City Baby by Ross Lomas of GBH with Steve Pottinger – book review
Out 1st Oct 2013
Longstanding GBH bassist Ross Lomas publishes an unmissable autobiography called City Baby.
I was really looking forward to reading this book. I imagined a no holds barred, roller coaster ride through the thirty plus year’s career of one of our most enduring Punk bands.
Well, I’m pleased to report that I got all of that and a whole lot more too as Ross lays bare his life in GBH in a graphically illuminating manner, alongside decades of personal struggles, he is a true survivor. Steve Pottinger has done a fantastic job of bringing this often hilarious, but at times painful, story to life.
Falling in love with punk shortly before being expelled from school, Ross Lomas became fully absorbed in the Birmingham punk scene. One of the joys of this book is that it sheds a welcome light on the provincial post punk scene, which is always a refreshing change from some of the more well-trodden paths of punk history. Suffering from chronic shyness and an almost suffocating inability to relate to strangers were not qualities that I expected to find as this gripping, honest tale unfolds. However, what emerges amongst the often hair-raising tales of GBH’s progress around the world is a heartening tale of survival and that is what will stay with you on reading.
Ross Lomas makes clear he feels that GBH have often been fortunate in their career and being taken under the wing of Discharge is possibly one of the early examples. This led to their signing with Clay Records and the launch of a recording career, which is still going strong today. It also led to a career that would be defined very much on their own terms and in retrospect seems to have cost the band a number of lucrative opportunities. However, is that such a bad thing when GBH can point to a no compromise attitude that underlines the integrity of their career?
All the ingredients of what defines GBH are here, from their early naivety that saw none other than Captain Sensible advise them to use guitar tuners through to their position of hardcore punk pre-eminence. As Lomas points out, when they started out, not many bands were doing what they do, now there are any number. In over 30 years of travelling the world there are inevitably going to be scrapes and with GBH they are in abundance. There is Enzo the ‘promoter’ who lured them over to Italy with promises of a full tour of big venues. However, he turns out to be a complete fraud who is desperately trying to prove to his heroin-addicted, prostitute girlfriend that he can be a success. Only a hastily organised gig in a squat enables them to afford the petrol home. We read of the Chinese man who calmly silences racists in Berlin by producing a gun from his pocket, a bizarre conversation with Neil Sedaka , hassling Prince at an airport, terrifying traffic near-misses, playing and then dining with the great Wilko Johnson in Japan and riots aplenty. Life is certainly never dull and for most of their career the band seemed fuelled by chips, industrial quantities of alcohol and various other substances. Then there is the on-stage brawl in Baltimore that would certainly have seen the demise of many other bands.
However, it is clear that GBH are unlike many other bands and underpinning their career is a friendship that has survived enormous challenges and any number of potential disasters. Ross Lomas is clear that this bond means more to him than the potential riches that could have been accrued had their career taken a different turn. At every stage, no matter how severe the challenge faced, it is the loyalty the three original band members feel towards each other that pulls them through. This story is refreshingly free of the inter band-member squabbling and acrimony that poisons so many rock biographies.
Lurking like a dark menace in the background throughout this engrossing tale is the shadow of depression. From early in life, it is clear that Ross has suffered from a range of stress and anxiety related disorders that at times came close to claiming him as just another sad statistic of this most wicked and misunderstood of illnesses. It is to his immense credit that Ross Lomas has opened up about these challenges and it will certainly provide inspiration to many others who suffer in a similar fashion.
There’s no doubt that GBH are one of the true survivors in the history of punk, but the survival documented here is so much more than that of just a band. It is an uplifting story of the survival of friendship, principles and a whole way of life against sometimes overwhelming odds. Ross Lomas and Steve Pottinger have combined to produce a fascinating and essential read.
All words by Dave Jennings. More of Dave’s writing on Louder Than War can be found in his author archive. He is also on Twitter @blackfoxwrexham