Pumphouse Gang formed in Ryde on the Isle Of Wight in 1976 with a line-up of Ricky Wreckage (John Edwardes) on vocals and rhythm guitar, Ralph Von Wau Wau (John Lytle) on bass, SG Coolbridge (Phil Oswald) on lead guitar and drummer Dread 'Family Man' Jones (Phil Jones). All except SG had been playing together in another band earlier that year.

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SG (Phil Oswald) - 'The band before me existed as Horse, a hippy crowd, but their guitarist left to work abroad. That's when I joined in summer '76. The hippy thing carried on a bit with some melodic numbers ("Monterey" was one title I recall and "Rich Man" came from that era) but I was coming from Sabbath and rock music and the whole raw punk thing picked us up and swept us along.'

JL (John Lytle) - 'Very early recordings, Horse, pre SG, when we were writing for Harry Maloney, Manfred Mann's manager, included tracks like, "Could Be My Brother" and "Thousand Stars" which were recorded on 2 track Akai reel to reel in front rooms all around Ryde and are still in existance somewhere in my studio. Unfortunately I dont have a machine that can play them anymore even if I could find them.'

Before Horse, Edwardes, Lytle and Jones had also played in Harlem Speakeasy, a Portsmouth based band active in the late 60's. Harlem Speakeasy released a single "Aretha" / "Sight Of Pegasus" on Polydor Records in July 1968 which is sought after by psych collectors. A planned follow-up "Life Is Not All" remains unreleased. In the early 70's Edwardes also worked as a sound engineer/tape operator, including credits on three albums by Manfred Mann's Earth Band.

 

Pumphouse Gang pictured at CWM Carspares
in Fulham, 1977. (left to right) :
Ralph Von Wau Wau, Dread 'Family Man' Jones,
SG Coolbridge and Ricky Wreckage.

Dread at the Golden Lion,
in Fulham, September 1977.

Three of Pumphouse Gang's earliest London shows took place at the famous Marquee Club on Wardour Street. On the 24th of October 1976 they played support to Woody Woodmansey's U-Boat and in December they played on the same bill as hard/glam rock band Bearded Lady on the 4th, and supported prog rockers AFT (Automatic Fine Tuning) on the 13th. The gig with U-Boat was particularly memorable for the band for what has since been referred to as 'the hand incident'.

SG - 'U-Boat used a lot of magnesium flares and, to be honest, Health and Safety wasn't so good in those days. The gig was over and we were all packing and partying in the Marquee - pretty hectic. Our roadie was having a fag and he put it out in what looked like an ashtray but was in fact a tray of magnesium that hadn't gone off. You can guess what happened - BANG - the poor guy's hand was burned to hell. Someone called an ambulance and unfortunately used the word 'explosion' in the call which triggered a massive terrorist paranoia at the other end of the line, so as well as an ambulance, there were loads of really serious police pouring into the Marquee with everyone in the bands in a big panic.'

Pumphouse Gang gigged extensively through-out the next few years supporting amongst others Frankie Miller (on the IOW, late '76), Doctors Of Madness (at the Portsmouth Poly '77?), The Damned, Generation X and The Lurkers as well as headlining their own shows. They also had a residency at the Prince Consort in Ryde where the beginning of their set was announced by one of the band firing a starting pistol while standing on the bar.

SG - 'PHG did a lot of gigs at the Golden Lion in Fulham. I remember Mitch Mitchell and Paul Rogers coming in one night; that was cool. We also did the Greyhound, the Speakeasy, the Marquee, a few polytechnics (can't remember which) and the Nashville. We supported the Only Ones (I think) - I remember Keith Moon and Johnny Thunders in the audience, they were on the Black Russians. Moon in full pimp regalia and looking very sleazy and bloated was chatting up young scandinavian tourists. He died soon after. We also supported the Fabulous Poodles (Nashville) and a Dave Edmunds scratch band (Rockpile?). Audience reaction was generally good; we were a live band, and I felt we never captured our live feel on record.'

In late 1977, Pumphouse Gang entered Telecomms Studio in Portsmouth with producer Howard Berman (a friend of SG's who later worked at UA, EMI and A&M). Two songs, "Motorcity Fantasy" and "Cocaine" emerged and were released in January 1978 on Berman's Kitsch label. Press reviews were mixed with Linnet Evans at Sounds being most impressed, writing 'records like this are where the new wave really scores'.

John Lytle, Dread and
Lesley (roadcrew) c.1977.

PHG's debut "Motorcity Fantasy".

SG - 'Telecomms was a nifty little studio over a guitar shop in the North End area of Portsmouth. The guitar shop is now called Nevada (I think), but I don't know if the studio's still there. What I liked about "Motorcity Fantasy" was the tempo change at the end, with the picky guitar bit. Always liked playing that. "Cocaine" (not the JJ Cale song) was our big stage number which had a metallish riff going that I contributed, and a tempo change.'

In December 1977, Pumphouse Gang staged a theatrical musical to raise money for handicapped children on the Isle Of Wight. Written and directed by John Edwardes and John Lytle, the three hour charity performance featured people (mainly nurses) with no stage experience performing Frank Zappa material. Two of the more interesting shows PHG played in 1978 involved a party for footwear favoured by hippy student types and soul boys, and an unlikely gig with some infamous anarchists.

SG - 'Tell you what was an amazing evening, the Kickers launch party at The Venue in Victoria. We were supporting Sylvester (he was really cool, excellent band - I remember them jamming loads of Zeppelin and Pistols at the sound check). That was a riotous and boozy night. I think we got some free shoes, but I gave mine away as I was more into winklepickers and brothel creepers. We also played with Crass in some dive under a flyover somewhere in London. I don't have good memories of that - heavy atmosphere, very heavy and somewhat uncool, I thought. I think they saw us as bloated plutocrats or something. Thing is, we were as skint as anybody else.'

Other unlikely public appearances included when Horward Berman arranged for Pumphouse Gang to open a shopping mall in Oxford Street alongside Twiggy and Justin De Villeneue. Apparently De Villeneue (manager of Doctors Of Madness as well as inventing the super model) was interested in managing the band but cooled on the idea when he found out they liked their drink a little too much. Berman also had the band dress up as spacemen outside a BBC TV studio to promote a proposed 2nd Kitsch single "TA-1", but they were swifly moved on by BBC security.

In December 1978, Pumphouse Gang became Slush for a one-off Christmas single. Produced by the band's then manager John King, the record featured a cover of the Irving Berlin penned oldie "White Christmas" backed by "Rich Man", a song written by John Edwardes and first performed in 1976. "White Christmas" was released on Ember Records, a long running label stuck in their 50's heyday of 78's and sheet music. Hardly an ideal label for a bunch of would-be punks murdering a Christmas classic. Needless to say, the record flopped despite a performance on the popular children's TV show Magpie. Apparently the Magpie slot was watched by 12 million viewers thanks to a strike at ITV's rival the BBC.

Howard Berman giving JL his
first Pumphouse Gang royalties.

Slush, "White Christmas".

SG - 'We wanted to do a punky Christmas thing for a laugh and Bing Crosby had recently died, so we started playing "White Christmas", and recorded it with JL singing, at Telecomms studio in Portsmouth. Wreckage was not around, I think he'd gone off with a girlfriend for a while. I was pretty pleased with the recording but as far as I know, no copies exist. When Wreckage returned we had to re-record it (in Bristol, if I'm not mistaken) and I wasn't too happy with the result - lacking in bollocks, for me. Anyway, the second version is the Slush version. I hated the name and the whole schtick. A manager dreamt it up and it was him who got us on Magpie. Pretty excruciating, but we met Jenny Hanley and therefore ticked a schoolboy fantasy box, although I'm more of a Val Singleton man myself.'

JL - 'The keyboard player who played with us on Magpie was Peter Cooke. He was a good player, classical 'n' all, but didn't quite hit the punk spot. He left after our roadie, Stuart White, threw him down the stairs at a gig at the Chelsea Drug Store for being a wally, so Stuart said. I saw Pete in Spain Oct 08 playing in a local three piece rock band and living in St Javier, Murcia, quite by chance meeting after all those years, he's still a good player.'

By mid-1979 Pumphouse Gang had signed to Splash Records and their publishing off-shoot Belsize Music. Splash was ran by Chas Peate, manager of the band Jigsaw who's big hit was "Sky High" in 1975. Clive Scott and Des Dyer from Jigsaw were asigned as producers for Pumphouse Gang.

Pumphouse Gang's first single for Splash was "Spotlight" / "Lights Out" which hit the shops in August 1979. Where as "Lights Out" is good but slightly dated sounding for 1979, by contrast the A-side was something special. "Spotlight" is a fabulous punk/powerpop song, full of killer hooks and a super-catchy chorus with some impressive harmony backing vocals supplied by not only SG and John Lytle, but Des Dyer is apparently in there too.

SG - 'We recorded slabs of material in long sessions that went on for days, then the company could more or less do what they wanted with it. They'd consult us, but it was their property. They paid for the recording, don't forget. The Splash guys were always a joy to work with, really supportive, nothing was too much trouble. Scotty played keyboards on some of the tracks. Bloody good players, Des and Clive. Des had a very high falsetto.'

Around the time of the release of "Spotlight", Pumphouse Gang expanded to a five piece when Andy Skelton joined as a 2nd lead guitarist. Andy had previously fronted pop act Kite who had once appeared on New Faces and released a single "I Love The Love We've Got" / "You Got The Power" for Decca in 1977.

Performing on the ITV show
Magpie, December 1978.

Signing to Splash Records, 1979.

SG - 'Andy joined the band - ooh - must have been '79. I'd always wanted to play with another guitarist as I loved (and still do) harmony guitars. It was brilliant to play with him and he is a cool cat who can take his drink. The difference between us is that Andy has a more serious work ethic than me and his professionalism gave us a slicker, sleeker sound. I have full respect for him, but it also meant we lost our rough and ready edge. Andy also got us to take ourselves seriously and work professionally. We ended up doing intense tours of clubs in the north east, which was brilliant, but again there was also a downside in that creativity gets worn away a bit as you gig and gig.'

In January 1980, another single emerged on Splash Records coupling "Stay With Me" with "Let The Music Play". Both tracks were worthy follow-ups to "Spotlight", though perhaps a little more polished. The twin lead guitars of SG and Andy added a new dimension to Pumphouse Gang's sound, particularly evident on "Let The Music Play". The recording of this single took place at Shepperton Studios.

SG - 'Shepperton's a bit blurry, don't recall it as being that good, the bulk of the recording with Des and Scotty was at a fabulous studio called Majestic. It was an old cinema and so you had loads of space to play in. Shepperton was cold, to me anyway. No disrespect, maybe it's just me. The early PHG did some recording at a studio in the Elephant and Castle - damned if I can remember what it was called, and I remember having to run up and down stairs a lot to get to the sound room. Pain in the arse, takes all the vibe out of your playing.'

A rather interesting marketing idea for "Stay With Me" was 'the first record of the 80's' gimmick, with the first copies being pressed in the first minute of the new decade. Band members were present at the pressing plant when a very limited number of 12" copies were made just after midnight. The regular 7" copies were probably pressed at a more convenient hour. All of this failed to generate extra sales or airplay, though one daily newspaper did cover the story.

Pumphouse Gang's third (and final) single for Splash was released in April 1980. "Judy, Turn Out The Light" was perhaps the band's most obvious commercial single to date. An excellent radio friendly pop song that disappointingly sank without trace. "Judy" was backed by "Girl Like You".

"Spotlight", the first of 3 singles for Splash.

"Stay With Me", the first record of the 80's.

SG - 'Now then - "Judy" - I liked this one. The idea came from a dream I had about a ravishingly gorgeous girl who visited us on the Isle Of Wight. She was a friend of someone or other, but in the dream all I could recall was an image of her stepping across a room a turning off a light switch. Don't let's get Freudian here, but Wreckage took the idea and turned it into a song.'

JL - 'The lady referred to in "Judy, Turn Out The Light" was an old friend of mine from my Portsmouth days around the art college there. Her name was Judy Freeman and she had the most gorgeous pair and arse to match. All the band went ga-ga when she was visting friends on the Isle Of Wight. She later became quite a famous sound engineer for the BBC.'

A planned album for Splash Records was never released, perhaps due to the lack of success of the singles. The album would have consisted of the following tracks - "Spotlight" / "Judy, Turn Out The Light" / "Bad News" / "Lights Out" / "Speed Up The Heartbeat" / "Schooldays" / "Stay With Me" / "Black And White" / "Message From The USA" / "Nervous" / "When We Were Young" / "TA-1". Also recorded was an alternative version of the album's closer titled "TA Reprise" and two more songs "Teenage Lament" and "Legless".

SG - '"Legless" - full on drinking song. You know, I can hear commercial potential in that little ditty even now. Great one to play live with a pissed up audience. "Schooldays" - Wreckage and I knocked that one off one boozy night on a fag packet - old cliche, but it's true. I used a Strat on 'Judy, Turn Out The Light, which is why the guitar sound is cleaner that usual. That's a Strat on "TA-1", by the way, and "Legless" (I think!). I also used an SG in the early days, hence my nickname and also an Ibanez 59er in black - brilliant guitar and well cheap. Wish I'd kept it. A great punky guitar.'

Later in 1980, both SG and Andy left the band to pursue other interests which eventually became The Choir who released an album on A&M Records and toured with The Eurythmics. The others continued a while longer under a different name. Lytle and Edwardes later headed for Spain playing under the name Bardot. Today, both SG and John Lytle are still actively involved in the Isle Of Wight music scene.

JL - 'After the PHG split up there was another band formed with myself (bass), Ricky Wreckage (lead vocals / guitar) and Dread 'Family Man' Jones (drums) called The 505's. Dont ask where the name came from, don't remember. The band recorded some original tracks on a 4 track machine in a garage on the Isle Of Wight but unfortunately they appear to be void of vocals. Good backing tracks though. Myself and SG recorded a set of original material, messin' with mixes and experimental recording techniques in the 90's in my small home 4 track studio under the working title of The Chinese People which eventually became Representatives Of The Outmosphere, REPS for short. They're in digital form, never released.'

PHG's final 45 "Judy, Turn Out The Light"

A one-off CDR of PHG's Splash Recordings.

Pumphouse Gang may have been one the less successful acts of the new wave era in terms of sales but they certainly made some great records. All of those records have been out of print since their original release with the Splash Records singles in particular being difficult to find. The unreleased album also contains strong material which deserves to be heard. Hopefully one day this will be addressed.

SG - 'No idea what Splash have got or why they didn't release the album. Perhaps they should. The people at Splash were all really ace to us, I was never disappointed with what they did, unfortunately I don't think they made much money out of us, but they looked after us. I've got high regards and respect for them. In fact, I regret losing touch with them as mates and to this day I wonder if they were pissed off at me for leaving the band with Andy'. We're all up for reunions and so on, especially if there is recorded material available. I've got nothing, just great memories, and that's fine.'

Chas Peate - 'Pumphouse Gang were one of my favourite groups that we had on Splash and I still listen to their tracks. I am sorry to say that the public did not agree. Over the years I have tested this material for release on CD and the reaction was still the same, however, times are changing and in my opinion they are no different to some of today's groups - maybe even better.'

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