JOHNNY MOPED were one of the pioneering punk bands that played in
the first few months of the burgeoning new music scene of the late
70's. Although they never went on to any great critical acclaim, they
shared the stage with many of the bands that were to change the face
of the British music scene forever. They also produced one of the
great eccentrics of UK music in Captain Sensible and for a very brief
period had Chrissie Hynde (later of the Pretenders) as a member.
By 1978 however, after an intense year of activity and with the band
completing their first debut record, lead singer Johnny Moped - who
had recently married - started to become evasive, as his mother-in-law
exerted pressure on him to leave the group. In the end we had
to basically kidnap him every time we had a gig or needed to record!
said Dave Berk, the band's drummer.
Hopefully the band will finally receive some well deserved recognition
as, on September 19, Koko's in London plays host to a premier of the
film "Basically, Johnny Moped". Described as a funny and
often moving, it is the story of JOHNNY MOPED, punk rock's great lost
To coincide with the event those fine people at Damaged Goods Records
have reissued JOHNNY MOPED BOOTLEG TAPES (Volumes 1 and 2). A 26 track
CD (or limited edition double vinyl album) it contains all the tracks
from the original Johnny Moped Bootleg cassette that the band used
to sell at their gigs in 1976/77. Additionally you get songs from
the 7 single that originally came free with their debut album,
supplemented by early bedroom recordings, studio out-takes and live
numbers. What it sounds like is another thing all together, as to
call it eclectic doesn't do it justice!
Including the intro, there are several spoken word tracks ranging
from Johnny given instructions how to start a moped (literally), a
Captain Sensible phone call from Santa Monica, an interview on Radio
Leeds and the Captain interrogating Johnny in a pub over the whereabouts
of his underpants!
That aside there is plenty of music for the uninitiated, with several
rough demo cuts of tracks - Groovy Ruby, Wee-Wee and Little Queenie
- that would later turn up on their debut album. They also do a trio
of covers in Johnny's own unique way with Something Else, Ruby Don't
Take Your Love to Town and the Damned's New Rose, the latter being
a live version from a Moped gig after Sensible had left the band.
Whilst predominantly a rock/punk sounding album (Hard Lovin' Man,
Hellrazor, I Wanna Die, I Believed Her Lies, Save The Baby Seals and
Incendiary Device) the band are prepared to throw in a few curve balls.
The Wolf and Dracula, These Students and You Out There all sounding
not unlike the soundtrack to a late 60's psychedelic acid trip. Hi
Tomcats is a forerunner for the sound of Ian Dury & the Blockheads,
whilst I am Zombie recalls the Clash in dub mode (although I doubt
Joe Strummer would have used the spoken intro about traffic bollards
and skunks!). Equally bizarrely, Cut Across Shorty is an out and out
Country and Western song. Listeners with tinnitus however should take
note that several tracks are sung by Moped in a ear shattering falsetto
So a veritable aural smorgasbord of an album with different styles
and sound, some rank amateurish whilst other are consummately professional.
And perhaps there's the rub. Punk is now defined by a specific type
of music and finds itself in a musical straightjacket, largely of
its own making. Johnny Moped were from a time when punk had no boundaries
and virtually anything was acceptable. Whilst I'm sure this CD may
not be to everyone's taste, it stands as testament to the punk bands
of the 70's that did not find fame and fortune.
I leave the last word to drummer Dave Berk when talking about their
eccentric lead singer. Perhaps this more than anything gives the real
reason why Johnny Moped remained unheralded, but still retained the
true punk ethic:
At the Roundhouse gig in 1978, where Chiswick records had hired the
Manor mobile to make a live recording, Johnny was a "no show".
Fifteen minutes before we are due on stage we get a call from the
front door security saying there was someone trying to get in, but
had no money, claiming to be Johnny Moped. Yep, it was him!!