What’s so funny ‘bout the Stiff Little Punks and the Sexiest Singer in the UK?
Ten years ago, back in the day when a Phnom Penh gig might well mean squeezing whatever motley crew had been assembled for the night in between the bar and the toilets in the corner of a hostess bar, I came to be aware of a power duo, the Stiff Little Punks, formed by two English gents intent on not letting anything get in the way of having a good time. The repertoire and format was simple – they played the songs they loved, and they played them hard and loud.
Ian Anderson sang as if to an audience of thousands, not a dozen. Dave Maybe produced such a violent guitar noise I was a little scared, and he made a point of dressing up the act with props – wigs, glasses, whatever was appropriate for the song. Old timers may recall the slogans: ‘The Worst Punk Band in Cambodia’ and the classic ‘Never Mind the Cambodian Space Project, We’re the Stiff Little Punks’. Roll on a few years and Ian’s more mainstream rock covers band the Lazy Drunks (the original name Lazy Jazz Drunks later being shortened as a matter of accuracy) kept on carrying on, being responsible for some memorable (for those that could remember) New Year’s Eve gigs at Sharky Bar – quite the tradition in its time.
Ian has been back in the UK for some years now, and the Stiff Little Punks have gone through a few iterations, but November 2018 will see a reunion with two nights at Oscar Bar. Leng Pleng contacted Ian and Dave to unearth some history and to get some sense of the future.
You’ve got a heck of a history in the Phnom Penh scene. What was it like trying to get gigs in those days, back in 2009, with the original Stiff Little Punks?
IA: I can’t remember a lot to be honest, apart from David getting all our gigs, starting with his own pub, Updown bar. I just sang, he did all the hard work, ha ha ha. Then he had to go abroad, missing a gig at Rory’s Irish Pub (St 178), so I got Tom [Baeker] and another guy, forming the Lazy Jazz Drunks, from then on there was an ever-changing, ever-revolving line up of local Phnom Penh musicians.
So, how did you meet?
DM: Before I came to Cambodia I never knew Ian, but back in the 1980s, one of the English music magazines, Sounds, held a readers’ poll for the Sexiest Singer in the UK. The magazine came through the letterbox and there was a picture of this guy with ginger hair and glasses. Ian Anderson of Crazyhead. I’d never heard of them.
Flip forward many years later, at some seedy bar in Phnom Penh, there’s a guy with spiky hair and glasses playing YouTube at the bar, playing the music that I like, and we started talking, shared some stories. He said “I used to play in a band – an urban bastard garage band called Crazyhead.” I said: “You used to be the sexiest singer in the UK!” And he told me the roadies, the record label, all the promoters bought all the magazines and rigged the vote.
So then he said, “I want to form a band. Can you play guitar?” I said, “Not really.” So he said, “Well, can you play these songs?” I said, “I could learn I suppose, but I’m not very good.” “It doesn’t matter, just go buy a guitar.” I went out the next day and bought a $25 Japanese Fender copy, started practicing in my bedroom. Then we started chasing gigs, playing in places like Green Vespa, Frog and Shamrock, Touk Bar, 99 Bar, mostly up and down the riverside.
Our first gig was in Huxleys [corner of Sts 5 and 136], where they’d turned the upstairs into a sports bar. I remember it was FA Cup Final night, Everton v Chelsea, packed out. I said to Robbie, “You’ve got a lot of people in for the football,” and he said, “They’ve come here to see you.”
Another of Ian’s bands, the Lazy Jazz Drunks, were born at the old Cavern Bar on 104 Street.
IA: The Drunks started as a bit of a joke, but ended up becoming the Friday night bar band at Sharky Bar for four years. Stiff Little Punks also played Sharky many times, big thanks to promoters Big Mike (RIP) and Ross. We also played lots of tiny places such as Candy Bar and so on, playing sets at 3 am… madness…
The Lazy Drunks time is a bit of a blur but lots of fun, must have involved about fifty local musicians in all. My favourite online review described us as being like a musical version of Dad’s Army but without the laughs – our drummer was 22, but some members were as old as their sixties. Respect is due to them all.
DM: Out of nowhere, Sharky Bar rang us for a 4th of July party – somebody pulled out and they asked if we could play – they were desperate. Me and Ian and Dr Zoom the drum machine. We played 67 songs in three and a half hours, nailed it. Big Mike called the next day and says can we play the next night? I said, “We can’t play the same 67 songs again!” Then when Sharky started to book us we started getting proper money. When we were playing the Cavern on 104, for example, they said they couldn’t give us cash, but they could pay us in sausage rolls and Scotch eggs and Cornish pasties.
We got a call out of the blue to play at a punk rock festival at the Hard Rock Café Saigon, opening for a Japanese band. The next night we came back and played Sharky with The Fumes, and the next week we played in Candy Bar. So for that week we lived the rock’n’roll lifestyle.
So, Sexiest Singer in the UK, tell us about the days of Crazyhead, touring around the UK, US and Europe in the late eighties.
IA: Crazyhead was the brainchild of Kev Reverb, as was the SLP with David Maybe. I just wrote some words and sang. Crazyhead was a mid-eighties UK garage band – we loved seventies punk and post-punk, sixties garage and early psych, largely influenced by the likes of Captain Beefheart, The Monkees, MC5, Iggy and the Stooges. Kev was our songwriter, mastermind and manager in the early days, and we were always in credit when he was! We got to the top of the UK indie charts, and peaked in 1989, when we made it to the middle of the bill at the Reading Festival.
We also got banned from stage two at Glastonbury, toured Europe with Iggy Pop, then the USA, made the UK top 60, with radio airplay, eventually a headline tour including filling the 2,000 capacity Town and Country Club in London.
Then we got dropped, found out we were half a million in debt due to our manager screwing us over – ex-manager for The Damned, a leech with a silver tongue – but hey, we carried on, got out of debt as most companies had gone bust in the crash at the end of the eighties. Happily I got to work as a paid muso for four years, which was pretty cool.
Recently Crazyhead reformed for a 30 year reunion at the Indie Daze 4 Festival back at the Town and Country Club and Islington O2, did a tour and had so much fun we plan to play a few select shows every summer as long as we can.
Does what happens on tour stay on tour?
IA: What happens on the road stays on the road, yes. However someone is writing a book about us and our brother band, Gaye Bykers on Acid, due out next year.
Kev Reverb has gone on to work with Zodiac Mindwarp and Diesel Park West amongst others, but then you got together a few years ago to form a new band, Swamp Delta. Is that a continuation of the Crazyhead theme or something different?
IA: Swamp Delta was same same but different, featuring members of both Crazyhead and Gaye Bykers on Acid. We made a great LP, Sick Liver Blues
From the promo file: “Recently various members of two giants of Late 80s Urban Bastard Blues – The Gaye Bykers on Acid and Crazyhead, – met, drank deep from the well of the Swamp Juice, lit the fire to the Delta Goddess and a Musical Marsh Monster was born. This numinous night time hatching precipitated a coalescing of the three Wigston troubadours into a new, ugly, deformed, Mutant Bastard Blues offspring Swamp Delta”. Any similarity to any person living or dead is merely coincidental, particularly on the track Talking to the Girls on St 51. [https://swampdelta.bandcamp.com/track/talking-to-the-girls-on-st-51]
What sort of show should we expect from the reformed Stiff Little Punks in November?
IA: Anyone who has seen the also ever-revolving line up of the Stiffs shouldn’t be disappointed. It’ll be some old punk fans in their forties to sixties playing covers of seventies UK and US punk and new wave – you’ll hear some Judas Priest and T Rex bunged in alongside UK Subs, Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Ruts, Talking Heads, Dead Kennedys, Deadboys and so on, played by a rabble of rock’n’roll renegades from Cambodia, Australia, UK and, uh… Birmingham. Stewy Ramone and I will be sharing the vocals. Everyone welcome, except Nazi punks. C’mon and pogo au go go at Oscars Bar on St 104!
As Elvis Costello sang, what’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding?
And finally, when the lights are getting too bright and an aging garage punk wants a quiet night in, what sort of music hangs in the air?
IA: Nico, Nina Simone, or some seventies heavy dub reggae, maybe mixed in with fifties rock’n’roll and doo wop… and a little AC/DC.
The Stiff Little Punks will play two Saturdays at Oscar’s – a Welcome Back Mate show on November 3 and an Orright, Now Bugger Off show on November 24.
INTERVIEW BY SCOTT BYWATER
For more ‘back in the day’ Phnom Penh music scene reminiscences, click here to read our Leng Pleng Interview with Scott Bywater