The murky world of punk rock’s long-lost side projects and spin-offs

“Greater than the sum of their parts”: it’s a stock journalistic cliché, and has been lazily applied to most of punk rock’s chief contenders at some point. Too often however, the put-down has been exacerbated by some-or-other ill-conceived moonlighting gig or a ‘between bands’ project involving the frequently rudderless members of whichever established name. Granted, there’s the odd occasion when such an endeavor has yielded positive results; nevertheless, it’s often a ticket to spin-off hell, and is followed in most cases by a shame-faced reunion of the original band. Here’s a random selection of ‘didn’t-he-used-to-be-ins’ from the punk rock log book, judge for yourselves…

‘Big’ John Duncan, man-mountain guitarist of the formidably-mohawked Exploited at the height of their popularity re-emerged on the music scene around 1987 with this short-lived three-piece outfit, who made a few waves on the live circuit, not least as a support act to Bad Brains, and managed - unlike most other acts discussed here - a major-label album and a single, Crash, that fused psychobilly with JG Ballard, but hardly tore up the charts. Within a couple of years, Duncan could be found strumming away with a pre-Garbage Shirley Manson in Goodbye Mr McKenzie.

As cadaverous lead singer with art-rock-goth trailblazers Bauhaus, Pete Murphy had already waded up to his knees in pretentious twaddle, but had just about got away with it thanks to some cracking singles on the part of that band. Teamed up, post-Bauhaus, with Japan’s Mick Karn, the combination proved fairly poisonous, and didn’t court much good will from either band’s fan base. Murphy wisely ducked out in favour of a moderate level of solo stardom, eventually reuniting Bauhaus some years down the line. Karn’s subsequent efforts you can google yourselves and spare us the agony.

By the summer of 1979, terrace-punkers Sham 69 had enjoyed a high level of chart success, but plagued as they were by right-wing thuggery at their live shows, were deep in the throes of burn-out. Coincidentally, remaining Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, having finished work on the Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle film, were struggling to keep the franchise alive. Front man John Lydon had long since decamped, and bassist and chief gimmick Sid Vicious was cold in the ground. Cue the Sham Pistols, who were unveiled for the encore of one of Sham’s ‘farewell’ gigs, and for the lifespan of about 3 weeks or so proved to be nobody’s finest hour. Sham got back together for another album before splitting in 1980. Cook and Jones, who’d thrown in the towel on Jimmy Pursey after just one recording session, formed The Professionals who lasted a couple of records before heading to LA for an unlikely collaboration with glam rocker Michael Des Barres. As we all know, the Pistols eventually did reform.

An inexplicable one-off between Theatre of Hate/Spear of Destiny front man Kirk Brandon and former Rich Kids drummer and new romantic scenester Rusty Egan back in 1985. Titling the project with characteristic bombast ‘The Senate’, Brandon and Egan reworked the old TOH track The Original Sin. Admittedly this was one of Brandon’s finest songs, but since Theatre of Hate had already done a perfectly decent recording job on it some years before, you may well ask yourself exactly why. Spear Of Destiny resumed activity pretty quickly after.

A stable line-up had never troubled Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s Gun Club, but by early 1985 it really did appear to have fallen apart for the punk-blues pioneers. Drummer Terry Graham had absconded in Paris and Jeffrey seemed to have opted for a solo career. Temporarily high and dry in London, guitarist Kid Congo Powers and bassist Patricia Morrison elected to put something new together, for which Australian vocalist Tex Perkins was mooted as front man. Getting Tex into the UK (let alone keeping him there) proved a whole saga in itself, so the additional task of lead vocals fell to Kid for a short brace of live dates and a French label EP. The project was fairly swiftly abandoned, Kid hooking up with Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, a job he worked in parallel with a reconstituted Gun Club from 1986 through to 1992. Patricia saw out the decade with a high-profile job with the Sisters Of Mercy, and more recently did a sterling job as latter-day Damned bassist.

Admittedly it must have been a tough call for Dee Dee Ramone to stake out his own identity after more than a decade with the brothers Ramone, but you’d be hard pushed to trump this particular musical faux pas, namely Dee Dee’s abortive self-reinvention as Dee Dee King, rapper, which lasted one single and an album both of which are hailed by those unfortunate enough to hear them as a low water mark in bad records. Dee Dee thankfully resumed his career as a rock ’n’ roller, and although he was never reinstated back into the Ramones, kept his hand in with a number of projects before fatally overdosing in 2002.

The closing months of the 1970s saw former New York Doll and Heartbreaker Johnny Thunders in an unenviable state. Record deals and management had evaporated, he was estranged to varying degrees from his former bandmates, and had saddled himself with a very public drug problem that had indelibly marked him down as a bad business bet. Johnny’s only lifeline was the occasional reunion show with The Heartbreakers, and a Detroit date saw his teen idol, former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, hop onstage for a jam. Kramer was hardly riding high himself at this point, having recently done time on trafficking charges. The prospect of a formal collaboration seemed good enough for Thunders to up sticks to Detroit, and as the live bootlegs testify, the pair-off showed real potential. Few things in Thunders’ career would ever run smoothly however, and it all fell to shit within a few short months. An exasperated Kramer blew out a series of NY shows, for which Thunders called on an impressive roster of musical friends to save the night. The ‘Street Fighting’ bootleg captures Gang War on smoking good form, but while it offers a glimpse of what could have been, the stage banter reveals a marked generational mismatch between the two frontmen.


Just prior to the release of Killing Joke’s 1982 album Revelations, rhythm section Paul Ferguson and Martin ‘Youth’ Glover found themselves musically marooned when guitarist Geordie Walker joined truant vocalist Jaz Coleman in Iceland. Youth and Paul announced a new project, Brilliant, but almost immediately, Ferguson himself reunited with Jaz and Geordie, reassembling KJ with new bassist Paul Raven. Youth stuck to his guns with Brilliant who emerged at that year’s Futurama festival as a slightly chaotic but rhythmically intimidating twin-bass line-up with future Cure/Hawkwind man Andy Anderson on drums and former Midnight Lemonboy Marcus on vocals.
Brilliant toured that autumn with Bauhaus and released a couple of singles including the memorable Just What Good Friends Are For, before undergoing a long series of personnel changes which saw future KLF man Jimmy Cauty as one of their number. Brilliant’s eventual hook-up with the villainous SAW production team was not a success story, and the band folded in 1986. Youth carved out a successful production career for himself and has periodically reunited with Killing Joke, whose original line-up toured this autumn.

After the final incarnation of The Clash ingloriously turned its toes up in 1985, bassist Paul Simonon assembled this latino-rockabilly outfit with Gary Myrick on guitar, Nigel Dixon on vocals and Travis Williams on drums. Havana 3AM stuck around for the duration of one album, 1991’s self-titled effort and a near-hit with single Reach The Rock, both of which gained favorable reviews and refuted the long-held journalistic claim that ’Simmo’ had been The Clash’s musical weak link; nevertheless, this never quite propelled them beyond the long shadow cast by the bassist’s original outfit, and Simonon packed up his Fenders not long after to immerse himself in art, an area in which he’s since made a respectable name for himself. The album was reissued this year by Cherry Red.

10) ZIP
A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instalment in the career of Buzzcocks front man Pete Shelley, somewhere between his moderately successful solo career up to about 1985 and The Buzzcocks reunion in 1989. When the three-piece Zip first appeared on a support slot in 1986, Shelley’s identity was consciously played down, (press shots featured the singer crammed into a baseball cap and shades) leading one reviewer to comment suspiciously on the lead vocalist’s familiarity! Zip, who also featured Gerrard Cookson and Mark Sanderson, managed one single in 1988, ‘Your Love’/’Give It To Me’ before a successful and ongoing reunion with The Buzzcocks beckoned.

Hugh Gulland

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