Eddie from The Vibrators in conversation…
Mark McStea interview’s Eddie of The Vibrators regarding his memories of early days etc in celebration of 40th anniversary of release of the ‘Pure Mania’ album and also in light of recent 4CD set released on Cherry Red.
1977 is a momentous year in the anniversaries merry-go-round that often consumes the rock mags these days. ‘77 was the year that many of the key players on the punk scene released their first singles and albums. It’s a bit mind-blowing (and depressing!) to see how fast the time has flashed by from seeking out the new stuff from shops like Virgin when it was still an indie retailer. I’ve been listening to Pure Mania by the Vibrators for 40 years now and have never tired of it. It’s the perfect rock’n’roll album – one 3 minute classic after another – no deadweight, no bullshit, just cut to the chase. Memorable songs executed with maximum fire power by a band that grasped the opportunities that the rising hunger for raw r’n’r in ’77 presented to them.
The Vibrators always suffered a bit of a credibility crisis with the more po-faced elements of the music press – the self-appointed tastemakers. Pseuds who’d disappeared up their own arses with their bullshit, elitist agendas and their careerist outlook – today we’re punks but tomorrow we’ll be national tabloid columnists. They made a whole new conformity out of what was meant to be a non-conformist movement.
None of this seemed to phase The Vibrators. They’d already been playing before the punk explosion and were toughened up to brush off the bullshit negativity. They became one of the most successful bands of the period with a run of singles that saw them garner extensive airplay and appearances on all of the TV rock and pop programmes. They were in at the start of the punk revolution, appearing at the infamous 100 Club festival and were one of the first bands to release a single. Drummer John ‘Eddie’ Edwards has been the constant through the various shifting line-ups. They’re still constantly touring around the world and releasing consistently strong albums. I caught up with Eddie for a quick flip back through the Vibrators’ history.
What was the story behind how you got together – how long had you been playing as a band before the punk scene really took off?
Knox had been playing a while, and John Ellis told me to play drums, as Pat was a brilliant bass player. I was trying to play bass at the time, but could play a little drums from my time as a roadie for a few bands and bashing about after setting up. So it’s John you’ve got to blame for me taking up the drums. The punk thing started to happen in the summer where we had supported The Sex Pistols (some little known band at the time!) at the 100 Club and had impressed Ron Watts (the booker) enough to pull a spot at the 100 Club festival later in the year. That was when punk first really started to take note, and we realised there were a few like-minded –bands and we were part of a new movement. Exciting times indeed.
I always felt that you were a bit different from a lot of the bands in that you were obviously much better musically – John Ellis in particular was arguably the standout guitarist of the period (although I think that the lack of ability of bands on the scene is and was exaggerated). Did you feel that?
We always wanted to do our own thing. Not copy anyone. Just take all those influences and mix them up and come up with a new and energetic sound. The other three, Pat, Knox and John, were all good musicians, but I bought my first kit the day before our first gig (with The Stranglers), so had a bit of catching up to do. Mind you. I also had the van!! Important stuff then! And for sure, the other groups had amazing players, Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Glen Matlock, Hugh Cornwall, etc were all great players. Let’s face it if you can’t play and don’t have any new ideas you aren’t going anywhere. So maybe the overall, so-called lack of ability was exaggerated, but I had to practice like crazy to catch up.
What was the story behind you joining up with Chris Spedding for his Pogo Dancing single?
We met Chris at the 100 Club festival in Sept ’76 as he was billed to play and saw his name on the posters, and called their bluff by coming down to play, except he didn’t have a band. At the club we accepted his offer to back him after our set, and had to borrow the office there to run through the songs. A bit nerve wracking for me as a newbie to the world of drumming, and he’d won awards and stuff – he was well known as a top session guitarist! It went well and he spoke to RAK, and they offered us a single, and also an agreement to back him on his single. It seemed too good to turn down, and we went ahead and did it at Morgan Studios with Mickie Most producing. It got us on our way.
Given that it was seen as a bit of a novelty cash-in, did you think it had the potential to undermine your ‘credibility’, or was it more a case of taking whatever opportunities presented themselves?
Let’s face it no-one had heard of pogo dancing when we recorded it! Well maybe a few. Chris was a big help to us and we returned the favour. Nobody knew us so we had no credibility to lose! Maybe the only people who knew us was the following we had built up playing round London. We had never played outside London, so it was a chance to broaden our horizons. Does anybody go into the music business with the plan being to fail?! We wanted to succeed and it was a break for us four. We had no flash manager running a clothes shop – no big contacts. Just us, and when someone of the calibre of Chris Spedding and Mickie Most wants to record with you, were we going to say ‘no, man, we need our credibility’. Yeah really!
There was a section of the musical press – the ‘punker than thou’ crowd – who looked down on the Vibrators – did that bother you?
That was Julie Burchill, who 20 years later said she made it all up just to further her career. I thought at the time that she only cared about herself and her reputation. She lied and made all that up. Didn’t even hear the music and still made up reviews. That is what you are up against. Of course it bothers you that someone does that. I guess she had a problem with the name. An apology would have been nice at the time of her admission. Fat chance!!
I always thought the band, like a few others (including The Heartbreakers), were really a rock ‘n’ roll band with no pretensions, who happened to coincide with the arrival of a movement that gave them a platform to reach an audience that was looking for something more vital. Does that seem like a fair assessment?
Spot on I’d say. Our plan was to get back to really exciting music and away from all that Prog rock overkill. Short, fast, energetic rock ‘n’ roll songs that captured the spirit of the early Who, Chuck Berry, etc. The Punk thing came much later and we were there before the start.
Why didn’t you end up recording for RAK after that first single?
We figured we needed a manager – fast – to help us after we did the single, and got Dave Wernham, an old friend, and someone who had music business experience, to help out. He was approached at a Hope and Anchor gig in London by the A & R from CBS and he explained that we were not signed to RAK. The offer from CBS was far superior, so it was an easy decision to move over to Epic at CBS. Making us label mates with The Clash.
Was there much that was recorded that wasn’t used?
Nothing. It was done in 10 days at CBS studios and we tried to get a live feel, lots of energy and FUN!!
Were you happy with the album at the time – I feel that it hasn’t aged at all!
No, when you make records you hear all the faults, not what is good. It’s a frustrating process. So at the time I could tell you where the mistakes are and what could be better. Still can! But it does have a timeless, real, quality that is good. It has aged to me but I still think it was a bloody great effort at the time. It achieved a lot of what we set out to achieve.
How was the division of vocals arrived?
They sang what they wrote so Knox was a far more prolific song writer, so had more tracks. John’s are more quirky but sound great and having the three vocalists gave us an extra quality the other bands didn’t have. It was just a case of picking the best songs, not who wrote them. The variety of material for us was a strong point.
Did you have the songs stockpiled and ready to go?
Yes, it was basically our live set at the time. I guess that was true of most of the bands.
I like ’em all! Seriously. But I love the grungy guitar sound on She’s Bringing You Down, the playing on Keep it Clean. We still play a lot of them live and they have stood the test of time for sure.
Maybe on other albums there are some not up to the standard of others but not on this. Lots have been covered by other groups, not to mention groups taking the titles for names so we got something right.
Any kind of special edition planned?
There is a box set on Cherry Red out now. ‘The Epic years 1976-1978’. It has all the stuff from Pure Mania and V2 plus the whole of Live At The Marquee, and all the BBC Sessions. So a great package if you want to know what great music sounded like then!! (CDPUNKBOX161) All the bonus tracks and rarities are there. It was put together with Mark Brennan with help from Paul North, with a booklet with old posters and reviews etc. I was very happy with it. They did an excellent job. 41 years on, it’s what I dreamed of when we started, so a realisation of that is pretty cool eh?! Stuff that in your pipe and smoke it Julie Burchill!!!! We put all the doubters to shame didn’t we? Not on our own, but with some of the best fans ever, who have stuck by us. Thanks to all of those guys. Also there is the Pledge Album with the V2 line up and the current line-up all mixed up, and that came out fantastically well. So it’s me – drums, Knox – vocals/guitar, John Ellis – vocals/guitar, Gary Tibbs – vocals/bass, Pete – vocals/bass and Darrell Bath – vocals/guitar. Darrell has been replaced in the live line-up by our old guitarist Nigel Bennett, to ensure a few more years of touring if I can keep life and limb together!!!
What were the best memories of that time around Pure Mania?
The best memories are of the tours. It was totally crazy and we met so many cool fans, many of whom we still see amazingly enough. You’d have thought they would have had enough by now! Certainly headlining the Roundhouse, where I used to go to see bands like The Who and The Faces was a big blast. Lowest was Pat leaving, but we overcame that with Gary and kept going. Pat hated touring, and has since forged a fantastic career in the studio, and produces most of our records including the latest on Pledge – Past, Present Into The Future. Still a great stalwart for the Vibrators is Pat.
Any scores you’d like to settle or records you’d like to put straight?
I think I’ve done that! Almost everyone else has just been very kind, helpful and honest. Providing places to stay and taking care of us. Turning up to the gigs and buying the records. We couldn’t have done it without all that help and kindness.
Who were your favourite bands of the time?
There were some great bands weren’t there?! Special mention to The Ramones, The Clash, The Stranglers, The Damned, Iggy Pop, 999, The UK Subs and The Lurkers.
No-one really. They were all trying to play good exciting original music. There were no bloody tribute acts in those days mate Write your stuff, play your heart out, and be original was the creed. That’s why there is still a vibe about it today.
As Eddie says, the recently released 4CD set on Cherry Red is a fitting tribute to the anniversary of one of the best albums of the punk era, by one of the most straightforward, unpretentious bands on the circuit. The first two studio albums, Pure Mania and V2 are worth the price of admission alone. Top that up with a great live album and a set of BBC sessions and it’s a no-brainer.
Words: Mark McStea