Steve Baker - Vocals
Nick Brooker - Drums
Ian Doeser – Bass
Glen Doughty – Rhythm Guitar
David Marx – Lead Guitar/Vocals
We’re a garage band
We come from Garageland
(J. Strummer/M. Jones)
Formed in the wake of The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Stranglers and The Clash in March 1977, The Aggravators were Swindon’s first (and in my opinion, only true) punk band. I was the last to join, as at the time I was in the midst of forming a biker band in the vain of AC/DC and Motorhead (the latter of whom didn’t then exist). But when Ian – who along with Nick, was in the same year as me at school - invited me to have a bit of a play with his then unnamed band, I felt more than compelled to join.
The rehearsal room was an upstairs bedroom in Ian’s Dad’s council house on a housing estate called Park North in Swindon. When I first walked in, I’ll always remember being taken aback, as the entire length of the room was bestrewn with amplification, drums and hard-nuts - Steve and Glen having been notorious lads cum fighters a couple of years above us at school. There was barely room to move. In fact, there wasn’t room to move. But when we initially kicked in with what I think was a version of Doctor Feelgood’s ‘Back In The Night,’ the entire house - replete with Ian’s dad, sister, dog, furniture, pot-plants and neighbours - shook as a result of sheer, aircraft landing at Heathrow type, volume.
Fuck eleven – we were fifteen! And no-one, myself included, blinked an eyelid.
Fanfuckintastic – ‘this’ll do me’ I thought!
So I was in, primarily for two reasons:
I was the only one who had a certain level of musical proficiency.
I immediately put music to a set of lyrics Steve had had kicking around for quite a while.
And if memory serves, ‘Easy Lay’ was co-written in about twenty minutes. It remains my first (ever) stab at songwriting, and is to this very day, still covered by Swindon punk band, The Charred Hearts.
We all lived within relatively close walking distance of each other, and were at the time, all on the dole. We were also thug-chic personified - which entailed and enabled us to do a lot of ‘advertising’ in and around town. Advertising in as much that people knew who we were, but not what we were called. It wasn’t long therefore, before Steve thought of the name, The Aggravators. It also wasn’t long before we secured our first gig at the then Cavern Club of Swindon, The Affair.
The Adverts were due to play, but for some reason, had to pull out. As the club was managed by XTC svengali Ian Reid – we got the call. This was due to a recommendation by Barry Andrews, who had recently joined XTC and had heard us rehearsing - well it wasn’t hard!
According to Ian (Doeser), the date was April 20th 1977.
The gig itself, although not my first in front of an actual audience, marks my (and the rest of the bands’) first ‘proper’ gig. Proper as in relatively serious in attitude whilst essentially original in musical content. The band, lest it be known, was musically loud’n’proud’n’thrash’n’brash in a sexy, solipsistic sort of way. What mattered was the there and then, and the ability to laugh and not give a fuck - the manifestation of which was simultaneously wild and innocent.
Wild - as in Ian had his head shaved in such a way as to resemble a prehistoric fly-type mutant. A look which simultaneously scar(r)red small children and attracted the ever increasing gaze of the curious. Innocent - in the fact that we hung out in cafés rather than pubs. Wild – as in the total sense of abandonment and ease with which the band conducted themselves: Glen punching a reporter with the local paper down the stairs of the Affair, Steve totally subscribing to that ideological leap of faith that was Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby, Nick drumming with as much Brando-bravado that was permissible within punk parameters! Innocent - in the photograph Glen and Steve had taken of themselves posing as Bruce Springsteen and Clarence Clemons on the Born To Run album cover (the only correlation between Glen and Clemons being an abundance of weight – as for Steve and Springsteen, well there wasn’t any!).
Then of course, there was the confluence of varied influences. We were all into the musical revolt of The Sex Pistols, but where Ian was quintessentially anchored in the R’n’B of Doctor Feelgood, Steve and Glen were heavily influenced by America’s Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed and The New York Dolls; whereas Nick was caught in the slam-glam slipstream of Slade and T.Rex and myself in the inexorable trajectory of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. The influence of the latter being more than evident when we played live, and clarified as such by none other than Mick Jones of The Clash!
When ‘White Riot’ catapulted The Clash into the consciousness of Callaghan’s Britain during the spring of 1977, the band played Swindon, and we, along with Subway Sect, supported them. The idea was for Subway Sect and The Aggravators to kick-start the evening at The Affair, and for the Clash to perform across the road at what was then called The Central Hall. Amid spurious circumstances, Central Hall was burnt down that very day - replete with some of the Clash’s equipment - so all three bands ended up playing The Affair, with The Clash using our back-line and drums.
And what a great gig it was.
I remember finishing school and catching the bus with my guitar, before being shot with (a touch of) nerves at the sight of the queue - which had already stretched right around the block by half-past five! I don’t re-call any of Subway Sect’s set, as the place was so packed, we couldn’t even get out of the dressing room - but when we did, the place went bonkers.
It seemed Swindon was proud to have it’s own punk band supporting The Clash. From the moment I started playing the opening riff to ‘Rock’n’Roll Bitch’ to the moment we made our exit, the Swindon audience did both itself and ourselves, proud. There was a true connection (the like of which I wasn’t to see again until I started playing with The Coincidence in 1986). Steve - clutching lyrics in the one hand and cigarette after cigarette in the other - never sounded so good nor looked so cool. With Bon Scott bonhomie and voice, not to mention Paul Simonen suave (people kept mistaking him for The Clash’s bass player and asking for his autograph), he, along with Glen literally whipping Ian with a fake plastic whip during his dying-fly stint(!), ensured that The Aggravators were indeed, something special.
That the band only performed a handful of gigs before splitting, The Aggravators ardently captured and embodied all that was unique and urgent about 1977. This was perhaps confirmed when Joe Strummer dedicated ‘Garageland’ to us near the end of their set - which I still consider one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen.
Needless to say, the band remained on a high following The Clash support for a considerable amount of time. New songs were written and rehearsed, whilst cake and conversastion continued to be had throughout a menagerie of cafés – but for some reason, Ian and myself no longer gelled. Looking back, I’d say this was primarily due to our aforementioned influences. Where Ian wanted to remain true to the (punk) ethic of musical minimalism, I wanted to co-write and play songs that were a little more (musically) demanding.
So by general consensus - Ian was out of the band.
The other Ian (Reid) meanwhile, booked us into that infamous pantheon of punk, The Roxy. Glen took over on bass, contracts were signed, and before we knew it, The Aggravators were hurtling along the M4 to perform their first (and only) gig in London.
For some bizarre reason, Glen had it in his mind to go on stage and destroy a (cheap Woolworths) guitar. This, along with my guitar playing, instilled the band with something of an inadvertent Who vibration – which, during the climate of such emerging bands as The Buzzcocks and Chelsea, Eater and Siouxsie and the Banshees – may have been a tad confusing to that of the Roxy audience. Still, the gig went well and countless phone numbers were exchanged before the band returned to Swindon in its rented Ford Transit.
Along with the driver, me and Nick stayed awake for the duration of the journey. I’ll always remember him commenting on the onslaught of dawn and how great life felt at that precise moment in time…
Next up was a live, televised performance on what was then called Swindon Viewpoint – which, to our collective chagrin, has since been rubbed. Broadcast locally in black and white, our five-song, high-octane set of original thrash-fuck catharsis, clearly marked something of a turning point for the band. For although our gigs were always packed to the gills from that point on, there lurked something of an (inadvertent) deepening musical division within the band. The result was the eventual formation of two new bands: The Purges (Glen, Nick and Ian) and The Humans (Steve and myself).
To quote Dylan Thomas, The Aggravators were in hindsight - as fundamentally ‘innocent as strawberries.’ And in the cold light of day, it was surely this quality - along with the transient climate of 1977 - that may well have accounted for the bands’ subsequent demise.
But then what could one realistically demand, hope for and expect - from a band that emerged out of Garageland?
Back In The Night (W. Johnson)
Dole House Blues (S. Baker/D. Marx)
Easy Lay (S. Baker/D. Marx)
Hey Jimi (B. Roberts)
Jumpin’ Jack Flash (M. Jagger/K. Richards)
Rock’n’Roll Bitch (S. Baker/D. Marx)
Suicide (S. Baker/D. Marx)
Tonight (S. Baker/D. Marx)
Waiting For My Man (L. Reed)