Interviewed by Jack Barron.
"Everyone had been through the situation where they've got totally out of it on drink and drugs." reckons Colin." And the next day they've thought 'oh god, what did I say last night , why was I such a prat'?"
"He's got radio active blood" chuckles Steve Drewett as Mr Wright shambles off, spilling beer, into the nether regions of the concrete barn known as Harlow's Playhouse pub. "Yeah! He's got a shrinking machine as well," gabbles Simon. The young drummer's words erupt with a speed similar to that which he displays on his snare at a gig. "Mr Wright is, of-course a harmless Harlow lunatic. You can find one in every town . Colin, the Neurotics bassist, tells me Mr Wright spends most of his time in the local asylum where his is pumped with de-sensitising drugs until it is deemed that he is safe to be let loose again.
For a while, as Mr Wright regaled us with tales of his secret headquarters underneath the Kremlin, his atom bombs in the back garden, and his informers in Thatcher's cabinet, it seemed like this interview might not get done. I was just on the verge of asking Mr Wright if he'd heard the Neurotics debut elpee, 'Beggars Can Be Choosers' when singer/guitarist Steve managed to persuade the man to move on, gently. Mr Wright would otherwise have been with us all night and Steve and the rest of the band had plenty they wanted to say especially concerning the recent review of the album in 'Sounds'.
"It's a bit of a superficial way of reviewing an album, that's what annoys me," explains Steve. He's referring to the fact that three writers were used for the task - Gal Bushall, Garry Johnson and Jerry Harris. "It does have its good side since people can decide which reviewer to believe," he continues, scratching his lengthening crop. "But what really pisses me off is the attitude towards No Respect'. We expected that anyway." It's totally unjust though snarls Simon with indignation. Time to get another round in and lubricate the tonsils, I decide.
'I'm sorry if I'm boring you, but your innuendo is really no point of view. What you see here is a warm free thinking women. And not the face of a bastard race...And you show no respect. Which makes me think you're afraid of the opposite sex'.(No Respect').
'Their Greenham Common song is the worst - No Respect', Black and white trendy feminism that could have been written by Seething Wells' (Garry Johnson quoted from the review of 'Beggars'). "It looks like Garry Johnson has used the review to air his personal grievances against Swells and Attila," argues Colin. "What I thought about on the way 'round this evening was. Somebody who slags something like that so venomously as he's done, there must be a point in the song that struck home, touched him... "Johnson's missed the point in one way though. It isn't an out-and-out right-on-sister song that Tom Robinson might do. And it has nothing to do with Greenham Common. It is simply outlining some typical male viewpoints and saying what we think about them."
Steve cuts in: "The thing that I feel is it's absolutely hypocritical for people to talk about equality and freedom and then oppress the opposite sex. It's a mockery."
There's no way of avoiding it. Garry Johnson's misinterpretation of No Respect' - accidental, deliberate or a wind up - has pissed the Neurotics off a lot. So much so that , an hour later in the interview, Steve's anger boils over again.
"We're not Greenham Common men," he says adamantly. "Although there's nothing wrong with the women at Greenham Common," qualifies Simon, quickly. "It's just trendy to slag them down."
Colin: "Yeah! If you support them you're a wishy-washy liberal. That's crap."
Steve: "The point about Greenham Common is, whether you agree with them or not, they're getting out there and fighting for what they believe in while everybody else sits back and accepts the situation."
Colin: "It's a bunch of people who've got the bottle to give up their own lives and comforts to go out and make some kind of public showing about Cruise being planted in this country. I admire that.
Anybody who associates the Neurotics purely and simply with punky political gales of protest like last year's ' Kick Out The Tories' single is in for a pleasant shock when they hear the new elpee. In between such apathy axing tracks as 'Get Up And Fight' and 'Wake Up' the band deals with a whole spectrum of unexpected topics. Some songs, like 'Agony' articulate personal emotional confusions and frustrations which are widespread.
'Oh what pain, when you can't shed a tear without feeling ashamed. And it's so embarrassing. So embarrassing I wish that I could cry, so that's all I want to do. Cry instead of bruising you. Cry, do what a man's not suppose to do'(''Agony'')
Much though I am well disposed to the Neurotics propaganda, the song I most admire on 'Beggars...'is 'Agony'. A genuine punk classic - energy, harmonies and hooklines - 'Agony tears apart the male macho myth and its ugly by-products like scapegoat brutality. It goes far beyond, for instance, The Cure's 'Boys Don't Cry' effort.
Steve: "I thought the song was important to do because the album is a bunch of songs from all different parts of life. The last thing we wanted was "isn't unemployment bad?" for 10 songs.
"So we've got a humorous song ('Does Anyone Know Where The March Is?'), the unemployment thing (a scorched extended do-over of The Member's 'Solitary Confinement' called 'Living With Unemployment') and we've also got songs about personal relationships. "To a certain extent they're all interlinked as well...
'Agony' is an example. It doesn't mention unemployment but the kind of situation depicted in 'Agony' can easily arise out of a male losing his job. "You see, from the day a male goes to school, until the day he is sacked from his job, he's instilled with the work ethic. He's led to believe the only thing worth living for is working and having enough money to look after the woman. If all that is stripped away from him, then he feels a right shit, like he's no longer a man. Not everybody has a really strong personality and under that kind of pressure it can lead to violence on a woman."
Although Steve says he has never struck a women he admits he has been close to the point through his own frustration, in a sense 'Agony' is a candid slice of self analysis , though it's based on observing other people as well.
Colin takes up the thread: "The thing is, as soon as you get out of the cradle you are taught it's a very unmale thing to cry or show any emotion, it isn't the male stereotype. So it's easy for a person who is frustrated, and convinced that any breakdown of their image is bad, to take it out on somebody weaker than themselves. In this case it's a women. But it could be anybody getting beaten up on the street as a form of tension relief instead of the person having a bloody good cry"
Colin's face is twitching nervously as he concludes his thoughts. Looking at him and Simon - a youth so wound up and fidgety tonight I thought, wrongly, he was plugged into a large dose of amphetamines - another aspect of the band comes to light. Their name is a true description of its members.
Only Steve seems really at ease and even he is talking like Attila at half velocity. I journeyed with the Stockbroker ranter from London to Harlow to meet the band. Attlia was at pains to scotch any rumours that he's the Neurotics manager. "I just help them out with dates like I've always done in the past, that's all" explained Sounds' Albanian correspondent. The band were likewise anxious to throttle this smear campaign at birth. "It's crap," was the verdict.
There is little point In going over the 'Neurotics' musical history since Gary Bushall did so in the band's last feature. Nonetheless, the individual members of the Neurotics have interesting personal backgrounds.
Steve, the oldest at 28, was born in Islington and lived in Bow. Like many of London's East Enders, Steve's parents moved to Harlow in the late '50's when new towns were seen as some sort of environmental salvation . He has got a couple of sisters, one of whom spent time in a mental hospital with a guilt complex. The other is a devout Christian.
Colin, meanwhile, was born in Harlow 26 years ago. His parents divorced early in his life. After school, he spent time bumming around Europe as a youth with the aim of going to Morocco on the hippy trail. He never made it. Returning to England he got a job as a male nurse in a mental hospital In St Albans until it all turned sour. "I lost me girlfriend, my job and flat all the within the space of two or three weeks," he says. "I started to take a lot of speed to get out of it but it didn't work. So I came back to Harlow, met Steve and formed the Neurotics with him."
"My father was an alcoholic," ventures Simon, who is extremely open about his past. "Me and my mum (Red Ruth? No,- ed.) left him when I was four," continues the 17 year old. "We thought he was getting better. But one New Year's Eve he walked out in front of a car while drunk. He was in a coma for six months... "After that we were living with a stepfather, a right bastard who used to victimise me mum's kids which didn't help me at all. My mum had a kid by him but in the end he kicked us out so we went into a refuge for battered women. "This is obviously why I despise violence against women. This was around three years ago. I lived in the refuge for eight months and I fucking hated it. I feel sorry for any women who goes through those kind of problems."
"Basically what you've got," sums up Colin about their backgrounds," is three people who have had a lot of problems for various reasons and who managed to get together and form a group. This is why the bond between us is more than just a band. "We've got a common link." This pool of experience, including long periods of time on the dole (Steve is still the only Neurotic with a job, he's a gardener), is no doubt why the band's songs have a strong streak of reality.
'Your potential has never been realised. And then you slip into the attitude of "I make a mess of everything I try to do". Don't sit around, you've got to wake up and live' ('Wake Up')
'Oh look at me. I'm as hip as I can be. I'm wasted, just look at the mess I'm in. Down there, they're laughing at you. Down there, it's you who is gonna get screwed.' ('The Mess')
Like No Respect' and 'Agony' on the elpee, 'Wake Up' and 'The Mess' can be seen as loosely linked. The former berates people who accept their place in the soul-less graveyard of shattered ambitions. People who give up their personal struggle in indifference. The latter, in a sense, is a first person view of the results of getting stuck in the starting gate of achievement - the retreat in apathy and drugs.
"Everyone had been through the situation where they've got totally out of it on drink and drugs." reckons Colin." And the next day they've thought "oh god, what did I say last night , why was I such a prat?"
Steve: "Again, it's the motivation that counts. Quite frankly, within this town 'The Mess' is the majority of the youth culture. The punks are really into glue, definitely. And most of the nihilists, who've got nil appreciation of anything outside of their own drug circle, they hate us.
"Like in the song ('The Mess'), the last thing I wanted to do was be puritanical. But what it boils down to is the most criminal thing that we have to watch all the time is the tremendous waste of human abilities."
"Of all the songs on the elpee, the one most people will identify the Neurotics with is 'Get Up and Fight'. A vitriolic exhortation to wise up'. 'Fight' is an answer in many aspects to the whinging fuck up 'hero' of ''The Mess'' somebody who believes nothing can be done to change his own life of the system's iniquities which, he blames his own misfortunes on.
As the title indicates instead of "cultivating porridge between their ears" and extinguishing any last spark of self respect, such people have the option of helping themselves by striking back. It's a matter of self-responsibility. The 'moral' of 'Get Up and Fight', with it's line of "agitate, educate and organise" ("Not even one of mine"- Steve) is specific yet vague. The Neurotics themselves, as an expedient, think one positive line is to work through the Labour Party. Like many others though, they are disappointed there isn't more of a surge of mass direct action. Why is a pretty complicated matter. Steve had his own ideas.
"There is a crisis point. There is something wrong with the way people expect things to happen and they don't(get involved in mass direct action). I'm aware of this, I was thinking about it the other day. "There's one vital difference in the equation between political thought in music and direct action now, and say, in the Sixties. And that is, then there might have been a more healthier economy in the affluent Sixties than now but bands would play and expound their ideology and people would take direct action though demos, especially in France. "Nowadays youth culture is blank and confused. Bands like us come along and say how about doing this, or have you thought of that, and there is no big response. But the only alternative is that you do nothing."
"This analysis is obviously oversimplified. You can't expect much more to a throwaway question down a pub. But there is a kernel of truth in it. Youth Culture is in many ways blank. Music is an analgesic, not a stimulant, at best (with many exceptions). At worst, the culture is more fragmented than ever before.
As Colin points out, the music press must take a fair amount of the blame for this. In a search for kudos, the music press doesn't just report on trends but partly creates them. Artists, knowing the need for publicity to bring in the cash, base an image around something grotesque so they can be perceived as new and daring.
And, of course, trends by their very nature are exclusionary. Which is precisely why - artistic merit not included - when a 'rock tribe' becomes popular they are rejected by the press people who championed them. The outcome is a load of various haircuts going in opposite directions without realising what they've got common with each other.
Mind you, things aren't totally bleak when, for instance, a mainstream band like Depeche Mode start writing 'political' lyrics. Struggle is beginning to take the centre of the stage.
Hell, how did we end up here? After all it's only rock 'n' roll. Isn't it? The lesson of bands like the Neurotics, the Redskins, a portion of the ranters - from Swells to Benjamin Zephaniah - is art is what you make it. Conscious lyrics aren't a recipe for boring music. I fact it's fast becoming the reverse.
'Oh where did it go - God knows. It could have been worse I suppose. Just look at us. We're standing here in rebel clothes. Singing rebel songs with a rebel pose. We were waiting for the traffic to clear. Stuck outside of Tescos' ('Does Anyone Know Where The March Is?').
Colin Dredd on stage in Blois, France
It would be wrong to leave you with a picture of the Neurotics as po-faced activists. You've only got to listen to 'Does Anyone Know Where The March Is?' for evidence to the contrary.
Any band who can laugh at a monumental cock-up of their own making and turn it into a song must have its sense of humour in the right place. So what did happen on that march?
Simon: "We was doing a gig for 'Fare's Fare' in London. We'd arranged to get up there and meet the lorry we were going to play from."
Steve: 'When we got there we had trouble getting the generator started for the equipment. The march couldn't hang around for us, so they went off. Eventually we got the generator started, got out into the main road and all there was was a traffic jam. "We were on the back of the lorry , with all the equipment and guitars, going nowhere. There was a bus next to us and people were pointing. We were feeling rather silly.
"So I started playing a riff and made up a jokey song which later turned into 'Does Anyone Know Where The March Is?'. As it happens, the march was further down the road and was causing the traffic jam that we were in!"
I wonder if Mr Wright knows this story? He'd probably laugh and say "Nah, it isn't true, you're having me on." He can talk though.
Copyright: No Wonder Communications