The Avengers Payback
The Avengers legendary San Francisco 1st wave Punkers - finally made it to the UK (20 odd years after their original demise) in Dec 2004 to play a handful of dates as support on The Damned’s traditional Xmas Pantomime tour. This was one opportunity I was not going to miss - & considering my good buddy, Bryan Swirsky, was looking after the tour I knew I wouldn’t have to pay for anything (you fucking cheepskate wanker, what was that receipt you gave me for? Expenses Ed.).
I duly caught up with The Avengers @ Northampton Roadmender’s where they proceeded to blow the tired corpses of Captain Sensible, Dave Vanian & a bunch of hired hands right off the stage. For the duration of a blistering 30 minute set, Penelope, Greg & the boys took us all the way back to 1977 & covered us in glory. Once the dust had settled I hunkered down with Penelope Houston to bring you this:
trakMARX - Tell us a little about the birth of the original Avengers & why you fancied a shot at Punk Rock.
Penelope - The original Avengers started in San Francisco in June of 1977. Danny (Furious) O’Brien and his childhood chum Greg (Gerg Scars) Ingraham were planning on starting a band. I met Danny at the SF Art Institute and decided I’d be their lead singer and we found a bass player, who was around for 5 shows before we met Jimmy Wilsey & brought him in. We’d been listening to the Stooges, Bowie, NYDolls, Patti Smith, Brian Ferry, Lou Reed, The Ramones, and then The Damned, Clash, and Pistols, and started writing songs as fast as we could.
trakMARX - What was the San Francisco scene like back in the day?
Penelope - The scene was tiny. Before us there were really just 2 bands that could be considered Punk: The Nuns and Crime. The Mabuhay was the only club that would let any of us play. Sometimes people would rent halls to do all ages gigs. Shows were so far and few that everyone would come out to see them. All the punks in SF knew each other and we began to meet people and bands from LA, Seattle, San Diego and Vancouver. Search and Destroy was a great Zine to have going that early on as well.
trakMARX - How did you get to support The Sex Pistols & what memories do you have of the Winterland Ballroom on that fateful night?
Penelope - We’d met the US tour manager for the Pistols, Rory Johnston and he got us the support slot for the bill. The Nuns, who opened the show were spat at so much that the stage was awash in spit. Word has it that Jennifer Miro, their icy chanteuse keyboardist sat perfectly still with a gob hanging off her face. The whole SF punk audience at the time was no more than 500 souls and the Winterland show had 5000-6000 people all thinking they had to act as punk as possible (what ever that meant to them) It was pretty ugly out there. As I walked out on stage I slipped in the loogies and nearly hit the ground. Friends faces I recognized in the crowd disappeared in moment, swallowed up by the crush. We did our best, but it felt unreal. It was so different from the intimate club shows we were used to.
trakMARX - Tell us about what it was like to work in the studio with Steve Jones.
Penelope - I got the feeling that Steve was just producing our record for a lark, because the Pistols had just broken up and he needed something to do. He had definite ideas about the guitar sound, but aside from adding a bit of bar-room piano and a ton of reverb, I don’t think he had too many production plans.
trakMARX - Considering his reputation as a ‘ladies man’, was it a safe working environment for an attractive young lady such as yrself?
Penelope - He did comment years later in an interview that I was a bird he’d never bagged. I was living with Danny at the time, who could get furious! I don’t remember having much interaction with Steve at all. He did ask why I didn’t wear skirts!
trakMARX - The first incarnation of The Avengers fell apart in 1979. What went down?
Penelope - Greg quit at the end of 1978 and was replaced by Brad Kunt from Vancouver Canada. It was a different sound with Brad and I think after being a band for 2 years and not getting the support of a real label we just decided to call it quits.
trakMARX - What was the motivation behind reforming The Avengers & how did it come about?
Penelope - I’ve been singing and writing Folk-rock music since 1984 and having a pretty good time touring Europe and making a few albums for Warners. In 1998 I wrote a song with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day and we recorded it along with a version of “Corpus Christi” that was true to the original (It’s only available on my “Best Of” CD “Eighteen Stories Down” - WEA). That showed me that I could still sing with that punk voice and enjoy it. People were always asking me to put out more Avengers material. I started going through hours of live and rehearsal tapes and came up with most of “Died For Your Sins” for Lookout! Records. There were 3 songs I liked that had no decent recordings, so I decided to ask Greg if he wanted to re-record them. Jimmy had disappeared at that time and Danny hadn’t played drums in a decade and was living in Sweden. So I asked the rhythm section who had worked with me and Billie Joe; Joel Reader and his band mate in the Plus Ones, Danny Panic (ex-Screeching Weasel) to play bass and drums. We recorded the 3 songs under the name ScAvengers. When the record came out in 1999 we did a few record release parties, and a show or two in LA and NYC. It was fun, but I had to keep my other solo career moving for Warners and we put it to bed. By 2004, I’d uncovered some more unreleased Avengers live and studio material and put out “The American in Me” on DBKWorks. Greg was excited about playing again and we asked Joel and drummer Luis Illades to play and it’s been a bit of a snowball effect. After the record release parties more and more shows got booked. People can’t seem to get enough.
trakMARX - You played out in the UK in December supporting The Damned. How did it feel to back in the saddle?
Penelope - Playing in the UK with the Damned was an absolute blast. I have to say that I’ve enjoyed 16 out of the 17 shows the Avengers/ScAvengers played last year. It’s a great feeling to be screaming that loud. And the band sounds really strong.
trakMARX - Were you pleased with the audience reaction to the shows?
Yeah, the English can be a bit cold (we can do warm as well Regional Weather Ed.) but I think we won people over at all our shows. In London at the Astoria, I spoke to Avengers fans from all over Europe who’d come to see us. They were thrilled and said we sounded exactly like the records. We’re hoping to come back over to play in May.
trakMARX - Where next for The Avengers?
Penelope - Japan??? UK. NYC. Maybe Germany (It’s a long way back there Ramones Ed.). Who knows?
Avengers 7" on Dangerhouse
Jean Encoule tMx 18 01/05