Ahead of their autumn live dates, Arturo Bassick of The Lurkers graciously gave up part of his Sunday afternoon (28th July 2019) in order to exclusively speak to me about The Lurkers, and also other parts of his career. What follows are some of the highlights of our conversation.
Brighton & Hove News: You were a key member of The Lurkers during punk’s ‘year zero’ of 1977. What memories particularly stand out from those days?
Arturo: Well, I’d been going to gigs since I was thirteen in 1969, and the first gig I saw was John Mayall at the Albert Hall. I was a skinhead in 1969-1971. My brother had been in a band that used to support The Who when they were called The High Numbers in the early 1960’s. He was a guitarist, and he taught me three chords – the ones I know now!! What was great about the punk thing was that I was an inept musician, I’d never been in a band before and I’d never played bass in a band before, but punk made these things possible for me.
I’d moved to Carmarthen in 1976 – just to loaf about – and Dave Treganna who I’d known for quite a long time, said “You’ve gotta come back! There’s this thing called punk!” This was late 1976 and he’d been following The Stranglers. He’d seen them four or five times with some friends of mine. I’d got bored with living down in bloody Carmarthen, so I moved back to London, because I’m a Londoner anyway. We started going to see The Stranglers and we were their first five or six fans, and they’d have about ten people in the audience! This was before their famous following, the Finchley boys, had even started.
We got absolutely wrapped up in it. I was living not far from The Nashville Rooms where the pub rock thing was happening. Then the punk thing sort of took over from that. We absolutely adored the Ramones as well, and you could easily play this stuff, and it was exciting as a twenty year old to possibly be in a band where you didn’t need fantastic musicianship. I had a job working at London Electricity Board stores, and the Beggars’ Banquet record shop was around the corner from where I worked. So I’d go in there at lunchtime and talk to a guy called Mike Stone, who was working in the shop. He said “I manage a band called The Lurkers”. I said “I saw them supporting The Jam down at The Roxy about three weeks ago and they were terrible!!!” He told me that they weren’t terrible and that they needed a new bass player.
Nigel Moore, their original bass player thought punk was a complete joke, and he still looked like he was in the hippy era. He loved The Eagles and all that sort of stuff. Mike asked me if I played anything. I said “Yeah, I play the guitar”. He asked if I could play the bass, and I told him that if I play the guitar I could easily play the bass. They rehearsed beneath the Beggars Banquet shop every Saturday at one o’clock. He suggested that I come down and he’d fix me up an audition. I went down at one o’clock, walked in, borrowed a bass, and played one song: ‘And Then I Kissed Her’, which lasted about a minute and a half, and because I played like Dee Dee Ramone they told me I was in.
They were teaching me a few other songs when the door opened and Nigel walked in. He pointed at me and asked “What’s he doing here?!!!” They’d told him to turn up late for the rehearsal, so they could audition me and get me out of the way before he arrived. Anyway, they had to take him around the corner to the pub and give him the sack.
B&HN: So just a tad awkward then?
A: Yeah! Because I knew this management company, Albion, who ran The Nashville, The Red Cow in Hammersmith, and a few other venues, I was able to get the band gigs, which was really helpful for them and me.
I only lasted in The Lurkers for about seven or eight months though. I made the first two singles, and then I left to form a band called Pinpoint, who were managed by Albion.
B&HN: You supported The Jam, Eater and Slaughter and the Dogs in 1977.
A: Yeah. Me and the group did support The Jam. I did about fifty gigs with The Lurkers, but then I decided that I wanted to go back on guitar and formed this band called Pinpoint, with my old mate Dave Allen who I’d known since the early 1970’s.
B&HN: So the reason you left was because you wanted to play guitar rather than bass?
A: Yeah, but also The Lurkers were more of a sort of fun kind of band. Even though there were some deep socio-political lyrics to their songs, I was writing more angst-ridden protest songs, and they weren’t the kind of group who would really take to those lyrics, so I wanted to go and do my own thing which I did.
I was in Pinpoint for about three or four years and we supported The Members on a national tour. We played with 999 a lot. We played a lot of gigs but the band never really took off, and eventually split up.
B&HN: Didn’t Martin Rushent produce the Pinpoint album?
A: Yes he did. I hated it.
B&HN: I understand you didn’t get on with him?
A: No. I didn’t like him at all. He wasn’t nice to me at all. He was quite a bully. I was going through a bit of a hard time with my mental health. He played on that, and consequently I had no confidence in myself. He just took over with our bass player, Dave Allen. They were into all this micro-composing, using Linn drums. I just wanted a little three piece band doing punky poppy kind of stuff, maybe with more of an edge to it, and maybe some oddities to it. Anyway, we made this album and I hated it. It had synthesisers on it and all sorts of sh*t. I didn’t like it and really that split the group up. We made one really good single called ‘Richmond’, and that’s the direction I think the group should have developed in. Dave Allen got on with Martin Rushent so well that he became his engineer. The next project that Martin Rushent worked on after Pinpoint was the Human League ‘Dare’ album, which obviously was a massive success.
B&HN: After Pinpoint you formed The Blubbery Hellbellies. What can you tell me about them?
A: They were a country/punk band that did a load of silly songs and silly covers as well. I’ve always been a bit on the portly side and we played on that with songs like ‘Is It Love Or Food Poisoning?’, ‘My Baby’s As Fat As Me’, ‘All-In Wrestling Mama’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Get Thin’, songs about eating basically. That was really good fun for five years. We played all over Europe. We were always gigging – up to a couple of hundred gigs a year.
Then what happened, The Blubbery Hellbellies played a psychedelic festival in Dusseldorf – I have no idea how or why – and the singer of a German punk band called Die Toten Hosen got talking to me, and when I told him that I used to be in The Lurkers he was utterly amazed! He said: “You don’t look like Nigel Moore” who’s a really little guy (laughs). I said “No, I’m Arturo Bassick” and he was over the bloody moon. He said “Please come and play in Dusseldorf! I’ll put it all together for you”. And I thought “This is just drunken bullsh*t”, but a few months later he did get in touch. He set up this fantastic comeback gig in Dusseldorf. We didn’t have the original singer Howard Wall, because the guitarist Pete Stride who wrote all of the songs didn’t want him back. He said I should sing and not play bass, and we’d get Nigel Moore back in on bass and Pete “Manic Esso” on drums, so pretty much the original line-up. We did this really successful gig in Germany, and then Die Toten Hosen financed a comeback album for us. This was in 1988, and I’ve been in The Lurkers ever since!
Pete stride left twenty-five years ago and expected me to stop the group. I drove the van, sold the T-shirts, got the gigs, got the record deals, and wrote half of the comeback album. Because he didn’t want to do it anymore he expected me to give up my livelihood! Moreover I’d got the band back together through my contacts!!! I told him that I was going to carry on. He said it would be a travesty. I carried on and he hasn’t played a gig since!
B&HN: Having kept the band going for the last thirty-odd years, do you think it’s fair to say that essentially you now ARE The Lurkers, or is it more a case of you keeping the music alive?
A: Well, by carrying on with the band I’ve actually made some of the old members some money, in terms of royalties. I’ve been keeping the flame burning. Some of our old songs are in quite a big German film that’s coming out, which is all down to my contacts. The former members don’t like the fact that I keep going, so I’ve said to them, “Why don’t you go out and do it?” but they can’t. ‘Esso’ can’t do it cos he’s not well physically. Apart from that they’ve never been able to organise anything.
They have made three studio albums in the last eleven years. The first one came out under the name God’s Lonely Men, the second one they released as God’s Lonely Men/The Lurkers, and the last one and the two singles they put out as The Lurkers. People ask me when the ‘other’ Lurkers are going to play, and I tell them they’re not going to. They never say that themselves. They just say that they’re not gigging at the moment. I still keep in touch with Esso all the time, but the only time I’ve spoken to Peter Stride since he left is just to tell him that I’ve made him some money. That’s just the way it is.
None of The Lurkers made any money in the early days. I never got any money from Beggars Banquet for the two singles that sold the most. I can’t afford to get an auditor to go in and look at their accounts for the time – if they still even exist still!
I still enjoy it though. I have a good old drink and talk to people. We always stay at the houses of people we know. We don’t get hotels. We’ve got a network of nice people we can stay with.
A: I don’t do Blazing Saddles anymore as that was when I lived in Lincoln. They were absolutely fantastic players – they were all in about ten different groups! Going out and playing pubs for £200 is no good though. I can’t live off that. Once you’ve split it four ways there’s not a lot left!!! I do the occasional punktry and western solo gig and that’s good fun. I’ve written loads of songs of that type.
B&HN: You’ve clearly got very diverse musical tastes…..
A: Oh God honestly…. The stuff I like is so wide…. I like prog rock, early 70’s rock, folk, psychedelic stuff, ska, reggae……
B&HN: If push came to shove, what would you say is the musical love of your life?
A: As in a band or a genre?
B&HN: A band, a genre – anything you like!
A: I would say prog psychedelia. I mean even though I like the early punk stuff, I didn’t really like the second wave when it became fast and without melody. At the beginning most of the bands were very diverse. The punk that I like is very much rooted in 1976/77. I don’t play a lot of it at home. I don’t listen to much music at home, I play it mainly in the van going to gigs or whatever. I like a lot of singer/songwriter stuff. One of my favourite groups that a lot of people have never heard of is Doll By Doll. I like Celtic rock as well – Runrig, Capercaillie. Old Irish music like The Dubliners, The Wolfetones….. It’s all there to be loved and enjoyed if you open your ears.
I like some modern stuff too. I like Franz Ferdinand who remind me of the Gang Of Four. Quite angular. I don’t seek out new music, but I often come across things that I like. It’s all time though. You’re not going to live long enough to hear every good piece of music, to read every good book, to see every good film….
B&HN: Going back to punk for a moment, how relevant or necessary do you think punk is today? Is it just nostalgia or is there something more?
A: I think it’s just nostalgia. You could put out new records and hardly anybody buys them. Even the last Ramones albums were only selling 15,000 copies worldwide. People just want to hear old stuff all the time. 999 have made some really good albums in recent years and they sell nothing like the number of copies that albums did in the old days. When we play gigs people go mad for the songs that they’ve known all their lives, while the new songs get a polite bit of applause.
A lot of the bands who wrote out-and-out political stuff, railing against the Government, it’s had no effect! The same stuff is still going on! And they say “Well, it still needs to be said”. Basically they’re just repeating what they wrote forty years ago, and it hasn’t done anything, because bastards rule the world, and they always will, and war will never stop because peace doesn’t make money. War makes money (laughs). Those bands have the same following who think like they do, and it’s like a mutual agreement society! (laughs). The real reason that there are so many of the old punk bands still going is because it’s their living, not because of any idealism. It’s also something that’s very difficult to get out of your system when you’ve been doing it for so long!
B&HN: Going back for a minute to 1977, was there much camaraderie between bands at the time?
A: No. Load of boll**ks that is! Loads of people got into punk who were good players and who’d been in bands long before punk. Bands like The Lurkers, none of us had ever played in bands before. The Lurkers weren’t looking for the ‘main chance’ and manipulating our image to make us more acceptable. A lot of bands were like that and would have played any kind of music just to be successful – to become rich and famous! The music business is a leisure industry, it’s full of shysters and opportunists most of the time! A lot of people don’t believe what they’re singing about at all. They’re just following a trend.
The bands weren’t friendly with each other. I remember certain bands, if The Lurkers got a good article in the music press one week they’d be slagging us off the next. There’s a lot more camaraderie now. The odd person might be a bit off but by and large we’ve all grown up a bit! Also, although, for example, Charlie Harper of the UK Subs is still going strong at 75, not everybody is like that. A lot of people have had to bow out because of ill health. I’m 63, I might not even make it to 75! You just don’t know what’s around the corner. The energy level may drop a bit, but it’s still great!!!
B&HN: Is there anything more you can tell me about any upcoming plans?
A: Well, the plan is to stay alive and just carry on gigging!!!
B&HN: You play pretty much all around the world don’t you?
A: Well we’ve played all over Europe. We’ve never played Russia. I don’t like playing the US much. The distances are really huge. The thing about being on tour is that you only get a taste of the places you visit. You’ve got no time to go sightseeing, because everything costs money and you just can’t afford it. Most of the time you just see the world outside of the van, with a hangover!!! (laughs). To be honest, any long touring, anything more than a week to ten days is a bit much for me now. After about ten days I just want to get home!!!
And that, dear readers, has been a slalom through the wild and wonderful career (so far…) of Arturo Bassick.
The Lurkers play at the Prince Albert in Brighton on Thursday 17th October. They are still a cracking live band (there’s plenty of evidence on YoutTube) and I’m sure they won’t disappoint.
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