There is absolutely no doubt that one of the most successful, one of the most controversial and one of the most outspoken bands of the 1980s was U2, Culture Club and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. And yet none of them match up to the pure post-punk, pre-power-pop, rough-pop-rock panache of Gary and the Gobshites.
Gary and the Gobshites epitomised the very essence of raging teen angst in the early '80s. They were spawned in the London suburbs, where life was not just tough, it was even more tougher than that and then some. Gary and the Gobshites came from a world that would chew you up, spit you out and then pick its teeth with a rusty razorblade. A world that was raw and gritty. And right up in your face.
This was a band that if they didn't already exist, you couldn't make them up.
Gary Semon was born in Wood Green Animal Shelter, Greater London. He grew up and went to school in Southgate where Margaret Thatcher took his playtime milk away so he could become a delinquent. Miss Fuggley, his very first teacher, is still at the school and she clearly remembers him as small.
It was while he was at that unsuspecting Southgate Comprehensive school that Gary suddenly studied for GCSEs in English, Maths, Geography, Combined Science (double) and PE. Then one day, in a fit of teenage angst, he wrote a letter to the local paper suggesting in no uncertain terms that the school terms should become fixed and less uncertain.
This proved to be an early indicator. As a result of early indicating he failed his driving test at least one times. By the age of seventeen he was regularly attending London's punk rock gigs even though regularly attending was really not his thing. At seventeen, his thing was rough, raw and gritty. At seventeen his thing was right up in your face. And his thing went by the name of penis.
Gary knew that it was only a matter of time before Stephen Hawking's book came out. Before then he vowed to become a massive rock star, the like of which the world had never seen before, before Elvis. He was given a deed pole for his eighteenth birthday, and used it to change his name to Gary Gritter, a label he thought would better suit a post-punk, pre-power-pop, rough-pop-rock star.
Gary was not a particularly intelligent lad, but he was driven, mostly because of the failed driving test. Every day he practiced his act, getting down and dirty in the shower cubicle his Dad had installed, honing his persona and riffing himself sore. This might explain why his thing was raw and gritty. It might also explain why his Dad lost his job selling shower stalls from the lobby of B&Q.
At the age of nineteen he had his first epiphany. By that time he had bedded girls with a variety of names, but that was a new one on him. When Epiphany said her cycle had stopped, Gary offered to give it a tune up, but then, after a brief conversation with his Dad, he jumped on his own 'cycle and hightailed it out of town. He would never set eyes on Southgate again. Apart from when he looked at a tube map or went back there. All he took with him were the clothes on his back - in a large rucksack - plus his beat-up old six-string.
His motorcycle got him as far as Acton, where he saw a poster advertising a punk gobbing contest. In little letters at the bottom of the poster it said - Oh, and a Battle of the Bands competition to be held after. First prize - a recording contract and £1000.
Gary imagined himself winning the competition, becoming a star and after a sell out gig, cashing in all his groupie coupons. That is what groupons is short for isn't it? Now, he thought, all I need is… a band. But really he also needed a recording contract, £1000 and some groupons. Gary carefully tore down the poster and stuffed it into his pocket for later in the story.
Little known to Gary, is a fairly accurate statement in itself. But instead I'm going to use the term unbeknownst, which should get me serious bonus points, and if this site doesn't appreciate me I'll just have to take my thesaurus elsewhere. You know, thesaurus. Thesaurus. No, I don't know another word for it. Anyway, I digress, stray or deviate.
Unbeknownst to Gary, a few miles away in Hendon, a newly formed punk band was tuning up, or rather, down; getting ready to blow the doors off the Hendon Hall Hotel. They turned their amps up to max and as guests dived for cover they launched into their first number, which was 1.
This was a band that really was raw and gritty and right up in your face. They were debating with the idea of calling themselves Penis, although they had actually got the booking at Hendon Hall under their original name; The Nigel Collins Four.
Nigel Collins (known formerly as Scrotum Electrode, although he preferred to be known informerly) was the one-armed bass player who wrote most of the band's ninety second thrash-punk ditties. He had lost half his right arm (the lower half) in a motorcycle accident, and had vowed never to wear bondage trousers again. He had played for many of the top West London punk bands of the time. For anyone who needed a one armed bassist, as long as it was the left arm required, Nigel was your man.
He was joined on bass by Eviscerated Petra (born Petra Skrote). Named after the Blue Peter Alsatian, Petra was a skinny, shaven-headed girl who played the right hand on bass, and performed stripped to the waist. Only two strategically-placed corn plasters provided her with a modicum of ridiculousness. Petra's overtly sexual persona was not enhanced by her continuously running nose, but when combined with her head-thrashing playing style it completely eliminated the need for her to spit into the crowd.
On drums was Colonel Umlaut Mc.Afterbirth, a self-taught, pasty-faced, single-sexual, could-do-better, must-try-harder, open-to-offers, has-own-drumkit, could-play-Barnet, might-go-further, got-mum's-fiesta, and-a-student-railcard, high-hat-hitting, cymbal-crashing, rim-shotting, bass-stomping, stick-twiddling, Drum-God. Who had a grade two in percussion and a nasty case of facial warts. And who thought a paradiddle was an assistant at a law firm.
On lead-guitar was Neville (Squatter) Splosionhead. Unfortunately, quite often on lead-guitar-lead was also Squatter Splosionhead, which was why he kept managing to pull the amp plug out of his guitar during gigs, plunging himself into what was becoming known by their fans as an anti-solo - several minutes of continuous fifty hertz mains buzz, while he thrashed away at his unplugged instrument.
However, when he was plugged in, Squatter was also famous in North West London for being able to maintain a six-finger tremolo overdriven harmonic high F-flat slide diminished, whilst vomiting lager out of his nose. Squatter didn't live illegally in other people's houses; the nickname came from a particularly unsavoury element of his stage act.
But in spite of all this promise, the gig didn't go well. The main thing that annoyed the crowd and got the band chucked out of the Hendon Hall Hotel was the fact that every number they played was instrumental, consisted of two chords, and was played at double quick 3/4 time. And all in augmented fourths and with maximum distortion, like some kind of crazy discordant cavalry charge. The Caledonian Folk Dance Troupe couldn't keep up with it and the bingo caller couldn't hear himself rap (as he liked to think of it).
Slung out on their collective tone-deaf ears and heading south, the band naturally found themselves in Acton, and stood around wondering what to do, practicing their sneers.
Which was when Lady Luck found them. That would be Lady Luck the punk singer and band manager. This was just after she had left Convent Dirty Protest, and before she'd gone on to House of the Varicose Pissflaps. You see, pubs had quite different names in those days.
Incidentally, my local's currently called the 'Closed for Refurbishment', but in those days it was 'the Firkin Bustard'. Before that it was 'the Bustard Under Water' and before that 'the Slug and Florican' and before that, 'the Toby Bustard and Grill'.
Anyway, Lady Luck knew that they had talent just from seeing them sneering, so she made up her mind to become their manager, there and then. It was destined to be a short musical arrangement - just a few bars, you could say. And after the band had played those bars, Lady Luck went off to pursue her management career in America.
While they were managed by her, however, she booked them in for a practice session at the local youth club, and due to a highly dubious coincidental double booking, who should turn up to play at the same place and the same time? You were thinking Gary Gritter, weren't you, but it was actually The Jam. Paul Weller took one look at the band and, hearing their raw and gritty, right up in your face instrumental output, decided to hook them up with what was possibly the best post-punk vocalist from the time. No, still not Gary Gritter; Billy Idol. He couldn't make it. Neither could Adam Ant or that bloke from the Vapors. And neither could Siouxie Siouuioux - she had already joined The Dixlexics.
Then Gary Gritter turned up unexpectedly, and the rest is history. Well all of this story is history, not just the rest, but I'm going to keep telling you anyway. After all, as Karl Marx said, 'History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce'. Damn, I was really hoping farce would be first.
Those first few meetings between the band and Gary were incorrigible. If they were hoping for some incorrigement they never got it. But by their third session, the Nigel Collins Four were thrashing out a cover of the Ramones' Blitzkrieg Bop, while Gary played rhythm guitar dirges and sang 'Mull of Kintyre' over the top. It was disturbing, but brilliant. And after six months of frantic practice they had the whole thing down to a fine art, like portrait painting.
Now all they had to do was think of a suitable name. Nigel came up with Gary and the Tw@s, which kids in the future would recognise as being quite funny, but at the time people thought it was pronounced Twands or Twebble-cleffs or something.
It was actually 1970s TV presenter Bill Grundy that came up with the name Gobshites for the band. He had just worked his way back onto regional telly after his notorious Sex Pistols interview had ruined his career. Perhaps naively, he couldn't see the harm in interviewing a new pop combo called The Nigel Collins Four on his programme 'Tonight in East Sussex'.
The numerical disparity in the band's name and their unwholesome appearance did not quite prepare him for the raging and ranting onslaught of vitriolic bile and foul language that he would resort to when he realised his brief TV comeback was over. It all kicked off when the band introduced their members to the studio audience, and it went down hill from there. It proved to be a watershed in Grundy's career, and he probably should have had the interview after it.
Anyway, the name Gary and the Gobshites stuck, and from then on the band was synonymous with it. And it was synonymous with them. It was a synonimbiotic relationship.
Then came an unrelenting round of travelling, singing, fighting, drinking, wrecking hotel rooms, drug taking and fornication. Bill Grundy was determined to make the most of his infamy while it lasted, and he figured his TV career was over anyway.
Gary and the Gobshites were busy too, doing most of the same things. They were lovable rogues, young kids without care or concern; living the rock and roll lifestyle, and to hell with responsibility. People at the time always said about Gary: "leave my daughter alone you scumbag or I will shoot you in the face".
Three months passed, and then one day Gary pulled the old Battle of the Bands poster out of his pocket, unscrewed it and showed the other band members. He pointed at the date of the event: it was tonight! Well obviously not tonight, but the night back then.
It was on that night back then that Squatter came first in the gobbing contest, finishing with a double-hocked, left handed, half-flobbed tongue-flicker with dribble. It made the spittoon ring, but there was hardly any splash. The crowd went wild.
But Gary and the Gobshites didn't bother entering the Battle of the Bands competition. They didn't need it now; they already had the band, they had the recording contract and they had £933.33 (after agent's fees). They also had cashed in a fair few groupons. They were getting known; getting a reputation; and from across the Atlantic, Dame Fortune now beckoned.
They were too far away to notice, so she sent them a telegram, which was sort of a cross between a post card and a text message that they used to have in the olden days.
Would you believe it, it turned out that their first manager, Lady Luck, had changed her name to Dame Fortune when she had gone to manage Lance Boil and the Carbunkles in New York. Now she had made it there (she could have made it anywhere), and with only the Atlantic in the way, she was in a position to give them a leg-over. With the lure of big money ringing in their eyes, Gary and the Gobshites made plans to fly to the United States post haste.
Nobody really knows what happened to the plane on that fateful day. All lives on board were tragically lost when it crashed in a raging storm just outside Clear Lake, Iowa, on 3rd February 1959. I never knew that, thought Eviscerated Petra, who had been reading about 'The Day the Music Died' in the in-flight magazine during the band's Concorde trip to America.
They were all excited as they came in to land at JFK airport. London to New York in under four hours! Just think how much faster it would be in thirty years time! Still, they weren't looking forward to having to wait in line for ten minutes at JFK's inefficient customs and immigration clearance.
As they descended the steps of the plane, they saw a huge crowd had gathered. They could make out some of the banners: 'Go Home Gobshites' and 'USA says NO to Gary Gritter'. The band thought it was brilliant - a sort of post-punk reverse Beatle-mania. And this set the scene for their time in America - cancelled gigs, bans from radio stations, protests, church vigils, fights outside venues, the odd Easter Parade and some of the most talked about performances in living memory. Gary and the Gobshites realised that their lives were now like a mixed bag of chocolates: you just never knew if you were going to get a peanut, a toffee or an orange cream. They intended to revel in the experience.
There then followed six hectic months of back-to-back dates, which as anyone will tell you does not make for a good date. But the tour was a massive success, and eventually, in what was being hailed as a taxi they all went off to do their final US show.
The final gig was not without its problems. The 'rousing classical music' that Gary and the band had requested for their entrance turned out to be Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. This didn't go down well with the Hells Angels who had filled the front of the venue and who proceeded to throw their glasses at the stage. Which was a bit daft as now they wouldn't be able to see the band properly. Should have gone to that opticians where you get two pairs.
Once Gary and the Gobshites started playing, the crowd soon got behind them, so the band had to turn round and face the rear, which when you think about it is actually the front of the hall. But this is why the video footage of the concert only shows the backs of the performer's heads.
Even from the back, the video shows Gary Gritter dressed in his trademark chain-mail t-shirt and sporting his 'Flock of Seagulls' hairstyle - all plastered down with bird shit. From the waist down, he was mounted on a Dalek base, and castors on the bottom of the costume allowed him to zip about the stage, screaming abuse at the fans. Every now and then he would press a button and a squirt of artificial spit would jet out over the fans.
Nigel was wearing a string vest with a giant soiled baby's nappy, and had fitted a chain-saw attachment onto the end of his arm stump, which he waved menacingly. Eviscerated Petra was in a polythene kilt, and had opted for dayglo-pink corn plasters; her shaved head painted a glossy black down to just below the eyeline. Reptilian clawed boots completed her ensemble. The bass that she and Nigel shared was twice normal size, and could make sounds that needed to be measured on the Richter scale.
The guitarist, Squatter, was dressed in a glittering spandex plucked chicken costume, and was bouncing around the stage on powerful jumping stilts. On his head a visored helmet fired a laser light show out into the crowd.
Now positioned directly in front of the band, The Colonel's massive drum kit had been built to resemble stacks of cooking pots and pans, and there he sat, naked apart from a codpiece modelled on the head of a narwhale. Two additional animatronic arms were strapped to his shoulders, making McAfterbirth look like the Hindu god Kali. In each of his four hands he held a drumstick, and wires ran down his arms, connecting the sticks to a huge Van Der Graaf generator. As his arms writhed around him, massive electrical sparks jumped from the ends of the sticks, earthing out onto drums and cymbals and anything else nearby.
Watching from the wings, Dame Fortune decided that the band may not have stayed completely loyal to their punk roots. They used to be so raw and gritty and right up in your face, she thought, rather like a penis. Now they've become a pastiche, or some other sad pastry confection. They have lost their edge, she realised, something that U2 have so far managed to avoid.
She watched as the band's performance continued; two hundred can-can dancers now lined the stage, and a gospel choir was singing the chorus to the Gobshites' seminal work, Eat, Shit and Die Laughing. Squatter was now suspended upside-down over the stage and had activated the flame thrower effect on his custom-built quad-necked Fender.
Dame Fortune could only watch as the circus that had once been Gary and the Gobshites jumped though hoops to please the crowds. Yes, they used to be raw, she thought. They used to be gritty. And they used to be right up in your face. This may be the band's biggest gig, she mused, but it is hardly their finest hour. The show may have sold out, but then so had the band.
Dame Fortune left, walking away from the backstage area and feeling rather depressed.
For Gary and the Gobshites, she thought, this could prove to be the day the music died. Or maybe, she wondered, could it just be time to face the music, perhaps on an Easter Parade? She popped an anti-psychotic pill into her mouth and waited.
No. It was definitely the music dying thing.
But she was wrong! For the very next day the band flew back to the UK and began their campaign to storm the British charts. Having been away from the country for so long
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