YOU’VE got to applaud Optic Nerve; the Preston label that reissues some of the most excellent lost cult classics of British punk and indie culture (am I alone in finding my jaw drop involuntarily when I found you could buy a new pressing of, say, The Loft’s “Up The Hill And The Down The Slope” on 7″?).
The latest outfit to get the full, deluxe, deluxe reissue treatment – a 20-track, 2xLP compilation entitled South London Stinks, all remastered and pressed on coloured vinyl, gatefold sleeve and poster – the works, in short – is Leicester punk sextet The Disco Zombies, a clutch of singles and one cassette mini-album to their name as the Seventies bled into the Thatcherite Eighties (and how very now is that, a cassette mini-album? How the wheel of fashion turns).
The Disco Zombies made their debut in ’77 at a student halls in Leicester, to an audience reportedly a “a packed room of cross-legged intellectuals.”
The band comprised Andy Ross (yep, of Food Records, discoverer of Blur) on vocals and guitar; Geoff Dodimead on bass; Johnny ‘Guitar’ Hawkins on … do you need to ask? And Andy Fullerton on drums. They were loud, fast and they had some witty one-liners. They were soon joined by Dave Henderson from power pop-punk outfit The Blazers. They played where they could – wine bars, canteens and pub bowling alleys – until Subway Sect arrived in town and put the word out for a local support. The Disco Zombies obliged.
Then record shop owner and now mayor Of Mablethorpe Carl Tebbutt was keen to get in on the punk action and launched his Uptown Records with an EP from the lads; it was recorded and pressed before the production company handling it went belly up. Unperturbed, The Disco Zombies took on a tour of five Leicester pubs in five days.
There followed a move to London, dates at all those great venues of that circuit at that time – the Scala, the Hope & Anchor, North London Poly; and finally, a single that actually reached the shops: “Drums Over London”, an ironic piss take at one of those periodic upswings of fear of other cultures (ring any bells?). Peel got behind it; you could hear it at Rock Against Racism gigs.
And it’s a new video for “Drums Over London” that we’re pleased as punch to be debuting here today at Backseat Mafia: you can watch below. It’s got all that brilliant DIY feel of a proper punk band, rock ‘n’ roll riffin’, some of that scratchiness that would be become such an essential feature of the post-punk sound. Polish and pose and veneer? Something to be quite rightly, and quite literally, spat upon.
The story doesn’t end there, of course; but dear reader, to find out more, you need to investigate beyond today’s premiere. (There’s a handy pre-order link down there at the end).
Singer Dave Henderson says of the forthcoming compilation: “Running chronologically in terms of recording sessions, the double album showcases our TV-obsessed cold war cynicism that blossomed into songs about self-abuse, the rise of the radical right, obsessions with travelling footballers, porn stars and conspiracy theories.”
Of the new video – montaged of contemporary footage of The Disco Zombies on stage, laid over shadowier Second World War newsreel footage – he continues: “[It’s] frightening to see how young we were then and how poorly I’d cut my own hair, long before lockdown made home hairstyling a thing.
“As I recall the footage of us live was filmed under the arches at London Bridge when we were showcasing some Dining Out Records’ acts, so some time after we actually recorded the single for release.”
And with this compilation due Dave, and after a sprinkling of reunion dates in the past decade: what of the future?
“We got together after a lengthy hiatus and played three times, 2011, 2015 and 2018; to complete the cycle we should have played in 2020 then spontaneously combusted in 2021.
“There’s still time.”
Disco Zombies’ South London Stinks will be released by Optic Nerve on double vinyl on January 29th; it’s available to pre-order now, here.