ACCESS ONE STEP
The Official History of the Joiners Arms
Oliver Gray
Updated Kindle edition only

THE MAN WHO KILLED THE HAMSTERS
A biography of Ian Moss
Stephen Dobson
E-book and limited edition hardback

Local books for Local People? Maybe not. Ged Babey’s been reading the new biography of Manc Legend ‘Moet’ (lead singer of Hamsters) and a history of legendary Southampton venue Joiners.

(In a Dennis Norden voice) If you’re one-of-those-pee-pull (enough already) like me, an obsessive, fanatical, trainspotter-type who buys every single book on music, punk and post-punk or otherwise; histories, biographies, diaries, scrapbooks… then here are another two for your library. (Or Kindle) One is about a larger than life Mancunian Legend nicknamed Moet and the other about a Southampton venue where the walls are held together not just by bricks & mortar but by the sweat, nicotine and rock’n’roll reverberations from a thousand gigs…

The book on Ian ‘Moet’ Moss is, to my mind, is an absolutely essential one; every bit as good as Andy Blades Chronicles, the Dairy of a Teenage Punk (Cherry Red) Nina Antonia’s Homme Fatale (Perrett & the Only Ones) and Manic Esso’s Gods Lonely Men; all lesser-known heroes maybe, but great personal accounts of the highs and lows of being on the fringes if not at the eye of the cultural storm that was punk. Moet was at the ‘I Swear I Was There’ Pistols gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in ’76 (and features in the documentary / book of that name) and in 2012 his latest band Kill Pretty are about to release an absolutely brilliant album (review to follow soon…) on the Mobs All The Madmen label.

The History of the Joiners Arms – now just the Joiners – is the biography of a former pub / now a music venue but a thinly veiled tribute to one Mint Burston – a Midlands ex-pat (& former Cravats roadie) who put the place on the post-punk / indie-rock / Britpop map (from 1984–2000) and who sadly died nearly five years back. A quiet, bearded, bespectacled chap, he started off booking the pub back-room to put on weird bands like Blurt and the Stitched-Back Foot Airman in the mid 80’s but by the mid 90’s had gotten bands like the Manics (who signed their Sony contract in the basement), Oasis (Liam offered the girl ‘doing the door’ a fight) and Radiohead (when no-one had heard of them) to play packed shows in the provincial city. Others remember great gigs by the cult favourites like Drugstore, Blessed Ethel, Giant Sand (and literally hundreds of others), not to mention local heroes like the Cropdusters and Evol.

The central core of Oliver Gray’s book is a complete list of all the bands who played there from the 1977 onwards – from local punks Catch 22 (later members of the Men They Couldn’t Hang) to various Blues & Folk heroes right up to a DIY punk gig featuring then unknowns Green Day. I have to point out in the interests of objectivity that approximately seven pages of Oliver’s book consists of my own reviews from the 80s’ & 90’s and a couple of chapter-ettes. (You can see how my style of writing has progressed ….not one jot!) It’s Mr Gray though who curates and creates the scholarly narrative and structure and gives a complete story of the venue by interviewing key people, landlords, fans, artistes (like Chris T-T and a brief paragraph by John Robb) and promoters like Rich Levene from the STE (Southampton Totton & Eastleigh) Hardcore Collective and letting them tell their stories (Green Day raided my fridge).

It is a book for anyone (and everyone) who has ever lived in Southampton for any length of time over the past 35 years (The 2006 print run sold out years back but a new ‘updated version’ is out as an E-book) but may be also of interest to others outside the area as every town has a much-loved venue something like this… usually populated by loud boisterous reprobates like Moet…

Described by a friend as “An emotionally charged mastodon; a complex intellectual who thinks with his penis. But I love him” Moet was singer with a strange band from Manchester (1979-83) called the Hamsters (not to be confused with the Southend blues/Hendrixy lot). The bands only recorded output from 1981 was finally released on Mark E. Smiths Cog Sinister label on a 1988 compilation called The Disparate Cognoscenti The limited edition print copy of this book comes with a free Hamsters CD (which I’ve not heard yet but hope features their immortal classic, ‘I’m a Cunt’. The Hamsters were quite probably a triumph of attitude-over-ability and sound gloriously ramshackle from what I’ve heard. “Their absurdism made it AARTT!” said a bloke call Mick from a rival band the Frantic Elevators. Their live debut, in front of an audience made up of school kids, included an improvised piece, which went thus.

“WHAT TWAT SPAT? WHAT TWAT SPAT? WHAT TWAT SPAT? This captivating chant went back and forth between the stage and band. Steve played a beat to the chant as Bobby improvised an accompanying riff. …the chanting continued for FIFTEEN minutes. Eventually, it took the arrival of the police to remove The Hamsters off the stage and escort them from the premises, much to the disappointment of their young fan base.

As they progressed they became a unique live proposition, support slots with Joy Division and the Fall followed, as did run-ins with the police, nazi skinheads, and rival bands.

This wonderful biography is the warts and all story of a music-loving, messed-up misfit with a heart of gold, a self-destructive pisshead exhibitionist and the post-punk freaks and bohos who populated the suburbs of Manchester at the time. The subsidiary characters are familiar to us all. Peter Hook, Mark E. Smith, Mike Joyce; members of practically every legendary Manchester band ever pop up, like jack-in-the-boxes throughout the story including some great Mick Hucknall stories. (It was Moet who came up with the name Frantic Elevators after Mick wanted to call the band Elevation after the Television song ‘its awful, sounds too old! Makes me think of loon-pants and love-beads’ he said.)

There are tales of drink & drug & rock’n’roll misadventure a-plenty all laced with Moss’s cruel wit and morning-after self-doubt. The author, Dobson has done a great job of painting an honest but sympathetic portrait of a loveable nutter and trouble-magnet based on hours of conversations and emails with the man. It’s a music-fans book for sure as all of the subjects favourite bands and songs are covered in detail. The blow-me-down-with-a-feather moment comes near the end of the book when Moet realises at a grand old age that he is gay and outs himself. In the words of a friend Jon Rowlinson … To this day, I don’t know how you can get to the age of 47 and not realise that you prefer sausage to taco!

An essential read for any Manc post-punk fan and pretty indispensable for people like me who’ve never set foot in the city.

Hamsters Book (& CD) is £15 by post from Ian Moss or £10 at Kill Pretty gigs or in person. You will have to be-friend Ian on Facebook or buy the E-book here

Joiners e-book available here.

Ian Moss’ latest band KILL PRETTY play London on 30th November with THE MOB and Hagar the Womb and others – details of gigs / cds etc here.

The 5 Year Aniversary of Mints passing is marked by a Tribute To Mint Gig at the Joiners featuring a cast of thousands … details here.

All words Ged Babey. More articles by Ged can be read here.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Very interesting stuff here – I have the Joiners book and have been there more times than I care to remember. Nice bit of writing

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