THE LONGEST SERVING PUNK BAND WITH ORIGINAL LINE UP!
THE ADICTS began life as the Afterbirth & The Pinz, in their hometown of Ipswich back in late 1975. They scored many Indie Chart hits in the Eighties, and are unbelievably still together, and still making great music, with the same line-up – Keith ‘Monkey’ Warren, vocals; Mel Ellis, bass; Pete Dee Davison, guitar; and Michael ‘Kid Dee’ Davison, drums – to this day. Newer members are John Scruff Ellis (Mel’s brother) guitar.
“I think we all started for different reasons,” recalls Monkey, of their distant origins. “Pete and Kid moved to Ipswich from Sunderland were already playing on their own, using pillows for drums in the front room.
Mel had just failed the audition for Nick Kershaw’s band (too tall apparently) and I was a punk without a cause. Exactly what year that was may vary depending on who you talk to.
Some say ’75, some say ’76. I think I have a flyer from March ’76, but before that we had played our first show in a scout hut in Aldburgh, Suffolk – not exactly top of the list for all time top punk venues! We strung a rope across the room to keep the ‘crowd’ back and had a motor bike for a lighting rig. As far as our musical education goes, I think Pete took music at school, and Kid just liked to hit things. I don’t know where Mel got his ‘talent’ from but it seems to run in the family. I still can’t play anything.”
They soon changed their name to THE ADICTS and became known for their distinctive Clockwork Orange ‘Droog’ image, which, along with their urgent, uptempo music and light-hearted lyrics, helped set them very much apart from the rest of the genre.
“We became THE ADICTS because The Pinz was such a shit name,” deadpans Kid. “At the early gigs we just used to wear punk clothes, but never anything bought, like those posers who went down to Kings Road. After a while though, black came in and it all became boring, so we started to dress in white to be different, and ‘Clockwork Orange’ had been a major influence on us, though not for the violence, more the teenage angst…”
“The ‘Clockie’ thing didn’t really evolve until about 78/79 ‘Songs Of Praise’ came out in 1981,” reckons Monkey. “And the image is an amalgam of many things. It may have been a conscious effort to set ourselves against the somewhat unimaginative appearance of early ’80s punk bands or just a perception that looking a certain way might be interesting and entertaining.
We got some stick from some of the self-appointed ‘real’ punk bands for not being punk enough, or whatever, but I don’t remember anyone really making an issue of the image… other than saying I must be a poof!”But before the aforementioned ‘Songs Of Praise’ debut album, the band spent several years gigging and building up a strong local following. They even managed, after their very first London show, at The Brecknock, to secure an – albeit basic, to say the least – deal with Dining Out Records, who released the ‘Lunch With THE ADICTS‘ EP in 1979. It was a scintillating, cock-sure debut, surprisingly well executed for an opening gambit, and featured four songs, two of which remain constants in the band’s live set even today: the pounding mid-tempo ‘Easy Way Out’ and the irresistible ‘Straight Jacket’.
“I remember the early days as a time of discovery, adventure, and intellectual and artistic awakening. Punk Rock encouraged people from small towns all over the UK to think differently and to take a different path. My mum wasn’t too pleased when I quit my job and came home with purple hair, but it was a personal revolution. I may have been a fashion victim, but I was also a liberated mind ready for anything. The gigs were also a strange mix of freedom and fear. Punks from different towns united together at shows and vented while the band was on. But as soon as you stepped outside and went your separate ways, you had to watch your back for lads looking for a weirdo to kick in”.
“I was a rather violent youth and spent half the time scrapping with the neighbours or at a football match,” admits Pete. “The gigs were a mixture of curiosity, fun and hate for most of the punters; ducking ashtrays or pint glasses was a new skill we soon learned. I once played whilst having darts thrown at me; one stuck in my guitar and another in my leg! Now, that’s not nice, is it?
“All in all though, it was the most fun anyone could have… because we weren’t part-time punks; we were true to the cause. We looked forward to the weekend; we would travel miles to see a gig… for instance, I remember we went to see Eater in Clacton… two car loads of us… and that’s ALL who showed up for the gig too! Well, us and a hand full of local Hell’s Angels – even that turned into a brawl! There was nowhere that was safe, but the excitement to see Eater overruled everything… and we won the battle as well!”
Within a year, THE ADICTS unveiled their first long-player, ‘Songs Of Praise’, through Dwed Wrecords, their ‘own label’ but essentially a division of Fall Out. It took all the unique ingredients that had made the ‘Lunch With…’ EP so memorable, and refined and developed them, producing several of the band’s greatest moments. Quite contrary to the relentless thrash that was becoming so popular at the time, THE ADICTS dared to incorporate cheeky melodies and overtly pop overtones into their sound. ‘Tango’ even sounds like early Antz…
“There might be a bit of the Antz in there. In fact I have recently been sectioned under the mental health act,” laughs Monkey, before commenting on other possible influences, “I don’t think there were any other bands around Ipswich that were inspirational, except perhaps the shitty pop covers bands that we definitely didn’t want to be like. Once we got into the band I didn’t listen to that much other music; what we were doing was enough for me. It wasn’t until several years later that I caught up and realized that Pete and Kid had nicked bits off everyone from Lou Reed to Lulu…!
“‘Songs of Praise’ is my favorite release, not just for the music, but for the way that we did it all ourselves. I can still remember being in the back of the van just after we had picked up the first pressing and the LP sleeves. I think we were all getting off on the fumes from the glue. I took the first record and put it in the first sleeve and we all cheered as I held it up. I wish I knew what happened to that one!”
Arguably the best song on the album, and certainly the most anthemic, ‘Viva La Revolution’, was chosen as a single. Ably backed by ‘Numbers’ and a non-LP track – the superbly-titled ‘(My Baby Got Run Over By A) Steamroller’ – it spent over three months in the Indie Charts, cementing THE ADICTS‘s rapidly-growing reputation as one of the most innovative and popular bands of punk’s new wave.
November 1982 saw the release of their sophomore album, ‘The Sound Of Music’, for Razor Records. It was preceded by two weeks with a single, the ludicrously infectious ‘Chinese Takeaway’. Both releases were classic Adicts, bubbling over with their own unique wacky energy, and it was hardly surprising when they took the charts by storm. ‘Chinese Takeaway’, backed by the brilliant ‘Too Young’ and a cover of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, spent four months in the Indies, peaking at No. 7, whilst the album managed no. 2, only being kept from the coveted top spot by Toyah’s ‘Warrior Rock’. It even dented the Top 100 of the National Charts, no mean feat right before Christmas!
More chart success followed when the anthemic ‘Bad Boy’ single was released in May 1983, so it was hardly surprising when the major labels started sniffing around the band, and that summer THE ADICTS signed to the Warner Bros. offshoot, Sire… It was the start of troubled times for the band, as both they and their label struggled to find a commercial compromise somewhere between easy listening radio hits and deviously daring punk rock.
Incredibly, they appeared on the kids’ TV show, ‘Cheggers Plays Pop’, albeit as The Fun Adicts, so as not to blatantly offend any parents who were tuning in. Less than a year later they were known as ADX, for the disappointing ‘Tokyo’ single, produced by ex-Vapors frontman, Dave Fenton. By their own admission, it is the band’s least favourite of their own releases (“It was a much better song than the production made it out to be,” quips Monkey). Thankfully it was backed by (as well as the rather bizarre – but quite fun – ‘ADX Medley’) ‘The Odd Couple’, a speedy track that reassured their diehard punk fans that the band still had some fire in their bellies.
Kid plays down the reasons for the name changes as, “because we couldn’t spell! And one was for TV – they thought THE ADICTS sounded too naughty, haha! But the ADX was just because we couldn’t spell!”
Monkey: “That was bit of a dodgy period for us. There was some perception that ‘Adicts’ had negative connotations for radio and TV. We had signed to Sire who where going to make us big, and we were taken in by it. They did nothing for us and we were left to pick up the pieces…”
“We were controlled at this time by record labels and we were too slow to pick up on it,” sighs Pete. “And we were so out of our heads back then it’s all such a blur. I remember some dictator from Sire records wanted us to sack Monkey ‘cos he couldn’t sing… but of course we instead gave them shit for being a bunch of c*nts. We kept the Monkey at the cost of fame and fortune!”
THE ADICTS bounced back spectacularly well with the excellent ‘Smart Alex’ album.
As well as their hit single, ‘Bad Boy’, and a remixed (but still rubbish) version of ‘Tokyo’, the album features a whole host of styles and themes, all indelibly stamped with THE ADICTS‘ own quirky identity. From the sultry singalong of ‘California’, via the stomping, almost-rockabilly ‘Crazy’, to the lilting, Fifties-ish ‘Runaway’, no one could ever accuse ‘Smart Alex’ of being generic, and it remains one of their most endearing and adventurous albums. The punters were obviously pleased to see the band back on form, too, as it sold well and spent over a month in the Indie charts, peaking at a very respectable number seven.
But yet more turmoil was just around the corner. Parting ways with Razor, THE ADICTS expanded to a five piece, with the addition of 2 different keyboardists who were both shite & neither lasted very long. They released the ‘Bar Room Bop’ 12″ on their own Dwed Records (again through Fallout), and then in 1986, they ended up recording their next album in Germany, a country where they had – and still have – great success touring. ‘Fifth Overture’, was initially released by German label, Gama, before being picked up for the UK by Fallout a year later, albeit with a different sleeve, but it was a poorly promoted, relatively weak effort from the band, that indulged in far too much New Wave pomposity for its own good, and it sank virtually without trace.
“Even then, we always regarded ourselves as a punk band,” insists Monkey. “I had big arguments with Geordie, our manager at the time, when he put ‘New Wave’ on the posters. I also had a big argument about selling out when the price to get in went up from 35p to 45p! I don’t think we have ever had conscious aspirations or agendas. We get together, the songs come out. If we like it we’re happy.”
“Yes, of course we were, and we still are, a punk band,” agrees Pete. “The music may be interpreted through the many different styles we have, but at the end of the day, we are a Punk band… aren’t we?!”
Arguments over genre specifics didn’t stop the band from enjoying tremendous live success though, and they toured all over the world, even releasing a live album (recorded in front of their loyal German audience), ‘Rockers Into Orbit’, in 1988.
“Kid got drunk and disappeared, or passed out, all over Asia, America, and Europe,” he continues, recalling some of their other on-the-road antics. “We’ve got lost, robbed, ripped off, attacked and arrested… well, I got arrested at least! We’ve puked, pissed, slept, shagged, and shat together all over the world. We’ve been treated like kings and accused of being queens… well, I have!
After constantly touring for years they took a break for a couple years to lick their wounds and nurse their creative muses back to full power. They returned, 1992 with ’27’ for US label Cleopatra.
A much harder and more satisfying album than ‘Fifth Overture’, it was picked up for Europe a year later by Anagram, who allowed the band to incorporate an interactive Adicts board game into the sleeve art, which had participants doing everything the band themselves enjoyed doing whilst on tour, from rolling spliffs to eating vindaloo.
“Whilst on the road our humour got sicker and sicker,” explains Kid. “So we came up with the board game in the back of the van to help take away all those long boring hours spent traveling.”
’27’ was a good return to form. The speedy opener ‘Angel’ reassures you immediately that you’re back in classic Adicts territory, and the rousing singalong ‘F@ck It Up’ just proves that you don’t have to play fast to sound anarchic. The album even features a belated sequel to ‘(My Baby Got Run Over By A) Steamroller’ in the shape of ‘7:27’, which sees a train to Liverpool Street taking the place of the original destructive automaton!
It was to be another eight long years before THE ADICTS deemed the time right to enter another recording studio. They went into Earles Studio in Ventura, California during 2002, where they wrote, rehearsed and recorded all nineteen cuts , ‘Rise And Shine’, there and then. Basically relying upon the unique chemistry they’ve developed over their long, eventful history to help shape some of their strongest and most diverse songs to date. They licensed the album from their own Dee Dee Records to Captain Oi as part of an extensive plan to reissue the majority of the band’s back catalogue.
“We’ve never been afraid to experiment or to play just what we feel,” reckons Kid “The new stuff is still fast, fun and furious, but there are still a few songs that will completely blow your head off because they’re so different! And we have got Pete in the studio who is a genius. Overall we are still a good team…”
For a while “We all went off and did normal things to see if we liked it. Some of us liked it better than others. Kid had kids, Mel had letters to deliver, Pete had other bands to produce… and I sat forlornly in my room, putting on my make-up and waiting for the phone to ring!
“Our message, such as it is, has always been, have fun,” he continues, attempting to define the secret of their longevity. “That’s timeless and appeals to everyone.
If your songs are about the political state of the country, or a victim of police brutality in the ’80s, then the agenda that you established for yourself becomes obsolete. You become an anachronism…
“To be honest, I never thought our music would be remembered in years to come. I used to be happy if someone remembered a song straight after we played it. Actually I used to be even happier if we remembered the song while we played it!
“The only thing I would have done differently,” he says, in typical deadpan Adicts fashion, when asked whether or not he has any regrets, “Is to have been in a different band, with different people, and with different songs. Oh, and no make-up. Other than that it’s been perfect!
But I do love the new album Rollercoaster. Its got it all. It sums up what we are about.
~ The Adicts