The Vibrators – Knox Talks To Jean Encoule
trakMARX - What was the first record you remember being blown away by?
Knox - I think it was 'Apache' by the Shadows which I heard in either Germany or Belgium, played at an outdoor disco on a campsite there. It sounded fantastic!!
trakMARX - What were you up to in the years leading up to Punk Rock?
Knox - I left Edinburgh and returned to London around 1971 (I think). I was still painting and was in loads of bands, one of the main ones was called Despair - an album of that stuff should come out sometime soon. Some of the other bands were just bar bands doing covers, one was an Irish show-band - that sort of thing - to pick up some money. I used to get work from ads in the back of Melody Maker. I was in other more normal bands as well, and played at the Elgin Arms in Ladbroke Grove in a three-piece called Lipstick when Joe Strummer was playing there with the 101ers. We did Mondays and he did Thursdays.
trakMARX - Did you know John Edwards prior to the formation of the group?
Knox - Yes. He was a friend of my cousins, living near them in Edgware, and had a van and was driving bands around.
trakMARX - How did the two of you meet John Ellis & Pat Collier - & were you familiar with Bazooka Joe?
Knox - I'd met John Ellis and maybe Pat Collier through Eddie and my cousins. I'd seen Bazooka Joe and Eddie drove them around - in fact he drove them to St. Martin's Art School one time where they were supported by the Sex Pistols doing their first gig. My cousin Richard Wernham (later Ricky Slaughter, drummer in The Motors) played in Bazooka Joe which had people like Adam Ant in them.
trakMARX - What was the inspiration behind the name The Vibrators?
Knox - John Ellis thought this up. It's not a bad name, but used to stop us being played more on the radio. I don't know there was any inspiration there, more naughty schoolboy humour.
trakMARX - When did you first become aware of Punk Rock - & had you any real idea what was about to explode?
Knox - The Vibrators started in Feb 76, six months before the Clash, and were doing a mixture of 'pub rock' and self-penned songs, including Whips'n'Furs, She's Bringing You Down, etc. We were playing this stuff in bars, when rather unexpectedly we started being written about under the heading of punk rock, and then the punk thing got bigger and bigger, something nobody could have predicted.
trakMARX - How did you hook up with Chris Spedding?
Knox - He'd been booked as the headline act for the second night of the 100 Club Punk Rock Festival, but he didn't have a band. Ron Watts (the promoter) hooked him up with us and we learnt a few of his songs in the dressing room and sorted out some pub rock songs that he could jam on that we knew and that was that.
trakMARX - Considering "Pogo Dancing" for a moment - many have claimed to have invented it - where did you first come across the term & the dance?
Knox - I think I either heard it from someone in the band, someone around the band, or read it in a music paper. Its invention has always been attributed to Sid Vicious, and I think it just appeared in a response to the energy of the music.
trakMARX - Rumours of Spedding playing the Pistols guitar solos for them have persisted down the years. Having worked with the man himself, was there any truth in them?
Knox - Spedding produced some early Pistols' demos. We asked him if he'd played on them and he definitely said no, but I have to say some of the guitar solos sound very much like his playing.
trakMARX - How do you view your time with RAK in retrospect?
Knox - Quite interesting. Signing to RAK was generally seen as a bad move by the press. But you have to remember we had no manager, and no other offers. Our bass player, Pat Collier, was a fan of Mickey Most and thought it was okay (if I remember rightly). Mickie Most used to mix at incredibly high volume, and the tape op used to wear industrial ear protectors!! He was the most successful producer ever, maybe, his hit rate was extremely high.
trakMARX - The Vibrators were sometimes labeled bandwagon jumpers back in the day - yet radical Stewart Homes cites you as the ultimate Punk Rock group in his book "Cranked Up Really High" - whilst dismissing the Pistols as 'not Punk Rock'. What's your take on that?
Knox - To answer the bandwagon claim, I hope to have an album of stuff I was doing before The Vibrators out, maybe this year. It's quite good stuff, a cross between Nirvana and Black Sabbath. It was a great band but didn't work much. When you hear this you'll realise The Vibrators didn't jump on any bandwagon! - the bandwagon jumped on us!!
trakMARX - How did you get signed to Epic?
Knox - My cousin Dave Wernham began managing us. RAK had offered us a not very good deal and we were under pressure to sign. Dave helped us stall RAK and sorted out signing to Epic.
trakMARX - What do you remember about the recording sessions for "Pure Mania"?
Knox - We just went in and recorded mainly what we'd been playing live, and had Robin Mayhew mixing and producing. He used to do the live mixing for David Bowie and Lou Reed, and had been doing our live sound. I think he did a brilliant job, a quite different sort of production from a 'proper' producer. The band had a few arguments during the recording, of course. I think the most vehement one was about the use of tubular bells on the end of "Baby Baby". Some of us thought we shouldn't have them on the track as we were a punk band! They got on there though!
trakMARX - The LP still stands tall as a classic 30 years down the line. How do you feel about it now?
Knox - I'm very proud of it, it still holds up after all this time. Plus we had the songs, the production, and were around at the right time.
trakMARX - What did you make of your punky waver '77 contemporaries - who meant it, maaaaan?
Knox - I liked all the bands, though personally I'm not a political animal and feel slightly uncomfortable with politics in music, I think it kind of limits the song as things move on. So bands like the Clash's politics, whatever they were, didn't really appeal to me. I think the Sex Pistols were great, they really got the whole thing noticed, though it's interesting to think what would have happened to them if they hadn't been managed by Malcolm McLaren, but by someone like Led Zeppelin's manager Peter Grant. They might have lasted longer and had even more impact. Apart from that it was a very exciting, inventive time when a small group of people 'changed the world' forever. Today, of course, we’ve largely been forgotten - but it is worth remembering that without us maybe you lot out there would all be drowning under a stagnant sea of prog rock.
trakMARX - Pat Collier quit shortly after "Pure Mania". What went down there?
Knox - Pat didn't really like all the touring and was more of a studio animal. He'd worked at Decca Studios in West Hamstead in London, and had actually worked on a Bing Crossby session before joining The Vibrators. He's the most successful of us all, producing tons of bands including Katrina and the Waves "Walking On Sunshine".
trakMARX - Where did you find Gary Tibbs?
Knox - I think he was a friend of a drummer I was using before The Vibrators in a band called Lipstick. The drummer, called Nigel Elliot, I think came through a studio I'd done some live recording in. Gary Tibbs was friend of his, playing bass in the band he was in. We also got Don Snow (who went on to Squeeze, Van Morrison, etc.) from this same band which I think was called Red, and was based in North Harrow, or maybe that's where I met some of them one night to have a drink.
trakMARX - How did your approach to "V2" differ from that employed for "Pure Mania"?
Knox - For "V2" we had a proper produce, Vic Maile. He'd worked on stuff like The Who's 'Live In Leeds', etc, so it had a different approach to the first album. He made a very good job of the "V2" album, I think the best track was the formidable "Troops Of Tomorrow" which wouldn't have been as good without him.
trakMARX - The wheels fell of shortly after "V2". What were the contributing factors?
Knox - It was changing people at short notice with a big work load on, lots of tours, so you'd perhaps not have the right people in the band. In the end I was really worried about a big UK tour with the people we had in the band, so I thought if I could do a solo album I could put up with the Vibrators' UK tour. It got back to the head guy at Epic, our record company, that I wasn't happy with the band and he pulled the plug on the tour support money for the tour and that was that. I was never intending that to happen. It sounds dramatic but I was betrayed by someone I'd regarded as a confident at the record company, but this person's allegiance was to the record company, I stupidly didn't realize this.
trakMARX - The original line up reconvened in 1982 to record for the next decade for heavy metal label FM-Revolver Records - how do you view this period of The Vibrators from the relative safety of 2006?
Knox - In 1982, when we reformed, there was a short revival of interest in punk. A few years later punk was again almost in the doldrums, not a massive amount of interest, but we kept working. We made several albums during this period for FM Revolver, some of them veering towards mainstream rock/metal at the suggestion of the record company, also it's down to who's in the band and the songs we had for the albums, plus I think as you make albums there has to be some degree of experimentation.
trakMARX - Back once again, you dropped the very metal "Energize" in September 2002. How did that pan out?
Knox - That's a good album, it's easily in our top five albums, good songs and a good sound courtesy of our old bass player Pat Collier, and recorded at his studios (Gravity Shack). I suppose it sounds a bit metal as I'm a closet metal guitarist. Why not, I love really intense loud guitar.
trakMARX - With the 30th anniversary of Punk Rock upon us - what will The Vibrators be doing to celebrate?
Knox - We've already had our 30th anniversary, it was at the Camden Underworld at the end of February this year. We were one of the very first punk rock bands that started, after all. Plus we've just released PUNK: THE EARLY YEARS on US label Cleopatra Records which is an album of 77 punk rock covers which sort of commemorates this. It's available here on import, but should be released over here domestically in a few months. It's a good album!
trakMARX - Looking back now, the dust having settled several times over, what's your verdict on the phenomenon we came to know & love as Punk Rock?
Knox - Although punk rock's great, a friend of mine thinks it was used by journalists to annihilate the other music around at the time, and I think, counter to what the press and the bands were suggesting, there was some good stuff around then. I was talking to Captain Sensible only the other day and we were saying that if we'd have been in metal we'd have made some money.
Jean Encoule – tMx 24 – 04/06