We Are Mighty, We Are Stripey
15 January 2016
One of the oft used strap-lines for the German Shepherd Records is “No musicians were harmed, or indeed used, in the recording of this material”. This reflects the backgrounds of the two owners of the label, in that they are self-taught in all aspects of the music industry, wouldn’t know a crochet from a minim, and are really not that well disposed towards musos and their ilk. In that context Stripey Zebras are the perfect band for the label.
It is clear from the opening to first track “Monsters On TV”, when the band collapses 40 seconds into a 2 minute 20 second song and has to start again, that this is not your traditional music release. If you thought the original Hamsters recordings were a rough and ready/lo-fi then you will need to readjust your perceptive aura. This is raw, poorly recorded, untutored, and basic, but a great deal of fun.
As part of German Shepherd’s range of historical punk and post punk recordings they have made available the key recordings of the Southend band in the form of digital download via Bandcamp. The twenty four tracks include bedroom recordings and live tapings with the bulk of the material from the groups short history captured for posterity.
The recordings were made on very basic equipment, and are extremely lo-fi, and in some cases very poor indeed, but they are all included for historical accuracy. A rare cover version is included as a bonus MP4 video file of The Troggs “Wild Thing” for those who purchase the album.
Stripey Zebras were much more influenced by the Punk ‘get up on stage and just do it’ ethos rather than any actual affiliation to the Southend Punk Scene. However, as they played at the same venues as their punk contemporaries they were considered to be part of the town’s music scene of the early ’80’s.
The band were originally formed around March/April of 1980. The nascent line up which consisted of Martin Fulton (aka Sam) on Vocals, Paul Brown on Guitar and Steve Dobson (who has gone on to infamy as Toska Wilde and Cryin’ Queerwolf) , who had just purchased a bass guitar. The trio was to have been augmented on drums by ‘Trog’
The debut concert was booked for July 1980 and Graham Burnett, who had never sat at a drum kit, was hastily bought into service after the disappearance of “Trog”, as was Martin Hardy, who was drafted in owing to Paul Brown nearly cancelling at the last moment.
Their début performance at “Zero Six” in Southend has been described as truly memorable and they played many of their songs twice, as encore followed encore. Audience members described them as ‘the weirdest band ever seen or heard.’ Encouraged by this positive comment the “Stripey’s” decided to continue.
The songs played at that time were ‘Monsters on TV’ (Godzilla). ‘Donny and Marie’ (Osmond’s), ‘Wild Thing’ (Troggs), ‘Disco, disco’ . As the song titles may convey, they did not cover serious subject matter but were more humorous, a counter point to the political songs played by many of their punk contemporaries
Further, stronger songs were developed as the band became more musically proficient (although all things are relative it has to be said), ironically this was to lead to their eventual downfall. Examples are the lengthy ‘Skellington Flat’ (clearly influenced by The Fall’s Spectre vs Rector/Before The Moon Falls), ‘Sore eyes party’ ,and ‘Greta Garbo goes shopping ‘ demonstrate a band gaining some familiarity with their instruments but still retaining their charming innocence.
The band was augmented at various stages by Wayne Kermode (Guitar and backing vocals), Colin Dobson (Steve’s brother, on guitar who was chucked out for being too good looking), Sheena Fulton (occasional vocals), and Julian Ware-Lane (played guitar at one gig).
Musically the band members were collectively influenced by ‘The Fall’ (Seance Disco is not that far removed from Psykick Dancehall in subject matter) and this sound would be the closest form of reference as Martins lyrics denoted a development away from the earlier, ‘wackier’ aspects. Other influences were ‘The Residents’,’ The Prats’, ‘The Slits’, and ‘Sparks’.
Most of the above song titles are featured on ‘Live in Burnett’s Bedroom’ which was a tape cassette, recorded later on that year.
The Stripey Zebras were name checked in Smash Hits (Top Ten Bands named after animals, beating ‘Adam and the Ants’) and in NME (Garage Band Section). Some of their song titles made it into the Obscurist Charts in Sounds.
Stripey Zebra’s musical ability increased further and some strong songs such as ‘Why are Piano’s rude?’ (because they go plink plonk), ‘Sergeant Bilko Plays Pop’ (Iwojima) illustrated the growing development. However this lead to musical differences in the band as Martin wanted the band to move away from the wacky lyrics of old and become more of a true band. However, it was generally felt that the group had developed musically as far as they could go and it was decided to call it a day.
Stripey Zebras reformed for a gig in late 1981 and then after a 32 year gap played a reunion gig at the 12 Bub Club in London in 2013, the line-up was Steve Dobson on Vocals and occasional bass, Wayne Kermode on Bass and vocals, Martin Hardy on Guitar and Graham Burnett on Drums
Graham Burnett formed Autumn Poison (with many members of the Stripey Zebras helping out at rehearsal stages). Steve Dobson joined another Southend group – The Get, another band German Shepherd has released.
Further musical collaborations by group members include ‘Dr Pretorious and the Lazy Sluts’ (Steve, Graham and Julian Ware-Lane of 86 Mix) and ‘The Beer Poofs’ (Steve and Graham) which were cassette based only.
Sadly Martin Fulton died in 1999 and in 2013, Colin Dobson died on May 24th, in Harlem, Holland.
Occasionally, cassettes have come up for sale over the internet and Graham still hears that Stripey Zebras generate interest. A very limited edition CD collecting all of the material from ‘Live in Burnett’s Bedroom’ plus a selection of other live tracks was compiled a few years ago by Graham and Paul Brown. It is the bulk of that CD which forms part of this release. This release to the best of my knowledge includes all of the available recordings by the band that are suitable for release.
If you are fond of perfectly played, well recorded music then don’t bother. If however you are a fan of DIY music played with some humour, obvious joy, and a total disregard for the conventions of the business then help yourself to a small piece of history.