Combat 84 - Deptford John Q&A interview, February 2020

The following interview was conducted via email with the courteous and charming Deptford John. A top bloke!

Can you tell about the formation of Combat 84? How did you all meet etc, what inspired the formation, what the early motivation was and what the early rehearsals/sessions/gigs were like. Please tell me about about the two-song demo which contained 'Solider' and 'Combat 84'?

Combat 84 - Punk Lives magazineChubby and I both drank in the same pub in 1981 and he wanted to form a band and already had the name. I told him I had started playing the bass and the nucleus of the band and what it would be about was formed on the spot. Then Jim [Moncur] started drinking in the same pub (it was popular with skinheads at the time!). Somebody told us that Jim played the guitar and we walked up to him and asked him if he wanted to join and that was it.

The first rehearsals were with one of Jim's mates called Jacko on drums, but he hadn't played before and even our basic skills were way ahead of him so he agreed it was best to look for another drummer. Another friend from the pub called Gerry (I think) tried out but wasn't much better. We looked around and somebody suggested Brownie (real name Andy). I went and met with him and he agreed to join us. He'd been a drummer in a punk band before so was up to our standard of playing. We rehearsed a few times with just the four of us and I wrote the music to the songs 'Combat 84' and 'Soldier' and Chubby wrote the lyrics. We did a demo in a studio in Clapham and sent it off to a couple of labels, Sounds, the NME and sat back and waited to be offered a record deal!! As Jim and Brownie had full time jobs and Chubby and I were unemployed it made sense that we would do most of the work, booking rehearsals and gigs, writing songs and making flyers for the gigs etc.

Can you describe the mood of the time, as you saw it, and how it informed what the band sounded like and did?

The mood at the time was one of general dissatisfaction as the country was in a massive recession and youth unemployment was really high. Jim and Brownie still lived at home so were more financially stable too, and Chubby and I used to just bunk the trains and tubes and hang out in the King's Road, Carnaby Street and at The Last Resort shop in Aldgate. We told everyone about our band and The Last Resort band gave us our first gigs. I'm still friends with Roi and Arthur today from back then. We were influenced by our peers in the Oi! scene and a lot of punk bands too. Jim was the best musician and taught me to play Sex Pistols songs. I taught him Discharge songs in return!

How many gigs do you think you played and what of reception did you get?

We did sixteen gigs in total and in the end were banned by the police from performing. Most venues didn't want us either as they didn't want another Hamborough Tavern [better known as the Southall incident]. We did a few gigs under a secret name but gigs-wise we were pretty much finished. We'd also changed drummers and got John Fisher in as Brownie didn't seem that committed to it all and wasn't happy about some of the people hanging around the band.

Why did the Secret deal collapse?

We'd done a few gigs and had started filming a TV documentary for the BBC called 40 Minutes. All this stuff got the attention of Secret Records but the violence at the gigs and some of the right wing people hanging around with the band put them off, although Chubby was convinced that Garry Bushell had put a spanner in the works there. I met with Garry and got it all cleared up. When you develop a reputation for having a big firm with you and violent gigs you tend to attract more of the same. Some are still friends of mine to this day but some just went off to the next big thing but nearly all the band and fans of the band ended up at football firm casuals which turned out to be the next step up for us all.

Can you tell me more about the 40 Minutes programme which caused the controversy. It would be good to hear your first hand experience of it.

Chubby and I were approached by a director called Ted Clisbee to do the 40 Minutes thing. He loved the fact that we had a band too as it added more to the program. I'd already done a couple of things for the BBC, one about haircuts for Arena and another one about searching for a job that never got screened. Chubby acted up for the cameras and demanded money and it suspect that this made the director want to paint him as the bad guy.

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What was the deal with Victory Records?

The Victory records thing came around when a guy I knew called Dave Long, who managed Splodgenessabounds, stopped me in the street and proposed we set up our own label. I agreed as we didn't have any offers on the table as people were getting wary of dealing with us as we had a reputation for wrecking pubs and causing trouble.

Combat 84 was partly just a catchy name and we wore combat gear onstage, but also the concept of 1984 and Big Brother etc was becoming a bit more relevant after the police started turning up at our gigs so, as everything was called Victory in the book, we used that as the label name as an ironic indicator that we were owned by the government.

Dave Long and I booked the studio for the orders of the day EP and sorted out the artwork. All the lyrics are in my handwriting on the cover! People wanted photos of us so Martin offered to do a session for free which became a famous set of shots on a derelict bit of land by the rehearsal studios! Jim started writing more music and wrote 'Rapist' and 'Skinhead' while I wrote 'Violence' and '1982' on my own while Chubby did the lyrics with Jim for the other two. We recorded live and patched all the messed up bits with drop ins, then got all our mates to sing backing vocals thus starting/carrying on an Oi tradition. We used to play Dead Kennedys and DOA songs in rehearsals but Chubby wasn't into it and used to put his own lyrics to them instead!!

How was it you ended up on the dodgy German label Rock-O-Rama? Can you provide more info on the recording and release of the Send In The Marines LP?

The deal with Rock-O-Rama came through Dave Long and was just for him to do the album so our deal was complete and he could get his money back! We'd never heard of them but as the band were all but finished by that point Jim and I were happy to do it to wipe the slate clean with Dave Long.

When did the band break up, and why?

Chubby and I were friends first but ended up in different social circles as he found himself being courted more by the political people and I was getting more and more into music. Jim and I started roadying for the UK Subs and both eventually ended up in the band!!

You joined the The Exploited and UK Subs in the mid-80s. What's the story behind that and what was that period like? Did you record anything or gig with The Exploited?

I got the sack from the UK Subs as I thought the music wasn't hard enough, but I rang up Wattie and joined The Exploited the next day which was more to my musical tastes at that time. I wrote songs for the Subs but Charlie registered them all as being written by him, then the same thing happened on the Jesus Is Dead E.P. and War Now with Wattie!! I left The Exploited when that happened and went back to being a roadie, eventually becoming a professional guitar technician and running some repair shops on the side. Now I just run the repair shops and listen to punk rock and Oi! and Hardcore. I'd never give up what I do to do something I've already done for a second time, but I love going to the gigs and seeing bands I've always loved and friends I've lost touch with. Combat 84 were a pure Oi band to me, born out of punk the same way skinheads were born out of mods, harder, more working class and industrial strength. The big influences on me were the Pistols, The Clash, Ruts, SLF and The Damned. Then came the 4 Skins, The Last Resort, Angelic Upstarts and then all the NY hardcore bands like Agnostic Front, Cro Mags, Sheer Terror and Murphy's Law.To me, all these bands and ones like DOA and Minor Threat have stood the test of time but are very much of that era. I wouldn't change anything about my time in any of the bands I've been in as I had fun and travelled the world and looking back each experience was a stepping stone to the next one.

Life's been good. Check out the Mean Streak EP I made with some friends not too long ago. I love the Oi! scene and always enjoy the gigs but I doubt I'll ever play in Combat 84 as the singer is dead and I don't want it to become a sideshow of what it originally was. Four pissed off Skinheads that would take on the world to get a reputation! I have never made money out of punk rock but have had the best life because of it!

 

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

jane@punkygibbon.co.uk

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