DISCO ZOMBIES – 45 years later we made an album, a double… people liked it! A lot.
It was 1977, there may well have been “knives in West 11”, but at a student’s hall of residence in Leicester, a packed room of cross legged intellectuals were about to witness the debut of The Disco Zombies; Andy Ross on vocals and guitar, Geoff Dodimead on bass, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Hawkins on guitar and Andy Fullerton on drums. They were loud, fast and, from what you could vaguely hear, they had some witty one-liners.
The four-piece became five with the addition of Dave Henderson from The Blazers, a chirpy power pop punk quintet, who were part of a burgeoning new scene in the city that included The Foamettes, Dead Fly Syndrome, Wendy Tunes, The RTRs, Robin Banks And The Payrolls and many more. Wine bars, canteens and bowling alleys in pubs were the home of this phenomenon until Subway Sect and The Lou’s arrived for The Great Unknown Tour. They needed a local band for support and the Disco Zombies obliged.
Loughborough Record Shop owner – and now Mayor Of Mablethorpe – Carl Tebbutt was keen to ride the punk rollercoaster and after one number of the ‘Great Unknown’ set he decided to launch Wizzo Records with a Disco Zombies EP. Recorded in Chester in one four hour session, it included The Blazers’ ‘Top Of The Pops’ and Andy’s ‘Time Will Tell’, ‘Punk A Go Go’ and ‘Disco Zombies’.
Carl had done a deal with a one-stop music production company who went bust almost immediately and the record was shelved. Unperturbed the band pressed on and recorded a session at the local radio station, ‘TV Screen Existence’ being the only track that survived. A tour of Leicester – five pubs in five days – was the end of that era and the band without Johnny ‘Guitar’ who had another year to do at Uni, relocated to London taking with them The Foamettes’ guitarist Steve Gerrard who wisely returned to Leicester and become part of The Bomb Party with Jesus from another local band Farm Life.
Steve was replaced by Zed (not to be confused with Zed Necrodopolis from the Disney Zombies series) who’d responded to an ad but quickly disappeared. He was replaced by Mark Sutherland in what was to become the recognised line up of The Disco Zombies for several years, playing lots of London gigs from The Hope And Anchor to The Moonlight Club, North London Poly to the Scala, etc.
By 1978, there was an eruption of small DIY indie labels and Andy Ross launched South Circular Records to release the band’s debut single, ‘Drums Over London’ – an ironic stab at people’s hostility to the arrival of other cultures, a piss-take of Spear And Jackson-wielding Tory attitudes. John Peel played it regularly until Rock Against Racism complained even though Peel explained that it was actually supporting their views. Ho hum.
The single sold 2,000 copies in hand silk-screened covers (pink and green, 1,000 each); reviews were positive and Carl Tebbutt had found the funds to release the original EP, but at that point, it sounded like a step backwards.
Life got in the way and Andy Fullerton left and was briefly replaced by Mark Taylor, the former RTR’s drummer, who was quickly usurped by the drum machine from a Bontempi organ.
South Circular came to nothing after an unsuccessful second release, but Dave Henderson, now ensconced in Honky Tonk Records in Kentish Town, launched Dining Out. Dave and Andy journeyed to Ipswich to record the debut EP from Peel-approved Adicts, the plan being to follow it with a Disco Zombies’ single and regain some momentum.
‘Here Comes The Buts’ was the second Dining Out release, featuring the breakthrough Dr Boss drum machine; it was greeted with great enthusiasm in some quarters, although strangely compared to The Cramps meets Neil Young in NME. Nice.
Dining Out was pretty scatter gun and always just one step ahead of going out of business with lots of releases from The Normil Hawaiians, Twilight Zonerz, Insex, etc, all of whom gigged with the Zombies, everywhere from Dingwalls and The Music Machine to The Clarendon. But, even though the follow up had been recorded – ‘The Year Of The Sex Olympics’, backed with ‘Target Practice’ and ‘New Scars’ – it never saw the light of day as the money finally ran out.
Most of the tracks on Dining Out had been recorded in South London at Alvic Studios. The engineer, Nick Godwin had decided to launch his own label and wanted The Disco Zombies to be the first release. The Monkey Nut label, co-funded by one of Rough Trade’s producers, went, like so many ideas at the time, unfulfilled and the coupling of live favourites ‘Greenland’ and ’Paint It Red’ remained unreleased.
Somehow, Dining Out had a second lease of life and Andy wanted to record a new track for a new release amid 45s from The Sinatras, New Age and Spit Like Paint. By now, the Zombies had been through their dark post punk phase and ‘Where Have You Been Lately Tony Hateley’ was a clever upbeat anthem which told the tale of the nomadic footballer. The test pressing gained many Peel minutes but by the time it was ready to release, the band had finally split up. It eventually saw the light of day on the Cordelia label’s ‘Obscure Independent Classics’ album. Very fitting.
So, it was 1980: Mark Sutherland opened a studio in Bow, Dod got a day job, Andy and Dave were a bit experimental in Club Tango; Andy eventually discovering Blur for Food which he started with The Teardrop Explodes’ David Balfe, while Dave flirted with Worldbackwards.
In 2011, the drum machine line up descended on Mark’s studio, rehearsing for a show at the Bull And Gate. They recorded two of their lengthier tracks just because they never had done before – ‘Night Of The Big Heat’ and ‘LHO’ powered by a waning Dr Rhythm – were pressed as an extremely limited edition ten-inch and a few years later Andy Fullerton returned to fold, the band recording three more originals ‘Hit’, ‘Lenin’s Tomb’ and ‘Paint It Red’ for an even more limited edition ten-inch in 2018, before playing their most recent show in October 2019 at The Dublin Castle.
Since then, meandering lunchtime discussions in restaurants that were popular in the ‘70s (Joe Allen, Café De Pacifico, etc) have led to arguments about the lost tracks – ‘Man From UNCLE’, ‘I Need You Like I Need VD’, ‘Throwaway Line’, ‘I Thought You Were Only Joking’, ‘London Nights’, ‘Cosmetics For China’, ‘When Doo Wop Hit Hampstead’. It’s only a matter of time.
Until then, thanks to our long suffering other halves, and Carl Tebbutt, Mark ‘Spike’ Renault, Eddie Saint, Wendy Tunes, The Mysterons, 23 Skidoo, The Sinatras, Again Again, Nigel Wilkinson, Dan Selzer at Acute, Paramecium Records in Spain, Steve Pyke, James Merrell, Nichola Bruce for the Bontempi, Brian Clarke, Keith Bagley and Pat Smith.
1 Top Of The Pops
2 Time Will Tell
3 Punk A Go Go
4 Disco Zombies
Recorded in April 1978 in Chester, UK. Released 1979 as ‘The Invisible EP’ on Wizzo Records.
5 TV Screen Existence
Possibly recorded at Campus Radio Leicester, May 1978 (ish)
1 Drums Over London
2 Heartbeats Love
Recorded in SGS Studios, London in February 1979. Released 1979 on South Circular.
All of the above: Dave Henderson – Vocals, Andy Ross – Guitar and backing vocals, Geoff Dodimead – Bass, Mark Sutherland – Guitar, Andy Fullerton – Drums.
From here on: Dave Henderson – Vocals, Drum machine, Andy Ross – Guitar and backing vocals, Geoff Dodimead – Bass, Mark Sutherland – Guitar.
3 Here Come The Buts
4 Mary Millington
Released 1980 as TUX 2 on Dining Out. Recorded at Alvic Studios, Wimbledon, London in February 1980 as was….
5 Where Have You Been Lately, Tony Hateley?
1 The Year Of The Sex Olympics
2 Target Practice
3 New Scars
5 Paint It Red
All recorded at Alvic Studios, Wimbledon, London
1 Night Of The Big Heat
Recorded at Café Music Studios, Bow, London in May 2011. Ltd edition ten-inch release 2014. Line up as ‘Here Come The Buts’
3 Paint It Red
4 Lenin’s Tomb
Recorded at Café Music Studios, Bow, London in February 2018. Very ltd edition ten-inch release 2018. Line up as Side One