Think of regional scenes spawned by the '70s punk explosion and the chances are that Manchester and Liverpool first spring to mind, followed maybe by Sheffield or Leeds. Exeter, in Devon, hasn't featured in too many histories of the era. Until now, that is.
Year Zero is a new compilation marking 23 years of Exeter-based punk, post-punk, mod and hardcore bands, spanning the period between 1977 and 2000. Released on local label Hometown Atrocities, like all great punk compilations from Nuggets onwards it has its fair share of students,schoolboys and adolescent malcontents bashing out their sub-3 minute claims to a tiny footnote in rock history. 'Would-bes' and 'should-have-beens' immortalised on independent 7" singles that have knowledgeable collectors salivating. It also features a prime example of that other great staple of the record collector's diet, an early recording by a now major artist.
These days Thom Yorke is the voice of perhaps the definitive rock band of the era. Radiohead's imminent follow-up to OK Computer is eagerly awaited by millions, and will surely feature on many fans' and critics' album of the year. 11 years ago, whilst a student at Exeter University, Yorke was the guitarist in Headless Chickens, whose sole release, and what is believed to be his first-ever recording, appears on Year Zero.
Headless Chickens were a 4-piece comprising Yorke (guitar and vocals), 'Shack' (vocals and bass), John Mathius (violin) and a drummer called Martin. Their song, 'I Don't Want To Go To Woodstock' is rousing melodic punk which - leaving aside some rather incongruous violin adornments - is reminiscent of The Psychedelic Furs and The Alarm. Shack sings the song, although Thom Yorke's backing vocals are plainly audible. The whole band are credited as songwriters. It originally appeared on the first-ever Hometown Atrocities release, a 7" EP dating from mid-1989, shared with Mad At The Sun, Beaver Patrol and Jackson Penis.
Some Radiohead biographers have reported that Hometown Atrocities was an anarchist collective set up by Headless Chickens members. In fact, it was the brainchild of Mad at the Sun's David Goodchild and Martin "Ed" Edmunds, and was originally conceived as a banner under which to promote punk gigs in Exeter. "The Headless Chickens guys were there to help out with the early shows and were very enthusiastic for something to happen in Exeter but they moved on when things moved more towards punk and hardcore," says Ed.
All of the bands featured on the EP were then active on the Exeter scene, and played regularly at Hometown Atrocities' gigs. The EP was recorded in Daylight Studios, in Honiton, and produced by Paul Bateman. Just over a 1000 were pressed, the bulk of which came in a black and white picture sleeve. In addition, says Ed: "around 50 were printed in a green sleeve with the slogan 'a disgrace to the corpse of Kylie' printed over a photo of Kylie Minogue". The EP was distributed nationally and sold out quickly. Collectors who know of its existence - it rarely appears on the market and is absent from most collector's lists - will now pay up to £150 for the standard sleeve version, and £200 for the rare Kylie sleeve.
Headless Chickens probably did no more than 20 gigs. Ed recalls "At first they did mainly covers. I remember the prince song Raspberry Beret. Later a few originals crept in, including Woodstock and another great song Atom Bomb." Rumours persist of the existence of a promo video for Woodstock and good quality live and rehearsal tapes.
Thom Yorke isn't the only recognisable name connected with Year Zero. The opening track is a previously unreleased recording of Beefheart influenced primitives Avant Gardener, who signed to Virgin in 1977. They appeared on the Guillotines sampler alongside X-Ray Spex and Penetration. Mike Kellie -formerly of Spooky Tooth, later of the Only Ones - drummed on some of their recordings, although it is not clear if he plays on the song featured on Year Zero. Early '90s riot grrls Frantic Spiders with guitarist Charlie Stone, later of Gay Dad, are also represented. Performance poet/comedian Jon Beast was active on the Exeter scene in the early '80s, managing bands and promoting gigs, and warrants a mention in the comprehensive A - Z of Exeter punk in the CD's accompanying booklet. He later moved to London and enjoyed an association as road manager-cum-rabble-rouser for Carter USM.
Headless Chickens had a short life, lasting no more than a year. Shortly before Thom Yorke left Exeter, Ed recalls him saying he was going back to Oxford to form a band like The Pixies. Violinist John Mathius has played on Radiohead albums and works with a band called Jackdaw Music. Shack's current band, Lunatic Calm, has a track featured on the soundtrack album of The Matrix.
Meanwhile, Hometown Atrocities remains true to the DIY and anti-establishment ethics of the original punk movement. Ed and David Goodchild's current band, Annalise, record and tour regularly - they recently returned from Japan where they have an enthusiastic following. With pleasing symmetry, Muse - who sound not unlike Radiohead - secured their breakthrough last year on the back of a residency at Exeter's Cavern Club, which is managed by Patrick Cunningham, erstwhile drummer of The Scabs, who also feature on Year Zero. The shock-waves that emanated from punk's London epicentre all those years ago still rock Exeter.
Year Zero documents nearly a quarter of a century of the Exeter punk scene from the very earliest punk rock right through to today's hardcore and emo bands. This twenty band compilation CD includes many rare and exclusive tracks starting with Exeter's very first punk release from 1977. Amongst those included are punk collectors favourites The Scabs, reluctant mod revivalists The Living Daylights, one current rock icons first ever release while in the Headless Chickens and current UK punks Annalise. Year Zero also comes with a lavish 28 page booklet jam packed with photos and information dating right back to the scenes very beginnings in 1975 and '76 as well as a complete Exeter punk A-Z.
£10.00 (UK/Europe)/ $19.00 (Elsewhere) Postage paid. Please make payment to 'M Edmunds' NOT Hometown Atrocities.
Released in conjunction with Boss Tuneage Records Catalogue No: Home008/Bosstage509. Distributed in the UK and Europe by Cargo. Distributed in Japan by Boss Tuneage Japan.
HOMETOWN ATROCITIES, P.O BOX 385, EXETER, EX2 5YP, UK. mail
'Headless Chickens' featuring Thom Yorke at the Printers Pie 1990
'Hometown Atrocities' - E.P promo flyer 1989
à ne pas confondre avec
Label: Flying Nun Records
One of the first New Zealand bands to explore the world of "abused technology" -- samplers, synthesizers, drum machines and the like -- the Headless Chickens formed in 1985 as a one-off project to play the multimedia event "Nitpickers Picnic." Originally dubbed the International Headless Chickens, the trio -- onetime Children's Hour members Chris Matthews and Johnny Pierce, along with drummer Michael Lawry -- re-formed on a permanent basis in 1986, and soon made their recorded debut with a track on the student radio compilation Outnumbered by Sheep. A self-titled EP followed later that year, and the group began a tour in support of Nico.
Tragedy soon struck, however, when bassist Pierce committed suicide in August 1986. The Headless Chickens soldiered on, enlisting another Children's Hour alum, Grant Fell, as Pierce's replacement; with the addition of former Bird Nest Roys member Rupert Taylor, they became a quartet. In 1987, the Headless Chickens won a national rock music contest which resulted in a first prize award of $60, 000, allowing them to record an LP and mount a national tour; ex-Children's Hour drummer Bevan Sweeney then signed on to cut Stunt Clown, issued in 1988 to strong critical acclaim. The single "Donka" was also an audience favorite. The following year, the Headless Chickens' roster changed yet again with the addition of multi-instrumentalist Anthony Nevison, who made his debut on the excellent single "Expecting to Fly," which helped land a contract with the Flying Nun label.
Still, because of their heavy reliance on electronics -- a sound atypical of the dominant New Zealand aesthetic -- the Headless Chickens initially found little mainstream acceptance. That changed with the release of 1991's Body Blow, the first record to feature new vocalist Fiona McDonald; the single "Cruise Control," which marked a new, slicker direction for the group's sound, reached the Top Ten -- only the second Flying Nun release to earn such a distinction. The follow-up singles "Donde Esta La Pollo" and "Juice" were also successful. Health problems forced Nevison temporarily out of the group in 1993, and after a 1994 European tour, both McDonald and Lawry exited as well; when Fell announced his own departure in early 1995, the group's continued existence appeared grim, but in 1997, they returned with Greedy.
Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide