A bit of a spur of the moment one this. Not a particularly Vague band you might think, but names can be deceptive. UK DECAY has often been mistaken for a Bushell band. The publicity they get on the back of ‘Exploited’ leathers hasn’t helped matters. That’s usually good enough reason for me to give a band a good slagging but lead singer Abbo was an old Ants fan. Names can be misleading.
I can remember being briefly impressed by them at last years Futurama but my brain had been too abused for anything to register. Then at the start of this year you just couldn’t get away from them. They nearly blew Killing Joke off at the Palais and probably would have given TOH similar treatment if certain plugs had not been pulled. I was much impressed Abbo had picked up a few tricks from vintage Adam and their primal punk sound could soon surpass the Joke themselves.
So I took their agent Paul Boswell up on his suggestion of an interview and we tottered round to the Marquee to see what they had to say for themselves. We dig Abbo out from amongst his mutant punk followers. He’s easy to spot. His beaming smile and enthusiastic eyes stand out in the murky depths of the Marquee. After fumbled introductions from us, Abbo is embarrassingly enthusiastic about an interview and before we realise it he’s grabbed Spon and Eddie and were sitting in the bar over a hot cassette recorder.
TOM : DON’T YOU FIND PEOPLE GET PRECONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE NAME?
ABBO: We used to. The name was instigated about 3 years ago from the song ‘UK Decay’ that became our first single. ‘UK Decay’ isn’t so much a dig at the UK in decline, no hope type job, it’s more an optimistic use of the word in the decadent sense. UK Decadence. ie. Putting forward something different musically and idealistically. The name just stuck. It’s the decadence of the UK. The youth in this country are the most contemporary for-thinking in the world. I don’t mean that in a bigoted, conceited sense, but in a musical sense the revolution happened here in the mid-70s. It’s now spreading worldwide. Kids everywhere are faced with the same problems, basically the same outlook on life. Music in the Punk sense has had a lot to do with this awareness.
TOM : DO YOU STILL SEE YOURSELVES AS WORKING FROM A PUNK BASIS?
SPON : The original ideology, yeah…
ABBO : I’m totally against the Pistols nihilism, the ‘No future’ thing was just hopeless. I’d like to think in a more optimistic sense.
TOM : I THINK THE PISTOLS WENT STRAIGHT TO THE POINT. THE HUMOUR WAS TONGUE IN CHEEK. IT WASN’T IN A NEGATIVE WAY
ABBO : That was the beauty of it. Its just people have taken it the wrong way. ‘We’ve got no future man, glue, pissed, drugs. It’s an escapism
TOM : ITS BEEN DILUTED DOWN BUT THAT HAD TO HAPPEN
ABBO : It had. The pistols acted as a catalyst but its been taken to the extremes, mainly for financial reasons.
TOM : SO WERE YOU MORE INSPIRED TO GET A BAND TOGETHER BY THE ANTS THAN THE PISTOLS?
ABBO: I think my role in the music scene was a lot more to do with the Ants … or the Banshees. They sent off some wave of positive thinking that I’d never seen before.
TOM : IT’S THE SAME WITH US REALLY. WE STARTED ALL THIS UP MORE THROUGH THE ANTS AND THE BANSHEES THAN THE PISTOLS AND THE CLASH.
SPON : Well the Clash and the Pistols were more like standard rock bands. The music wasn’t very different really, but the Banshees come along and put in variable drum rhythms and guitar sounds…
ABBO : Its like the Crass position at the moment. I’m totally in favour of their ideals but they’re limiting themselves by carrying on the style of music. They’re limiting the possibilities of their idealism. They are there as an idealistic band to put forward opinions, rather than as a musical entity. If they really want to change the world, they shouldn’t alienate themselves with their minimalist music.
TOM : I THINK THEY LIMIT THEMSELVES WITH THEIR LACK OF HUMOUR AS WELL…HOW IMPORTANT IS HUMOUR TO YOU?
SPON: You’ve got to have humour haven’t you?
TOM : IN STEVE KEATONS SOUNDS THING YOU CAME ACROSS AS VERY DARK AND SINISTER.
ABBO : The trouble is that was edited. It’s his style. Steve Keaton’s a good writer. He’s one of the few journalists I know who are actually in touch with what’s going on. There’s him, Mick Mercer and Mick Sinclair. (Ahem. Haven’t you forgot someone. Ed.) It’s not just for the sake of creating crazes. They’re actually going out and looking at new bands.
TOM : DO YOU SEE YOURSELVES OR THE LIKES OF DANSE SOCIETY FILLING IN THE CULT BANDS GAP THAT THE ANTS AND BANSHEES LEFT?
ABBO : Its hard for me to judge being in the band. Loads of people have compared us to the Ants, but not musically or idealistically. A lot of people come to our gigs and our singles are riding high in the independent charts but you can’t read about us in the music papers. You just cant find anything out about the band and that’s what makes it a cult. Like the Ants we pack places out in London but fall flat on our faces in places like Hull and Grimsby.
TOM : YEAH, WHENEVER WE SEEM TO GO TO A GIG IN LONDON, YOU’RE ON THE BILL, BUT HOW DO YOU GET ON OUT IN THE PROVINCES?
ABBO : There’s areas like Manchester, Bristol, Cardiff, Northampton, Preston where we get big audiences, but you can go just down the road to Brum and only about 100 people will turn up and go ‘Oh Christ, what’s this? It aint fast enough.’ Again I think a lot of it is the misconceptions with the name, but the awareness is growing about us.
TOM : AS WITH CRASS, DO YOU MIND EXPLOITED FANS COMING TO YOUR GIGS OR DO YOU TRY TO CONVERT THEM?
ABBO : I think we have such a cross section at our gigs. I think its great. It’s fair enough preaching to the converted. But bands like Linx are singing politico songs in the funky disco media, that doesn’t usually put over any political ideas.
It’s usually totally escapist. That’s going to an audience that wouldn’t normally think about it (If at all). Then I get a bit confused and I look at Linx and I look at Crass and I think who’s doing the better job?
TOM : CAN YOU SEE YOURSELVES EVER GETTING INTO THE CHARTS OR ANYTNHING LIKE THAT?
ABBO: We wouldn’t aim at it. It would have to come really. I’m totally disorientated with TOTPS, first seeing the Ants on there, I nearly dropped dead, then Theatre of Hate, then Killing Joke! – Conversation drifts off into nostalgia about the Ants.
TOM : LOOKING AT IT NOW, ADAM WAS ALWAYS A BIT DODGY. I CANT SEE THAT SORT OF THING HAPPENING TO YOU, BUT ISN’T THERE A DANGER OF YOU GOING THE SAME WAY AS THE BANSHEES. THEY HAVENT SOLD OUT AS SUCH BUT THEY’VE LOST THAT EDGE BY BECOMING TOO PROFESSIONAL
ABBO : I see what you’re saying. The thing is we don’t use managers. There’s the four of us, the roadies, Paul Boswell our agent and that’s it. Everybody talks to us. If it’s a matter of UK Decay, it gets to us, rather than a row of businessmen. That way we can’t lose touch with the fans.
TOM : AS YOU GET BIGGER WOULD YOU SOONER PLAY PLACES LIKE THIS OR BIG STRAIGHT MUSIC EXTRAVAGANZAS WHERE MORE PEOPLE CAN GET TO SEE YOU?
ABBO : I think there’s good and bad in both situations. The billings got to be right and if you’re positive enough about how you’re going to do it, it’ll come out alright. SPON : I think it’s a rough deal at the Lyceum and Futurama, ‘cos they try to cram as many bands as possible on the bill. Then on the night they don’t give a fuck. It’s a real cattle market and there’s a lot of politics involved about the order of bands. For example at the Lyceum, supporting TOH, we had the lights turned on on us because things were going too well for us …but then again at Killing Joke at the Palais, we met loads of people that had come to see Killing Joke and I’m pleased with that aspect of it.
TOM: DO YOU SEE THE PRESENT MUSIC SCENE AS HEALTHY OR DILUTED AND WEAK AFTER THE PUNK EXPLOSION?
ABBO : Its good for Zig-Zag ‘cos they thrive on pulling out cult bands, but its desperate for NME and Sounds and of course the record business, because they thrive on crazes. So between ’em they’ve got to create something into a craze. Fanzines are great, I buy them religiously, (Abbo gets side tracked) things like ‘IN THE CITY’ and ‘VAGUE’ cross the market. Fanzines are great until they lower their standards.
Fair enough they’re supposed to be underground and for the kid on the street, but it’s unlike us, when we release an indie the quality of a major label. Just because you’re independent from the main stream doesn’t mean you have to have low standards.
TOM : HAVE YOU STILL GOT YOUR INDIE LABEL GOING?
ABBO : Yeah we’ve still got Plastic records, we’ve released 2 singles on that, 3 on Fresh and the LP on Fresh but we may go back to our own label. It’s the economics of it and the fact that we do want to manage ourselves. But it’s taking on another job, having your own label and it’s hard to keep the continuity going when you’re on tour.
TOM : GETTING BACK TO THE STEVE KEATON ARTICLE. YOU NEVER REALLY HIT ME AS BEING DARK AND SINISTER BAUHAUS TYPES?
ABBO: The trouble is between here and Birmingham, there’ only two bands really, us and Bauhaus, and Play Dead maybe, they’ve got the same problems. I don’t dislike the comparisons but I see Bauhaus as a contrived band with pre-planned ideas. We like to think were different to that. We did dabble in the occult and that at first but we didn’t want to play on it like Killing Joke because it was a bit corny and heavy metalish. But having said that I am interested in writing lyrics about the unexplained side of life.
TOM : WHAT ELSE ARE YOUR LYRICS ABOUT?
ABBO : Err there’s no themes as such. They’re as diverse as….there are things that keep cropping up. There are songs that are connected like ‘Dresden’ and ‘For my country’, sort of anti-patriotism.
TOM : HOW DO YOU THINK YOU OR ANY BAND SHOULD TREAT POLITICS?
ABBO: I’d like to think as a band we’re judged on our music. Politics are there but I don’t want to put them in the forefront and use the band as a political vehicle.
CHRIS : YOU SAID IN SOUNDS, WHERE THE ANTS HAD A SEXUAL ROLE, YOU HAD A POLITICAL ONE.
ABBO : Politics of life I was saying, ok, we have got a few songs about sexual hang-ups and sexual progression. The Ants did really over play the leather, fetishism, bathroom function and all those things. Fair enough I’ve got a few sexual vices, baby lotion, the likes, but I don’t feel the necessity to sing about them, it’s self indulgent although the Ants did do it very well. I’m well aware that they existed but I obviously don’t try to emulate them, unlike Martian Dance. But as I said I’m influenced by everything.
We do live, we don’t just sit at home. We go to gigs 4 nights a week and you see so many different situations and different things happening. I have trouble talking to old school friends who work all week and only go out at weekends, it’s a different world and it sounds like I’m boasting all the time. I’m influenced by a lot of literature, Herman Hesser, Neitzsche, Brecht, ‘Mephisto’ the film. I’m basically stimulated by so many ideas. I don’t walk around with my eyes shut like a lot of people.
TOM : HOW DO YOU SEE THE BAND GOING MUSICALLY?
ABBO : Eddie Branch, the bass player’s only been in the band since Futurama and he’s very strong mentally and technically. He’s bringing out the positive side of the band and I think musically its gonna change. We are writing new songs at the moment and they’re really diverse and not just for the sake of diversity. It’s having a positive 4th member. All our other bassists have been very easy going. He’s actually grabbed us by the neck and said look I want to do some of my own stuff, like this….. We are 4 very different people. That’s probably why the band moves, ‘cos there’s so much friction within the band. It does come to blows sometimes… That seems like a good point to end. After that we just babbled on about the old days and you get enough of that anyway. The Marquee had crossed all the plus ones off the guest list, so there’s hassle getting in ..In the end Abbo pays for Chris to get in. I know, we’re getting worse.
However we’ve missed most of DANSE SOCIETY, which was a shame because they seemed mucho interesting and Mick and Pete Scott had been nagging me to go and see them for ages. (There might be an interview though, so don’t despair) The sound and vision that we got was slices of noise, mixed together in heavy, jarring, sinister pieces, seemed to be influenced more by the Velverts than Bauhaus, means a lot that doesn’t it? A strange force pulls me from the bar, as the shouts of the converted hail the arrival of UK Decay, nothing cosmic just poverty. To their jokish wall of noise,
Abbo bounds onto the stage with a grin that makes Nick Heyward look mean and moody. Doesn’t look right somehow but who cares, one Pete Murphy is quite enough. Abbo’s right, Eddie Branch does add a more solid edge. I wouldn’t have noticed unless he’d told me. They have that distinctive primal punk sound that only a few bands have achieved. Abbo’s boundless enthusiasm for his art, keeps them going through dodgy moments in their set, where it verges on thrash. I hope that goes soon and with it the relic from the past punks that let Abbo and his ideals down. When is someone going to exorcise the ghost of Punk Rock so we can get going again or don’t we get another chance? I diverse. UK Decay finish with a song that escapes me at the moment but its well up in the class of ‘Requiem’, ‘Bela Lugose’, ‘Neitzsche baby’. Dry ice completely engulfs the stage, strobes flash epileptically as Abbo cavorts…4 years ago another young man did a similar routine on those same boards.
Lets hope Abbo does not go the same way as that young man did………TOM…