Famously known as "The Hammersmith Ramones," the Lurkers never gained much respect during the "good old days" of '77 that everybody goes on about so much...and while the above-mentioned tagline certainly serves as a handy descriptor, it doesn't really do them justice, either. The band always had so much more up its sleeve, even if it didn't arrive dressed up in the usual musical niceties.
The early albums, FULHAM FALLOUT (1978) and GOD'S LONELY MEN (1979) are well worth investigating, along with those classic early singles, plus the 21-track Captain Oi! CD, BBC SESSIONS...which crackles with a loud, proud and unapologetic energy that should make many a pretender think twice. It's the reason why I started playing "Ain't Got A Clue" in my solo shows, which is only one of many reasons why it's my favorite.
In that spirit, here comes a blast from my Aladdin's Archival Cave, an August 2006 email chat with Arturo Bassick, who was there at the start, and leads the current lineup today. He's branched out into writing, as well, with his own memoir in FAT BLOKE THIN BOOK...and former drummer Peter "Manic Esso" Haynes is right behind with GOD'S LONELY MEN (which we'll cover in due course). Without further ado, here's Round One of my chat with Arturo.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Who would point to as your chief inspirations?
ARTURO BASSICK (AB): Well, all music, really: from music hall stuff that my dad would sing around the house back in the '50s...to cowboy music my eldest brother used to listen to...then my sisters playing the popular records of the early '60s and then me listening to all the early '70s rock stuff. Punk rock was just another logical continuation of where rock music was going,
My chief inspiration was Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After, and Johhny Winter. They were my guitar heroes when I was 16, 17 but I think you get inspired by all sorts of types of music, it all seeps into the mix somehow.
CR: Which venues were “most happening” when punk rock started, and why? Which ones were good for you to play, particularly?
AB: Well, the Roxy Club, of course -- then the Vortex, the Red Cow (Hammersmith), the Nashvile West (Kensington), and the Hope and Anchor in Islington. All of these venues were good to play 'coz it was exciting times and I was really new to playing live as the Lurkers were the first band I ever played with.
CR: Judging by the press clippings that I've seen, the Lurkers didn't seem to get a lot of respect at the time...is it because the press focused on those deemed to be “the heavies” (Clash, Jam, Sex Pistols) at everyone else's expense? Or was some other agenda going on (especially since many of the folks writing back then seem to be pulling similar pranks today)?
AB: Yeah, well, there was a lot of snobbery in the middle class-run music press. You had to be in with them, which we weren't, we didn't like them and we weren't gonna kiss arse personally or via press agents, so we had the piss taken out of us. But you see. we were a real band of mates, unmanufactured. This meant a lot to the real fans we had, even though we realised, even then, that 'coz we weren't playing the insincere rock 'n' roll games that a lot of the bigger bands were [playing], we were probably cutting our own throats commercially. At least we were not fakes.
CR: Do you feel there's more of a connection between the pub and early punk scenes than folks want to admit, given that entities like the Albion agency were significant players, in terms of getting gigs for bands? What's your take on this?
AB: There was definitely a big connection between the two. Lots of people who saw the early pub rock bands like the Kursaal Flyers, Deaf School, [Eddie &] the Hot Rods, Tyla Gang, et cetera, got into punk and liked seeing it at the same venues [that] they'd been going to for ages. Lots of us didn't like going to really big gigs. We loved the pub scene and I still think it's the best enviroment [in which] to play or see bands, to this day.
CR: What were own impressions of the Clash, as people, and musicians, from your encounters with them? Are there any that stand out as memorable?
AB: I never met the Clash.
At first I loved them, but I agree that when they signed to CBS it was like a kick in the teeth for the so-called DIY ethic...but, really, most bands were no different to the people they admired musically. They wanted to be big rock stars and make loads of money and they would lie cheat, sell their grannies for fame and fortune, but what struck me most about the Clash – say, over the Pistols -- they took themselves so seriously. All that Brigade Rosse, “Spanish Bombs,” rebel chic stuff was fake bullshit, but they made great music, looked good, and really that's all most people want, a fantasy to take them out of their dull lives...someone to hero worship.
The Clash were a good case of fantastic marketing. They were put together very much like the Monkees, were given free clothes to wear from their manager's friend's boutique, and told what kind of lyrics to write. I know this through a very close friend of Joe Strummer's who used to hang around with them when they were called the Weak Heartdrops. The songs were love songs...nothing to do with political stuff at all, it was all a cynical move to get attention and make a name. Well, it worked, but it wasn't sincere.
I know a lot of people who worship the Clash cannot bear to hear this, but sorry, it's true and that hurts sometimes.
ROUND TWO: "WE NEVER HAD ANY GAME PLAN..."
CR: Did you see the Clash (and Joe Strummer, in particular) as a genuinely politically outraged band, or brilliant opportunists who could knock out tunes along those lines?
AB: Strummer was a fantastic frontman. I saw him with the 101'ers in 1975 at Gypsy Hill College (Kingston). and he was great doing Chuck Berry songs...but you know, in the last part of his life, he owned loads of properties. Like a lot of middle-class lefty people they have a caring front, but really, it's inherent in them to feather their own nests...look at Tony Blair as a prime example, oozing the insincerity of Hughie Green.
CR: In hindsight...how do you view the path taken by the Clash, which (to their critics) seemed to go some distance from their original first album sound?
AB: I think you can gather my whole take on the band from what I've already said, but don't get me wrong. Loads of their songs are great, especially the first album [THE CLASH]. After that album I think they knew they had to get more polished, and diversify, or they wouldn't get as big as they wanted to be.
CR: You've probably heard the cliche: “After the 100 first days of punk, the excitement was all over but the shouting.” Can you point to a specific moment when the initial unity and promise started splintering? How did it affect the scene as it existed in 76-77?
AB: Well there wasn't a unity, there was loads of backstabbing, slagging off, et cetera. As I say, the egos were as rife in punk as it is in any performing arts [scene], jealousy, 'coz someone got a front page of the NME [NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS], or sold more records, or were on “Top Of The Pops.” People are only people, so why, 'coz you were supposed to be a punk band, should you feel diffrent than anyone else?
Punk may have died in the eyes of the people who were only into fashion and wanted to get themselves a new look...'coz they felt it had become too plebian for them...and the horrible football working class yobs had got into it ...but for a lot of people, punk was only just starting. It's easy, when you're at the hub of a movement happening in somewhere like the King's Road, to say you're bored with it.
To tell you the truth, I don't think a lot of those poseurs from Bromley, et cetera, really liked punk, anyway: it was just a funny little game to the Tarquins and Jemimas playing dressup, like Violet Elizabeth from “Just William.”
Punk really meant a lot to the kids on horrible estates up and down the country who weren't fortunate enough to have daddy's business to join, or a university education. That's why certain bands bullshitting them is so disappointing, and wrong.
CR: Tell me what it took to keep a punk band on the road in those days (equipment, per diems, places to stay)...what conditions did you encounter, and how did you handle the inevitable run-ins that cropped up?
AB: Well, the Lurkers were on £10 a week each from Beggars Banquet in '77...we were always skint. Beer was about 40 pence a pint then, so a tenner wouldn't go far. I ended up selling about 400 of my LPs to Beggars who were a secondhand record shop, too, just to finance drinking. Also, we were on the dole, too, getting another 11 quid a week from that.
On the road, we'd do crazy gigs like Barrow and Furness and back in one day for 50 quid, playing to one person in Ollie's Club (Lancaster) 'coz punks weren't allowed in -- where the DJ played “God Save The Queen” before we went on, took it off halfway through, broke it in half...then introduced us as “some shit punk band from London.”
[I recall] Playing the Lakeland Lounge in Accrington, and me and Esso the drummer having four meat and potato pies before we played -- not 'coz we were hungry but 'coz they were only 10 p [pence] each.
We were always pissed. We just thought it was all a great laugh and we didn't have to do normal jobs. We never had any game plan, we used to sleep in the van, or get the cheapest B and B [bed and breakfast] we could find, pay for two [people] and sneak the other three in.
We went all the way to the Isle of Arran in Scotland in '77 to play three gigs in the Glasgow two-week holiday where the whole of the factories in Glasgow close at the same time...so we done these three gigs in church halls where booze wasn't allowed, and all the Scottish lads were still dressed in big high waister flares and platform boots with feathered haircuts.
We stayed in a woman's wee cottage on the seashore which was full of IRA posters on the walls, which was a bit scary for us English C of E [Church of England] boys.
We just got on with all the discomfort and hassles, which is easier if you're in a haze of booze all the time, which we were.
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