Our Daily Bread 421: Disco Zombies ‘South London Stinks’

January 25, 2021

Compilation Breakdown/Review: Words by Dominic Valvona

Disco Zombies  ‘South London Stinks’
(Optic Nerve)  29th January 2021

Emerging from a fit of bands during the punk era, Leicester’s Disco Zombies never quite broke through despite meeting with the approval of John Peel and bridging both the agreeable knockabout youthfulness of The Undertones and more sneering, University Challenge politico riling of their Tory-baiting peers. Pub rock to fuzz; new wave and even post-punk, they could sound at any one time like The Skids, Damned, Magazine, Swell Maps, Subway Sect and even (on the slower Indie roaming ‘New Scars’) XTC.

Formed almost at the apex of the punk explosion by Andy Ross (vocals and guitar), Johnny ‘Guitar’ Hawkins (as his moniker makes pretty obvious, guitar), Geoff ‘Dod’ Dodimead (bass) and Andy Fullerton (drums), the DC played their debut gig at the student halls of residence, we’re told, to “a packed room of cross-legged intellectuals”. That line-up soon expanded to accommodate Dave Henderson of The Blazers; all part of a scene that could boast the cult obscurity of bands like The Foamettes, Dead Fly Syndrome and The RTRs. The DC would bring in The Foamettes’ guitarist Steve Gerrard when they soon relocated to London in the vain hope of making it to replace founding member Johnny Guitar, who couldn’t go as he had another year at Uni to finish. As it happened, he never really missed his break, as even his replacement soon returned home from the capital due to the lack of success. Gerrard would however make it into Leicester’s version of Rock’s Back Pages by joining another cult band, The Bomb Party.

In an age characterised by the spirit of diy and lo fi, the band recorded their first EP for the fleeting Uptwon Records venture set up by Carl Tebbutt. This now legendary EP, recorded in one four-hour session, featured a Blazer’s number (‘Top Of The Pops’) and a trio of rough ’n’ ready Stiff Records, tongue-in-cheek adolescent ravers (‘Time Will Tell’, ‘Punk A GoGo’, and ‘Disco Zombies’). It was unfortunately shelved due to the occupational hazard of these enterprises going bust. They still carried on however, recording a session for a local radio station, the only fruits of which (included on this twenty-track revision compilation of mishits) is the rebel-country meets Skids goggle-box sneer ‘TV Screen Existence’. The DC would also go on a mini tour showcase of their hometown, playing five nights in five different pubs. But a move to the Big Smoke was on the cards after exhausting the Leicester scene, and hopefully a crack at breaking through. It’s hardly a spoiler to suggest they didn’t; the compilation title of South London Stinks a dead giveaway, and perhaps broadside at the Deptford clique of the time.

In another customary shift of line-up, the group recruited Mark Sutherland to fill the gap left by Gerrard. Gigs at a litany of infamous London showcase spots followed: the Scala, Hope & Anchor, North London Poly. Out of frustration, or just ennui, Andy Ross launched his own label, South Circular Records as a vehicle to releasing the band’s debut single proper; the gnarled Jam-knocks-about-with-The-Clash National Front parodied, ‘Drums Over London’. A classic single of the period, it was totally misinterpreted by Rock Against Racism, who missed the irony, believing it to be an endorsement of far right anti-immigration rhetoric. John Peel had to weigh-in on the side of the DC, to clear up the misunderstanding. It’s more or less the band’s anthem. Alongside overseeing an EP from the Peel approved Adicts, Ross’ label put out the Magazine fatalism with white disco Dr. Boss drum machine shaking, ‘Here Come The Buts’: Another slight turn in direction for the band, now expanding their two-minute blasts to over four, you can hear a hint of more brooding post-punk and a resigned polemic on that record. Just before that diy label folded, the DC recorded the Damned like parody sporting spectacle (“Best position to the chase and pursuit”) ‘The Year Of The SexOlympics’, the wrangled guitar and Lou Reed fronts Voidiods, lyrically violent, ‘Target Practice’, and the already mentioned ‘New Scars’. None of which ever saw the light of day. Still, persevering and now in the dying embers of punk they knocked out the brilliant, more upbeat new wave track ‘Where Have You Been Lately Tony Hately’.  Showing a keenness for knockabout pun and chirpy wit, with references to pop and sporting culture they paid a sort of wry homage to the extremely well-travelled English centre-forward of the title: A player who moved between eleven clubs in his two decade plus career, even joining (for the briefest of times) the beleaguered USA side, the Boston Minutemen.  In a similar vane, but perhaps obscuring a more honest debate about the sex industry and its troubled, used-up pinups, and voyeurism, detachment, the band released a Monochrome Set meets Swell Maps imbued aphorism to the 70s sexpot Mary Millington; star of untold jazz-mags and blue movies in the UK, and the girl-next-door fuck fantasy of a million men.  Drugs, depression, debt, the old bill, and the moralist guardians of so-called decency hounded and hampered Mary into an early grave, the sex star taking her own life by overdose in 1979. With that in mind, the DC song is more tragedy, elegy than rave-up and sniggering schoolboy hijinks.

‘Tony Hately’ met with Peel enthusiasm, but other than a test pressing, the single was never properly released; ending up only subsequently on the Cordelia label’s Obscure Independent Classics compilation – a title that tells you all you need to know about that particular chapter in the band’s career. A consequence of this was the break-up of the band. Sutherland opened a studio in Bow, London; Dodimead (god forbid) got a day job, and Fullerton…well he was already in gainful employment. The remainder joined the experimental Club Tango; though later on, Ross would go on to discover bands himself, such as Blur most famously, for the legendary Brit-pop era Food label he started with the ex-Teardrop Explodes’ David Balfe.

Yet they could never let it lie, and thirty years after initially splitting up, the DC (ala the drum machine incarnation) descended upon Sutherland’s studio to record the extremely limited edition 10” pairing of the Sci-Fi homage ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ and bandy JFK conspiracy shtick ‘LHO’.  The first of these is a broody indie take on the cult Terence Fisher directed and Hammer double-act of Lee and Cushing 1967 environmental terror of the same name, its partner, a motorcade denunciation vision of a Brit-pop Dead Kennedys. A few years later original drummer Andy Fullerton kicked the staid Dr. Rhythm into touch, recording a trio of originals from a bygone punk age: the antithesis of X-Factor chart-topping mediocrity ‘Hit’, The Dickies bash around with Ramones Cold War pastiche ‘Lenin’s Tomb’ (“All good Russians visit Lenin’s Tomb” you know), and polka-punk resigned parody on the banality of nuclear Armageddon ‘Paint It Red’ (“As the arms race escalates, refit the double-glazing”). All three were released on limited 10”. That recent hurrah style resurrection was followed up by a gig at The Dublin Castle in 2019. And just to make certain that the Disco Zombies don’t vanish from Sniffin’ Glues Back Pages, Optic Nerve have collected all those singles, tracks and missives into this “stinking” collection: probably the first and only chance to find the back catalogue in one place, from a band that seldom managed to release much music to the public.

Shelved recordings, ones salvaged from obscurity mingle with Peel favourites and the few actual physical records they managed to put out. Not really part of any particular scene, out-of-sorts with the London set anyway, the Disco Zombies were never as rowdy and antagonistic as the Pistols, but never quite as cuddly as Eddie And The Hot Rods. They did cover many bases however, developing and changing with the times. Above all that and most importantly, they made some cracking records: which you will discover yourself when digging into this fandom compilation. Another piece in the UK punk jigsaw filled in. Dominic Valvona

Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: