Dumping It On Parliament - The Final Cut - Wrap Party

Dump it on Parliament Revisited – The Final Cut

I am looking forward to the Dump it on Parliament Revisited wrap party on Monday 20 June 2016,  8.00pm at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre, which reflects on last years amazing project I had the honour of being involved with. On the night there will be an exclusive listen to the new post-punk compilation Dump It On Parliament Revisited before its public release on Friday 24 June. The album, which was recorded live last year at Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre, will be played alongside the first screening of the accompanying documentary film that explores Bedfordshire’s flourishing 1980’s post-punk scene.

Further info here

and at UK Decay Communities

Dumping It On Parliament - The Final Cut - Wrap Party

Dumping It On Parliament – The Final Cut – Wrap Party

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Dumping It On Parliament 2015 Live Presentation

Dumping It On Parliament Revisited Live Review

DIOPR By 21st century youth and music.
Copied with thanks from Diamond Seeds

Steve Spon note:  “This live performance of which I co hosted and curated along with Dash N Dem, Roshi, Graham Gagarin, Bedford Creative Arts and Mid Bedfordshire Libraries was the culmination of several months of planning , music, artwork, drama and poetry workshops with various groups and bands from Mid Bedfordshire. The project was part of the ‘Libraries As Laboratory’s’ presentation with the aim of utilising local libraries as part of a multifaceted arena and local resource.”

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The amount of work that went into this project was phenomenal. As a bystander, hearing about it as it unfolded and watching the culmination of all the hard work, it was truly breathtaking.

The project was run by Bedfordshire Libraries I believe, in a bid to keep these precious public places alive. Choosing music and its place in the right to protest was a formidable concept. Something that was news thirty years ago was resurrected and held up as an example of how people, working together, make their cause stronger. Well that was the main point, but of course, the history has to be explained, the flavour of the times revisited, in order to give a satisfactory view of how things really were.

I featured some songs from the Dump It On Parliament tape in a podcast. I listened and was impressed at the variety of styles of music and the wide involvement of people dedicated to protest against a nuclear dump near Bedford (yes believe it, it could have happened!)
The tape was made so that proceeds from its sale could provide financial help to those who were arrested and fined for demonstrating against this insane idea. The wider community woke up and participated in voicing its disapproval, and eventually the government dropped the proposal.

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But this incident threw open a door to the times we were living in, times past and unknown to the present generation. History is coloured by the media, and the media can be woefully unfair. The punk scene, which became the alternative music scene, was not populated by drones. Sure the clothes were interesting but there was more to it than the look (which was hijacked as soon as a buck could be made from it anyway).

The Dump it on Parliament tape is an icon for activism, for building communities and for the arts. The 21st Century project ‘Dump It On Parliament Revisited’, directed by the fantastic trio Rochi, Dash and Dem, probes into all the factors that made this tape, connects to the anger of the times, the politics of unfairness and the grassroots effects of fighting back. The drama group of young students that enjoyed the dressing up and acting of the Young Ones gives a nod to the recognition of this phenomena in our country’s social history.

And I have to laugh. Much of it goes back to Luton 33 Arts Centre and the craziness that went on there. I admit I took it for granted, surely every town had somewhere like that? Well it turns out that this arts center was very special, and to think I only went there a few times to rehearse with my band. Discussing 33 nowadays is like talking about Shangri La – there were drama groups, a recording studio, a photography studio, a cafe – decorated with Tony Hough’s paintings (Luton’s incredible fantasy artist). Gorilla Video was based there, developing new film techniques and providing Channel 4 with the stuff that used to make Channel 4 worth watching.

This was the meeting place where workshops took place and bands met, not in competition but in building a community, organizing gigs together. It was the antithesis of X Factor. Of course the council condemned the building, pulled 33 Guildford Street down and no independent place has emerged to rival it since.

Now it has come to pass that the building has gone, and the people have scattered to the four winds; but the music is still with us. So the idea was to revisit the tape itself, and listen to the songs and study the history. Then, to invite bands/performers of today to participate, by commenting about the issues in their lives through their music.

My goodness, the bands that participated are living proof that this project is a bloody good idea. Firstly there was no age restriction, I believe the youngest participant was a very enthusiastic actor, it would be rude to try and work out the eldest, so lets just say this project appealed to all ages!

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Secondly it was a project that embraced all facets of art, not just the music. Tee-shirts and posters were designed. Clothes were embellished and make up carefully applied by the drama group. Films made by Gorilla Video were aired. There was even face painting – where people ‘wore’ an album cover on their face.

An interesting discussion about the times and the action taken by bands and film makers were discussed at a public forum in Leighton Buzzard, hosted by Dave Stubbs from Quietus Magazine.

With music being my main passion I was bound to be drawn in by the promise of live bands, but all this other stuff, the historical perspective, the inclusion of anyone who wanted to be involved in any way, I found this inspiring. And yet all it was, was people, encouraging other people, to discover and evolve their abilities and learn something. I was entertained. More importantly, I was educated about the music scene, and the battles fought with the government of the 1980s against nuclear dumping, among other issues. Things that are not in the National Curriculum, or the newspapers.

So how can you better the idea of asking bands of today to come along and show us what music is about now? The master stroke was this – ask each band to cover one of the songs on the Dump it on Parliament Tape (I also called it the ‘Anti Nirex tape’, as Nirex was the company that the government was going to farm out the nuclear waste to).
This is asking a lot considering that music has moved a long way since the eighties, the words can be lost and musicians are all ego maniacs – well that’s how they are portrayed in the media – right?

Musicians don’t always turn up for rehearsals, well we know that! Sometimes people say yes to things and do not deliver… life can get in the way..sometimes people just cannot make it. I have said it before, musicians are emotional creatures, when you strip your soul naked on a stage it takes courage. But there are plenty of brave people out there.

I turned up on the last night of this project at Leighton Buzzard Theatre and it seemed clear to me that this was going to be a fantastic effort because it was so much more than ‘just a gig’. I was privileged to meet many of the musicians performing that night and their commitment and credibility was awe-inspiring.
I have to say in an industry once populated with men (which is even reflected to some extent on the Anti Nirex tape) the girls have silenced the equality debate, which thankfully, for this project, has gone out of date. Women, dressed in clothes that betray the fact that they are serious musicians and not put together by some creepy media company executive (ie they were dressed normally) performed to a very high standard, as did everyone taking part on the night. Yes the bottom line was that these bands were worth seeing.

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Carolla

I like punky stuff and I like folky stuff, so I wasn’t disappointed. The show kicked off with the Grove Theatre Drama Group (?) Dunstable – performing a song strong on lyrics. We all get how bad it is to be young in a system that does not care about you, but hearing it from kids who are living it and understanding that things don’t have to be that way – made it a powerful performance. I truly hope that these kids do find a future in the arts, even if nobody will fund them.

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Gary, known as Slippy Skills came over from Luton and rapped a set, and we were off into a night of sheer delight, as I like to say. He was followed by the Council Tax Band, who really don’t care if they cannot be found on Google. This band was tight, political and had a dynamic girl guitarist as well as the singer/keyboard player. They covered the Click Click track from the Dump it on Parliament tape. I enjoyed their defiant style and material.

Grand Mal were excellent too – a Bedford band fronted by bass player, sound engineer and singer Amy Mason, often found behind the bar at Esquires, Bedford.

Grand Mal

Grand Mal

Corolla were something different. Their performance had delicacy and a gentle delivery which completely reset the atmosphere. The girl (I should say lady) singer has a completely controlled delivery of her vocals. Holding back and putting space into the music, captured the attention of the audience, and held us in the palm of her hand. Even though this band was quieter, the sentiment and pace of the music was its strength. The musicianship was exquisite, the moment was precious.

In contrast, everything seems to be in a state of explosion around Nick the Poet. He is like a human detonator. When someone with his energy takes the mike and announces that he will read you his poem, nobody would ever consider heading for the door. Nick has written some wonderful stuff over the years. He has a punk heritage that takes us back to the days of the emerging and pimpled UK Decay. Nick gave himself the job of reading a poem to the crowd while there were band and equipment changeovers on the stage behind him. He loves a rabble to entertain and the rabble loves him for his word-smithing. Nick does not beat around the bush. His poetry will ask awkward questions – and on this evening he brings out a poem questioning what Thatcher and Reagan were up to and the disgrace that was Greenham Common. By the end of the night everyone in the venue will know who Nick the Poet is, and probably go to see him if they ever get the chance again.

Nick the Poet

Nick the Poet

Rochi and Spon performed a song from the ‘dump it’ tape and had the crowd singing a simple song by a bloke named Kev, and I wondered if it may have been a guy I went busking with years ago in Luton. We never found out but the song brought a great audience response with us singing along with the chorus and the drama group really feeling it. Their tutor, Chris performing as Red Lighter Man also gave us a haunting poem about the times we live in.

Roshi

Roshi

The evening was fast paced, so I had a sit down and quick chat with Steve Spon who was co-presenting and co curator of the project. Then I heard someone on the drums and I knew that it had to be Kirk. Halfway through my tea I jumped up and ran to catch the Kindred, because it is the only thing to do when the Kindred get on stage. I have seen this band steam the pub windows up, I would go so far to say that they are rather ‘mighty’.

I just about caught the first song and it was the cover of the Rattlesnakes song ‘No Money’. This being my favourite song of the whole thing, it is not surprising that the pics came out a bit out of focus, I was trying to mosh at the same time. Seems the Kindred were not together as a band at the time but I am hoping they reform and gig because the world is too quiet without their gut ripping energy. All excellent musicians, they seem like direct descendants from some of the bands that made the Anti Nirex tape. Of course I mentioned the Rattlesnakes before, it being Gregg Herbert’s band at one time. It was special to see Kindred, highly respected in my opinion, paying tribute to Gregg and the Rattlesnakes all this time later. It was good too that the boys knew it and felt that respect.

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Kindred and Kin

The evening ended with the Defektors, the other band that I had already picked up on the radar as a bloody good set up. I had a chance to speak to their singer, Cara, the enigmatic front-person before they got on stage. The Defektors were covering a song by Penumbra Sigh and I wondered if she knew that the singer had passed away in the last couple of years. I had tried to contact Spiky Kaz, who had been the singer in Penumbra Sigh when I included the track on my radio podcast, but could not connect with her. Cara viewed this news in a mystical light, she has a spiritual dimension about her, and she paid tribute to Spiky Kaz when they performed the song. The Defektors set was the last of the night and they rounded off the evening with kick ass tracks and lively performance. Cara is totally dynamic, having mastered the art of movement and performance, she gives a masterclass in stage craft to anyone watching who would want to learn. I liked this band before, now I love them!

All was filmed by Andrew and others, and the sound recorded on the desk by Graham, from Pere Ubu who did the engineering single-handedly and must be congratulated for not a whiff of feedback! The library staff involved with this project were so friendly and I glimpsed them support the creators as they cleverly navigated their way through their aims and objectives.

What will be my lasting impression of this whole thing? Well I was an outsider looking in, but for me what sticks is that people were just lovely with each other.

THIS IS NOW

“Film and Video after Punk”

THIS IS NOW POSTER

THIS IS NOW POSTER Saturday 21st November 2015. Leighton Buzzard Library Theatre 2pm – 11pm. Free Entry and Bar

I will be attending a question and answer session at the festival…

“Dumping It On Parliament Revisited”

Dumping It On Parliament 2015 Live Presentation

Dumping It On Parliament 2015 Live Presentation

I am helping host a fiesta of protest, a host of bands covering tracks from the original 1986 “Dumping It On Parliament” and also presenting their own contemporary original protest songs to ‘Dump On Parliament ‘ today…

Dump it on Parliament Revisited

Dumping It On Parliament Revisited!

Dump it on Parliament Revisited

Dump it on Parliament Revisited

As an artist and musician I am currently involved in an exciting new project. Because of my involvement in the Post Punk music culture scene of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in the Luton and surrounding area, I am lending my experience and support in crafting an alternative music culture cross generation dialogue in Bedfordshire.

The aim is to revisit a project born of protest in the mid eighties that galvanised many musicians to contribute to a musical compilation of protest songs. The result was called, ‘Dumping It On Parliament’ a cassette album produced by local musicians on behalf of the ‘Bedfordshire Against Nuclear Dumping’ (B.A.N.D) campaign. The government had earmarked land in Elstow to act as the nation’s nuclear waste dumping ground. B.A.N.D was put together to protest against this.

The wind was taken out of the sails of this campaign however when the government, perhaps seeing the severity of the protest lined up against them in Bedfordshire, backed down. We sensed a victory and our attentions soon wandered to protest elsewhere.

Today there are more issues to protest about than ever before, particularly if you are young. There are many ways to protest and they might say ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’ but music is still a great way to get an idea across to a new audience. This project is seeking to find look for new generation to ‘dump it on parliament’ today!

The project run by is part of ‘Library as Laboratory’ an idea funded by Central Bedfordshire Council Libraries, in partnership with Bedford Creative Arts. The artists Dash MacDonald, Demitrios Kargotis and Roshi Nasehi have been commissioned to create a new project, ‘Dump it on Parliament Revisited’ . I will be meeting and mentoring the musicians and bands with the target idea of creating a 2015 compilation album of protest songs by contemporary bands. There will be a recorded live performance , which is hoped will result in a live recording for the compilation.

More information about this project can be found here.

http://www.bedfordcreativearts.org.uk/index.php/library-as-laboratory/

And a great article here

http://www.bedfordshire-news.co.uk/Bedford-Creative-Arts-Dump-Parliament/story-27536795-detail/story.html

Ps. Late Aug 2015, if you are a musician or band and want to protest or are simply interested in being involved in this project there are a few places left. We have had a lot of interest, get in touch!

My role includes mentoring, consultation, creative production and performance.

Record Store Day 2015 – A Cautionary Tale

From an artists point of view

Steve Spon

Steve Spon

I am Steve Spon guitarist with the 1980’s internationally known post punk band UK Decay. I have always been a keen fan of independent record stores and as a band we would go out of our way to support the small retailers. However Record Store Day 2015 has unfortunately made us aware that some areas of criticism are rightfully justified.

Continue reading

Barney The Musical

Barney The Musical CD - screenshot

Barney The Musical CD – screenshot

2015

At the beginning of this year I upgraded my DAW with a new Alienware I7 Quadcore PC and my software to the new Steinberg Cubase Pro 8. I am loving it to! I have been using Cubase now since 1990 and the days of the good old Atari putor’s. This one is the best version yet, Steinberg now have the backing and benefit of the Yamaha music group behind this next generation virtual studio technology. So a music tech marriage made in heaven between the Cubase software brains and the Yamaha hardware interface, will lead to further integration into the future with innovative new digital work surfaces and controllers. For the time being I will have to settle with my brand new Steinberg UR22 Audio Interface, which does the job superbly, with as high quality sound as you might need.

The first major project of the new set-up was a slight divergence to the normal musical production and it came as a refreshingly different and pleasant surprise. Ella Jo Street who I have recorded music for in the past , asked me if I would record an Audiobook of one of her kids stories. I was a bit dubious at first, although in the past I have recorded spoken, plays for the radio and podcasts. Anyway we ran through a dress rehearsal of the 6500 word story and I recorded it onto an MP3, it played back at around 50 minutes and in places it was hilarious with EJ Street finding great character in her performance.

I also recently acquired a Rhode NT1A microphone, so after a bit of tweeking EJ and I decided to record the story again , this time obtaining a top quality sound and putting some thought into Foley and other sound effects. We set up the environment with a dampened space away next door, ran cables under doors, set the laptop up on the table for a text read out. Then we sat EJ down comfortably , with headphones, with talk-back. I set up the phantom power on the UR22 and set up the recording levels. I set up a number of Audio channels on Cubase, which I set to run at 24bit and 44.1khz, we did a few test takes until we were happy. Then we started.

We ploughed our way through the first 15 minutes before we listened back. We were largely really happy with the take, the sound was good, the performance was excellent, EJ had really done her homework on the characters voices.. The only things we needed to touch up later was a slight volume adjustment I had to make as it was recording some three minutes in. I had to compensate for this in the post production process. Once the new level was set, it was good for the recording of all the following narrative. Later we went back and replaced the continuity headings narrative.

The new Cubase Pro 8 - screenshot of the Barney The Musical Project page

The new Cubase Pro 8 – screenshot of the Barney The Musical Project page

As time wore on however, EJ tired quicker so we ended up doing more takes, which I knew would have to be edited later. I didn’t want EJ’s voice to give either before the end of the reading. So we stopped for a cup of tea break. Had a listen back to the work so far, hey! It was sounding real good!

We returned to finish the second half, which in fact turns out to be more or less an hour long. EJ needed me to rewind a couple times to check her character voices were right, eventually we got to the end. A great performance but some serious editing was needed to edit the different takes into the right order. I literally had to follow the text and check every line whilst editing, which I needed to do right away, whilst fresh in my software memory! After a few hours of editing I had something to play EJ for her to check, she spotted an ‘audio typo’ or two , we put it right. Set up a soft limiter and slight eq on monitors. We ready for the next stage.

This is where we were to have fun!

“Barney The Musical” is a story from Ella Jo Street’s “A Witch called Gwubbin’s” series aimed at kids between 4 and 11 years. Gwubbins creates magical spells with the best of intentions , but the spells go hysterically wrong leaving her visiting actress sister Alidusta from the end of the universe and her dog Barney in ‘pandabonium’ in a stage musical.

We decided we would make an audio book to remember. As this was a musical we decided that we must depart from a normal narrative (Like most audiobooks) and add some bespoke ‘musical’ songs.
So how would the new Cubase Pro 8 cope with an hour long Audiobook with foley and music?

On another project we started work on the bespoke musical pieces. This was to involve lots of practising of scales, donkey honking, yodeling, murmuring, whispering. We needed to create the sounds of wonky contraptions, magical broomsticks, dogs barking and running riot.

Using Halion SE I created an Orchestra on different layers and created a loop on one idea. On another we needed a kind of fanfare so I used the same orchestral multi-timbral in Halion, eventually creating four or five pieces . Once reasonably happy I suggested EJ write some lyrics. In the story she mentioned a few songs for instance “The Dog Show Cabaret”, “Howling Moon Blues”, “Winner by a Whisker” and “Barney in my Dreams”.

Very soon EJ had four short songs to work with, so I got her to drop the vocals onto each of the songs. What a fine job to! She got into full operatic character and before long we were creating mini mixes to slide into the main book.
So we were now armed with most of the sounds and Foley we needed to create our masterpiece!

It was just a case of layering on different tracks, using the new ‘REVelation’ Reverb hosted in Cubase Pro8, I found a general theatrical ambiance for the live on stage stuff. Later we played about with the different characters voices, the elf for instance we transposed up and layered, the magic spells needed a peeling harp and bobs your uncle, there were many other treatments, that all hopefully augmented to a well put together story that is all but graphically animated!

“Barney The Musical” is a kids story at the end of the day, it is kids that it is meant for however in places it reminds me of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End , or Jeeves and Wooster or something similar. This is not a regular audio book in the true sense, it is a listening experience par excellence!

I do have a serious grumble about Cubase Pro 8 however.

Most songs that one might want to record are never more than a few minutes. However with “Barney The Musical” being over an hour long , it did manifest a peculiar problem that made it very difficult to work with. As more tracks piled up over the narration with different sound effects and some control changes, editing got slower and slower. Yes I agree it was a very huge song! But I would have thought Cubase should have coped admirably but it let me down!

Everything was fine when editing near the beginning of the material but after about a third of the way through, editing took longer and longer the nearer I got to the end! At the end each edit would often take as long as two minutes to perform, a real pain in the neck that slowed the work down significantly. I took time out to read the manual and help sections , I tried various setting changes in the audio devices pages. I turned down the ‘undo’ in fact I spent several hours trying to track down the problem. I went online to the Steinberg Cubase forums and tried several searches for others that may have had the same problem. I did find a couple of leads, like turning of the ‘auto-hit detection’ in the preferences (It’s on by default) I removed all of the hit-points which were totally unnecessary in audio book narrative material anyway. There was one tantalising thread that sounded just like my problem but no-one had got back with any answer , so I still don’t know if it’s an inherent problem with the new Cubase Pro 8 or whether it is a setting somewhere! If i am going to use Cubase to create any more audio books I am going to have to nail this problem. When I get a chance I will address the forum with it.

In the nineties I had a similar problem with Cubase when it moved over to VST with audio for the first time. I was getting these timing anomalies they seemed pretty random. I couldn’t work out if it was a multitude of differing facets to do with the multi-track sync or in the software or what. I spent weeks trying to track the problem down and it caused a lot of disgruntled customers to complain which meant I had to compensate with so much extra time in the studio. At that time there was no internet in the studio, in fact it was early days full stop. I never got to the bottom of the problem at the time. It was a couple years later when I was reading through the upgrade history to a later version of Cubase that I came across an entry that stated…

version…such and such…”fixed…..anomalous timing discrepancy” and sure enough it was fixed!

All of that time wasted, hours of trying to track down, the disgruntled customers, the heck!

The fault lay in the software all the bloody time! Since then my lesson learned is to never jump in with brand new software, let someone else be the guinea pig.

So after a few sessions we now have our first audio book. There were many lessons learned in the creating of Barney The Musical, now it’s onto the packaging, marketing and promotion. It will manifest both in a CD form and digital versions. We have plans for more audio books now, I will have to nail the Cubase problem, but I am sure that will be fixed very soon. All new projects are likely to have teething problems, it’s part of the learning process.

Gwubbins The Witch Audio Books – Barney The Musical

Terror and Wonder

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
British Library (Open until Tue 20 Jan 2015)

Terror and WonderLast weekend EJ from Diamondseeds and I spent a day visiting exhibitions held at the British Library and at the British Museum in London.
First we visited the British Library near St Pancras to view the exhibition, “Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination” where “Two hundred rare objects trace 250 years of the Gothic tradition, exploring our enduring fascination with the mysterious, the terrifying and the macabre…”

Ella Jo

EJ

Terror-and-Wonder-BL1

Spon, “ere mate….lend us ten pence!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was pointed out to me a few weeks back that one of our UK Decay records “The Black 45” was on display at the exhibition as well as a giant sized poster of the seminal “The Face of Punk Gothique” article written by Steve Keaton for Sounds in 1981 (he is still around but today uses his real name, Steve May). A number of years ago we visited the Tate Gallery for “Gothic Nightmares” exploring the dark and gothic side of art, this time the emphasis at the British Library was of course to be expected on the literature side.

So in a clockwise direction we headed into the crowds viewing each of the exhibits, starting with memorabilia centred around Horace Walpole’s “The Castle of Otranto” written 250 years ago , supposedly the first of the ‘Gothic romances’. There were audio clips and video clips to enjoy dotted around the exhibition with the ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ and Boris Karloff making appearances in the movie realm. A poster for the ‘Night Of The Demon’ loomed, a film that scared the shit out of me as a kid, me and a mate used to rent the super 8 version to play to the other kids in the neighbourhood in our very own ‘garage cinema’. A mention of how Batman was in some way inspired by Victorian bogeyman ‘Spring-Heeled-Jack’ here a spread of Police newspapers with an extended cartoon impression of the Whitechapel murders (Jack The Ripper).

The Wicker Man, The Birds, The Night Of The Living Dead, a Vampire slaying kit, Dracula, Frankenstein, Christopher Lee, Mary Shelley’s first draughts of the literary Frankenstein, Wallace & Gromit’s Were-rabbit sat alongside a host of early and almost unknown 18th and 19th century Gothic romances. Then there was Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, Stanley Kubricks The Shining and a selection of recent novels, films and TV, notably clips from BBC 3’s “In The Flesh” a Zombie/Vampire drama series. All in all fascinating stuff, camera’s were banned so unfortunately no pictures! However turning the corner into room 6 , the giant sized poster of “The Face Of Punk Gothique” can’t be missed, it hits you in the face! Sitting right underneath it is the inner spread out sleeve of the Black 45, alongside Bauhaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead – we took the opportunity to cheekily snatch a couple of photo’s at this point. They can’t actually do us for breech of copyright can they?

The Black 45 on display at the Terror And Wonder Exhibition

The Black 45 on display at the Terror And Wonder Exhibition

The Face of Punk Gothique

Spon at the The Face of Punk Gothique

Ella Jo joked about me turning into a museum piece now! Hey we are still active today and writing new stuff although the Black 45 is now pushing forty years , gosh!

The last room contained a series of photographs of the April 2014 Whitby Goth Weekend, of course pertinent to the band and myself as we performed there on that weekend. I saw the odd face in the photo’s that I recognised!

Witches and Wicked Bodies: The British Museum

That was it , time to move on to the British Museum to view amongst other things an exhibition of “Witches and Wicked Bodies” , a fitting supplement to the Terror and Wonder experience earlier.

This was about paintings, sketches, engravings and other artwork examining the portrayal of witches and witchcraft from the Renaissance to the end of the 19th century. There was nothing to say against taking pictures, so we had a field day. The only difficultly was negotiating the crowds, many of whom we noted and recognised from the gothic exhibition earlier.

Macabre, sublime and succinct images by artists such as Dürer, Fusseli, Goya, Delacroix, Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti held the slow snake like processions transfixed . “The magus, or wise practitioner of ‘natural magic’ or occult ‘sciences’, has traditionally been male, but the majority of those accused and punished for witchcraft, especially since the Reformation, have been women” , so stated the museum blurb on the subject of the art. Sadly this was the last day of the exhibition, for us (and hundreds of others) it was a must see!

Wicked-001 Wicked-002 Wicked-003 Wicked-004 Wicked-006 Wicked-005 Wicked-007

A selection of art from the exhibition.

Anglo Saxon (almost!)

Almost Anglo Saxon a new album by Ella Jo, produced by EJ and Steve Spon, featuring  Mel Rogers from Tarantism on Flute, Steve Kerr on Guitar, Ed Branch from UK Decay on Bass, Steve Spon also from UK Decay on guitar and piano and Fiddlin Flick on violin. Folk lore, Myths and Stories from a thousand years ago, beautifully crafted into songs, sounds and sung by Ella Jo... “Only a few bars of music survive from Anglo Saxon times, a thousand years ago, but there is evidence of the instruments that they used. We experimented a lot, as the challenge was to write songs relating to that history and produce an album that is musically credible as well as educational. Choosing subjects such as King Ethelred the Un-ready and the folk tale of Wayland Smithy,  I wanted to tell the stories as the Anglo Saxons may have known them. I was trying to stand in the shoes of those who witnessed historical moments in Anglo Saxon History, like a woman watching the Viking ships land (in the song 'Dragon Ships'). I also allowed a modern point of view such as the discovery of buried treasure in the song 'The Hidden Hoard', and in 'The Minstrel's Song' I wanted to embrace the place of music in culture and show how highly it was valued in the past." For a full interview about Almost Anglo Saxon see http://diamondseeds.recklessrelic.co.uk/

Almost Anglo Saxon a new album by Ella Jo, produced by EJ and Steve Spon, featuring Mel Rogers from Tarantism on Flute, Steve Kerr on Guitar, Ed Branch from UK Decay on Bass, Steve Spon also from UK Decay on guitar and piano and Fiddlin Flick on violin.
Folk lore, Myths and Stories from a thousand years ago, beautifully crafted into songs, sounds and sung by Ella Jo…
“Only a few bars of music survive from Anglo Saxon times, a thousand years ago, but there is evidence of the instruments that they used. We experimented a lot, as the challenge was to write songs relating to that history and produce an album that is musically credible as well as educational. Choosing subjects such as King Ethelred the Un-ready and the folk tale of Wayland Smithy, I wanted to tell the stories as the Anglo Saxons may have known them. I was trying to stand in the shoes of those who witnessed historical moments in Anglo Saxon History, like a woman watching the Viking ships land (in the song ‘Dragon Ships’). I also allowed a modern point of view such as the discovery of buried treasure in the song ‘The Hidden Hoard’, and in ‘The Minstrel’s Song’ I wanted to embrace the place of music in culture and show how highly it was valued in the past.”
For a full interview about Almost Anglo Saxon see http://diamondseeds.recklessrelic.co.uk/

After that with the whole of the British Museum at our disposal and too little time and with fatigue beginning to set in we headed for “Ancient Europe” and particularly the Sutton Hoo Anglo Saxon material. This was befitting because Ella Jo and I have just completed an album project entitled “Almost Anglo Saxon”, which is a collection of (modern) songs depicting myths, legends, life and sounds from the Anglo Saxon period. We marveled at the famous armored helmet and at the Franks Casket with it’s inscriptions of Weland the Smith and at the nearby Lewis Chess set who’s pieces almost comically displaying their bulging eyes and glum expressions.

We also caught a brief glimpse of some of the horrific and dark Aztec material which freaked EJ right out! Very soon we were nearly out of time and in need of a resuscitating coffee, which we drank in the magnificent covered courtyard , just time to enjoy before our journey home.

A very rewarding and enjoyable day.

Steve Spon

Sutton Hoo Helmet

Sutton Hoo Helmet

Franks Casket

Franks Casket

Lewis Chess pieces

Lewis Chess pieces

Early Punk in Luton – Interview with Steve Spon

 Early Punk in Luton - Interview with Steve Spon

Ah , what a lot of punk rock nostalgia is around us these days. Seems churlish not to add to the pile , a little nostalgia never did any harm……

It always struck me that whilst there was a lot of available press interviews etc from the 81/82 “Twiggy Era” , I really knew very little about the early part of the band’s career. Not a lot ever got written about the likes of Pneumania and the Resistors , so I was thinking this  might be some good stuff to get “on the record”.
At the start of 1979 I was a spotty little 14 year old enjoying the delights of Dunstable , we were all into punk bands but it was the mainstream Pistols/Clash/Buzzcocks kind of thing. Gigs in Luton pubs were something you heard mentioned by older kids , but sadly not on the agenda due to lack of transport/cash/ability to get served. So I heard of all the Luton scene from afar , and it wasn’t for another year or so that I got to see any of these bands. By which time UK Decay were probably a lot better live , but I’d missed the formative years. Kindly Spon agreed to submit to an interrogation on the subject , where certain grisly details were dredged up to be preserved for posterity.

Spon, Steve Harle the 'Captain' and Martin Dill; a 'Welly' st. scene.

Spon, Steve Harle the ‘Captain’ and Martin Dill; a ‘Welly’ st. scene.

The Luton Punk Scene..an interview with Steve Spon by Paul Rab John

earlypunkLTN-001Ok , taking it right back , were you actually born in luton? where did you grow up?

Yes I was born at the L& D (Luton and Dunstable Hospital) I grew up in the Swifts Green area of Stopsley. Although I spent a year or so of my early childhood in Widnes, Merseyside.

Looking at pre-punk days , what were you listening to in 75-77?

I was into David Bowie, Roxy Music, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd and The Bonzo Dog band, amongst others. I went to lots of gigs at the California Ballroom and Queensway Hall in Dunstable , mainly Soul and Reggae bands at the ‘Cali’ such as KC and the Sunshine Band, Rufus Thomas and the Fatback Band as well as The Glitter Band and Steve Harley.. At the Queensway Hall the taste was a bit heavier I saw Hawkwind 3 times! And other bands ; Thin Lizzy, Curved Air and Judas Priest amongst others!

Was pneumania your first band or were there others before that? Were you playing guitar before punk , or did you pick it up then?

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The first Luton Punk band was The Jets. They appeared on 'Farewell To The Roxy' which was recorded at the famous Covent Garden club in early 1978

The first Luton Punk band was The Jets. They appeared on ‘Farewell To The Roxy’ which was recorded at the famous Covent Garden club in early 1978

I had previously to punk played keyboards in 3 bands, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Poser and K-OS. As punk  kicked in eventually I found myself getting increasingly frustrated in getting my ideas across with keyboards so in late 1978 I picked up the guitar with the idea of forming a brand new band.

Toad the Wet Sprocket – good grief! these are the same guys who did the “Metal for Muthas” track i presume? i saw them live in 81 at the queensway , my memory is of a sort of bluesy rock band , not quite heavy enough to compete with iron maiden/def leppard type acts from that scene who “made it”. were they like that in your days? any of the stuff from your time in the band get recorded (with you or after you’d left)?

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earlypunkLTN-002Well yes my very first band was called Dragonfly, later changing their name to Toad the Wet sprocket (From ‘Lord of the Rings’) Based in Studham , that was in 1975 I think. I was on keyboards, the band recruited a guitarist from Dunstable, ‘Curly’ Ridout and had a guy called Mick Mustafa on vocals. They were into the usual‘Dinosaur’ stuff, Led Zep, Deep Turtle etc at first. When the band wanted to get more into serious blues and things, I started losing touch, 1976 happened and I started opening my eyes and ears to Punk. They shunned Punk so a parting of ways was inevitable.

I was aware they moved on and released at least one record, I do know there was a Canadian Band of the same name however, early 90’s or so..

I know ‘TTWS’ became a very highly respected ‘Muso’ band in the Dunstable area during the 80’s developing a Bluesy, Jazzy style, I hear Curly teaches guitar now. There is nothing other than the odd faded C90 rehearsal tape left from the time I was in the band. A time that I guess was necessary for my development I suppose in retrospect.

Hey this makes the uk decay family tree a lot more fascinating now :-

‘Laughing out aloud’ Yes who knows where it could end!

Would you say you had “influences” as a guitarist ( i’d struggle to suggest one….)? who did you really admire when you started playing?

I liked the ragged ‘anti-guitar’ playing style of Gang of Four, the pure energy of the Sex Pistols sound. Around 1978 I started listening to the Velvet Underground and Ramones, Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu. As well as Magazine, XTC, Public Image and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Always in my life there was John Peel, who would continually play new and exciting music in fact I would go as far as saying that ‘Peely’ himself was probably single biggest influence on me for introducing me to a whole world of new music.

From Pneumania right through to Nostramus you’ve always bravely resisted “playing the blues” , or ever doing covers. Does “classic rock” interest you at all?

Yuk! I had dabbled with ‘the blues’ in ‘TTWS’ and ended up feeling there has got to be a better way! It’s why I got into Punk. To see grown men wetting themselves over yet another guitar solo from ‘sonny boy howling lone wolf rogers’ or come to that ‘cock rocking’ themselves to Queen or Status Quo, didn’t then and doesn’t now appeal to me in the slightest.

I have no problem with ‘covers’ providing they are done for the right reason and perhaps with some sense of artistic respectfulness to the original. It’s just not my general style to ‘cover’ other people’s songs.

Luton punk in 1979

Luton punk in 1979

So moving on to Luton in 77 , did you know the other guys in UK Decay / Pneumania before punk took off , or was it then that you met them all?

Not at that time apart from ‘Captain B’ who was playing with ‘The Jets’. They had played at ‘The Roxy’ in the previous year.

At the time I was in a band Called K-OS and we had a support slot in Bishops Stortford with Sham 69 and we had just lost our bass player so ‘Captain’ covered for us in what turned out a most memorable debacle! It was pure Chaos but that’s Punk!

After that I became good friends with ‘Captain’ and we started to get our heads around building a rehearsal room, by the end of 1978 it was finished. Around this time Captain and I had got involved in helping to get the new Art Centre together. It was an old abandoned Hat Factory and was full of crap, one day on arriving to clear one of the upstairs rooms out, we were astonished to find a right proper ‘din’ crescendoing around the old wooden staircases.

We attentively entered the room, which on first appearance seemed empty but on further investigation there was a cupboard door slightly ajar in the far corner. Opening the door there was two young punks; beating the living daylights out of a sprawl of Tupperware boxes with broken drumsticks we were all startled!

It was Steve Harle and Martyn (Segovia) Smith, after a few uncomfortable moments silence we all broke out laughing. We got chatting and learnt Steve and Martyn were forming a new band but money for drum kits amps guitars and rehearsal rooms etc was a bit thin on the ground!

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Fanzines, Town Hall and the '33' art centre

Fanzines, Town Hall and the ’33’ art centre

Over the next few months moving into early 1979 we would meet up down the ‘Grapevine’ and met up with Abbo, Gaynor, Steve the voice and the rest of the Luton Punks who were around at the time.

The Jets are generally seen as the original luton punk band , which i guess you’d agree with? what did you make of them?

Undoubtedly they were! They were the role models for all the Luton Bands that followed! They had a background in Art, Jazz, Reggae and Rhythm and Blues. Despite this they had locally at first a huge amount of ‘street cred’ and respect and then they seemed to lose it. They should have gone a lot further!

After that followed a chunk of local punk acts like the Resistors , the Clips , the Friction , Pneumania etc etc. was it easy to get gigs and make things happen locally back then? there certainly seemed to have been a lot of bands in action……

Yes in those Halcyon days down the Grapevine it seemed the entire congregation of punks that drank there also had their own bands. I had been involved in promoting gigs before and so had a bit of experience approaching potential venues in view of promoting Punk Gigs, it was a matter of being ‘economical with the truth’ as far as the venue landlords were concerned and hoping for the best!

There were others too, Abbo was able to get gigs going at the Tech College (now the Uni.) Roger Holdstock ( The Friction) and the Jets/ Tee Vees also put on gigs. Fahim Qureshi out of ‘The Five Year Plan’ managed to sucker Barnfield College into putting on gigs. There was the Luton Carnival and the Marsh Farm Festival as well as the Grapevine and other odd public houses. There was potentially a big audience in town so the ‘carrot’ was the‘rentacrowd’ in the Landlords mind, we got away with it mainly.

Until much later, when we got banned from  everywhere starting with the Town Hall!

Was there much rivalry or was it a big bunch of mates?

I think it would be fair to say there was a kind of ‘rivalry’ amongst the bands at the time, friendly but serious to the point of competitiveness, however we were one big community in the pubs and particularly the ‘awaydays’, we would ‘stick together’ as friends We needed to in those times

Very few of the luton punk bands made records , so a lot of people out there won’t have a clue what they sounded like. who do you think were “the ones that got away” who should have got big but never quite got it together?

It’s a real shame The Statics never recorded their music, they had some classic tunes such as ‘Life is like a Coke in a Mickey Mouse Glass’ and ‘Electric City’ that would I am sure have set the charts on fire had they have been released. They had a very  colourful approach in their music and in their stage presence.

How did Pneumania evolve then?

Gaynor was the most outstanding figure in the Grapevine Which I guess could have been seen as being a bit of a callous way of choosing a vocalist for your band, but that was the plan! In true punk fashion we (me and the Captain) asked her if she would like to try singing in a band. She said she had never sung before but would love to give it a try. That’s where it started; we arranged a jam session in our new rehearsal room a few days later (this is late 78)

Gaynor at play

Gaynor at play

earlypunkLTN-006Gaynor was already a ‘veteran’ of the local Punk scene, she hadn spent the previous couple of years charging the tourists for photos in Kings Road, Chelsea and ‘liggin’ at Seditionaries.

She was awesome, a true London 1978 ‘Madonna Punkette’. She was ‘street-wise’ and had lots of experiences to sing about. Gaynor promptly showed up, bottle of cider in one hand and make up kit in another and a crew of her friends in tow, Tibor, Steve the Voice and Skinny Tony.

Captain was to play drums (he was playing Bass for the Jets at the time!), I was to play guitar (for the first time!) Gaynor of course on voice but there was no bass player!

Steve the Voice said he would give it a go, so we had a band!

After a couple more sessions, there was talk of a gig so we needed a name, as Gaynor had long ‘jack frost’ white style hair she kind of adopted the ‘Snow White’ name, so we used ‘Sno White and the sic Punks’ for that first show.

After a couple of months Captain decided Drums wasn’t his thing after all, so he made way for Nigel Dark. It was then that we changed our name to Pneumania that was just before we recorded the Split Single.

So roughly what was the timescale of Pneumania (with you in it) , when did it start and when did it finish?

In spring 1979 “Sno White and the Sic Punks” changed our name to Pneumania. In about September 1979, I had left Pneumania and joined UK Decay.

Pneumania floundered for a while then Steve the Voice picked up the pieces and formed the second line-up of Pneumania with Elaine O’Brien on voice. They flourished for a while ; they were quite good in their own right! But sadly finished after 18 months.

Pneumania Flyer

Pneumania Flyer

Did you play many gigs? what did you think of yourselves as a live act compared to others on the scene?

Faces of Pneumania

Faces of Pneumania

We probably played about a dozen or so gigs between March and September 1979.

Although I had gigged before it was like starting all over! I was now playing a guitar that missed its last string! This gave my guitar playing a darker sound and I adapted a technique for using this. We were quite ramshackle in our performance, Nigel played a

light energetic almost Jazzy style. Steve the Voice who’s real love was Reggae and Dub gave us a ‘Dubby’ feel. Gaynor would sing her heart out. In retrospect I guess we were living out a kind of Punk fantasy a synthetic dream or soap opera. Pneumania was always going to be a precarious entity.

We would never know until we actually got up on stage and started playing whether we had actually got a band! “Was Nigel going to actually turn up” or “Was Gaynor going to in the right frame of mind to be able to sing in front of a crowd”? such were the vagaries of a Pneumania gig! That did make the odd gig that we successfully completed an even more extra-special event!

The rare moment that everything was running on all four cylinders though seemed to make everything else worthwhile, we felt unbeatable!

I guess very few people ever heard the Resistors , i was a really big UK Decay fan and i’ve never heard a note. is the UK Decay side of the split single a fair indication of what the Resistors sounded like?

The short answer is yes it is! As is ‘Disco Romance’, ‘Rising from the Dead’ and ‘Middle of the Road Man’ from the ‘Black 45’ and the RFTD EP Abbo played the guitar in the Resistors as well as doing vocals, when I joined Abbo was free to concentrate on singing. I learnt the guitar parts formerly played by Abbo and for a long time on certain songs Abbo would continue to reach for his guitar. The Resistors were a really good band in their own right , they summed up and acted out the spirit and aspirations of the Luton Punk movement admirably.

They became the omnipotent voice of the people for the time, so it seemed to me.

UK Decay Flyer

UK Decay Flyer

Spon Joins UK Decay

Spon Joins UK Decay

I think i’m right in thinking the Resistors had various singers in , and then Abbo took over vocals too and it became a three piece. Did you see the much with all these line-ups? did they “have something” back then that made you think they’d be the ones to go far?

You are right in saying that. I think there was a guy called Simon from St. Albans who did vocals, he was around late 78 until early 79.

I don’t remember a lot about him. In early 1979 when I got closer to the band, Paul Wilson was on vocals with Abbo on guitar along of course with Steve and Martin.. Then they lost Paul and became a three piece. The Resistors definitely had a lot of promise back then, they were the champions of the rising Luton Punk scene.

At the time, I was in Pneumania and the 2 bands played many gigs together, we teamed up and by doing so found we could do so much more together, ‘Yin and Yang’! I guess we were a bit of a double act really; sometimes we literally ‘fused’ together to form the ‘Stevie Band’ with the 2 Steve’s from Pneumania and the 2 Steve’s from the Resistors. So there was a lot of fusing together of potential in the embryonic UK Decay days.

So Pneumania recorded 2 tracks for the split single. were these the best 2 songs ? did you have a lot of other material?

‘Exhibition’ and ‘Coming attack’ were written shortly before the recording of the Split Single. Exhibition grew out of an earlier ‘Snow White’ song; Gaynor parodying herself in the lyrics. After recording the ‘S.S’ (about May 1979-Nigel Dark joined just before) we started writing a new batch of songs.

These were unfortunately never properly recorded, although we played them at various gigs over the summer of 1979. Save one live recorded rehearsal using the new at the time, ‘binaural’ recording system they had just got in at the ‘33’ Arts Centre. Unfortunately we only have a very poor copy of this tape and its mostly way too ‘decayed’ to restore! There were some great moments in some of these‘prototype’ songs.

Pneumania

Pneumania

Incidental anecdote; On the day of the’33 Binaural session’’, we took a break midway and legged it up the Grapevine for a swift half; as you do! On the way back (at closing time) we got jumped I nearly had my arm broken by some nutter picking on the ‘Punks’ He jumped out of an alleyway with a baseball bat and started walloping us! I put up my arm to protect my face and took the blow on my elbow.

Somehow we got back and continued our session to the wee hours in extreme agony Ah those were the days!

More Split Single shenanigans

More Split Single shenanigans

Were you happy with how the split single came out? how many did it sell in the end?

I think at the time we were over the moon! At least I was, it was ‘mission successful’, the culmination of a couple months of hard work. We had a launch gig and party to celebrate, we had the local press all over us and school kids wrote in asking if they could have a look round the (‘Plastic’) ‘record factory’! When the New Musical Express review came out, we were at first surprised then when we realised the implications. It was the best thing that could have happened, in true‘Punk’ style!

Rough Trade were on the phone that afternoon asking for more, because they had sold out of their stock. It took a couple of weeks for the pressing plant to do another re-pressing; we were still learning the ropes as far as supply and demand. Overall however when I think back on it the ‘S.S’ was a ‘triumph’ of ‘DIY’ and collaboration between not only the 2 bands but also the enlarged community of people who helped make it all possible.

I think, I am pretty sure that in the 2 presses of the ‘S.S’ we ended up selling something like 1500 at the end of the day.

Is it right that a couple of UK Decay songs were actually re-worked Pneumania numbers? Which ones were they?

Yes, Music-wise obviously, Abbo of course put some new lyrics to a couple of tunes that I had written. Previously they had been worked on with Pneumania.

The songs will be familiar to those who have heard ‘The Black 45’, they were ‘The Black Cat’ and ‘Message Distortion’

Anyway, it all ended when you left for UK Decay. Did they invite you or did you offer your services?

Aha! That’s a question. Pneumania were a ‘temperamental’, ‘finicky’ beast to say the least. There were several factors that lead to the situation of me leaving Pneumania and joining‘Decay’.

There was I suppose a frustration on my behalf with some of the other members lack of serious attitude when it came to things like rehearsals and eventually gigs. I would literally not know whether certain people were going to turn up or not.

The ‘S.S’ had given us a great opportunity to progress further, we were getting offers of gigs left right and centre and we were trying to write new material for the Pneumania follow up to the ‘S.S’ But unfortunately certain members didn’t seem to get it!

I think that Abbo and the boys could plainly see what was going on and saw how they could turn the situation to their advantage, so they asked me to join them on guitar.

I could see that they were dead keen to move on; I weighed everything up and took the offer.

Difficult decision or was it obvious UK Decay had more potential? How did the rest of Pneumania react?

No , at the time it seemed an easy decision for me although it wasn’t easy breaking the news to the other members of Pneumania. Steve the Voice (bless his heart) was the most disappointed. Nigel had already done a disappearing act and Gaynor was smitten with personal problems anyway. I think however that they all respected my decision to leave the band and join up with UK Decay.

Did you ever see “Pneumania mark 2″ that Steve the Voice put together later? What did you think of it starting again without you or snow?

I think Steve the Voice did really well forming that new look Pneumania MK2.

I saw them at Barnfield College in 1980/81 I think with new drummer Dave Sidley new vocalist Elaine O’Brian and on guitar Pete Keady (I think!) Steve of course was on Bass.

It was something else witnessing a baby that I had helped to create, playing some of the tunes we used to play! They had a great sound and it’s a real shame they didn’t go any further and record some of their stuff.

I had no problem at all with it, I only wish that I had more time to help them somehow but we by that time were up to our necks in our own work. I have often wondered whether there were any half decent recordings of their music. I have absolutely no idea why or exactly when this line up finished though.

UK Decay late 1979

UK Decay late 1979

More Black 45 EP

More Black 45 EP

So then you joined UK Decay and it was onwards and upwards. to an outsider the “black 45″ is like a different band , it all seems to gel and there’s a real band sound which carried on developing over the next 3 years. Did it all come together quickly when you joined?

Yes it all happened very quick, I brought over a couple of songs from Pneumania and learnt the Resistors songs we had a short intense period of rehearsals to work out the new live set and bang! We were in the studio recording the ‘Black 45 EP’.

Next we were playing out of town Oxford, Northampton, London and that moved on to Berlin and Europe. I had worked with Steve and Abbo before in the ‘Stevie Band’ I really liked his powerful rolling style. Martin had a more driving Bass guitar style than Steve the Voice . We very soon were developing a sound, a very raw sound at first, Abbo was left a lot more freedom to concentrate on his vocals and I felt I had much more space to manoeuvre with my developing 5 string style. Steve and Martin had by now developed into a really tight rhythm section so the pieces were in place!

We felt we were on to something. The following period was a blur of activity with the production and release of ‘The Black 45’, more and more gigs, negotiations with ‘Fresh’ records, Fanzines, Indie Record and Punk clothes Shop and John Peel sessions. This lead on to more formalised tours, in Britain and Europe and then on to the Dead Kennedys first British tour in the Autumn of 1980. Then there was‘For My Country’, followed by ‘The Unexpected Guest’ singles! It seems incredible looking back how much shit we did back then in that short while.

Then Martin ‘segovia’ Smith, hit us with a bombshell!

So how many did the black 45 sell then?

That’s a good question Initially of course it came out on our own‘Plastic records’ label and I think we did about 2 or 3 thousand. We ran into supply and demand and cash flow problems pretty soon however as we were a small outfit I guess, some of the shops and distributors thought we could wait for our paychecks! So that’s where Fresh records stepped in with their licensing offer, which is what the relationship Fresh had with the ‘Black 45’ always was.

I don’t actually know exactly how many Fresh went on to sell but it sold consistently over the next couple years. As Fresh went down I don’t suppose anyone will ever know

Is it fair to say you started writing most of the music, or was much of it done collectively? What was the song writing process in the band?

UK Decay - Pneumania shots from the first couple singles.

UK Decay – Pneumania shots from the first couple singles.

When I first joined ‘Decay’ they already had a set. So I had to learn how to play the already established tracks such as ‘UK Decay’,‘Middle of the road Man’, ‘Disco Romance’, ‘Necrophilia’ etc, so that was the very first priority as there were gigs booked. We soon got established and now we had to get some new material together for the forthcoming studio sessions (Black 45) Gradually as time went by new songs replaced the earlier Resistors songs. As I had some sort of formal music training (keyboards) whenI was a kid I was able to work out and put together chord sequences and structure to the songs. I pieced together chords at first by looking at a keyboard and then transposing the notes into chords (very limited at first!) on the guitar. I had been in a couple of bands before so was a little older and wiser and probably more able to articulate composition to the others to begin with at least! Playing the guitar for me unleashed a lot of creative energy, I had got bored with playing keyboards or the sound of them and the guitar sounded fresh and exciting.

So this earlier period of ‘Decay’ for me personally, was a ‘peaking’ period where I felt a lot of energy and enthusiasm and new songs and ideas seemed to flow in abundance.

Steve, Martin and myself, used to jam a lot and in this we would get tighter together and of course songs or parts of songs would develop out of this.

However the vocal department was always well governed by Abbo,who would so often ‘knock us out’ with some of his twisted lyrics and performances.

But it is also fair to say that as time went by we did get more collective’ in our approach to writing music, especially when Eddie‘Twiggy’ joined the band.

Finally, UK Decay were the sum of its component parts. It was the combination of the individuals that made up the whole band. It simply wouldn’t have happened if there had been anything different in the line up, in my opinion.

Well, there you have it. Just think, in a parallel universe EMI heard “Metal for Muthas” and signed Toad the Wet Sprocket rather than Iron Maiden , and Spon ended up in spandex playing to thousands of hairy grebos all over the globe. Hmmmm , maybe we all had a lucky escape there………..

Maybe next issue we will get “The Fresh Years”…..time will tell.

Thanks a lot to Spon for delving deep into the memory banks for that lot.

Questions by Paul Rabjohn for UK Decay Today Two 2006



The Pneumania Story

The Pneumania Story: parts 1 & 2

Part1

Pneumania formally known as ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’, were formed early in 1979 in Luton UK by founding members and nihilists, Steve Spon and The Captain (not Sensible!). They had just converted a basement in a soon to be demolished terraced house in Luton, into a rehearsal room and went on a hunt for a Vocalist and Bass player.

Spon, Steve Harle and The Captain
Their search led them to the ‘Grapevine’ public house that was the ‘hub’ of the thriving Luton Punk scene. Amongst the throng of ‘spikey-tops’ and ‘Seditionary’ clothed regulars, one girl stood out from the crowd. Her name turned out to be Gaynor and although she had never sung before, she gladly accepted an offer to come along to a jam session in view of forming a Band.

Gaynor had spent the last year or so, charging tourists along Kings Road in Chelsea for taking her picture. With her bleached white ‘Jack Frost’ haircut and stunning punk fashion clothing she wouldn’t fail to catch the eye, but the ‘real deal’ about Gaynor was in spirit she was a seminal punk Goddess. It wouldn’t matter if in a musical sense whether she could sing or not, what she had to say would be more important.

Gaynor (Sow White) and Steve SponInitially, the Captain who formally played guitars and at the time was currently playing Bass with Luton’s first punk band  ‘The Jets’, would now focus on drums.
Spon who formally played keyboards, would take up the guitar. For the first few sessions this was the line-up and although much ragged round the edges, within a short while a new sound developed with a hand full of songs becoming established.

Recruiting the right Bass Player however, was proving a problem. Cue Steve the Voice, who had been on the sidelines for a little while. An ex-art student with his ‘nose on the streets’ who couldn’t play a note wanted to give it a go. With initial reservations he was given a chance to prove himself on bass, which after a while he did! For the early part of 1979 the new band thrashed away in the basement and gathered together a set of tunes.

 

A name for the band was chosen, ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ and before long the first live gig was on the horizon. This provided a dilemma for ‘The Captain’ as the ‘Jets’ whom he also played bass for, were booked  on the same bill! This thought the Captain, wouldn’t go down very well with the guys in the Jets. To get round this the Captain played the first ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ gig completely swathed in ‘Mummy’ style bandages, so as not to be noticed by the Jets or so he thought!. Half way through the gig the bandages inevitably started to come adrift eventually leading to severe embarrassment on the Captains behalf. This led to an altercation the following weekend whereby Captain was indignantly thrown down the stairs to the washrooms at the Grapevine by the guys in the Jets. After this, the Captain decided to move into management, vacating the Drum kit.

The first gig at Luton’s Barnfield College was historical in the sense that this was the location where the Idea of ‘The Split Single’ was first conjured up,  alongside fellow Luton punk band ‘The Resistors’ (UK Decay) who were on the same bill. Putting aside ‘Captains’ embarrassment, it turned out to be a really ‘stunning’ gig. However, ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ were now in need of a drummer.

Pneumania on insert of The Split SingleCue Nigel Dark, a friend of Steve the Voices, Nigel was an accomplished drummer with a grounding in Jazz as well as ‘Nihilism’. Within a few rehearsal sessions Nigel had fully integrated himself into the sound and it was at this point that ‘Snow White and the sic Punks’ would now change their name to ‘Pneumania’… TBC..

 

 

Part 2

The ‘Welly Street’ abode complete with rehearsal room and outside bathroom – minus roof, during the early part of 1979 quickly became established as the HQ for Pnuemania and The Resistors -who later changed their name to UK Decay. The formal tenancy of the house was at an end and the demolishing contractors were pulling the houses down around to make way for a new development. This sense of uncertainty galvanised much support from the punk community whom rallied round to help.

Punk Girl a disgrace!

The Captain and Spon who were then residing there, decided on a strategy to hang on to the home and base for as long as possible. One day the contractors started demolishing the house next door, the response by the punk residents was to fetch the amplification equipment up from the basement and to set it up in the street outside – then to blast the neighbourhood with loud punk music, in the middle of the working day -in Luton town centre.

Meanwhile Captain got onto to phone to the local press who were based just a few streets away, they could hear the noise from their offices. Very soon, the local press, police and a huge crowd had gathered to see what the fuss was about. Very quickly the demolition work halted and a stay of execution for a couple months was granted for consideration. This created much interest locally and provided motive and a strong sense of mission to achieve as much as possible in the time remaining at ‘Welly Street’.

Around that time a ‘locally -famous’ piece of Luton graffiti appeared – ‘C-O-U-N-C-I-L – V-A-N-D-A-L-S’ – each letter man-sized and painted with a roller-brush of white paint, running along a street full of front doors – each house sadly empty and awaiting demolition. This proved a great spin for the press to use as a certain Mike ‘English’ , made sure he had this as backdrop when the local press took his photo.

It was spring 1979 that the idea of the two bands collaborating came to root amidst this background. Thatcher was now in power, things looked grim all round. An idea was taking shape, the two bands pooled their resources and a new record label – ‘Plastic Records’, was created.

A release date had been set for two months and Pneumania set about writing and perfecting the two songs they had committed for the recording session. Captain now took on a ‘Manager’ role as new drummer Nigel ‘Dark’, who stood tall, aloof and looking every bit a character out of a Hammer movie – took his seat. His style was much more flippant and progressive, compared with the standard ‘2 – 4”s of the usual punk drumming. Grounded on the ‘arty’ and ‘jazz’ side, Nigel’s involvement showed great promise for future progression. He had a highly distinctive and original style. However the nickname ‘Dark’ wasn’t just his punk pseudonym – it was how he was. He would keep everyone guessing as to whether or not he would actually turn up for a rehearsal or even a gig!

Within the ‘Split Single’ development period, the two bands collaborated on a number of self-promoted gigs. They also self-penned their own networking tool – a fanzine called ‘The Suss’ which was released to coincide with these events.
The homogenisation of not just the two bands but by now a thriving community, was working very well. These were very creative times and the whole ‘Plastic Records’ gathering was gaining momentum. The recording studio was booked and the day had arrived.

Pneumania recorded two songs; ‘Exhibition’ and ‘Coming Attack’ that day, it turns out to date the only songs the band ever released. ‘Exhibition’ is the liturgy of a pure raw strangled, angry punk goddess – lamenting the attitudes the rest of society has towards her and her ilk. Her performance on the record was full on with her insides hanging out for all to see. Her ‘naked and beleaguered punkette soul’ – looking into the mirror. The music was raw and cutting with juxtaposed ‘dubby bass’ and ‘staggered drums’. The guitars phaser-slicing – jagged chords from Spon’s five strings. It builds, there’s tension, followed by a finale. “It’s a freakshow – nothing new”. Superficially it was wide open to criticism, but on another level it was a really potent performance by all in the band.

Pneumania side of The Split Single‘Coming Attack’ – the terror at the heart of urban nightmares- is a poem written from the narrative of the deceas-ed’s perspective. The loneliness of the victim succumbing to the inevitable fate in a street attack. Being a ‘Punk’ didn’t necessary mean being any different to anyone else in society. We are all vulnerable and made of flesh and blood. Actually being a punk back in the day, did increase the risk of ‘inviting’ attack.(Sadly, there are still isolated cases today – visa Sophie Lancaster)

This actually happened back in the day, to three of the band whilst returning to the rehearsal room one night. They were ‘jumped’ by a stick wielding thug who nearly broke Spon’s arm.

The music is a very fast paced three-time rhythm with a running bass line, the sheering 5 string guitar plays a single rhythmic chord. It builds, peaks rebuilds and finally crescendos as the knife strikes home. It’s all over in little over a minute – but wow! what a unique idea and production.

The afternoon in the studio had been reasonably successful, the band were happy, now it was time to get the recording released. All systems go on the ‘Slit Single’ project – five weeks to go before the deadline…….

To Be Continued…..

1986 Luton Compilation

Dump it on Parliament: 1986 Luton Compilation (aka the Anti Nirex Tape – BAND)

UK Decay, Furyo and In Excelsis were gone but in their wake, the town of Luton still had a bustling ‘alternative’ scene in the mid eighties. At the time, Click Click, Karma Sutra, the Party Girls, Penumbra Sigh and a host of other acts were ‘wooing’ the local audience’s. Click Click were pioneering new industrial sounds at their Lung Function HQ and Karma Sutra were flying the flag for the ‘anarcho-pacifist’ movement. Both bands were regularly playing gigs out of town and around the country, even playing in Europe by 1986.

Dump It On Parliament - Luton Compilation - Click for stream
Hear this now!

Thatchers government made great issues to protest against, we had seen the Falklands adventure, the Miners strike. So in 1986 when it was announced that an old WW2 supply base near Elstow in Bedfordshire was to be the host of the nations nuclear rubbish dump, it was decided that something had to be done to stop it.
The focus for the towns alternative community at the time bedside’s the obligatory ale houses such as the Blockers Arms and The George, was the 33 art centre in Guildford Street. A three minute walk round the corner in Bute Street was situated the printing workshop. The upstairs rooms hosted Click Click’s ‘Lung Function’ – rehearsal rooms for bands. Both ’33’ and ‘Lung Function’ provided rehearsal spaces and acted as informal gathering and networking havens. So ideas, pre- internet days, would spread quickly.
So it was relatively easy to galvanize the towns alternative community into an action to try and prevent this nuclear waste dump from setting up just 15 miles away. Chernobyl was fresh on folks minds and with this a campaign was started – Bedfordshire Against Nuclear Dumping (B.A.N.D.)
Most of the towns young ‘alternative’ musicians got behind the idea quickly and very soon the idea of a protest – compilation tape would be in order. Bands and individual musicians were asked to contribute a specially written and recorded song or two, protesting against the Governments nuclear agency – Nirex.

In the mid Eighties Government Policy determined that a site in mid-Bedfordshire near Elstow, was to become the main national and an international Nuclear-waste dump.
In the true ‘Punk-spirit’, the Luton ‘alternative’ scene galvanized their protest against Nirex, the government agency responsible for nuclear waste.A 24 track Tape was produced which included works by many local artists.Presented here are the digitized cover scans for the tape and below that, you can download the MP3’s:-

Dump It On Parliament – Luton Compilation

Download

24 Colours-Tortured Soul

Bugsy and the snakes-Open your eyes

Guitars for Ammunition-Brutal

Karma Sutra-The Package

Party Girls-Believe in me

The Click Click-Fear of cats

The Twitch-Look,Look There

Kev- Break DownThe Walls

Occult Radio Disorganisation Unproduction-Dear Mr Nirex

Kull-Carthage

Penumbra Sigh-Televised Murder

Two Little Dicky Birds-Sitting On A Wall

Kul-You’re Not Smiling Anymore

Guitars For Ammunition-DreamPolice

Kev-Men Of Power

and the reverse:-Luton Compilation cover reverse

The Rattlesnakes-No Money

Corpaelia-Mentor Will Rise

Party Girls-DreamHasEnded

Click Click-Shes Chewing Them

Strawberry Speed Trials-The Horror Of Party Beach

Bugsy and J Graham-War Games

Corpaelia-Beyond This Place

Penumbra Sigh-To Serve Them All My Days

The Twitch-Chalets And Bungalows

Windows Media Player required

Play whole selection in windows media player.

It is with good credit to the people involved because an idea is one thing, however turning an idea into reality is another! Recording studios and equipment back in the day wasn’t cheap to come by. The real hard work was holding the idea together until the project was achieved. Most of the tracks ended up being recorded on 4track cassette ‘Porta-studios’ as this was the only method that could be afforded at the time. The process seemed to take forever and at times the project nearly ground to a complete halt. But eventually the tape was finished. According to the hand written text on the back of the Cassette,

“This tape was put together on very cheap equipment, nothing flashy at all. So obviously the quality suffers somewhat and for this I apologise not only to you but to the bands and artists that have contributed their songs and their time completely free. Although it hasn’t quiet turned out as good as it could have done, I think it still proves that anyone can produce D.I.Y. Tapes easily and cheaply. Without the help of the money merchants that control the major record companies but simply with a little trust, solidarity and cooperation”

Profits from the project were to..

to be sent directly to people who have been fined by the courts for their participation in acts of direct action against the plans” (for nuclear dumping)

Ironically it tuned out that soon after the tape was released, the government dropped their plans for Elstow, the whole country at the time was up in arms against the nuclear industry! So victory for the aims of the campaign and reason for the tape, by default! This may have taken the wind out of the sails for the project at the time but today this collection stands as a historical snapshot of Luton’s alternative musicians, community and culture of the mid-late eighties.
In 2004 one of the original artists to have appeared on the tape, Bugsy – digitised and sent the UK Decay Com website the MP3’s to host, which we have hosted to this day, now twenty five years after it was originally released. In 2006 Spon re compiled and remastered using another recently found copy of the original, selecting the best quality to have survived the years of each track on the tape.

So thanks go out to Bugsy, Spon and Ella Jo for the BAND poster and of course all the bands and artists that contributed to this historical and unique Luton collection.

Old anti nirex article on forum

A radical view of Luton’s anarchic past
Straight outta Luton

If you enjoyed this article you may be interested in reading about
Some notorious Luton Punk venues from the 70’s and 80’s.

“Alternative Luton – Grab it, Change it, it’s yours!”

A B.A.N.D. poster