Johnny Moped – Punk Legend interviewed ahead of rare live dates -Germany, London & Lewes!
“Johnny Moped had all three ingredients necessary for maximum rock’n‘roll: amateurism, mayhem & humour. Essential punk rock!” Billy Childish (1995)
Moped Rides again! Gig details at the end of this fabulous interview conducted by Mark Williams and originally published on his Smash It Up Com Website.
Interview with Johnny Moped/Paul Halford (18th January 2018)
Please tell us how the band started up as Johnny Moped and the 5 Arrogant Superstars way back in May 1974?.
We actually started off as the ‘Black Witch Climax Blues Band’ with Captain Sensible’s brother Phil Burns on guitar and me on piano and thats also when the Johnny Moped song ‘Hard Lovin Man’ evolved along with songs such as ‘Genetic Breakdown’ and ‘3D Time’.
We used to do rehearsal sessions nearly every Saturday afternoon in Phil’s bedroom at his parents house, 34 Edith Road, Selhurst. Which you might have seen on the 80’s TV programme ’Through the Keyhole’ or on Youtube when they visited Captain Sensible when he was still living with his parents. Phil had an upright piano in there right by his bed.
The bedroom they filmed used to belong to Phil, Captain had a bedroom originally upstairs at the back of the house and of course this is where we recorded the original Johnny Moped ‘Bootleg’ tapes too.
All we did was just have these mad musical jam sessions in Phil’s bedroom and we used to come up with crazy songs like ‘LA Ding-Dong’ and played all these bloody bar chords up and down the keyboard. When Xerxes first heard it he said ‘ What the fuck is that?’
Needless to say we didn’t carry on with the ‘LA Ding-Dong’number, but quite a few Johnny Moped songs like ‘Groovy Ruby’ ‘Hard Lovin Man’ and the cover version of Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’ were all on the bootleg tapes originally.
I remember we played at The Brigstock Arms, Thornton Heath in South London and Phil & Captain’s dad Tom who was an electrician by trade and had one of these lamp post maintenance trucks with an arm on it. So as we had no other way of getting our gear to that gig we loaded it all on the back of this bloody lamp post maintenance truck and we all jumped on the back too for a lift to the gig! I have no idea how we got the gear home again though?
Captain had trouble setting up his bass guitar when we got there so by the time we all finished bloody sodding around we only managed to play one song as it was the end of our slot as it was some sort of local talent contest.
I remember I had the sheet music for a load of Chuck Berry songs at the gig and we plonked ‘Johnny B Goode’ on the pub pianist George’s music stand and I then got up and performed the song and I was bloody petrified too as it was my first time ever performing in front of an audience.
What was it like growing up in Croydon in the 70s?
It was all very free and easy really, we didn’t get caught up in any of the hippy/flower power stuff too much. Friends and future members of the band used to meet up at The Gypsy Tavern in Station Road, West Croydon, which is no longer there now sometimes, on a Saturday afternoon and after we just used to float around Croydon to see what action was going on there.
We were a gang but not the sort of gang that causes trouble or anything like that.
We also used to visit the popular but now sadly demolished ‘The Forum’ Pub’ in the Whitgift Centre too, which is where Captain met his first ever girlfriend called Penny who was a Nurse who worked at St Barts Hospital in London at the time and lived in Mardell Road, Addiscombe, East Croydon.
What was it like playing your first two gigs at the Roxy during its first 3 months?
We played there a few times between February and April 1977 supporting bands like The Damned, Eater & Slaughter & the The Dogs and we also actually filled ‘Siouxie and the Banshees’ slot on the Roxy live album performing ‘Hard Lovin Man’ as they were all ill with the bloody flu or something? The funny thing was afterwards I was up on street level by the entrance of the club and they all walked in larger than life shortly after we had finished recording our track on the album, I’m not sure if the record producer Mike Thorne fitted them in the end though?
Can you tell us about the Millwall football fans who allegedly trashed the Roxy?
Well there are two conflicting stories about this incident, but basically a mob stormed the club and totally trashed the place but shortly after we where told it was Millwall fans who caused all the trouble and laid siege to the place.
So its either one or the other?
It didn’t effect us downstairs as luckily the mayhem didn’t spill down there where we where actually playing so we were all unaware that the upstairs bar at street level was getting completely bloody trashed! I can remember I was looking around when we came up after the gig to look at the devastation and in the women’s toilet there was some bloke and a girl going at it in one of the bloody toilet cubicles and there was beer cans and bottles shoved down the bloody toilet pans too!
It all looked liked the aftermath of a bloody air raid. In the lounge bar you couldn’t see the carpet either or what was left of it as it was ankle deep in bottles and beer cans and other assorted debris. There was one guy outside propped up against Dave Berks Blue Morris Traveller car in a very bad way and dripping blood all over the paintwork and so an ambulance had been called and all that.
It was fucking crazy outside the bloody place too!! Dave Berk couldn’t start the bloody Morris Traveller so he had to get a fucking hand crank handle out of the back of the car and crank the fucking engine over, we had all our gear in the back and after a while managed start the bloody car so we could all get the fucking hell out of there!!
Lets put it this way,there was never a dull moment when we played the Roxy club as there was always something going down or probably going to kick off and probably the reason why the Police/GLC closed it down eventually.
What can you remember about signing to Chiswick records back in 1977.
Well funnily enough we consulted a solicitor, called I think Paul Mitchell who had a practice near Warren Street Tube Station in London W1 before we signed our record contract with Chiswick.
I still don’t know why our drummer Dave Berk approached a Solicitor who had no real music business expertise but after we handed over our unsigned draft contract he said ‘Hello!’ and found one or two rather dodgy clauses so he called us all into his office. So we all sat around this large conference table where he outlined all the contentious/dodgy clauses etc.
At the time we where being managed by a couple of Soho market record shop flunkies called Phil & Stan. So we took it up with them and they arranged to meet with us upstairs in the attic room of the record company with Ted CarrolI the boss of Chiswick Records. We eventually ironed all the issues out so an offer was made by Ted Carroll and the contract got signed with a few of the dodgy /contentious clauses duly deleted.
The band were initially very reluctant to sign to an Indie label like Chiswick, but as a firm offer was made to us and put on the table the contract was then signed. Later on Dave Berk or Slimy Toad got the impression that Chiswick didn’t really want to record a second album even though our first album ’Cycledelic’ got to number 54 or 56 in the UK mainstream album charts.
I think in all probability we belted out three singles and an album but Chiswick probably thought the album didn’t clock up enough sales to make us think about doing a second album with the Mopeds and after that it just fizzled out.
The follow up album ‘The Search for Xerxes’ was eventually released on Captain Sensible’s record label Deltic in 1991 and was just a musical project really as it was never intended theoretically to be the second Johnny Moped album with all that disco stuff.
At the time I spoke to people who had heard it and they felt like myself this album is a real bummer and in a ditch and you can’t really change the direction of the band from being a punk rock band to a fucking disco/rap band can you? I think Dave Berk and Captain Sensible at the time thought it may be a concept album and wanted to get the Mopeds to do all this disco shit to appeal to a wider audience but it bombed, it absolutely bombed. Alright I went along with it at the time but I wasn’t happy with it at all.
Captain Sensible did a final mix when he lived in 34 Bath Street, Brighton where he had a bloody 24 track mixing desk in his back room. OK he did a fair job but to be fair he wasn’t a trained sound engineer so in the end the record left something to be desired.
The sound as it turned out wasn’t too bad but the actual production of the two rock tracks namely ‘I Believed Her Lies’ and ’Save the Baby Seals’ was all very weak and feeble and drowned out by a load of bloody electronic keyboard music so that album was truly destined to crash and burn upon release, which it did.
I think Dave Berk and the Captain where on a bit of a dream trip with this record which sadly alienated the remaining Moped fans and the general music audience alike.
How did the songs ‘VD Boiler’ ’No One’ and “Darling let’s Have Another Baby” come about?
‘VD Boiler’ was actually written by Slimy Toad who had a hand in Panic Button, Wee Wee, No One, Incendiary Device Maniac and Make Trouble they were all Toad songs.
Slimy Toad mentioned after this interview that the song ‘VD Boiler’ was based on the permissive state of a deteriorating society.
‘Darling’ was written by me and my late bass player Fred Berk and ‘Panic Button’ was co-written by myself, Fred Berk and Captain Sensible.
‘Groovy Ruby’ was written by me and Captain Sensible along with ‘Hell Razor’ as well.
I thought the cover version of ‘Darling’ by Billy Bragg and Kirsty MacColl was quite good too, which was tagged onto the end credits of the Johnny Moped documentary film ‘Basically Johnny Moped’ directed by Captain’s son Fred Burns which was released a few years ago. I think Kirsty put it on the ‘B’ side of her hit single ‘Walking Down Madison’ originally?
Please tell us about some of your past guitarists in previous line ups of Johnny Moped.
Adrian Winchester joined the band in 1983 as a bass player and we have had Eddie Turtle out of The Daleks and some guy called Mark Lemming. They rehearsed all our songs and we played The Ace in Brixton, South London, the concert actually went quite well but I went a bit fucking crazy and had this fucking real hatchet on stage and said to the audience ‘If you don’t fucking boogie I’m going to chop yer up!!’. When I looked back I thought were did this bloody hatchet stuff come from?
I think what it was Mark Lemming wrote a song called ‘Fox Hunters’ which we had previously rehearsed and half way through the song we sang ‘Chop them to bits’ and I then swung this bloody hatchet dangerously close to the front members of the audience and in the end I had to step back and throw this bloody hatchet to the back of the stage out of harms way. The audience probably thought I had completely lost the fucking plot that night and completely fucking flipped out!! I think I was trying to do an Alice Cooper or some sort of other outrageous rock stuff as I would never have usually taken an offensive weapon on stage with me
Our bassist Jacko joined the band in the early 80’s and met us all originally at a Croydon Underground gig which was a subterranean basement dive near St Georges Walk in Central Croydon.
Rob Brook (aka Rock & Roll Robot) originally from the legendary Croydon punk/ska band CASE joined the band in 2015 as a second guitarist.
Were you pleased that nearly 16 years after its release the Guinness Encyclopaedia of popular music named ‘Cycledelic’ as one of the best 50 punk albums of all time?
As a matter of fact ‘Cycledelic’ was very highly acclaimed critically originally and Melody Maker gave it a five star rating too. The music press in those days didn’t ridicule us at all and were actually more fascinated by us with headlines such as ‘Is this man a basket case?’ there was really nothing malicious about our music press reviews back in the day.
We were getting full three page spreads as well compared with The Damned and the like who were only getting only one and a half pages of coverage. Brian James of The Damned use to complain that we where getting more media coverage than them!
Were you pleased with the positive critical reception your latest album “It’s Real Cool Baby” had when it was released in 2016.
I was personally very pleased with the reception and in fact it was highly acclaimed just like Cycledelic’ but I don’t know by who??
What are your favourite songs on the last album?
‘Real Cool Baby, Rock N Roll Rookie, Burt Bullethead’ and ‘Live it Up’. I did like ‘Paint My Aubergine’ too and when we did the BBC radio broadcast at Maida Vale we speeded it up a bit which gave it a kinda perk.
We also recorded a session for Marc Riley on his BBC 6 radio show which was recorded in Salford, Manchester when we stopped off there on the way to the Rebellion Punk Festival in Blackpool.
I got a copy of the Maida Vale Session but not this one so Marc please supply me a copy if you are reading this interview?
What gigs have you got lined up for 2018 then?
We have three confirmed gigs coming up in Germany on Thursday 1st March in Essen, Friday 2nd March in Hamburg & Saturday 3rd March in Berlin and plus a gig in Oslo, Sweden (TBC) where we played before and also two UK confirmed gigs at the 100 Club,Oxford Street, London W1 on Friday 9th March and the Lewes Con Club near Brighton on Saturday June 16th with The Members supporting. We may also may be playing a few gigs in Japan this year but nothing has been definitely been confirmed yet.
Are we going to see a new Johnny Moped album this year?
Well we have another 6 songs to knock up to make a complete album which I think we will all be working on in the coming months so it may possibly be released later this year but I don’t really know for sure yet? We are all collaborating on writing the songs on this album too.
As per our ‘Catatonic’ single last year we are trying to branch out more into hard rock territory than punk but of course some of the stuff like ‘Hey Belinda’ will still sound quite punky as you can’t really go straight forward to hard rock as it all ends up sounding like punk rock anyway.
Finally how are Crystal Palace FC doing these days?
Well they are currently struggling at the top but beat Burnley 1/0 a few days ago, other than that I think they are still hanging in there.
Thank you Paul for taking the time out today to do this interview.
(Interview conducted and transcribed by Mark Williams for Smash-It-Up-Com and kindly shared with Louder than War)
Johnny Moped/ Damaged Goods Records Website -with links to Shop and Gig Dates.
1 March 2018 – Don’t Panic: Viehofer Platz 2, 45127 Essen. Germany (support The Nopes)
2 March 2018 – Hafenklang : Große Elbstraße 84, 22767 Hamburg, Germany
3 March 2018 – SO36 : Sub Opus 36 e. V. Oranienstr.190 DE-10999 Berlin, Germany
9 March 2018 – The 100 Club : 100 Oxford Street, London, W1D 1LL (support The Weird Things / The Crows)
16 June 2018 – CON CLUB 139 High Street Lewes East Sussex BN7 1XS (support The Members)