In the beginning there was .... Bracknell - an idyllic, sun-kissed paradise of golden sand dunes and rolling surf. And home to Britain's foremost surf music legends - The Surfin' Lungs.
Even legends have a beginning somewhere and the Lungs' lies in the heady days of 1981. It was then that a group of young beach rats - who knew each other from surfing the same coves along Bracknell's famous north shore and racing their hot-rods at the local strip - first came together to form the power-house of high octane guitar-licks and super-charged Farfisa that is the Surfin' Lungs.
The early Lungs may have been a little rough around the edges, but they had already begun to hone their art in the wild and wacky world of rock 'n' roll. Lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Pearce had formerly been in The Items, a new wave combo signed up to Vendetta Records. Alongside Chris, Geoffo Knipe also saw service in The Items (as well as some other local outfits) and took up guitar and organ in the proto-Lungs line-up. The original Lungs drummer was Lee Money - though he quickly called it a day, swapping drum-sticks for paint-brushes in his full-time decorating business. But the drum-stool was not vacant for long as Al Beckett - who had done a tour of duty as The Items' first sticksman - joined the gang. With the addition of Steve Dean - formerly with The Parasites (the less famous incarnation) - on bass, the team was complete and the foursome embarked on the journey that would take the Lungs through close-on twenty years of surf music history.
The concept was inspired. The band took their influences from the golden age of surf music - Dick Dale, The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean - but gave this a fuel-injected thrust by combining it with the power-pop energy of the likes of The Monkees and the Ramones. This, then, was no lame retrospective. The Lungs had their foot firmly on the accelerator and rammed surf music into top-gear as they took up where the original hot-doggers of the early sixties had left off (much as The Specials had done with ska and The Stray Cats with rockabilly at about the same time).
The most impressive waves take a while to break, and the Lungs spent most of their first year in the rehearsal room - apart from taking time out to record a demo tape and appear (somewhat prematurely) at a local street party. It was in September 1982 that the band started gigging on a regular basis - mostly at wild Frat House bashes and crazy High School Hops around the Thames Valley area. But times were not easy for our intrepid, young surf heroes. In the post-punk fall-out of the early eighties the charts were dominated by the pantomime-dame chic of the New Romantics and hair-spray, ruffles and preening were the order of the day. It was a grim time for woodies, baggies and bikinis and, despairing of getting noticed by record labels, the Lungs struck out by themselves - the band releasing their first single, 'Mickey's Car', on their own Lover's Leap label in November '83. The record was a little stunner and instantly scored a hit on local Radio 210, where it became 'record of the week' - though bemusement ensued as, interviewed on the local station, a valiant Chris struggled vainly to explain what a 'Farfisa' was to an uncomprehending DJ.
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The Lungs now had a record out - but although the wave was picking up momentum, it was still only crashing towards local shores. With bigger horizons in mind, the band set to work, taking out copies of the single to record shops and mailing them to DJs and magazines. Their efforts did not go unrewarded, with national rock magazine ZigZag giving the boys a rave review. And so, with their currency established among the rock literati, the Lungs managed to secure a national distribution deal for the single through Backs / The Cartel - and the remaining stock was snapped up by eager fans.
By the following April the Surfin' Lungs were catching a wave to the London club-scene and were picking up some glowing reviews from the likes of Sounds and NME along the way. Virtually the house-band at the 'Alice in Wonderland' - a psychedelic club in the heart of Soho, and then the hippest hot-spot in the capital - it was natural for the boys to be invited to appear in the club's own underground movie: I Keep Thinking It's Tuesday. Only Chris and Steve, however, managed to get out of bed in time to make their big-screen debuts.
The second single - 'Pray for Sun' - was to become a standard in the Lungs set. Produced by none other than Robin Wills of fellow surf-funsters The Barracudas, the single was released on Lovers Leap the following Spring. At the same time the Lungs also contributed 'Who Stole the Summer' to Hang 11, the legendary surf-punk compilation on Anagram records. Thus began their long association with their publishing arm, Complete Music Ltd., who were to publish all the Lungs' future songs.
The next step was an album. An initial attempt at securing a deal with an interested French label, Surfin' Bird, proved a false start - but not for long. Soon signed up to Big Beat Records, the Surfin' Lungs completed their first epic album - Cowabunga! - released to glowing reviews in September 1985, Sounds journalist Andy Hurt proving himself to be a man of discerning taste and perception when he declared the album to be one the few worthwhile releases he had heard all year!
It would be difficult to match the brilliance of Cowabunga! - but the Surfin' Lungs were equal to the task. The following year saw the band's first E.P. - 'Surf-Jet Girl', produced by The Damned's Roman Jugg, who had been impressed by the band's sterling performances at The Alice. The Lungs had been similarly taken with Jugg, who had done a slick job producing mutual friends The Volcanoes. Nevertheless, The 'Surf-Jet Girl' sessions were not all plain sailing. The Damned were then riding high in the charts with 'Eloise' and this meant that recording sessions had to be scheduled around his commitments. But the finished product was a pearl. Big Beat knew a gem when they saw one and had big plans for the single. Contacting the manufacturers of the Surf-Jets, they arranged to buy one at discounted cost and planned to offer it as a prize in a national competition in a daily newspaper as a way of promoting the record. It seemed like a brilliant strategy and it looked like with as though the Surfin' Lungs' ship was about to come in.
1986 looked like being good year - which seemed appropriate on surf music's 25th anniversary. Switzerland is, perhaps, one of the most unlikely settings as a hub of the surf-festivities - even so, the Swiss national radio station DRS-3 was going to throw a party in style with a gala radio show. Premier surf artists past and present were recruited for contributions, including Britain's finest. The Surfin' Lungs were already busy recording 'New Girl in School' for a Jan and Dean tribute E.P. on the Swiss label Surfin' Again Records and they agreed to customise some of their songs into nifty DRS-3 jingles. Regularly played on the station over the next three years, they were to come in handy a little way down the line. 'Surf-Jet Girl' was also a big smash in the Alps, the record getting plenty of air-play on DRS-3. Back home, however, things took a temporary spill.
Despite their earlier enthusiasm, Big Beat axed their grand strategies for promoting 'Surf-Jet Girl'. Worse still, they refused to license Lungs' material to a keen Spanish label - even though the band's publishers had set up the deal. The boys had also begun working on a second album, so it was yet another blow when Big Beat announced that they wouldn't be able to release anything until the following year. It was time for the parting of the waves between the Lungs and Big Beat.
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Casting around for backing for the next release the Surfin' Lungs couldn't believe their luck when legendary surf and hot-rod guru, Gary Usher, mentioned to Swedish surf-fanzine Surfers' Rule, that he would be interested in producing the Lungs. This honour was obviously a thrilling opportunity - but it was not to be. Without label backing there simply was not enough cash in the kitty to get Bracknell's Beach Boys out to the West Coast. Gary's offer was held open - though it was one wave the Lungs were never to ride.
But all was not lost. More limited financial backing was forthcoming from Satellite records, the company fronting the remaining recording costs of the new album. For a moment it also looked like the band were set to become doyens of the cat-walk. 'Life's a Beach' surf-wear were interested in supplying the foursome with their natty surf threads in a kind of sponsorship deal. It was, however, The Guana Batz who ultimately scooped-up the sartorial goodies.
By this time things were getting a tad strained in the Surfin' Lungs camp. Growing tensions between Geoffo and the rest of the band saw him out of the line-up - though not before having completed the recording the Lungs' second classic album The Biggest Wave in September 1987. Although the situation had been fractious, Geoffo's departure was a heavy blow - he had been a corner-stone in the band from the word go, and had even been best-man at Chris's wedding the previous year. His shoes would also be hard to fill. There was only one man up to the job - Clive Gilling, a long-standing confidante of the band and a demon on both keyboards and guitar.
Musically, The Biggest Wave scaled new heights of surfdom - and was rightly included in the Top Five albums of the year by a reviewer for Underground magazine. Being on Satellite, however, offered little chance of soaring into orbit. The label had no media contacts and without the oxygen of promotion the album faced an up-hill fight in making an impact on the press and the public.
Nevertheless, next May saw the band on another high. Again, the Surfin' Lungs were off to Alpine shores, this time headlining the Saturday night of a week-long festival in Bern. But the stresses and strains of life on the road took their toll on drummer Al and he was replaced by Graeme Block for an eighteen month stint. This time also saw the building of the Lungs H.Q. - a sound-proofed rehearsal studio in the shell of an old garage.
By the end of the eighties things were peaking again over in Switzerland. Surfin' Again Records came up trumps by licensing all the existing Surfin'' Lungs recordings for a stellar anthology CD entitled Let 'Em Eat Surf in 1989 - the same year seeing the band complete two Swiss tours as well as featuring in their own radio show on DRS-3. This was certainly an exciting moment - not only did the band broadcast a concert live to a national audience, but they also had the enjoyment of choosing all the support records to be played on the show. Radio success was followed by TV stardom - well, almost - as the band also got to appear on the TV show Barock, lip-synching to their mighty surf anthem 'Let 'Em Eat Surf'.
It was then that another epochal change took place in the Surfin' Lungs roster. Graeme's relocation to Los Angeles saw the drum-stool empty once again - but not for long. This time it was the immortal Ray Webb who took control of the skins and - renamed Ray Banz - he completed the line-up that continues to this day. A further Swiss tour followed later in the year and a deal was struck with Swiss label, Lux Noise-Records to release the band's third album - The Beach Will Never Die. Accompanied by the release of a single - 'Spirit of Australia' - in 1991, the third album was a finely-crafted masterpiece and the Surfin' Lungs took to the road for a 14-date tour of Germany and Austria to promote it.
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But now disaster threatened to strike. Shortly after getting back to Blighty, Steve - bassist and charter-member of the Lungs - decided to quit the band as he struggled to sort out personal problems. 1992 was a testing time and - as Clive was off exploring the Australian out-back for a few months - the band was temporarily put on ice, while Chris and Ray began working on new material. But you can't keep a good man down and a matter of months after Clive's return, Steve was back in action and the band were clambering back onto their boards. Another Swiss tour was scheduled for December and in honour of the occasion the Lungs laid down four tracks for a Christmas E.P. - produced, again, by Robin Wills. The tour, however, fell through and so the tracks stayed in the can - Xmas goodies that one day are surely destined to see the light of day. Despite the Swiss set-back, that year still ended with a bang, the Surfin' Lungs appearing at the 'Frat Shack' Christmas extravaganza, where they show-cased two of their festive classics.
The summer of 1994 saw the band hitting the Iberian peninsula, with the release of the single 'Beachbound' by Spanish label, No Tomorrow, press attention once again focusing on the band as they attracted a steadily growing following in Spain. The next summer saw another of the band's finest hours as they supported Dick 'King of the Surf Guitar' Dale at his sea-side date in Brighton. The year's end, meanwhile, saw the Surfin'' Lungs back in the studio, this time recording their fourth original album - Hang Loose With the Surfin' Lungs, released in Spain in 1996 and taken up the following year in Britain by Acorn records.
To follow on the success of Hang Loose, the Lungs headed for Spain for a few concerts and radio specials in July 97, and followed up in November with a nationwide tour there to promote their "Best of " package released the same month by No Tomorrow, "Splashback".
During a break in this tour, a spontaneous recording session was put together featuring The Surfin Lungs, and Ramonic labelmates, Shock Treatment, featuring 4 covers agreed on the day before! With the Shocks on instruments, and the Lungs on vocals, this finally saw the light of day in Feb 99 as the "Tell Em Im Surfin" EP.
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The ocean can be a big, scary place sometimes. But there's one thing that's certain. While there's waves to be caught, woodies to race and beach-bunnies to party with, the Surfin' Lungs will be there - Let 'Em Eat Surf!
- Bill Osgerby, Feb. 2000.
Biography Part 2 will be coming up soon (when we can get Bill to write it!) In the meantime here's some photos as a taster
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