The Desperate Bicycles
were an English
England is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Scotland to the north and Wales to the west; the Irish Sea is to the north west, the Celtic Sea to the south west, with the North Sea to the east and the English Channel to the south separating it from continental...
-Movements in film:* Australian New Wave* French New Wave, or Nouvelle Vague, the inaugural New Wave cinema movement* Indian New Wave, or Parallel Cinema, which began around the same time as the French New Wave...
In music, a musical ensemble or band is a group of musicians that works together to perform music. The following articles concern types of musical bands:* All-female band* Big band* Boy band* Christian band* Church band* Concert band* Cover band...
who released a series of independent recordings in the late 1970s and inspired many other bands to do likewise. The Desperate Bicycles pioneered the do-it-yourself ethic
The DIY ethic refers to the ethic of self-sufficiency through completing tasks oneself as opposed to having others who are more experienced or able complete them for one's behalf. It promotes the idea that an ordinary person can learn to do more than he or she thought was possible...
of punk, adopting a proselytising role exemplified by their ardent exhortation: "it was easy, it was cheap - go and do it!". The group have been described as "DIY's most fervent evangelists".
The Desperate Bicycles formed in March 1977 "specifically for the purpose of recording and releasing a single on their own label". The band initially consisted of Nicky Stephens (keyboards
A keyboard instrument is a musical instrument which is played using a musical keyboard. The most common of these is the piano. Other widely used keyboard instruments include organs of various types as well as other mechanical, electromechanical and electronic instruments...
), Roger Stephens (bass
The bass guitar is a stringed instrument played primarily with the fingers or thumb , or by using a pick....
), Danny Wigley (vocals), Mel Oxer, [drummer] and Paul LeClerc [guitarist]. The band's name derives from a passage in J. B. Priestley’s Angel Pavement
(1930): “Turning into Angel Pavement from that crazy jumble of buses, lorries, drays, private cars, and desperate bicycles…”. In October 1978 vocalist Danny Wigley expressed the motivation driving the Desperate Bicycles' independent stance: “The biggest hurdle is just believing
you’ve still got some control over your life, that you can
go out and do it”.
In March 1977 the Desperate Bicycles booked a studio at Dalston
Dalston is a district of north-east London, England, located in the London Borough of Hackney. It is situated northeast of Charing Cross. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London...
in East London to record their first single. The band possessed only an amp and a bass-guitar and the studio supplied the other instruments and equipment; "with a lot of courage and a little rehearsal" they recorded two songs, “Smokescreen” and “Handlebars”. The first record was released in August 1977 as an edition of 500 pressings on the band’s own Refill Records label. The records cost £153 to produce, which comprised the three hours studio time, the price of pressing and the sleeves. The record was unusual in that it featured the same tracks on both sides and was a mono recording. The song "Handlebars" ends with the Desperate Bicycles' strident DIY rallying cry "it was easy, it was cheap - go and do it!". Roger Stephens and Danny Wrigley hawked the “Smokescreen” single around the small independent record shops, and distributors such as Virgin and Rough Trade. The first pressing sold out within four months resulting in a profit to the band of £210. Using this money a second pressing of 1,000 was made, which sold out in a fortnight. The profit from that was used to finance the pressings of the Desperate Bicycles' second single.
The drummer and guitarist had left the band soon after the recording of the "Smokescreen" single, with the drummer being replaced by Dave Papworth, then aged 14 years. The new line-up went back to the studio in June 1977 and recorded another two songs, "The Medium was Tedium" and "Don't Back the Front". The second single was released in February 1978 in a pressing of 1,000 and sold out in a week. "The Medium was Tedium" incorporates "it was easy, it was cheap - go and do it!" as a refrain, urging others to follow the band’s example. "Don't Back the Front" contains the lines: "cut it, press it, distribute it / Xerox music's here at last". For the Desperate Bicycles 'do-it-yourself' "meant the overthrow of the establishment music industry through people seizing the means of production, making their own entertainment, and selling it to other creative and autonomous spirits". With the profit from their second single the group pressed a further 2,500 copies of each of their singles, and also purchased some more equipment.
Early gigs and subsequent recordings
In the second half of 1977, with a single in the market-place, the Desperate Bicycles were invited to perform at Eric's Club
Eric's Club was a music club in Liverpool, England. It opened on October 1, 1976 in a building basement on Mathew Street opposite The Cavern Club where The Beatles and other bands of the 1960s played, and became notable for hosting early performances by many punk and post-punk bands.The club was...
in Liverpool. The band were unprepared for a live gig – “Our first purpose was just to make and sell records”. But with characteristic enthusiasm and persistence they re-learnt the songs they had recorded and wrote a batch of new ones. They set up a rehearsal room at New Cross in South London in order to practice the new material. On New Year’s Eve 1977 the Desperate Bicycles hired a van and drove to Liverpool for their first gig at Eric’s Club. The New Cross, New Cross
EP, consisting of six of the additional songs they had written, was released in May 1978.
The Desperate Bicycles performed sporadically in 1978, including a Rock Against Racism
Rock Against Racism was a campaign set up in the United Kingdom in 1976 as a response to an increase in racial conflict and the growth of white nationalist groups such as the National Front. The campaign involved pop, rock and reggae musicians staging concerts with an anti-racist theme, in order...
benefit with Sham 69
Sham 69 is an English punk band that formed in Hersham in 1976.Although not as commercially successful as many of their contemporaries, albeit with a greater number of chart entries, Sham 69 has been a huge musical and lyrical influence on the Oi! and streetpunk genres. The band allegedly derived...
. In July that year they released another single.
By October 1979 Roger Stephens and Dave Papworth were replaced by Dan 'Electro'/Driscoll (guitar) and Jeff Titley (drums), with Nicky Stephens taking up the bass-guitar. The Remorse Code
album was released in February 1980, reaching number 10 on the UK Indie Chart
The UK Independent Chart or Indie Chart is a chart of the best-selling independent record releases in the UK.- History :In the wake of punk, small record labels began to spring up, as an outlet for artists that were unwilling to sign contracts with major record companies, or were not considered...
. The Desperate Bicycles disbanded in 1981.
Danny Wigley and Jeff Titley, with Dennis Burns and Cameron Allan, recorded (as?) Lusty Ghosts on the Refill label.
Music and legacy
The music of the Desperate Bicycles has been described as: “Spindly, fuzzy, guttural guitars through puny amplifiers, reedy, wheezy organs, out of tune electric pianos, cardboard box drums and monotonous declamatory yet somehow utterly reasonable sounding vocals”. Another reviewer described them as “a shambling wreck of a psychedelic post-punk band”. The writer Simon Reynolds
Simon Reynolds is an English music critic who is well-known for his writings on electronic dance music and for coining the term "post-rock". Besides electronic dance music, Reynolds has written about a wide range of artists and musical genres, and has written books on post-punk and rock...
states that the group's music "was almost puritan in its unadorned simplicity, its guitar sound frugal to the point of emaciation".
For the Desperate Bicycles, it was as though sloppiness and scrawniness became signs of membership in the true punk elect. The very deficiency of traditional rock virtues (tightness, feel) stood as tokens of the group's authenticity and purity of intent.
The Desperate Bicycles were a group of amateur musicians who remained determinedly independent. Their enjoyment of the creative and technical processes of making music is revealed in their recordings. The example they set, their energy and enthusiasm and the simple message of “go and do it!”, inspired a generation of punk and post-punk bands to follow in their footsteps, in both the UK and further afield.
- Smokescreen 7" single (Refill Records RR-1; August 1977) - "Smokescreen" / "Handlebars".
- The Medium was Tedium 7" single (Refill Records RR-2; February 1978) - "The Medium was Tedium" / "Don't Back the Front".
- New Cross, New Cross 7" EP (Refill Records RR-3; May 1978) - "(I Make the) Product" / "Paradise Lost" / "Advice on Arrest" / "Holidays" / "The Housewife Song" / "Cars".
- Occupied Territory 7" single (Refill Records RR-4; July 1978) - "Occupied Territory" / "Skill".
- John Peel session (July 1978) – “Smokescreen” / “Skill” / “Sarcasm” / “Teacher's Prayer”.
- Remorse Code LP (Refill Records RR-6; February 1980) – “I Am Nine” / “Walking the Talking Channel” / “A Can of Lemonade” / “Pretty Little Analyse” / “Acting” / “It’s Somebody’s Birthday Today” / “Sarcasm” / “Trendy Feelings” / “Natural History” / “Blasting Radio”.
- Grief is Very Private EP (Refill Records RR-7; 1980) – “Grief is Very Private” / Obstructive” / “Conundrum”.
- Cover art and mp3s
- http://www.furious.com/PERFECT/scritti.htmlEssay on the Desperate Bicycles and Scritti Politti
Scritti Politti are a British band, originally formed in 1977 in Leeds, Yorkshire, England. Although there have been various changes to the line-up, Cardiff-born singer-songwriter Green Gartside was the founding member of the band and the only member to have remained throughout the group's...