Sunday, 11 October 2015

THE VIBES....From the inside ! by Bob Martin & Darren Ross.

Trash Garage Masters !
Here 'tis folks, 30 years down the line and at last, a pretty much definitive look at the group who, for me, more or less epitomised what the sound was about and defined the genre for a few great years in the mid-80's....A few months ago I had managed to get hold of  guitarist and founding member Bob Martin to get an inside track on The Vibes story and their background...So here it is.  

The Vibes weren't the first band that the various members had been part of and both Bob and Gary (Gaz Voola) Boniface, who'd known each other since their mid teens, had been tinkering for years prior to The Vibes formation. Their roots were most definitely Rockabilly having basically lived, ate and breathed it and that also goes someway to explaining The Vibes look at the time too. Gary lived on Canvey Island (Essex, UK) and Bob in Southend (also in Essex, UK) where the Rockabilly scence was vibrant at the tail end of the 70's and the two of them would be out most Friday and Saturday, frequenting the Southend Rockin' clubs, it was around this time that Bob and Gary first had notions of forming a band, their first foray being a Bill Haley & The Comets style combo which was called The Jumping Jacks. Gary was a drummer then with a stand up snare (ala The Sting Rays) and Bob had tried to take up the sax but without training...They never got past the rehearsal stage !
Down In The Garage
Around this time Bob & Gary had started going to London clubs where Gary met a girl and relocated to West London, they lost touch with each other for a while and Bob became friendly with Lloyd Tripp who'd come down from Colchester with a bunch of mates to the long standing rockin' venue, The Queens Hotel in Southend. Lloyd was a larger than life character even back then and it was inevitable after hitting it off so well and the shared musical passions, that discussions of getting a band together would be soon on the agenda, before he knew it Bob upped sticks from Southend and moved to Colchester where Lloyds parents owned a sizeable guesthouse with a big store house in the back yard.....this is where the best was spawned ! Lloyd bought himself a double bass and taught himself the rudimentaries of playing. The size of it suited him and it's hard to imagine him playing anything else at the time. Bob was the vocalist and the first 'proper' line up was called 'The Hi-Boys'..a full on rockabilly band ! They had the drummer and guitarist from a Canvey Island band called 'The Screaming Ab Dabs' a Dr Feelgood type RnB band (who boasted Alison Moyet on vocals) but due to reliability issues and a lack of a rockabilly background, it was a short lived affair although plenty of cider fuelled rehearsals and their first real gig gave them the appetite for more. The guys were still frequenting rockin' clubs (although Bob's recollections are a bit hazy) and must have bumped into Gary who'd been jamming with various musicians but was yet to actually nail anything down. He was still drumming at the time and it was suggested that they hook back up again so Gary would head over to Colchester at weekends where they'd jam with various local guitarists, going so far as to advertise in the music press but failing to click with any of the guys that turned up, around this time Gary mentioned that he knew a decent guitarist who may be interested.....and so the next weekend he turns up at Colchester train station with none other than Boz Boorer ! Needless to say, Boz's infectious enthusiasm and brilliant guitar work hit the spot and The Megatons were born, Gary on drums, Lloyd on bass, Boz on guitar and Bob on vocal duty, they played in and around Colchester and were well received. Boz even managed to sneak the band into his production company's studio where a bunch of tracks were recorded which have never been released (so far). Unfortunately, due to Boz's other commitments, The Megatons were never really going anywhere, but it gave them the taste and they wanted more.
A little hiatus at this point and the exact circumstances are a tad fuzzy but Bob's reluctance as a frontman and Gary's desire to get out from behind the drums meant a formation change with Gaz taking up the vocals and Bob moving to (rhythm) guitar, so now they needed a lead guitarist and a drummer ! It's not sure how Lloyd knew them but we ended up with a couple of young brothers, Alex (Guitar) and Adam (Drums)..think that Alex was around 16/17 at the time and Adam was only 14 but they could both play really well !
Around this time the band were listening to lots of different music, Bauhaus, The Gun Club, The Cramps and even some nascent electro, it was also at this point that Gary introduced Bob to 60's Garage Punk via the Pebbles and Nuggets which was an epiphany for him (still a big fan now), rehearsals now became a experimental with lots of styles being bastardised along the way. Not sure of the exact circumstances but Alex fell away sometime around this point and we found Martin Parsons, another Colchester lad whom Lloyd had known for quite some time....Martin was an easy going guy and fitted well.
Click to read.
The band did a few gigs with this line-up and then Gary met Mike Spenser (he of The Cannibals) who offered to record a session for the band in his basement with a mobile studio parked on the pavement ! They spent the day laying down the stuff they were playing at the time, a lot of which was never re-recorded again....Wonder if Mr Spenser still has the tapes ?
The band were also having trouble at certain venues due to Adams young age and so the band made a decision to let him go which was unfortunate and a tough decision. Lloyd introduced another guy from the Colchester rockin' scene, John Jobbagy, who he'd known for a long while and got him to come down and jam with the band. John's style was a little jazzy but he could play four beats where others would play one and it just worked for us....This was the first real line-up of The Vibes, Gary on vocals, Lloyd on Bass, Bob on fuzz guitar, Martin on lead and John on drums with Gary being the creative driving force with all the original Vibes songs being written by him at this point, late '82, early '83.
So with The Vibes ready for action and following on from some local gigs in Colchester the band were given their first London gig by Mike Spenser in 'The Garage', the basement of The Clarendon Hotel in Hammersmith !  
They were lucky with their timing and hit the scene just as it was blossoming, and with the release of 'These Cats Ain't Nuthin' But Trash' on Big Beat there were plenty of venues and other bands to play alongside. The band were really well received, The Clarendon becoming something of a spiritual home with them playing every month for the best part of a year. Their following was growing and they played with some of the finest bands around at the time including the Sting Rays, Tall Boys, Milkshakes, Prisoners and The Cannibals.

Their first on Big Beat.
Through these connections and their growing reputation, they were soon offered to record for Big Beat Records, Bob recalls meeting Roger Armstrong in a pub, round the corner from the Ace/Big Beat office and ending up plundering their wharehouse, coming out loaded up with vinyl as Ace had just re-issued a lot of classic Rockabilly, RnB and Blues.
They didn't have to think twice and jumped at the chance, quickly getting into Elephant Studios to record the 'Can You Feel' EP....Bob felt it was quite raw and that the production could have been better in hindsight, the engineer didn't quite 'get' the band and they (the band) were too inexperienced of the process. Regardless of that, the record went down a storm and The Vibes found themselves in demand....something they were doing was resonating with the crowds they were playing to at venues such as The 100 Club, Dingwalls and the like. Their musical style just grew naturally, encompassing 50's/60's styles and sounds, there was no concious effort to have a certain sound, it was the bands musical capabilities and limitations along with the vintage equipment which dictated how they sounded and the band were happy that the fans genuinely seemed to like it.
It should be pointed out at this point that The Vibes were NOT a psychobilly band and they tried to make the point very clear stating that they hated the phrase and it's implications...Upon reflection, Bob obseved that none of The Vibes tracks could be construed as such....it was purely the fact that we had a double bass and a couple of quiffs !
Having the 'Can You Feel' EP released on Big Beat opened a certain number of doors for them and they were getting regular reviews and namechecked in the main music press of the time, NME and Sounds, with the latter going onto feature a double page spread ! The band were even requested to appear on the special feature 'Trash On The Tube' for Channel 4, unfortunately one of the other bands which were to later appear on the show had (apparently) kicked up a bit of a fuss about being overlooked, politics prevailed and The Vibes missed out !  
 
Antoine Bernhart Masterpiece.
A French tour soon followed and the band were introduced to the legendary Antoine Bernhart, Rock 'n' Roll artist extraordinaire, his poster for The Vibes tour of France has since gone on to become iconic of the genre. He was a great and macabre man, I (Bob) remember visiting his house, he had a round shaped room, the only furniture was a dentists chair in the centre with shelves ful of oddities lining the walls, including a human hand preserved in a jar with the palm skin missing, showing all the tendons etc...apparently a rather grisly souvenir from a concentration camp ! The tour was a great experience and the band recorded 3 tracks live on French TV, played on a barge in Strasbourg and got their first experience of groupies....Sex and drugs and RnR Baby ! which inevitably lead to friction...Things are a little vague at this point also but as we'd been playing constantly, coupled with doing the French tour in a cramped mini-bus, on top of each other for 24 hours a day...things came to head and the band split not long after getting back from their French adventure. The split didn't last long, a couple of months and they were back together as demand was good, though this time with Johnny Johnson on lead guitar, it's not quite clear how this came about but as he'd played in The Cannibals, it could have been through Mike Spenser. Suffice to say that with Johnny on board their sound hit another level, (Bob recalls that Johnny was one of the best guitarists that he'd ever played with) and the band picked up gigging where thay had left off but as a much more cohesive unit, Gary was becoming more adventurous with his song writing and everyone was on the same page musically.

A Bit On The Trippy Side !
The Vibes were friends with another Colchester based band called 'Living In Texas', a Gothic/Avant Garde type of outfit with great stage presence, both bands were managed by the same guy, Andy Soloman..Living In Texas had decided to form their own label which became 'Chainsaw Records'. Initially, they had only intended to issue their own stuff on the label but was doing well enough for them to consider other bands and The Vibes were one of only a handful considered. Given total creative control, without any outside interference (they were also fans who encouraged the band to do 'their thing'). The band went for it, seeing it as an opportunity to further distance themselves from the psychobilly tag. True to their word, Chainsaw booked The Vibes into Amazon studios in Liverpool for a week and the result was the 'Inner Wradrobes Of Your Mind Sessions' and subsequent 12" release.

Sounds Music Paper.
The response to this was phenomenal, surpassing the plaudits they had received for 'Can You Feel' and garnering great reviews in the music press making single of the week in Sounds and appearing on several 'record of the year charts compiled by various music journalists ! Then, what was possibly one of the band's high points in their all too short career...The phone call from the BEEB...John Peel would like you to do a session at Maida Vale studios ! Initially thinking it was someone taking the piss, it took a little while for it to sink in but it was true enough and turned out to be kosher, so the band found themselves unloading their gear at Maida Vale. Briefly meeting the man himself but due to his notorious shyness and the guys being awestruck it was a quick introduction...Recalling that Mr Peel said 'Keep up the good work' and that was it, he was gone, this legend who had discovered so many great bands since the end of the sixties.
The session went well and four tracks were recorded, with all the band being very happy with the outcome (there are low quality versions on youtube, so look them up) and waiting for them to be aired and hearing John Peel wax lyrical about their  music was an exciting time. Shortly after this, The Vibes embarked on a Dutch tour with great crowds in great venues and with John Peel having a syndicated show there every week the Dutch fans were more than aware of thier stuff which certainly helped. The highlight of the shows in Holland was supporting The Legendary Stardust Cowboy at The Paradisio in Amsterdam, this show was also broadcast live by VPRO and often turned up on cassette later. The band then turned up to play Bastille day in Paris, an open air festival in the afternoon followed by a gig in a crypt that night hosted by a Surf/Jazz combo called The Pasadenas (they gave me (Bob) a copy of their 7"...highly recommended and worth seeking out incidently).

One Of The Best Albums Ever.
After getting back to the UK, the next project was the 'What's Inside' album and again the band headed to Liverpool for a week at Amazon Studios. The recording went well but the general consesus was that it lacked the real power of the 'Inner Wardrobes' sessions, though not exactly sure why. Regardless of the bands personal views, the LP was widely acclaimed and they reached number five in the indie charts, staying there for a considerable time in 1985. More gigging around the UK was followed by the offer to tour Germany and by this stage the band were a tight unit and used to the whole touring thing. Bob remembers thinking this was the tour that they enjoyed most. The tour itself actually started in Zurich then cut through Austria to Germany where the guys were treated to a strip search by Austrian border guards complete with sniffer dogs and a search of the tour bus by armed guards..luckily nothing being found. The gigs themselves were a mixed bunch of venues from glitter balled discoteques to wharehouses in places as diverse as Schotten, Engers, Munich. With the best gig being Berlin, without a doubt, this was before the wall had come down so the guys had to drive through East Berlin, through Checkpoint Charlie with all it's machine gun towers, it was a spooky experience and the difference between east and west Berlin was astounding. The gig was awesome, the crowd was really receptive and we went for it....we went down so well that the promoter asked if we would stay on for the week and support The Ramones who were playing the following weekend, unfortunately we had other gigs lined up but were truly flattered. The Berlin gig was filmed but to date the footage has proved elusive (so anyone know anything ? please do contact me).
Available here : www.trashwax.com
The gig in Enger was released in 2015 by Trash Wax, exactly 30 years to the day it was originally recorded by a member of the audience, this recording is raw in parts but captures the band at the height of their performances.   
That more or less brings the history of the band to an end, a bit of discontent had seeped in during the time spent in Germany and there were internal frictions coming to the fore, possibly because of spending so much time together makes any little annoyance seem magnified and by the time they arrived home, Gary wanted out and the band decided to split in early 1986.
The rest as they say is history with all the guys going on to play in different bands, Gaz went on to form The Purple Things (along with the 2 Johns) and then subsequently Terminal Cheescake.
Lloyd went on to be involved with various bands including The Bugs, Blubbery Hellbellies and The Zipguns before relocating to America where he still plays.
Bob went on to play in The Margin Of Sanity and John Jobbagy is currently the drummer of The Go Go Cult !        

Big Thanks to Bob Martin for his patience and time.

If you haven't already, you can still get the LP & CD here : www.trashwax.com
    
     

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