The Straps: Brave New Anger. Class Of 77 Punk Band On How To Survive
Over the course of a lifetime, every person will engage in an interest, hobby or passion, and most will indulge and engage with them on a regular basis. If they don’t, it usually means that interest or hobby has run its course, or the passion has passed, expired and died, usually replaced by some other activity to invest ones time on.
Time passes so quickly today that before long, months turn to years, years to decades, and for many people – including musicians – they find themselves reminiscing about ‘what could have been’, ‘what should have occurred if we’d only done such and such’, or ‘if only I/we had done it differently we might have achieved so much more.’ As the Buzzcock’s once prophesised, it’s nostalgia for an age yet to come.
Nowhere are such sentiments and statements more prevalent and prolific than the wonderful world of music, and in particular, punk rock. Despite the personal intentions and historical reflections from its main contributors, the genre has never really been exempt from this scenario. Today, nostalgia reigns supreme as bands, former band mates, diehard fans, a global audience and several generations of new fans sustain the relevance of punk past, present and future, and the myriad of sounds that have emanated since its emergence back in 1976 (or earlier if you consider the NYC scene, or The Saints from Brisbane.)
For bands like The Straps, this concept is both invigorating and fascinating, especially as we – the punk rock fraternity – follow their reunions, relish in their recordings, and realise they still have what it takes to deliver a great live experience and, somewhat surprisingly, a new album, some 35 after their debut self-titled release.
For the uninitiated, the bands story actually begins sometime in 1977, around the former working class – and now highly desirable –suburb of Battersea, London SW11. It’s here that John ‘Jock’ Strap moves into a squat with Andrew Hayward (Andi Sex Gang) and Dennis Fallon, John’s friend and the bands future manager. Dennis recalls how the two friends came to move down south in an interview published on the Bored Teenagers website.1 “I was living in Glasgow when I first came across John, it was around 1977 and we met in Renfield Street. Our meeting was rather a strange one, for it led to us steal a transit van full of musical equipment which belonged to the band that I sang with at the time! Basically we stole the van for a laugh – not really to nick anything – and parked it further down the road, leaving the bass player of the band all bemused when he came out to find his van missing! From that meeting, Jock and I became good friends. Soon after we moved down to London, initially to see The Clash play a ‘Rock against Racism’ gig, and stayed longer than planned. We ended up squatting in Abercrombie Street, Battersea” he said.
As squatters, Dennis and John would encounter many characters in their new found abode, including Dave Reeves, and Dennis recalls that “Dave would turn up at the squat, and early rehearsals, wearing his school uniform (he was only 15 or 16 at the time), and often (arriving) on his moped. I don’t recall how exactly, but soon John and Dave agreed to form a band. Then one day, during a rehearsal, Jock was just f**ing about with the bass when another member, called Green, asked if he could sing. That’s basically how he ended up as the singer.”
In another interview from the Vicious Riff website, Dave also describes the bands formation. “I was only 16 at the time, and back then living the punk lifestyle in and around Battersea was a different scene. In addition to the daily challenges associated with squatting – limited money and food, no heating or fresh water – we also had to deal with a local biker gang called the ‘Road Rats’, who’d break into our squats, steal our things and often pick fights. Many punks endured regular beatings in Battersea, so Andi and I relocated to Brixton and the safety of a new squat. That`s where we met Stan Stammers – who would later play with Theatre of Hate and Spear of Destiny – and Luke Rendle – later of Crisis and Theatre of Hate. Like minded punks, both would also join the band, although not until 1979.” 3
With the inaugural line-up now complete and armed with a set list the newly named Straps took to the London pub circuit in 1978. “Our first gig was supporting the UK Subs, The Tickets and Security Risk at The Park Tavern Pub in Streatham, on September 28th” Dave said. “Interestingly, around the same time, Charlie Harper ran a hairdressing salon in the Tooting Broadway and used to cut my hair. Our set went really well, and I recall Charlie being impressed with us. He even told the crowd during his set that we’d go far as a band. Well, upon reflection, he was nearly right!” he said.
Shortly after making their live debut, bassist Green would die from a heroin overdose (he was found dead in a local launderette), but the remaining members continued to play, despite the loss. “When Green died they (the band) had to play the Latchmere Pub in Battersea with Andi Sex Gang – then of the Sex Gang Children – standing in on bass” Dennis said. “He’d only had a few days to learn the songs, but he did okay, and I recall his fingers were all cut and bleeding afterwards.”
The band’s emergence as a live concern also coincided with the decision to move suburb, which in turn brought Dave, Andi and John closer to the punk scene, as Dave explains. “After Battersea, Brixton proved a great place to live, and was quite popular among the punks and local musicians of the time. I used to go to Billy Duffy`s (later of The Cult) place and play guitar with him. We (The Straps) even released a single about living in Brixton, but it could only be written by someone who experienced the place. Some of the faces I remember from our gigs, while others were simply people we hanged around with, including Kirk Brandon, Boy George, Marilyn, Philip Salon, Sadie Frost, Liz Hurley, Johnny Moped, Slimey Toad, Captain Sensible, Billy Duffy and many more I can’t seem to remember.”
“Brixton was not far from Croydon, which had a great venue called The Greyhound. They put on punk bands every Sunday, and the first one I saw was The Ramones, supported by Talking Heads, followed by Generation X with The Cure as support, then London, 999, The Boys, The Damned/The Doomed, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Buzzcocks and The Adverts, to name a few. Around the same time I got involve with another local pub, The Leslie Arms, in Croydon and we booked The Cure to play there. The Leslie was quite scary at times, as there was always a punch up to liven up the proceedings. We had our own gang caålled the CPL – Croydon Punks Ltd – and followed The Damned around the country. I remember one gig in Derby where 20 CPL turned up and the Captain gave them some money to get in, but instead of paying they climbed the toilet window, to get in for free, and spent the money on booze.” 2
With more clubs and bands emerging, and various youth inspired musical genres evolving, the band found themselves with greater opportunities to play live, and a growing and eager fan base to satisfy. Not only around the London circuit, but alongside the other bands who were taking punk to a wider audience up and down the country. The only challenge they faced was personnel, as sometime around 1979 the band underwent a second line-up change. Steve MacIntosh was replaced by Andy Forbes on guitar – apparently nicknamed ‘heed’ by Rab Fae Beith, then of The Wall, because of his big head! Stan Stammers was brought in on bass and a chap called Cliff filled the drum spot. Cliff was nicknamed ‘gluebag’ because of his glue sniffing habit, and his stint with the band was relatively short, for he was soon ousted. One story suggests Cliff was sacked because his glue sniffing habit had taken control of his senses. It transpires the band had bought him new cymbals for his drum kit, but the next day he sold them to buy 40 pots of glue with the money!
“We were playing frequently with the UK Subs and The Pack – one of Kirk Brandon’s early bands – who I really liked. I thought they were brilliant live, but when they split we swapped band members” Dave said when he was asked about the bands third line-up change. Stan and Luke left to join Kirk in The Pack, which quickly morphed into Theatre of Hate, while Andy headed up North to join old friend Rab Fae Beith in The Wall. Rab had also drummed in The Pack, and would later play the skins for the UK Subs. In return, Canadian-born brothers John and Simon Werner joined on bass and guitar from The Pack, while another Canadian, Jim Walker, joined the band to play drums. Jim had recently played with Public Image Ltd on their first single and album, and prior to joining PIL he had also played in The Pack. “I think the first time I actually saw The Straps was onstage, at the Music Machine, with me on drums!” he recalled. “I’d been asked to sit in for one gig, and as I was between bands at the time I thought ‘why not?’ So I just showed up and we played to, I think, around 1,500 UK Subs fans. It was a great gig.”
“Before PIL I’d been in a cool little punk rock band on the West Coast called The Furies. Then along came PIL, which wasn’t really a punk band, it seemed more like a post-punk one. Well, I don’t really know what you’d call it, but playing with The Straps was more like going back to my roots, real primal stuff” he said. 4
The new line-up soon hit the road, which included a series of now legendary gigs – well legendary by those who saw them – performed in the window of King’s Road fashion shop ‘Boy’. Dennis remembers how the gigs came to be. “Well Jock had got a part-time job in what was then a fashionable punk emporium called ‘Boy’ in the Kings Road. He wasn’t really that interested in working there, so I ended up working there instead, as did Stan, whilst Jock focused on his music. Dave also worked occasionally there and got paid in T-shirts! I used to have the band play in the window of the shop, which was fun ‘cos they were like fish in a bowl, and caused total chaos with the passing traffic. The Chelsea Old Bill came and pulled the plug on several occasions, and at one point even I got nicked! Or, should I say, ‘Boy’ got nicked, but we continued to play when the owner John Krivine was away on business.” 1
‘Boy’ also provided the band with an additional money making opportunity, as Dave reveals. “We used to finance our rehearsals by ripping off the foreigners that were shopping in ‘Boy’, simply by overcharging them for goods. One day I recall there was a spare piece of red tartan cloth, about 12” x 30” long, and we sold it to an American girl for £30 as a mini skirt. We just put a safety pin at the front to hold it together. £30 was a lot of money back in 1979, nearly a week’s wages for me, so £30 paid for rehearsal time and a decent meal.” 2
With the set list, live sound and line-up tried and tested, the band entered the studio to record their debut single. Employing the DIY philosophy so prevalent of the time, the first single – ‘Just Can’t Take Anymore’/’New Age’ – was recorded at Rollerball Rehearsal Studios in Charlotte Street, London – the studio was reportedly owned by John Springate, bass player for 70’s glam rockers The Glitter Band – and contained a sleeve design featuring sketches of Dave and Jock, drawn by a friend of the band called Grey. It was released in February 1980 on Donut Record’s, a label set up by Jim, and reached #49 in the Indie charts. This success, combined with Dave’s relationship with Captain Sensible from the Damned, also secured the band the support slot on the ‘Black Album’ tour. Dave describes the tour and how it came to be. “I used to hang around with him (Captain Sensible) in Croydon, he was my drinking buddy and that’s how we got onto their ‘Black Album’ tour. It cost us £2,000, and you can imagine it was great fun. By now I was 18 and the legal age to do all the things I’d been doing under age.”
“We had a few laughs on the tour bus, and I recall one of Rats favourite tricks was to squirt lighter fluid up the aisle of the bus, up your legs and onto any newspaper or magazine you were reading, and then drop a match. You’d end up jumping up and down trying to put the flames out, all while the bus was doing 70mph on the motorway. Funny times.”
Another incident occurred when members of The Damned switched off the power while The Straps were on stage. The band could only hear their sound via the monitors, and there was no sound going out front to the punters, so in retaliation Jock threw a bucket of cooking oil over the stage, just before The Damned took to the stage. “I also remember Lemmy, from Motorhead, coming on stage at The Hammersmith with a brush, as if he was a caretaker cleaning the stage. That was not scripted, and even we had to laugh at that one” Dave said.
By this stage of their career, Dave felt the band were at their live peak. “Musically we had started to attract a bigger following, and could pull upwards of 1,500 people a night when we played the larger clubs. We held a residency at the 100 Club, and another at The Music Machine in Camden. Wherever we played we always sold out, and frequently had to turn people away. Looking back now, we could easily have moved into bigger venues, and toured more extensively like other bands of the time. But we had no proper management, no tour or equipment van, no agent. In true DIY fashion we did everything ourselves, but with the right people and record deal behind us we could have achieved a lot more” he said.
With the new line-up performing solidly live, the band once again converged into the studio, this time Hillside Studios in Streatham, to record their second single ‘Brixton’/’No Liquor’. Also released on Donut Records, the single reached #43 in the indie charts in July 1982. As a single choice, ‘Brixton’ offered the public a rawer band sound, and one removed from the rockabilly style that was showcased in the band’s debut. The picture sleeve for ‘Brixton’ also supported the songs theme, having been taken during the riots that occurred there a few years earlier.
Shortly after its release, Jim would leave to form The Human Condition, leaving the band without a drummer and record label. Undeterred, and with Jim’s replacement to hand, the band entered the studio to record their self-titled debut album, ‘The Straps’. Released on Cyclops Records in 1983, an independent label created by Simon, the album extended the DIY philosophy espoused by the band, although the recording process itself simply reflected the financial position they found themselves in at the time.
Recorded live in just six hours, the album was recorded, mixed and produced without any overdubs, expansive post-production work or additional mixing. Alongside the core band members, the album features Pete Davies on drums, Rat Scabies on the re-recording of ‘No Liquor’, Captain Scarlet – aka Dave Lloyd from the UK Subs – and Andi Sex Gang on backing vocals. The cover sleeve was designed by John’s wife Lynn, who also took the photos. During this session the band also recorded a song that was earmarked as the third single, ‘Omega Man’, but plans to release this song were shelved after the album had been launched.
Dave recalls the recording session and production process they employed at the time. “We didn’t start with the intention of becoming a big band, and had always stuck to our musical ideals. In true DIY spirit we had formed our own record labels and released two singles, but our inexperience meant we didn’t consider the money required to promote them properly. Nor did we consider the value of things like distribution deals. The same thing applied to the album. It was recorded in 6 hours, not because we played fast, or had a great run in recording the songs first time around. It was simply because we lacked the funds to afford more time, and what money we had could only get us 6 hours of studio time. We’d have liked to make the record sound better, but we did the best we could given the circumstances.”
“Despite these issues, the album sold quite well and reached #2 on the indie charts, and I’m proud to say the album remained true to the DIY punk rock ethos of the time. In terms of content, all the songs were written by Stan and me, with Jock writing the lyrics. We also included a cover version, and I think we should have released our version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ as a single. It would have done really well on the charts” he said.
With the album complete, the band continued to tour, and Dennis recalls a few of the lighter moments that were experienced while on tour. “The funniest gig must have been at the Canterbury, behind Brixton police station. There were these cigarettes called ‘Doctor Potter’s Asthma Cigarettes’, and if you ate them you would hallucinate much worse than using LSD. Jock did not believe this story, and decided to eat five of them that night. By the time the gig started he was totally tripping and seeing things, and at one stage he said the microphone had turned into a frog, so he threw it away and started jumping up and down on it!”
“But the funniest story was when Simon and me were going round the West End of London, asking record shops to sell our single. You just can’t beat the personal sales pitch! Anyway, the singles came in boxes of 25 and were pressed by Fresh Records on the Donut Label. We had been walking about for a couple of hours and decided it was time for a coffee, so we went to this café in Trafalgar Square. The previous week London had been rocked by a spate of IRA bombings, so there was a lot of paranoia around the City. So we sat with our coffees and discussed where we would go next when Simon said something like ‘We can go over to Kensington and drop a few packets off there!’” Packet’s referred to the record holdall within each box, which held around ten 7” singles.
“After our coffee we went to the bus stop, and the next minute we were surrounded with Old Bill with guns and shit. They told to put our hands above our heads, so I asked Simon where Jeremy Beadle was, but unfortunately it was for real. The Old Bill asked Simon what was in the holdall, and Simon said, ‘Open it and see for yourself,’ but the Old Bill were real nervous about doing that, so Simon played on this, as he knew he could wind them up.”
“What happened was that someone had overheard our conversation in the café, and picked up on us dropping off packets in Kensington. Simon had the Canadian accent and was wearing a black beret, and I had the Glasgow accent, which could sound Irish to the untrained ear. So they must have thought we were IRA! Eventually I told Simon to stop fuckin’ about and open the bag, and when the Old Bill finally saw what was in there they laughed and apologised. Then I asked if they wanted to buy any of our singles!” he said. Despite the bands live reputation, indie chart success and growing fan base, in the latter part of 1983 the band decided to call it a day.
Almost a decade would pass before The Straps would take to the stage again. Come 1993 and both John and Dave agree to reform the band for a special one-off appearance at the ‘Fuck Reading Festival’, held at the Brixton Academy. Organised as a punk protest against the highly profitable, high profile Reading Festival, the band played loud, hard and fast before disbanding and disappearing once again come the festivals end.
Between 1993 and 2005 the band was in permanent hiatus. Little more was heard from their founding members until 2005, when public interest in punk music was being fuelled by a new wave of nostalgia, a new wave of bands, festivals and tours, the internet, social media, a global audience of new found fans, and a plethora of special interest record labels, publications and websites. Suddenly punk rock was not only popular, it was mainstream, popular, celebrated, corporate, commercial and global.
For The Straps, this meant brand new exposure via several fan based websites, and the ability to hear, play and download their songs through the web. Be it single or album, you could now hear the band via fan based sites, various torrent files and Youtube, where some kind fan had loaded both 7” singles, and the complete album, for the world to listen too.
Concurrently, Captain Oi Records released a compilation of the bands material under ‘The Punk Collection’ series (AHOY CD258.) For the first time the bands entire recorded output was compiled into CD for the first time, including the two versions of ‘Brixton’ and ‘No Liquor’. With the 16 track CD at hand, and spurred by the wave of interest and nostalgia prevalent at the time, Dave and John reformed the band once again. The line-up featured Stuart Phillips on guitar, Mark Hobbs on bass and Lloyd Dudley on drums.
John recalls how the second reunion came about. “At the time I’d thought nothing about a band reunion, for I was busy with my family and doing my own thing. Then one day I received a call from Dave, which came completely out of the blue. I hadn’t heard from him since the early 90s, and we’d lost contact because I’d moved my family from London to Cornwall. He asked if I fancied reforming the band for a few gigs, including one with The Rezillo’s at The Astoria. I’d been busy writing songs for a solo project, so I still had an interest in playing music and writing stuff, and I felt the material I’d been working on was some of the best work I’d done in years.
“These songs had been silently building up inside me after years away from the music scene, and as Dave’s conversation progressed I said yes, I’d be interested. We put together a new line up for the shows and played a good few shows, including The Rebellion Festival twice, the Wasted Festival in Morecambe and the Astoria Xmas Rebellion Festival in 2005. I had plans to release the songs I’d written as a new album, mainly to coincide with our gig at The Rebellion Festival. The title was ‘In love with the new world order’ and I thought we could release it as a limited edition album. However, after the gigs I felt the band wasn’t gelling on very well, and I didn’t feel happy with the line-up. So I spoke with Dave and found he felt the same way as well, so we decided to call it a day once again. This time it was around 2007, and after that I returned to life in Cornwall and forgot about the band as a live entity” he said. With the decision made, life seemed well and truly over for the band. Once again the years passed without either John or Dave holding any interest to resurrect The Straps, despite the wave of punk nostalgia that continued to emanate across Britain and around the world.
However, all that would change in 2011, when a chance meeting between Pete and Dave would lead to a conversation about the band, and the prospect of yet another reunion. The story begins one evening, when Pete visits The Regent in Ipswich to see the UK Subs perform. After the gig he was taking Charlie home to work on material for the new ‘Harbour Rats’ project. Unbeknownst to Pete, supporting the UK Subs that night was Vicious Rumours, featuring Dave on guitar. After the set Pete caught up with Dave for a drink, and soon the conversation turned toward The Straps, and whether Dave held any aspirations to resurrect the band one more time. Pete recalls the conversation well, for “as we talked I found Dave was still quite keen on the idea. From the original line-up, only Jock and he remained in contact, so I offered to play drums for them if they wanted to move the reunion forward and play some gigs.”
Despite the enthusiasm shared between Pete and Dave, the real challenge was to convince John to take the stage one more time. But as he explains, his initial scepticism soon turned to enthusiasm when he heard both Pete and Dave were keen to push forward. ”Once again, and completely out the blue, Dave called and says he’d been in touch with Pete. Now I hadn’t seen or heard from Pete for over 30 years, but I always worked well with him and knew he was a great drummer. Dave asked if I wanted to reform the band for a few gigs, as Pete was keen, so with both of them to hand I said yes, let’s do it.”
From there, and within weeks, the bands current line-up was finalised, mainly through networking and the internet, as Pete explains. “After the UK Subs gig, Dave and I started talking about who we could recruit to play guitar and bass. At first I contacted my mates Paul Slack and Brian Barnes, to see if they wanted to join me, but at the time Paul was busy with Monica and the Explosion, while Barnsey was focussing on his various mad adventures. But then Dave and Jock said they had some chaps in mind, and that’s how the band came about.”
John takes up the story from here. “Dave had recruited Phil through his contacts, while I found Mark via my Facebook page called ‘Punks Reunited’, and once they were on board The Straps were reborn. Personally, I’m very happy with the new line-up. We all get on great and are like minded, and I believe if you get on well with your band mates it speaks volumes in the way you make music and play together” he said. Pete also recalls how they recruited their new band mates” he said.
I asked Phil about his introduction to the band. “Well I met Dave (Reeves) through the punk fraternity sometime between 2006 and 2007. I was playing in the ‘Eastend Badoes’ and we played the same circuits as Dave’s band, so occasionally our paths would cross. Over time we got to know each other quite well, and often found ourselves talking guitars and stuff, as we both hold a fondness for Gibson’s. We own a fair few nice examples between the pair of us, so that also helped foster the friendship. Then in the latter part of 2011, and totally out of the blue, Dave told me they (John and himself) were thinking of getting The Straps back together for a few gigs the following Summer, and he wanted to know if I would be interested in joining them to play some festivals. At the time I was playing in two bands, but had been seriously considering leaving them both for a new challenge, so the timing was good.”
“However, in true Dave style I didn’t hear another word about the reunion for nearly 6 months! As time went by I presumed it was just another ‘pie-in-the-sky’ idea when he suddenly called, again out-of-the-blue, and said “Phil, it’s on. We’ve got two summer gigs in a month’s time, are you still up for it?” I said thanks for the notice Dave and yes, erm, yeah ok, I’m in”.
However, time passed by so fast that there was no time for the band to rehearse together, as Phil explains. “The first two rehearsals comprised Dave, new bassist Mark, a stand in drummer and me. Although Pete was in the band, he lived miles away and couldn’t attend rehearsals. Nor could our lead singer, but as we played it became apparent that Mark and I were more rehearsed than Dave! Thankfully our sound and timing came together quite quickly, we really clicked well during the sessions, but I did wonder if we’d get the whole band together for a rehearsal, but we didn’t.
The use of Facebook also makes for an interesting punk rock introduction, so I asked Mark how and why he was on the media in the first place. “My story is unusual, for after 19 years of not playing in bands, or even playing the bass or guitar aside from indoor strumming, I found myself playing bass in a Post-Punk band called Morgellons. It was formed by two old friends from the late 70’s/early 80’s punk era and Louize King, who’s the link between the band and my introduction to them.”
“Louize is a friend of Dave Reeves from their time together in Oi band Code One. After hearing that The Straps were reforming for two festivals in the summer of 2012, Louize recommended me to them to fill their vacant bass role. I’d been a fan of The Straps since I first saw them in late ’79 supporting Stiff Little Fingers, so when Dave approached me I jumped at the chance” he said.
Mark was surprised by the approach, for he rates his playing ability as adequate, but nothing too fancy, as he explains. “Having to learn Big John Werner’s bass lines and runs was quite a challenge, but luckily one I rose to, and I have absolutely no doubt that John’s lines improved my playing ability tenfold, if not more. Musically, my influences are the great punk and post-punk bass players like Steven Severin, Peter Hook, Stan Stammers, JJ Burnel and Segs from The Ruts. These guys added something unique and different to the art of playing bass, and I’d love to think I’ve taken a tiny bit from listening to each one over the years, and then added my own stamp to the mix.”
“I’m also blessed with being in two bands, for I’m still playing in Morgellons and now The Straps, although both bands are very different. The Straps are about being totally (for me at least) punk rock, and all that’s good with the sound and spirit of punk, while Morgellons are more about using the influences from the post-punk scene to create a new take on the sounds created by Joy Division, Magazine and the like. From my perspective it’s been an absolute pleasure to play with musicians I’ve admired, like Jock and Dave from the original Straps, and Pete from the UK Subs, a band I was also a big fan of in the early punk days. While with Phil I’ve discovered what a great guitarist he is, and put together, not only are we a great band, but I’m also playing alongside four totally top geezers. I’m absolutely loving my musical career, even though I’m in my 40’s, it’s as if my punk rock lifestyle never went away!” Mark said.
From this point on the reunion takes an exceptionally fast paced, take no prisoner’s journey toward their live debut. With the line-up confirmed as Dave on Guitar, Johnny Grant – aka Jock Strap – on vocals, Pete on drums, Phil McDermott on lead guitar and Mark Geraghty on bass, the band take the stage without any formal rehearsal. They simply turn up, take to the stage, plug in and play, as Pete recalls. “I’d call the story of that day ‘the stuff of legends’, as we didn’t rehearse (as a band) before we played our first gig in June 2012. In fact, I only met Phil and Mark for the first time during lunch before the gig! Our set list comprised several tracks from the album, so all I had to do was remember how I played them some 29 years earlier. Thank god my memory still works! As for the newer tracks, I only had enough time to listen and commit them to drum memory. Mark and Phil had also learned their parts from the same album, to ensure we were all singing from the same hymn sheet at the gig.
For Pete, rehearsing The Straps older material at home was akin to taking a trip down memory lane, as he explains. “I remember that making that record was a mad affair, for I’d been playing with Roddy Radiation and the Tearjerkers when Dave called and asked me to help out. I knew Simon and John Werner from The Pack / UK Subs gigs we had done, so I was happy to help.”
“Then, nearly 30 years later, I find myself again having to learn the song arrangements. This was surprisingly easy, especially as Dave had posted me a CD copy of the ‘Punk Collection’ and the proposed live set list. Looking back now, I found listening to the CD to be a strange affair, for I was listening to my own drumming on songs I’d clearly forgotten about after all these years. But I soon knew the approach to take and tracks like ‘Just can’t take anymore’, with its rock-a-billy feel, were right up my street” he said.
The gig also allowed Phil to meet his absent band mates for the first time as well. “Looking back now, I find it quite hilarious, but the first time I actually met Pete and Jock was 10 minutes before we hit the stage to play our first gig! I had confidence in my own playing ability, especially as I’d rehearsed the songs back to back on my own for a few weeks, playing along to the original recordings. But you’ve no idea what the whole band would sound like until they play as one.”
Pete also recalls the band’s first meeting on the day of the gig. “Just before the gig I met Phil, and then Phil met Jock. All this happened with only 20 minutes to go before we were to hit the stage. It sounds quite farcical now, yet despite having no rehearsals with the band I found we played a good and tight set. I was well pleased with the response, and the way we bonded together on stage. The gig was one of two we had planned to play, but unfortunately neither of them took place. The second one was called ‘Punk by the sea’ in Portsmouth, but was cancelled just as Dave and I arrived for the gig. It was the strangest meeting a band could have, turning up for a gig and meeting your band mates for the first time, only to find there was no gig after all” Pete said.
Given his tenure with the band, and their limited rehearsal time together, John was happy with both the bands performance and the reaction from the fans. “As Phil mentioned, our first gig as a band was very strange for we only formally met in person half an hour before the first show. But it just worked really well, and I knew instantly that we were going to do some great new work together” he said.
The festival in question was one of many festivals that run during the warmer months across Britain as organisers attempt to traverse punk rock across the nation. However, this time around the festival was cancelled at the eleventh hour for financial reasons, leaving many bands stranded without a gig, or payment for their attendance in Portsmouth. Phil recalls the madness of the day. “It’s really sad what happened, for we arrived only to be told it was cancelled as the promoters had ‘done a runner’ with the money, leaving a bunch of angry Punks wandering the streets of Portsmouth looking for an alternative gig to attend, or something else to do. The same comment applied to the bands that made the trip expecting to play. So in true DIY punk spirit, several bands agreed to play at a new venue, a local pub that was really small and could only hold around 100 people comfortably inside. By the time we played the place was absolutely crammed full, with many people still trying to get inside and long queues all the way down the road. Word had spread quickly once the line-up was agreed, for alongside The Straps you also had the UK Subs and Sham 69, to name a few. It was chaotic and hot and crammed and manic, but fun.”
“You have to commend the pub, the fans and the bands for what they did on the day” Pete said. “Within a few hours or so we had organised a makeshift free mini-festival at the Milton Arms which was called the ‘DIY Punk Festival’. It showed how well people can work together in the face of adversity, and it was a really good gig for the fans who could attend. Although the place was small – it was front bar space only – and as a result, ticket numbers were limited. We hit the stage around 6pm and nailed it from the start. You’d think we’d rehearsed for several weeks, for we played tight, smooth and full of confidence. We sounded like a great rock band, and we received great support from the fans.” You can watch the live footage below:
After the gig, John felt the response they generated was akin to the crown reaction achieved during their first live forays. “Straps fans were always great fun, and very loyal. The same thing applies today, as they will turn up to every gig we do. Many are still around from the old days, which is really nice for they are just like old mates” he said. After the Portsmouth gig, the band decided to make the line-up a more permanent affair, as Phil explains. “After that gig, and a couple of beers later, Jock and Dave invited me to join them for another venture. Everyone was on a high from that evening, being happy with how the gig went and the response we generated from both fans and peers. Jock was very keen to write some new band material, and we started by booking studio time just a couple of months later.”
“Once again we clicked really well. By now there were song ideas coming from all members, and at times the sessions were really exciting and energetic. We acted like a bunch of 18 year olds again! Our progress was such that we had enough ideas for a full album, but having said that, the song writing process can be really funny at times. I remember one particular phone call from Pete during this highly creative period. He said “Phil, I’m going to ring you back and I want you to let your phone go to the answering machine. I’ve got a great song idea, but I can’t play guitar or keyboards, so I’ll have to ‘la la la la la’ it to you.”
“Can you imagine how ridiculous that sounds, sitting at home and listening to some nutcase leaving you a ‘la la la la’ing’ message, and then having to play it back, take it seriously and convert it into something you can play on 6 strings? Absolute bloody madness! After I’d recovered from a lengthy fit of laughter, I listened to Pete’s message again and found it had definite potential. As wacky as it sounds, we evolved his message into a song called ‘Crazy Pete’ for the new album.”
Intrigued by this story, I asked Pete about his song writing abilities. “It’s harder for me as I don’t play another instrument, and drums won’t always work when song writing. Interestingly, this song was written for the original ‘X’ album that the UK Subs were planning. At the time, Chas was planning to make an album using former band members, each of whom would write material for the ‘X’ album as part of an ex-members album. My effort was originally called ‘Bongo Bingo’, about life on the road with the band, but Chas changed his mind when the band started working on songs which eventually formed the album ‘XXIV’. When that material emerged, Chas decided to concentrate on new material, and the x-members concept was shelved. This meant ‘Bongo Bingo’ was not required, but I felt it was a good song so I asked Phil to develop it with me, and that’s how ‘Crazy Pete’ was born. It’s a completely different song now mind you.”
As a musician, Phil was impressed with the manner in which the band developed their new material, and the results from their recording sessions. “The last 8 months have been the most creative I have been in years. I found we have worked really well together, both in developing and recording the songs and playing together a band. I’ve really enjoyed the experience. We’ve called the album ‘Brave New Anger’ and plan to release it this year.” Phil’s view was shared by Mark, who said “after the initial gigs I realised we were beginning to gel together well, and after roughly 6 months of recording, interrupted only by the distances between ourselves, we recorded what many are describing as the bands finest work.”
John believes the album brings together the best elements of the new line-up, who worked harmoniously to bring together the songs and ideas they developed and recorded. To support the album, the band shared the cost associated with its making, primarily to ensure it was recorded and produced the way they wanted it to be. “As most people know, the first album was done on a shoe string budget, and surprisingly it turned out to be a much talked about punk album. I think we also benefitted from the fact it was mixed and produced by the guy who done The Stranglers first album. He also worked with some other bands you might have heard of, like The Rollins Stones, and this helped immensely. Especially as we more or less recorded it live with no overdubs and in fuck all time!”
“This time around we funded the album ourselves, as we believed the songs we’d written deserved to have the best treatment we could give them, something first class. Splitting the cost between the 5 band members made it feasible, and we managed to pay for all sessions without too much grief” he said. With regard the recording process, for ‘Brave New Anger’ individual members would circulate a rough song demo or song idea among the band for review and discussion, and if selected it would be developed further in the studio by the band as a whole.
After nearly 35 years, I asked John what it was like to play live again with the band, after decades of not playing with the band. “In truth it’s not really different, although some things never change. I’ve always found promoters to be greedy bastards, and they still are! They give you excuses to avoid paying the bands what they deserve, and often feel they are doing you a big favour by letting you play on their bill or festival. Ha ha, bleeding funny, for it’s actually the other way around. The bands attract the fans, but they don’t remember this when they mess you around.”
“As for the equipment we used for this recording, I personally love the new technology. I actually went back to college around 2005 to improve my mixing skills, just to help me with the material I record at home. I ended up getting 3 b techs in engineering! Today I can just about get by making a demo, or writing ideas for the rest of the lads. For the new album we worked with Pat Collier, and his facilities were amazing. I think Pat is a genius when it comes to recording. He takes a ‘no fucking about, heads down’ approach and gets stuck into recording the band using top quality production facilities. You’ll hear this when you play the album” he said.
Today the bands reunion, history and new album is well supported by the plethora of internet resources that exist to support of punk rock, and John feels they can only benefit the band moving forward. “The Internet is a fantastic way to get things done. Back in the early days we worked with red telephone boxes, snail mail – physically sending letters to record companies – vinyl records, print media and low budgets. Now a quick email can send an electronic track to whomever you want to send it too, anywhere in the world, for next to nothing. Like many other bands, we’ve also set up our own website – www.thestraps77.com – where you can hear our music, buy merchandise, read our history and find the latest gig and news. Technology is much easier to use today, and it helps get your stuff out there. Take ‘Youtube’ for instance. We’ve several gigs and clips on there already, and this allows people to hear our music across the globe. We also get lots of airplay on the internet and mainstream radio shows, which didn’t exist back in the day, so yes, modern technology certainly gets my vote.
Finally, does the release of ‘Brave New Anger’ signal the end of the current line-up? No, and according to Pete or Phil it’s just the kick start the band needs to progress the new line-up, play more gigs and make another album. “Personally speaking, I can’t see this being the last chapter in The Straps story” Phil said. “As a musician you feel like there is more to come, especially as we’re already writing again. Ferfuksake! I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that we’ll have a couple more songs ready to record by the time ’Brave New Anger’ hits the streets, so stay tuned folks.”
John also concurs on this point. “There are still some great old bands around, and some are reforming again like The Straps. I loved the period between late 76 and 1982, and I must have watched 100’s of bands that we played with, or were playing around this time. I wouldn’t be doing this stuff again if I wasn’t confident that we could keep writing fresh stuff, and perform to the best of our ability on stage. Although we are trying to keep the old sound our fans remember from 1977 to 1980, as that’s our best period musically, we’ll always deliver a killer sound and performance live. I think there’s nothing worse than going to see your old favourite band, many of whom have new members and have changed their style with age, and find they will let you down badly by playing shite. I really believe this band has hit a happy medium live, playing new material among our earlier stuff and still sounding old school punk rock. And we’ve still got three original members. Now that isn’t bad for a band that goes back 35 years!” he said.
The author would like to personally thank John, Pete, Mark and Phil for their interview time, stories and interest in writing this biography on the band. Background information about the bands early incarnation, including the interviews from Jock, Dennis and Dave, are reproduced with the kind and generous permission from the following exceptional punk rock people and websites. To read the articles and interviews on their websites, simply cut and paste the following URL links into your browser:
- Dizzy Detour from the Bored Teenagers website – http://www.boredteenagers.co.uk/STRAPS.htm
- Paul Marko from the Punk 77 website – http://www.punk77.co.uk/groups/straps.htm
- Warren from the Vicious Riff website – http://www.viciousriff.com/Bands%20Straps1.html
- Jim Walker’s interview was taken from the following website: