Equus Quagga Quagga

Stripey Zebras
We Are Mighty, We Are Stripey 
German Shepherd
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Fascinating Things : Issue 37

The last few days has been dominated by bringing together, for German Shepherd records,  the much needed and anticipated release of the collected works of Southend’s Stripey Zebras. A  band that just about survived 1980/1, they were heavily influenced by The Fall,  and the album “We Are Mighty, We Are Stripey” combines the bulk of their historical recordings (and I use that word loosely as they are mostly mastered from a cassette). It will be released in January. It’s the sort of lo-fi post-punk DIY music that was around in those days and has a timeless charm. Musos will no doubt moan about lack of fidelity or “chops”, but I think it is wonderful. You should expect a more fulsome review in due course. It’s a 24 track release combining home and live recordings, with a hidden bonus for those who purchase.

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The announcement from Relapse records about the new three track 25 minute release from Agoraphobic Nosebleed, complete with teaser video, is very tempting. Hopefully i’ll get a review copy. There work to date has been well above average and the snippets sound very exciting indeed. It’s called “Arc”.

Gordy Duncan Jr who happens also to be a member of the excellent Girobabies has a new solo album out – from the sampler track it sounds excellent.

The new Sugarmen single is good in a bouncy, indie, jagged guitar sort of way. It came out on Rooftop Records on December 4th.

Blackpool based instrumental rock band Goonies Never Say Die have finally released a mini album of material. Recorded from October 2012 to February 2013 the project was abandoned by the band who felt they were retreading old ground too much. The recording was recently listened back to and was deemed not to be as bad as they thought. The recording was made by one of the numerous previous line-ups of the band, the current line up are half way through writing a new album that will probably also be held back for 10 years and released on cassette tape delivered by pigeon one random rainy day!

Diminished Men – featuring Steve Schmitt on guitars, drummer Dave Abramson (Master Musicians of Bukkake, Eyvind Kang, Secret Chiefs 3, Climax Golden Twins, Grails, etc.), and Simon Henneman on bass, release a new album on February 26th. Titled Vision In Crime, the latest record from the three piece is a full length album that moves through jazz, ethnic  and soundtrack territories. Here is a taster:

The first German Shepherd release for 2016 will be a single from Loop-aznavour. Bury’s finest purveyor of theremin soaked punk will be delighting your ears with “The Dance of the Chicken Lady” and “Charles’ Neurotic Fear of Giraffes”.

Recommended newish releases received during  the last week are:

  • The Holy Soul – Fortean Times  – Sydney band with a stunning new album……really like this a lot, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a specific style by the first track it gets seriously different and interesting as it goes along. As heard on Dave Graney’s excellent Banana Lounge Broadcasting Radio Show this one immediately goes into the “Best of 2015” list
  • The Cavemen – The Cavemen  – WIld Cramps style garage rock with a punk edge, good for head-banging after six pints of industrial strength cider.
  • Kharlos – Don’t think about dying – more wild garage stuff…..pretty intense stuff!
  • Peacers – Peacers – Mike Donovan out of Sic Alps doing his usual slacker lo-fi pop thing, there’s a nod towards Don Van Vliet somewhere in the DNA of this type of music.
  • Holy – Stabs – Swedish band – lo-fi aesthetics, garage sensibilites, and soaring psychedelia it says in one review i’ve read. It’s  OK but it won’t change the world.
  • Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal – you’ll either love this or hate it. One woman with a pedal steel guitar and a voice doing amazing things. Heather is well known on the avant garde jazz improv circuit and to some extent this seeps into a remarkable album which combines acapella folk, mesmerising songs  and loud distorted guitar noodlings. A challenging listen but well worth it.

The last German Shepherd release of the year will be a single from the ever excellent Staggs  called “Funk Me Jesus” which includes a remix from Space Museum.  The band were recently described (by me) somewhat like this:

“Small fractures in the space-time continuum create sonic leakages leading to the release of snippets from the cultural whirlpool of late 20th/early 21st century music, art, film, politics, and television. Ridley and Scott curate a melting pot of these snippets of sound, add a tablespoon full of irony, an ounce of righteous anger, a liberal dose of self-deprecation, and a splash of good humour. They create an aural feast of unique and yet familiar sound. No one is safe from Scott’s viperish wit as the peccadillos of the great and good, and those who should know better are exposed, eviscerated and served with a delicious brandy butter sauce. The music of Staggs is socially relevant, robust, makes you laugh and what’s more you can dance the Watusi to it. Be safe and warm and listen to Staggs!”

Whereas The Shend came up with the more pithy  “Guaranteed floor-fillers at the Hieronymus Bosch Disco Fun Night”. Whatever they are best described as  their new single is great and I commend it to you.

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