Sometimes good guys wear white Sta Prest: Saxby interviewed

As we entered the Plough and Harrow, a pub in Leytonstone that still feels a bit like the East End, we were greeted by Graham Saxby. An old-school skinhead through and through, the man makes an effort to look sharp, sporting a sleeveless argyle jumper, off-white Sta Prest and highly polished burgundy DMs. Later that night, he would be on stage performing with The Warriors alongside The Angry Agenda, Top Dog and north London’s own Kilburn Bomb Squad. 

But first it was time for an extended chat. We noticed there was a dearth of detailed information on Saxby’s early years as the original vocalist for The Last Resort, so we decided to probe a bit deeper. We discussed the band’s early years in Herne Bay, pissed-off folk singers and patriotism.

We also learned that over-zealous scenewatch types had just kicked The Warriors off the bill for Cardiff’s 161 Wales and West festival. As is so often the case today, the ‘guilt by association’ principle was liberally applied: one person knows another person; therefore they hold similar views. One band played with a dodgy band; therefore they’re beyond the pale too. And so, many who preach the politics of change in fact practice the politics of purity.

Graham, there is a picture of you and your mates outside a pub in Herne Bay in 1977. It’s the silver jubilee and the height of punk infamy, yet you’re still sporting a bit of a mid-70s bootboy look.

Yes indeed, ha ha. I was already into punk rock at the time as punk music had made it to Herne Bay by then, but none of us were dressing in that way yet – we all still had dodgy long 70s hairstyles. See, I have pictures from when I was still in school circa 1973 or 1974. Even though we had long hair, we were wearing Levi’s jean jackets, Fred Perry, and so on. That was the early bootboy style – long hair, but most of the clothes were left over from the skinhead period.

Back to 1977, though. Although I’m not one hundred per cent sure what my first punk record was, the Clash debut album was one of the first, and I got all the early Clash singles too. I also got Never Mind the Bollocks, which came out slightly later. However, I didn’t see my first ‘punk’ gig until 1978. It was the famous Stranglers outdoor performance in Battersea Park, where they had strippers dancing to ‘Nice and Sleazy’. I saw the early Skids and Spizz Oil playing at the same event.

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Herne Bay 1977: Saxby with union jack in the middle

Regarding style, did you go straight from the late bootboy look to skinhead, or did you pass through a punk stage first?

I was a punk for a bit, although I was probably more what you’d call a ‘skunk’ now. My hair was so curly I could never get it spiky, so I kept it short. I had a skinhead haircut and a punk leather jacket. My style gradually evolved towards skinhead, as there was something in the air that told us skinheads would come back. In London, there were always a small number of skins persevering through the seventies, and by 1978 skinheads were back big time. It was only a matter of time until Herne Bay would catch up.

Do you remember the first time in your life you saw skinheads?

I actually caught them the first time around in 1969 or 70. All my older mates were skinheads – they were four or five years older, and I was a baby skinhead myself when I was 11 or 12. My mum didn’t have a lot of money, so I couldn’t afford Levi’s jeans, which is why I only wore a pair of Lee Cooper. My first pair of boots were monkey boots, which only girls and kids wore. I also had a blue monkey jacket with the standard red, white and blue tipping. Later on, my cousin gave me a Ben Sherman shirt. My first ‘proper’ boots weren’t Dr Marten’s either, but something called Major Domos – a cheap DM copy. Next up, I got a pair of black brogues and equipped them with metal Blakeys for the ‘clickety-clack’ noise they made when we were walking down the street. When I was 13 or 14, I got a pair of loafers – which we called ‘tassels’ then – and later on, wicker basket shoes were the thing to have.

LastResort
The Last Resort shop in Aldgate circa 1981.

So when did you start making music – was The Last Resort your first band?

In the beginning, Roi and I were still punks. We got Gary Spraggan, who was originally from Scotland and now lives up north, to play guitar – Lucy Spraggan, who you may know from the X Factor, is his daughter. We got Trevor Griggs on keyboards and Richard Griggs on drums – the ‘two Griggsies’ later went on to play with Arthur Kay & The Originals. Roi played bass and I tried to sing, but it was more of a jamming group than a real band. We didn’t even have a name. The Griggsies had a bit of musicianship, the rest of us less so, and the whole thing didn’t really gel. After few rehearsals in a little church hall, we gave up on it.

Two months later, by which time me and Roi had become skinheads, Charlie moved down from London. He was only 17, but he knew how to play a few chords and a bunch of songs on the guitar. Roi also met Andy around the same time, and with this line-up, we started rehearsing at the Pier Hotel pub in Herne Bay.

I came up with the name, The Last Resort – and yes, we did name the band after the shop in Petticoat Lane. We would go clothes shopping there on Sundays when it was still a punk shop. Unlike most shops, it was always closed on Saturdays because the owner, Micky French, was a Millwall fan and went to football. So did Roi, of course, and that’s where the two met. So I suggested, “hey, why don’t we call the band The Last Resort?”

Of course, we were thinking Sex Pistols and McLaren’s ‘Sex’ shop, but there was also another reason. At the time, Herne Bay really was the last seaside place you would want to go for a holiday.  It’s not too bad now, but it was horrible then – literally the last resort. So the shoe fit.

Roi talked to Micky French about it, and Micky agreed to be our manager.

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Arthur Kitchener (Arthur Kay) with Second Hand aka The Next Collection, circa 1967

You played your first gig in August 1980 at the New Dolphin pub in Herne Bay, right?

That’s right. Arthur Kay’s ska band, Arthur Kay & The Originals, also played that night. Arthur has now been a semi-professional musician for 50 years. His first band was a mod group called The Next Collection, who played their first gig as early as 1967.

Arthur wasn’t a member of The Last Resort yet, but he could already hear the makings of something in us, even though we didn’t quite know what were doing. We were classed as a ‘skinhead punk’ band because the term ‘Oi’ didn’t exist yet [Oi! The Album only came out in October that year – Editor]. The third band on the bill was a mod band called Biff Bang Pow.

First gig in July 1980: Andy Benfield (drums) Charlie Duggan (guitar) Saxby (voice) and Roi ‘Milwall’ Pearce (bass)

The Last Resort demo tape that would become available in the shop the following year contained three tracks. Can you remember what other songs you played at your debut gig?

There were only about seven songs on the set list, and I believe we only had two original songs at the time. We may have played all songs from the demo, although I’m not totally sure about ‘Held Hostage’. Other than that, we did covers of ‘Eight Pounds a Week’ by The Squad, ‘Insane Society’ by Menace and ‘Right to Work’ by Chelsea. Plus we did ‘Elvis is Dead’, not to be confused with the Test Tube Babies song. It was basically the tune of ‘Belsen Was a Gas’ by the Pistols, but with the lyrics changed to something like “Elvis is dead I heard the other day, the big fat slob is rotting away”. And we played ‘Violence in our Minds’, of course.

Speaking of which, what’s the story behind that song? It was originally an anti-skinhead tune recorded by a folkie in 1970, wasn’t it?

Yeah, and I only found out seven years ago. Here’s the story: our manager, Micky French, passed me a piece of paper and said, “one of the guys who hangs out at my shop wrote a lyric, do you want to use it?” The kid’s nickname was Mirror Dean because he had his photo printed in the Mirror. I changed a few words because they were racist. One line went, “beat a Paki black and blue”, so I said “nah, I’m not doing that” and changed it to “beat a soul boy black and blue”. Then we put a tune to it, and I swear I only found out when someone told me at the Punk and Disorderly festival in 2010 that the original song was a 1970 folk tune. It pretty much had the same words too, except it had a fourth verse and didn’t have the chorus, “we’ve got violence in our minds”. There were actually two folk versions, the original one by Miles Wootton and another one by Fred Wedlock.

I read Miles Wootton’s comments about it online. He wasn’t pleased with your version and called you a bunch of ‘far right louts’. Forty years on, his basic prejudices hadn’t changed much.

Yeah, we always got that from misinformed people. Anyway, I had no idea that song existed, and suddenly I’m informed that Miles Wootton is on to Captain Oi! to claim royalties. I’m actually mates with an old folkie who knew Wootton, who must be 75 or 80 years old now.

1981 circa last resort graham saxby
Saxby circa 1981

So when The Last Resort moved to London, did you go with them?

No, I left the band in late 1980 and stayed in Herne Bay. I had girlfriend problems at the time, she kept threatening to kill herself and god knows what – it all amounted to emotional blackmail. She was quite young, and today you’re given Prozac for the kind of issues she had. But it wasn’t available then, and I just didn’t want her to kill herself.

So in the end, I told the band I’d have to leave, but would like to continue writing songs for them. ‘Working Class Kids’ from the Strength thru Oi! compilation is my lyric, for example. Occasionally, I kept popping along to their gigs, and when I did, I would sing backup vocals. At the March 1981 gig at Acklam Hall, for instance.

I also sang backing vocals for The Last Resort at what I believe was Gary Bushell’s 25th birthday party at the Bridgehouse in Canning Town. Max Splodge and the 4-Skins also played that night. All of them were great, but when Cock Sparrer came on, they were just five divisions higher and blew everyone away. Gary Lammin was still in the band then.

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Acklam Hall, 4 March 1981: Little Eggy telling the punters to calm it. Saxby on the left

Is that when Arthur Kay joined The Last Resort?

Yes, Arthur was the one who had originally taught Roi how to play bass. When I left, Arthur suggested to Roi, “why don’t you try to sing and I play bass?” And when he joined, that’s when they started writing some great songs. Although Arthur had never written any songs before, he’d been a musician for 15 years. When I was still in the band, we had some okay songs, but Arthur wrote great stuff like ‘King of the Jungle’ and ‘Rebels with a Cause’.

To my knowledge, the first tracks by The Warriors – or Warrior, as they were variously billed – appeared on the United Skins and Oi! Oi! That’s Yer Lot compilations in 1982?

Yes, but ‘Horror Show’ is Roi on vocals, and ‘Wicked Women’ is Arthur. The weird thing is, I was the original singer for The Last Resort, which is now Roi’s band. And Roi was the original singer for The Warriors, which is now my band.

But by then, the situation was such that almost every gig was just one big fight. If memory serves, The Warriors only played two gigs in the 80s and recorded the two compilation tracks you mentioned. And that was that.

1996 WARRIORS FULL MONTY

It would then be another thirteen or fourteen years before The Warriors reformed, this time with you on vocals. How did that come about?

Some time in the summer of 1995, I bumped into Leslie, who was then Arthur’s wife. She told me that Arthur and Roi had been offered a reunion gig in Belgium. The problem being, Roi didn’t want to do it as he got into heavy metal and wanted it to be a big rock show, while Arthur wanted to do Oi. I asked Leslie to tell Arthur I’d be up for it. Leaving The Last Resort was one of my biggest regrets – you do these things when you’re 21 or 22, but being in my mid-30s I realised I had made a big mistake. We couldn’t get Charlie, though, as he hadn’t been playing any music since, and Andy was playing keyboards for somebody else. So we got Daryl and Dustin from Argy Bargy and started rehearsing for the gig.

I wrote some lyrics, and Arthur wrote some music. After a few rehearsals, we realised we’d written an album even before we played the gig. So we went into the studio and recorded what would become The Full Monty in only two weekends, the old-school punk way.

The Full Monty has a song about patriotism called ‘The Last Refuge’, which seems quite personal. It deals with being brought up on queen and country and then becoming disillusioned with it all.

Yes, that was Arthur’s song. I don’t think the song is really for or against anything; it’s more about Arthur examining certain issues. His dad was in the army and died in some conflict abroad when Arthur was only 18 months old. He got over it now – today, he goes to the cenotaph with his dad’s medals every November. But at the time, I think he was still very affected by the fact that his dad had died fighting in a war that was led over almost nothing. Many of Arthur’s songs are quite observational rather than saying one thing’s better than the other.

Still, there’s a big difference between ‘The Last Refuge’ and a more recent Warriors track, ‘England’ of 2011. The former seems anti-patriotic, while the latter song says, ‘I love my England, am I an Englishman alone, no racist message in the St George flag, just our banner of hope for a better land’.

I can see where you’re coming from – the two songs seem to contradict each other. If you ask me where I stand, I think it’s alright to be patriotic with a little p. I’m from England, and if England plays football or cricket, I want England to win. I’ve got a tattoo of England, and I’m proud to be English – but I don’t consider it the be-all and end-all of everything. The old-fashioned sort of patriotism, which is about looking out for each other and all those basic English values, is fine. But I’m not taking it to the extreme of ‘no foreigners, no this, no that’. When Arthur quoted Samuel Johnson in his song as saying “patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, I’m sure he was mainly referring to the extreme kind.

‘England’, on the other hand, is Andy’s song – he originally wrote it for his other band, Surgery Without Research, before joining The Warriors. It was his response to people being slagged off for waving England flags at football. At the time, it was ok to be Scottish, it was ok to be Welsh, but if you waved an England flag you were considered ‘racist’. Of course, there’s a fine line, and there are people who take their flag-waving to an extreme, but you should be able to fly your flag without being slandered as racist.

The timing when you published the song is interesting. In an interview in 2011, you said that you had gigs cancelled because of Facebook comments and people calling up venues saying The Warriors are a far right band. Was the song a response to that?

Obviously, Andy didn’t write it in response to that – I believe he wrote it during the 2006 World Cup, when you would read a lot about people being racist for flying the England flag to support their team. We used it simply because we thought it was great song with a clear message: “I am not religious, I am not a racist, I’m not homophobic, I am not a fascist”. The song says that you can be patriotic with a small p, without being racist or any of those things.

Are you still mates with The Last Resort, and in what ways do you think are The Warriors a different band?

Oh yeah, we’re still good mates – funnily enough, I bumped into Roi when we were both shopping at Morrisons the other day. I would say The Last Resort have to be a full-on Oi band and cannot stray too far from that path. Whereas with The Warriors, we are more free to do ska songs, hardcore songs, or whatever else we want to do. We also do humour. In hindsight, it’s funny to think what a good laugh we had with The Last Resort and how it never came out in our songs.

The 14 songs on our new album, Lucky Seven, reflect that. You get straightforward Oi tunes such as ‘This is Oi’ and humorous stuff like the ‘Skinhead Blues’, but in the last few songs, such as ‘Riot in Progress’, things get more political. Although I’m not sure ‘political’ is the right word. ‘Anti-political’ might be a better expression, seeing as we aren’t apolitical either. Apart from the odd one, we hate politicians because they treat people like us like shit. I don’t trust them in general.

1998-bad-guys
Good bad, not evil

You’re billed to play the 161 Wales and West Festival, which is hosted by SHARP and RASH, among others. Some folks have a problem with that because they view these groups as divisive. What do you say to that?

Well, we aren’t playing the festival now. We were offered that gig and agreed. Normally, we steer clear of political gigs, but since we’ve been classed as right-wing for a while, we thought it would be a good idea to make a tiny step to the left. Or rather, a symbolic step away from the middle, which is where we’ve always been. We saw that some very left-wing bands such as Oi Polloi were playing too, but we said, ‘no problem, we’ll do it’.

However, someone who I’m not going to name looked into our gig history and began accusing us, “haven’t you played with this and that band before? And aren’t you booked to play with some other band?” Before we even had the chance to do anything, they took us off the bill and put it down to “circumstances beyond our control”. I think the problem was that one of the bands we played with was on a dodgy label, even if the band itself wasn’t necessarily dodgy.

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The Warriors today

But if you imply guilt by association, then you may just as well say The Oppressed played with Indecent Exposure in the 80s, and Indecent Exposure were also playing RAC gigs with Skrewdriver and others. Therefore, The Oppressed/Fatal Blow are dodgy and should be dropped from the bill too.

Yeah, another reason seems to be that we played with a band we didn’t know much about at a festival in the US a few years ago. Mind you, there were some 40 bands playing, and I don’t even think we played on the same day as them. We only found out in retrospect that their singer was supposed to be dodgy. I’m not going to say who they are, but UK Subs got a lot of shit for playing with them too.

I think I know which band you mean. Well, you can hardly vet everyone you play with for their political views. In our opinion, the anti-fascists shot an own goal. Thanks a lot for the interview, Graham.

Interview: Crombieboy & Stevo

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