That The Armitage Shanks toiled for years, released ten singles and five LP’s on a slew of labels, and still didn’t get much attention other than being a footnote to Billy Childish’s career is one of the great injustices of modern garage-punk. The Shanks really brought the goods to the table, firing out the finest in white shirt/black tie Brit-garage like a faulty sten gun, all the while serving up bountiful portions of threatening pub-crawler rock hooliganism but infusing it with enough humor that you knew they were just good blokes having a good larf. They did it all well, whether it be scattershot covers of Brit-punk classics, taking the piss out of UK celebs, or screaming slices of garage rock fury. Always entertaining, and possessing that keen English wit that makes them so endearing. You really can't help liking them. Ian Damaged hooked me up with with Dick Scum for an interview when I got word they were about to release their first record in almost five years. Dick is a true gentleman, and brought his Shanks mates Vic and Serge along for the ride. The results were both entertaining and informative. More of one than the other I imagine. There are footnotes at the end to help decipher the more arcane references and translate some "English". The Shanks latest record, "Urinal Heap", is out now on Damaged Goods, and for those unhip to the Shanks music the singles compilation "25 Golden Showers" on the same label is absolutely essential.
TB: When and how did the Shanks form?
Dick: Myself, Rod and Graham and Paul "Interesting" Andrews had been getting drunk and talking about starting the punk revolution for years.
It was definitely the May bank holiday 1990 when we had our first rehearsal.
Graham sung , Rod and I bashed the banjos and Paul found the stress of it too much to bear and retired . I brought in my mate Mark with the proviso he get a drum kit and we were off after a fashion (Mark is Billy's all time fave member of the Shanks). Mark's mental wife Shelley came in on bass. She used to drink 4 litres of cider on the way to a rehearsal by way of a livener 1. Our first gig was New Years Eve 1990, Shelley drank so much she collapsed to the floor and we had to use a bass player from the audience (who were all mates). She came to, swallowed a plectrum 2, kicked the bass player in the bollocks and was violently and copiously sick over the equipment and audience. This was her one and only gig, her work here was done. Graham switched to bass and I stepped up to the mic…
TB: Who decided on the name? Has the toilet company ever contacted you about using their name? 3
Dick:The name came after having a head/Armitage Shanks interface after another night on the Bommerlunder 4. The rest of the guys thought it was funny so that was it. If I could have my time over there are a million better names I could of thought of , but maybe that's the point.
Armitage Shanks DID contact us after the first LP came out. It was reviewed in a trade magazine as one of those "Well, did you ever!" type features. Their publicity department was keen to sponsor us and just needed to hear the LP first to make sure it was in keeping with their brand image . We sent off the LP with heads spinning with ideas of new amps and decent guitars.... We are still waiting to hear from them.
There have also been a few other bands with the same name. One was a Danish techno duo that had a chart hit in the UK. This caused some confusion for our small but loyal fan base that apparently turned up to a college gig and frightened the life out of the students there for some e-fuelled love action. Their band had to change their name to The Shanks.
TB: How did you meet Billy Childish?
Dick: I grew up in Maidstone which is another Medway town , although it thinks of itself as a cut above "the Medway towns" (although it isn't) , and there used to be posters advertising The Milkshakes (my all time top band). At the time I was a fourteen year old plastic mod into ska and sixties beat and they would have been perfect, but I couldn't find any like minded souls and so missed seeing them. I bought the records though and graduated into pyschobilly and punk and used to watch bands at a venue in London called The Clarendon, one of whom was Thee Mighty Caesars. This was a big adventure for me and my mates, and we vowed we would see them again. Then they split up.
Undeterred, I began to collect as many "Medway" records as I could and this turned out to be a fair few. I could not believe this had been going on, on my doorstep and I had arrived just as the party appeared to be over.
But it was not so… Thee Headcoats started and I read about a gig in the NME and went along. This was a life changing experience . They had the added bonus of Bruce from the Milkshakes on drums . I began to see them every time they played. Travelling up from Medway (where I now lived) to watch them at mainly the Saint Johns Tavern.
I worked in a clothes shop in Maidstone, and one afternoon Bruce and Holly walked in . I was playing a Milkshakes tape at the time, which amused Bruce. They recognized me from the gigs and invited me to one that night at a club in Chatham called "The Good Companions" . The support group was called Ye Ascoyne D'Ascoynes and featured Vic Templar on drums. They were great but stand-offish (which a lot of people in Medway were , very cliquey) , and we would meet again.
I got really really drunk this time and at the end of the gig approached Billy for a chat. He also recognized me from The Saint Johns and after slurringly explaining that I was from his neck of the woods and that I drove up to London to see them I offered to drive the van should they ever need it. He shot back with " Well we're doing a European tour , leave Wednesday if you fancy it..." That was fifteen years ago.
TB: How 'famous' are you Britain?
Dick: Less famous than Tracey Emin 5 (but a thousand times more talented...which ain't saying much). Where's the justice?
TB: Explain the infamous 'Brandy Sessions'.
Dick:We were recording at Toe Rag , Boxing Day 1993 . As it was the festive season, we took a picnic lunch which included a bottle of brandy. I drank most of it . It was OK until I had to overdub the vocals (we had always done this as live before). I could not stand and could barely talk .Liam propped me up in the corner and put a mic in front of me . I proceeded to give a spirited rendition of "Orgasm Addict", the only problem being that we were recording a Killjoy's song. Further details are sketchy , but apparently I turned into Jack Regan 6 which can't be all bad.
TB: You guys have covered "Borstal Breakout" and done a song called "Jimmy Pursey's Bastard Son"? Is Sham 69 a favorite, or do they have a special significance? (I ask because "Tell Us the Truth" is one of the first punk records I ever owned for some reason.)
Dick:The first single I ever bought was "Borstal Breakout", although I preferred "Hey Little Rich Boy." To be honest they have not worn well but they still make me laugh and cringe in equal measure . Pursey was so sincere...and stupid.
TB: You guys do a lot of songs about Brit celebs. Explain these songs/people for us Americans:
TB: "Ronnie 'Acid Bath' Peters"
Dick:Acquaintance of Liam B Watson. Very helpful in securing gigs in the early days.
We never had to worry about money with him around.
Currently "working abroad".
TB: "Barry Rutter's Poison Darts Club Band"
Dick:Barry Rutter was a journalist from the Portsmouth Echo. He gave us a blinding review which contained the lines " The playing and singing was simply abysmal.
The theory that anyone can form a band is a good one , but you have to be better than this"
TB: "Alf Ramsey's Porn Dungeon"
Dick:England's football team manager when we won the world cup in 1966.
Balding ,mild mannered chap with a pre delection for barb wire and nipple clamps (allegedly).
TB:Whose brilliant idea was it cover "Are Friends Electric"? Are you big Gary Numan fans?
Dick:That would be my idea. I always liked Gazza as a kid, and the fact that he was universally hated Tory-voting right-wing scum just made the idea funnier. I wanted to do a guitar version of a synth-pop classic. The B side is stuck through a ring modulator to make it that little bit more accessible.
TB: Ever had any run-ins with UK punk bands that you've covered?
Dick:The Subway Sect thought our version of "Ambition" was as good as the original .
The Mekons were very kind about our version of "Where Were You?"
Charlie Harper was just confused .
We continue to avoid Pete Shelley like the plague.
TB: Is the song "Thank You" aimed at anyone in particular? How about "Punk Tune"?
Dick:"Thank You" was a song of gratitude to all the great people who had helped us in our rise to the gutter.
"Punk Tune" was written for Vinyl Japan. They didn't want it.Oh the irony, and we gave it to Billy's label.
TB:"Urinal Heap" will be your first recording in five years…so what the hell have you been doing all this time?
Dick:After we did the live LP "Cacophony Now",Vic the drummer emigrated to Australia to avoid several paternity cases recently filed.Liam decided to put all his energy in to Toe Rag Studio (how stupid must he be feeling!?).
Me and Rod continued as a duo , but got roped into "looking after" a race horse for Ronnie Peters . This had been "borrowed " and we spent the next three years in Maidstone nick.
Here we were able to hone our punk rock vision to perfection , but it made gigging difficult.
It was just as well that Thee Headcoats had split around this time. People thought we had packed it in as well.
But the show ain't over until the fat bloke sings so…
Out on parole, we got Serge Dirtbox , our personal photographer and sternest critic, in to play bass. In the tradition of Shanks bass players he had never picked up the instrument before joining.
We also got in Wolf Howard ,tied one arm behind his back, and he was our drummer.
We did a few gigs, and had a superb drunken night in Paris with Thee Gorgons. We also recorded half an LP with Liam, but I was finding it even more difficult than usual to play guitar and felt like shite all the time.
And then I was diagnosed with Psoriactic Arthropathy and diabetes. I was in agony and unable to move for a year.
I was told to stop drinking , and put on insulin and chemotherapy which I have to have every week to keep me alive.
That kind of concentrated the mind .
Wolf had got a job drumming for Dodson's Dog. They were hugely famous in the UK and his head was turned by the money , success, drugs, and women in the immediate entourage. He was last seen in Strood High Street carrying several Pound Land 7 shopping bags with "Big" Julie. Apparently this is the Dodson's so called dog...his words not mine.
Vic came back to avoid the paternity suites he had run up in Oz.
He was back in time to record half the LP.
Serge: We really got back together again because we needed an outlet for our anger and aggression...no sorry, we just needed to get out of the house for a few hours each week. We realised that world domination was never going to be part of the deal and managed 1 or 2 gigs a year, although we played Thee Headcoats final gig and played Paris during that time, so not bad I spose for part-time punks. Once we decided to go for it, because people still remembered us, we spent two and a half years nursing assorted illnesses and setbacks, managing to record half the album in 2001, and the other half in 2003.
TB: Any changes to the Shanks 'sound' on the new record?
Dick:The main change is sobriet , chemotherapy, insulin, and strong tea now being our drugs of choice. It does feel weird to play sober. I've started to use a Rickenbacker as well as my Burns guitars.
Serge uses as P-Range Fender bass rather than the usual Framus bass.
Rod has got a wah wah pedal. It is more Wire, TVPs, and Swell Maps than Sham, although there are stil herbert 8 moments. Still sounds like us though. Billy reckons it sounds more '78 than '77 this time around, which means you can expect a New Romantic LP in 2119.
TB: What ever happened to the "Bury Me a Mod" EP?
Dick:You will find them among the tracks on the new LP ,which is why it's sixteen tracks long. See if you can spot them! No one wants to release 7" singles. Or vinyl LPs. If there is anyone out there willing to prove me wrong then get in touch and we will do it for studio costs only.
TB: The liners from "25 Golden Showers" say you made 2 films? Explain.
Dick: We did a UK tour in 1994 and a European tour in 1995. We took along a cine camera. The results are somewhere between Spinal Tap and Magical Mystery Tour.
Damaged Goods keep threatening to put it out as a DVD. It certainly captures the essence of Shank better than any record we've put out.
TB: How'd you end up doing a record with Wild Wild Records? Cecelia is quite a fox…
Dick: Cecilia is certainly a fox. She is also insatiable, and we have the film to prove it . The whole band could not keep up with her rampant drive and that is why the films can never be released.
I met her at Billy's and she had the good taste and business acumen to book our European tour.
We had such a good time and were so well looked after that we did the single as a thank you...and for five hundred quid . It got to number four in France apparently.
TB: Will you guys ever come and play the States?
Dick: Yes. October 22nd to 31st 2004. In California, dates to include LA, San Fransisco, and Cleveland.
See you down there. For more info contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. This will probably be the one and only time, as time is running out for all of us but especially me.
Serge: We'd like to, and have some tentative plans for the autumn, but Dave's heroin convictions and pathological fear of flying make this unlikely, unless he's flown across under heavy sedation and armed guard.
TB: What's Sexton Ming really like?
TB: Lovely, lovely man and a dear, dear friend. He would lend you the skirt of his back.
Auntie Veg were one of the best bands to emerge from the scene. He continues to be an inspiration and is our official reserve drummer.
Serge:About 5 foot 10, dark hair, greying.
TB: How is it to be a part of the "Medway Scene"? Is it as communal/tight knit as we imagine? Does it really exist, or is a fabrication of the music press?
Dick: Vic reckons that the Medway scene existed between 1981 and 1987.
That said, Billy is a close friend and we see most of the main protagonists from time to time,and when we play Chatham it is always well attended. The scene is now in Tufnell Park, once a month at the Boston Arms.
But no one from Medway attends unless they are in a band so it's really The Buffs, The Shanks, and The Solar Flares . But you will find the crème de la crème of Medway contained therein.
I don't think the press have ever tried to create a Medway scene, I think they have ignored it and to an extent that is why there are still people doing stuff. As soon as the press gets hold of a scene they destroy it.
TB:With the new garage rock explosion (aka White Stripes fever) in the NME/British Press, do you think this is your chance to make it big?!
Dick: Explosion is the right term. People motivated by money and fame will try to make it big , they will fail and will be dropped in six months. We will be ignored as usual and will remain bitter,twisted, and still going when these other Johnny (Moped) come latelys are back delivering mail.
Serge: We are already big - have you seen the pictures of us? Combined weight of about 60 stone. You wouldn't fit us in a Mini! Besides, we actually gave the White Stripes their first UK gig, supporting us in a pub gig at the Old Medway Tavern. They never thanked us and drank all our beer.
TB: By the way, what do you think of the White Stripes?
Dick:The drummer is kinda cute. They are not as good as Showaddywaddy 9 or Mud 10 but better than The Motors. 11
TB: What do you think of the NME?
Dick:It certainly has its finger on the nub of youth. These days I prefer Mojo.
When's the last time you went shirts off with someone? Ever got into drunken fisticuffs with Childish?
Dick:I don't like violence but I am good at it. Billy would never intentionally hurt anyone. I did get clobbered once when he was punching an amplifier and it fell on me. This is years and years ago and is documented in the song "Dutch Courage". He stopped drinking shortly after this incident.
Serge: I elbowed someone out of the way on the bus a few weeks ago - does that count? I try and leave all that macho stuff to the younger generation (anyone under 35!).
TB: Is Billy involved with the new LP?
Dick: He remains our groovy guru. With Liam being able to concentrate fully on the recording we felt we could manage it ourselves.He has heard it and digs it, unlike Liam. He also keeps us as his main support act which we are grateful for.
TB: What bands/music are you currently listening to?
Dick: Fire Dept., Milkshakes, Chuck Berry, Skatalites, Public Image, A Lines, T. Rex, Northern soul.
TB: Stupid question time. Which is better and why:
The Milkshakes or Pop Rivets?
Dick:Milkshakes because Mick Hampshire is a genius and don't ever forget it!
Serge: Milkshakes - you cant drink a pop rivet.
TB: Mighty Caesars or Headcoats?
Dick: Thee Headcoats, because they are family, as much as The Shanks is family.
Serge: In the British weather, I'd prefer a mighty coat.
TB: Delmonas or Headcoatees?
Dick: Thee Headcoatees, for the same reason. Plus they were proper punk.
Serge: Isn't a headcoatee something like a small ladies 'towel'? The Delmonas please.
TB: Sexton Ming or Bruce Brand?
Dick: You bastard, I cannot in all conscience choose between them. Bruce is the more eccentric, but Sexton doesn't snore as loud (or sleep with one eye open).
Serge: I love them both (although not in a biblical sense you understand).
TB: Bangers or mash?
Dick: Lidl Value 12 sausage with Smash please, and plenty of brown sauce.
Serge: You can drive an old banger, but not an old mash.
TB: Buzzcocks or Killjoys?
Dick: Kevin Rowland is a god, but the Killjoys were only average. Dexy's first LP pisses on them.
So Buzzcocks have it. But it has to be the line up that recorded "Spiral scratch."
And tell Shelley that "Fast Cars" is nothing like "Shirts Off."
Serge: Buzzcocks - cos they're still going and therefore we stand a better chance of getting a gig with them.
TB: Reg Kray or Ron Kray? 13
Dick: They were both Psychotic closets. Ron was slightly more liberated with his sexual politics so Ron wins it by a young boy.
Serge: Whichever one liked little boys.
TB: Have you seen/heard the real Losers yet? They're from Leeds and play a brand of garage-trash somewhat similar to the Shanks. Can you hip us to any other good up-and-coming Brit bands?
Dick: No never heard of the real losers, but they sound as if they have an immaculate taste in music and I look forward to hearing them soon. Young, upcoming bands are very rare in this part of the Medway Delta. There is a tendency to watch just the bands you are mates with and when they split up, the ex-members get together with other ex-members...I'm sure you must have seen this.
The Stabilisers are a great group and are not related to the Medway scene in any way (apart from Alan Crockford on guitar), however they are even older than The shanks so maybe they don't qualify. The A Lines have just recorded some great tracks which Julie the guitarist has put on a CDR for me. They score big by being girls, but with all due respect none of them are in their first flush of youth. Also have to confess a couple of tenuous Medway connections: Julie is married to Mr. Childish, Kyra and Debbie are ex-Headcoatees and wives of Childish (we thought the group should be called "The Mad Ex-Wives Of Billy Childish", but the bass player Delia is a true cockernee sparra. Funnily enough, she appears to resent Childish and anything to do with him,including us, so full marks for masochism. Who else...The Ulcers, very fast, very funny, and the first group to make me nervous of following them for a long time. They have an LP coming out on Damaged Goods.
TB: Any closing comments?
Dick:Just got the CDs of Urinal Heap which will be out around June 16th, and as they spent all our advance on a publicist, there will be reviews in Q, Mojo, and Uncut and a load of other wank mags. Anyway chief, The Kids are gonna love it.
1: Livener Vic: A pick-me-up, a corpse reviver, a shot-in-the-arm, a
swifty. e.g. guinness and kahlua, shot of tequila or sambuca, a tizer.
2: PlectrumVic: Don't know myself either. Ask me about
drumsticks. Dick: Guitar pick. I favour a 1966 threepenny bit, Serge uses a half crown, and Rod a florin.
3: For the unitiated, Armitage Shanks is the premier manufacturing company for toilets/bathroom plumbing in the UK.
4: Bommerlunder Dick: A disgusting, explosive German liquer.
5: Tracy Emin is a contemporary "artist" in Britain. Some of her work includes a pup tent inside which she pasted pictures of all the people she has slept with in her life. Had the brass to open up a museum of her own works. She is ass ugly as well.
6: Dick: Jack Regan is a bad ass cop who plays by his own rules. He chews up a
whole bunch of bad guys and spits 'em out on the sidewalk. Best-dressed man
in the whole crime bustin' fraternity (and that includes Dave Starsky).(ed. Protagonist from Brit cop-show "The Sweeney". "John Thaw starred as D.I. Jack Regan, leader of The Flying Squad, which pursued armed robbers. He was a bitter, hard-drinking, hard-living thug with a badge, and not exactly a pretty face. Was he likeable? Barely. Good-looking? Hardly. Compelling? Absolutely.")
7: Dick: During the eighties, the traditonal English High Street was decimated and the butcher, baker, and candlestick maker were put out of business by multi-national out of town supermarkets which have become the new religion . Their place in the High Street was taken by short term lease shops selling shit cheaply. Poundland is the most famous of these and can be found UK wide. The goods will only last days but hey, you only paid a quid. Gravesend, near where we live has an everything 99p shop which is even greater.
8: Dick:Herberts were another name for yobbos, in particular those of the shaven headed variety much like myself . They were highly intelligent and enlightened but preferred to hide this behind extreme drunkenness and fighting.
9: You gotta check this out: An Introduction to Showaddywaddy.
10: Vic: Mud were a rock act big in the early 1970's (does US history
go back that far?) in England Town. They rocked when you cats were all listenin' to the Eagles.
11: Vic: The Motors, as far as I understand, were an act from across
the big pond, but Rich you may put me right on this one. Sort of like Cheap
Trick but better. Dick: The Motors were in fact English. They were the epitome of punk rock attitude and wore thin ties to prove it.
12: Dick: Lidl is a German budget food retailer much favoured by the same people who love Pound Land, and for the same reasons. Hey the food tastes like shit but it only cost 8p a tin. Serge Dirtbox shops exclusively at this outlet, as proved by a violent attack of the shits at our last rehearsal after eating an out of date (but cheap) Lidl pizza…classy.
13: The Krays were notorious East End gangsters and pederasts. Immortalized in the Pop Rivets song "Kray Twins" later covered by the Shanks to great effect.
14: Cokernee sparra: (Ed.Your guess is as good as mine. Let me know if you find out.)
Interview by Rich Kroneiss
Pics by God knows who
Check out the official Armitage Shanks website here: www.thearmitageshanks.com
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