virtually every complaint by the postmen was actually based on gross ill treatment of ordinary workers by supervisors and managers with unfair work practises and draconian restrictions on what should be basic employee rights.

3) Stigmatise The Key Participants. In any youth subculture a spokesperson is identified, even if that spokesman actually has only a tenuous connection with the tribe concerned. For example, when the Daily Mail (and other papers) chose to identify Ian Bone as the prime exponent of the riots and civil disorder that spread throughout Britain, he was portrayed as leading the punks who, being younger and gullible, followed him with blind obedience. Anyone who has ever met Mr Bone will soon realise that he has never been a punk, has never been directly involved in the punk movement and certainly has never set himself up as a leader of anything. Indeed, on the few occasions when people have attempted to follow him as an icon of anarchism, he has been rigorous in dissuading erstwhile fans from such behaviour – he is an anarchist, after all, and a highly intelligent and articulate one. The media soon dropped their interest in him once they realised he was too decent and sensible a person to serve their purpose. The American media managed to use Charles Manson as the epitome of the hippie movement in order to discredit it, even though Manson had never been a hippie – in Britain the press tried (ultimately in vain) to find a similar character with which to discredit the punk scene and the anarchist movement.

4) Organise A Media Campaign For ‘Action’. Whether it be mods and rockers battling on the beaches, hippies and police trading truncheons and flowers on the streets or Class War punks hurling bricks at boaters in the Henley Regatta, the media never fails to find an excuse to call for government action on a problem that usually does not even exist except inside the imaginations of newspaper editors and television producers. Many media moguls entertain the notion that they possess sufficient power to persuade members of parliament to act on their behalf, irrespective of whether or not such an action would be beneficial to the general public. Occasionally, governments do indeed act, but we can be certain such actions are always for the benefit of the parliamentary members involved rather than to appease any mere media monkey.

5) Provoke A Response From The Authorities. In the early 1990s the nation witnessed how it was possible for the media to induce the government to respond to a problem that did not actually exist – and the result was a crowd of hospitalised men, women and children whose only ‘crime’ was to travel around the country in caravans rather than live in tower blocks. For the newspapers, television and radio this was marvellous, of course, because after calling for action against these ‘ravers’ (who were also called ‘punks’, ‘hippies’ or ‘travellers’, depending on the mood or age of the writer), they could then claim the police had acted like nazi thugs and encourage public sympathy for these poor freaks etc.

The lesson here is simple: the media can never, ever be your ally. They cannot even be trusted to be loyal to their own supporters. This is the primary reason why we have always, but always, resisted any offer to be interviewed by the establishment press or media.

Andy Martin © 2008.

The Apostles – From Analogue To Digital In 5 Days Flat.

After nearly 12 years of being pestered, cajoled and badgered by what now amounts to literally dozens of disparate demented souls, I have finally (with extreme reluctance and considerable foreboding) agreed to the release of works by The Apostles on CD. Chris Low (formerly of The Apostles, Oi Polloi and The Parkinsons) was the first character to succeed in breaking the embargo. I sanctioned his release of the 1st and 5th singles, plus selections from the 2nd and 3rd singles, primarily because, since he plays on most of these tracks, he can submit a justifiable claim to them and at least a larger and younger public can hear these pieces for the first time. Then, buoyed by this unexpected success, Stephen Parsons of BBP managed to persuade me to allow the rest of the back catalogue to be transferred into the digital domain.

To this day, myself and Chris Low disagree vehemently on the value of The Apostles. I expressed personal doubts about the artistic validity of the group even when I was a member but after I left the group and had the time to review their recorded oeuvre, I realised that I had spent nearly 8 years in a band writing often finely crafted pop songs, rock anthems and avant garde works only to have them performed with utter ineptitude, ruined by a total lack of any studio production and then finally crushed into oblivion by trying to cram twice as much music on each record as was technically possible. The result: 7 singles and 7 albums of noisome garbage that was a waste of the vinyl and paper used to produce them. Anyone who has been unfortunate enough to have heard these records will find it impossible to disagree with what I have stated.

The Apostles were a crap band and that’s all there is to it. Chris said in an e-mail to me that for me to make such a statement is the same as saying ‘you are an idiot’ to anyone who likes any of those recordings. This is simply not true. There are a few people who actually enjoy some of these recordings besides Chris himself but why do they enjoy them? I suggest it is due to their memories of what was happening in their lives and in the country at the time those records were made. When we performed live concerts, we were frequently far superior in both sound and technical prowess to what we produced on record so perhaps these people harbour fond memories of such concerts and therefore listen to the records with minds influenced by such memories. I submit that if I played any track from any of these records to any teenager, they would either laugh with bewilderment or cringe with embarrassment that anyone could have had the sheer audacity to commit such atrocious sonic nonsense to vinyl.

So why do I find it necessary to make such a strident (if not savage) critique of the recorded oeuvre of The Apostles? There is a simple but important reason: many of you reading this (actually, most of you reading this) will never even have heard of The Apostles, let alone encountered any of their music. If you are familiar with our music in UNIT it will be plainly evident that we are careful to ensure our works are performed to the best of ability and given the most professional production we can afford. If you enjoy much of our music, you might want to investigate the work of The Apostles to find out what some of the UNIT members were involved in prior to their work in the current group. Other people may be fans of Hellbastard and want to discover what Scruff was doing while he was in The Apostles. You could therefore be forgiven to expect The Apostles to sound similar to Hellbastard or UNIT or at least exhibit an equivalent degree of performance and production standards. Some of you may decide to spend your money on purchasing some of these CDs. Fair enough – but it is absolutely essential that you are not cheated or conned. I resent it when I purchase a DVD or a CD and find the contents to be of less quality than I was led to expect. Also, out of respect to Chris Low and Stephen Parsons (the two brave souls responsible for these CD re-issues) and also to all previous members of The Apostles, I owe it to all potential purchasers to offer the following five disclaimers so you can be aware in advance precisely what you are buying.

1) None of the original master tapes exist for these records so they have been transferred onto CD from mint condition copies of the original vinyl records. For certain tracks that were never issued on vinyl, tracks have been transferred from the best quality audio cassettes available. All these recordings have been loaded into our computer and had as many of the pops, clicks and crackles removed as possible. (No matter how excellent the quality of an original record may be, there will always be surface noise because vinyl records are horrible, cumbersome, noisy things that should no longer exist in a world that has penicillin.) Tape hiss has been either omitted entirely or at least reduced to an acceptable level. The sound envelope (bass, middle and treble) has been improved to compensate for the limitations inherent in the vinyl and cassette mediums – these were all that were available to musicians during the 1980s before digital technology evolved to liberate us from the tyranny of vinyl and tape. So while every attempt has been made by myself and Luc Tran to bring these old recordings up to an acceptable standard, these recordings will not be comparable in quality to that which you have come to expect from UNIT.

2) Because we were all young teenagers when The Apostles started to release records and because many of us were impatient to record our music, many of these records were made before we had attained any degree of proficiency on our instruments. In our naïveté we were simply not aware how inept and clumsy were our attempts to perform music that was often beyond our limited abilities. Despite the evidence that may appear to be to the contrary, I can vouch for the fact that we really did try our hardest to sing and play these works to the very best of our abilities. However, that said, the results are often unintentionally humorous and frequently embarrassing. This is all the more irritating because so many of these records contain fine pieces of music with often incisive, witty lyrics. Fortunately most of these works have since been recorded properly by UNIT with the performances and production they deserve.

3) As the main vocalist in the group I must accept 100% of the blame for the truly abysmal singing. It is therefore fortunate that we encouraged other band members to sing on some tracks (Dave Fanning and Malcolm Lewty in particular) while at other times we wrote a fair number of purely instrumental works. I was under the impression (erroneously) that my cultured accent with its slight Scots burr would be unacceptable to our audience so I adopted a thoroughly contrived and utterly ludicrous south London accent for most of the pieces on which I appear. That this was actually dishonest – lying to our audience – never even occurred to me at the time. The result is a collection of records that would only be slightly more absurd had they been sung by Peter Sellers in his Inspector Clousseau voice. Actually, they’d probably sound better!

4) When most people attend our concerts and purchase our CDs, as far as they are aware UNIT is a group with people of equal status – with UJ nominally regarded as a band leader since he is responsible for setting up our e-mail account, website, my space page and addressing most of the correspondence. Once people become aware of my earlier career, this a danger that UNIT will be seen as ‘my latest project’ whereupon UJ and Luc are immediately relegated to secondary status. For this reason, more than any of the others stated above, I have stringently resisted all attempts at persuading me to sanction digital releases of Apostles recordings.

5) We did not want anyone to assume that we were trying to capitalise on the reputation of a group I was in 2 decades ago in order to generate interest in UNIT; any esteem we accrued from our work must be due entirely to UNIT on its own merits. However, because both UJ and Luc have expressed an interest in these old recordings themselves and because, after 13 CDs, over 50 concerts and numerous plays on 3 different radio stations, UNIT has established itself as a group that warrants attention for its own work, I have finally relented and grudgingly allowed people to make available again these dreadful old recordings.

So, by all means investigate these old recordings if any of you are genuinely interested in what Dave and I were doing in our musical careers when we were 16 or if you want to discover what was happening in the avant garde and post-punk scene of the 1980s. However, bear in mind these 3 disclaimers before you make any purchase – never let it be said that we tried to cash in by promoting the sale of rubbish.

The definitive version of Apostles contained just 4 people: myself (vocals), Malcolm Lewty (guitar, vocals), Dave Fanning (bass guitar, guitar, vocals) and Chris Wiltshire (drums). This is the group that stayed together the longest, released the most records and played the most concerts. It is this format of the group most people remember. However, this is unfortunate because it means that Chris Low, the drummer prior to Mr Wiltshire, rarely receives the credit for his work that he deserves. Worse still, nearly all the music recorded by the final version of the group (with Sean Stokes and Colin Murrell) remained unreleased and therefore unheard by the public even though much of this was actually far superior to anything previously recorded by the group. This is another reason I finally relented and sanctioned the CD re-issues.

In spite of all I have written above, there are some genuinely high calibre tracks (usually those on which I do not appear as a performer), especially those written by Dave Fanning, which alone justify the purchase of any of these CDs. The singles are generally dreadful but there are a few pieces which just about manage to deserve digital resurrection. The 1st, 2nd and 5th singles are absolutely wretched and deserve to be locked in Room 101 for eternity and a day. On Blind Discrimination Chris Low makes his vocal debut with his first lyric for the group; Stumped and The Creature, both by Dave are still enjoyable now, despite the clumsy production. All 3 tracks are from the 3rd single.

From the infamous 4th single Rock Against Communism deserves merit simply because it is one of the few Apostles tracks given a decent performance and even the production is not quite as dreadful as usual. For the 6th single we were joined by 3 members of a pop group called The Joy Of Living and one track, The Wasteland, does not make me wince with shame when I hear it. The final single is unique in that both tracks are worth saving. Pork Pies is a cracker, an instrumental by Dave on which he makes his debut on violin while In The Name Of Science, despite my wretched singing, still sounds exciting with a production that sounds almost acceptable.

The 1st LP contains Breaking Barriers (my now famous poem here set to the original music written by Dave Fanning), Thrive Alive Jive (one of the very rare occasions when a piece contained music written by myself and Dave) and 62 Brougham Road, which despite my atrocious singing still manages to survive the test of time. The 2nd LP features Run For It and House Of Horror, two of the finest rock anthems Dave has ever written, as well as his slightly ponderous but generally excellent 15 minute opus The Voyage.

The 3rd LP features the vocal debut of Malcolm ‘Scruff’ Lewty (later of Hellbastard fame) on Social Scum and Heavy Metal, two fine examples of the heavy rock style favoured by both Scruff and Dave, with interesting lyrics. The 4th LP contains some bizarre but memorable moments. Faith is my own homage to 1980s pop duo Eyeless In Gaza and is still enjoyable now. Fragments remains a highly atmospheric adventure despite my histrionic vocal delivery. Our versions of two Alternative TV numbers, Release The Natives and Fellow Sufferer, complete the collection of tracks from this album that don’t deserve to languish in oblivion. There are also some serviceable items that were rejected from the 3rd and 4th albums (for reasons known only to God) that appeared later on a split album with Statement on one side and The Apostles on the other. We covered another Alternative TV work, an instrumental called Red, on which Dave and Scruff actually improve on the original. The pure unadulterated pop of A Love That’s Died, a Tony McPhee song, features some excellent drumming from Chris Wiltshire while A World We Never Made, a 4 part 11 minute epic written mainly by myself (Dave wrote part 2) still moves me now, despite the poor playing and amateur production.

It is ironic (yet somehow typical for The Apostles) that much of our best work was never released to the general public. When Scruff left the group to join Hellbastard on a full time basis and Chris Wiltshire left to take up full time higher education, we were joined for the fag end of our career by Sean Stokes and Colin Murrell, who previously had spent 2 years recording and touring as The Demolition Company. We recorded what was intended to be a double album but by this time nobody wanted anything to do with us; this was not due to our music but because we had been totally ostracised by a scene whose exponents sought to remain safe, secure and satisfied with their cliché ridden indulgences. Here we ventured into territory we had begun to explore on the 4th album, i.e. avant garde and non-rock music. Stephen Parsons of BBP bravely stood by the group and released most of these recordings on audio cassette but they were generally ignored. Well over half the works recorded at these sessions in 1987 are worthy of issue to the public and I am therefore pleased that these pieces are finally being made available in digital format.

Undaunted by the hate mail we received and the abuse we encountered from punks at our concerts, we recorded a further album, primarily of lyrics and music by early 1970s group Third World War, in an attempt to justify our return to rock music as a genre. The exercise was fun, the playing was of a higher standard than previously and the production wasn’t too bad either. On most of these tracks I even began to sing in my own accent but this was because I had already decided to leave the group (unknown to the others) and frankly I didn’t care anymore. Again, this album was never released; again, Stephen Parsons released it on audio cassette and again, nobody bought it! When I finally left the group in February 1989 it was like being released from prison…and I thought being in a pop group was supposed to be fun.

So, the CDs have been released in this fashion:

The Singles (Volume 1) – this is released by Chris Low and contains the 1st single, most of the 2nd single, some the 3rd single, all of the 5th single plus most of the extra tracks recorded during the sessions for these records. It has been professionally re-mastered from chrome cassettes taken from the original tapes.

The Singles (Volume 2) – released by BBP, this contains the 3rd single, the 4th single, the 6th single, the 7th single, all the tracks from an unreleased single…basically all the tracks released as singles that have been omitted from the previous CD. It has been professionally re-mastered from chrome cassettes taken from the original tapes and from mint condition original vinyl records.

Punk Obituary – the 1st LP, released by BBP. This album was nearly an hour long which meant that, even though many of the tracks are quiet, gentle pieces, it still sounded like a transistor radio even when played on music reproduction systems designed by NASA. It has been professionally re-mastered from mint condition original vinyl records.

The Lives & Times Of The Apostles – the 2nd LP, released by BBP. This album was also nearly an hour long but since nearly all the tracks were loud and heavy, the sound quality was truly wretched. It has been professionally re-mastered from mint condition original vinyl records.

The Acts Of The Apostles – the 3rd LP, released as BBP. This contains the album plus 4 extra tracks recorded for inclusion on it but omitted because even we realised that trying to squeeze 36 minutes per side of an album really wasn’t going to work. It has been professionally re-mastered from chrome cassettes taken from the original tapes and from mint condition original vinyl records.

How Much Longer – the 4th LP, released by BBP. This contains the original album plus 4 extra tracks recorded for inclusion on it but omitted for the same reason as before. It has been professionally re-mastered from chrome cassettes taken from the original tapes and from mint condition original vinyl records.

Eine Antwort / Une Réponse – the unreleased double album, released by BBP. It has been professionally re-mastered from chrome cassettes taken from the original tapes.

Manifesto – the unreleased album from 1988, released by BBP. It has been professionally re-mastered from chrome cassettes taken from the original tapes and contains additional tracks from these sessions previously believed lost.

Sleeve notes, where appropriate, have been provided either by myself or by Luc Tran (who, not even born when most of this music was recorded, is able to offer an objective response to the contents) together with reproductions of the original albums covers and other artwork that has withstood the ravages of time.

The CDs will be available from BBP, BOX 45404, LONDON SE26 6WJ.

Of the various temporary musicians who stepped in at short notice to help us out while full time band members were indisposed, I have no idea what became of Simon Parrish, Martin Ryan, Patrick Poole, Sharon Joy, Julie Joy, Yvette Joy and Iain Archibald. Dan MacKintyre, Julian Portinari and Pete Bynghall were the original members of The Apostles before Dave and I joined. I have no idea where they are now. Chris Low became a highly successful rave / techno DJ for a while before he joined 3 Portuguese musicians in order to inflict The Parkinsons on us all, for better or worse! Chris Wiltshire obtained his degree at university then we lost contact with him. Colin Murrell became a music teacher and music therapist (I think). God knows what happened to Sean Stokes – I hope he achieved success and happiness because he deserves it. Dave Fanning stayed with me to form UNIT and remained in the group up until 2006 when we had yet another of our frequent fights and finally parted company in less than amicable terms. That said, it remains an inalienable fact that without me, The Apostles would have continued to exist regardless but without Dave, that group would have collapsed within a matter of weeks. Anyway, he is now a fully qualified martial arts teacher and has a beautiful daughter, Harriet. Malcolm Lewty (a.k.a. Scruff) remains the one really successful lad ever to have been in The Apostles – he made a significant impact with Hellbastard, formed a succession of equally impressive groups afterwards (Nero Circus, King Fuel, Sidewinder, Heavy Water and Moodhoover) before forming a new version of Hellbastard who released a superb album in 2008 to prove none of the old magic has been lost. We have remained in regular contact with Chris Low and Scruff. Indeed, Scruff actually sings and plays as a guest performer on many of the tracks of our album ‘Class War’ that was recorded and released in 2008.

Andy Martin © 2008

The Apostles – Big Banana Products – 1987

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

The End / The Beginning / The Agenda / Tomorrows Children / A Folk Song / Number 23 / Eric’s Detachables / Strange Fruit / A Sniper And A Scarecrow / The Survivors 

Lyrics written by Jon Barraclough in memory of Sgt Heresy and Scarecrow who just barely ‘existed’ at the Derby Lodge, St Monicas Hospital and Campbell Buildings squats in the late 1970’s.

Presenting the 10th Apostles demo tape this time originally released on B.B.P. tapes, recorded in 1986 at Brougham Road, Hackney with a line up of Andy Martin, Dave Fanning. Patrick Poole AKA Rat and the mysterious Gary Cooke from Active Sounds Distribution performing on one track ‘Survivors’.

A mix of 1986 material and old 1979 – 1981 tracks, originally composed by The Apostles, Black Cross and Primal Chaos with new lyrics. Tracks entitled Tomorrow’s Children, A Folk Song,  Erics Detachables (instrumental),  A Sniper And A Scarecrow and The Survivors are all old compositions.

A very good tape this, with a whole mixture of genres highlighted by this adaptable band.

The picture above is part of a set that Andy Martin drew of me and the way I looked during the mid 1980’s, I am quite fond of them and never thought of chucking them away!

Joe Strummer 21/08/52 – 22/12/02

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Bankrobber / Rockers Galore

Tribute to Joe Strummer who passed on way way too early, six years ago on this day.

Presenting his finest moment (in my opinion) on record and the orbituary from The Times newspaper. 

Joe Strummer, rock singer and lyricist, was born in Ankara, Turkey, on August 21, 1952. He died of a suspected heart attack at his home in Somerset on December 22, 2002, aged 50.

His only rival as the main spokesman for the punk revolution which transformed British youth culture in the late 1970s was Johnny Rotten. Yet unlike the Sex Pistols’ singer, Strummer maintained his punk radicalism. When he was interviewed in this paper last year about his most recent album, Global A Go-Go, the writer observed that he was “the only rock star of his generation . . . who hasn’t mellowed with age”. Only last month, he was to be found playing a benefit gig for the striking Fire Brigades Union with his new band, the Mescaleros.

The son of a British diplomat, he spent his early years living variously in Turkey, Mexico, Germany and Egypt. Educated at a Surrey boarding school and art college, he had a spell busking on the London Underground, after which he formed his first band, the 101ers, playing amiable R&B on the mid-1970s London pub-rock circuit.

But he was frustrated by what he saw as the stagnation of the music scene of the time. In April 1976, the 101ers were supported at a London date by an emerging group called the Sex Pistols. Their volatile and nihilistic garage rock sounded crude and unrehearsed. Yet Strummer became convinced that the energy of the emerging punk movement could be harnessed to revolutionise British music. Within two months he had teamed up with the guitarist Mick Jones, the bass player Paul Simonon and the drummer Nicky “Topper” Headon to form the Clash.

Managed by Bernie Rhodes, an associate of the Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm MacLaren, they swiftly built a following at punk venues such as London’s 100 Club. Then, late in 1976, they joined the Sex Pistols on their “Anarchy in the UK” tour. With punk already making front-page headlines for its alleged violence and moral threat to the nation’s youth, all but three of the 19 planned dates were cancelled by anxious promoters.

Such notoriety only enhanced punk’s appeal. Major record labels were soon jumping on the bandwagon and after making some demos for Polydor, in January 1977 the Clash signed to CBS Records. Their first single was the provocatively titled White Riot, a raw, aggressive, streetwise song with Strummer’s angry lyrics snarled at breakneck speed.

It reached only number 38 but the band’s debut album, The Clash, made number 12 on its release in the spring of 1977. Taking unemployment, alienation and rebellion as its subject matter and recorded in a matter of days, it remains, along with the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, punk’s definitive statement.

In many ways, Strummer’s songs were responding to the same events and sense of political drift that led to Margaret Thatcher’s radical Conservatism. But Strummer moved in the opposite direction and was spotted at gigs wearing a T-shirt supporting Brigade Rosse, the Italian Red Brigades held responsible for the murder of the former Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro. He also expressed his support for Germany’s Red Army Faction, better known as the Baader-Meinhoff gang.

Given the group’s provocative attitude, trouble inevitably followed them. During their 1977 White Riot tour, Strummer and Headon were arrested and fined for spray-painting “Clash” on a wall. The same pair spent a night in jail in Newcastle, ludicrously charged with stealing a pillowcase from a local Holiday Inn. They responded by calling their next tour “Out on Parole”. The group even managed the not inconsiderable feat of inciting a riot when they performed in genteel Bournemouth.

They put their money behind their political convictions, and in April 1978 they headlined a free Anti-Nazi League festival in London, organised by the pressure group Rock Against Racism. But their politics and growing commercial success were always in potential conflict, as Strummer recognised in the single White Man in Hammersmith Palais in which he struggled with the dilemma of punk rockers “turning rebellion into money”.

The group’s second album, Give ’Em Enough Rope appeared in November 1978, and went straight into the charts at number two, kept from the top spot by the soundtrack to the film Grease. The recruitment of the top American rock producer Sandy Pearlman smoothed over some of the group’s rougher edges but did nothing to lessen their political anger in songs such as Guns on the Roof and Tommy Gun, which gave them their first British Top 20 single. “Protest songs, that’s what you’d call them. Folk-songs with an electric guitar,” Strummer said at the time.

A four-track EP which included a suitably venomous version of Bobby Fuller’s I Fought the Law was released in summer 1979 as a holding operation while they broke America and began planning their third album, London Calling. Produced by the veteran Guy Stevens, the double album is widely regarded as the group’s finest, as reggae and rockabilly tunes take their place alongside raw punk aggression on songs such as The Guns of Brixton and Revolution Rock.

London Calling reached only number nine in the British charts, but it remains one of the most influential rock albums. Among those to fall under its influence was Bob Dylan’s son Jacob, who now leads his own band, the Wallflowers, and recently cited London Calling above his father’s work as the record that “changed his life”.

The group’s politically charged fourth album, Sandinista!, appeared in 1980. The first to be produced by the group themselves, this sprawling, 36-song triple- album was released at a special budget price, after the group agreed to forgo royalties on the first 200,000 copies in return for CBS’s co-operation.

In 1982 Strummer mysteriously disappeared for three months, later claiming that he was in Paris where his girlfriend’s mother had been in jail. The mystery helped the next album, Combat Rock, to number two in the British charts and gave the group there first American Top Ten entry.

Strummer still sounded confrontational and the album produced hit singles in Rock the Casbah and Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Yet paradoxically, it was the beginning of the end for the group. Headon left, and when the Clash joined The Who on their farewell tour of America in late 1982, many felt that the latterday punk heroes sounded tame in comparison to the 1960s veterans.

The following year Jones was evicted from the group. Strummer and Simonon soldiered on with two new recruits, Vince White and Nick Sheppard, and played benefit shows for the striking miners. But after the group’s final album Cut the Crap was savaged by critics, they called it a day at the end of 1985.

As a rock icon who had achieved everything before he was 30, Strummer appeared unsure what to do next. He played on Bob Dylan’s album Down in the Groove, organised a “Rock Against the Rich” tour, played with Latino Rockabilly War and released the 1989 solo album Earthquake Wonder. But that was to be his last album for a decade as he turned to cinema and deployed his chiselled good looks to effect in such films as Straight to Hell, Sid and Nancy, Mystery Train and Lost in Space. He also worked on several film soundtracks including John Cusack’s Grosse Point Blank.

After a brief spell deputising for Shane MacGowan as lead vocalist with the Pogues, he spent much of the 1990s resisting invitations to re-form the Clash as various compilations kept them in the charts and a reissue of Should I Stay or Should I Go? became the Clash’s first number one single, following its use in a Levi’s jeans commercial. Strummer reportedly refused an offer of more than £3 million for the group to tour America. “That was never the Clash way of doing things,” he later told The Times. “We all agreed it would have been sickening to have been playing that music with the pound signs hanging over us.”

It was not until 1999 that he returned fully to the fray with a new band, the Mescaleros, and the album Rock, Art and the X-ray Style. A second Mescaleros album, Global A Go-Go, followed within 18 months. “It took ten years to recharge my batteries. I felt isolated and wanted to wait until I’d stopped being the singer from a once-famous group and was this guy who needed help,” he said.

Although he moved to Somerset to bring up his family, his political fire remained undimmed. “The spirit of rock’n’roll helped to stop the Vietnam War,” he told The Times last year. “Perhaps it’s a bit crazy for me still to feel like that. But I can’t help it. Someone’s got to keep the faith.”

In March he was due to have been inducted with the Clash into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when it was expected that the group’s original line-up would perform for the first time since 1983. Fate has decreed that the Clash will now never reunite. He was also working on a track written with Bono and Dave Stewart for Aids Awareness in Africa.

He is survived by his wife, two daughters and a stepdaughter.

Baby Aaron celebrating The Clash.

Happy Winter Solstice 2008 – Inner City Unit – Riddle Records – 1980

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

At the Winter Solstice, we celebrate Children’s Day to honour our children and to bring warmth, light and cheerfulness into the dark time of the year. Holidays such as this have their origin as “holy days”. They are the way human beings mark the sacred times in the yearly cycle of life.

In the northern latitudes, midwinter’s day has been an important time for celebration throughout the ages. On this shortest day of the year, the sun is at its lowest and weakest, a pivot point from which the light will grow stronger and brighter. This is the turning point of the year. The romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.

The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life’s continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets.

The custom of mummers visiting their neighbours in costume, which is still alive in Newfoundland in U.S.A, is descended from these masked processions.

Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).

In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule (or juul). Great yule logs were burned, and people drank mead around the bonfires listening to minstrel-poets singing ancient legends. It was believed that the yule log had the magical effect of helping the sun to shine more brightly.

Mistletoe, which was sacred because it mysteriously grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was ceremoniously cut and a spray given to each family, to be hung in the doorways as good luck. The celtic Druids also regarded mistletoe as sacred. Druid priests cut it from the tree on which it grew with a golden sickle and handed it to the people, calling it All-Heal. To hang it over a doorway or in a room was to offer goodwill to visitors. Kissing under the mistletoe was a pledge of friendship. Mistletoe is still forbidden in most Christian churches because of its Pagan associations, but it has continued to have a special place in home celebrations.

In the third century various dates, from December to April, were celebrated by Christians as Christmas. January 6 was the most favoured day because it was thought to be Jesus’ baptismal day (in the Greek Orthodox Church this continues to be the day to celebrate Christmas). Around 350, December 25 was adopted in Rome and gradually almost the entire Christian Church agreed to that date, which coincided with Winter Solstice, the Yule and the Saturnalia. The merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of the year for all of Europe. During the 16th century, under the influence of the Reformation, many of the old customs were suppressed and the Church forbade processions, colourful ceremonies, and plays.

In 1647 in England, Parliament passed a law abolishing Christmas altogether. When Charles II came to the throne, many of the customs were revived, but the feasting and merrymaking were now more worldly than religious.

Solitary Ashtray

So T Ry As I D

Debut 7″ single by those festival pranksters Inner City Unit, text below from the I.C.U. site doremi.co.uk.

In April 1979 the first I.C.U. converged at Turners Caddilac Ranch; the guilty parties were:

Nik Turner – Vox & Sax,
Dead Fred – Vox & Keys,
Trev Thoms – Vox & Guitar,
Mo Vicarage – Synth
Dino Ferrrari – Drums

After 4 days Rehearsal the band went to Foel Studios in Wales and recorded 4 Tracks: Watching The Grass Grow, Cars Eat With Auto Face, Alright On The Flight + Solitary Astrid. This line up played 1 gig in Liverpool and also at the 1979 Glastonbury Festival as SPHINX this show was filmed by the BBC and an edited version was shown in 1980.

Mo Vicarage retired from live playing and Nik, Fred, Trev + Dino were joined by Baz Magneto on Bass. After playing Stonehenge and various other festivals Dino returned to Rome and was replaced by Dave Dog. In September the band released its 1st single Solitary Ashtray on its own label and begins to rise on the club-dump circuit. (The first ICU single, was written about German Terrorist Astrid Proll, one time resident of Brougham Road in Hackney. To avoid controvosy this track was later re-named “Solitary Ashtray”, the dub on the “b” side was the favorite dub of renouned Reggae producer Dennis Bovell).

Dave Dog leaves + Fred takes a bad trip, (The first of many… ..he’s cured now though) meanwhile Mick Stupp takes the Drum Chair. Fred returns and the band records demos of Space Invaders and Polyethylene for a Major Label. (Polydor) December 1980 see’s our heros turning down the major label + staying with their own label (Riddle records) to record their 1st Album – PASSOUT at low cost in 3 days. The 3rd and final release on Riddle was the single PARADISE BEACH in March 1980. It was during this time that the “Insolence accross the Nation” half of “Ersatz” was recorded..

After the release of Passout Baz leaves the band & is replaced by Man of Mystery ‘Little Bit’ for a tour supporting Sham 69 – Skinhead violence becomes a part of the bands persona. Little bit leaves and is replaced by Speed Machine who destroys any credibility he may have had by falling on his head off of the Music Machines 9 ft Stage during his first live apperance… NEXT!

May-June 1980 Dead Fred is now on Bass + as a last resort Pstupid Steve (Pond) joins as miming Keyboard player and synthi anarchist. Blithering Idiots tour starts 1 week late in Leeds. (Does anyone know where we can stay tonight?)

In the summer the band plays the Stonehenge festival and supports Horsewind at 2 Lyceum gigs in London. Mick Stupp slips away + Dave Dog returns to support Psychadelic Furs at the Lyceum. Pstupid leaves to join the magnificent Three Laws, the rest of the band reconverge at the Caddilac Ranch.

Dino Ferrari returns to drum stool and band now a four piece Nik, Trev, Fred + Dino start to rehearse and write material for THE MAXIMUM EFFECT. Following the release of the album in the summer of 1981 the band begins a 6 week residency at the Marquee. After various gigs through the summer (including 2 with Hugh Lloyd Langton as Guitarist) ICU played its last gig at Sizewell.

English Subtitles – 10 Seconds Too Late / Glass Records – 1981

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Tannoy

Cars On Fire

A decent 7″ single by English Subtitles, a West London band sounding a little like North London’s Lack Of Knowledge., which is no bad thing…

The text below is from downwithtractors.blogspot.com

English Subtitles released one single on Small Wonder Records “Time Tunnel”, then this single, a flexidisc which came out on Crepuscule and finally a compilation album which contained one side of their studio recordings, and a live set on the other side.
This single is just WONDERFUL, a doomy slice of malevolent goth-rock, full of foreboding and self-loathing; Karl Burns from The Fall plays drums on the track, but not many other details survive….

“They’re calling my name, over the Tannoy, they’re paging me…what do they want? What do they want?”

Hey, who knows. One thing is for sure, the singer, Roy Gordon wasn’t just putting on this display of paranoia for show: he genuinely had some severe “issues”. The single comes with a facsimile of a N.M.E. cutting, detailing an “episode” he had whilst on a tube train – this culminated in a radical act of conceptual art as his friend Pete Davis drove a six inch nail right through the palm of Gordon’s hand in front of horrified commuters, whilst Gordon calmly collected the resultant flow of blood on a sheet of plastic. This pool of blood was used for the sleeve of the single (see above). Classy.

1974’s Coum Transmissions would have been proud!

The Shapes – Sofa Records – 1979

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Wots For Lunch Mum? / College Girls

I Saw Batman (In The Laundrette) / Chatterboks

Debut 7″ single from The Shapes, slight Rezillos vibe on these tracks. The detailed biography below courtesy of hyped2death.com.

Like many of their contemporaries, The Shapes were amongst the first wave of bands that formed in the wake of the Great Swearing Incident of December 1976. Whilst having the satisfying by product of terminating the career of the rather oily Bill Grundy, and launching that of those lovable moptops the Sex Pistols, it’s quite hard to see in retrospect quite why hearing the word “fuck” would send an entire country into a paroxsym of self loathing and have questions asked in the House of Commons, as one could hear this same fine piece of Anglo Saxon just about everywhere one went in Britain.
It’s a little hard to see what all the fuss was about now, but back then it all seemed rather exciting, especially to two ex public schoolboys in lovely Leamington Spa in Great Britain. Having both been given their marching orders from a less-than-stellar minor British public school for painting the school ocelot orange, they decide to form a punk group so that they can say “fuck” more often and maybe change the course of a thousand years of British history, whilst getting free beer and signing on the dole. Also, the prospect of a shag or two wasn’t exactly far from the top of the list. Thus with the meeting of Ben Browton and Gareth Holder, Seymour Bybuss and Brian Helicopter were born, The Shapes’s story take flight,and hopefully I can stop writing this in the third person. The origins of our nom-de-plumes departed from the usual choices that were de riguer for the punk elite in those days, and reflected a singular property of The Shapes, that of being too clever for our own good. If we had been proper punks, we would have chosen names like Barry Arse or suchlike, but there you go. Ben chose Seymour Bybuss from the legend “See More By Bus” that was printed on the back of every Midland Red Bus Company ticket in Leamington Spa. Not only did that joke not travel well, noboby realised it was a pun, which was endlessly annoying. People just thought he was French or something. My more obviously fake moniker came from the awful daily TV news magazine programme and haven for skateboarding ducks, Nationwide. Some poor sod from a local borough council was on, and despite being the sort of appallingly dull little chap that infest local government, his interview was much enlivened by the mispelling of his name at the bottom of the screen. Transposing two letters in his name, they had changed it from Tony Havercroft into Tony Hovercraft. I found this so hysterical obviously, that I concocted the name Brian Helicopter on the spot, and was then stuck with it for the next 20 odd years. Oh how we all laughed. The names had a secondary purpose too. Leamington Spa is a small place, and we wanted to be able to sign on the dole without being caught.

So here I am, stuck in Leamington Spa. I haven’t got a single clue of what to do with myself, but I know that whatever it is, it probably wasn’t going to be what I was doing at the time, which, being as you ask so nicely, was working as a clerical officer at the local government offices. The Midland Road Construction Unit to be exact. Our function was to compile a list of all the listed buildings in Great Britain, along with all the national parks and areas of natural beauty, and then build motorways through them. This, funnily enough, seemed to be viewed rather dimly by the segments of the population who were informed that their house was scheduled for demolition next Wednesday to make room for said motorway, or failing that, they would graciously be allowed to remain where they were, but advised to be a bit careful when hanging out the washing in the back garden, which would from now on be referred to as the A234 Bromsgrove aterial by pass or some such similar nonsense. Having already seen the Sex Pistols in the flesh, and having dyed my hair bright green, it might also be safe to say that any long term career plans centered around local government were probably unwise.

It was truly a vessel of lost souls. Corridors of the damned, shuffling from grey office to grey office, ticking away their lives, with that all important Holy Grail of a secure pension, the meagre reward for a life unlived. I didn’t really think of all of that though, I was just a lazy little sod who was bored shitless, and had job tenure. It was impossible to get sacked from the job, no matter how incompetant you were, and believe me I tried, as you couldn’t get state assitance if you quit. I would come in after two hours sleep and slump over my desk for hours on end. A combination of the green hair, and the fact that at that time, anybody who looked vaguely punk rock was regarded as coming directly from Beelzebub’s bottom stopped anyone from saying a word to me lest a sound thrashing result. Funnily enough, there was one other person in the office who behaved in a similar manner. He is currently the guitarist for Dr. Feelgood, so there you go. I would spend the nights at local clubs seeing bands like The Damned, Rezillos, Wayne County, Buzzcocks, and just about every other punk band I could manage to find. This did not contribute to a prosfessional demeanor the next day at work, and clearly something was going to have to give.

Down the very same street in another government office wastes the lovely, soon to be, Seymour Bybuss. His situation is the same as mine, only his hair is dyed orange. He works in the Unemployment offices, and is scheming about ways to make use of it’s facilities as a customer rather than an employee. We meet in the pub at lunchtime over restorative pints of bitter to plot our escape. I had played in bands before, and actually had a bass guitar, albeit a totally crap one. He, on the other hand, bore a passing resemblance to Rat Scabies of The Damned, and so it was deemed that fate had decreed that he become a drummer. Thus, armed for greatness, with this the totality of our plan, and ignoring the fact that neither of us had access to a drum kit, we set off to find our fortune.

Practice for the fledgling band takes place in the luxurious confines of Seymour’s parent’s garage. We know it’s their garage, because they keep coming in to tell us to turn it down. We manage to cadge a drum kit off a friend of mine that I had been in a band with, and armed with sticks, Seymour commences upon his new career as a percussionist. Left handed as he is, and possessing the meter of a badly loaded Hotpoint washing machine on spin cycle, it fast becomes apparent that even given the vast lassitude of the punk rock genre to tolerate a wide variety of styles, Seymour’s future in the music industry does not reside behind the drums. The nearest we get to a musical interlude resembles nothing so much as a crockery-filled warddrobe descending a set of basement steps. We regroup, and realizing that whilst we do not possess any left handed guitars, we do however possess a left handed microphone. Thus Seymour is destined to be thrust to greatness as the singer. A deftly timed move it is too, as the owner of the drum kit appears and demands to know what the fuck we’re doing with it. Seymour completes his audition for the singers job by miming to At The Hop wearing a gorilla mask. You had to be there. We set about recruiting others immediately to fill the ranks.

It soon becomes clear to us that the selection of like minded musicians in Leamington Spa is somewhat limited. I’d like to say that we auditioned and rejected many hopeful applicants, but it would be more truthful to say that nobody would come and play with us. In the provinces at that time, punk was regarded at about the same level as child molestation, and one wasn’t really afforded the kind of counterculture respect for the whole enterprise as one might have expected in London. Oh yes, and we were also shite. However, we persevere, and by a combination of luck, and a general lowering of standards, we cobble together The Shapes Mark I. Seymour is responsible for the name. I am responsible for not being able to think up anything better. We are joined in our endeavor by two guitarists and a drummer. The guitarists are a Nigel Greenway and a Nick Hadley, and the drummer is a fresh faced 15 year old called Charlie Pullen. Nigel and Nick are both also rejects from the public school system, whilst Charlie’s mum owns a hotel with a rather fine basement area for the practicing in. Our initial excitement at having a line up is tempered somewhat by the fact the guitarist’s favorite groups appear to be Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash respectively. It is also tempered by the fact that they both bear personalities that if one was to search for an accurate description of them, the word that would come to mind would probably rhyme with punt. We can’t complain too much though, as we have already committed to our first public outing, and it would be nice if we actually could play a tune or two by the time we appear to an enthralled public.

The day of The Shapes public unveiling dawns. We are to play at Warwick University, which bafflingly is situated neither in the town of Warwick, nor indeed even in Warwickshire, but in Coventry in the West Midlands. Such was the excitement surrounding punk rock at that time, that not only were we able to get on the bill for the evening’s entertainment sight unseen, but we weren’t even on the bottom of it. The rest of the bill is comprised of other notables who all go on to varying degrees of fame and fortune. The headline act are Raw records favorites The Killjoys. Their singer is notable for two things. Firstly, he is Kevin Rowland, soon to trade in his punk rock credentials for the more lucrative position of mastermind of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and from thence to dress up as a woman in a a rather alarming attempt to curry public favor. The second notable thing about him is the level of hatred that the rest of The Killjoys appear to have for him. The Killjoys also have a rather fine female bass player in Gil Scott Weston. She is remarkable for two things also. Firstly, that she goes on to better things with the all female heavy metal combo Girlschool, and secondly, that she rather quite bafflingly refuses an offer of sexual congress from yours truly. Bugger. She’ll come around though, they always do. Mind you, as of this writing in January 2002, she has yet to call. Maybe she lost the number. Second on the bill are The Models, whose single Man Of The Year is doing rather nicely thank you in the independent charts. They are notable for having as their guitarist, a rather portly gentleman by the name of Marco Pirroni, who goes on to fame as Adam Ant’s cohort. Third on the bill are The Shapes, who are notable for being crap, and stealing anything that is not either nailed down or red hot. Last on the bill is Spizz, who goes on to fame as, well, Spizz, and is doomed to sing Where’s Captain Kirk for the rest of his life. He is notable for two things also co-incidentally, getting picked up after the gig by his mum, and receiving a punch up the bracket in the course of the evening courtesy of The Shapes’ Nick Hadley esq. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I’m sure he deserved it.

Suffused with success and stolen property, we make our way back to Leamington Spa where we get another gig, this time as support for the Coventry Automatics. They, dear readers, also benefit from the magical touch of The Shapes, change their name to The Specials, and pretend that they never had to associate with the likes of us. The Shapes however, decide that having served the lengthy musical apprenticeship of three or four gigs, we should commit our art to tape. We decamp to Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios in Leamington Spa. Woodbine Mobile Recording Studio is singular in it’s immobility, located as it is in the basement of a house, and is a four track owned and run by the delightful Mr. John A Rivers, who despite batting for tthe other team, is genuinely pleased to have us. We record four songs for the grand total of 27 pounds. We sound exactly like what we are, five spotty herberts with crappy equipment and minimal skills, but we are happy with the result. I have a Zenta bass guitar that also cost all of 25 pounds. Every note I play results in a resounding “bonk” note. I have an amplifier that I bought from the back of the Melody Maker for practically nothing. Fame clearly awaits. What could possibly stop us from the stardom that beckons ? Alas, we are to find out.

It’s 1978 and we have just been rehearsing. Actually, to be honest, in this instance, rehearsing is more like a code word for arguing about why The Shapes should sound more like Thin Lizzy or Wishbone Ash, as this is what we do most of the time. Seymour and I are most dischuffed with this approach to writing, but we don’t really have a lot of choice in the matter at the time. It’s a fairly easy thing to avoid though, by just pretending to be unable to play anything that didn’t suit our tastes. It clearly can’t go on like this, and it doesn’t, though not for reasons that we could have anticipated. After the rehearsing/arguing session, it is decided that Chinese food shall be consumed. Now, gentle reader, this is 1978 in the provinces of merry England, so Chinese food means chips served from the local take away, because everywhere else is closed. For reasons lost in the mists of time and substance abuse, I decide not to go, and ride off valiantly into the sunset on my trusty Honda 400-4. Actually, it was probably to the Warwick Hotel to drink copiously of the watery lager, but that’s not important. The rest of The Shapes, comprising Seymour and assorted oafs go to the Ming Kee take away for comestibles, and this is the point at which matters deteriorate alarmingly, for in said establishment lurks the bane of all provincial towns, the casual boys. Dressed in Oxford bags, with star jumpers, and looking not unlike the bastard children of the Bay City Rollers and a factory chicken, they have been out on the town and are in search of badly fried food to soak up the gallons of best bitter they have been drinking, and trouble. They find the former at the Ming Kee,and the latter in the form of The Shapes, punk rockers heaven sent for this purpose. Now the numbers are actually in The Shapes favor, so that when they lurk outside and attack the band unawares on the way out, one would think that a good account would have been given of themselves by The Shapes. Unfortunately, as soon as trouble is spied, the rest of the band run away with all due speed, presumably in search of a collective spine, and leave Seymour on his own to receive a vicious beating that nearly kills him. His head is repeatedly kicked into a curb until he is rendered unconscious, and left bleeding in the gutter, from where he is discovered and rushed to hospital where he is nursed back to some semblance of normality. It is safe to say though, that the trauma does not leave him unaffected, and he is never quite the same person. The rest of the band escape without injury, but we never really forgive them for their cowardice, and the relationship between me and Seymour and the rest never recovers. We miss all the gigs that we were to play, and the writing is on the wall for The Shapes Mark I.

Slowly, Seymour recovers and we start to gig again. We have by this time, and for reasons that I don’t fully understand even now, acquired a manager. His name is Rob Atkins and he seems like a nice bloke. He has two step-daughters called Sharon and Tracey, which affords me no small amusement. They go out with two of the group. He has another step daughter called Beverley. She goes out with me. This relationship is spectacularly shag free, much to my chagrin, but which at time was becoming somewhat of a pattern in my life. He manages to get a producer from EMI to come and see us. We, as usual, stink the place up, but because EMI is still mortally embarrassed by the whole Sex Pistols fiasco, they agree to put us in the studio and see what comes of the enterprise as long as we record some material that they will prepare for us as well as our own stuff. The warning bells should have been ringing at that point, but dear reader, we are just poor naive lads from the country. What do we know of such things? We know only of the simple pleasures of life, like farming, or sitting on an air hose. We knew one thing though, the chap from EMI was certainly a hippie of the first order, and introduced The Shapes to their first taste of the dear old Bolivian marching powder. Suffused with this fine pharmaceutical, we all said “Yes !”. Mind you, at that point, we would have said yes to having electrodes attached to our genitals and being flogged senseless with a knotted rope. In retrospect, I think this may have been preferable to what followed.

We are told that we will be changing our name to The Racket and recording a song called “My Hero”. We listen to a demo recorded for our listening pleasure. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete shite of the first order. It is sung in a sort of strange nasal mockney, a la Ben Elton, replete with Rottenesque sneers and pretend bad playing. We listen appalled, but perhaps we can make something of it when we re-record it. Then we are told that this is actually the finished product, and that all we are required to do is to mime it on Top Of The Pops and other TV appearances. We are to be a front band it appears, for a scam by some old hippies on EMI’s roster to cash in. We will sacrifice our dignity for some small consideration. Basically, we’ve been had. It’s all too much for Nick Hadley, and he decamps, never to be seen again, so it wasn’t all bad I suppose. He continues to play, surprisingly enough, linking up with Wishbone Ash at some point, so he must have been happy. The Shapes now continue as a four piece, with Nigel Greenway as the remaining guitarist.

It’s a funny old time for The Shapes. We are thoroughly “handled” by our manager and the selection of people foisted on us by the producer at EMI. Suddenly, there is a change in plan. The whole nonsensical Racket/My Hero nonsense is dropped and we shall be allowed to continue to be known as The Shapes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will still have to record complete arse written by someone else as well as our own songs. I rationalize this by reminding myself that this seemed to work out for The Sweet. However, The Sweet had the writing team of Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman, and we have a fellow called Nick Brind of little known EMI tax loss Joe Public. A seemingly nice chap, but a pathological liar where money and plans for my future are concerned. At this time, Tom Robinson was enjoying some success with a song called 2,4,6,8 Motorway, a song about the rigors of such a non new wave activity as truck driving. The Shapes, courtesy of a piece of doggerel written by the aforementioned Mr.Brind, are forced into Bird Sound studios with a forked vermin stick to record a tune entitled “Truck Drivin’ Man”. It is an appalling piece of derivative crap, and are all thoroughly ashamed of it, with the notable exception of our guitarist who I secretly suspect of being satisfied that he was recording a “real” song for once, and none of this punk nonsense thank you very much. We also have to record a song for Mr. Brind call “Stick It PSU’ ,a supposedly punk song about the delights of taking up the cable locker. Mr. Brind takes the lead vocal on this to surprising silence from Seymour, who wanders outside to improve his voice by chain smoking Player’s No 6. He’s clearly not as daft as he looks. We are allowed to record “Chatterbox”, a song of our own. It is completely ruined by Mr.Brind’s insistence on doing backing vocals a la Chas and Dave. The production is quite simply the worst I have ever heard, and the whole affair sounds like it has been recorded underwater. Seymour and I leave totally disillusioned, whilst the others seem quite happy with their days work. The pictures taken at the time show just what a delighful experience it all has been. The only good thing about it is that I have finally managed to purchase a fine Fender Jazz bass, and a Marshall bass stack, so the days of resounding “bonk” noises are at an end. What is also drawing to an end is The Shapes Mark II, but not before the world rights itself somewhat.

One good thing comes from all of this though. Under the watchful eye of our handlers, we are actually getting to be very proficient. Being forced to rehearse correctly and stopped from fighting incessantly has produced a rather efficient little unit. Our rehearsal space leaves a little to be desired though, as it is in the Commonwealth Club of Leamington Spa, which is a drinking repository for the Indian community. They are less than pleased to be sharing their space with us, and it is not unusual to find one’s equipment covered in the remains of cold curry. I take my guitar home with me as a result. The amplifier dries off on it’s own eventually, although we do get followed by packs of wild dogs whenever we leave the house. One other thing that comes out of this is that is becomes clear that dear little Charlie, who has hung on in there so far, really isn’t up to the next step at this time, and so in our first act of cut throated behavior, we fire him and hire instead the lovely Dave Gee. Also clearly a hippie, but we can soon sort that out. He was a good drummer and we desperately need one at this point. Charlie goes on to become a fine drummer in his own right, and does sterling service in many local bands. We start to gig again, and surprisingly start to go over well, as we have mastered the art of playing the same song simultaneously. We have also mastered the art of song writing a little better, and because by this time, the EMI chaps have got bored with us and forgotten about us, I write a couple of fine songs. We record one of them “College Girls”, at Woodbine, and things come together. It is fast, well played, tight as a duck’s arse and for the time, commercial as all get out. As we are wrapping it all up, who should turn up but Nick Brind. He’s been alerted to the whole affair by our guitarist. Seymour and I are totally gobsmacked at this, but Mr. Brind seems genuinely impressed by what we did all on our own, and he disappears with the guitarist. Something about this strikes me as odd, so I make sure that I have the master tapes with me when we decamp from the studio when all is done.

Sure enough, it appears that dear Nigel and Mr.Brind have conspired to give Mr.Brind the song “College Girls” and ditch us. It’s the end for The Shapes Mark II immediately. Nigel decamps forthwith to find his fortune, and is never seen nor heard of again. Mr.Brind has a nervous breakdown and is not seen again, so there is a plus side to all this, and The Shapes are now years ahead of their time as a drum and bass combo. Our manager Rob also takes his cue and leaves, but as part of our negotiated settlement, we can still use his van to get around to gigs in. It’s been 18 months of hard miserable work, and we are back where we started, older, wiser, with no record out and only half a band, and certainly no money or management. We had to make the decision to either continue or to knock it on the head and go back in defeat to our day jobs. The thought of the silent satisfaction of our coworkers was enough to convince us to try again, only this time under our own terms. The trusty Honda was sold, as it was pretty much the only asset that we had, and armed with this cash, we set out to find some new Shapes, record a record, get it out, and get Dave Gee a damn haircut and some straight trousers. The last of these tasks was to prove the hardest to accomplish.

Having learned from harsh experience, the folly of trying to recruit like-minded souls from the stagnant pond that is Royal Leamington Spa, we elect to look further afield, and to this end place a wanted advertisement in the hallowed pages of all-that-is-cool, namely the New Musical Express. We get many replies, not because we are that well known or good, but because we dramatically overstate our prospects and achievements. We start auditioning guitarists, and are surprised to find that although we were quite specific about what sort of band we were, and what sort of guitarists we were looking for, we are inundated with the inept, the bearded, the be-flared, and the just plain nonsensical. However, one does stick in the memory, and we elect to try him out. He is Steve Richards from Andover, and despite the fact that he thinks Andover is a borough of London and being three feet tall, he is promptly lied to, promised fame, wealth and a shag, and induced to sign on. We don’t mention that the shag is possibly going to be provided by the recording engineer, and that Steve will be playing a less active role at this point, it has to be said. Dave wakes up at some juncture, and insists that we try out a friend of his for the second guitar spot and we agree, mainly because no-one else looks good, and to shut Dave up. The guitarist in question is quite good, but is also a rampant hippy, and so addled by recreational relaxants, that he is borderline psychotic. His behavior is so erratic that even Dave doesn’t try to foist this one on us, especially after said lunatic steals Dave’s car. Dave does suggest another person though, and with great trepidation, we contact him. He turns out to be relatively normal, although we find out later that he is indeed a lunatic, but in a more acceptable manner to us. He is Tim Jee, and he completes the line up of The Shapes Mark III. Both guitarists have already schooled themselves in punk, although Steve does alarmingly know the entire Deep Purple catalog by heart. He also knows all the Shadows tunes too, which is somewhat bizarre, but we end up stealing a lot of that and speeding it all up to disguise it, so it came in handy I suppose.

After a little rehearsal, we return to Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios, still as permanently fixed in place as it was the last time we visited, and we record what is to become the Part Of The Furniture Ep on our own label, Sofa Records. We record four songs, (I Saw) Batman (In The Launderette), College Girls, What’s For Lunch Mum (Not Beans Again), and Chatterbox. The versions are faster and more urgent with the two guitarists, and we retire well pleased by the whole affair. The Honda money is duly spent on pressing and sleeve inserts and we dutifully spend an evening stuffing the inserts into the records. That took us up to the point that we knew, so after persuading everyone we knew to buy one, we sent one to just about every DJ at every radio station we could think of. We never really expected anyone would play it, especially not John Peel, because we had played a road show of his not long previously as the old Mark II Shapes, and had quite frankly gone down like a fart in a space suit. But play it he did, not once, not twice, but incessantly. The phone started to ring, and suddenly we were a hot property. We couldn’t get rid of the records fast enough. We re-pressed and re-pressed and loaded up Dave’s car, which he by now had pried back from the grasp of the psychotic hippy, who had relocated to a hillside in rural Wales to await the spaceships, or just to avoid a severe thrashing by Dave. We would drive to London and starting at Westbourne Grove, start unloading them at Virgin, Rough Trade, Fresh, Cherry Red, and all the way up to Small Wonder in Walthamstow to hawk them to the lovely Pete Stennet and his even lovelier wife Marie. A cup of tea would be cadged and then off home again. The week would see trips to all the other major distributors, Red Rhino, Dead Good, and a host of others. Suddenly, places that wouldn’t let us in were calling us, and the gigging never stopped. We started scoring supports all over, and so began the never ending swathe of gigs that became the Part Of The Furniture tour of 1979.

We support The Fall in Nottingham and find them to be every bit as miserable as we are led to believe from their recordings, except for their delightful female keyboard player to whom I, as tradition demands, offer the hallowed resources of my deluxe body. As tradition demands, she refuses and spends the rest of the evening staying as physically far away from me as possible without actually leaving the building. She’ll come around though, but she’ll have to line up behind the others. Their guitarist Martin Bramah uses Peavey Amps, and is most disdainful of our Marshall backline. “Bloody heavy metal” I seem to remember him sniffing. The Shapes go on and are for once very good, and retire to the dressing rooms if not conquering heroes, then at least not beaten up by the audience, which is all we were looking for at that juncture. The Fall start. Halfway through the first song, silence erupts. 30 seconds later, the door to the dressing room bursts open and in comes Martin Bramah. His amplifier has exploded, can he use our heavy metal backline ? This is almost as embarrassing for us as it is for him, as we are caught in the act of going through The Fall’s stuff while they are on-stage in the hope of finding something worth smoking, eating, drinking or stealing. We come to an arrangement whereby he can use Tim’s Marshall and we won’t nick any of his stuff. Honor is restored, and we part ways happy. Well, at least The Shapes do. The Fall drift off in a cloud of existential ansgt. I’ll tell you, those guys know how to party.

On to Sheffield where we support The Cure at the awful Limit club. They have just signed to Polydor, and their single Killing An Arab is doing rather well. We arrive to find that The Cure are there and although a three piece with minimal equipment, they take up the whole stage and refuse to move so much as a plectrum allow us on. The drummer in particular is a complete git, complaining that we shouldn’t even get a dressing room. I get on all right with the bass player, and Dave works out a compromise with the Cure’s drummer. Their drummer will move his kit back enough so that Dave can fit his on the stage, and in return, Dave won’t hammer the Cure’s drummer to an unrecognizable paste. This seems to be an acceptable solution to both parties, and we go on only to find that The Cure’s crew have sabotaged the lighting rig and we are forced to play under the minimal house lights. We’d done a lot worse in the past, so we got on with it and did really well with the crowd. We load the van, and just before The Cure go on, Dave suddenly remembers he has to do something. He disappears back inside and reemerges a little while later looking somewhat flushed and suggests that we make our egress with all due speed. Apparently, he had reneged on his part of the agreement with The Cure’s drummer, so the chances of further outings with them were minimal to say the least. We were just disappointed that we were not asked to join in. We do however, have a nice fight with each other on the way home, so the evening wasn’t without it’s little share of excitment.

We work with a nice lady from the Cowbell agency in London and for some strange reason we find ourselves playing the Music Machine in London’s Camden town with the 14 piece disco band Gonzalez. They have a hit record at the time and so do The Shapes, but The Shapes find themselves playing to 2000 bemused disco fans. The silence after each number is deafening, but about halfway through, we start to enjoy ourselves, mainly because this is the sort of absurdity that we are used to. We leave the stage to the sound of crickets chirping and retire to the dressing room where we, as tradition demands, help ourselves to everything not nailed down or hot. We stock up on the tools of the disco craze in the form or shakers, castanets, and things that go “boing”. But what it this ? Steve Richards has scored! The diminutive one has pulled ! This can’t be right, it’s clearly my turn. However all is not as it seems. He has indeed pulled a rather dodgy looking punkess, but he’s been beaten to it. She actually came in with Lemmy from Motorhead who is now looking for her at the stage side bar. My job is to keep giving him 10p pieces to play the video games until Steve and his date can finish their tryst, if tryst not too grand a word for a knee trembler in the stage lavatory whilst standing on a box to make up for the height differential. We drive home minus two of us. We have no idea of which two, except that I wasn’t one of them. We all arrived somewhere eventually. The night is not without it’s rewards. We get paid, and we also get the London Evening Standard’s award for the Worst Mix Of Bands on a London stage in their 1979 year end round up.

We go and play at all the dives in London with the famous, the no so famous and the soon to be famous. We play with The Reaction, who shortly thereafter benefit from the magic Shapes touch and change their name to Talk Talk and go on, as is usual by now, to fame and fortune. The singer is once again bereft of all personality and I see him later trying to staunch a flow of blood from his nose. Apparently he had been negotiating with our drummer again. If this doesn’t stop, we’re going to get a reputation. This behavior is continued by Steve who threatens Sounds music journalist Gary Bushell the next night when we play in West London with all women (don’t call us girls, we’re not fucking girls, we’re a feminist all-women collective), Tour De Force. Inexplicably, he writes a great review of us. We must threaten journalists more often. It must be said though, that had we had known that he would eventually become the right wing homophobic, race-bating asshole and all around media nightmare that he became, we would have foregone the review and just given him the sound thrashing that he is still grossly overdue for. It must also be said that I did not offer the delights of my deluxe body to the charming women of Tour De Force. I’m not that stupid.

We are reviewed in the papers, appear on the TV, and generally whore ourselves around anywhere that will have us. These are the good times, and very satisfying they are too. We have finally got to go where we wanted, and for once, under our own terms. We actually have a road crew now. His name is Graham. He comes to see us at a gig somewhere, and never goes home. We carry him in with the gear, and out again with it. He is perfect as a roadie, except for having little or no understanding about where stuff goes, but he’s willing to work for what we pay him, i.e. nothing. We give no thought for the future, because we are too busy in the present, and that dear reader, sows the seeds of our undoing, but not before much more fun can be had.

So after years of false starts, life is suddenly a blur of gigs, interviews, vans, chips, motorways, and social relaxants. Very nice it too it has to be said. We go and play the opening of a new punk club in the delightfully quaint northern hamlet of Burnley, a place that clearly gave rise to the phrase “It’s grim up north”. We find that our support is the ever lovely Not Sensibles, and that the club is actually a genuine working mans club rented for the evening. The manager shows us to the stage and says, “you can move the bingo machine, but leave the organ alone”. These are fine words to live by indeed as a general philosophy, but whilst the disposal of the bingo machine is easy enough, the organ presents us with a problem. It clearly last saw duty on the Titanic, and is about the same size. Unless we actually play inside it, there’s no room for us on the stage. We decide to move it anyway, and the assorted might of The Shapes is brought to bear on it while the club manager has buggered off to get chips and race a whippet or something. After much straining, there is a deafening tearing sound and the organ moves. We then find why we shouldn’t have moved it, as it was actually plumbed into an elaborate bellows system substage. Strange gasping pipes stick up through a gaping maw in the stage. All is not lost though. We remember that prior to becoming a drummer, Dave had a huge organ (insert Kenneth Williams noise here), and he might be able to diagnose the problem and it’s solution. Dave is summoned form the van where he is busy rolling Moroccan Woobines and asked to give his considered analysis of the situation. He brings his experience to bear on the situation and delivers his considered opinion. “It’s fucked”. So there you are. See, it always pays to get a qualified opinion. Over the horizon, we see the shape of the club manager hoving into view, loaded down with flat caps and black puddings, so we resort to plan B when he arrives. We blame the Not Sensibles. As the manager is led away weeping, we retire to the bar to allow the road crew to finish assembling the backline and destroy what little is left of the club’s infrastructure. The Not Sensibles sit in a corner dealing us black looks.

The Not Sensibles do a surprisingly good set, which is always a nuisance, and we go on to thunderous reaction. The crowd go wild, but as I play, I can see at the back that the club is still filled with all the usual patrons. Old men with flat caps and whippets playing dominoes, oblivious to the mayhem that is going on up at the front. It should be pointed out to avoid confusion, that it was the little men in flat caps that were playing dominoies, not the whippets. They just sat under the tables. Most surreal. After we finish, the stage is mobbed, and in a moment where the karmic wheel is realigned, the crowd steal anything that is not nailed down or hot. I think I saw them carry out Steve Richards at one point. I am surrounded by people, and by the time I stop signing autographs and the like, my watch has disappeared. I was almost as annoyed as the person I stole it off must have been. Tim is distressed because someone has stolen all the strings off his guitar as well as the bridge. He’s playing a rare Rickenbacker 420A and this is pretty much the last time it’s ever played, as the bridge is almost impossible to replace. He’s not well pleased I can tell you. We depart the lovely town of Burnley later, glad to not all be wearing cartoon barrels instead of clothes. We are stopped by the police in the wee hours of the morning during the drive home, for weaving about above and beyond the call of normality. This however, does not deter Dave from constructing and lighting a joint the size of a sewer pipe to pass the time whilst I bullshit about the state of the van. There’s a reason he has to sit in the back with the equipment, besides the smell, and this might be one of them.

We move on to the equally delightful town of Bradford, where we play the Royal Standard on Manningham Lane, just up the road from the Yorkshire Ripper’s house. He didn’t come though, as he was unavoidalbly detained. The trip up is enlivened by Dave falling asleep against the passenger door of the car and Steve reaching around from the back and opening it whilst we are travelling up the M6. Dave dissapears from view, only to awake heading for a solo jaunt up the shoulder of the road. In a remarkable display of restraint, he claws his way back in, and a small disagreement ensues. We arrive in Bradford having been involved in what is basically a movable brawl for the last three hours. Not to be outdone, there has been a little contre temps at the venue the night before with the local motorcycle gang the Satan’s Slaves. Consequently, they are out in force outside, and nobody has the courage to actually enter the venue. We play to four people, whom we invite up on stage. The rest of the audience sit outside and listen by proxy. The promoter had tears in his eyes as he counted out the money. We are promised that we will never forget the fish and chips in Bradford. They are correct. They taste like a stool sample from a circus animal. With great foresight and planning, out next gig is in London, so we wearily head off again. We must stop arranging dates alphabetically, and do it by date like everyone else.

After that it’s down to Gloucester to support punk legends Slaughter and the Dogs. Like many legends, they are better in the telling than in the flesh, as they decline to turn up, leaving The Shapes to fill the entire evening. It’s safe to say that their crowd and The Shapes are not usually the same, and this crowd are not well pleased at the non appearance of their Mauncunian heroes. Therefore after the set, we retreat with all due speed to the dressing room, where we are besieged by angry skinheads. Slaughter’s most famous song was “Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone?”. I could have answered that for them right then. They were outside our fucking dressing room. Trying to get in. It’s all right though, because Tim has a plan. He starts a fight with every single one of them by passing out autographs signing himself as Hitler. In the ensuing melee, we hear the sounds of the van revving and we throw ourselves into it and away, never to darken Gloucester’s door again. We do however, continue with our door-darkening behavior just about everywhere else in the free world.

Down in the west country, we are stopped from performing by the police before we even unload the van and advised to piss off smartish. We stay only long enough to collect our contracted fee from the bemused local promoter, and retire to the local hostelry. We inform him that this is the best gig we have ever played, and that in future, the next time that he wants to book us, he can just mail us the fee and save us the drive. We then let him buy drinks for us all to show that there is no hard feelings. We are about as far as we can be in the west of England with actually falling into the sea, so rough cider is the order of the day apparently. I’m lucky enough to be served last and I see that rough cider is a milky white substance that clearly has things growing in it. I also get a chance to look at the locals and see what it’s done to them over the years. I order a lager instead. The pub grows silent, the piano stops playing and all eyes are on me, whilst the landlord looks up the word “lager” in a dictionary. I insist, and muttering, the landlord wanders off mumbling to himself and returns with a dusty pre war bottle of an indeterminate beer with a picture of Goering on it. That will have to do, and do it does very nicely, as the journey home is broken by frequent stops for various Shapes and crew to throw up and/or defecate explosively, sometimes simultaneously. At one point Tim falls into a ditch whilst indulging in this retching/farting/revolving behavior and demands that we leave him there to die. We relent and carry him into the van. He’s left enough of himself in there as it is.

Then we receive a phone call. John Peel has clearly forgotten just how rank the early Shapes were and has invited us to do a session for his BBC program. We wander down to the BBC studios in Maida Vale and are promptly mistaken for Adam and the Ants. Obliging as ever, we sign autographs as such for the adoring and presumably visually impaired fans that are there to see them. We record a blinder of a session for the program, and have a generally wonderful time at the license payers expense. We wander into the largest of the BBC studios where the BBC Symphony is set up. Dave, star percussionist extraordinaire, decides that he needs to play the timpani drums. He does so, and promptly breaks them. We slink out, complete the session and head back out on the never ending tour. On the way up the Edgware road, the door falls off the van. It is a refreshing return to normality for us all. We also find that Trevor Dann, the esteemed BBC producer, has nicked one of our songs to use as the theme tune to his radio show. We’re still waiting for the cheque.

In a two week gap, we head back to dear old Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios, still where we left it, and record our second single, the provocatively titled Airline Disaster/Blastoff double A side. It’s all rather fine too. We start to ship that around for a release as we are now so busy that we don’t have time to do it for ourselves. It is at this point that we fall in with the delightfully insane Terri Hooley and his label Good Vibrations, and The Shapes story takes another twist towards the bizarre.

Now, it has to be said that Terri was, and probably still is, an unusual man. Having catapulted The Undertones to fame via their first single, Teenage Kicks, on his Good Vibrations label, he found himself in the position of running a respectable independent label, despite being located in Belfast, and possessing of what can only be described as unorthodox negotiation skills. As an example, the first time that we met him, he had just returned from negotiating The Undertones signing to CBS which he had concluded by throwing a brick through their front office window. Over pints of beer in the local pub, we found this quite impressive, and in lieu of any other serious offers for our services, decided to join our label to his and release our second single. We also agree to go and play the first festival of Punk and New Wave to be held at the Royal Ulster Hall in Belfast, forgetting that Belfast is is Nothern Ireland, and to get The Shapes there will require an organisational effort similar to the Normandy landings. Luckily, Terri does not conclude this arrangement with us by throwing a brick through my window, but he does take his glass eye out in the pub, which is a little alarming to say the least. This all goes swimmingly otherwise, but trouble is once again brewing in The Shapes camp, and we are due for another upheaval.

Relations between Steve Richards and the rest of the band begin to sour. It’s nothing that can be generally defined, but it’s there. He doesn’t like Seymour, and Seymour doesn’t like him. Actually, it’s Seymour’s girlfriend that doesn’t like him, and Seymour knows which one he has to please to continue to receive the sexual favours that he has become accustomed to. It’s causing us to slip into a torpor from which we are unlikely to recover if something is not done. We all still like him though in our own way, so the decision is a hard one. In an act of particular brazen cowardice, we write him a note declining further use of his services, post it through his door, and fuck off smartish. He is not well pleased, and well he might be. The Shapes now continue as a four piece, allowing the wonderful and by now, completely unstable Tim Jee the assumption of all guitar duties. This actually works out rather well, as the sound is tighter and easier to manage, and so we start writing again, and we can all travel to gigs in one car. To prove this, we all go off to Belfast to play in one car. Well, by that we mean that we are going to to travel there together in one car, not actually go there and play in the car, but you get the general idea. Such is the mounting paranoia of the band for the trip that we are all convinced that we will be kidnapped and murdered the second we set foot in Northern Ireland, and so it is with some trepidation that we arrive in Belfast at 1:00 a.m. and due to a faultless piece of navigation by yours truly, promptly get lost in the dockland area, which it has to be said, is less than salubrious.

Many panicked phone calls later, we are rescued by Terri Hooley, who finds us all hiding under the car, whimpering and practicing Irish accents. We are collected and taken to the warm confines of his house, where we all bed down for the night after he tells us all a bedtime story. The subject of this story appears to be that we are bunch of soft cunts, but it was late and it may have been about a fluffy squirrel called Eric. In the morning I get up and go outside in a perfectly normal residential neighborhood and check under the car for bombs. I look like a complete lunatic apparently, because I draw a curious crowd and once again, have to be rescued. Our idiot drummer goes into a newsagents and asks for a petrol bomb for his lighter, and this and various other potentially fatal faux pas are committed before we can all be collected and taken to the venue where it is our pleasure to be supporting that fine antipodean punk beat combo, The Saints. Chris Bailey seems a genuinely nice fellow, but that’s because he is drunk I suspect. The Saints now have a very pretty female bass player, to whom, as tradition demands, I offer my availability. I expect she must have lost my number. We go on and do rather well. At least no one shoots at us, which is pretty much all we were hoping for at this point. We’re above Protex and Rudi on the bill as I remember, and that is rather satisfying. We hang out the next day before returning home and denude Terri’s record shop and drinks cabinet. The die is cast, we are now established Good Vibrations artists.

Back home, the gigging is getting rather old. We slip from one endless succession of dates into the next. We support The Photos on their British tour. They used to be called Satan’s Rats but not surprisingly, this name was not exactly making inroads into the charts. They were doing rather well, with an album at number 4, and we were doing rather well supporting them, especially at the London Marquee. For some reason, Tim has taken to wearing a full length wool coat and scarf onstage. Under the bright lights, his body temperature triples, and he resembles a psychotic beetroot. His appearance is so alarming, that even in the most crowded venues, a space opens up in front of his part of the stage. We follow The Photos around promoting the second single, and find time to record a third, the rather fabulous “Lets Go (to Planet Skaro), My House is a Satellite, and Jennifer the Conifer. We follow The Photos all over hell and creation until Brighton, where once again, we do rather well in front of a crowd more punk than pop. In fact, we’re starting to go down better than The Photos, so it’s probably a good thing that the tour is winding up here. At one point during The Photos set, they seem to be doing rather well, and it transpires that this is due in no small part to the sight of a rather friendly girl getting rogered senseless stage left by one of the crew in full view of the audience. After they have finished, she stands up and wipes herself clean on a stage curtain behind The Photos bass player. And they say romance is dead. Tim and I get a good view of all this, as she getting rhymically knocked against a piano that he and I are sitting on. Oh well, you take what you can get I expect. After this, The Photos really can’t top this unless they all start doing their female singer Wendy, and she doesn’t look like she’ll be allowing that any time soon. Anyway, I’d already offered. The sky becomes grey with bottles and cans. Tim, Dave, and I return fire from behind the backline. Suprisingly, this does not improve the situation. Seymour is off with the venue organizer pretending to be from the third band on the bill The Exclusives. He signs for and collects their 50 pound fee, before I go and collect ours. I have to wait behind the singer for The Exclusives, who is trying to find out where their 50 pounds has dissapeared to. We leave just after Dave punches the lighting supervisor. Oh dear, he’s at it again. We do the long drive back to Leamington that night, getting hopelessly lost in the dark deserted streets of London’s City to the sounds of Robin Trower’s Day of The Eagle. Most surreal. There are no more dates to play on this tour, so we are done. Little did we know how true that was, for The Shapes dear reader, are never to play live in Britain again.

We are suddenly becalmed. We’re too big to keep playing the places we have been playing, but not big enough to make the next leap to larger venues. We don’t have the cash to play any more support tours, and the mood of punk has changed. We’re totally burned out with gigging anyway. We’ve been there since the very start, playing every toilet and hell hole the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. We’ve been spat on, beat up, ripped off, and ragged out, and that was the fun part. There is a second harder wave of punk now, led by such bands as Discharge and The Exploited, all leather and mohawks. This new group of punks have no time for the lovable orange and green haired mop tops of The Shapes, and to be quite frank, The Shapes have no time for them. We went from seeing an audience full of smiling faces singing dumb songs about beans, to seeing a war zone from the stage. It all began to get too wearing, and got to the point that when bad enough, Tim and Dave, and even Steve when he was still with us, would dive into the crowd to sort it out. I’d sit back, light a number 6 and wait for the nonsense to end. Unfortunately, it never did. So we wait in Leamington Spa, stuck between fame and obscurity, local heroes but national curiosities, success and failure. While we do so, it becomes painfully obvious that we have had our 15 minutes, and been lucky enough to play it out for three and a half years. Somehow, songs about nuclear war and endless diatribes about Margaret Thatcher are de rigeur, and The Shapes are not. We are suddenly declared irrelevant. This is news to us, because we always considered ourselves completely irrelevant anyway, but it was nice to be agreed with for a change. We’ve done things that most other bands only dream about, but in the end, we arrive where most bands do, at the realization that time moves on. We decide to go on hiatus, only to play one last gig, back in Belfast for Terri Hooley. It’s a downbeat end to a short flash of a career, but we’re all off doing other things at that time. I am currently touring with another band, (which may or may not be detailed later,) and fly out to the gig from a tour date with them in London. It’s a little bit of rock star treatment after all the years of playing. After the gig, we return to our lives. We never stop hanging out with each other, we just stop playing and recording. We drift from being a band to being friends, which is more than you can ask for really, and so the story of The Shapes appears to end, but dear reader, that would be just too downbeat an ending so…

 

 


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