Monday, 16 March 2015

Sons Of The Stage, Part 4: Shirley Punx

As previously discussed, I'd been a passive member of Southampton's punk rock community since 1994. I'd been to (plenty of) shows, bought locally-produced records and zines and made friends, but the only things I'd really contributed were a couple of columns for the STE Bulletin. However, once my skills had been made public by my membership of The Gilamonsters, I became a much sought after musician. OK, not quite: said skills were clearly pretty rudimentary. And it would be truer to say that the local scene was totally inclusive; by announcing myself as someone who could play, I was merely entered into the pool of people available for bands. Either way, at some point in 2000, I was able to tell Jimmy "I think I've just joined Evil Is Never In Fashion."

I hadn't, though, not exactly. Evil Is Never in Fashion had featured local luminaries Ross (a prime mover in the STE at this point), Clive (out of Trophy Girls), Dingo/Matt (banjo thrasher in Minute Manifesto, though on drums this time round) and Adam (making his Southampton band debut but previously responsible for Brighton's Mr Poohead zine, later to be relaunched under the slightly more sensible name Remains Of A Caveman). After one show at an STE festival, Ross had left, leaving a vacancy to line up alongside Clive in what was surely the UK's most significant dual guitar line-up since the glory days of Priest and Maiden. Dingo asked if I was interested, and, having switched to bass for The Gilas, I was glad to have an opportunity to flex my six-string muscles for the first time since the days of Carp Fever.

We practiced in Art Asia, a little community centre which was, conveniently, on my street. As was often the way back then, losing a member meant a new name and repertoire. At some point, we were going to be called Caleb, but eventually went with Kids That Kill, taken (I think) from the name of the sort of documentary which has only grown more common in these prurient times (random aside: Art Asia was only a stones throw from the road recently immortalised on Channel 4 as, ahem, Immigration Street).

I'm not sure I was ever entirely clear on what sort of music we were going for. Thrash - of the Los Crudos/Limp Wrist style - was definitely present, but this was also the beginning of an era of fascination with metal which has endured in the punk scene to this day. Back then it was mainly led by the aggro sludge of Iron Monkey and the misanthropic doom of Electric Wizard. Certainly, during my fumbling attempts to work out parts to sit alongside his, Clive was known to complain if what I was doing didn't sound metal enough! In addition to the Art Asia practices, Clive and I would sometimes head round to Adam's house to learn riffs on unamplified electric guitars, which always sounded pretty skiffle.

Our name made it onto the flyer for the STE's festival that year (which I'll be writing about sometime soon), but we were in no way ready, and, as it turned out, we never would be. After Kids That Kill faded out, there was briefly talk of forming some extended ensemble. Six or seven of us met up at Adam's house, shared with Ross and Jamie Festo, in the Southampton area Shirley. For some reason, a lot of the punk scene had ended up finding accommodation in this district, self-mythologising in a sarcastic was by referring to themselves as Shirley Punx and giving this chapter its title. As far as I can remember, all of Kids That Kill were to be involved, along with (possibly) Sweet Mat out of Minute Manifesto and (definitely) a guitarist called Alex. I think Festo was around too, but maybe only because he lived there. Again, there was some bedroom skiffle action (ooer, missus, etc), but this mooted supergroup never got to the stage of having a name, let alone getting to an actual stage - or even practice room.

There was only one thing for it: I'd have to join Cello Band.

Cello Band had been going for a while by the time my services were required. As I wasn't there at the beginning, I'm going to have to assume two things: that the band name was a temporary project name that stuck, and that the original intention might have been to form a post-rock band of the kind then coming out of Canada and Chicago (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Rachel's, that sort of thing). As it happened, the band ended up a rather more jovial outfit than the ones just mentioned. There were cover versions of 80s theme tunes, there were comedy hats, and there was the farewell gig when our drummer Ed got too stoned and/or drunk to make it to the show and the guy I'd replaced had to rejoin in the ensuing one-off reshuffle.

Although Adam was the only member of Kids That Kill that I hadn't already known before joining the band, we became firm friends; he even moved into my house for a bit after moving out of Shirley when Festo and Ross left town. He was itching to start another band, and to that end pooled together me on guitar, a guy from Winchester called Rob on bass and Saul out of legendary Southampton anarcho punks Haywire on drums. It's often said that the talent of a drummer can make or break a band, and with that in mind we definitely owed a lot to Saul, particularly given my rudimentary skills. He also owned a van, which would come in handy.

This gathering of misfits was christened xMitchbuchananx (if I'm honest, I was never sure what letters should be capitalised!). This was, of course, named in tribute to D.Hasselhoff's seminal turn as a lifeguard in Saturday teatime favourite Baywatch. The x's were a nod to the trend for straight edge bands to declare their abstinence by bookending their monickers with the universal symbol for their subculture, and on our part were just as much a pisstake as the name they enclosed - I think Rob might have been SxE at the time but the rest of us definitely weren't. Later, the x's were dropped - or, at least, became optional.

Musically, we once again drew on thrashy sounds, but the main difference between xMBx and kids That Kill was that we actually managed to get our shit together and play some shows The first was as support to the American band Strike Anywhere at The Joiners, a pretty great way to kick things off. They were on great form back then, as recognised by Saul, who spent our night's pay on one of their hoodies. Essex melodic punkers Travis Cut also played that night, and when their frontman broke a string and asked if anyone in the room could lend him a replacement. I duly grabbed my guitar - the one with the red lightning/crackle finish which I'd been playing since I was 15, and which had frankly seen better days. He took one look at it and said "I can't play this!" Frankly, I don't blame him.

One show I got us was something of a Gilamonsters family tree revue. Headlined by our Winchester friends Black Blue Fish... Very Beautiful, the bill also featured Ben and Steeny's blues rockers The Bullycats and Jimmy's London wreckheads Blood Valley. Mitch Buchanan opened, and I think this would have been the show I actually discouraged my workmates from attending, by letting them know that we were on first and our set was less than ten minutes long - which was true. It was rare for our tunes to exceed a minute, and unheard of for them to make it to two. And I think we ended up with seven songs in all.

Our most interesting shows were in London, when we played two squat gigs at a place called the Bacon Factory, somewhere near Waterloo, in late 2002 or early 2003. (I remember one of them was on the same day as the big Anti-War march in London, which would have made it Feb '03). I think the first time we might have played with Boxed In, who featured Dingo on guitar, and the second was headlined by an Australian band called Headless Horsemen, but I didn't stick around to catch them, preferring to get home that night. This was after staying the first time and not being able to get out to leave for work, as the squat had been locked up for the night; turned out the dude who'd told me to wake him up to let me out was not keen on being woken up after all...

In 2003, Adam left Southampton for his native Brighton, and in June of that year I headed in the same direction. Mitch Buchanan played our last show at the King Alf in Southampton, which might have been as support to Dutch thrashers Skulls & Flames. Kids stormed the stage during our last song and my guitar got unplugged - it was a suitably messy, chaotic end to a messy, chaotic band.

Once in Brighton, Adam and I tried to start another band, and did a practice or two with a line-up featuring our friends Ralf, Si and Maya, but didn't get anything off the ground. Adam would go on to join Constant State Of Terror, while it would be five years before my next foray into music with Gorse...