Monday, 5 May 2014

Torrington: so much to answer for

Up and running again - for how long I'm not sure, but here goes nothing.....

My old home town (Great Torrington) may have never been anything more than a pin prick on a map, but at one time it did have a fairly decent music scene. You probably won’t have heard of any of the bands, but had you dropped by sometime during the early-mid 90s, you may well have seen posters advertising gigs by the likes of the Sweet Thangs, Electric Orange, Naked i, the Desperate Men, the Push, the Candyabyss, Shrug and numerous others.

A few bands were particularly dominant. While none of them went on to greater things, some of their music still holds up pretty well. I recommend you have a listen to the MP3s below at least once.

Jive Turkey
The story goes that there were three brothers who arrived in town sometime in the mid-80s. They were amiable, softly spoken and largely kept themselves to themselves. Then one night at a gig in the local Plough Theatre, these same three guys walked out on stage and proceeded to blast those present into the middle of the next week! Collectively they were known as Jive Turkey and no one looked at those three guys in the same way ever again.

Jive Turkey put out several singles and EPs plus two albums during the 80s and early 90s. Debut album ‘The Perfume Experiment’ had a hint of Madchester meets Jesus & Mary Chain about it, while ‘Can U Dig?’ was altogether rawer and noisier, a return to their punky roots, but also a hint as to where they were headed next. They signed to a number of record labels over the years but never really settled, leading to a great deal of wariness and cynicism of the industry. A shame really, because reviews were generally positive in the national press and they could well have achieved far more than they actually did. They did once reach number 5 in the French indie charts however!

  • Goodbye Johnny Ray - Jive Turkey (debut single) - will re-up by request
  • 50 Dollar Bill - Jive Turkey (from ‘Perfume Experiment’) - will re-up by request; here's a clip from old TSW show 'Tongue & Groove' circa 1989)

Jive Turkey called it quits in the early 90s, but immediately reformed as…

Naked i
Naked i (l-r): Sean, Joel, Nijel
pic by TheRobster
A reinvented and re-energised version of Jive Turkey, Naked i were my favourite band on the circuit. Their biggest influence was undoubtedly Fugazi, but their music crossed over into grunge territory too, though I’m not terribly sure they ever appreciated that comparison.

I spent a bit of time with the band helping out as a sort-of ‘roadie’[1].

After a couple of demos, they released the awesome EP ‘Anus Horribilis’ and two cracking 7” singles, Step Inside You Weirdo and Kite Flyer. Several other later demos were recorded, which I am privileged to have copies of, but were never issued. Sadly, in spite of playing several prestigious gigs around the country and favourable write-ups in NME, Naked i split in 1996. They had intended to just disappear without a word, but they were too good for that. I persuaded them to do one final show to say goodbye – I’d even organise it myself. They agreed, and thus my brief stint as a concert promoter began - and ended - with Naked i’s farewell gig. They made a ferocious racket and I still love hearing their stuff.

  • One Of TheSons - Naked i (from ‘Anus Horribilis’ EP) - will re-up by request
  • Step Inside You Weirdo - Naked i (from ‘Step Inside’ 7") - will re-up by request

The Cult Maniax
Cult Maniax (l-r): Benj, Mildu, Fox, Al
Fronted by the charismatic Big Al, the Cult Maniax was a punk band that released several singles, the studio LP Cold Love and a live album. They achieved national recognition, gaining a reputation on the underground punk circuit and charting on more than one occasion in the UK indie charts during the early 80s. Every now and then their records crop up on eBay and sell for rather a lot of money. 

Drummer Mildu lived three doors down from me and I walked to school each morning with his youngest brother. Big Al could also be seen driving through town in his American Cadillac. Even so, all I knew about the Cult Maniax when I was growing up was that they made a record about a local pub landlord that was banned by the courts, and I often heard Mil practicing while I was kicking a ball around my backyard.

In their later years, they were known as Vibe Tribe following a name change to avoid confusion surrounding themselves and the increasing popularity of The Cult (of She Sells Sanctuary fame). A sole single emerged under that banner before they dissolved. They reform periodically and toured just last year. (Here's a clip of them playing Blitz in London last year, with Sean from Naked i/Jive Turkey now on bass.)

Lucy Looe is an absolutely filthy song that was not only a firm fave of Maniax fans, but was also the regular set closer of Al's next band...

The Sweet Thangs
Following Vibe Tribe’s split, Big Al formed the Sweet Thangs, a seven-piece collective which blended fast, heavy punk rock with reggae, ska, Latin American rhythms and 50s rock & roll. They were the most popular band on the circuit among locals and always filled every venue in the area. A Sweet Thangs gig was always a raucous and extremely sweaty affair, but great fun. Two demo tapes were issued, but they only released one ‘proper’ EP, ‘Umgawa’.

  • Poison - The Sweet Thangs (from ‘Umgawa!’ EP) - will re-up by request

Electric Orange
Electric Orange (l-r):
Benj, Kaj, Jez, Harj

pic by TheRobster
Former Cult Maniax/Vibe Tribe guitarist Benj formed Electric Orange with Big Al’s partner Jez and brothers Kaj and Harj. They were also popular among the local audiences and had a lot of potential to go further. Their songs and sound would have gone down really well during the Britpop era, I reckon. Sadly this commercial potential was never fulfilled, and while there were plans to release a single, the only material they managed to put out was a demo tape and two tracks on a local compilation album, one of which is included here.

  • Slimelight - Electric Orange (from the Fluid Emissions compilation album ‘Junior's First Words’) - will re-up by request

Torrie had long had music at its heart; Christ knows there wasn’t much else to do there. There was, however, a Sunday League football team West Of England FC - named after, and sponsored by, our fave pub - which featured all of Naked i, three quarters of Electric Orange, yours truly and a few other roadies, friends and associates. We played in a red, gold and green kit (yes, seriously!) and were more often than not suffering from post-gig exhaustion, hangovers or both.

I have particular memories of one other Torrington band, Shrug, as somehow I ended up joining them as guitarist. That story is coming up next week so you’ll have to wait…

[Sidenote: This is my 50th post. Woo-hoo!]

[1] I travelled with them for a week and helped carry their gear. On a few other occasions I did their lights, but I mostly jumped around like a twat during their set or drove their wives/girlfriends to and from gigs. I’m not sure if that’s what a roadie is supposed to do, but that was pretty much my role!


  1. Enjoyed these mp3s. The best bands don't always make it. I think you need a large chunk of luck. As I am from dublin, you don't get the whole local band thing. The best I can do is a friend of mine was in PictureHouse who had some success in the mid nineties.

  2. Anus Horribilis! Best title ever!