As told by Jaz Wiseman – many thanks to him for giving us the text and images for this great serialisation of the Virus story.
For those of you who are unaware here, this has nothing to do with the crossover-thrash band Virus (with Henry Heston et al) who are also a UK band and (still are) around at the same time.
Chapter 1. “We’re a garage band…”
It all started in my parents’ garage in Hyde Road, Gillingham, Dorset. Hyde Road was a newer part of a large housing estate at the northern end of our small rural town and I lived there from the age of 8 with my parents, granddad and my older brother and one of my three older sisters. Us three kids were squeezed into the middle size room that must have been awful for my sister and it troubled my mum for years.
By the time I was 13 me and my best mate, Marcus ‘Bowzer’ Bowering had decided we were going to form a punk band although we didn’t really try to do anything properly until 1983 when we were both 15. Our first band was called The Victims – we formed in 1982 with my old mate Dave Oliver and Mike Hill completing the line up. They were a year older than Bowzer and me and in true bumpkin punk style we never even managed one rehearsal before someone told us there was another band with the same name, so we changed it to Negative Attitude that really hit the nail on the head in terms of our musical outlook.
With the exception of Bowz, who could play three or four major chords, none of us had any idea about instruments and at various stages of the band I seem to recall I was the drummer, bassist, guitarist and vocalist without ever doing any of them at a rehearsal. We did manage to get Mike a drum kit off a friend at school and I picked up a battered guitar and a 1960s 15w valve amp for £15 from the local auction. I didn’t get on with six strings so let Bowz have it and we managed one get together in a tiny little outbuilding on the Duke of Somerset’s estate where Mike’s dad was his butler – I seem to remember we just took turns at making a racket for about ten minutes before Mike’s dad appeared and told us to stop and that was that.
Kicking around Gillingham and rivalling us in their outright laziness were Urban Rebellion, a band made up of Steve ‘Crabby’ Crabb on guitar, vocalist Des Hoskins , Rich ‘Brock’ Brocklehurst who not only owned a drum kit but could actually play it a bit, Pete Kenyon on £20 short-scale Hondo bass and classically trained Pat Norris on keyboards. They were all about three or four years older than us but as punks were so few and far between in rural Dorset they welcomed us into their circle of mates. I think they probably managed a couple of rehearsals at Gillingham Youth Centre and suggested we do the same – we had one practice there in a small room next to the main office in the early summer of 1983 where it became obvious to Geoff Bray, the youth club leader, that having an abysmal punk band ‘practice’ next to his office clearly wasn’t going to work. He put it to us and Urban Rebellion that after the 1983 summer holidays he would let us rehearse in the youth centre’s garage on the proviso that we would clean it out and sort out the space. So that meant six weeks during the holidays when we would have nowhere to make our noise so I said I’d ask my mum if we could use our garage and to my surprise she said ‘Yes’.
On the first day of the holiday, Crabby armed with his guitar, knocked on my door in the afternoon and said he was there for Urban Rebellion to practice that night – blimey he’s keen I thought, I’d only managed to get the old disco PA, bass and basic drum kit into the garage earlier the same morning. The PA had four inputs, perfect for bass, guitar and the converted tape-recorder microphone I had rewired to sing through. With a couple of hours on our hands until the rest of his band arrived, we chatted and listened to lots of my records, which knowing Crabby’s taste would have included The Mob, Flux of Pink Indians, Crass and the Subhumans as he was really into the anarcho side of punk.
At around 8 o’clock it was pretty obvious that his band mates weren’t going to turn up so he said how about having a jam – bearing in mind that although I was saying I was a bassist, I’d probably only ever played the instrument for about 15 minutes in my life and I had no real idea about if it was in tune or that a bass and guitar should be in tune together and play the same notes in basic punk. Crabby said “I’ve got a song, it’s called ‘No One Smiles in Moscow’ and it goes like this” and he played me the whole song singing the words as he went through it. “Er OK, I said, play it again and I’ll try and play along” and somehow I played something that vaguely fitted to what he was doing. “Great!” he shouted in delight, “I’ve been trying to get the band to play this but we never rehearse!” I wondered if they were supposed to be practising that night or if it were some cunning plan that Crabby had hatched. Either way it was fun and after about four or five goes at it Crabby felt it worked and he had his first punk song down. I said I had a little Casio keyboard and that it had some very basic beats so I could get it to play and put the microphone next to the speaker so we could play along with a drum part – he loved that idea so I set it up and finding a very rudimentary beat we bashed out No One Smiles in Moscow about six or seven times that evening. He said “We should form a band and call it Nymphomania” – “If you want to, yeh” I replied and that was that. Crabby set off home just after 10 o’clock, happy as larry that he’d formed a new band and that we’d cracked his song.
The next morning Bowz came round my house and I told him about the previous nights events, I could see he was a tiny bit envious so he suggested we start practising straight away. I had the Sex Pistols ‘The Great Rock n Roll Swindle’ songbook and Bowz took a look through it and said “I can play that one” – this turned out to be ‘Belsen Was A Gas’ so I said “Well I can’t read music but I’ll plod along on the bass” and in about an hour we had the world’s most appalling cover of the song – I think Bowz sang it as well as playing guitar. I got the trusty Casio VL Tone to find a beat, probably the same one as I used on No Smiles In Moscow, and we thought we were great because we could play a Sex Pistols song.
That afternoon Crabby knocked on the door again and he had come to practise again – I should point out that at the time he was an apprentice baker so had very early starts in the morning and tended to finish his work around 2pm. I didn’t realise we were practising again as we’d made no plans but Bowz was keen to hear No One Smiles In Moscow so we played it to him. The next thing is Bowz singing it and will be the band’s vocalist if he can play guitar on Belsen and Bouncing Babies, a song that Dave had written some lyrics for and that Negative Attitude tried getting together but couldn’t. So now there are three of us, Crabby – guitarist, vocals and band-leader, Bowz – vocals and occasional guitar and me on the bass. We are aided and abetted by Casio who we pretend is a real drummer. I’m feeling a bit out done by Crabby and Bowz’s ability to write songs so that night I wrote a song on the bass called ‘Take No Notice’, I wrote the words in about five minutes and at the next practice we have I’m going to show them it.
The next day Bowz and Crabby come round again and we play Moscow, Belsen and start bashing out Bouncing Babies, then it’s my turn. “I’ve got this song” I said nervously and begin to play and sing it – I can still hear it in my head now and it’s horrendous but I guess you have to start somewhere – Crabby is saying something like “Yeh that’s great, play it again”. I love Crabby, his enthusiasm was infectious but sadly he was a bit tone deaf and could never tell if his guitar was in tune or not but he liked it and before the day is done Nymphomania have four songs. We have practised three days in a row, that’s more that Negative and Attitude and Urban Rebellion combined have ever managed and Crabby’s already talking about gigs!
Nymphomania are important in the history of Virus because without Crabby’s endless energy we would have never formed. Bowz always wanted to be the guitarist not a vocalist so after three practices and seeing how basically easy it is to write the most basic of turgid songs, we decide that we’ll have another band to accommodate this. I will again play the bass and for the moment we’ll be called The Virus – one of the many names on my band names idea bit of paper that I used to carry round with me all the time. I don’t know why but we thought we’d ask Des to sing as he looks like a singer so we agree to ask him next time we see him and hatch a plan to ask Rich Brock to play drums.
Within a few weeks Nymphomania had recruited Simon Gillibrand as a drummer, his kit being enlarged with some homemade plastic oil drums with stretched black polythene (bumpkin punks are very resourceful don’t you know!) and by the end of the summer holiday the band have about eight songs sorted – The Virus on the other hand have one basic idea that is a bit of a Joy Division rip-off, no singer, no drummer and definitely no lyrics.
Despite the numerous complaints from the neighbours, the six weeks spent in my parents garage that summer holiday have been a success and a turning point – we’d no longer be lazy when it comes to being in a band and we actually began to take it slightly more seriously. The Youth Centre beckoned and now we could really start pushing on with Nymphomania and ‘The’ Virus.
– END OF CHAPTER 1 –
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