Formed in north London in 1976, the Vibrators were at the forefront of the punk movement. Within twelve months they had released their first album and were gigging in Berlin. That’s where they met Iggy Pop and became the support band for his 1977 UK, making a solid impression among a new wave of listeners.
Hugely influential and continuing to record and play live today, their original and longstanding drummer Eddie Edwards found the time to talk with Deviation Street about garage rehearsals, touring in Europe and David Bowie’s beer cans :
Hi Eddie, thanks for talking with me. How’s things?
When did the Vibrators form?
We sort of got going in February 76. I was looking to do something, playing bass was my idea and I was asking John Ellis to help me. He knew I could play drums a bit and said we could get a band together with me as the drummer, and ask Knox to join as he wasn’t doing anything just then. John rang Pat Collier and I rang Knox and we met up in a pub in Cricklewood. I was the roadie for the Lee Cosmin band at the time and I had some of their equipment in the back of my van, and we set up in my parents garage, decided that it would work, the police got called by some neighbours and we had to pack up. We kept rehearsing and started getting gigs at Hornsey college of art where I was doing a disco at the weekends, then we were getting gigs at other places and off we went.
At that time, was the idea of being a punk band already formed or did punk just attach itself to you?
There wasn’t any such thing as punk when we were forming, the term didn’t come in to common parlance until the 100 Club punk festival which was later that year, in September. Our initial idea was that we were fed up with all these bands that were playing in pubs. The likes of Ducks Deluxe that were trying to emulate Bob Dylan and The Band, everything was laid back country rock and it wasn’t exciting, it wasn’t up in your face. The only bands that were doing anything at the time were Dr Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods. We wanted to get out there and play loud fast two minute songs, be in your face and a bit more exciting, that was our plan. Of course there were a lot more people also thinking that at the same time. When we first started there was no such term as Punk.
Within a year you went from rehearsing in peoples garages to supporting Iggy Pop. That’s quite a leap by todays standards.
It was months. I can’t exactly remember when we did that Iggy Pop tour, it would have been in early 77 so it was just about over a year. Around the time of the 100 Club festival we got a deal with Rak Records. Chris Spedding turned up as someone had advertised that he was playing even though no one had bothered to contact him. They thought he would pull some punters in as he’d had a hit with the song ‘Motorbiking’. He turned up with his guitar and amplifier and said, I’m here and whoever was organising it said we’ll try and find a band to back you.
We learned the songs right before the gig
We were there and they said, can you back Chris Spedding for a few songs and we said yeah alright. We learned the songs right before the gig actually in the club, we went on before him and then he came on and played with us. After that he recommended us to Micky Most of Rak Records, and we did a single with Chris Spedding and one of our own at the same time. He offered us a pretty crappy deal, there was 5% with him producing it, there was no money there.
‘Automatic Lover’ was the song that got The Vibrators on Top Of The Pops. Within the space of a year you went from garage rehearsals to a record deal Then to another record deal, touring with Iggy Pop and Top Of The Pops and then a second album. After all that it seems as if you all went off in different directions. Burn out?
I don’t know really, you’d need to ask the others. We were working really hard ,we had one tour that backed off into the other, so we’d go into the studio to record some demos, then record the album so it was very much full on working sort of seven days a week, it’s very hard work. Pat Collier wanted to do more pop oriented stuff so he left after ‘Pure Mania’ then John Ellis wanted to get his own thing together so he left after we did the V2 album. It was a lot about the pressure of touring, we were one of the first bands to go to Germany and France, we hit the continent in a big way, we did some long tours out there.
We went out to Berlin because we had a friend who invited us saying he could get us a rehearsal space and somewhere to stay, which was a chance to get out of of London and do something different, not many people had been to Berlin then, so we went there and started rehearsing the second album. The cops started to follow us around because we were staying partly in Berlin and partly in a farmhouse near Hamburg, so we were driving back and forth through the old east frontier.
They followed us about for three or four days
One morning, I think it was someone’s birthday and we’d stayed up late, the police raided this farmhouse where we were staying and searched us for weapons and things, turned out all the van and everything. They followed us about for three or four days and I was driving down one way streets, turning round and we were waving at them as we drove past going the other way. We got it in the papers there and they realised that we were a rock n roll band and not part of some terrorist gang and after that they left us alone.
We were getting play on the radio there, the ‘We Vibrate’ single it would’ve been and Iggy Pop heard us, he was in Berlin at the same time and I suppose that’s how we got on that tour with him, which was quite good.
Iggy Pop & David Bowie (Keyboards) 2/3 /1977 ©Deviation St Archive
Did you get to meet Iggy Pop much?
Yeah, we met them more or less every day, they were all pretty decent. I thin it was in Manchester, we were having dinner with the two brothers that were in his band, Hunt and Tony Sayles and he said can I come in and join you, we were getting a Chinese meal or something like that and he said I’ve got to get back and get on with the soundcheck and when we went to leave the restaurant he paid for everything. We got on well with him, they were very good to us.
There were some weird things, they had David Bowie on keyboards and I think it was Manchester again they had loads of kids queueing up round the back saying ‘can I get David Bowie’s beer can’ and that crew was selling beer cans for a tenner each and they sold about six and I was thinking ‘hang on, he only had one beer’. I think they sold about three chairs he’d sat on as well. The kids went home happy so maybe no harm was done, they got rid of a load of old chairs that they were probably going to throw away.
After all that I’m not surprised you needed a break and after The Vibrators split following the second album you got back together in 82. What brought that about?
We got other people in and that wasn’t working so well, another guitarist after John Ellis and that didn’t work, then Knox said he was doing a solo album and the whole band sort of fell apart. I carried on with a different line up for about a year and then that fell apart as well. Then John and Pat were in a pub having a drink one night and said ‘let’s get the band back together’ and they phoned up Knox and they phoned up me and we all said let’s go for it.
We were only off the road for about eighteen months and we got back together in 82 and it’s been going ever since. Up until Covid anyway. The last gig we did with The Vibrators was in Lucerne in Switzerland and we were due to do some gigs in Germany and we just had to drive home. The one everyone was worried about was in Milan, we had to cancel that or they wouldn’t let us play in Lucerne.
It’s very difficult to get hit records unless you’re getting played on the radio and the TV.
About gigging in the 80s though, I think the mainstream media led us to believe that punk had died off, that it wasn’t fashionable anymore but you were still getting crowds then.
It did die off a bit, you never got the promotion and the radio play through the 80s and 90s that the bands deserved. It wasn’t just us, bands like the Damned and the Clash were still going, 999 and the UK Subs and they would get minor chart hits but none of those bands ever got played on the radio, the only time the Clash had a big hit was when it was on an advert for jeans and everyone rushed out to buy it because they’d never really heard the Clash before.
It’s very difficult to get hit records unless you’re getting played on the radio and the TV. We just went back and played all the clubs and packed them all out, went all round Europe and America, Canada and Australia, South America, we’ve been to Brazil four times, all around South America, we even played in Moscow, we’ve been all over and the music’s still massively popular, it just doesn’t get the press exposure, the radio and the TV.
The Rebellion festival is happening in Blackpool again this year, I’ve seen it advertised.
I’m not sure if it’s going on or not, it’s usually good and we’ve done it just about every year. I think there was one year when we said hang on a minute you’re paying these bands way too much money and we could get paid more playing in the Czech Republic so we turned it down one year but I think we’ve done all the others. We used to do pretty well but sadly we won’t be there this year.
You’ve said that your new album is going to be your last, is this definite?
Yeah, we’ve come off the road and we probably won’t be going back on it again, Pete’s gone back to Finland during the lockdown and Nigel might be moving, we don’t know yet and if that happens it’s almost impossible for us to do anything. What we have got is some gigs with the original line up in November and December then after that we might do the 100 Club in January if that comes up. We’ve the album coming out then but we are all getting on a bit, so maybe it is the time to step down and let younger people go out and do it. I will keep playing, I’m playing with bands around here where I live in Essex. I’ve got a band with my son called EEMS, which is named after everyone’s initials, we do 50s 60s 70s covers, a few originals and we’ve put an EP out, maybe there’s other stuff.
Interview © JG Deviation St 2020
The Vibrators 2020 album Mars Casino is available on Bandcamp:
The Vibrators line up circa 1977