Undercover Festival

WHEN a band’s touring van breaks down it could spell disaster, but for Zounds it turned out to be their biggest stroke of luck.

“By sheer chance we broke down at the end of the road where Crass lived,” explains frontman Steve Lake. “So we went to their house and it turned out we did get on really well.”

UNDERCOVER MISSION – Steve Lake fronts Zounds at the Fiery Bird on Saturday

At this time, in the late 1970s, anarcho punk band Crass had a massive cult following, which turned out to be good news for Reading outfit Zounds.

“It sounds like something from a made-up showbiz story, but it’s true,” explains Steve. “We had started playing in 1977 and we used to go to a lot of free festivals and play at a lot of them.

“Everywhere we were playing we saw posters for Crass and Poison Girls the week before or after, but we’d never met them.”

Following the fateful meeting after the van breakdown, Crass were quick to offer Zounds the chance to release a record on their label – and this flung them into the indie punk limelight.

The first release, an EP called Can’t Cheat Karma, went to number one in NME indie charts, although the singer admits: “That’s not because people knew who we were. Their devotion to Crass meant they thought it was the sort of thing they’d like.”

The band went on to release more records via Rough Trade, including The Curse of Zounds album, but their initial career was fairly shortlived.

Steve says: “In 1982 we stopped playing for a lot of reasons. It was getting to be less fun. There was a lot of trouble at gigs in those days, the late ’70s and early ’80s were pretty violent times.”

Steve continued to exist on the fringes of the DIY music scene, putting on gigs and playing occasionally, and eventually reformed Zounds in 2007, leading to the release of the album, The Redemption of Zounds, in 2011.

He is loving the band’s new lease of life, except for one thing.

“The songs I wrote came out of our experience, which happened to be a harsh experience. But the songs about ecology, consumerism, housing shortages are sadly still problems for people today.”

Zounds will play at the Undercover Festival at the Fiery Bird, Woking, this weekend, Friday and Saturday, 13 and 14 September.

Undercover Festival lineup

Tomorrow (Friday): Spear of Destiny (Kirk Brandon), 1919, The Satellites, The Blue Carpet Band, R.E.D. (Religion Equals Decay)

Saturday: Towers of London, Menace, Wonk Unit, Rubella Ballet, Zounds, The Fanzines, Actified UK, Wipes

For the full interview get the 12 September edition of the News & Mail

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.

The reformed Menace will appear at the Undercover Festival at Woking’s Fiery Bird

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.

Menace in their early days

“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.