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Sunday, 7 September 2014

KNOX - The Vibrators / Urban Dogs / Fallen Angels (*ARTICLE / INTERVIEW*)

The Vibrators at Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage 1984. Pic: Unknown
I first met Knox back in 1984 when The Vibrators played at Bowes Lyon House in my home town, Stevenage. I interviewed him and the rest of the band for a fanzine I had being doing on and off since 1980. Unfortunately the last issue was never finished as I got myself a job so the interview was never published (although it can now be seen here on The Vibrators website) I only went for the job interview because it was in London, and the Unemployment office (or Job Centres as they now call them) paid for my train travel, and I thought it would be a good excuse to visit the smoke and buy a couple of albums from Virgin Records (This was before Richard Branson took over the world with his 'friendly capitalism') The two albums I bought were The Fallen Angels (Knox's album he recorded with members of Hanoi Rocks) and The Vibrators Alaska 127. I remember this because, some things you just remember, like being thirteen and hearing Baby, Baby on the radio back in 1977 and seeing them play Automatic Lover on TOTP a year later. The Vibrators were just as important to me as The Clash back then, and they still are.

The Vibrators were never a never a 'hip' 77 group; too old, too much hair, bandwagon jumpers (never mind Knox had been preforming this shit pre 76) they were outsiders in a movement of outsiders. Their debut album Pure Mania is a classic, as is it's follow up V2. The original bass player Pat Collier left the band after the first album. Pat became a producer, and still twiddles the knobs in the studio for The Vibrators to this day, as well as having recorder a variety of old and new Rock'nRollers over the years. Garry Tibbs replaced him for V2, after poor sales of the second album John Ellis left the band and became a hired guitar hand for a variety of bands. There was never to be a third album, just one more single Judy Says, before it all fell apart. Eddie carried on with the name and a new line-up featuring ex members of Eater and The Electric Chairs, and released a couple of singles; Disco In Moscow and Gimme Some Lovin' good as they were, it wasn't really The Vibrators. The voice that gave the band their edge (in my opinion) wasn't there.....Knox had gone solo.
Knox and The Trailer Trash Orchestra at The Victoria, Hitchin 2011 Pic: Haddy Webb

During the 80's as well as playing guitar for Alex Chilton and releasing two singles Gigolo Aunt and She's So Good Loooking) Knox worked with several second wave punk bands, producing The Fits Last Laugh E.P and recording with Chaotic Discord.
He also released an album  on Razor Records; Plutonium Express, a lost gem that is due to be re-released soon by Cleopatra Records. Knox also had the Fallen Angels who released a couple more albums In Loving Memory and Wheel of Fortune, with slightly less Hanoi Rocks than the first one, and we mustn’t forget the Urban Dogs, a partnership with UK Sub Charlie Harper that is still going strong today, their last album Bonefield is a sublime slice of the Punk Rock Blues.

1982 saw the original line up get back together, releasing three, good but slightly patchy albums; Guilty, Alaska 127 and Fifth Amendment, before John and Pat left again, leaving and Knox and Eddie to soldier on with some new troops, mainly comprising of either Micky Owen or Nigel Bennett on guitar with a variety of bassists including Mark Duncan a fella called Nik and Robbie (now in The Derellas) Tart. Many studio albums were released along the way; Recharged, Meltdown, Vicious Circle, Volume Ten, Hunting For You, Unpunked, French Lessons With Correction, Buzzin' and Energise all of them are worthy of your attention.

For the last few years, the line up has been pretty stable, comprising Knox, Eddie and Pete, although due to health issues, since 2011 Knox has been taking it easy and hasn't been touring with the band although he has contributed songs and played on their last couple of albums; Under The Radar, On The Guest List and a new one which is due out soon. He's also collaborated with The Trailer Trash Orchestra, and recorded The Knoxville Boy album, the finest County Punk this side of St Albans. What's next for Knox? Well.... like I said there's a new Vibrators album on it's way a re-release of his only solo album Plutonium Express. and a new Urban Dogs single. He can also be found contributing vocals to one track on the recently released genre busting Rhythm and Punk Review album by The Mutants. 
The Vibrators at Bowes Lyon House, Stevenage 1984. Pic: Unknown
Anyway enough of the history and I didn't even touch on his paintings, here's a interview I did with Knox via a couple of emails a couple of months ago.

If you compiled a 12 track album of Ten Knox songs, what would they be? 
This is always changing I think. Anyway today (6 July 2014) the list is:
Modern World – it just does its thing, it doesn’t pander to an audience, and has nice production.
Nazi Baby – I love its intensity.
Juice On – sing-a-long and reliably nasty, could be the theme song for Deliverance 2 (if they make it!)
Houston Tower (Fallen Angels)
How Beautiful You Are
Baby Baby – of course!! When I play it I feel like I’m on a sunny holiday.
Birdland Is Closed
Prisoner In The Mirror
Brand New
Rock ‘n’ Roll Clown

Which do you enjoy more...Painting or Song writing? (I always think your songs are like aural paintings.)
I enjoy them equally I think. I really love painting, especially if I’m doing a stress-free painting, like sitting in the garden doing a painting of the garden, just putting on the paint. Portraits always have to look like the person, so quite early on you can’t just mess about with the paint, you have to really concentrate. As for song writing, fiddling about with the early free demo’s is great and can be very exciting, but again pulling the thing together and making a good demo can be really hard work. In the past I’ve spent days and days on a song, changing it a bit and re-demo’ing it. I don’t know if people realise the amount of work that can go into a song that sounds ‘obvious’ to them.

Should the Manic Street Preachers pay you some royalties for the guitar lick in No Mercy? (Motown Junk by the Manics has a very, very similar refrain.)
No Mercy was actually written by an old bass player, Mark Duncan.. The problem is if you hear a song, or part of a song, which sounds like it’s derived from someone else’s previous song you never know how much is plagiarism and how much is ‘in the style of’ (or a ‘tribute’ to an earlier song), and then it could just be someone else writing the same tune totally by coincidence, or perhaps unwittingly.

How did the Don't Throw It All Away collaboration in 1984 with Chaotic Discord come about? (Great song!)
I don’t remember the details of how it came about at all. I must have been asked to do it at some stage, and then I remember going down to record it in Bristol. It was their song, not one of mine. I was met at the station, I think then driven to the studio and was singing within a few minutes of arriving there. I missed the last train back and had to stay the night. (I was at art school for a while in Bristol years before and in those days the trains to London used to go all night. Not that night!)

Are all the songs of yours on On The Guest List new numbers, or old unrecorded/unreleased songs?
They’re nearly all old songs. I have loads of them, and I think at the time of making the album I was quite busy and thought, I know I’ll check out some of my old home demo’s and I really liked them, and thought the ones that were chosen for the album were good. When The Vibrators are making an album I’ll present the band with more songs than they need and they choose the ones they like. It’s become slightly odd as I write and sing most of the songs but am no longer playing in the band. I’m like a tiny version of Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys.

What's next for Knox musically?
I’m not sure. It’s an ever-changing landscape out there. I worked on the most recent Vibrators’ album a few weeks ago, which should be coming out here in the UK on Captain Oi!, with a different mix of it coming out on Cleopatra in the USA. I was also helping with songs for a 60’s girl band project for Cleopatra recently. I’ve been thinking of making a ska album of the Vibrators’ greatest hits as that would be a nice project. I’ve got lots of songs so I will be looking at tons of projects. I need to live another few hundred years to fit it all in! My 1983 solo album Plutonium Express should be coming out in the US sometime soon, that sort of thing. And I was thinking of trying to get a rock ’n’ roll charity shop going in Camden, plus maybe having a small pub rock type band, only playing very locally in places with gear already there (no carrying the gear!!), just to keep my hand in as it were. And I’ve got to finish my nasty sci-fi novel I’ve been messing about with for years. And I sometimes think I’d like to re-record lots of old Vibrators’ songs, but spend a lot more time on them than we were able to when we first did them, as you’re always running against the clock in the studio because of the financial restraints. I was thinking of also re-recording some UK Subs songs, spending ages on them, (it’s probably against the whole punk ethos), but I’ve not spoken to Charlie about this!

Do you find people prefer the 'classic' 77-78 Vibrators songs to the ones you've done since then?
They generally seem to prefer the old songs, but I think it’s because they are the best known by our mainly punk audience. The newer albums are not bought in anywhere near the same numbers as the first couple of albums, and I think as a result there’s not the same sharing/consensus of opinion about the songs. The fans can’t talk to each other about the songs as they aren’t so familiar with them. Fan A may not have the same albums as fan B, that sort of thing. If we were a new band doing the newer stuff, and the old stuff had never existed, I’m sure they’d like it.

Any favourite musicians you've played/worked with?
I think the biggest highlight for me was The Vibrators touring as the support band for Iggy Pop when he had David Bowie playing keyboards. It would probably be impossible to top that. I haven’t worked with that many other people, but I like doing it as other people often contribute an extra personality to the recording. Though one time when I was making my solo album I thought I didn’t like some of Dave Birch’s guitar playing. Later when the album came out I found I really missed it! I enjoyed doing the Knox and the Trailer Trash Orchestra album, “The Knoxville Boy”, a country album. It was a different area for me and I liked the opportunity to do it and all the guys in the band. And I like working with Charlie Harper of course, when we do the Urban Dogs.
Knox and The Trailer Trash Orchestra at The Victoria, Hitchin 2011 Pic: Haddy Webb

Have the new technologies (Computers, The Internet, Digital and MP3's) changed the recording and releasing of music for the better? (Discuss)
Probably. It’s difficult to answer as there’s such a massive proliferation of styles of music that it’s not like in the ‘old days’ where you had limited styles and individual songs would have more impact. I like the idea of recording songs yourself and having more control, not having to put up with people who might not share your vision or ideas for a song. The danger is that you end up sort of spiralling into yourself. I think a lot of times other people’s input can be very enriching. Also when you’re in a band it is a band and not your solo project. I think the actual recording process has become a lot easier. You don’t have to endlessly do take after take in the studio ‘til you get a good one, so long as most of it’s OK you can generally patch it up on the computer.

What's Knox's vision of the future, how do you see the world changing in say the next 10-20 years?
I really feel quite pessimistic. I think there’ll be robot computer take-over. The computers don’t necessarily have to have evolved consciousness to effect this. They already have their own computer web where they talk to each other. If the wrong algorithms get written computers could cut off the money for instance, and society would break down very quickly a few days later. Also, with the increase in what an individual can do to kill people, governments might have to bring in some form of brain profiling. This would be to find people who could potentially be a danger, extremists, lone wolves, political people, etc. The knock-on effect of this might be some form of mass incarceration or culling. Hopefully people will have developed space-travel so we can go out into the universe and damage that to our hearts content! (The sooner we break it the sooner we can get on with fixing it!) There are a few future safeguards, like the Centre for the Study of Existential Threat, but if those people miss something.... Then again I might be similar to a child who likes having a story read to them with some scary things in it. I have to say the current news is terrible depressing. I think hundreds of years ago we wouldn’t know about most of the terrible things that go on out there in the world. (End of lecture.)

I'd just like to thank Knox for his time in answering my random questions.