Ratbag of



1. Ratbag - reveal thy real name and tell us about your real musical career from the womb to the present day?

All of it? OK, best put the kettle on then cos this is a long 'un...

My real name is Lee, I've been going by Ratbag since about '94 - I got it from a Terry Pratchett book, if you're wondering. I've been around drums all me life, my dad's a club drummer - y'know, the old WMC 'drummer and organist playing for dancing between the turn and the bingo' sort of arrangement. He stuck me behind a kit for the first time when I was five, but I was 18 when I started playing properly. I started a band called Aunty Social in '88 with my best mate Lee J, who plays guitar in the Kingcrows now. AS was a dreadful bloody cacophony, just a piss-about really, but it's where I learnt to play. Lee J was playing bass then but moved to guitar later. That fell to bits cos we were rubbish, but I soon moved on to Taint, which was more of a jam session than a band, just knocking out covers on a Sunday afternoon. While I was doing that I was asked by some mates if I wanted to join a glam-punk band they were putting together, influenced by the New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks, Cheap Trick, Slaughter & The Dogs, Soho Roses and that sort of stuff. That became Sticky Fingers, my first real gigging band, which was bloody great fun and lasted for two years. Anyway, eventually that split in half. The singer and guitarist had got right into the Manics and Suede and wanted to do that sort of stuff, but me and Jutters the bassist wanted to do more punky stuff. They went off to start the Fabians, and we formed Assassination Bureau with Phil E Stine singing and Daz on guitar. I really enjoyed the Bureau, we were a great, solid, visual unit and had some fucking excellent songs. We played all over the country for five years, released a couple of demos, headlined a gig for Radio 1's Sound City thing when it hit Leeds, got a good following all over. (Also around this time I was helping Lee J out with his band Dead Bard's Ghost.) Eventually though, like most bands it just ran out of steam. Phil and Jutters quit and me and Daz hastily stuck Apocalypso together. That only lasted a couple of gigs - the lead guitarist Hamish went on to join doom metal legends My Dying Bride - and after that I decided to give it up.

Trouble is, when you get the bug with this band thing, it's hard to shake it off. In 2000 I heard about a guitarist in Leeds putting a Misfits tribute called Astrozombies together, which sounded like fun. We worked on that for 18 months, getting the sound and the stage show right, and then managed one gig before the guitarist was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in his hands and had to stop playing. (As it happens, six months later he got a second opinion. Turned out it was just a nasty viral infection - two weeks on the antibionics and he was as right as rain. Doctors, eh?) Anyway, when we crawled out of the wreckage of that, myself and the singer Rusty formed the Poison Hearts, initially with ex-Expelled bassist Macca. We did that with various line-ups til 2004, when money problems and lack of enthusiasm caused us to chuck the thing in. By 2005 I was trying to start a band from scratch that would have the same kind of energy and vibe that Assassination Bureau had all those years ago. Originally I tried to work entirely with people I didn't already know; that resulted in a short-lived mob called Casanova Frankenstein, but that was never going to last, for various reasons. After that fell apart, I bumped into Lee J at an Alice Cooper gig for the first time in donkeys' years, and we started talking about starting something new. We dragged in Rusty from Astrozombies/Poison Hearts to sing and play bass, found a young guitarist called Alex who'd never been in a band before and that was the start of The Kingcrows.

Unfortunately it turned out that Rusty had plans outside the Kingcrows, and he went off to start his own band Blaggard. We got in Tony and Bob to sing and play bass, then Alex went off to form Cherry Hooker so we replaced him with an 18-year-old called Zebs, and then Bob's wife got ill and he had to leave to look after her so we replaced him with Rocco. Then we had to replace Tony cos he had a covers band (Last Gang In Town) who were getting more work than we were and I was having to refuse a lot of gigs cos they were clashing with his other band's shows, so then I got back in touch with Phil from the Bureau, who jumped at the chance of taking over. After that Zebs left to play with people his own age in Emergencies, so we ended up as a four piece. That's how we've been for over a year now, and I genuinely think we're the best we've ever been now.

Apart from all the bands I've officially been a member of, I've done a certain amount of helping out mates' bands when they've been without a drummer or when their drummer was injured. Apart from Dead Bard's Ghost there's also been Phluid, Snake Shooter and Blaggard. I get about a bit...!

2. Tell us your feelings on your local scene and punk in general and are there any specific underdog bands we should check out?

West Yorkshire's a hard place to exist for a band like us. Leeds has a lot of venues, but they're mostly populated by indie-type bands or Extreme Metal stuff; it's hard for rough-arsed rock 'n' roll bands like us to get a look-in. Bradford is more of a rock town, but their venues are suffering a lot of upheaval at the moment. Leon Punkined gave us some great shows in '09 but since the Polish Club got slapped down by the council for being too noisy he's out of a venue. Wakefield has the venues, but unfortunately the audiences don't tend to be that big. It seems to have got to the point now where there are more bands than punters on the scene. Shame, there are some really good acts on the go around here. Leeds has Acid Drop, The Yalla Yallas and Cyanide Pills; Bradford has St Tantrums, Wild Trash, Suicide By Cop, The Drastics and No Eager Men, plus old hands like Threshold Shift and the Negatives; there's By Default in York, and Psychobabylon and The Idol Dead in Selby. Some really good bands around but if no fucker turns out to see them, what will they do?

3. What are your influences as a band and if you had a mission statement what would it be?

The influences I had in mind when I first started putting the Kingcrows together were stuff like Motorhead, the Damned, Hanoi Rocks, Crazyhead, MC5, King Kurt, D.A.D., UK Subs, Dead Boys and so on. Not just punk bands, but scuzzy, gutter-level garage rock 'n' roll bands. The sound has been shaped a lot by the bands the individual members listen to, and we've got a pretty wide range of tastes between us. Lee J, for example, has never been much into punk, he's more into 60s-80s rock - he likes Alice Cooper, Kiss, The Doors, The Cult and Twisted Sister. Luckily, he's never been a heavy metal widdly type guitarist, he's more about the riffs. We all listen to loads of different stuff, and I think that's why our own songs cover such a broad base. Few things are more boring than a band that does a dozen different versions of the same song.

As for a mission statement - "Make a fucking racket, have a fucking laugh, and give the punters a fucking SHOW!" See, to us it's not enough just to get up and play, you have to make each gig an experience. I bloody hate bands that just stand there for the whole set looking bored, like they'd rather be doing something else.

4. Bod, Mr Benn or Windy Miller - if these were thrown into a giant pot noodle and were forced to fight to the death using nothing more than a rubber wok - who would win and why?

Good question. They're all dangerous cos they're all a bit mental - I mean, Bod's a bald transvestite, and you have to be fairly nails to get away with that for any length of time. Mr Benn is a bit weird, he has no real character of his own, but he's as dangerous as what he's dressed as - if you put him in a Darth Vader suit the fucker would conquer the universe. But really, it's Windy Miller you have to watch out for. The old bastard runs on scrumpy. My money's on him.

5. Describe thy fellow band members in 5 degrading words apiece?

Phil: Old enough to know better.
Lee: Big daft hairy flatulent hippy.
Rocco: Comes from the Lake District.
Me: Short porky ugly scruffy egomaniac.

6. The best Kingcrows song to date and what makes it so special?

Boringly enough, I don't think it's my place to say what the best Kingcrows song is. I'm too close to them to be objective, especially the ones that I write. Most of my stuff is about real events, or at least things that were happening in my head...

7. Tell us about the worst and best of your CD collection and would you ever have an affair with Max Bygraves to progress your career?

Awkward questions, these...I can't honestly say I have a "worst" CD, or if I have my mind has suppressed any memory of it. I have a certain amount of crap 80's metal stuff kicking about, but none of it's sufficiently shit to make it The Worst Thing I Have. As for best - consistently my favourite album of all time is the Damned's Machine Gun Etiquette, but after that my top albums tend to vary wildly. Some favourites: Crazyhead - Desert Orchid, Motorhead - Another Perfect Day, D.A.D. - No Fuel Left For The Pilgrims, Peter & the Test Tube Babies - Pissed & Proud, Backyard Babies - Total 13, Dead Boys - Young Loud & Snotty, Hanoi Rocks - Back To Mystery City, WA.S.P.'s first album, the Cramps - Off The Bone...
As for Max Bygraves - I've never been that career-driven, to be honest...

8. The best and worst moments in your musical life so far and the best and worst gigs too!

There are loads of best moments - first time I ever played live (31st August '91), first time I supported a name band (Jayne County & the Electric Chairs, Leeds Duchess, October '91 - Sticky Fingers' third gig), recording demos/EPs I've been particularly proud of, the first time anyone asked me for me autograph (!?!), gigging with some of my favourite bands (e.g. UK Subs, Anti Nowhere League, the Vibrators, 999, the Business, the Wernt, Jayne County, Spear of Destiny, Peter & the Test Tube Babies...), playing an outdoor summer festy for the first (and so far only) time, generally going to new places and playing for people who are into what we do. That's always good.

Worst moments: first time I ever played live (I was nervous as hell, and halfway into the first song I dropped a stick. I grabbed the spare I had propped up on the bass drum and carried on. Twenty seconds later I dropped that fucker too. Luckily, it bounced off me floor tom and I caught it. If I hadn't, I'd probably have never played live again!), driving four hours on a piss-wet Tuesday night to play for two people in fucking Boston, having to refuse a support slot with the Damned because we had a headline gig lined up for the same night and didn't want to upset the promoter, spending six solid weeks and hundreds of pounds on a recording that ending up sounding like utter fucking wank and not being able to afford to do it again (that was the point where Assassination Bureau stopped being fun), spending months, even years looking for the right people to be in a band with and almost giving up hope that there were any musicians around who even understood what I wanted to do. The period I gave up playing altogether was a pretty bleak time too.

Best gigs:
Supporting the UK Subs in London the night before the first Pistols reunion show in '96, in the Assassination Bureau days. It was at a little pub in Stoke Newington called the Albion, proper scabby little punk rock dive about a mile down the road from Finsbury Park where the Pistols were playing. The place was utterly fucking rammed, real mad as hell night. Headlining the legendary Batley Frontier with the Kingcrows. Roy Orbison met his wife there, Eric Morecambe had his first heart attack after doing a show there, and then we hit the place. It's an amazing place, the stage is huge, the PA sounds like Armageddon and the lightshow is like the last scene of Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Trouble is, it's in fucking Batley so nobody can get there. Still, because of the lights you can’t see past the edge of the stage so it doesn't matter that there's no fucker there, you can just get on with pretending to be Bon Jovi for an hour.
Supporting the UK Subs (again!), with the Kingcrows this time. First time was in Wakefield, at a great (and now defunct) venue called the Strafford Arms. It was the first time we got in front of a decent-sized audience who really got what we were doing. That makes all the difference, I can tell ya.

9. If you could do anything different with your current band what would it be and how do you plan to spread the Kingcrows wings?

I'm not sure I'd want to do anything much different to be honest, this is the band I've wanted to do ever since Assassination Bureau finished and I like it as it is. I'd like to do be able to more gigs, bigger gigs, actually get in front of some reasonable-sized audiences, but things will always be difficult in that respect cos we don't know how to get ourselves noticed. See, there's a myth out there that all you have to do is be a good band and audiences will come to you. BULLSHIT. We're a bloody good act, if I do say so myself, but getting people to the gigs is like pulling fuckin' teeth. If you're not already well-known in whatever circles you operate in, no fucker wants to know you. Even in something as grass-roots as punk, if people don't know your name they won't go out of their way to check you out. We want to get on some of the big all-dayers, but competition for the slots is fierce and we don't even know how to get ourselves in the running for them (we have recently been confirmed for Nice 'N' Sleazy in Morecambe this year, mind!). All we know how to do is keep slogging round the pubs making a noise, hoping that someone will give us a chance on a bigger stage, and we'll keep doing that til it stops being fun. That's what being in a band is all about.

10. Touch Template the iconic Brazilian nude skittles champion is considering a career in milk bottle impersonation. He says the drawbacks are getting smashed a little too often and having tits peck holes in his head. It seems this profession is very similar in fact to the punk rock scene but the question, nay questions, are a. Would you pose as a milk bottle for free premium bonds, b. Is the world of disk drive pop over-shadowed by ape-shit media and c. Would you eat 1076 drumsticks for a free unicycle (if so why)!

a) Definitely. I've posed as worse things than milk bottles, for less than Premium Bonds...
b) I think the real issue here is, are bottled artichokes more relevant than zinc baboons?
c) I'd rather eat one unicycle for 1076 free drumsticks. My sense of balance is shit, so a unicycle would be no use to me anyway.

11. Tell us what its like being in a band and what drives you on to keep banging against that ever-present brick wall?

Being in a band is simultaneously the most fun, most fulfilling and most frustrating thing you can do. I fucking love it; getting in front of a good crowd and bashing out a load of good rock 'n' roll is the best way I can think of to spend an evening. Well, there's one better way, but let's not go into that here. Anyway, it's damn good fun, but there's a hell of a lot of shit you have to wade through in order to do it effectively; apathetic punters who promise to turn up to yer gigs and then decide they'd rather stay in and watch The Strictly Big Brother Talent Factor On Ice on the telly instead, crap promoters who don't actually promote, venues who don't really want bands on and treat them with utter contempt...broken instruments, inadequate transport, bad food, bodily injury, no sleep...
So what drives me to keep doing it? Maybe it's just sheer bloody-minded stubbornness. Maybe it's rank stupidity. Maybe it's just that me dad's still gigging at 66, and I'm fucked if I'm giving it up before he does. All I can say is, it's the best way I can think of to spend my free time. I've been gigging 18 years now and I still love it as much as I did the very first time I stepped on a stage.

12. Finally push and thrust your cause and thank and wank anyone worthy!

To anyone who hasn't seen us: come on, what's the worst that could happen? Scared of having a good time?!
Massive thanks are due to a lot of people, including but not limited to the following...Mark, Daz and Chill, the poor bastards who run Old Chapel, the studio we practice at. Grant Henderson at Ivolv Studios, who somehow managed to make us sound good on CD and got us out into the wide world via iTunes. All the ace bands we've played with or will play with in the future, but not the shit ones or the ones who are wankers. Our long-suffering other halves. Leon Punkined, Alec Marlow, Shaun Whelan, Fungal Dave (yes, that's YOU), anyone else who gives us gigs or writes about us. You're all fucking legends and our lives would be much harder without you. Cheers ya bastards!