Ears Of A Clown

SHANE McGOWAN - a legend in his own luch-time - the man with the biggest ears since Prince Charles! ADRIAN THRILLS lends his own ear to THE NIPS and discovers you don't have to be pretty to be hip.

Source: NME
Date: October 27, 1979
Author: Adrian Thrills
Copywrite: NME 1979
Photo: by Andy Calvert. Caption: "The Nips: l to r: Ringo Watts, Blondie Douglas, Shanne Bradley, Shane McGowan."

PAUL WELLER once referred to him as "the only real star to come out of the new wave". To Nick Kent he was 'Monsieur Vole', the delinquent who exquisitely squirted globules of lacquer into the hair of his mates at an early Clash gig, while Tony Parsons once saw fit to dub him 'the only original kamikaze punk' no less.

The individual in question is Shane McGowan - or Shane O'Hooligan as he now terms himself. The oddest thing about the various compliments and insults paid to him above is that they were all delivered long before Shane actually started to make a name for himself by sole virtue of his not inconsiderable musical talents as a singer, occasional rhythm guitarist and songwriter in his band The Nips.

Shane, y'see, has been a personality of sorts ever since - as punk legend would have it - he chanced to have his earlobe bitten off at yet another of those primal Clash bashes.

Actually, the tales of the said incident are a trifle exaggerated, the earlobe remaining in what looks suspiciously like one piece to me, but the escapade served nonetheless to establish Shane as one of the more unlikely fifteen-minute heroes of the sub-culture as it was then.

Modestly not being one of his biggest virtues, Shane accepts the mantle of The Celebrity with an obvious relish. And this, it transpires, is only the beginning:

"The way I see it is that we're coming up to the 80's and somebody's got to save rock'n'roll from all those prats with synthesisers and a university education. And it might as well be me!

"You've got to have someone to deal with all those people who are into Gary Numan and the Gang Of Four. You've got to get them where it hurts!

SHANE and I are talking in the early hours of a Friday in a squat just off London's Euston Road. The humble hovel is the abode of Shanne Bradley, the Nips bass player since their formation nearly two years ago. Shanne was here a minute ago only to mysteriously bugger off, while drummer Ringo Watts ('fraid so, popkids) has gone home leaving just Shane and guitarist Blondie Douglas to partake in a severely inebriated interview.

Blondie struggles to get the odd word in edgeways.

In addition to being very much the driving force behind the group, Shane is under no illusions as to where The Nips are headed musically.

"We're loud, raw, leering pop. Konw what I mean?" he asserts aggressively.

"It is bands like The Undertones that have the right idea. You play songs and you play them loud and fast so that you can dance to them. That's what Punk was all about. That's what everybody was rebelling against... all that progressive shit."

Shane is a pop traditionalist at heart. He'll even admit to admiring and trying to sing like Van Morrison at times. And though I find his aversion to the Gang Of Four a misguided one, there's usually plenty of truth in most of what he says.

The Nips - or the Nipple Erectors as they were then known - played their first gig at a Roxy Club audition night towards the end of 1977. By then, Shane, like so many of the 'original' London punks was sufficiently disillusioned with the 'scene' as it stood to turn to other areas for his musical excitement.

In his case a reversion to Rockabilly provided the stopgap.

"Punk just seemed to be such a load of shit at the time. When it started it was great, but then you get so many wanky bands coming along. It was getting really bad around the middle of 1977 with all those talentless Vortex groups like The Ants and 999. It was just a load of speeded-up heavy metal calling itself punk.

"Rockabilly was simpler. You could dance to it. I'm not into it as much now as I was then. Good rockabilly is great but bad rockabilly is awful and there's a lot of that about.

"But I was younger then," he chuckles, "I've got things sussed out a lot more now."

The Rockabilly-Punk hybrid that the Nips were pushing in their early days seemed a pretty contrived image-making publicity gambit.

"No, it wasn't really contrived," retorts Shane. "It was just that I was obsessed with Rock and Roll at the time. I just got so sick of punk and started listening to rock 'n' roll again. It was just that I'd been missing out on it all the time.

"I could dance to that but I couldn't dance to 999."

FROM their confused beginnings, The Nips went on to lose firstly their original drummer, the legendary Gasbag contributor Arcane Vendetta of Ilford, and, secondly, their godawful original name.

As Shane would tell you: "We were always one of the biggest jokes on the scene when we were the Nipple Erectors. Everyone says that we changed the name to get wider acceptance and radio play, which is partly true, but the main reason was just that we got sick of the name. It was sort of like 'What band are you?. . . Whaaaatttt??? . . . The Nipple Erectors??!! . . . well, I'm not going to talk to you."

"Anyway it was Shanne who thought up the name, which was pretty typical of her. You get pretty tired of a name like that pretty quickly."

Although hew was quick to tire of the rhetoric of the original punk figureheads, Shane does cite a couple of the unlikelier faces of '76 as the ones who have actually gone on to achieve what they set out to do.

He is particularly generous in his praise - and this is strictly a mutual thing - of Paul Weller.

"He's the only fucker out of all that lot who's actually come through. The only one who's done what he's set out to do. And at least his still fuckin' talks to me!

"The two bands who got most of the criticism were The Jam and The Damned. The Jam used to get slagged off as being just a revivalist band and The Damned were supposedly not a punk band, just a heavy metal band or whatever.

"The Pistols and The Clash were always the two big cool bands to watch. But they just became like fuckin' companies! It was like going to watch ICI on stage! Fuck all that lot!"

The Nips third single on Soho Records is due out shortly. It is a song called 'Gabrielle'. While the previous two, the Rockabilly-tinged 'King Of The Bop' and the superior R&B of 'All The Time In The World' were attractive but erratic singles, 'Gabrielle' is a redoubtable classic. It is also quite easily the best regeneration of the hoary old 'Louie Louie' riff since. . . since, oh, at least The Undertones' 'Jump Boys'.

"Gabrielle was this girl who used to go down to that punk club Louise's," explains Shane.

"She used to have blonde hair and tight leather-look plastic trousers and she used to model for Strawberry Studios. She was my first real love, but she wouldn't ever go to bed with me. She just used to take me back to her bedsit in Streatham and jerk me off! She had a bit of a hangup about sex."

Shane puts his 'girl trouble' down to what he'd call his 'physical handicaps' - big ears and what were the worst set of front teeth this side of Jerry Dammers until a couple of weeks ago when he had them capped.

"You can't really let that sort of thing handicap you. I mean if you have the sort of handicaps that I had then you're always going to be the sort of kid who gets pushed around at school by the big blokes.

"I never always had bad teeth, but I got pissed down the Red Cow one night seeing the 101'ers with a mate. We came out really drunk and he said that he'd give me a lift home on the back of his bike, but I tried to get off while he was still moving and I broke all my teeth on Hammersmith Road!

"I suppose I was always made to feel like a bit of a wanker at school and I always found it hard to pick up girls at discos 'cause I was so ugly.

"I mean, the punk thing fuckin' changed my life. It didn't matter that I was ugly. Know what I mean? Nothing mattered. It was good.

"But I still hate all that shit about whether or not you're short or tall or ugly or you look like something from Austin Reid!"

The interview over, Shane and I were to make our way out of Shanne's flat for the short journey across a couple of backstreets back to his place.

That was the original plan, until we ran into a spot of trouble courtesy of a gang of last year's mondo-bondage punk crew, seemingly intent on smashing Guinness bottles over our heads.

But then Shane - the original punk-turned-ted-cum-punk - had the indecency to ask why he got the reply "You two look like Mods to us!"

Sometimes you just can't win.