My first interview ever for Mudkiss is with Martin Cass – from one regular Eric’s goer to another………….Lets talk 1977.
Martin and I apparently crossed paths in October 1977 as I had recorded it in my diary, it was only through meeting Martin again online via my website that I found out we had known each other in the early punk day of Eric's in Liverpool.
Mel - Hi Martin – From ‘Bombsite Fanzine’, firstly could you tell our readers who you are and a little bit about your background and how you came to be involved with Punk Music way back in the mid 70's.
Martin - Mark Hodgkinson and I played in a band with each other in high school along with our music teacher, no less. Mark and I had been good friends since we were about 14. We both went to high school with each other outside of Chester. Interesting fact we went to the same high school as Martin and the Brownshirts. Norman and Willie from the Brownshirts went on to be the Montellas in the post punk thing.
Things started around 75, we were travelling to London and over to Liverpool, we were into the Roxie Bowie thing that was vogue early on. Sometime into 1976 we started paying attention to the live band and pub rock movement, and became inspired by bands like Dr Feelgood, The Sensational Alex Harvey band and Eddie and the Hotrods.
There was an interesting club called Quantways in Chester that would bring in some bands, I knew some of the guys running the door, so we used to get in the back. Sometimes we would help move band equipment.
The Pistol's played there during October 76 but we missed them, occasionally during 76 we would head down into London's Kings Road and hang out, our friend and other Bombsite contributor, Grom, had a friend who was nursing and we would crash at hers. There was some change in the air and we were looking for energy.
On the career front things were going from bad to worse for everyone we knew, as the North of England was ground zero for the UK economic meltdown. By the end of 76 we were picking up gigs in Manchester and Liverpool, and well on our way to rebellion. Sometimes we would be asked to leave places as we all looked a little odd for the period.
Mel - I know you wrote a fanzine which went by the name of 'Bombsite' but tell me more, how did the idea come about.
Martin - In the primitive stages of the movement it was like a gang and everyone wanted to do something to help and join in, there was a vision or a spirit of enthusiasm. We fired up the band and the fanzine at about the same time. We felt that the fanzine was something we could do right away, but we needed to get more organized with the band.
The Clash playing Liverpool in May of 1977 was the start for Liverpool but Liverpool was late to the party, as Manchester was almost a year ahead with the Buzzcock's Free Trade shows as their start. That may be part of the reason that Liverpool's or Eric's only punk bands came from outside of Liverpool, with The Spitfire Boys from St, Helen's, The Toilet's from Rhyl, Martin and the Brownshirts from Chester and our band Why Control.
Although, in Bombsite issue one, the Mutant's who rarely get mentioned and Dave Balfe's band Radio Blank was also fairly nihilistic and had been moved by the punk energy.
Mark managed to get an old printing press from his sister, and we dusted it off and fixed it up in his garage. We hammered out all the pages on old typewriters and then when we were ready, took it all to his garage and started manually cranking the sheets of paper through the machine. We did two runs that week, and used safety pins to hold the pages together.
Mel - So you were certainly pioneers of the Liverpool scene how did you start with the distribution?
Martin - We never had a problem with the record outlets, Probe was most likely our biggest outlet. We would carry the fanzines in this old military backpack and make our way from Birkenhead and through Liverpool stopping at the record stores. We may have got thrown out on occasion but nothing I remember. I have a copy of an old Bombsite poster on my site that lists a couple of the outlets Probe, Virgin, Migrant Mouse, One Up and Rox. We also carried camera equipment and note pads in the bag, so we would stop by the Grapes to see what was up, and then make our way over to Eric’s. No free entry for us at Eric’s, we never felt close to Roger, I don’t think he knew that we were selling the fanzines inside the club or he would have stopped that. Part of the reason we had no problem was we kind of flew under the radar, we were unassuming anti- anything over 25 and it was fairly early in the scene. By the end of 78 there were all kinds of people jumping into fanzines and bands. We may have been the first and only fanzine during 77 following the Eric's scene.
Mel – That’s amazing Martin I remember Probe well, Pete Burns worked behind the counter for a while, he sold me The Spitfire boys single which I still have. I remember the killer looks he gave people lol. So who wrote the articles with you?
Martin - We all participated but Mark was the central guy and did a lot of the organizing. We were, and still are like brothers so we would sit around and come up with different angles and ideas for the issues. Punk rock consumed our lives, every detail. Mark still lives in Chester, Grom lives out in New Zealand and I now live in Ohio.
Mel – What was the first gig review you did, and when was the last Fanzine published?
Martin - The first gig review was The Jam, Mutants show over at Mr Digby's in Birkenhead on July 7th 1977. The scene was really odd as few really got into it, as I recall the gig was not sold out and was full of regulars, no punks except us. Before the show the management came over to us and said OK lads your up in 10 minutes. We just looked at each other and then said to him sorry mate you have got the wrong lads.
Much of this is written about in the fanzine, and I had forgotten until I reread it. Mark and I had none of the fanzines. My sister who lives in Florida had two issues stashed in her garage and Dizzy at Bored Teenager found an issue number 5 for me in a dealer collection in Greece. Issue 5 was the last issue and it was released in early December 1977.
Mel - I know you have a web site and blog page
Can you share this with our readers and explain about your idea for a book in the future.
Martin - About a year ago Mark turned 50, so his wife was looking for ideas for a theme. I suggested the punk part of his life, as we had rarely spoken about that part of our life for years. So we started checking the net for ideas, and started running into bits of our stories and clippings from the fanzines on different punk sites. It has been a neat period for us, as we feel that our stories have tested time and made a difference, and 30 years later people are still reading them. Part of the reason is that the press and general public took none of it very seriously, and yet the longer the genre evolved the more interesting it became, and now we see Filipinos, Vietnamese and Chinese bands who are discovering the anarchistic sound and movement from 1977.
So, I had a baby girl and I am old, she is very beautiful and she has made me think about the future. I wanted to get all of my early years more organized and in one spot. That way in the future if I am too senile to pass the story on, she can make some sense of my early years.
So I started to pull the fanzines apart and add commentary, dates and some other pictures that Mark had stored away. At first it was just me in the corner busy with my project. The project ballooned, [I am typing this with a smile] the guy from Kill your Puppy [Tony I think] told me to get a myspace it will make the research easier. The project ballooned again. People and bands started to give me support and great commentary, I met some friends like Dizzy, Johna and Mel, who added great backdrop and facts that needed to be added. Along with the fanzine, I decided to try and find a band that could work with me to try and re- construct Why Controls old songs [if anyone can help here I would love to collaborate]. The project ballooned again. But, it has been an enjoyable exercise. Moreover, I have tried to help people along the way, as I believe that this important for humanity and social development.
The book part is kind of a conclusion, after finding our fanzines 30 years later I believe it is true, the written word cannot die. This digital world is fine but years of work can be zapped wormed or virused away like an old nappy. There is something magical about opening a book or papers that were lost for 30 years and sitting down to get lost in the story, even if the story was you. Sites like Blurb or Lulu will offer books for resale if you allow them at no cost to the producer. This is not about any financial reward, or commercial success this book will simply be left out there, for the 100 people that may be interested to buy.
Mel – So you played in a punk band called 'Why Control' who was the line up.
Martin - The line up was Cookie [Cliff Ison] on Vocals, Mart [Martin Cass] Guitar, Grom [Colin Gronbach] on Bass and Algy [Mark Hodgkinson] on drums.
Mel – When did you get the band together and who did you support on your travels?
Martin - The band had been practicing together in the back of the old Swimming baths in Chester since May 77. Our line up was starting to sound pretty good. So we wrapped things up with the fanzine and started playing live sometime around December 1977. We supported The Toilets (now known as The Alarm) on more than one occasion, and The Brownshirts, and I think a band called Amsterdam who were friends with Mike Peters. Our best concert was a rock against racism gig in Chester. It was sold out and busting out the doors.
Mel - Did you get a record contract? And did you play at the infamous Eric’s?
Martin - No record deals or Eric's gig. I think that Chris Harrup the guy you mention in your diary from October 77 was trying to work with Roger to get us on. He was a DJ at Eric's for a while and had known Roger from the Northern Soul venture that Roger had earlier. But, by the end of 77, we were all a bit of a handful. There were fights at almost every gig, either us or in the crowd and we were up for that, we were not into the art rock scene that was developing down at the club.
Our last memberships were dated 1979. By then we felt that 3 chord anarchy had been shanghaied by the sissy boys, like the Boomtown Rats or Tubeway Army.
Mel – Good times had by all but what for you was your personal highlight of the Punk movement?
Martin - The highlight for me really has been what we discovered last year, finding bits of our fanzine around the internet. Eric's club was a huge part of the punk period for us, meeting all the bands, and then later watching them on TV, sometimes here in America.
I moved here in 1981, so it was not too long after the scene. I was in Nashville staying at the Opryland Hotel with my new life, and watched Mike Peters and The Alarm on MTV before going out for dinner. It was odd trying to explain to everyone that we had shared sound equipment with these guys.
Mel - When did the Punk scene die?
Martin - You mean disco right? This revolution rock sits out of sight sometimes, but it is always ready to inject itself back into our system, when our system falls down. It knows no boundaries or is not limited to one language. And when you have been fortunate enough to taste the energy, it is in your DNA forever. Manufactured music has no spirit, it is dead. ‘Support Live Music Not Dead Music’
Mel - What made you desert the Brits and move over to Cleveland Ohio?
Martin - Ahh I had too, there was no staying in Britain by 1980. Merseyside and Manchester were a disaster. Regional unemployment was something like 30% for under 25 year olds. I did a piece about it on my site. The Brits had to borrow money from the IMF; the foreign legion was filling up with Brits with nothing to do. The British hourly worker was earning less money than any other modernized country, including Italy and newly developed Japan. London and the south was fairing a bit better, but all in all it was better that as many left as they did. I have run into a few other Eric's regulars that left the country.
Mel – Hey I know your married and have a young child but what else do you do with your time?
Martin - Our life is pretty relaxed; our primary residence is on a quiet island on Lake Erie. My business runs very well and is enjoyable most of the time. This year appears to be better than most, as American manufacturing looks like it could be on the upswing, after 10 years of the Chinese eating our lunch. I got rid of most of my toys before baby arrived. I do some recording and write a few songs now and then. The Bombsite project takes some time. The winters are pretty brutal here, so we leave for a while in the winter and try to find a warm adventure.
My daughter is the only American in the house. I have a beautiful wife from the Philippines, and our daughter is our pride and joy.
Mel – Martin tell me a story about your brush with someone who used to go to Eric's and became a 'somebody' later! Any Pete Wylie story would suffice lol
Martin - This one is interesting and kind of a highlight. On November 18th 1977 Paul Cook and Steve Jones arrived at the club. It was just the kind of thing that would happen at Eric's we were around the bar area and Steve Jones simply came over and started to talk with us. Paul Cook was sitting down at a table with some girls.
We always felt pretty close to Pete Wylie, he was so damned energetic and full of ideas. He would start the evening with a question, and by the end of the night he had put a band together or tossed around an idea for a show. We stayed at his place once, after the club, he had his guitar and we were trading riffs with each other. We thought he was a good guy, no one was a star in that place, and we were all the same moving forward for a common cause, music.
Mel – One final dumb blonde question for you now - who are your idols/hero's however you want to say it - people who inspire you?
Martin - During 2002 I won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year award for business, it was a huge award for me. Here’s a punk that had washed dishes in Chester hotels, to earn money to buy fanzine materials and bands equipment, now entrepreneur. For this, I thank Joe Strummer and Eric's club, Strummer for his honesty and vision and Eric's for the entrepreneur apprenticeship.
Many thanks Martin for a delightful interview and a glimpse into your life….make sure you check out Martin’s MySpace page.
Plus his web site http://whycontrol1977.blogspot.com/