The Atoms, London, England

Formed: London, England, UK

A short-lived project from future Tesco Bombers and Fat Les irritant Keith Allen, in cohorts with John Studholme and Susan Gogan of pragVEC, a Greek guitarist called Photios Demetriou, who was later described by Allen as "the worst guitarist EVER! On the PLANET!", Roy Dodds (The Korgis, later a member of Working Week and Fairground Attraction) and Keith James (of local band The Distributors).

The Atoms, Keith AllenKeith Allen, Let's All Be Adults About This #1, 1980: The concept of the Atoms was mine. What I wanted it to be initially was a bunch of people, it could have been anybody, and you'd go out and do sneaky performances, something like the underground theatre on the tubes. I'd just given up theatre, and so theatre was still very strong in my mind. I had these performances worked out with some girls that I used to share a house with. I was going to be teacher and they were going to be students, and we'd go on a trip to a museum and just generally fuck it all up, the idea of a teacher-student relationship, in public without any of the people knowing that it was a performance. That was going to be The Atoms, a group of situations really, but nothing ever happened.

It is possible they only played three gigs, each of them at a talent shows in London. The first was at the North Pole pub in Kensingston, where they came in at third place and provoked a riot.

Keith Allen, Let's All Be Adults About This #1, 1980: It was on my mind all the time, this Atoms thing, and then I happened to be along at this talent contest. Just out of interest I went down to this boozer to see a talent contest. There were all these dreadful no-hopers, they all had to do three numbers with the band. There was this one guy who got up and started singing, he was so off-key, every note was out, that's virtually impossible to be out on every note, but he managed it, the place was falling apart laughing but this bloke this kept on carrying on doing it, and I thought if you could contrive that badness, you've got the audience. They were just yelling at him to get off, but when he finished he got a standing ovation. The great thing abut doing talent contests if you only have to do three numbers and you can put everything into it, there's nowhere else you can do that. You can affect people, you get a weird audience at these things - fascists, potential British Movement yobbos, loads of skinheads, football fans and your serious drinkers.

I had this ill-fitting suit on, and I stood up and told the audience, "We're not really a band, we're a novelty act. I'm a comedian", and I went into this whole routine, really bad jokes, desperate humour and it worked, they were laughing at the corniness of it all. It was really "amateur", even before we started playing, we had them because they had no expectations, then we did 'Beatle Jacket' and 'Spotty Boys' and it went down a storm.

A stripper was hired for their second talent show, at another small pub, but when she failed to turn up a female friend of the band did the striptease instead. She'd apparently one one drink too many. They made it into the finals for that one.

The group's third gig was at the Comedy Store, by which time Allen was starting to get the uneasy feeling the Atoms were turning into a proper band. They had also picked up a following of right-wing skinheads, and so Allen scuttled the band.

Keith Allen, Let's All Be Adults About This #1, 1980: Of course we hadn't done any rehearsals, to present it all in a professional manner, and we all felt it. At the time I didn't understand why it wasn't as much fun as it had been. We'd exhausted all that the Atoms could do, all we could do from there was to be a proper band and it wasn't any fun being a proper band.

In addition to these gigs, within months of forming they actually made it into a studio to make a record, which was self-released on their own Ringa Records label. A completely DIY endeavour, all 2,000 copies came with numerous inserts - including one registering the name "The Atoms" as a business. which were hand-printed by Allen. The Swingalongamuck single was fronted by 'Max Bygraves Killed My Mother', a mild dub/sillypunk effort that I might have liked more had they been bothered to write more than one verse. It picked up airplay from John Peel, much to the amazement of everybody involved. The B-Side was much better, a wild and demented rant with some great synthesizer and guitar, and a terrific vocal turn from Allen.

Keith Allen, as told to Alex Ogg in the No More Heroes book: When I heard it played on John Peel, it was one of the greatest moments if my life, and Photios was crying because he'd been on the radio. And twice, at the end he segued at the end Max Bygraves' 'You're A Pink Toothbrush' - absolutely brilliant. John Peel played it three times. I clearly remember us all being in a squat off the Harrow Road, listening to John Peel. It was fucking mind-blowing to be on John Peel.

DISCOGRAPHY

Singles / Albums

The Atoms - Swingalongamuck        
Swingalongamuck
(7", 1979)
       

Various Artists

Messthetics #5 UK '77-81 "D.I.Y" & DIY-Punk: "A" US CDR (Hyped To Death): Beetlejacket

Snuffin' In A Babylon UK CDR ???? (Get Baque): Max Bygraves Killed My Mother [bootleg]

Links

 

 

You can add stuff and make comments/corrections by emailing me at:

jane@punkygibbon.co.uk

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