The Essential Bop Story
When the Great Book of Bristol Rock is written Essential Bop will probably merit little more than a substantial foot note in the chapter headed 'Post Punk and Stuff'. Such reputation as they have derives largely from a series of anarchically intense live performances and a rather mixed bunch of recordings.
Essential Bop was formed in the spring of 1978 by a disparate bunch of musicians, mostly refugees from assorted Bristol bands like The Cortinas (Mike Fewings, guitar), The Biros (Steve Bush, singing) and, er, Dragon Sandwich (Simon Tyler, keyboards). Dave Robinson (who was responsible for starting the band) was a bluesman who had played bass with the likes of 'Champion' Jack Dupree and Joe Cocker. Nick Tufnell had never played drums before, but really wanted to so, like, why not The band also featured 'visualist' Seng-gye, whose job it was to create bizarre and arty stage happenings
The band debuted at The Stonehouse (alongside the Art Objects) and soon developed a very enthusiastic live following, assisted by well-received appearances at the Ashton Court Festival and a track on the 1979 'Avon Calling' compilation ('Chronicle').
Record company interest was hard to come by so in 1980 the band released the 'Eloquent Sounds' EP (Eloquent Sounds/Raider's Blues/Failsafe/Mandarin Whores) on their own Monopause label. This garnered some press interest, and the NME's famous Paul Morley trekked down to the sticks to interview Steve Bush, subsequently proclaiming Essential Bop as one of the bands that would make it in the 1980's. Having the kingly wig thus laid upon them made the band even more popular within the BS postal area, and further recordings were issued in the form of two tracks on the Bristol Recorder 3 compilation (Tin and Plastic/Love is a Loud Noise) and a single (Croaked/Butler in Running Shorts) in early 1981 (also on Monopause).
By this time line-up changes had reduced the band to a guitar-less four piece, with Steve Bush and Simon Tyler assisted by Danny Cotterill and Phil Howard on bass and drums respectively.
The band had constant trouble getting many gigs outside Bristol, a problem which was relieved by the offer of a US east coast tour in the summer of 1981 - a result of the single featuring in the independent charts in New York. The tour was successful, but the band split on their return, with Cotterill and Howard returning to New York to live and work. The band's last ever live appearance was at the Peppermint Lounge in NYC in August '81.
Steve Bush and Simon Tyler joined the mass exodus of Bristol musicians of the early '80's, and re-formed the band in London in 1984 with Mike Fewings on bass and Martin Kiernan on drums. The band's debut album - 'The Flick Was Boss' - was issued in that year on TSAR (The Sound of Amnesia Records), comprising a mixture of new and previously released material, plus some live recordings. The band split up for good the following year.
Listening to the material some 20 years after the event, one is struck by the rather schizophrenic nature of much of it. Given the varied interests of the band's assorted members (punk, prog, poetry, r'n'b etc) the songs were bound to be a bit of a mishmash, but by the time 'Croaked' and 'Tin and Plastic' rolled around there seemed to be a definite direction emerging. Often - erroneously - compared to the Doors or the Stranglers (not worthy of the former, and as for the latter), Steve Bush was at that time mostly worshipping at the Church of Devoto and Simon Tyler always danced (and composed) to his very own private drum that somewhat defied definition, although he once professed to a liking for surf music and for some time the band hit the stage to the sound of a tune called 'Wild Bike' from an obscure Annette Funicello beach movie.
Most of the band's fans seemed to be spotty youths with thick glasses, anxious to discuss their neuroses - a source of profound irritation to the band's testosterone charged members. Odd - well, very odd, moments stand out in a Spinal Taptastic way. The topless onstage shoeshine event was a standout, as was the puking-on-groupies incident. The 'shoot Reagan' US radio outburst caused much distress in the irony-free zone that was America in those days, and the contents of those little brown envelopes dished out each day by their US tour manager led to some seriously dilated pupils (but not much money).
Live, the band were (when they could get it together) a much less tightly-wrapped proposition than the rather tenuous studio outings imply. Steve Bush usually came on like some deranged person, half Iggy half Ian Curtis. Tyler looked like a Zen Monk who'd been slipped a Mickey - breaking from his usually static stage posture to attack his keyboards with fists, feet, or inanimate objects found nearby. Dan Cotterill was a serial guitar-smasher, Dave Robinson was the archetypal leather-clad rocker and a stone-solid horse-frightener. Mike Fewings was the best musician anyone had ever heard, but seemed indifferent to praise or blame, standing stock still throughout as if dipped in embalming fluid. Phil Howard, a moody Northerner was a drummer of incandescent ability who made his own drums in sculpture class at Bower Ashton, whilst skinsman numero uno - Nick Tufnell - brought a tender aristocratic sensibility to a band which got louder and louder after his departure. Also mentioned in despatches are drummer John Langley and guitarist Jon Klien (then of the Art Objects and Europeans, respectively) who depped during the not infrequent periods of upheaval, and Martin Kiernan who added a touch of Scouse spice to band's final incarnation.
Steve Bush went on to form A Pair of Blue Eyes with Christian Clarke (formerly of Various Artists and the Art Objects) enjoying very modest success on CBS/Sony in the late '80's. His 'Blossom Freak' album will be released soon on Green Goat Productions Simon Tyler is writing the definitive history of the Fosseway, Nick Tufnell has become a country squire, Mike Fewings is a rally driver and still records with Steve from time to time. Dave Robinson is enjoying life as a coastal guru and Martin Kiernan is now an intellectual Scouse Git. As for the others who knows?
Greatness in any form is rarely invoked by nostalgia alone. Essential Bop were never great, but sometimes they were good. Hell, ain't that enough ?
(Benny Badman July 2000)