Like any genre, Punk was never about just one ‘thing’ – it was a movement made up of many moving parts. Behind the torn jeans, mohawks, leather jackets and missing teeth (thanks, mosh pits), Punk was first and foremost about the music. Initially, a reaction against the overblown pomp of Progressive Rock and Disco (and any other musical movement that the Punk kids deemed pretentious and worthy of a kick in the gonads), Punk became the most influential movement in Rock history since Elvis had his crown stolen by The Beatles in 1964. In 1976, Punk Rock scared people. However, it wasn’t meant to destroy and move on – Punk was about taking Rock back to ground zero and rebuilding it from the ground up. Punk stole the blueprint from Chuck Berry’s safe and brought Rock ‘n’ Roll back to its basic foundation. Sex Pistols was the first band to gain international notoriety, but the whole of England was soon swarming with equally important bands like The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Damned, et al. It was a beautiful thing. These bands knew how to write a cracking tune and that is why they are still remembered 40 years after Punk broke wide open.
While not as popular in the U.S., The Vibrators are most definitely one of the finest of the original Punk lot in the UK. Signing to Epic Records in 1976, The Vibrators’ short tenure at the label – two years – produced some of the most vital music of the era. The quartet – Ian ‘Knox’ Carnochan (guitar/vocals), Pat Collier (bass/vocals), John Ellis (guitar/vocals) and drummer John ‘Eddie’ Edwards – released the stunning PURE MANIA album in 1977. The band took their Rock ‘n’ Roll influences, dipped them in Punk energy and let them explode in the studio. The energy can still be felt four decades on. This is Rock ‘n’ Roll, baby!
The following year, Pat Collier had vacated the bass position and Gary Tibbs (Roxy Music, Adam & The Ants, etc.) stepped in. 1978’s V2 was more adventurous than the debut but no less exciting. After V2, they left Epic and spent the next 39 years as an independent band, recording what and when they wanted. The line-up has changed and morphed over the years with band members coming and going as they please. Eddie has carried The Vibrators banner high with Knox standing front and center for most of the next 35+ years. Knox retired from live performances but remains a Vibrator through and through.
Since those first two Epic albums, The Vibrators has released a slew of under-appreciated albums that continued to expand the sound of their early recordings while taking in other influences as well. Throwing on an album like FIFTH AMENDMENT (1985) or BUZZIN’ (1999), you’re likely to hear a Velvet Underground influence rubbing shoulders with a Chuck Berry riff while Eddie bangs away in the back like it’s 1977. Quite brilliant, actually. And there’s a lot more where that came from! The Vibrators do what they want… and what they do is essential listening.
No matter how riveting a new Vibrators album is – check out their brand new PAST, PRESENT AND INTO THE FUTURE album via their Pledge Music page – The Vibrators musical legacy will always be the recordings they made when they first signed with Epic Records. Thankfully, you don’t have to run around and buy loads of expensive and rare releases just to complete your Vibrators collection – Cherry Red has done it for you! THE EPIC YEARS: 1976 – 78 is a four CD set that continues PURE MANIA (British mix) with bonus tracks, V2 with bonus tracks, a CD of rare Peel Sessions and OGWT recordings plus a fourth disc containing a raw mix of a live show taped in the Summer of ’77 at the London Marquee. It really is a great set that takes you right back to the eye of the Punk hurricane. You’ll never want to leave…
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to get some questions over to John EDDIE Edwards, who took time out of his buzzy schedule to fill us all in on The Vibrators, then and now…
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: Now that THE EPIC YEARS box is available, how are you feeling about the way the package turned out? This set is proof that The Vibrators was definitely one of the most vital bands of the era…
JOHN ‘EDDIE’ EDWARDS: Yes, it came out really well. Everything is there and great artwork and notes so no complaint. It shows we were one of the pioneers at the time for sure.
SPAZ: The members of the band were a little more experienced than most of the other Punk bands at that time. Had you spent many years together in the pubs before the Punk movement came along?
EDDIE: I wasn’t experienced. I was told by John Ellis to play drums as Pat was a great bass player, and I could play drums a bit. We started in Feb ’76 so hadn’t been in pubs as a band although the others were all good players. I just added the energy and enthusiasm. Our first gig was after two rehearsals so hardly what you’d call many years together. We were in at the start and one of the first bands to get the ball rolling.
SPAZ: The Vibrators’ songs were rooted more in raw Rock ‘n’ Roll than they were in the then-burgeoning Punk music scene. Was it just luck that you were already playing that type of music before that scene came along?
EDDIE: Luck had nothing to do with it. We were playing fast exciting Rock ‘n’ Roll and helped the scene get started. We played music that we liked before anyone called it Punk. We were at the first Punk Festival at the 100 Club in London in September because we were one of the first to play that music and had a strong following in London.
SPAZ: What were the band’s influences in the early days? Did you purposely keep your sound rooted in basic Rock ‘n’ Roll or did you embrace the raw vibe of Punk? Or a bit of both?
EDDIE: We had all sorts of influences from Buddy Holly, The Kinks, Beatles , Faces, Gary Glitter, Mud , Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Velvet Underground, MC5 and many others. We tried to distil it into something of our own. We had three writers so had more influences and styles to draw on. Three singers doing lead vocals which was also unusual. We knew we had to create something different that was our own. There is no point in copying others. That is what has set us apart from others.
SPAZ: Before releasing PURE MANIA, you backed Chris Spedding on a recording session. Was that your first introduction to the art of making records? Spedding himself played this stripped down Rock ‘n’ Roll long before Punk…
EDDIE: That was my first record but we had been in studios before doing demos and Pat had worked in Decca studios. We met Spedo at the 100 Club Fest and he was keen to work with us and do our own single at the same time. It was very hard to get a record deal at the time so it was a good break for us. Spedo is also on the GUEST LIST album with us that came out a couple of years ago. Very good he is too. We learnt a lot from him. Thanks Chris!!
SPAZ: Most of PURE MANIA’s songs sound like they were just great Rock ‘n’ Roll songs with a new energy. Is that how you would describe it? Punk wasn’t just about attitude – the bands with solid, well written songs (like The Vibrators) were the ones that have held up over time.
EDDIE: I agree totally. It was all about getting that energy and enthusiasm back into Rock ‘n’ Roll and not doing lame cover versions. It was not long after “Bohemian Rhapsody” came out and I hated all that overblown pretentious crap that was around and wanted to get back to real music. I felt people had been duped and said so at the time. We wanted to change that. Our songs have still stood the test of time. That was my aim – to still be playing now, on our own terms. We are one of the few to achieve that. No Disco Rock on our albums, mate!! Knox, Pat, and John were all top writers for sure and that is what lasts.
SPAZ: Do you remember much about recording the PURE MANIA album? Was it just your live set at the time or did you have to pick and choose from a much larger batch of songs?
EDDIE: It was at CBS studios in London and we wanted to get it as live as possible so got our live engineer in to produce (Robin Mayhew). The drums were set up in the corner and it was basically our live set, less a few that we couldn’t fit on the album. We did few overdubs and although there are tubular bells at the end of “Baby Baby,” it is two guitars, bass and drums. It took ten days to record and mix, although we did go in and do a second mix for the US release which took a day. So there are two versions. The English mix is on the box set. The live songs left off are on the LIVE AT THE MARQUEE CD. That CD has the complete show: for some reason known to our old manager, some were left off when it came out about 20 years ago. We then started writing for the second album!!
SPAZ: Was the band’s initial success a surprise to you? The Vibrators seemed to be motivated by more than just having songs in the charts…
EDDIE: Our main motivation was to get back to playing live and not in huge stadiums but clubs and venues where the audience are part of the show. Also to make records that would be played in another 40 or 50 years and indeed after we are gone. I guess we have a certain amount of success in that. After all, Chuck Berry is still played but not Pat Boone, which was not true at the time. Also we have been covered lots of time and have a good deal of respect from fellow musicians and fans. So I may not have made too much money but I made a career I’m a little proud of. Not everyone can say that. I wasn’t surprised though (about our early success): we put a lot of work in at the time and we were bloody good on stage. We have also tried to keep that standard going through the years and have been pretty good at it. Not too many bands can keep up the pace of our shows.
SPAZ: V2 seems a more ‘angry’ album. Was this fresh material written after Pure Mania or did you also use some songs left over that you never recorded? And if these were newer songs, were they influenced by the scene that was going on around you at the time?
EDDIE: This was mainly written after PURE MANIA. I don’t think there were any left-over songs. We worked on it at a place in Berlin and the main influence was Berlin itself and the wall and the vibe that was there at the time. Hence “Troops of Tomorrow,” “Warzone,” “24 Hour People,” and so on have that Berlin vibe. Hard work but great fun being there. Getting mixed up for the Bader Meinhof gang and raided by the police! They followed us around and I’d do a quick U-Turn and drive back and wave at them! All sorts of other shenanigans, too, Biker gangs, girls, parties, police. We had it all!!!
SPAZ: The production seems more focused on V2 and the arrangements were more dynamic. Were you feeling more comfortable in the studio by this time?
EDDIE: This was due to Vic Maile, who was a fantastic producer. He had great ideas but also was willing to listen to ours and take them on board. It was Vic who made you feel like you were doing something good. I have done a lot of work with Vic and he was such a great guy. Miss him.
SPAZ: Who thought of the strings on “Nazi Baby”. Brilliant and brave musical move.
EDDIE: It was our manager (Dave Wernham) and Knox who wanted the strings and they were done in CBS studios. The arrangement was done by Nicky Graham at CBS and came out really well. I love it. We wanted to move on from the ‘live’ thing of the first album and this really put a mark on it.
SPAZ: Any specific memories about recording V2?
EDDIE: Just it was brilliant FUN. We knew it was a big move forward and Vic was such a funny guy to work with. Full of stories and reminiscences about Jimi Hendrix, Kinks and all the bands he had worked with. We even nicked a bit of Jimi Hendrix guitar off a bootleg to say that we had Jimi on one of our albums! Genius!!
SPAZ: The Peel Sessions disc focuses on recordings for John Peel’s BBC Radio show. Here in the U.S., we never had a show quite like Peel’s. How important was he to The Vibrators and Punk in general. He seemed to have exquisite taste in music…
EDDIE: John Peel was the main man. He broke all the great bands and helped everyone – from The Faces, Led Zeppelin, to us and our contemporaries – break out. There was little real rock on the radio and so you’d have to listen to his show to find the upcoming bands. He made so many bands over here and was a genius DJ. Thanks John.
SPAZ: Do you prefer the Peel Sessions recordings over the studio versions overall?
EDDIE: We tried to just get over that live thing on the first session as we did not have a deal at that time. That shows how John Peel was so important. For the others, we tried to give the a bit more variety and production, hence the start of “She’s Bringing You Down.” They all came out well and have stood the test of time. You only had about six hours to set up record and mix the lot, so good work and a good discipline were needed.
SPAZ: The fourth disc here is a raw, live recording from the London Marquee recorded nearly 40 years ago. You’ve played numerous gigs over the decades but do you remember this particular show?
EDDIE: Too right! We were there for three nights and all sold-out with sweat dripping of the ceiling. We had more in than Jimi Hendrix they said at the time and it was about 110 degrees on stage. We had to pin down the stands and monitors and put big fans in for the second and third nights because it was so hot and rowdy. The queue started outside at around 3pm. No advance tickets in those days. We used the version of “London Girls” from those tapes for the second single and the rest of it was lost for years.
SPAZ: The band continued to record some pretty amazing material since the two years covered in this box set. Do you feel that your post-Epic recordings are overlooked? And do you have any particular favorite albums from the ‘80s up through now?
EDDIE: Yes, all our albums are pretty good and we have kept a good standard . The last album for Pledge has the old and new line-ups and sounds fresh today as ever – PAST, PRESENT AND INTO THE FUTURE. Also HUNTING FOR YOU is good and the GARAGE PUNK covers has a great sound by Pat Collier, who also did PUNK MANIA: RETURN TO THE ROOTS. That kicks along a few great songs too. Knox still writes a good song as does Pete!
SPAZ: What is next for Eddie and The Vibrators?
EDDIE: Next up is the Pledge album, as I said. Also, more tours and shows. We do the odd show with the ’78 line up when Knox is fit enough but usually it’s me Pete and Nigel working our butts off all over. We have another Euro tour, more in the UK and USA. Maybe this will be my last year, maybe not. I’ll see how long i can keep it going.
SPAZ: What music are you currently listening to?
EDDIE: Mainly old stuff but there are quite a few new young bands out there. Check out The Flytraps and The Wild Ones. All-girl bands that play great Garage Rock. But I’m still a sucker for all that old Hendrix, Faces, Kinks, Beatles stuff. Oh there’s a new little punk band I saw recently who were quite good. I believe they were called The UK Subs. If they try hard, they may be as good as The Vibrators one day!
The Vibrators 2017 (Nigel, Pete & Eddie)