Talkin’ ‘Bout Wildebeests ~ Scotland’s Finest Live in London

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Scotland’s finest Nuggets-fuelled garage punk band that is. The Wildebeests were in London this weekend and played a dynamite set at Ryan’s in Stoke Newington at one of Eric Ulcer’s alldayers.

Back in 1982 when I should have been studying for A levels I spent (it seemed) every night at the MIC Club in Chatham watching the Prisoners (r’n’b psychedelia), Milkshakes (Star Club Beatles, Link Wray, Chuck & Bo) and Gruffmen (instant party). Chatham had always had a reputation as a rock & roll town and whilst the rest of the country were listening to Jackson’s Thriller, Wham or Culture Club, this little corner of Kent was still living in 1964. To be in the MIC was to live in a world where the new romantics, jazz funk, Joy Division, Bunnymen, Postcard or Talking Heads had never existed.

When the Milkshakes lost their original bassist, The Gruffmen’s Russ Wilkins took over. I could describe to you exactly how great the Milkshakes were but do not have the time. That story is for another day. I will tell you though that it was like a band led by three John Lennons (i.e. headstrong personalities) with a drummer way better than Ringo. The drummer, Bruce Brand, was also the band’s most accomplished guitarist.

Wilkins held the post for two years before leaving abruptly. He continued his involvement in the local scene, however, by producing the Prisoners classic third album, The Last Fourfathers, and played with the Delmonas and Len Bright Combo (featuring Wreckless Eric and Bruce Brand) before moving to Scotland towards the end of the decade.

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At some point he formed the Wildebeests with members of two of Edinburgh’s legendary bands; Lenny Helsing, frontman of garage psych greats, The Thanes, and John Gibbs, bassist with Star Club rock’n’rollers The Kaisers. It seems Chatham wasn’t the only rock & roll town back in the 80s.

All three of those Milkshake ‘Lennons’ still front great uncompromising garage groups; Mick Hampshire’s Masonics, Billy Childish’s Musicians of the British Empire and Wilkins with the Wildebeests. Apologies for the overlong introduction. I just wanted to present a little background info.

To be fair, all three in this trio share lead vocal duties as they dish up a rather under rehearsed (the three live about as far apart as is possible on our wee island) but exhilirating set in Ryan’s sweaty dungeon. What we get is a great selection of true garage rock ~ Nuggets and early punk-influenced covers and originals. If my memory serves me right (I didn’t take notes and I got stuck into that lovely Aspalls cider) we heard Devo’s Mongoloid, Howlin Wolf’s Down at the Bottom, Richard Hell’s You Gotta Lose plus cuts by Beefheart and the 13th Floor Elevators. There were a whole bunch of great originals particularly the recent Dirty Water single Lucinda Lucinda (yes, it is a reworking of Louie Louie, but a darn good one).

Russ wasn’t finished. After a chat about old times and great bands seen and heard with his brother Steve, he took to the stage again, this time in the guise of Lord Rochester. Oh, didn’t I tell you, he is Lord Rochester. This jolly little combo suffer from a severe collective bout of Diddley-itis, particularly the Bo strain. Luckily it is highly contagious.

I didn’t do too well in my A levels but a quarter of a century later I am still entralled by Wilkins, Hampshire, Brand and Childish in their manifold bands. You can take the boy out of Chatham…

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