THE punk rock ethic that “anyone can do it” can rarely have had more resonance than for London four-piece Menace.
The band had spent most of 1976 on a gruelling tour of military bases in Germany, playing rock ’n’ roll and R&B covers to airmen and soldiers – and just about making ends meet.
When the band returned to England, they discovered that punk was emerging as a major musical force… and an old school colleague was the major star.
“The Sex Pistols singer Johnny Rotten went to our school in London, St William of York, and we couldn’t get over it,” says Menace drummer Noel Martin, who is still with the band.
“He wasn’t ‘one of the lads’ at school, he was one of the ones that wasn’t a footballer or one of the tough kids, he was just ‘this kid’ and suddenly he was a rock star.
“We decided to get in on it. We wrote some songs like Screwed Up and Insane Society and then our second or third gig was at the Roxy.”
Menace became regulars at the legendary punk club in Covent Garden, playing with the likes of The Lurkers, Penetration, The Killjoys (with future Dexy’s Midnight Runners frontman Kevin Rowland on vocals), The Rezillos and Sham 69.
“Miles Copeland came to see us and signed us to Illegal Records straight away,” recalls Noel. “Because we could play reasonably well, we stood out I suppose.”
The initial result was the 1977 Screwed Up/Insane Society single, which is now a valuable commodity.
Other singles like GLC and Last Year’s Youth followed as Menace gained a big punk/skinhead following around London.
“We had a great time,” says the drummer. “Punk meant freedom for us. Before, you couldn’t get a gig for love nor money in London, you had to go cap in hand to some agent. It was hard work.
“When punk came along there was loads of shows, everybody could play because suddenly there were so many kids into it.
“We got quite a following. It was real – small but real – people were singing our songs and we were playing three or four times a week in London.”
However, things petered out around the end of 1979 when frontman Morgan Webster left. The rest of the band became a backing band for Vermillion, as The Aces, for a while. Noel says: “Then, from 1981 I didn’t play for years. I started a wedding business, so I was busy every weekend.”
But in 1999 Noel and former bandmate Charlie joined a band called The Collection with John Lacey and played a few gigs. One night they decided to play the Menace classic GLC and Noel says: “The place went nuts!
“Afterwards, someone said ‘That’s the best Menace cover I’ve heard’ and I was like ‘Eh? I was in Menace!’ I started getting calls saying ‘Are you reforming?’, so we decided to do more of the old songs and eventually decided we might as well be Menace.
“It’s more enjoyable, but in a different way. Back then, we were kids and everything was completely insane. We didn’t have a care in the world. But now everyone knows our tunes, everyone knows us and we’re enjoying it to the max.
“We only had 11 songs back in 1977, so we’d often play them more than once! We lasted for three years with 11 songs.
“Now we have a much bigger set. We still play GLC, Screwed Up, Last Year’s Youth, I Need Nothing and we have new songs that sound very similar.”
Menace will play alongside Spear of Destiny, Towers of London, Rubella Ballet, Zounds, Wonk Unit and many others at the Undercover Festival at the Fiery Bird, Woking, on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 September.