(FIRST POST: 9/10/10)
The Vibrators have always held a place in my heart, especially after seeing their best-known song ("Baby Baby") performed, back in college, by an East Lansing band (whose name escapes me at the momment) and its effect on the crowd. When explaining the band to non-initiates, my mind always goes back to the crowd's reaction that night.
Songs like "Baby Baby" will always get the pulse racing, because of the simple, timeless pleasures they celebrate, a quality never far from the Vibes' best music. That point made, guitarist/frontman Ian "Knox" Carnochan -- now in his thirty-sixth year of "Pure Mania" -- is a man of multiple talents. When not on the road with the Vibrators...who still do 120-odd nights per year..he can be found playing solo gigs, or painting.
The "Beyond Punk" show marked a high point of Knox's artistic exploits. Curated by Gaye Advert, the show ran August 13-21 at London's Signal Gallery, and featured artwork from the likes of Adam Ant, Dee Generate (Eater), Charlie Harper (UK Subs), Jamie Reid and Poly Styrene (X Ray Spex)...to name a few. Though punk is primarily celebrated as a musical phenomenon, there's quite a bit more to the story, as this show proved. (For a sampling of what you missed, and some comments by Knox, visit: http://www.dontpaniconline.com/magazine/arts/beyond-punk.)
With another American tour starting Thursday (September 9), now seemed a good time to catch up with Knox, who answered 10 questions by email: thanks a million! Extra special thanks to my friend, Tim Easterday, for letting me use his iPhone photos from our 9/29/10 show at Billy's Lounge (Grand Rapids, MI)...as Jah Wobble would say...you're a geezer!
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): What were your chief inspirations for getting into music in the first place? What musical (or non-musical) heroes made the biggest impact on you?
KNOX: I got a guitar for Christmas when I was 13, even though there was only folk music around which I didn’t find interesting. I heard a Duane Eddy song (“Rebel Rouser”) which my friend played me on the guitar which I thought was very good, and then in came all the new rock’n’roll music as there was basically no rock’n’roll when I first got my guitar, which was Christmas 1958. I moved up to an electric guitar then got an amp, the usual stuff. The songs coming through at the time which caught my attention were songs like “Apache” by the Shadows, “Move It” Cliff Richard, “Please Don’t Touch” and later “Shaking All Over You” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Some Elvis, etc. Later it was R&B, then psychedelia, the Velvet Underground, Iggy Pop and The Stooges, MC5, etc. I suppose Lou Reed was my biggest hero later, great voice, and intelligent street lyrics, also quite sinister and scary which was quite important, dealing with taboo subjects.
CR: Tell me a bit about those pre-Vibes bands -- Despair, Lipstick and Stiletto. How would you describe the type of music that they played, especially Lipstick...who played the Elgin, along with the 101'ers? How did they come across when you first heard them -- what were your first impressions of the band, overall, and Joe, in particular?
KNOX: I think the bands were semi-Hendrix/Velvet Underground/metally bands. The songs I wrote were dark and heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground plus everyone else. We used to do lots of covers in Lipstick as that band was out playing in pubs. Despair played my songs exclusively, was quite a heavy-sounding [band], but mainly existed in a recording/rehearsal studio. Stiletto was a fairly heavy pop band but didn’t last very long and only did a couple of gigs.
The 101'ers were great. Joe was electric, he did some duck-walking, and they only did a few songs straight off when I saw them, a really short first set. I was there with a band I was in called Lipstick. Both us bands had turned up for the gig but the 101’ers were there before us and got that night’s gig. Anyway they came back on and did the rest of the evening. Joe was great but his band looked like a bunch of misfits, and the songs they were doing were doing normal pub rock stuff, Chuck Berry stuff, that kind of thing.
CR: I've seen the Despair CD listed on your website, do any halfway decent recordings exist from the other pre-Vibes bands? Any chance they'll see the light of day?
KNOX: I don’t have any other recordings. There is a tiny bit more Despair stuff, other versions of the same songs but the quality isn’t any good. I always think some other stuff from the past will turn up, even the old school bands I was in, the Renegades and Knox and the Knight-Ryders, but realistically it isn’t going to.
CR: How would you describe the pre-punk scene? These days, it seems to be 50-50 -- some say, "Totally boring," others insist, "No, no, there were signs of life in the pubs that I went to" -- how do you remember it? What were the earliest signs of change? Should the pub scene get a bit more respect than it seems to, these days?
KNOX: I think there was a lot more interesting stuff going on in the pub scene than most people realise. Of course there was a lot of rubbish, much the same as it is today, but there were bands which I think might have been unfairly marginalised and who didn’t continue playing because of punk. A friend of mine has a theory that journalists used punk rock to get rid of a lot of prog rock and related bands. I think there is some truth in this.
I think the scene today is quite good, though I now classify what I see as either some friends playing together for fun, or a possible career band. I’m not a big fan of what I call "identikit" punk bands, but I have to say that on our tours we see loads of bands every night and even the very worst ones will suddenly play a brilliant song. I think it’s that sort of thing which keeps it exciting.
CR: What were your lasting impressions of the 100 Punk Club Festival, as your sound was bound to come across differently than the other bands? Looking back on that event, how crucial was it in terms of developing the scene? What other bands came off best (Clash, Damned, Pistols), in your opinion?
KNOX: We played there on the second night and it was badly affected by the violence. We were on after The Damned who were pretty good, but it was our PA the festival was using that night and Captain Sensible ran around and broke some of the PA leads so we had to fix them as well as go on after the glass-throwing incident. We’d been asked to back Chris Spedding who was top of the bill and a guitar hero (his “Motorbiking” had recently been a biggish hit) as he had no band. He’d shown us a few songs but you can’t learn more than a few songs in the dressing room at the soundcheck before the gig. We then had to fall back on pub rock stuff as that’s all we could both do as well. Chris came on towards the middle of our set and I think it went OK but I think we got slightly unfairly criticized for doing the pub rock stuff but I don’t think anyone realized we were helping Chris out. Most of our gigs after the festival disappeared as a result of the violence but reappeared a few weeks later. I always say that I thought that the festival put punk firmly on the map.
CR: How do you look back on your association with Mickie Most and RAK, and what did that do for the band? Glen Matlock says in his book, "Mickie's not the MOR-type bloke that people make him out to be" -- but that SOUNDS clip on the Punk '77 site seems to suggest the opposite. Which is it, exactly, and how was it working with him?
KNOX: I really liked Mickie Most. He was very inspirational, and there doesn’t seem to be anybody around now like him. He had an incredible high hit rate and worked very hard both with his record company and in the studio. He used to monitor stuff at such incredibly high volume in the studio that it made me feel ill, but at that level you can almost see the music as you hear so much detail.
CR: As we know, you were originally going to be on the infamous "Anarchy" tour -- what led to the plug being pulled on that? How did the post-Bill Grundy show hysteria affect the band?
KNOX: I can’t remember now why we weren’t on the “Anarchy” tour. I think it clashed with a tour we were going to be doing anyway or something.
I think the Bill Grundy incident helped the whole scene as more people became interested in punk so ultimately you would have more people at the gigs and more press. The only problem was I think it over-emphasized the yobbish aggressive end of punk and a lot of it wasn’t like that at all, it could be very intelligent and not violent. For all his sneering and aggressive stance John Lydon, for instance, is a very intelligent perceptive guy, and although I might not agree with everything he says, he is certainly very entertaining.
CR: "Baby Baby" -- I've always been fascinated by that song, and I know it's your favorite, where did the inspiration for that one come from?
KNOX: I wrote it in a room I was living in when I was in Acton and it was originally titled “Use Up A Little Of Your Time” but got changed to the words in the chorus, "Baby Baby". Our management didn’t want us playing it, especially when we played London, as they thought it was too slow but I think that’s what made it successful as it stood out. I think I wrote it as a general purpose love song, so not really inspired I’m sorry to say. I always think it’s a classic song, the melody, and that I somehow discovered it it rather than wrote it. Me as a rock’n’roll archaeologist.
CR: I'd be remiss if I didn't ask about your artwork: who were your initial influences, and was there ever a point when it seemed like that would come before music? Or has it been music first, last and always for you?
KNOX: I did painting as a child and at Watford Grammar school for a couple of years but it got dropped. Then my old headmaster Harry Ree got me to do it again and then I went on to art school. I was only ever properly interested in painting, but kept having to go on graphic courses at art schools to get the grant money and always left to do painting. I’m pretty much self-taught, you can get tons of stuff out of books and looking at paintings. I had a friend who was a very good painter who influenced me. I like painting as much as music but the music comes first as it’s booked in, the tours and stuff, so the painting unfortunately gets badly marginalised. I suppose when I get very old I’ll have more time to do it. I’ve got 80 or more of my paintings on my site: www.knox76.com
CR: The "Beyond Punk" show: tell me how that event came about, and what the basic theme behind it is...amazing to see so many names (from '77 and beyond) listed on the flyer.
KNOX: I think it was Gaye Advert’s idea and it was very successful, tons of people at the opening. I guess the idea was that it was all people originally involved in punk and seeing in a way what they were doing then and now. I can see it developing into a really big exhibition at the Tate Gallery!
CR: As we know, the Vibrators have existed at a cult level for a long time -- probably one of the longest-running such examples that comes to mind. What keeps you going, especially since mainstream recognition is a non-issue at this point, and you hardly seem to get mentioned in a lot of these retro stories and articles?
KNOX: I really like playing, and it is a job after-all, you play and the years roll past. It’s sad we don’t get more recognition but I always think something might happen and suddenly we’re noticed. But the years go by and it’s quite likely that it’ll never happen. I don’t know why we’re missed out in a lot of books, etc., maybe because we sort of quietly get on with playing and releasing records. We’re not clamouring for attention. Check us out at:
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