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Book Review - Grebo! by Rich Deakin

by Dave Thompson

Grebo! The Loud & Lousy Story of Gaye Bykers on Acid and Crazyhead

By Rich Deakin


If author Deakin’s name sounds familiar, it should. In 2007, he published Keep it Together!: Cosmic Boogie with The Deviants and The Pink Fairies, the first and still the finest account not only of the subtitled bands, but also of the sprawling local (Notting Hill, London) music scene that flourished around and because of them during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Fourteen years later, he returns to local roots, only this time it’s the midlands city of Leicester that comes under the microscope, and we’ve moved almost two decades forward, to a cultural landscape that was as fractious as it was fractured, and which deserved as heart a kicking as the Fairies et al had meted out to its predecessor.

Welcome to late eighties Britain.

Let’s start with the title. For better or worse, the headline bands were regarded as trailblazers within a musical world known as Grebo - a term, as Deakin explains, that was both “a media construct…” and a “homegrown proto-grunge counterpart to the likes of Butthole Surfers, Mudhoney, early Nirvana….” Which, at least with hindsight on our side, is probably the best way of putting it.

At the time - the first Bykers single appeared in 1986 - it was less “proto-grunge” than psilocybic-acid-punk slaughterhouse graffiti, a glorious racket that was lot more melodic you might expect (the “bom-bom-bom-bom” refrain to second single “All Hung Up” was pure powerpop class), even if you would still cross the road if you saw the band walking towards you. Bykers and Crazies alike, they were loud, lewd, brutally funny, wryly confrontative. In other words, they were precisely what the British rock scene of the time desperately needed, whether it knew that fact or not.

The two bands effectively grew up alongside one another, and Deakin’s book tells their conjoined story across 400+ pages, reams of interview material, and an unimpeachable understanding of what the music meant to audiences of the age. The music press, after all, was never sure what to make of them; early on Sounds described the Bykers’ roar as “hypersonic Stoogeophonics,” but Melody Maker heard only “music that’s crawled out from under a pebble, in the shadow of the greats.” The Stooges received a parenthetical namecheck there, as well. Another writer lamented the fact the Bykers’ mothers didn’t all “drown them all at birth.”

But for anyone living through it, grebo soundtracked the last traumatic term of Thatcherism with all the noise and uproar it deserved, the subculture’s very existence a gaudily painted, crudely lettered placard waved in the face a government whose policies, it seemed, were aimed at exterminating anyone who didn’t subscribe to its particular vision of sheep pen Britain.

And while Deakin himself steps back from the political sermonising that other authors might have here embarked upon, again the very existence of these bands, the causes they espoused, the bills they played on and the bands they played with speak volumes. The 1989 Treworgey Tree Festival, for example, where the Bykers lined up alongside Hawkwind, Carter USM, Thee Hypnotics, the Hippy Slags, Ozric Tentacles and the Levellers. Forget peace and love at Woodstock, someone should write a book/make a movie/release a multi disc box set of Treworgey.

Incident, anecdote and adventures pile Everest high. We relive the Bykers’ “involvement” in a spurious Satanic Rock scandal, penned for one of the UK tabloids by the young Piers Morgan; Crazyhead’s 1989 trip to the USSR; American tours and funky beats, and the pace doesn’t flag for a moment. Grebo is a long book and it could have been longer.

Maybe only full time fanatics will truly care for the detailed accounts of recording and marketing that occasinoally exercise the band members’ memories; maybe the lack of discographies is an omission that a future edition will correct.

But neither the excitement of the age, nor its frustrations, ever slip far from view, and if you’re bored with reading about life in the studio, there’s always going to be another riotous tour coming up. Plus, with YouTube at your side, it’s unlikely you’ll ever resist creating a playlist to accompany your reading. Because then you, too, will be able to discover what “Testicle of God (And It Was Good)” was about.