INTERVIEWS WITH COLIN ABRAHALL, SCOTT PREECE, ROSS LOMAS, & COLIN “JOCK” BLYTH.
INTERVIEWS BY JEFF HO
PHOTOS BY DAN LEVY AND ZOLI
The early days of punk rock and skateboarding share many parallels. It all began with a small contingent of hardcore creatives that refused to accept the status quo and wouldn’t take no for an answer. GBH came from a working class background in the heart of England, while Jeff Ho and the Z-Boys came from a blue collar neighborhood in southern California. Both went on to leave a permanent mark on their subcultures and continue to do so today. Jeff Ho sat down with Colin Abrahall, Ross Lomas, Scott Preece and “Jock” Blyth to compare notes on what inspired them from the start, what kept them going and what keeps the fire fueled into the future.
INTERVIEW WITH COLIN ABRAHALL
Tell us where you’re from and a little bit about your background?
I’m from Birmingham, England. I was one of five children and I’m from a working class family. My dad worked in a factory.
When you were growing up? What kind of music did you listen to?
I suppose I was just hearing music on TV shows and the radio and then punk rock came along and opened my eyes to a whole new world of music.
Do you remember any bands that might have influenced you as a kid?
When I heard the Ramones” “Sheena is A Punk Rocker” on the radio, it changed my life. The Ramones were the first band I ever saw and it’s been a quest ever since then. [Laughs]
What got you into music and playing in a band?
When I got into punk, I thought the main message of punk was that anyone could be in a band and anyone could contribute, so we tried to form a band together with a few friends. Even though none of us could play, that didn’t matter. We figured it out.
How did you and the guys in the band meet?
We were just all friends, drinking in the same pub in Birmingham. There was one pub that would let punks in called the Crown. The music kind of radiated around there.
How did the band form?
We were just four friends, and we ended up in a room together and said, “Let’s be a band. You do this and I’ll do that.”
What year was that?
That was ’78 and ’79. We played our first show in 1980.
I guess you and Jock were the founding members that started the band?
Yeah. It was Jock and I. The original drummer was called “Wilf” and we had a bass player for the first two gigs called Sean, and then he left and we got Ross.
Ross has been there pretty much the whole time.
He just missed the first two gigs. That was it. [Laughs] He was at the first gig though.
Tell me about the first show that you played?
I remember being very nervous and trying to hide behind the microphone stand. We were the first band on and it was a prostitute’s rights benefit.
[Laughs] It was a benefit for prostitute’s rights?
It’s the truth. It was at the Digbeth Civic Hall in Birmingham. We were just really nervous and we played in front of maybe 10 or 20 people and then people came up to us after the show and said, “That was really good.” That gave us some encouragement.
That’s cool. How did you meet the guys from Discharge?
They played a show in Birmingham and we were the support band. After the show, they said, “Do you want to do some more shows with us?” We said, “Yeah. Sure.” So we went on tour with them all over England.
What does G.B.H. stand for?
Well, nothing really. We can’t remember who thought of it really. We just woke up one morning and we were called G.B.H. In England, it means Grievous Bodily Harm. We didn’t choose it, but we liked the name, so we became G.B.H.
How did the Sex Pistols, the Damned, the Runaways and T-Rex influence you?
It was just the most exciting music I’d ever heard.
When did you put your first record together and how did you make that happen?
Right after the Discharge tour, we got to meet the guy from Clay Records, He was there and he offered us a deal. We did an 8-track, 12-inch record, because he couldn’t afford to do the full album.
Who writes most of the songs?
We all do. We all contribute our piece.
You were known for the punk rock spiked hair and leather jackets. How did that come about?
That’s just what we always looked like.
What were the women like at the punk rock shows?
They were normal punk girls.
Well, your first show was for prostitutes.
[Laughs] Well, there were no prostitutes there.
It was just a benefit for them.
Yeah. They were probably in jail and we were getting the bail money for them.
That’s great. When did you see slam dancing and mosh pits come into the punk rock scene?
Well, at first it wasn’t called slam dancing and mosh pits. It was just dancing and pogoing.
Can you talk about street punk?
There are all these genres and sub-genres. To me, it’s just punk rock.
Where were your favorite places to play?
Our fourth or fifth show was in Holland, and none of us had ever been out of the country before, so that was quite good.
What was the first time you got banned from playing a show?
We’ve never really been banned from anywhere, but we have a song called “Big Women”, which is a joke song. Some feminists in England took it as being serious. Rough Trade wouldn’t stock our records and we were supposedly banned from playing all the universities in England. Whether that was true or not, I don’t know.
How did you get started touring? How did you book your tours?
It was all on the fly.
Did you have a booking agent or manager?
No. When we first started, we didn’t.
When did you first come to the United States to play?
During the ‘80s, when you came to the U.S., did you notice that there were any differences between playing shows in England and playing shows for Americans?
No. We thought America and England would be so far apart, but we’d only been here five minutes and we felt at home. The U.S. audiences tend to be more enthusiastic than in England. You crazy Americans just go bananas.
[Laughs] What about the book “City Baby” by Ross?
I’ve read it. It’s good.
Talk about the punk rock family and what it means to be part of that.
We’ve got friends, literally, all over the world. You can bump into anyone from anywhere at anytime and find out what’s happening. You can find out if someone has died or gotten married or had a kid. Anytime there is a crisis, everyone always pulls together and supports whoever needs support.
Ross lives in L.A.
[Laughs] Does he? I thought he lived at Windsor Castle.
[Laughs] How do you make the tours work when three of you live in England?
We’re like mercury. We’re never still. Nothing is a problem.
Do you want to talk about this tour you are on?
It’s a crazy long tour. We did ten days in Europe and then we flew back to England and played a show on the same day. We had last Sunday off at home and then on Monday we jumped on a plane and went to Iceland and then went to Seattle and got off the plane and went straight on stage. We played that show and then we kept going. We got here to L.A. and then we keep heading east and go up the East Coast to Canada. Our last show is in Quebec at this big festival with Snoop Dogg, System of a Down and Slayer. Then we’ve got five days off to get back to San Diego where the Mexican people are coming up to meet us and drive us down to Mexico for four shows.
That ought to be a crazy deal.
Yes. It should be.
Do you want to say something about the new album that you guys are working on?
It’s all written. We’ve just got to get some money and two weeks where we are not playing any shows and go into the studio and record. Lars Frederiksen wants to produce it.
Are you on a record label now?
We are on Epitaph, or we were last time we looked. Who knows?
How do you survive as a band with the internet giving music away for free?
We have to play a lot of live shows. Luckily, we’ve never sold that many records, so it’s no great loss. [Laughs] We get royalties and we get paid from Ringtones too, at least it says that on the statement the record company gives us.
What’s the process of recording for you? Do you email stuff back and forth?
We’ve started doing that. For the last record, we recorded it and mixed it down to a hard drive and then sent it to Lars. He mixed it and then he sent it back to us to see how we liked it.
For you as a group, how is it that you’ve stayed together so long?
It’s better than every other job. Although there were some times when it wasn’t always easy. There’s a lot to put up with.
What’s the best and worst thing about being in a band?
The worst thing is probably the waiting around for things to happen or being told to be some place at a certain time, and you get there and you’re waiting for someone else, usually the guitarist. [Laughs] The best thing is that it’s just brilliant. I’m 53 now and I’m still living off teenage dreams. I travel all over the world and meet interesting people and have fun times and play shows for people. It’s better than any drug.
Did you ever skate or surf?
No. It’s funny. When we first came to America, all the American punks skated, so we were quite surprised by that. In England, skateboarding is quite popular now, but it wasn’t like that then. We were from the middle of England, so we were landlocked. Punks were just punks.
Who is the best punk band of all time?
I’d say the Clash. During a certain period of time, they were the best.
The best album is “Never Mind The Bollocks” by the Sex Pistols.
Best punk singer of all time?
Joe Strummer. I feel sorry for Lux Interior because I love him as well.
Is there anything that you’d like to say to some of your fans?
Keep doing what you’re doing and be nice to each other.
Nice. Okay. That was my list. Thank you.
Well, that was good. Thank you.
INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT PREECE
Tell us where you’re from and a little bit about your background?
I was born in West Bromwich, which is just outside Birmingham, England. I moved to Birmingham when I was eight years old and I’ve lived there ever since.
What did your parents do?
My father was a bus driver and my mother worked in a restaurant.
How did you get into playing music and being a drummer?
When I was 14, I heard two bands, The Specials and Adam & The Ants and it just pulled me in. Because of the tribal drumming at the end of the Adam & The Ants record, I fell in love with the sound of drums. I bought a kit and it was a terrible kit, but my neighbors were very understanding. I rehearsed for hours on end and I just fell in love with drumming.
How did you meet the other guys in the band?
I used to be in a band called Bomb Disneyland and we played with GBH a few times. We befriended each other and I went to see them lots of times. I was a fan of GBH from the age of 16 and then it just escalated.
What year did you officially join the band?
I think it was ’92.
Do you remember the first show you played with them?
I don’t really, but I remember the second show very vividly. [Laughs] The first show, I don’t remember much of it. I enjoyed it immensely, but I think I got a bit excited. The second show was in Mexico City. That was our trial by fire. There were riots and everything, so we only got to do about six songs, before the stage invasions and what have you.
What do you think about the women in punk rock? Did any of them make an impression on you?
I like their attitude. They enjoy the music. They’re exactly the same as the blokes really. They listen to the music and enjoy themselves.
What were your favorite places to play?
Japan and America.
I couldn’t believe that I would get out of England and play such a beautiful place like Japan or America. I’ve met so many good people and I feel very lucky to have seen all the different cultures. There are such nice people in Japan. They are always bowing and saying, “Thank you.” They are so nice. They work hard and their release is music and they enjoy themselves immensely.
What do you like about the audiences in the United States?
I love the U.S. audiences. They are very excitable, boisterous, good people. We’ve always had a good following here and they’ve always treated us well. The U.S. is great to us.
Do you want to talk about this new tour that you’re on?
It’s been going great so far. We did nine shows in Europe, before we came here. This is our fourth show in the States. We’ve played on a Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so far, and I can’t believe that people are coming out to see us on weekdays. In England, it’s very hard for people to come out during the week because they’re working. The shows we have played here in the States so far have all been sold out on the weekdays. It’s great.
Do you want to talk about the new album?
We have the new songs ready, so it’s going well. It’s varied with different styles. It’s got the usual punk rock style with a little bit of The Cramps sound and some ska in there. I’ve been enjoying it.
How do you survive as a band with the internet and music being given away for free?
We’re lucky enough to be able to travel all over the world when we’re touring and we earn money from touring, basically. We don’t have money for records. In my opinion, the percentage paid to the musicians for music on the internet should be more. I understand free music and I think it’s a good thing, but I don’t always understand it.
Do you enjoy touring?
It’s my favorite. My body doesn’t always like it, but I do.
What’s the best and worst thing about being in a band?
The worst thing about being in a band is being away from your family and the best thing is playing in front of people that enjoy your music and meeting new people from all these different cultures and free beer. [Laughs] I’m very privileged to meet everyone and I’m just happy that people still want to hear us.
Who taught you the most about playing music?
I suppose it was my father. He was always listening to music back in the ‘60s, so I was brought up on it. My biggest inspirations were the Dead Kennedys and The Specials and Adam & The Ants. My influences were very varied.
Name a band that you wish you saw.
You put me on the spot. I’ve seen a hell of a lot of bands, but I guess I’d have to say The Clash. I wish I’d seen them more.
Best punk band of all time?
Last CD or album you bought?
The last CD I bought was Suicidal Tendencies “13”.
Cool. Best punk singer of all time?
I’d have to say Colin, our singer, of course.
Good answer. What other bands do you like to tour with?
The Circle Jerks were brilliant to tour with, but every band we’ve toured with has been great. There are just too many to mention.
Best punk rock album cover?
I was going to say Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by the Dead Kennedys, but I also like the cover of Peter and the Test Tube Babies Mating Sounds of South American Frogs just for the comedy aspect of it.
Is there anyone you want to thank?
I want to thank the fans and thank you.
Is there any message that you want to share with the younger generation out there?
Don’t get caught up in music. Work at McDonalds. [Laughs] No. I just want to say thank you. If you stop enjoying what you do, try and do something else.
What does being punk mean to you today?
For me, punk means enjoying yourself and just having fun. You can get your message across if you’re annoyed at anything. We’re very lucky that way.
Cool. Thank you.
INTERVIEW WITH ROSS LOMAS
Tell us where you’re from and a little bit about your background?
I was born in Birmingham, England. I was a punk rock kind of bloke.
How many years ago did you write the book “City Baby”?
I finished it just over two years ago and it took two and a half years to write. I had to go through it and they typed it up and then I had to go through it again and say yes or no. It was supposed to be all four of us, originally, but, for one reason or another, they all said they didn’t want to do it, so it ended up just being me. It was good therapy for someone like me to document my thoughts. It was quite useful for me mentally. I’d like to do another one, the salacious X-rated version.
[Laughs] Yeah. What kind of bands influenced you when you were younger and you were first starting out?
Before punk, all of the records that I had access to were my mom and dad’s, so it would have been Buddy Holly and all the ‘50s and ’40s music. They used to have those old 78rpm records that were 1/8 inch thick. They used to play a lot of jazz. Then I got into the early glam rock and then Dr. Feelgood. That was it in a nutshell.
What are some of your favorite places to tour?
I personally prefer the U.S. and Spain and South America. I have lots of favorites. Everywhere is good really.
Do you want to say anything about the new album that you’re working on?
Well, we’ve been at it for the last five years because we never get ramped up to do it. We always say, “Oh, we’ll do it tomorrow.” And then we don’t. We met with Lars Frederiksen and we said, “Give us a definite date, so that will give us the catalyst to do something, hopefully.” I’m not promising. Things can change.
What’s the best and worst thing about being in a band?
Traveling and getting to meet people is great. For me, I like to be on my own. I love being on tour, but with something as simple as going for breakfast, I hate to watch six or seven people spending all day ordering something to eat. There are little kids starving in Africa, you know?
When you were young, who taught you to play music?
I taught myself. I learned to play from a rhythm guitar book that I had when I was little. That’s what started it off.
Best punk rock band of all time?
There are hundreds of them. It’s hard to pick one. If I had to choose one, it would be the early Damned. The Circle Jerks were great too. I could go on forever.
Best punk rock singer of all time?
I like Keith from the Circle Jerks. We got to tour with them back in the early 2000s. They’d do “I Wanna Destroy You” in the middle and he’d just go off on a tangent for 20 minutes while the rest of the band would just be sitting there waiting for him to finish before they kicked in. He’s a top bloke.
Yes. Does anyone in the band surf or skate?
Well, I really love surfing and skating, but I can’t really do either because I’ve got no sense of balance. I can’t ride a skateboard, but I love to watch people skate. When I moved to the North Shore of Hawaii, we were living at Pupukea and I went to the Foodland and there was this guy standing there just looking at me like, “Do you want to fight?” I was just looking at him and then my wife said, “You just met Jay Adams.”
That’s so cool that you met Jay. You know that he recently passed away.
Yes. God bless him.
During that time period, I was living up the hill from Foodland.
You lived in Pupukea? That’s very good, man! I was on Kawoa Street.
I lived on Alapio. It was the first left as you go up the hill. There was a house on the corner and our property was the next property over and I had a private road that went up the hill. That’s where I lived for seven or eight years.
We lived there for a while before we moved. I miss that place. I think about it a lot. I will be doing something and the thought of the North Shore will just pop into my head. I really miss it. I’ll be back there one day. Why did you move back to L.A.?
We moved to Wailua, and then a bunch of foolishness happened with the Dogtown movies, so I left my right hand guy that I worked with in the factory in Wailua. He was doing really well for a while, and then the whole surfboard industry kind of caved in with the EPA and Clark Foam. The surfing industry just went sideways.
I used to deliver furniture over there and one time I went to the top of the hill to deliver this sectional couch to this house and the guy had pictures of Jay Adams all over his wall. He ended up being Jay Adams’ attorney. It was mind blowing. It’s such a small world really.
Did Hawaii appeal to you?
Yeah. It took a while to get used to da kine at first, but now I know there’s no place like it on Earth.
Do you have anything that you’d like to say to the younger generation about music or anything?
Keep on punking. Do what makes you happy as long as it doesn’t hurt people.
What does the word punk mean to you today?
It’s what I do. One day I’ll join an anarchist commune. Everyone needs an outlet to get away from the bastards, you know? This is my way, obviously, playing in the band, but I can see myself in an anarchist commune one day. [Laughs]
Thank you for doing this.
Yes. Hopefully, we’ll see each other on the Islands again one day. Thanks a lot, mate.
INTERVIEW WITH COLIN “JOCK” BLYTH
Can you tell us a little bit about the new album that you’re working on?
Well, we’ve written ten songs and there are another three that are floating about nearly ready. We were in San Francisco talking to Lars Frederiksen and he said he is going to produce it. He’s going to record it with us and then produce it. He’s going to help Colin engineer it. He produced the last album as well, but we recorded it ourselves. He’s going to do that in England.
That’s great. Do you want to talk about this tour that you’re on?
I think it stemmed from being asked to play Punk Rock Bowling and a festival in Quebec called the Amnesia Fest. It just worked out that we were touring in between those two festivals, as far as I know.
Are you having a good time on this tour and which countries do you like to play in?
I like touring in all the different countries. They all have their good points. We’ve been coming to America since 1983, and we love coming to America.
Do you want to talk about the musical influences you had in your early years? What bands were you into as a young guy?
As a teenager, I was really into rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Emerson, Lake & Palmer and early Queen and stuff like that, until the early to mid ‘70s when punk came along and then it was all punk rock.
What was the first punk rock band that made an impression on you?
Once I heard The Saints “I’m Stranded” on the radio and it was all in the music papers about this punk rock with all of these scenes of concerts with fights on stage, I was like, “What is this?” There was all kind of chaos going on and it seemed really exciting and interesting.
Ross wrote the book “City Baby” and I was wondering if you had anything to say about it. How did you feel about that?
I wasn’t too sure about it at first because I always thought we’d do a book together, but he told us he was doing it and it was fine. I didn’t read it for a while. I was sort of reticent because it felt like one of us had given the story away. Then I read it and it’s fine. It’s Ross’ life story really. Obviously, I recognized so much of it.
Yeah. You were a big part of it. There was this story about Holland, and a tour that you went on, where a riot was happening in one of the towns.
There was a riot the first time we went to Holland and we hadn’t seen that level of rioting before. The Dutch people were pretty militant. Germany and Holland seem to have a real anarchist history, more so than Britain, I think. When punk rock came along, it sort of extended that in certain European countries, Germany especially. It was a heavy anarchist thing where they would physically fight the police. We were just watching it because the concert got shut down because there was fighting everywhere. Our friend that came with us was completely out of his mind on Dutch amphetamines and beer and he goes up to the police line and starts stroking this dog. [Laughs] It was a huge beast of a dog. The cops were just looking at him. I think it was crazy for the cops too. I’d never seen anything like it.
It is interesting how music can have so many effects. What does the word punk mean to you now?
To me, it’s the freedom to be who you want to be without hurting or restricting anyone else’s right to be who they want to be. Punk is definitely freedom. It’s freedom of spirit.
All these years you guys have been playing, what has held you guys together?
We never grow up. I think that’s it pretty much. We are still pretty much doing what we did when we were 18. At least, I am.
Is there anything that you would like to say to the younger generation to inspire them?
I would say don’t smoke tobacco. It’s just bad. Do whatever else you want, but don’t get hooked on tobacco. It’s legal, but it’s one of the most dangerous things out there. It wrecked my lungs. Be good, be happy and be careful.
Are there any punk singers that you consider the best of all time?
Dave Vanian from The Damned and Wattie from The Exploited are great. Jello was good. It’s easier to pick out a band instead of a vocalist. I listen to the music more, at first, than the vocals.
Here’s a question. Jack from the Dangles wanted to ask you about the day glow spaghetti incident.
Oh, that was in Freiberg, Germany. They played a show with us and the singer, at the time, got really drunk. We did something to them while they were on stage I can’t remember what it was, but we did something to them, like pulling his trousers down while he was on stage. It was nothing too bad and it just escalated. While we were playing, he goes into the kitchen and gets the biggest pot of meaty chili (and two of the guys in our band are vegetarians) and he just throws it all over the band and the equipment and everything. We had to stop playing. We made the singer clean it up. I think they weren’t allowed to play there again for another five years or so.
That’s crazy. You said that two of the band members are vegetarians. Who are they?
Colin and I are vegetarians.
How long have you been vegetarians?
I’ve been a vegetarian quite a long time, about 23 years, I think.
Are you vegan?
Do you eat dairy or cream?
When I’m traveling, I do. It’s really difficult to eat vegan especially when we’re touring in America. We end up eating at a Denny’s or something, so it’s hard to avoid eggs. At home, I’m a vegan.
What about Colin?
He’s a vegetarian. He eats eggs and stuff. He’s been a vegetarian for a long time too.
Why did you become a vegetarian or a vegan?
The reason that I’m a vegetarian is for humane reasons really. It’s because of the farming industry. The slaughterhouses have become a death industry. I find it barbaric on the industrial scale that it’s done. I’ve seen animals thrown out of trucks and then lined up to be bolted in the head or have their throats cut. I find it abhorrent, the industrial way they’re slaughtered. That’s what made me become a vegetarian.
This was in the ‘80s that you saw that?
Yeah. I don’t think the industry has really changed that much.
So you saw this in the ‘80s though?
Well, bands like Conflict raised my awareness of it. The anarcho side of punk would discuss vegetarianism and the animal abuse that goes on in the farming industry. The idea of having an animal or two in your garden or on your piece of land and taking some eggs or killing one of those animals for meat, that can be done, but it’s the industrial scale of thoughtless slaughter where there is no thought for the animal really. The Native people of America, when they killed an animal, they said a prayer for that individual animal. They had respect for the animal that was providing them with food. They weren’t wholesale brutally killing animals, like, “Next!” It’s just a sign of the times really. That’s why I became a vegetarian and it’s my personal choice.
Yeah. Being a vegetarian is my choice too, and it’s a good one, for so many reasons. Well, I want to thank you for your time.
Thank you, mate. Thanks for taking the time to come out and talk to us.