Interview with Knox
By Christopher Duda
From the first wave of Punk Rock, The Vibrators emerged ready to fill voids with Whips and Furs and urging you to be their slaves. Their peers were the Sex Pistols, The Damned and Generation X etc. The remarkable fact about The Vibrators is that they really never went away. While other bands have done reunion tours for a quick cash grab; The Vibrators have been slugging it out on the road for the entire existence of their career. One of the harder working bands out there playing and praying (or preying?) to the Church of Rock and Roll. I caught up with Knox from the Vibrators between one of many of his frequent tours with the band.
Chris- What has kept The Vibrators going for 30 + years?
Knox- Principally I’d say it was two things that keep us playing. The first is that we love playing, doing the gigs, although at times it’s sometimes hard work and tedious, all the hanging around, the traveling. We get to go to quite a few parts of the world. Secondly the fans basically keep us going as well. If no-one came to the gigs we basically wouldn’t be able to carry on doing them as none of us in the band is at all rich, so we couldn’t afford to play for free.
Chris- The Vibrators have played with many bands over the years. Are there some gigs that stick out in your mind as more memorable?
Knox- The most memorable ones were:
(i) Playing support to the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club. They were very good; Johnny Rotten was an incredible front man.
(ii) Despite all the awful things that happened there the 100 Club Punk Rock Festival was a milestone that essentially (to my mind) put punk rock firmly on the map.
(iii) The 1977 Marquee gigs we did. I think that was the “UK Offensive Tour”. Incredibly hot there at the Marquee, almost impossibly hot on stage, queues up the street that Eddie gave beer to, and the fact that only Jimi Hendrix ever had more people in than we had.
(iv) Touring the UK with Iggy Pop with David Bowie on keyboards.
Chris- How influential was the Pub Rock scene on The Vibrators?
Knox- That was almost the only scene. I’d played in other odd bands before but pubs were where the work was. It was pretty relaxed. You could play some ‘experimental’ stuff. We used to do that on two-chord workout songs like “Claws In My Brain” in bands before The Vibrators, in pubs like the Elgin Arms in Ladbroke Grove (Joe Strummer’s 101er’s played here on a different night), nobody seemed to mind. I think it was this fairly loose pub rock environment that allowed punk to develop.
Chris- Many bands over the years have been accused of jumping on the punk rock wagon when it initially started. Were the Vibrators accused of this at some point? As you have pointed out you were playing Vibrators songs as early as 1975.
Knox- I don’t think we ever jumped on any bandwagon. In The Vibrators we just started playing with basically the absolute minimum of rehearsing, just immediately out playing anything we knew, which was at the very start pub rock covers, then introducing our own songs into the set straightaway, and in a small way helping shape punk rock. I’d been playing a lot of these songs earlier in other bands. I might have been playing some songs like “Whips and Furs” as early as 1973-4, though it was originally called “Dance to the Music” then. Other Vibrators’ songs I did before The Vibrators were: “Sweet Sweet Heart”, “Claws in My Brain”, “She’s Bringing You Down” “She’s The One You Need”, plus other songs which turned up on The Fallen Angels albums were “Vipers in the Dark”, “Country Girl”, and “Strung Out On You”.
Chris- Why did the Vibrators not get the attention that they deserve in the bigger scheme of Punk Rock History?
Knox- We didn’t have clever managers and we were never a pushy attention-seeking band so I think we got a bit overlooked. That and the limited airplay because of our name. Now I kind of feel we are moving up. We get people writing now that our first album is better than the Pistols, has better songs on it, and is better than most of the Ramones albums after their first two, that sort of thing. There’s definitely a rising reassessment of our music in our favour.
Chris-How much of V2 had been written previously. Some songs on this second LP could of fit perfectly onto the first LP.
Knox- I think my songs on V2 were mainly written during our short stay out in Berlin. We temporarily moved there in 1977 saying London had got boring. (Actually that might have been true!) I think John Ellis wrote songs out there as well. This would mean they were written after the first album was released so couldn’t have been on it, but were of course written by us, the same people.
Chris- How do you feel about bands that used the Vibrators as a sounding board and went on to fame, fortune and excessive drug habits?
Knox- Sometimes you get annoyed it’s not you, but generally bands get where they are as a result of talent, a great song, front man, management, etc. We’d all like a bit more money, but the fame I’m not too interested in; I mean you can’t go down the shops if you want a pint of milk if you’re David Bowie. The drugs didn’t interest me either, I like having a good time, a few beers, but not to really impair myself on a permanent basis, no way.
Chris-Punk in ‘76 was a new idea. A new way for a bunch of kids to play music and convey their thoughts and ideas. It soon became marketable and the rest is history and History is bound to repeat itself as it has over and over. (See the grunge scene). Seems the music industry love to pounce all over “new scenes” then kill them. When you get right down to it isn’t it all just rock and roll?
Knox- I’m not sure it is all rock ‘n’ roll. I think all the genres are very important, prog rock’s quite a way away from punk rock. I like all the genres, but in differing amounts. I can listen to prog rock sometimes, and I borrow ideas from all sorts of genres (we all do). At home I hear Bob Dylan, Tim Armstrong’s new album, indie stuff (courtesy of my girlfriend), then I’ll hear some AC/DC and that’s so brilliant, the loud guitar stuff, then you realize how much you missed it.
Chris-The Velvet Underground was a personal favorite of yours. Did they influence you to play music? (As the old saying goes anyone who saw them formed a band)
Knox- I’d been playing in bands for maybe six years before I was lucky enough to hear the Velvet Underground’s first album, around the time it came out, and thought it was absolutely incredible. It was like there was this weird world out there where I could fit in (as it were). Lou Reed’s vocals and delivery was spot on, Cale’s viola playing was great, Sterling Morrison’s great understated guitar playing. They were a massive influence. I listened to not much else for years, and Lou Reed really shaped my black-humoured street lyrics.
Chris-Of the first wave of British “punk bands” what peers were under rated and deserved more attention?
Knox- I think Joy Division could’ve been bigger. I think things are uneven out there, but the web is changing that because now you can so easily go back and check other bands out, you don’t necessarily have to hunt down an obscure record in a second-hand record shop, you can do that later if you like what you find on the web.
Chris-A lot of early British punk bands cites Glam as being very influential on their sound and direction. How influential was glam on yourself and The Vibrators?
Knox- Glam was fairly good at the time; also it was almost all we had. It could look ridiculous but musically it was often alright. Sometimes when you listen back bits of it sound quite punk. I liked Gary Glitter, Hello, Slade; they were all laying the roots to punk. Some of Bowie and Lou Reed were very good and Bolan of course. I suppose it had a bit of influence, but not a lot.
Chris- Do you believe Punk started in the USA or the UK?
Knox- You’ll never know! Imagine teams of lawyers fighting over that and you’ll know what I mean. I feel it probably mainly came from the USA, the Ramones on the back of the Stooges and the MC5, but we politicized it and hardened it up over here in the UK. But then I’m not a lawyer. I just think the influences go back and forth. Also I remember seeing a CD with title”Early Texas Punk of the 60s” so maybe it started there (joking).
Chris- How did the Fallen Angels project come about?
Knox- My manager at the time, Richard Bishop, co-managed Hanoi Rocks. I’d been on at Richard about doing something with lots of songs I had. Hanoi were at a loose end for a few weeks, so I think partly to keep them out of trouble we went in the studio (Alaska at Waterloo, London) and just by chance made a pretty good album.
Chris-. When did you find out that Stiff Little Fingers lifted their name from the title of one of your songs and were your honored or pissed off?
Knox- It was the title of one of John Ellis’s songs. I think he was pleased and we got a bottle of champagne from SLF at a gig we did with them once.
Chris- Having played with Eddie for eons have there ever been stressful times between the two of you much like an old married couple?
Knox- Of course you sometimes get on each others nerves, but generally we’re going down the same road. We’re both pretty sensible ‘road hardened’ musos.
Chris- Does Eddie ever smile?
Knox- I think he must have when Tony Blair went....
Chris-.How would you feel if I started a petition to have yourself and Eddie knighted for years of service to the Queen?
Knox- Just get Eddie knighted. I want to stay more in the background as I’m a fairly private person.
Chris-Why do The Vibrators tour as a three piece?
Knox- Three’s good. You don’t have to sound check, the money’s better than four, and I think our sound is more intense as a result. We do occasionally, once or twice a year, have other guest with us, old band members, who’ll come up and do the odd song.
Chris- If you could pick three musicians living or dead to play one gig with whom would they be?
Knox- Jack Bruce, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, It’s difficult as they might not particularly compliment each other and then there’s the problem of being so in awe of them. You’d just be so intimidated by them that you’d end up watching them and not be able to play.
Chris- In your spare time you paint. Is there any particular artist or style of art that you are particularly fond of?
Knox- I like Peter Blake’s paintings, his style is great. Also Ruskin Spear, Salvador Dali (though I find his technical skill a bit oppressive), Richard Hamilton, etc. I find my current favourite is Francis Bacon, not so much the actual paintings, though of course they’re great, but his intelligence and his ‘out there’ stuff, it’s very inspirational. It’s also a bit daunting and depressing as that stuff is so far beyond what I’ll ever be capable of.
Chris- When not playing with the Vibrators or painting what does Knox do in a day?
Knox- I worry about eventual robot/computer takeover. Most people haven’t a clue about the speed of technological development, and that with the development of more and more powerful computers we’ll be creating a new and more intelligent species than ourselves on this planet, and this new species can’t afford to have us around as we’re too dangerous. It’ll happen not long after I’m dead, that’s if I last another 20-30 years. Also there’s general shopping, writing songs, answering e-mails, etc., etc. All the usual stuff.
Chris- Would have you traded this lifestyle in for anything else? (Paraphrasing Charlie Harper -The lifestyle is great but the pay is shit)
Knox- Yes, I’d prefer to spend more time at home writing and producing songs, plus painting, but life has a way of hijacking you....
Chris- Where will the Vibrators be in 10 years?
Knox- Hopefully still playing, but.....
Chris- Anything else that we have not talked about you would care to address?
Knox- Yes, to show it’s not all brilliant in a band. Early bad business decisions by our band resulted in us still paying off a debt at CBS (now Sony) 30 years on! Plus as a result I didn’t get any money for my song writing until 1992. It was backdated to 1986 but the result was I didn’t get most of the money for writing all those early songs of mine, like “Baby Baby”, “Automatic Lover”, etc., usual story for a lot of musicians, but pretty bad for me. It’s like half of my songs were stolen from me!
Please check The Vibrators Tour schedule (on the Website) of the USA starting September 6th! Buy Knox a beer and tickle Eddie until he smiles!