Joe Thompson – bassist in crushing heavy rock group Hey Colossus – waxes nostalgic about their early days ahead of their 100 Club gig on Wednesday (May 17th). With a new album out in June the veteran noisemaker reveals his early influences and the origins of the band and how DIY music-making is the only way forward…
Forgive the historical slant. But today is my birthday and I’m feeling misty eyed. In 1990, Hey Colossus was called The State We’re In – named after the first Dogs D’amour album. There’s no shame in this, as the first couple of Dogs D’amour records are decent (in fact the first one sounds like Royal Trux).
Before that we were called Garage Daze (sort of after a Metallica EP), we had other names – Brain Bucket (a grindcore attempt, one show at a school assembly to stunned silence), the Mad Moshing Midgets (I think we recorded a tape in my bedroom), probably loads of others. We liked metal, we traded tapes with other bands who wrote into Terrorizer Magazine,
Perhaps Demons In Cum stands out as the most memorable incarnations for all the reasons you can probably imagine. Bob and I started doing bands when we were 12. In 1991, we were called Puncture. Thankfully no music is available for anyone to hear – so don’t bother looking. Here is a sweet photo of us though:
The line ups of all our bands through the 80s and 90s varied a fair bit, with Bob and I remaining the fairly steady constants.
I’m holding the bottle of Coke. Bob is seemingly glaring at me. We were 16 or 17 (or maybe 18), playing locally and venturing into London to play to no one. I can’t pretend things are much different now! I’m going to take apart this picture. All my influences are from this time. No point in lying or pretending otherwise.
Ollie and I are wearing the same t-shirts, different colours but the same. They were from Santa Cruz, a skateboard company. They had a series of videos called Strange Notes they sent to their subscribers part advertising their wears, part pushing their riders. They may have even been free, as these were different times. We were absolutely hopeless at the skating part, but loved watching the videos. They were pretty funny. The Californian sun looked beautiful, but mainly the music was incredible: Pegboy, The Germs, The Adolescents. And I was hugely into the fact they mixed the sounds together, music over wheels rolling and trucks grinding. I still have all the videos despite not being able to play them, I can’t get rid of them:
I cannot stress enough to my kids (who are aged 14 and 16) what life was like before the internet. These videos were bombs of excitement being dropped on us from far flung meccas.
Ultimately, for me, the music was the reason for getting them. We tried skateboarding but we all preferred playing guitars and finding out about the bands and buying their records. To be honest, it’s a miracle Stuart wasn’t also wearing the same t-shirt as we loved those damn t-shirts.
I thought the Coke bottle, taking heed from pictures I’d seen of Minor Threat and other DC hardcore bands, could be a subtle nod.
Well, let’s be honest, I was only 16 or 17 or 18… I had no idea what a subtle nod was. Whatever. Probably through a combination of the Santa Cruz videos and the metal magazine Kerrang! we were discovering labels like Dischord and Touch + Go. I’d write to Dischord and get letters back, I still have some…
The way they carried themselves – and still do – really hit home. Back in 1988-9 when we were pretty much metal only we were going to Shades Records in Soho every Saturday.
Shades was a metal record shop, long gone now, a gloomy basement full of very excellent metal records. I once bought a DRI video they were playing on the big TV in the corner despite the fact it was playing with no sound, purely because of the crowd going crazy. Spending our paper round money on whatever was new (Helloween! Exodus!), or whoever was signing records in the shop that day (Tankard! Love/Hate!) – this seemed like the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll dream to a 15-year-old. But learning about the DIY way of doing things through Dischord was pretty eye-opening. Then of course you learn that The Buzzcocks did it before them, and then you learn that Sun Ra was doing it in the 50s. But in terms of gateway knowledge Dischord and K Records won us over.
After a few years, we started our own label in the late 90s influenced by the US big guns – but also UK labels like Gringo, Victory Garden, Subjugation, and loads of others. We always hated the term bedroom label. It was bigger than that.
According to the photo we played a lot locally. Locally meant either in Hemel Hempstead (the Cellar or the Arts Centre in Boxmoor) or Berkhamsted (the bar called Going Underground – we saw Senser, RDF, and piles of excellent bands here).
There was a band from Hemel called The Late Road Lunatics who we thought were excellent. They released their own records and this seemed like the most radical thing. The 12″ they put out around this time was excellent. I know Bob and I still have copies. In fact, here’s mine, recently being spun:
The Late Road Lunatics had a manager! And they put on their own shows! Put posters up! They seemed way older than us, but they were probably only five years older. We played with them a few times. I doubt they’d even remember us but they struck a chord due to (seemingly) running a fully self-contained unit not needing any help. I never understood why they didn’t get the plaudits they deserved. Looking them up now I see they’re still going – and that hammers home their influence as doing this shit for love is essential. I gotta see them play again.
I can’t work out if the photo is taken in Stuart’s garden or it could have been taken when we were recording a demo somewhere else. But if it was in Stuart’s garden then my dad would have had to have taken us there as Stuart lived in the far-flung village of Cholesbury. He had a shed that we were allowed to turn up the volume in. Here is a photo of my dad in his band Willow in the 70s:
He is in the middle. You can guess who the singer was I’m sure, and the guitarist (with a marvellous looking Flying V), and the drummer. The other chap was the bassist, my dad played the keyboards. Long after this band split up he was in a Saturday night function band called The Sound Machine (oh yes, THE SOUND MACHINE!) and through the early to mid 80s he would disappear off on a Saturday night and play to British Legion crowds and bingo crowds and other assorted elderly audiences, all requesting Neil Diamond and Eagles tunes.
One weekend night I was asked if I wanted to travel along, I was probably about 10 years old. Of course, I said YES. It just happened that the previous week the guitarist had decided to buy a drum machine and kick the drummer out, reasoning they could split the money two ways rather than three and make millions.
Fortunately for me (but unfortunately for dad), the guitarist, Tor, hadn’t mastered the drum machine and they hadn’t practised with it. In fact, they virtually never practised and dad took pride in ‘busking AROUND the tune…’). After two or MAYBE three attempts at songs the venue kicked them out for being ‘too loud and unprofessional’. Which, after spending 20 years of playing the circuit, must have been a little crushing, but for a 10-year-old watching them was the funniest thing ever. In regards taking any influences from this calamity, I’m not sure. I guess it’s possible… but just having the tale in the bank it’s unbeatable.
Even to this day my dad is supportive of our music, giving opinions, listening to the sounds, mending our amps and going to Screwfix to pick up new wheels for the bottom of cabinets. His garage is where we store our broken gear. And it’s filling up nicely.
Around the time of the photo Stuart and I worked in a local pizza takeaway joint called Perfect Pizza in the town of Chesham. Bob also worked over there for a bit. We made the things, delivered the things, took the money, opened up, closed up. It was the place we plotted and schemed band stuff, and planned going to see shows.
We could play whatever music we wanted over the stereo, at whatever volume. When tough men came in asking for super hot pizzas we’d hide thousands of chillies in the dough and crust and under all the veg. When tough men came in taking the piss out of us for working in a pizza place revenge was very easy as we were making their food.
The albums we listened to the most was Pretty Hate Machine by Nine Inch Nails, the first couple of Nirvana albums, the Fugazi albums and the first couple of Faith No More records. I probably still know the words to them all and we made sure to go see them all play live.
have wanted, either in London or at The Woughton Centre in Milton Keynes. It was while working one night that Bob popped his head in and told us Kurt Cobain had died. You gotta remember where you were, right?
You wouldn’t think working in a place like that would be at all influential, but having the opportunity to play the music in that sort of setting can alter how you think of sounds. Listening at home is one thing, but playing your favourite music over a public stereo is different, especially in a takeaway. It alters how you hear it. The managers were Iranians, real nice. Both had stories of mine-clearing that would make you shudder. One had a terrible opium addiction and kept a bunsen burner in the rear toilet for his needs. They weren’t so keen on Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails.
Stuart now runs a building firm and we see him every two or three years when he appears out of the blue at a Hey Colossus show in London. Ollie does sound at various West End productions, occasionally touring them. He also pops into see the occasional London show. Bob and I are still at it. My guess is both Ollie and Stuart still walk away from the gigs thinking: What the fuck are those losers doing?