When I was fourteen, my sister came home from a visit to the
local store with a copy of ‘Ziggy Stardust’ by
David Bowie. My life was to evolve dramatically within the
following few years.
Never having really been into music when I was young, my older
sister Deb was a big influence on me, and I dropped motor
bikes and football like they had never existed.
Listening to the complete Bowie collection together with my
heroes Mott the Hoople and a mixture of early 80’s glam
convinced me I didn’t want to be an astronaut anymore,
but something more down to earth, mainly a musician similar
to the people that were transfixing me every Sunday night
at six o’clock on the Top 40 countdown, while the old
lady was doing our ironing for school, the following day.
In fact, I clearly remember vowing that someday I would be
a pop star signed to the same label as David Bowie, which
then, was RCA/Ariola.
Not long before I left school, I formed a garage band with
a friend called Richard Smith, who lived in the next street.
He was kitted out with a guitar, and an amp from a catalogue.
Looking through this catalogue I found what seemed to be a
fairly professional looking microphone! That was it. I was
going to be a singer. After all, I couldn’t play an
instrument, so I had to be the singer !
Another guitarist turned up by the name of Vic Tomlin and
together we pissed the neighbours off no end. Playing versions
of Bowie, Beatles and traditional songs, we rehearsed Tuesday’s
and Thursday’s in Rich’s Garage. Eventually, the
neighbours (one of whom was a Justice of the Peace) rallied,
and came forth with a petition for the council to stop the
I think we played one gig and that was for Richard’s
relatives in his living room, to sporadic applause and much
embarrassment all round. As the music scene changed, so did
the style of the band. Vic was fairly punk, before punk rock
seemed to emerge, and at that same time, I was engrossed in
Iggy Pop and the Stooges. Inevitably, with Rich’s interest
in The Damned and The Clash, we were forced to rent a music
room in our local school on Monday night’s for seven
The amazing era of punk descended upon us and buying skin
tight jeans from the local Army & Navy for a quid after
a trip to Birmingham market looking for ‘Destroy’
t-shirts, was what occupied our Saturday’s. Virgin Records
used to be up on Bull St., in Brum; the back wall of the shop
was littered with the latest luminous 12” from X-Ray
Spex and Albertos y los Trios Paranoias, not to mention the
magnificent ‘Vibrators’. I recall going to see
Iggy Pop with Bowie playing keyboards, supported by the Vibrators
at Birmingham Hippodrome. An experience I never really got
over. A further trip to see Iggy supported by ‘The Adverts’
was even more enthralling- I remember Iggy threatened to kick
my teeth in unless I let go of his microphone cable. Of course,
this was fantastic.
The band had changed it’s name to ‘The Rip-Off’s’,
and the music had developed a dark and dirty energy that was
raw and unpredictable. The members had also developed new
titles! I was ‘Tone Deaf’ for a while, then ‘A.
Maniac’, Rich became ‘Richard Manton-Smith’
and Vic emersed himself in ‘Rat Pie’ and lived
every bit of it. Songs like ‘Total Destruction of Music’,
saw us trashing the music room at its final demise, to the
amusement of a regular crowd, that were forming outside the
school music room windows of a Monday night.
The band never had a Bass Player. Such was the way of things
in those heady days and it never really occurred to us to
find one anyway. But a drummer! We searched high and low and
eventually found our one and only stixman in Rob Mascall,
a crazy bastard who just grinned inanely all night and played
whatever came into his sickened soul whenever it pleased him.
I wanted to be Iggy Pop like there was no tomorrow; I forced
safety pins through the skin in my chest and wore little more
than a torn bin liner and swastikas on my face. Needless to
say there were more tears than actual material in my jeans.
The Rip Off’s only achieved gig status twice. The first
was support to local punk heroes from Solihull, ‘The
Undertaker’s. The venue was Hatchford Brook Youth Club
in Solihull. The gig was full of riotous youths from Lyndon
High School and I ended up covered in spit just before the
crowd rioted and rendered the PA system bereft of life.
But being covered in spit was an achievement in those days,
and we considered it a minor success. The bands final gig
was at Hobs Moat Assembly Rooms, also in Solihull for a friends
18th Birthday Party. The audience were nonchalant and the
amps blew up. That was the end of that. I think we grew despondent
with it all and moved on to other things.
Richard Smith contacted me again the following year to play
with a band he’d formed at Solihull Technical College.
‘The Cracked Actors’(if it really needs explaining)
were Bowie influenced to the hilt. Fronted by the closest
thing to Mr. Bowie himself in the Solihull Area, the singer’s
name was Dave Wright, guitarist Pat Kelly had appeared (later
with ‘Detroit’-to become ‘Marshall Law’
in Birmingham - but sadly died in 1983)-Adrian on keyboards
and a guy called Simon on drums.
By this time, I had took to playing bass guitar and had several
lessons from a local music teacher, Neil Martin. Sporting
a Fender Precision copy, I assumed the position of bass Player
for ‘The Cracked Actors’.
I remember only one gig, at Solihull Civic Hall as part of
a multi band line up supporting local heroes ‘Leargo’.
After carrying my rig on the bus to the show, it was found
to be inadequate, so I used the main bands bass rig. During
a rendition of Bowie’s ‘Hang onto Yourself’,
I blew their rig up. They weren’t too happy as you can
imagine. The band made a record at Frank Skarth’s studio
in Erdington, B’ham. We recorded one track, a limp directionless
effort titled ‘Disco’. Unfortunately, it got pressed
and sent to everyone in the business who rightfully condemned
us, as mindless drivel.
After ditching the singer, we changed the name of this outfit
to ‘SPORT’. I took over vocals myself, as well
as bass, and recorded more songs at Frank’s studio shortly
before it burnt down!
Nightclubbin’ (Iggy Pop)
sticking this out through 1978, I decided to reassess my situation
and try some different things. I attempted acoustic guitar
which didn’t really happen for me. During four years
at college, I had been listening to traditional rock music
mainly. Then an opportunity came out of the blue.