Meet The Members
Nicky Tesco didn’t tell me his real name. I didn’t press him on the subject. After all it might be Sainsbury, or even Fine Fare. Tesco fits rather well for somebody like him, someone who looks a bit cocky, a bit of a try-anything sort of bloke, definitely one of the lads. It comes as no surprise when he says, “Course, I always wanted to be a rock and roll star.”
So do a lot of people and they don’t get onto Top Of The Pops. Tell us about your gruelling climb to the top, Nicky.
“Ah, well. I gatecrashed a party at this rehearsal studio and I was being obnoxious to all these guys who were in bands. So somebody got annoyed and said ‘Why don’t you form your own band and we’ll see what you can do?’ So I turned up the following week with a load of mates and that was the beginning.
All this was taking place about two years ago in the sleepy suburb of Camberley. Nicky Tesco was working as an insurance salesman, one of those guys who put their foot in your door and try to make you sign up for policies you don’t want for large amounts of money. Not that he was very good at it. He spent most of his time using the office phones to get bookings for The Members.
At this stage, in mid-1977, the line-up of the band had stabilised at Gary Baker (guitar), Jean-Marie Carroll (guitar), Chris Payne (bass) and Adrian Lillywhite (drums). plus, of course, Tesco on vocals and leaping around. Apart from the replacement of Gary Baker by Nigel Bennett, this is how they are today.
After going through the usual 99 miles per hour punk-pogo phase, The Members settled down to experiment with more demanding musical forms. for instance, reggae.
Tesco admits that he’d no idea what punk rock was until he saw The Stranglers on TV. “I’d always listened to Big Youth and Bob Marley and Burning Spear. I think we looked to reggae like the Rolling Stones used to look to R&B music. As a sort of inspiration.”
One listen to The Members mighty new single ‘Offshore Banking Business’, will convince you that those reggae influences have been very worthwhile. They manage to get a very strong reggae feel without sounding as if they’re just copying Jamaican music. A lot of people have tried and failed to achieve that sound. How come The Members, working in a studio not a stone’s throw from Marble Arch, managed to pull it off?
“Ah, well you see,” says Nicky, as if he’s letting us in on a secret of eternal life, “we like to work while it’s hot. Then your fingers can handle the beat.”
I have visions of The Members surrounded by paraffin heaters and smothered in scarves and mufflers.
Their first hit was, as you know well, ‘Sound Of The Suburbs’, a scathing but humorous look at life in the semi-detacheds and tree-lined avenues of most of the South of England. This is, in fact, where much of the population lives; although if you were to listen to most punk bands, you’d assume the world was just one big high-rise block of flats.
“That all started when we played a 21st birthday party for this rich young Lord. We got shoved away in the dressing room and treated like dirt. We were thinking about The Clash and all that stuff about the sound of the Westway, and we thought that we were more like the Suburbs’ Sound.
noise of a siren every Monday morning
“See, we all grew up with the jets from Heathrow going over the top all the time. We lived near Broadmoor Mental Home and they used to test their siren every single Monday morning. Now, when you hear that you don’t forget it in a hurry.”
In fact ‘Sound Of The Suburbs’ is part of a trilogy of songs, along with their first single ‘Solitary Confinement’ and the title track from their upcoming album, ‘At The Chelsea Nightclub’, which tells the story of a young lad from the suburbs coming up to town on a Saturday night looking for some action.
Tesco insists that he wants to make music about, and for, the thousands of kids who just live normal unglamorous lives. As he says, “Not everybody is like the people who go down The Marquee.”
‘Offshore Banking Business’ deals with rather different matters, however. Written by guitarist Jean-Marie Carroll (better known as simply J.C.) It’s all about some rather suspicious goings on in the world of international finance.
“J.C. used to work for this merchant bank. He got to know about all these businesses that used to put all their money through offices in Nassau and Jamaica in order to avoid tax they owe. They’d just have this office with one guy in it, and officially that would be classed as a bank.”
It’s a tribute to The Members that they can handle the subject as controversial and political as this without sounding in any way pompous or opinionated. The whole thing is enormous fun, and one of the most commercial singles I’ve heard so far this year.
1979 has definitely been a good year for The Members. They’ve had their first hit and started their first major tour, as support for Eddie & the Hot Rods. But the pace can begin to tell. When I spoke to Tesco, the band were just in the middle of rehearsing a new bass player in order to complete their tour.
Chris Payne. the bassman, had collapsed in Bradford the previous night from nervous exhaustion, the result of a sudden exposure to the rigours of constant late nights, cold halls and endless hours in the back of a van . . . all the little pieces of torture that make up life on the road.
Anyway, they’re giving him time to recover and adjust and then they’ll be back on tour, this time on their own. Like everybody else, they really wouldn’t swap it for anything. Good lads, The Members. Watch ’em go.
Smash Hits, April 1979