Shave your hair or make it into dreadlocks, get into army surplus clothes, buy a stupid hat and mosh to the music. That was the grebo style: the late 80s and early 90s streets of Plymouth seemed to be full of these characters (in addition to the drunks pissing in doorways). Their preferred choice of music was something I rather liked myself: loud and highly suitable for moshing. So we’re talking Pop Will Eat Itself, Gaye Bikers On Acid, Zodiac Mindwarp, the Levellers, Carter USM (who I saw twice and were quite marvellous), the Wonder Stuff and a load of other bands that never made it into the Festive Fifty chart.
One, however, did, with a memorable slice of sub-hardcore: Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (named after an episode of the Goon Show broadcast on 1 May 1959: when Spike Milligan was asked if he’d ever heard of them, he said, ‘No. I believe that there are 250 000 rock and roll bands in the world, each with a different name, called `Cement’, `Horse’s Droppings’ – they go mad to get a different name’). Formed in Stourbridge, West Midlands in 1987, they were unique in that they used two bass players.
We were just a bunch of lads who met at Halesowen College back in 1987. Pretty much all of us were in different bands. We didn’t really know each other. I put a poster up at college saying that I was looking for a band because all I can do is make a noise with my mouth. The weird thing was at the first rehearsal we had we had a drummer who wanted to play bass, a guitarist who wanted to play bass and we had a bass player who’d never played bass before! [John Penney, vocalist]
(He neglects to mention that there was also a girl backing vocalist at the outset). The Wonder Stuff noticed them and offered them a support slot on their 1989-90 tours. During this time, they released two spiffing tracks: The Ingredients and the stop-start raver with a mad drumbeat, Kill Your Television (FF 1990 #26).
The following year, their poularity escalated, with the album Godfodder and two more singles, one of which, Happy, made the top 20. The next five years were spent touring (with, amongst others, Jesus Jones; are you reading this, Iain?), and releasing albums. They even appeared with a (just for a change) very drunk Oliver Reed on The Word.
But the music scene had changed. Now everyone wanted Britpop and was obsessed with whether Blur or Oasis were better. The world had moved on and left the Neds behind, so they split. John Penney moved on to the spectacularly unsuccessful Groundswell, and from this point on, a reunion seemed the only way to go: this duly happened in 2000 with a gig in Dudley, and they have played a Christmas show every year since then. There are rumours that they are in the studio as I write. For those who can’t wait, Some Furtive Years: A Ned’s Anthology came out last year.