An early write up for the Upstarts in Smash Hits, 17 May, 1979.
From Sounds, April 19, 1980
GARRY BUSHELL FALLS VICTIM TO THE CHARMS OF FATAL MICROBE DONNA BANE.
PIX BY VIRGINIA TURBETT
A BOOZER IN beautiful down-town Stepney is the rendezvous and despite London Transport I manage to arrive at the right time on the right day and in one piece, only to find the place as quiet as the Valley Covered End after last Tuesday’s match and even less well-attended. In fact there’s only the guv’nor there. Still plenty of perambulating and enforced sun-bathing at bus stops has left me with a throat like the inside of the Ayatollah’s y-fronts and with the pub providing a nice line in draught Hemeling I don’t mind hanging about for a few rounds in case my interviewees materialise.
Pint in hand, I case the joint casually. It don’t exactly take a Phil Marlowe to suss it’s a disco pub — hardly a likely local for an outfit with the punky connotations of Donna ‘Honey’ Bane and the Fatal Microbes. Perhaps it’s a wind-up. Or an ambush by Donna’s former comrades-in-arms the cretinous Crass. At the very least I’m convinced I’m in for a proper ear-bashing.
On the phone Donna had been adamant that this was to be a group interview and she’d sounded put out about something — probably all the sexist rubbish some wag keeps slipping in Jaws about her, y’know, references to her breasts looking like ‘a pair of boxing gloves out looking for a fight’, and so on. Meet us at High Noon, she’d said. Gulpo. Do not forsake me, oh my beer gut. I needn’t have worried. She strolls in all smiles only 10 minutes late, clutching a battered cassette player and sporting almost gypsy-like green feather earring hangs down from her left earlobe, brown roots wink through a scraggy peroxide mop-top, and her eyes boast sympathetic silver eyeshadow (Leichner, natch).
DESPITE THE unflattering jumble safe chic you can see she’s a looker. A little on the dumpy side perhaps but that’s just puppy fat. She’s still only sweet 16 after all, not that you’d blame the guv’nor for not batting an eye when I order her a large CC and coke.
“The others are on their way,”she grins. “Lazy bastards should have been here by now. Wanna hear the new single?” She turns on the cassette and I’m surprised to hear the very catchy ‘Mass Production’ issue forth, a ditty a lesser scribe would probably pigeonhole in the box marked pop-punk.
“What’s this, free music?” asks the guv’nor, obviously unimpressed, but he cheers up as the b-side ‘Guilty’ begins, a dubby doodah replete with spirited Donna Summer style sighs and a decorative guitar figure.
“John Peel says it’s too poppy,” Donna is outraged. “And he won’t give us a session.”
I make sympathetic noises and mention the poor sod’s age.
“It don’t matter though,” Donna continues, “It’ll be out by June, probably on a major — we’ve got a few majors interested but I can’t say who yet.”
I take her word for it and venture the single oozes what we in the trade call ‘chart potential’, being a lot more mainstream than her previous vinyl outings — the slow, sinister ‘Violence ..Grows’ which came out last March to Single Of The Week reception in Sounds, and more recently the anarchistically contagious ‘You Can Be You’ EP recorded with Crass as ‘Donna And The Kebabs’ (geddit?) which hovered round the apex of our authentic sales-return-based Alternative Charts (and was definitely the best thing Crass have ever lent their name to).
Donna agrees, testifying that the present band line-up’s the real thing for her, and she certainly seems happier and more self-assured these days. When I first met her in a Peckham hide-out last summer she was on the run from the Social Services after doing a moonlight from the St Charles Youth Treatment Centre in Essex where she’d been placed for her violence and underage boozing. (I reckon her downfall began in earnest when she got chucked out of the Brownies for ‘rowdiness’ at the tender age of seven).
If this was just a Donna Bane feature we could go into great detail about her subsequent on the road adventures featuring such Jaws stalwarts as Jimbo Pursnatcher, John Lydon (and on), Jock McDonald, the ugly Angelic Upstarts, Micky Geggus and the cuddly Crass. But suffice it to say the aid and advice of the above named contributed to her eventual reunion with her mother and stepfather, a move back to Plaistow, the SS accepting her non-incarceration, and most important the reincarnation of the Fatal Microbes Mark Two and her current cheerfulness.
YOU MAY REMEMBER from last year’s instalment that Donna had elbowed the ‘Violence Grows’ ‘Fatal’ Microbes because of their unwillingness to depart from two-chord-thrash material and had linked up with a mystery Stepney based band whose public unveiling was delayed at the time because the guitarist, DereK Maltbey, had inconsiderately fractured his skull in a motorbike pile-up.
Well after various rows and wrong moves the rejigged combo eventually made their live debut at the Xmas Day Studio 21 ding-dong and just as Donna starts to sing their praises the boys trundle through the door right on cue like some corny play on the telly — Dave Maltbey (rhythm guitar}, Danny Trickett (lead guitar), Keith Hudson (bass guitar) and drummer Derek Hadley is “on his way — if he can remember who he is today”.
Mention of the beat-keeper results in orgies of unleashed molars and a whole host of warnings and stories.
“You better watch out for Derek,” claims Dave, “He’s a nutter. Seriously. He’s been locked up in a mental hospital. He has to go in for injections every month. He’s a loony. He don’t even know how old he is. He’ll go out with no money, get a cab, and pay for it with a £40 cymbal . . .”
When Del arrives it’s a bit of an anti-climax as he’s quite a pleasant bloke, content to merely natter on about coming from Mars and claim that Hendrix once said “Help” to him. Nothing out the ordinary at all.
Dave (18) and Danny (22) are both locals and as you might expect veterans of loads of never-bin-nuffin punk bands. But Paddington patriot Keith’s a bit more of a square peg, because despite the butchered barnet the boy’s a self-confessed hippy and fearless devotee of Genesis and their Godawful ilk. His involvement stems from the original bassist Dave’s brother John (who incidentally wrote ‘Mass Production’) refusing to leave his day job. Keith who co-manages Waterloo’s Alaska Studio where the band were rehearsing stepped in to help out and never looked back.
But the hair had to go, and he foolishly allowed his mane to come under the Bane scissors. Seized by a fit of anarchistic inspiration Donna cropped one side and spiked up the other. His subsequent almost immediate visit to a bona fide barber was tantamount to enlisting in a freak show as the good coiffeur had him surrounded by about half a dozen local snippers all giving ‘low whistles, loud tuts, and whispering “Well I never’s” ad nauseum.
SURPRISINGLY HE’S well into the Microbes experience and within minutes of his arrival is leading the others through outrageous tales of their recent excellently received UK kharzi tour, fixed up by their managers in Final Solution and featuring plenty of police raids, crazy crowds, and reckless runners from hotels and nosheries, all the usual
“We’re really into being theatrical on stage,” Donna confides shifting to the meat of the matter, “acting out the songs. Keith literally kicks me about the stage on some numbers. But it’s all getting a bit obscene. At Middlesbrough Keith took his trousers off and some girl took his pants off and he just stood there stark naked.”
Virulently Turbulent bowls in and disrupts the smooth flow of chatter demanding the band go out and pose with a passing Chinese Wedding and then sits whining about needing more pics until we’re forced to drive off to Greenwich Park for a session (Gross Halfwit is never like this. He’s prettier too.)
On the way the band map out their feelings about their future. Honey is certain. “We wanna get across to everybody, to the majority of people, not just a small cult.”
“That’s right,” Dave agrees, “We don’t wanna be just a punk band. I mean we wanna play for punks as well but we want to have hit records and mean something.”
Keith lowers the tone. “Personally I just want girls to chase me down the street.”
Honey raises it again. “We play a bit of everything in our set at the moment, punk, rock ‘n’ roll and reggae, because we go out to satisfy the crowd. We’ll play to the audience and make it visually exciting too.”
This is an obviously sensible approach to fame and fortune and ties in with the band’s acceptance of the way the media will probably single Donna out a la Debbie Blondie. But doesn’t this contradict the anarchistic spirit of the ‘You Can Be You’ EP, Donna?
“I’m not an anarchist,” She’s adamant. “I don’t believe in it. We’re rebels but not anarchists.”
To make the point Dave rolls up a sleeve to reveal a ‘Rebel Music’ tattoo. Rebels with or without a cause I wonder.
“With a cause,” Dave says. “The cause is being happy and getting the best out of life. We’re not a punk band but I’m a punk. Mod is just a fashion but punk is a way of life, I’d say.”
MAYBE. ‘CEPT the cause is the same one my Mod mates believe in . . . Still right now the conflab has to end ‘cos it’s Greenwich Park and picture time.
“It’s nice out today,” Keith remarks casually, soaking up the hot afternoon sun. “I think I’ll get mine out too.” I think he’s joking but minutes later he’s prancing around naked from the waist down. I feel quite ill and head for home. On the way I see the Park Police heading in the band’s general direction which brings up the subject of busts and surrounding Jaws-like Benny Hillery. Probably a good point to knock part two of Sounds’ Fatal Microbes serial on the head.
From the NME, 17 March, 1984.
In which amply strapping rock’n’roll vocalist Thomas Mensford is revealed as a sensitive soul. The brick shit-house-built bellower of three-chord, two-syllable prole political declamations is backed tonight not by the usual leathery yobs but one fresh-faced youth with a large and rather battered acoustic guitar. He approaches this first gig venture into the virgin territory of semi-solo performance as nervous as a lamb on the slab, eyes constantly flicking to the sides searching for the safety of his absent fellow Upstarts to share our scrutiny and examination.
Face pink with passion he reeled off a series of heartfelt anthems including the powerful anti-scab ‘Heath’s Lament’. Mensi is an optimist seeing even in the current climate of Working Class retreat the beauty of the human spirit that stands up and fights.
The proverbial Fly-in-the Ointment comes in the shape of our friend the fourth Generation dickhead punk who insisted on idiot-dancing and shouting along to even the most intense of his hero’s poems.
“Someone get that fucker in a band ferchrissakes!” snarled the stocky one glaring at the bopping fool whose mohican visibly wilted under the awesome scorn.
Mensi consistently rubbed salt into the sores that matter, especially when in a rendition of the classic Irish rebel rant ‘The Green Fields Of France’ he tossed aside the stinking Red, White and Blue hide of ‘Patriotic Socialism’ (Kinnock stylee!). From the man who once sank knee deep in the Bushellshite swamp of ‘The Falklands Spirit’ this was indeed stunning stuff.
Explosive tendrils of rigid dreadlock and a natty line in slashed to rags sartorial inelegance, ex-Osibisa bassist Spartacus R resembled nothing if not an electric chair escapee who has still managed to retain his sense of humour. He doesn’t strain his one-man set unduly with too much in-depth political analysis but smacks the despicable Reagan and Maggot soundly with some nicely-aimed haymakers. All in all he was hard, fast, just a little crude and went on for hours. THAT’s how I like ’em!
Mensi talks to the NME, 8 August, 1981, about the Angelic Upstarts Two Million Voices album, one of the best socialist statements to come out of punk, the police, riots, and perhaps most interestingly the poet Tom Pickard.
Reasons Why was a German red skinhead ‘zine from Berlin full of bolschewistische propaganda! as they have it.
I’m not loading much of it up to the blog as it’s all in German. Anyway it features The Redskins (obvs), Angelic Upstarts, Attila The Stockbroker, Red London, Billy Bragg and features on the Miner’s strike and Marxist history.
These pages come from No. 4 from 1985.