UK Decay interview: Interview by Mick Mercer
interview 1
interview 2

Reprinted from one of Mick Mercer's many informative and highly biased books about the gothic movement. Submitted by Nick Gough

One band helped to inspire and assist more bands to some certain level of prominence during the initial period of Goth - 81- 84- than any other, during a period more accurately referred to as post-punk, and that was Luton s finest (hardly a difficult achievement), UK Decay. Emerging with an individually styled form of punk with a distinctive rhythmical accent, and stormy imagery, in the wake of Adam And The Ants romantically sexual Do-It period, theirs was a bizarre existence, and their singer, Abbo, was soon established as an unwitting, rather than unwilling, figurehead for what would only late in their history become a movement.

I had been shocked a few years back to learn that Abbo had thrown away all his records (he could have given them to me, to sell!), as though all he felt about this period was shame, as opposed to, understandably, disinterest. It is a long time ago for a man now running Big Cat records and managing EMF, but even so a somewhat drastic way of dismissing the past.

Seated outside a pub by the Big Cat office, with cool shades on, Abbo is best left to tell the story of the band without whom you would probably not be what you are today, and that s rather a disgusting fact.

MM: So you threw them away through embarrassment?

No, I just cold t face looking at them, like a dead past I suppose, but I met a girl from Harrow who had every record, every press clipping and she gave me a set and the only thing I haven t got is the first single or foreign releases. I read through it and unfortunately it does get into the hands of, other bands - Claytown Troupe have had a good laugh at my expense-and it s just so hard to describe to them, I don t want to get into the Old Man Syndrome of oh yeah, those days were brilliant, and if I put a record on they can't really appreciate what went on around it...

MM: Are you embarrassed by any of the records or do they still stand up?

Oh yeah, yeah...we were embarrassed by them the year after we made them, apart from "Werewolf". I mean, recording them we never spent more than 150, it wasn't that important to you, whereas now someone would write a song, routine it, demo it, go in a studio...we never did a demo in the whole history of the band! So we just used to go and record something, it was pretty instantaneous. You thought, oh that s alright...any fleeting idea and it s down! Everyone else is using that as the yardstick and to you it s an inch of what the yard should be.

MM: The history then.

I was doing a degree in Business Studies...oh before that? At sixth form...

MM: Weren't there any embarrassing punk bands? (You have to interrupt like this or people conveniently whitewash their skeleton-packed closets.)

Yeah, but I can t remember the name of the band. I was just leaving school when the punk thing started, 77 period, and totally by chance came down to Soho Market - I was a vinyl junkie - come down to buy rare Bowie stuff, 70 s Ashra Temple, all that sort of stuff and outside Soho market, The Jam played and I was with a couple of school cronies, thought wow, what the f**k s this? Went into the market and there was a record stall with a lot of American stuff. Bought Richard Hell, New Rose , some grey area punk band on Chiswick, and that was it. Came to London to see the Clash and that was a case of throw all your records away. I remember going into the record shop in Dunstable Road, Luton where I d been buying records for eight years and selling him everything back for nothing, more or less, and ever since bought everything back. We were starting sixth form, and at this start of sixth form meeting there was this hippie into Fleetwood Mac and Heart and could play guitar, so me and this other chap Evo went round his house one lunch time and said let's form a band, so the next lunchtime we went round there, borrowed a bass guitar, a couple of drums and saucepans

and I actually started out playing drums, and we wrote a song called "Turn It Down" and I can t remember what we were going to call the band but at the same time I had a couple of other friends, Parrot and Peter Keeley, and we d had this band Dead Babies which was just fictional. To them it was like a chat up line, to me it was wow, anyone can be in a band, period, and we used to practice in my bedroom at home and do this song Dead Babies , so I was in two bands . Nothing really materialized, we played around and this guitarist kept wanting to play Pink Floyd, and there was another chap called Segovia, who had a band called the Resistors, and he said they needed a bass player so I said oh, l can play bass . I couldn't of course, but l was like hip, because I was the only one coming to London with this chap Evo, seeing all these bands so I d be saying oh I was chatting to Joe Strummer, and Debbie Harry kissed us, which she had done, because in those days we were like the only fans you remember, and it was good being just outside London, you could go back the next day and talk for an hour about the gig the night before, and it would be total hushed silence, like a parent telling their kids about the war or something.

MM: Having bought a guitar dirt cheap, Abbo had its previous owner teach him one old Thin Lizzy riff and was able to bluff his way through a Resistors rehearsal, by the simple fact that everyone was making too much din to realize he played Thin Lizzy in every song.

It was great in those days, just a wall of noise, probably more self indulgent than hippies ever were. So I joined the Resistors and we sacked the singer straight away and got this mate of mine, Simon, from St. Albans and we booked two gigs at Luton Arts Centre supporting The Jets. This was in 78 I think. Of course, come the day before we had no songs, so because I was more organized than the others I realized we had to do our homework on the night before, so we wrote four songs, Abbo s because had a few spots in them days, Necrophilia , Pervert and Mystery Society . Course, cos we had half our mates from the sixth form there, in the half a lager and you re gone routine, it just went crazy and pissed the Jets off so much - they were playing the Roxy at the time. The next night they tried to stitch us up and turned the PA off.

We realized that perhaps it could be done, so we started rehearsing properly, wrote four or five more songs,. but the singer was having grief with his girlfriend and didn't turn up for two rehearsals so we got another chap, Wilson, who was the punk around town, like the bloke out of Discharge but years before at a time when it was quite dangerous to walk around like that. So we come to our first gig at Barnfields College at Luton, with 200 friends there, started playing and this Paul Wilson couldn't sing! He was screaming away and nothing s coming out - we re instate playing away, really into it, thinking it s a bit weird and somebody in the audience had taped it for us and we realized he just couldn't f***ing sing, so we told him he d have to practice, he bought a microphone, but one day didn't turn up and so I thought f**k it, I'll try and sing, and that was it really. My guitar playing was never that good. So I got lumbered with the


singing job and we were a three piece, The Resisters, me, Segovia and Steve Harle, a power-punk trio I suppose, but playing really slow songs and everyone else was playing all this fast hardcore or American Television style muso stuff. We weren't very capable but we stood out against The local bands.

We eventually got our first London gig at the Nashville, because I d met Spizz, at a Banshees gig, because I used to follow The Banshees and The Clash. We played The slower songs and they went down really well in London because it s a bit more of an open minded crowd, so we started developing more and more of that sound and the first EP that we d recorded about a month before then and brought 50 to the gig and sold all 50, came to London for the day, met Geoff Travis and he bought 50 off us, went to the stall in the market and he bought 25.

MM: You've changed the name by now?

Yeah, sorry, changed the name just before we came to London. Basically I was coming back from a gig in London and we needed a new name, you couldn't tell anyone you were called The Resistors...and there was a headline on the Daily Mirror saying UK Decay - the time of the four day week and all that crap - and we thought oh, that s alright, we'll take that.

MM: It should be noted also That UK Decay s first single was very much a chunky punky affair, finding them at their most ridiculously catchy, something they would rarely manage again as the arrangements thickened. It s a shared single with Pneumonia, a pretty normal punkish bunch with a singer possessing real King s Road exploding hair.

We did another gig with Spizz out of town and suddenly seemed to move out of the local gig scene, which is the best thing for a band. We played a gig in Northampton and - famous moment when local bands clash -a chap came backstage and said Hi, I m Pete and That was the old Murph.

MM: This is Abbo s polite description for Peter Murphy of Bauhaus.

We met a chap called Graham Bentley who was managing them at the time. They helped us, giving us gig names in Oxford and we put them on in Luton...they weren't really into their dramatic stage, it was before Bela Lugosi . It was weird because we d met em and I don t think we'd seen them at that point and Graham gave me a tape of the single and we played it in the van on the way home and we were all totally blown away by Bela Lugosi just came from nowhere, because they seemed a lot older than us. That was really seminal at the time because it was so left of field of what everyone else was doing...l remember seeing them playing it live and the audience was so restless at the gigs, even in their home town, no one really appreciated them and I suppose we had a similar sort of problem, so there was a bit of bonding there although we fell out for whatever reason, can't remember what.

Then we did the "Black Cat" EP , four songs we d written quite a while before. We made the mistake that I've since learned with all the bands we (Big Cat) work with - we thought, oh we must record these songs, otherwise they'll disappear. Now I believe it s a always best to record what s best at the time. We d already written "For My Country" and "Unexpected Guest" but recorded The "Black Cat" EP instead. We went down to see Geoff Travis who in the meantime, over a period, had bought another 1500 of the first EP - we sold the first pressing and were already embarrassed by it, so didn't repress it, but we sold about 8,000 singles in the first month, or five weeks and it didn't have any profile, didn't appear in any charts, then suddenly the indie charts happened and we were really shocked - we had a record in the charts, which was packed with Toyah and all those people we considered really big. The chap in Soho market said look I m starting a record label do you wanna do a record for us? And that was Fresh Records. We went down next weekend, recorded "For My Country", wrote "Unwind" and whopped that on the b-side and the next thing we know our records have gone out to the States and quite a few people had heard them.

Biafra had heard one, and he said he wanted us to support him over here. So we had to pay 750 tour support and we went on the road with "For My Country" and this all happened in a short period of time. Steve Keaton had latched on to us, from Sounds, and we met you and did an interview for Panache at The Moonlight, and those were the first two proper interviews we did. Then we started to be fanzine kings, did about a million fanzine interviews really quick...but nothing in the NME. Nothing in Melody Maker. Nothing in Record Mirror. A little bit in Sounds and with "For My Country" we were lucky Fresh were doing it because we were still pressing the Black Cat EP and had done about 20,000 in the first three months.

That was pissing out all over the world, then "For My Country" went into the indie charts and suddenly we re a known quantity, at which point I d met Ian Curtis (Warsaw, Joy Division) at the Music Machine, half met Killing Joke; met Youth out and about and he kept offering us joints which at the time was just about the naffest thing you could take in those days, and suddenly there seemed a pool of bands -

Black EP

For My Country

us, Killing Joke, Bauhaus...and that was when people started talking about a movement, but none of the bands really got on with each other.

If you put the four bands together now, The music styles were so different - we were so much more punky than Bauhaus, They were far more musical, better songs, far more pretentious, Killing Joke were much more into the rhythmic dance thing, which Bauhaus hadn't discovered yet and we would never concede to.

Then we started to record the album with Fresh but they were in real financial trouble and it took seven months to record.

MM: And, something Abbo never made clear, after the first single Spon was on guitar, a five stringed instrument that naturally produced different sounding chords, and Segovia got peed off with the escalating structure of the band, and his post was temporarily filled by a blonde gal named Lol. Her replacement was the slightly less blonde Eddie Branch.

MM: History over...

We went to America in 81, toured over there as a three piece, picked up a singer called Jason for bass duties, pre-Eddie, who sang in a band Social Unrest and we played with Circle Jerks, Black Flag, DOA, The Farts, Subhumans - everyone, and we were exposed, it was like suddenly going back three years because suddenly we were this slow band, getting really canned on stage. We had a hard a time.

MM: Even though the records had been going out there?

What we didn't realize was that the records all had a good profile all on the East Coast. We toured the West Coast, and the East Coast scene hadn't crossed to the West Coast scene. The East Coast was an artier scene who could appreciate us. I didn't realize That New York was on the East Coast in those days! We played our first show with the Dead Kennedy s in the Mabuhay Gardens, their anniversary gig, totally wild, totally packed, expecting this hardcore band from England, we had such a hard time. They tried to pull me off stage, chucking stuff. The whole five weeks we did, about fifty per cent went well and fifty per cent were absolute disasters. In front of BIG crowds.

We came back and basically wrote America off, not realizing our records were selling on The East Coast, brought Jason back for a headline tour, and suddenly "Black Cat" , "For My Country" and "Unexpected Guest" were all in the indie charts. It was great because it meant you d have an audience who understood what you re about. So we brought the bass player over here, did the tour, did an interview with Sounds, again with Steve Keaton and spoke out against the National Front, and we were getting a lot of skinheads at our gigs, because of the name, and that whole tour was plagued with the National Front, culminating in the gig in Bedford where we played with The Dark and Play Dead opening, and it got wrecked, the skinheads absolutely trashed us. The audience left, the security left and there was the four of us and four roadies against about a hundred skinheads - absolutely murdered, with our sixteen year old American bass player who d never been to England before. So that next day our gear and the PA, everything, had been smashed, and we were deciding whether or not to give up...

UK Decay

MM: You were still standing?

We were in a real state. I had a black eye, cauliflower ear, which I've still got.

MM: With a police summons to give evidence, and an injunction to prevent them leaving the country just in case, UK Decay found themselves in trouble.

We couldn't go any further because we couldn't support bands who'd help us, the bands headlining the Lyceum, their audiences weren't really into us. It all stabilized for 6 months then The album came out. Then rather than us changing, the scene seemed to come more towards what we were doing.

MM: For Madmen Only remains something of a classy enigma, showing the weird elements at work within the Decay sound, which remains a classic of its type, because no-one copied them directly afterwards, so it stands alone. Bleak, warm and turbulent, in equal measures.

MM: Their doubts were dispelled by the increase in stature.

I remember we did a co-headline with Wasted Youth and they were shouting out, we want to play last . Okay, so you go on last . We played and went to do an interview round the comer. When we came back Wasted Youth were playing and the place had emptied!

We realized what we'd got...there was a movement -there. We d also done an interview with Steve Keaton in Belgium when "Unexpected Guest" came out and he d foreseen this - it s gonna be a movement and we re going "nah, we'll be gone in six months". He said you've got to get a name for it, it s not punk, it s not dance, or alternative or New Pop or mod...and I remember saying we re into The whole Gothic Thing ...and we sat there laughing about how we should have gargoyle shaped records and only play churches. Course he put it all in the interview, comic strip writer that he was. For six months everything went quiet, then when the album came out everyone was asking, what s this Gothic thing you re into? And it s a total joke! I've still got the interview this girl from Harrow gave me and just seeing this little word mentioned once in a whole interview...

MM: With the Sexual/Twist In The Tale single also maintaining their raging prominence, UK Decay were right up at the top, looking bemused.

It was weird, everywhere we played abroad it really was like pioneering- every gig in every county we d played three times before, instead of a hundred people there was six hundred, and in England it d got to a big size. I met a kid at the ZigZag club, this short chap, Hi, I m in a band called Sex Gang Children , we played Bradford and I was taking a piss and this Pakistani kid comes in and hassles me, and it s Aki (Southern Death Cult). He introduced us to Ian, got the tape, played it and thought this is great. Stan (Theatre of Hate/Spear of Destiny) had one and we were both planning to get them gigs, and we were playing the ZigZag Club again and I wanted them on there. The night before they had a gig at the Rock Garden and I went along. It was like a Who s Who of the scene. In the space of a month a band had come along and managed to achieve what we d been trying to do for four to five years!

Then we played the Zigzag Club and afterwards we were all backstage and all these young bands - there was bloody hundreds of them - Andi, Southern Death Cult, Brigandage, Blood & Roses...and none of them are a copy of the other, and there s me feeling like Grandpa! For six months it was really exciting, like the Summer Of Love, everyone was saying how good everyone else s records were, patting each other on the back. Seemed like we would take on the world, but we were the only band playing Europe. Only Bauhaus and Killing Joke were playing outside the UK, so it never really had the same impact over there. The US had only just discovered the Banshees, round about their fourth or fifth album.

MM: Finally it all comes to an end.

We did 260 gigs in that last year. We were in Berlin and I remember saying to Steve Harle, I just wanna leave this band . Everywhere we went we were doing interviews and we just wanted to do gigs, and none of us wanted to be stars. The big difference between then and bands I meet now is they re all desperate to be successful; love me, love me . We were the opposite, we wanted to be a bit precious and keep some of it for us and the fans, the corny things that should matter but never come off when it starts to take off.

We re driving up the autobahn, Spon got out to take a piss and I said let s split the band . We were supposed to go to America, Germany again, Israel, and Japan had just had the album released, so it seemed the whole world was there, and we said, starting tomorrow do you want to go through the whole thing for the next year- the same old thing - and it didn't seem worthwhile.

Suddenly everyone was looking to us for the answers and I thought the newer bands like Southern Death Cult were better, they had more of a future. They had more of the attitude of an eighteen year old than a 24 year old. We were only 21/22 but we d been going so long and been up against so much we d become old men really quickly.

MM: One of the things that prevented Decay getting bigger was that they had quite a dreg end following who Abbo, creditably, always defended to the hilt.

They were interesting characters. I d been the same with Adam and Strummer. I d been to see Adam at the Rainbow that never happened and Adam was standing at the tube next to us. The Clash had become really big and unapproachable. The Banshees, who always seemed publicly unapproachable, I always found quite approachable - They d always get you into their gigs, always remember you, all that shit...and I took this girl who got pregnant on the tour to have an abortion, sat up all night with someone who s dad had died - it sounds really corny but when you re 21 and all those people...we never stayed in hotels, always stayed round peoples houses, or slept in the van so it was really tight. I remember doing a van driver s job delivering things for six months to save the money to do this (Big Cat) and they really treat you like shit and I always thought back to those days, and the features that made these people likable really weren't obvious - the gigs had almost become a sidetrack to them just living their life, it was their way of opting out I suppose, but they weren't all cretins. It was a bit of a strain. The abortion was horrible. It was the same in Europe, a following that was slightly more intellectual. A band shouldn't become that important, and to us it wasn't that important we didn't believe the sun shone out of everyone's arses.

It was a real lemming-type thing and we weren't really out for it and because we weren't staying in hotels you didn't get the protection that I see with EMF. If someone talks to them, and they say f**k off, it s Oh, great, they told me to f**k off! If we had told someone to f**k off we d have lost everything. Overnight we d have become the scumbags of the scene.

There was a girl Natalie I d been friendly with in Paris when we played, blah blah and the rest of it but nothing went on...she came to London expecting some big romance, stayed at the flat I stayed in with Andi in the Brixton quadrant with Billy Duffy and Under 2 Flags, and she came up with all these problems and wanted to get married, and I d never even really met the girl before. I wasn't really into drugs and she was off her head! She went back to Paris and took an overdose. I found this out in Berlin from a girl who you always stayed with in Paris; Natalie s killed herself, took an overdose and no one could understand why but I knew. All these things mounted up and the bad just seemed really important

MM: Presumably during all this major labels must have known you were selling well. There must have been tempting offers?

We never spoke to them. We played two nights at the Clarendon...we had the chance of going on TV doing that Channel 4 Friday thing that Martin Whateverhisnamewas was doing, from The Fridge, or doing two nights at the Claredon. We d always said we never wanted to do a video or go on TV, we just always thought it was shit. We always thought what we did was a part of the time.

We did the Clarendon and announced at the first night, that the next would be the last. Afterwards everybody s in tears, Steve Harle is exhausted and I felt elated, I d got rid of everything, Suddenly I walk out into the bar and there s four or five record company types; Come in and do some demos, fanbase ... and all that shit and I remember feeling physically sick.

We d always had interest from majors in Europe because that s where our biggest market was and we could never concede doing it. All those strings being pulled...we d just never consider it.

The moment we went off stage I said something corny like this is only the beginning , like you do, and to me it was the beginning of getting rid of that stuff. To me it d become a dinosaur.

That s why to me bands like Sisters Of Mercy are a total joke...having seen Blood & Roses ten tears ago I don t see them as anything of substance, it s just a big facade hidden behind black clothes and scowling. Listening to the records, fine, but all this about getting off being part of a scene and a following,..shit...especially as at that time we were at the hub of it and never contrived anything.

All the bands at the end - like Southern Death Cult, got offered a big deal and Ian came round and said We've been offered a 100,000 deal, I don't want it, he was very shrewd because in a very short space of time he'd realized that as soon as he stepped into that big label monster his future was gone, basically. They might sell a lot of records but what they'd have to do for it wouldn't have been very enjoyable. I was actually rehearsing with Billy Duffy and had written four or five songs and we couldn't get on, that's how him and Ian got together to form Death Cult, who I thought were really exciting and would go on to big things. If they'd told me they would go on to be a straightforward rock/heavy metal band Id have been amazed!

MM: Now as Big Cat sage, do you tell his young saplings a thing or two?

Its weird, because we did earn our place by playing live and I don t think bands will ever be like that again because you get involved with everything, you get the band together, finance it, you'd make the records, produce it, sometimes you'd engineer it, you'd buy the tapes from the wholesalers, buy the cassettes and copy them yourself stamp the labels, make your own cover, press it, book your own tour, though we did get an agent, I used to tour manage and drive the van. The only person not in the band who had anything to do with it was a hippie who did the artwork, from the Poison Girls. I'd never said to a band you've got it easy but you can push them into the areas that are most important

MM: So what happened to everyone? Where are they now?

The only thing I know about Segovia is he was caught wanking by his girlfriends mother six months ago. Steve Harle tour manages Faith Over Reason and goes out with Moira which they dared not tell me for ages which really amused me, Spon has got his own studio in Luton. After In Excelsis he got into the whole dance thing and Eddie's in Pete Murphy's band. Eddie's done really well. I think Eddie has always been a bit pissed off with me for breaking up the band, Steve was a bit wary and Spon has always been like that. Albie's in De Luca Triangle with Pete from Play Dead and Nigel Preston. Went to see them once and couldn't stop laughing and had to leave. Haven't seen them since. Thank God.
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