"I haven't been here for maybe 20 years and lurking at the back of a reasonably filled venue, it can't be escaped that, back in the day, this is where the Sex Pistols honed their craft at legendary gigs, the fallout of which would create an energy that would change many lives forever, mine included."
George Berger interviews legendary punk artist Spizz.
COPYRIGHT © 2005, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Bromley. SE London / Kent. 1980 Bonaparte Records. Every Saturday. Without Fail.
Bonaparte sells all the punk stuff and is where we meet every Saturday. It's cool because we can hang out there without (necessarily) buying anything and it's one of the few places that doesn't mind us being there. We get kicked out of most places and respond with stink bombs -- the Boots make-up counter is a particular favourite.
Working behind the counter is a punk rocker called Guy. He hears everything first, of course, making him somewhat an arbiter of taste. The painted back of his leather jacket seems to change bands every week as a barometer of what's going on, almost like a public service -- 'This is the new band, everyone!' - and I always keep my eye on it. Then, one week, there are no bands at all. Just an intriguing phrase, painted in the style of old 50's sci-fi comics: Where's Captain Kirk? It's the new single by Spizz Energi and it's set to stay in the Indie Top 30 for the next 50 weeks, seven of them at Number One.
Cut to London. Spring. 2005. Oxford St. 100 Club. Sunday Night.
I haven't been here for maybe 20 years and lurking at the back of a reasonably filled venue, it can't be escaped that, back in the day, this is where the Sex Pistols honed their craft at legendary gigs, the fallout of which would create an energy that would change many lives forever, mine included. Which in a not-so-roundabout way is why I was at Bonapartes and also why I'm here. And just as I'm thinking this, Glen Matlock strolls past on his way to the loo. Circles and roundabouts. The crowd is a mixture of foreign tourists, old nostalgics and the kind of rock n roll people who used to living in Notting Hill and drink in Dingwalls.
And now Spizz: "When the Pistols controversy started, I thought 'Dada' - I was at Art College… nothing new really. I was bitten by it early, but I didn't believe I could do it…yet."
Cut To The Past:
Spizz was one of three children brought up on the edge of Birmingham in Solihull. "Quite posh. I did a lot of growing up in hay barns and canal sides, not industrial at all. Which is probably why I embraced the industrial Bauhaus movement when I went to Art School."
Feverishly searching the music papers for anything on Bowie and Roxy Music, Spizz started hitting the centre of Birmingham in the mid-70s. In the same scene was wannabe-chef Martin Degville, later to emerge as frontman of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. At the same college had been John Taylor from Duran Duran. If you've got names, you may as well drop 'em.
Learning his first few chords from an Average White Band-obsessed school friend, Spizz got a band together with a few mates including Pete Petrol, with whom he would go on to form the duo Spizzoil. Kicking off at a Brum punk festival, in front of 1000 people, with Pete at his side, they went down well. "I was appalling! Ten minutes improvised, just making it up as we went along -- appalling! But the audience loved it, cos I was one of them."
And Spizz realised he was funny. Not slapstick comedy (which never works for more than ten seconds in music), more Madness. Spizz mentions Jerry Lewis, but I'd say imagine Lee Evans impersonating Frankie Vaughn meets Liza Minelli.
In the unfeasibly quick movement of the times, they supported Siouxsie & The Banshees on a UK tour. "We were cheap, and easy to get on and off. So we were a great support band!" Spizz notes, with a clear affection for both the memory and the Banshees themselves.
Skint times, despite the adulation: Spizz is signing on. They take off for a tour that is supposed to feature Kleenex, The Raincoats and Cabaret Voltaire. Spizz are the none-too-obvious replacement for the latter. So Rough Trade release their single ("Soldier Soldier") before the Cabaret Voltaire one. Mark from Spizzenergi moves into a squat with Gina from the Raincoats. The band are gradually moving to London from Birmingham, where the streets are paved with record deals, and where the action unquestionably is, at the turn of the 70s.
Spizz moves in with his manager's secretary and her friend. "Later Steve Severin moved into the living room. Until he moved in downstairs with Richard Jobson." Just a normal household then. "It was like the punk rock Young Ones!" laughs Spizz.
Who is incidentally called Spizz -- his surname is Spears -- courtesy of a Dutch friend from schooldays having an accent. "A short name with 'Z's in it: I'm up for that! I was trying to call myself Ziggy in '73. When Bowie said he wasn't going to do any more touring, I went over to Mick Ronson. So I died my hair blonde. Only at school, they didn't call me Ronno, they called me Gloria!!"
The official indie chart is established in 1980, with "Captain Kirk" the first week's Number One. It stays there for seven weeks, though Spizz insists it would have already been there for the previous three. It's above "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedys (No. 5); "Transmission" by Joy Division (no. 6); "We Are All Prostitutes" by The Pop Group (No. 8) and a host of other classics. Not bad, eh?
After Captain Kirk, the band has peaked and begin to experience the inevitable vertigo of the one-hit wonder. But before long Spizz is getting pragmatic.
"By '82, we didn't fit in, everything disintegrated. I introverted into a little bit of painting and drug abuse." Spizz has now returned to painting. His pals the Human League move to London and split into two. The half that don't have the enormous hits nevertheless have pretty big ones as Heaven 17 with "Temptation", "Fascist Groove Thing" et al. Spizz is employed to mime guitar parts on Eurpean TV shows -- perhaps the ultimate dream job ("I couldn't play the bits if I tried! And I got paid for it!").
And if that doesn't make you jealous, Spizz then has a relationship with Claire King (Kim Tate from British soap opera Emmerdale and now an established actress in Bad Girls). They both want to be actors, but it only half works out, and not his half.
Cut Back To The Future:
Spizzenergi takes to the stage to "6,000 Crazy" and from the start he is a kind of court jester. Only not as foolish as that sounds -- he's got all the right moves and fronts an impressively tight and talented band. They put on a surprisingly striking show both visually and audibly. Later, Spizz will forward Robbie Williams as a comparison when we talk about the permanently thin ice of humour in music, and he's kind of right.
At times, they veer uncomfortably near rock, but Spizz's onstage antics continually undermine the sense of ego that always accompanies mainstream rock music. He's The Joker from Batman -- not from the films but the camp 60s TV show, played by Cesar Romero, himself coincidentally a relative of Charlie Harper from the UK Subs (allegedly).
"Soldier Soldier" appears half way through, the second of the trilogy punk foot soldiers and laymen would be familiar with. Spizz wears a home-made wristband with a red star surrounded by the legend 'punk rock'. He performs the bizarre mantra "Clocks Are Big, Machines Are Heavier" as light-hearted audience participation.
"I thought it was very serious, a sort of existentialist, surrealist, Bauhaus, Kraftwerky sort of lyric. Then I told it to my mates and they fell about laughing". You get a feeling there's a serious side to Spizz battling to get out here, but gamely accepting that seriousness is not really where his popularity lies ("there's no point in me being a straight entertainer"). But, as has been noted, this doesn't make him a joke -- he may be more showbiz than rock n roll, but it's not slapstick.
The final song is inevitably "Where's Captain Kirk?" -- their veritable one-hit wonder and financially flexible friend: "It doesn't bother me. It pays the gas bills in the hard times."
At the time, Rough Trade were outside the BPI -- if they'd had sufficient insincerity to be part of it, "Kirk" would have been a mainstream global smash. Even without it, Spizz sold out the Marquee for 5 consecutive nights at the time. "My tip for young up and coming artistes is: don't be ahead of your time!" Not unless you can get beamed up anyway.
The preceding two songs of the evening have been covers, respectively of Kraftwerk's "The Model" and Roxy's "Virginia Plain" -- both punked up out of respect rather than parody. It's an interesting time reference for a band that came to the fore some years later.
Spizz is presently a house-husband and artist living in South London. He's also an unpretentious and friendly, down-to-earth bloke who supports Aston Villa and The Clash. Whilst it's safe to say we won't be getting an overkill of gigs or records in the near future, Spizz will be back sometime somewhere, maybe where you least expect him.
Cut to Bromley. SE London / Kent. Spring. 2005.
Friday night. Early hours. These useless memories. The cassette plays Spizztones, and I remember and smile. Where's Spock?
ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
George Berger is a freelance writer, with punk rock dna. He has written for Sounds, Melody Maker and Amnesty International among others. He has also written three books, with one published thus far: Dance Before the Storm: the Official Story of The Levellers (Virgin Books 1999). George is the founder of Flowers in the Dustbin. He lives where the mood takes him and funds allow.