Text by Mary Anne Cassata
Images from the Internet
© 1985 FFanzeen
The following article/interview with British punk band The Vibrators was originally published in FFanzeen magazine, issue #13, in 1985. It was written by Mary Anne Cassata. – RBF
The Vibrators. With a name like that, what else can it be put a punk era band? This brute British quartet reunited a little over a year ago and since then has continued to drive their audiences into a frenzy at each performance. The members, Knox (guitar / keyboard / vocals), John Ellis (guitar / keyboard / vocals), Eddie (drums / vocals), and Gary Tibbs (bass) have defied sensationalism by screaming at their audiences, incorporating bondage themes on stage, and smashing guitars and amplifiers.
The Vibrators, who original formed in 1976, consider themselves to be the only true innovators of British punk music. One of the group’s early performances resulted in the premier Punk Festival, in London, which also featured the Clash, the Damned, and the Sex Pistols. Their debut single, “We Vibrate,” caused quite a stir in Britain upon its release, and the album, Pure Mania, won the support of new fans in America. The second single from the album, “Baby Baby,” followed with massive European press and helped sell out shows all over the country.
[Pure Mania (1977)]
The music is extremely harsh on the ears, but the Vibrators equally satisfy an ever growing army of punk maniacs. Lead vocalist Knox, who refused to reveal his last name, was asked to comment on the group’s penchant for violence. “All this talk about violence is rubbish, really,” he stated. “It isn’t like that at all with us. Our music may be violent, but the people that come to our shows are there to have a good time and that is what we give them. That’s all.”
Sounds like a contradiction to me.
Recently, the Vibrators performed in the New York City area to highly enthusiastic fans. Knox and Eddie took some time out to speak with FFanzeen about their first arrival in America, and their Stateside album, Alaska 127 What entailed from the interview was a very open and frank discussion about the group’/s career and future plans.
["Baby Baby) (1977)]
FFanzeen: This is your first time touring in America. How do you think it’s going?
Knox: Tonight will be our third show in the States. The first shows we did were not very good. We didn’t like it too much.
FF: Why is that?
Knox: First of all, we are on a very punishing schedule. We are not used to the heating here in the hotels and all. You get laryngitis and colds. We are sort of knocked out. Everything has goon really well. There wasn’t a disaster or anything like that; it was more equipment failure than anything else.
FF: I heard you got a very good reception in Canada.
Knox: Oh, yes, the people really liked us a lot there. We have a domestic release there called “Baby Blue Eyes.” It is doing quite well on the charts there. I really didn’t like Toronto too well. There are a lot of expensive buildings there. I saw all these people on the streets begging for money. It made me very paranoid. All this money and the people are really poor.
FF: New York audiences are among the toughest to perform for. How did you feel about that?
Knox: We knew it would be. It was alright. We came in from Cincinnati and ended up here only in time for the soundcheck. We have hardly had any sleep at all. We thought we played well, I guess. It wasn’t really an over-the-top show, but that is how we wanted it. We know we are capable of doing much better than we did. Besides, it wasn’t the right kind of place to do our show. We like it to be a certain way. There wasn’t enough fooling around. It seemed more like a presentation than anything else.
FF: In 1976, what was it like to perform at the very first Punk Festival, in London? I can imagine all the violence that night.
Knox: Oh yes, it was very violent that night. We didn’t get any proper reviews on that show either. Such a shame; a real pity and all. People just thought it was distasteful, but it put punk on the map. Just to talk about it is very exciting. Punk music, more or less, just had to happen. It was really always in the air. It was a new kind of music that brought people about that were bored with the old stuff.
Eddie: Punk means a different thing now than it did before. It used to mean to be individual, to be yourself. It is very much a one-dimensional thing now. Personally, I think we belong to it now just as much as we did before.
FF: How has punk music changed over the years?
Eddie: Today, every song is played in 2/4 and it is fast and furious. There is little room left for craft anymore. As it stands in 1983-1984, it means a different thing altogether. It is up to us to make the music and let the people fit into their little bags. I have heard kids say we are an amazing band.
Knox: If you look at early pictures and styles of punk, they have changed quite a bit. The hardcore look and the hardcore sound has changed. In those days, it was better and more inventive. We were before the Clash and the Pistols – no, we were about the same time as the Pistol. We knew all these people from before. We started our band in school. We had always talked about starting a band. Most of the successful people in punk seem to have gone through the art school syndrome. I did.
FF: What events led to the band’s breakup in 1980?
[Alaska 127 (1984)]
Knox: Some of the people in the band began to go off in different directions. Some got into drinking and things like that. All they did was fuck it up for the rest of us. It was more like a family splitting up, or a marriage gone wrong. It is one of those things that is very difficult to talk about. Sometimes when you become very successful and our, you find out some people aren’t really into doing a lot of that. The band never really reached its full potential.
Eddie: We just carried it on and on ‘til it came to a grinding halt. When the others left, I kept going. When we got together last year we put out an album called guilty. Our latest album is Alaska 127.
FF: Eddie, why was “Baby Blue Eyes” released in the States and “Flying High” in England? Why not the same song for both countries? It’s harder for us to obtain British imports.
Eddie: It wasn’t us, it was the record company. They thought it was the best thing to do. But we think “Baby should be a better choice for America.
FF: Do you usually write the songs as a unit?
Eddie: We usually come out with ideas between us and work on them together. It seems to work out fine between us. We get four different varieties; sort of like the Beatles.
FF: Judging on what music is popular today, is there a remote possibility of the Vibrators becoming more mainstream rock?
Eddie: We seem to be moving in an upward direction and punk, so to speak, seems to be going down a blind alley. Punk music has moved away from where we are now. We have sort of retained a position where we have created music that is exciting and intelligent, as well. I think punk has moved away from being an intelligent source of music. Hopefully, it will move in a forward direction again. What we are trying to do is experiment with new ideas without losing that sort of flavor.
Knox: We have run over rocky ground before, so we are used to it. We are very adaptable and getting better all the time. Punk people don’t realize that without change it becomes stale, or a dead form of expression. We have to change our music to get better. Punk music is just another type of rock music, and one day it will be assimilated into ordinary rock.
FF: Do you still spit on the audience?
Eddie: Yeah, but the audience spits at us, too. When we first started out in London, there was a lot of spitting and things like that. It has sort of died out now.
Knox: Those kids had really gotten good at gobbing from 20 feet away. We used to let them gob and shake their hands.
FF: While on stage, why all this aggressiveness toward the audience?
[Pure Punk (2009)]
Eddie: We have a tremendous amount of energy. If there is violence, it is done in a constructive way. From time to time we do break tings on stage. It’s the excitement and all.
Knox: I can get reasonably aggressive now. I am very much into playing. The violence at our shows is very small. When the violence is done on stage it seems like the right thing to do. Sometimes I think I can really smash this bloke one in the head.
FF: Then the audience still plays an integral part in your performance?
Eddie: Yes, the people are there to enjoy themselves. They dance and jump around, leap and scream. That is why they are there. Wee don’t want them to sit and politely clap. We want them to have a good time at our shows.
Knox: If you go to our concerts the kids really go crazy knocking each other about. It looks like they are fighting but when they leave they wring out their shirts, and take a deep breath and stagger on home. I want to give the people that come to our shows the buzz that the Who gave me.