HUNGRY IN THE FOOD HALL STARING AT THE SALMON: AN ART ATTACKS INTERVIEW conducted by Stewart Home, London, 25 June 1996
I met Steve Spear and Edwin Pouncey, formerly of the Art Attacks, at Waterloo station on 25 June 1996. Bassist Marion Fudger had various work commitments and couldn't make it. We didn't know how to contact drummer John Haney, who may well be living in America. Although Steve and Marion had kept in touch, Edwin hadn't seen either of them for fourteen years. I suggested we make our way down to Lower Marsh Street, since I liked one of the pubs on that street. Edwin and Steve thought I'd led them to Streets as a joke. Actually, I hadn't been in the place for a couple of years, and I'd forgotten what it was called.
EDWIN: We got together because there was a talent night at the Royal College Of Art.
STEVE: I had the idea of starting a punk band. A mate said you should get Edwin from graphics to be the singer. I hadn't met Edwin before, I just went up and asked him if he wanted to be the singer in a punk band to do the talent night. I had a place to rehearse, we just cobbled something together. We had Ricky Slaughter, who later played in the Motors, as the drummer. Rob Smith from the Snakes played bass. I don't remember the name of the other guitarist. He knew a Beach Boys number, so we did that. Me and Edwin made up two songs. We were just going to do covers but someone said punk is about doing it yourself, so we decided to write some songs of our own. Edwin had one called "Subway Train" which just got faster and faster, until it exploded at the end. The other was "Rat City". The gig went quite well. At one point I jumped off the stage and had a fight with some bloke in the audience. Someone else came up to us afterwards and asked if we wanted a gig at Wimbledon College of Art. We said yeah. Then we had to put a set together. Edwin came over to my place and we wrote ten songs. The next gig was The Man In The Moon in the Kings Road. A guy called Paul said he wanted to be our manager, he got us more gigs, it snowballed from there.
STEWART: So when did Marion Fudger join?
STEVE: After two or three gigs Rob Smith said he couldn't do it anymore. I already knew Marion from the Stockwell squatting scene, so I asked her if she wanted to play bass. She was a bit embarrassed, she went out under the name of M. S., so that no one knew it was her. Marion wanted to be a serious musician. She later taught at the Deptford Academy of Music, a kind of fame school for kids.
STEWART: After Marion joined you recorded your first and only demos.
STEVE: We went into Pathway Studios in Stoke Newington and recorded "Rat City" and "Chickens In Funland". Edwin and I paid for it. We had Robert Gotobed for that, he was just learning to be a drummer, this was before he joined Wire.
EDWIN: We were interested in making up these little stories. "Rat City" was about a middle-aged guy on a treadmill. There was a lot of poetry in the songs, stuff that nobody else bothered to say in a punk band. "Chickens In Funland" was on the front of "The Sun". It was about this traffic in chickens, where they were stuffed into arcades to play the piano or something.
STEVE: It was about animal cruelty. It was a gambling thing, where you won if the chicken hit a certain key on the piano.
STEWART: You did the demos, then you got a deal with Albatross, an independent label.
EDWIN: Albatross was run from the basement of Kensington Market, they had this scummy record shack selling bruised copies of Stooges albums. The guys who owned it decided to start a record label. They went looking for mugs and found us. We were the only ones they bothered with. We did "I Am A Dalek" and "Neutron Bomb" as the two sides of the single. "Dalek" is about a job I had in a department store when I left school. The general manager called me into his office and told me I was going to be a dalek in the toy department.
STEWART: It doesn't sound like relations with Albatross were particularly cordial.
EDWIN: The people at Albatross were this hippie guy and his girlfriend, who was a Gypsy Rose Lee lookalike, and this other guy who always wore a suit. The guy with the suit used to come up with these really stupid ideas, like they were going to advertise our single on all the buses in London.
STEVE: The hippie guy's girlfriend was a professional stripper. She just suddenly appeared on stage at the Marquee. Marion used to work for "Spare Rib" and was particularly offended.
EDWIN: We were in the middle of this number and I felt this stinging on the back of my neck. I thought bloody hell, is there a wasp in here? I turned round and there was this half naked old woman whipping me. I told her to fuck off.
STEVE: Me and Marion just looked at each other across the stage. There was a photo of it in "Sounds". We were getting in the music papers all the time. Marion knew about it. She said to us they're desperate to fill up the space, so if we send in a good photo, they'll use it. Underneath they'd put the dates of any gigs we had coming up. It was astonishing how easy it was.
STEWART: What happened to Albatross?
STEVE: We did a gig at the Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington and they had a distribution guy come along to see us perform. We did a bad gig, they didn't like it.
EDWIN: That was the one where I crawled inside the drum kit and refused to come out for the rest of the gig.
STEVE: The guy comes up to us afterwards and says, another gig like that and you're off our label." I Am A Dalek" sold seven and a half thousand copies, it was the only record Albatross put out.
EDWIN: I used to get in such a state of fright, I had to get tanked out of my brain to get on stage. In Hammersmith I handed the mike to a tramp who lumbered on stage as I wandered off. The new vocalist was this derelict screaming rubbish. Like the stalwart soldiers that they were, the rest of the band carried on.
STEWART: How did you come to have a track on the "Streets" compilation?
STEVE: As a result of Paul our manager knowing the Lurkers, they were on Beggars Banquet who put it out. The label paid for us to go into a flash studio to record "Arabs In 'Arrads", which our drummer John Haney wrote the words for. We went on a tour as a result of that. We did places like Nikkers in Keithley.
EDWIN: We went all over the place to promote that "Streets" album, mostly Yorkshire.
STEVE: It was a weird tour because you'd get a good sized crowd but the venues were always these northern soul clubs. The stages were on half floors. You'd do the gig and everyone would be looking down at you, watching from the gallery where the bar was. You'd be going crazy and the crowd didn't react at all. They'd just stand there and stare.
EDWIN: It was a Mecca dance hall type set-up. The audience would be leaning on balconies, looking at us going mad. They'd be going to their girlfriends, do you fancy another babycham? Before I went on at one of these places, I had a fight with a Bert Weedon fan. This bloke says, you're one of them punks aren't ya. I said, I'm in one of these bands playing tonight. I'd had a few and I was getting revved up. The bloke asked me what I thought of Bert Weedon. I said, to be honest I think he's an absolute cunt. This bloke goes, I'll have you know I adore Bert Weedon! Then he whacked me in the mouth. This is a minute before we go on and my mouth is bleeding badly. The audience went a bit mad, like they'd scented blood. I just said, a Bert Weedon fan did this to me.
STEWART: Apart from the "Streets" tour, did you play out of London much?
STEVE: We did gigs with Generation X, they weren't our favourite band. Their audience was young kids, so it was difficult to deal with them. These kids were really into it. We used to take the piss out of Billy Idol just to warm the audience up. We did loads of gigs with Generation X, until we said we wouldn't do any more because we didn't think they were very good for us.
EDWIN: It all culminated in their stupid road crew turning the mikes off when we were playing in Croydon. There's this hall full of spitting kids, we're just standing on stage and there's no sound coming out. We were out there and we could see the road crew laughing at the back. We got gobbed on beyond belief, we were just dripping.
STEVE: You always got gobbed on with Billy Idol, his crowd were really into spitting. We did all over with Generation X. Marquee, Colchester, Brunel Rooms in Swindon. We did a lot of gigs with 999, a lot with the Lurkers, quite a few with the Motors coz I knew them. We also did art college gigs and any other gigs we could pick up. We did most of the London pubs during the eighteen months we were together. We had Bill Oddie in the audience at the Rat Club in Kings Cross. There were all these women in the audience complaining it was too loud. The band on before us was the remains of Thunderclap Newman. We go on and half the crowd leave during our set. Then the management wouldn't pay us, so we had to have a huge argument to get half our money.
STEWART: Did you ever get approached by major labels?
STEVE: We were quite antagonistic towards big record companies. We really wanted to be small and do our own thing, but we didn't have the money we needed to make the band work properly.
STEWART: Did the band ever make money?
STEVE: The gigs broke even. We'd do a support at the Marquee with the Motors and they'd pay us a fiver. It was fuck all. Later, it went up to a tenner. Student Unions always paid more, they were a good gig. We did Rock Against Racism gigs because they paid good money. They paid full expenses, to us that was a lot of money. Rock Against Racism paid fifty quid for a gig.
STEWART: You must have ended up out of pocket.
STEVE: We never saw any financial return for the time we put in. The manager never took any money either. Maybe he had a few drinks out of our gig expenses. We spent a lot of time rehearsing.
EDWIN: We used to write one or two songs a week. We must have had fifty songs. If we'd had the money, I'd have probably made a real go of it. A lot of the songs were never recorded.
STEWART: Did you get paid for your records?
STEVE: We got some money from the Tagmemics seven inch, which was a post-Art Attacks project, because the guy who put it out in America sent a bunch of records over. Edwin took those round and sold them through places like Rough Trade. We kept the money we got from that. I once got a juke box plays royalty cheque for six pounds eighty-four. We've had our MCPS royalties.
EDWIN: Because John Peel used to play "I Am A Dalek".
STEVE: I got about three hundred pounds out of the Art Attacks over the years, that's everything that ever came in.
STEWART: How did the tracks "Animal Bondage" and "Frankenstein's Heartbeat" end up on the "Live At The Vortex" album?
STEVE: We used to play the Vortex all the time. It was weird, we'd insult the management from the stage but they always wanted us back. The Vortex was a good gig because it used to get crowded.
EDWIN: We played with Squeeze once at the Marquee, can you imagine that? We were top of the bill!
STEVE: They always used to overload the Marquee in the old days, people would be falling over the front of the stage.
STEWART: The Marquee had such a great history, with bands like The Who paying their dues there.
STEVE: Keith Moon came into the dressing room when we played the Nashville. He was trying to hype us up before we went on stage.
EDWIN: I had a headache and dissed Keith Moon. I felt bad about it afterwards. He was trying to be nice, but I dissed him. He was a great guy Keith Moon, but he arrived at a bad time. I was just preparing to go on, and the last thing I wanted was some guy telling me what to do. I was trying to focus all my energy to go out there and do it. It was serious shit, it was like going to war.
STEWART: Why did the band break up?
EDWIN: What finished it for me was the worry about not getting my degree. I really wanted to get that degree. I had to prove I could do it, so everything else had to go. Fresh put out a posthumous first and last release, "Punk Rock Stars" backed with "Rat City". Later on, after the Art Attacks, we went into Pathway as the Tagmemics and recorded three new songs, "Chimneys", "(Do The) Big Baby" and "Take Your Brain Out For A Walk". It was an experiment, we never did any more gigs but the tracks were issued by Index. The songs are very surreal and indicate the way the Art Attacks would have developed if we'd stayed together. Devo used to include a cover of "Take Your Brain Out For A Walk" in their live set.
STEVE: At that time, we were getting fed up with the whole scene, it was crass and commercial. I started out with the idea that the punk scene would shake up the music industry. I wanted to see thousands of people releasing their own records. Just whacking them out and selling them at gigs. I felt that was getting eaten up.
First published in the booklet accompanying the CD "Outrage & Horror" by the Art Attacks (Overground, Newcastle and Hove 1996).
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