|Jez Randell – Vocals||Mark Gibbons – Guitar & Vocals|
|Martin Pearce – Bass||
Paul Gardener – Drums
would say that by the time ’79 came along, Punk was well and truly
dead. However, if you lived in rural Warwickshire, the radio waves
of John Peel’s show were just about permeating the ether in
Stratford-Upon-Avon. It was Peel that turned my head when he played
the B-side called Voices by some band called Souxsie & The Banshees.
I rushed out the next day and ordered a copy, which I still have.
The Pistols and Stranglers were firm favourites, but it was that
more experimental noise that struck the right chord to me. Amazing
to think, the Banshees went on to sell enough of Hong Kong Gardens,
the A side to make it to number 1. How many that bought it and
played, let alone enjoyed the B Side?
Prior to this in ’78 I was due to go to college
to catch up on O Levels that I couldn’t be arsed to do at school. A mate of mine was already going to Stratford’s College of F.A. and I was asked to go to a gig that summer hosted by John Peel. The band line were; The Mekons (Redditch), The Shapes and School Meals [later Defendants] (Leamington Spa), and I think The Cravats were also playing.Tunes and introductions were down to a really pleasant and affable John Peel who, somewhat bemused by his celebrity status, signed my shirt. We didn’t have the luxury of Sex or Boy so everything was homemade with zips and vinyl stickered letters. The idea that Punk was a fashion was rubbish in our eyes. I still hate the way the late McLaren seems to have believed it was all his grand creation. To me the “movement” or anti-movement that belonged to us and everything and anything was for the taking. R.I.P. and all that, but like many artists that create, they then weave a tale of bullshit about it’s conception afterwards...I didn’t belong to anyone’s world of high manipulated art and neither did my contemporaries. Here was a chance to do something for ourselves and this gig was another important catalyst.
At the gig, which was held in the D.L.A. (Drama & Liberal Arts) studio I met a bloke called Mark Gibbons who was with a crowd of friends, one of which was a very charismatic and speedy Iranian called Ahmad. He added to the exotic world that was opening up for me with every pint. No a bad start to the end of my sixteen years. The gig went too fast and that was that, until I met them again in The Duck, the drinking den of the actor’s dahrling and theatre workers. Over the next few months Gibbons and myself were inseparable, sharing a love of music, drink, drugs and absurdity.
Gibbons was already in a Leamington based band, The Subterraneans, playing lead guitar. I tagged along to the new world of Leamington, a place I would move to five years later. It was at one of their rehearsals in a cricket pavilion one baking summer day that I mentioned to Mark that I could do a better job than their current front man. I’m sure the rum and black had something to do with it? Over the start of ’79 in between drinking and finding as many pharmaceuticals as we could, we’d spend time writing the first few tunes, Gibbons on a well used Spanish guitar, me with a pen and scraps of paper and singing mike-less. This was the start of The Abstracts.
With a handful of tunes we blagged our way in to an Ideal Husbands practice. After much sitting around we eventually had our first chance of playing through electricity. John Hunt from the ‘ Husbands filled on Bass and Dave Laycock (Henry Olson of Primal Scream) sat in on drums. This was the first line-up, and it came with some equipment and the offer of a real live gig.
Sadly it wasn’t to be in the local hot spot, The Green Dragon, but in a fading edge of town discothèque, The Toll House, with all it’s 70’s Studio 54 lighting (A few Santa lights and a disco ball). The gig wasn’t too shambolic and the crowd enjoyed it followed by Ideal Husbands. In the audience was curly haired owner of Discovery Records. He’d already signed Domestic Bliss who were about to release a single, Child Battery. The Abstracts were keen to get some backing and possibly a record, but Discovery Records didn’t. It was later said that we were the best local band he’d never signed!
Several gigs in and the band were creating a good following. However, using the ‘Husbands wasn’t ideal. Another local group that John Hunt was connected with was a jazz-rock group, Sattva. They were based in Redditch and were made up of John’s old band, Deadly Toys. The bass player and drummer were installed and a new level of proficiency was reached. Again, it saw the band travel around the West Midlands supporting the jazz-rock group – frankly a bunch of hippies. “Never trust….” But again, extra musicians and equipment were the key. A gig was a good excuse to go out on the lash somewhere else and upset the locals, and, as we had no equipment other than Marks newly acquired Fender copy, it was a chance to rehearse.
I remember a couple of these gigs. One was at a dog rough modern pub somewhere on an estate in Redditch. It had a red pool table and airbrushed prints in yellow plastic frames. By 8, the place was full of fellow Midlanders dressed in their finest cowboy gear, Stetsons and six-shooters - I kid you not. By the time Sattva came on, both Mark and myself were so pissed we they joined the melee on stage on guitar, percussion and backing vocals. Messy. I remember pissing out the back of a moving Box Luton van on the way home, grateful that we had made it out of Redditch.
Although Sattva’s bass player was brilliant, Dave Bootle was just a bit too smooth and possibly couldn’t cope with the chaos? However, the down to earth rock solid Paul Gardener stayed on drums. In the interim we’d befriended a disaffected sixth former at King Edward VII Grammer. Martin Pierce was to play bass. He had terrific nervous energy that the band needed. Finally The Abstracts were a complete unit.
Plenty of local gigs filled our time and playing was the punctuation between getting out of it. The sterile air of Stratford was finally getting some energy and a local scene was emerging, of which The Abstracts were pretty central. The newish Precinct that was once the Hippodrome was now home to Discovery Records. The precinct was cited as being an influence on us in a glib remark for an interview we did. Typical bleak concrete place with its Wimpy, Key Market not-so-super-market. However, it was a place “the kids” hung out in. One of these kids was Abstract follower, Simon Gilbert. He used to arrive early at gigs and get Paul Gardner to teach him a few bits and bats and let him hit the skins pre gig. Enthusiastic but hopeless, as every new musician is! Little did we know he’d make a cracking drummer and end up in Suede?
During this time we did a demo in Riverside Studio, Redditch. Actually a converted garage owned by Sattva’s main man. This recording sounds tinny and lifeless today, reflecting the quantities of dope and cider downed on a blistering hot afternoon. This tape was proudly, and perhaps foolishly lugged around town to venues in the hope of securing gigs. However, it wasn’t to be as the tape was really shit.
The band were known for energy and unpredictability - you never knew what the hell was going to happen, and neither did we. Partly because there was little equipment, which meant no rehearsal time until sound checks. One of our Green Dragon gigs I’d got hold of the Husbands keyboards and found I could make an air-raid siren noise that I played over one of our tunes, Teenage Riots. A cheerful ditty based around the anarchy seen in Toxteth, Bristol and Brighton. We nearly had some ourselves in Stratford that night. I think this was the gig that I got the name Jiggy that was a cross between Iggy Pop and Jimmy Pursey!
One of the first rehearsals was in Leamington. The band eventually got hold of an HH combi amp, a Sure Uni-dine mic’ that was bought in a pawnshop by the Crown in Leamington. A set of drums, bass and bass amp. We could finally gig with our own equipment which meant not hitching to gigs anymore! It did mean using and abusing Mark’s mums yellow Hillman Imp. The practice was held in a car paint spray shop and was pretty toxic. At this practice was Dean, former front man for The Subterraneans who I’d criticised a year ago. Dean worked for the Railways, which meant he had money. It was a unanimous decision to make him manager. We needed £80 for some studio time and getting a decent demo done. This took place at Johnny River’s Woodbine Studio where five songs were laid down. They were virtually live with some overdubs on Teenage Riot, trying to recreate The Dragon sound. The tape captured the essence of the band really well. The strongest song, “In The Papers” is a one minute twelve blast, and written before Paul Weller had released “News Of The World”. There is some similarity! I remember cracking my head on the low ceiling of the cellar studio on the last note of In The Papers.
The Abstracts went on to gig in some exotic places as far afield as Shifnal and Marlborough catching some good reviews in local fanzines. The Hillman Imp was commandeered for most of this travel. The gig to Marlborough lasted a few days as we drunk the town dry. London beckoned and I remember we had 95mph and four up on the M4 out of that Imp. By the time we hit Kings Road there was a red light on the dashboard. We pulled over by World’s End, piled out and lifted the boot – nothing wrong with the engine. Five minutes went by until we realised Gibbons hit the rear demist with his knee! We got the car back some seven days after “borrowing” it. I don’t remember much about our stay in London, other than I bought a black tie from Boy and danced on stage with Gods Toys who were playing The Nashville.
As time dragged – as it’s want to do in Warwickshire, the band evolved and enlarged the set with some interesting stuff. Gibbons leading the way with some great West Coast guitar licks and I was providing the lyrics. The rhythm section was rock steady, unlike the band in time. While Gardner was living in relative sanity, myself, Martin and Mark were sharing a house at the top of town near the Three Witches pub. A never-ending stream of people, oily black, acid and pills were to create a fragmented group that led to an understandable split.
When I named the band in 1979, I had no idea that Shakespeare had beaten me to it in 1600.
“Good my Lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear? Let them be well used: for they are The Abstracts and brief chronicles of time.” Hamlet Act 2 Sc.2
Still, never mind the bollocks, eh?
Mark Gibbons – Guitar, Vocals, Lyrics
Jez Randell – Vocals, Lyrics
Martin Pearce – Bass
Paul Gardener – Drums
Where are they now?
Gibbons – Residing in Stratford still. Released an excellent single under The Abstracts name titled “Night Prowler” on So&So Records in 1989. Still writing and reformed a new version of The Abstracts in 2009 and preformed one gig. Also playing the occasional solo gig and writing.
Randell – Moved to Dorset. Played Harmonica in several bands. Now Dj’s and runs allvinylexperience.com
Pearce – Missing. Thought to be in London. Previously street performer in France.
Gardener – Living in Warwickshire and playing drums in several cover bands.
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