“SONG FOR EWE” is the feature where artists & music people beloved by VELVET SHEEP choose an obscure song they’ve been listening to that day. Today’s guest was a member of storied Leicester punks Disco Zombies, a band that inspired those who witnessed them enough to set up labels, tours and more, but who were plagued with a fair share of bad luck, and a hefty back catalogue of tunes enough to put any of the Buzzcocks best efforts in the shade much of which had by hook or crook were left unreleased – until now…with the intervention of the excellent curio’s curio label Optic Nerve who are releasing a 20 track double LP compilation evocatively called “South London Stinks”. I won’t take offence even if that is my ends.

Disco Zombies included Andy Ross who went onto form Food Records (and discover Seymour/Blur) and also our man today, Dave Henderson who as a seasoned music journalist has been MD of Kerrang, Mojo and Q, and among many other notables was a scribe for Sounds, not to mention a talent booker for Glastonbury. Disco Zombies with tunes like “Top Of The Pops” knocked the likes of the Rezillos into a cocked hat, and with Peel favs like “Drums Over London” ensured their cult status if not the widespread acclaim of more Cockernee peers or their sometime sponsors and scene starters The Subway Sect.

The sardonic lyrics of songs like Half Man Biscuit-esque “Where Have You Been Lately Tony Hateley” about the journeyman England footballer, or the bouncily titled “Here Come The Buts”  show their wit while their ongoing careers have proven their taste-making musical nous, so I very much looked forward to Mr. Henderson’s song choice for this long running series. I was not disappointed, in fact, it’s a hat-trick of tunes which Hately would be proud, as eruditely described as you might expect. Welcome to Velvet Sheep, Dave Henderson

Forget the 100 Club, you had to have been in a student’s hall of residence in Leicester ’77 to catch the debut of The Disco Zombies – featuring Andy Ross on vocals and guitar, Geoff Dodimead on bass, Johnny ‘Guitar’ Hawkins on guitar and Andy Fullerton on drums. Breakneck of speed, silver of tongue, their number was bolstered by Dave Henderson from chirpy power punk band The Blazers (part of a local scene that also included included The Foamettes, Dead Fly Syndrome, Wendy Tunes, The RTRs, Robin Banks And The Payrolls and more. Playing wherever they could, from dive bars to pub bowling alleys, things were about to take an uptick with Subway Sect and The Lou’s showing up for “The Great Unknown Tour”, looking for local support and plumping for our heroes.

Record shop owner (now Mayor Of Mablethorpe) Carl Tebbutt was so invigorated by the Disco Zombies he set up a label called Uptown Records just to put out their debut EP (including a version of The Blazers song “Top Of The Pops” plus Andy Ross numbers “Time Will Tell”, “Punk A Go Go” and the titular “Disco Zombies”.

Unfortunately the production company Carl had employed went bust and the record was shelved. The band weren’t going to be blunted that easily and recorded a session at the local radio station (“TV Screen Existence” the only track to have survived), then embarked on a breakneck tour of Leicester which saw them shed Johnny ‘Guitar’ who had another year to do at Uni. Choosing to move to London they briefly co-opted The Foamettes’ guitarist Steve Gerrard until he bombed back to the Midlands to become part of The Bomb Party and was replaced by Mark Sutherland for the most settled and recognised line up of The Disco Zombies for several years.

With the explosion in popularity of punk, new labels burgeoned and Andy Ross started South Circular Records to put out their actual debut single, ‘Drums Over London’ – an ironic stab at people’s sabre-rattling hostility to the arrival of other cultures. Peel got it, and played it a lot, Rock Against Racism didn’t and complained, its subtext flying straight over their heads much to their chagrin.

South Circular was fleeting but then Dave Henderson launched Dining Out, with the intention of being the band’s new home. To start the label off on a flyer they went to Ipswich to record a debut EP by Peel approved The Adicts and followed it with “Here Comes The Buts” featuring the breakthrough Dr Boss drum machine which despite lending the record a Cramps-esque quality was also slightly ahead of its time and the money ran out before others could catch up, leaving yet more fully realised Disco Zombies tunes on the cutting room floor.

An unexpected second wind to Dining Out (perhaps it was the wafer thin mint!) saw a new track ready for release amongst 7″s by The Sinatras, New Age and Spit Like Paint and although the test pressing got a lot of play from Peel, by the time the release was due the band had split.

Despite their successful day jobs that followed, in 2011, the drum machine line up descended on Mark Sutherland’s studio, rehearsing for a show at the Bull And Gate with two new recordings and by 2018 there were more and a Dublin Castle show. They’d got a new taste for it, and Zombie like they were a band and spirit that wouldn’t die. There was only one thing for it, to get everything dug up for a new lease of life, powered by an Optic Nerve.

And can I for one, say, it’s ace. Big style.

As are Dave’s 3 brilliant choices of songs for our feature. You can tell he’s a scribe of note. Without further ado, here are Dave Henderson’s “song(s) for ewe” (they’re like buses, three at once)…

I still get excited when I hear a tune for the first time, from Dry Cleaning to some obscure prog band from Poland, I often wonder how they did that, or in many cases why. I’m a bit of an obsessive collector, so here’s three tunes that have to be heard – there are many more – from perfect soul to mindless punk.

‘Now You’ve Got the Upper Hand’ by Candi Staton Released on the Deptford Northern Soul Club record label, this was the ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ hit maker and Florence inspiration’s debut single recorded in 1967 and until last year a long lost super rare northern soul release. I had to track down Candi to get the track for re-issue and she recounted how she was lured into the studio from her gospel singing choir when someone said if Aretha can do it, I bet you can. It’s under two minutes, a glorious anthem with a great hook, what more could you want from a song?

“Blah” by Sidney And The Chimps I saw a picture of The Cramps’ Lux and Ivy in their record basement and have spent years unearthing the songs that they loved. This comes from a double album I put together for Rough Trade shops on gloriously coloured vinyl. It’s a band playing a beatnik jazz tune back in 1958 and adding their own one word commentary when the mood takes them. It’s effortlessly ridiculous and somehow wonderful too.

“Golf” by Art Phag I remember getting sent this album in the late ‘80s when I was working on either Underground or Offbeat magazine. Hand painted cover, a proper garage rock sound and hopelessly sexist lyrics, it left an indent on my senses for its sheer audacity and simplicity. Why bother with a third chord?

THANKS SO MUCH TO DAVE HENDERSON AND TO SEAN NEWSHAM AT MUTANTE. 

“South London Stinks” is out on Optic Nerve from 28 Jan 2021, but you can pre-order it here…