Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2008

I’ve italicized books and albums, changed single quotation marks (“ “) to two (“ “)but otherwise wouldn’t dare touch this wonderful, exuberant paean to science fiction and rock’n’roll.

 

The dangers of
reading Robert
Rankin novels
backwards

James Bacon

Initially when Guy mentioned that his next issue would have a rock and roll theme to it, I was at a loss. I thought about some prog rock I had occasionally listened to with SF connections and I thought about dubious links between heavy metal and comics and was all at sea. Hawkwind who performed at the 1987 worldcon, well before my time were in my mind.

I am not much a music aficionado or fan like I am of books and comics, it’s just something to listen to, and I remember this when I wonder why not all SF readers go to cons. I like the heavier end of Rock, and grew up with Metal and Grunge. I have a few albums, I love Jimi Hendrix, Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica, Nirvana, Kaiser Chiefs, Air, The Stranglers, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and I really like Thinn Lizzy. Of course my logic side doesn’t kick in and I e-mail Guy that actually I do have a sfnal connection with Rock Music.

Robert Rankin is an author of humorous weird books, Far Fetched Fiction even and I have been involved with his fandom, Sproutlore for about fourteen years and have been running annual events and conventions for ten. Music has had a big influence on Robert which seeps through to his novels and therefore stains me by proxy somewhat and I have had a tentative involvement helping to bring rock and roll and science fiction into a copulative fusion of fannish insanity. Robert is key to this though.

Robert told me about the time he made a demo in the seventies, at this time he was also writing poetry and using his time at Mowlem’s to write what later become his first three books, but rock stardom was obviously the sparkle in the eyes at this stage.

It was in the late seventies, and I was working in Mowlem’s in Brentford. I had a fancy dress party, and invited work mates and friends, they had a band, well more like a bunch of guys with instruments, and I said I could sing, and we then formed a band.

We changed the name of the band often, first off we were Astro Laser and the Flying Starfish from Uranus, then, Citizens Unrest and then The Plasma Jets, it didn’t make any difference what our name was as we were rubbish.

In “Some Call Me Laz”, that’s Phil Cowen doing the instruments and me singing.

Our only attempt at making a demo record. The two of us went up to Rock Star studio’s which was run by Gary Glitter’s drummer, and it cost us thirty quid, and once they’d done it we sat down to mix it, and the guy went through it once, and he said what do you think, and I said “Well I think we’ll…” he handed it to me and he said “There you go, now bugger off,” so it never even got mixed and then didn’t end up as it was meant to.

Of course being a fanboy, I immediately set out to reproduce about 200 copies of the demo using tape decks and patience. It was only a few minutes long and family members were coerced. We then sent these out free of charge. This was the first of many peripheral involvements with music, recording a tape, you can see the level I possess here.

Robert’s works have featured Musical events as part of the story, here Rankin Fan and Expert of Brentford Lee Justiice explains;

Robert’s book Sex Drugs and Sausage Rolls is of course a Brentford book starring our good old buddies Jim and John, and as usual the two likely lads are out to make a few bob doing what they do best – a bit of this and a bit of that. In this case however a bit of this and a bit of that is managing a rock ‘n’ roll band of soon to be epic proportions! (Nothing ever changes in Brentford does it?) Enter Gandi’s Hairdryer and their amazing vocalist Litany whose voice can work miracles. Enter also the “fanboys from the future”, a gang of ne’er-do-wells who just want to see all the best bands in history play all the best gigs they ever did. And if you’re a fanboy from the future you really can see anyone anytime anywhere. You can even see the Beatles play Brentford with Elvis in 1999! And that can lead to all sorts of weird shit going down around the place. Weird shit like.

Robert’s books have also had a Soundtrack which one could play along, if one tracked down the songs, as Dave Baker another expert, compiler of the A to Z of Rankin Characters and music fan did, here you will see the type of music Rankin espouses as the tracks listed shows and the obscurity of some of them that were a real trial for a hardcore fan to Find:

Many people have tried to get the soundtrack from A Dog Called Demolition together. And many people have failed. And it's not surprising really that they failed really. Well considering that Robert Rankin made it almost impossible to track them all down. I however want to be the first person to claim to have the whole collection. Even Robert does not have them all. Thanks to the Internet and a lot of research it was easy, still not that easy though. Here are listed the tracks, albums and where you might hope to find them or not as the case may be.

Magic Muscle - Free As A Bird (4.51) From the Album One Hundred Miles Below (Skyclad Trip 048). Found this one thanks to Robert who sent me a tape! You should be able to get this if you order it from you local record store. Track Type - Rock.

Juluka - Unkosibomvu (5.03). From The Album Universal Men One of the tracks you will be able to find in most record shops, or download from the net. Not that I support doing that in any way shape or form. Track Type - Ethnic African.

The Shamen - Christopher Mayhew Say A Lot (4.23). From the EP Christopher Mayhew Says (soma 3) Pretty rare track this one, comes from an EP that didn't chart. Old record shops or the net for this one. Track Type - Early Dance .

Rage Against The Machine - Killing In The Name Of (5.14). From The Album Rage Against the Machine If you can't find this one in a record shop, then you ain't got a hope in hell of finding the rest. The easiest one to get by far. Track Type - Rock.

Sonic Energy Authority - Addicts For The Out (4.26). From The Album Sailors on the Sea of Fate Tricky one this. Yes Sonic Energy Authority do indeed exist other than in the pages of Roberts works. I was lucky enough to get the CD from Cardinal Cox himself. You won't find this on the internet I shouldn't think, especially if I'm not on line. Track Type - Late 80's Electro Pop.

The Lost T-Shirts of Atlantis - Happy In The World (4.14). From the Album More Reverb on The Duck Yes this is available in the shops, you just need to order it at your local record store. Track Type - Skiffle cross country cross rock cross folk.

Mojo Nixon - Amsterdam Dog Shit Blues (2.08). From the album Unlimited Everything (Enigma Records CDP 77 3576 2 ) Another easy to find track, record shops should be able to get it in on import for you. Track Type - Mundo Bizarreo.

Peter Hammill - Nadir's Big Chance (3.20). From The Album Nadir's Big Chance Interesting track that was quiet difficult to get hold of, again I have to thank Robert for my copy. Track Type - Rock.

Brian Eno - Dead Finks Don't Talk (4.20) From the album Here Comes The Warm Jets an easy one to find. Track type -Typical Eno

Captain Beefheart - Big Eyed Beans From Venus (4.23). From the album Clear Spot. Track Type - Where did you put the splif man?

Sex Pistols - Anarchy In The UK (3.30) From the album Pretty Vacant. Kind of an easy one for me as I had it long before I read Demolition, This track is pretty much standard on any punk compilation album released. Track Type - Punk.

The Averts - Gary Gilmore's Eyes (2.21) From the Album The Best of The Adverts. The song about death row inmate Gary Gilmour who offered his eyes up for medical research. Track - Punk/Rock

The Kray Cherubs - Rot In Hell Mom From The Seven Inch Rot In Hell Mom (snakeskin SS002) Underground cartoonist Savage Pencil's band. There was only ever 300 copies of this seven inch single record ever made. I paid £10 for my copy from a second had dealer in Sutton. Track Type - Very Weird!

The Almighty - Addiction (5.40) From The Album Powertrippin'. Available to order in most shops, the single charted in 1993 reaching the height of number 38. Track type - Rock.

Death - Pull The Plug (4.26) From The Album Leprosy. Track type - Thrash Death Metal.

Frank Zappa - Evelyn A Modified Dog (1.04) From The Album One Size Fits All. Frank Vincent Zappa 21. December 1940 - 4. December 1993. The shortest Track on the Demolition Album and one of my favourites. Track type - Brilliantly Silly Zappa.

The Sisters of Mercy - This Corrosion (10.55) (extended mix) From The album Floodland. Track Type - The start of the 80's Pop Rock, before Bon Jovi!

Blood Feast - Hunted, Stalked and Slain (4.10) From The Album Chopping Block Blues (Restless/Colossal #72628) Bitch to find. And why? Because the book refers to a band called Blood Priest. After much research and talking to an American Metal DJ from Iowa I found out it was Blood Feast. Track Type - Thrash Metal.

Beck - Motherf**ker (Everyone's Out to Get You) (2.03) From the album Mellow Gold. Ok you can understand that Robert wouldn't want the word Motherf**ker written in his book, But that's what its' called. Everyone's out to get you is repeated in the chorus. Beck's first major label album. Made with $200 bucks. In the shops folks - Track type - Very early Beck. Nothing like Loser or Devils Haircut.

Metalica - Ride The Lightning (6.28) From The Album Ride the Lightning. Classic Metalica - Track Type - Metal.

Jimi Hendrix - All Along The Watchtower (4.03) From the Album Electric Landlady. Well what can I say about this track that hasn't already been said. Just a brilliant track played by an excellent guitarist. Track type - Its Hendrix, don't sound like no one else!

Dangerous Toys - Demon Bell (3.57) From the Album Shocker and The B Side of Megadeth's No More Mr Nice Guy 7" (SBK 12 SBKP 4) Ok we can probably forgive Robert for misleading the world on this one. The Book states that it's a Megadeth Track, and although it sounds like Dave Mustane singing, it isn't. The Group is Dangerous Toys, who have, or had, quite a big following according to web pages read. Though it was on a Megadeth website by a German who had been good enough to write his site in English where I found the answer to why I couldn't get the track! Released in two places, and you will more than likely find it in the second of them. Released on the B-Side of Megadeth's cover of Alice Cooper’s “No More Mister Nice Guy”, (The Twelve inch Single version only has it) or on the soundtrack to the Film Shocker, which would probably be easier for your local Record shop dealer to cope with. Track Type - Rock.

Cypress Hill - Insane In The Brain (3.32) From the Album Black Sunday. Track type - Rap.

Robyn Hitchcock - Out Of The Picture (3.40) From the Album Snake Diamond Role (Rhino CD R2 71820) Pretty damn fine track to end a Compilation album like Demolition on. Track Type - Rockish (Great Track).

A lot of work for any fan to take on, but it gives you the feeling of the intended linkage between music and the man.

Robert had the band Sonic Energy Authority featured in the following books, The Suburban Book of the Dead, The Brentford Chainstore Massacre, Nostradamus Ate My Hamster, Raiders of the Lost Car Park, The Most Amazing Man Who Ever Lived, Sprout Mask Replica and Apocalypso.

With lead vocals supplied by SF fan Cardinal Cox and bass guitar Panay Cloudrunner they play under the motto “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Some of their releases are the album Sailors on the Sea of Fate which includes the track “Power Armour”, Their sixth album is Requiem For A Drowned Pope. A few of their more well known singles are “Hi Ho Silver Lining”, “Weren’t the Sixties Fab” and a brilliant version of “Johnny B. Goode”.

Simple things such as titles of Rankin’s books also point out his own appreciation, Sprout Mask Replica being case in point indicate the influence that musicians such as Capt Beefheart has had on Robert. This is reflected by the unfounded assertion that many Rankin fans have a copy of Trout Mask Replica on their shelves and my only evidence is that I happen to have both Vinyl and CD of this album and it’s not a bad at all.

The real link though came when Robert accidently ended up fronting his band, The Rock Gods as he explains,

Ah... BIG ROCKIN’ IN LITTLE BRENTSTOCK. Once upon a time there was a man called Pete Johnston who had a dream, put on an event to raise some money for Brentford football Club. The world is a wonderful place and people are wonderful people. The now legendary Billy Sterling lined up Robert Johnson (not to be confused with the other Robert Johnson). And a chap I am proud to call my buddy, Andi Evans, offered to bring the band he plays drums in, Soliloquy, all the way down to Brentford, for nothing. Amazing. And then there was my mate Colin, lead singer for the now sadly defunct Brighton Nu Metal band Q Tones.

Oh yes and there would be one other band appearing, Robert Rankin and the Rock Gods. Not that I was to know that yet.

The first band to arrive were Soliloquy, it had taken them four hours to drive down and they were going to sleep in their cars for the night. Which in my opinion was a pretty Rock ‘n’ Roll thing to do and I was pretty impressed.

Next to arrive were The Rock Gods, although I didn’t know they were the Rock Gods yet. They were Sally’s brothers, Kevin and Jonathan Hurst. Kevin does have Rock God status, he played in Spanglehead at the Woodstock Reunion. Wow! Kevin had been driven up from Wiltshire by Steve Wikes, an ace lead guitarist.

I thought they were going to play a few numbers to start the show off. They were, but they didn’t have a lead singer. They wanted me to be the lead singer.

Well, many many years ago I did have a band, we died ungracefully, I hadn’t sung with a band for over a decade.

So, what do you think?’ said Kevin.

Lead me to the mic stand,” I said. “What numbers are we doing?”

Tricky. What numbers did they know? What songs could I actually remember? We settled for “Johnnie B Goode”, “Hey Joe” and “All Along the Watchtower”. We were also going to do “Blue Suede Shoes” and “My Generation”, but I felt that if we could actually get through three then we would have achieved something.

And of course there was something else to think about here. Brentford Football Club had never had live music on before. This would be the first time. We would be the first band on. I would get to sing the first ever song in there. It HAD to be “Johnnie B Goode”.

And it was.

Of course, if this was to come true, we would need a PA system. Soliloquy hadn’t been able to bring theirs, they only had so much room in the cars. Jonathan had brought his drumsticks and Kevin his guitar. I could feel the seeds of panic beginning to … but no, in came Flat Pig and Berserkus and in came big Marshall speakers and all those wonderful bits of Rock’n’Roll paraphernalia. We were rockin'.

And we were.

I won’t dwell upon just how truly great Robert Rankin and the Rock Gods were. It was a bit like Woodstock. You were either there to see it, or you weren’t. But even if you weren’t, the legend somehow touches you and I’m sure that many who were there will tell their grandchildren, “we were there”.

The Rock Gods played a blinder and I only got a few of the verses wrong and came in at the wrong times and sang in the wrong key and did my harmonica solo over the top of Steve’s lead guitar solo by accident and …

It went pretty well and the charitable crowd clapped.

The Rock Gods reformed a total of three times, subsequent events were associated with the club and book launches, the charity event had brought out something in Robert that he both enjoyed and fans of his books yearned to see, a match made in rock and roll hell.

In August 2003 the Rock Gods reformed to celebrate the release of The Witches of Chiswick, this event was a trial, and my first introduction into how horrible it might be to work with musicians. The venue eventually had to stop the music, some musicians were prima donnas, it was pretty hard work and to be honest Robert and his guys were the easiest part, as Ian Brown reports

The headliners were Robert Rankin and the Rock Gods, and they ROCKED big time. They are indeed Gods of ROCK and roll. Opening with a sterling rendition of Johnny B Goode they ROCKED. (Do you get the impression that this band ROCKS?) The vocals were inspired, the guitars roared and the drums beated. They were loud. They were good. They ROCKED. Awe prevents me from remembering all the details but the set also included a reggae version of Blue Suede Shoes and (slightly Rankined) War, What is it Good For? This closed the set with an audience participation number (all together now “absolutely nothing”), and a promise to return later in the evening. This shows the real inconsistency between organisation and just being an attendee.

Music continued apace and a year later at Brentcon 1, it was reported in the Chiswick and Isleworth Times newspaper as follows

The weekend kicked off on Friday with a high-octane start at the launch of the Knees Up Mother Earth in Stripes bar, a music venue, which is part of Brentford football club. But this was no ordinary book launch with glasses of wine and a reading!

Sponsored by the book publishers Gollancz, Robert Rankin performed live with his band The Rock Gods, and then later he sang with Derby group Soliloquoy as they truly rocked the night away, to a rapturous reception. Stripes regulars, supporters of the Brentford FC and Councillor Luke joined Rankin fans in this celebration, and the venue was packed out. Pete Johnston of the supporters club commented “Absolutely Brilliant.”

No one will ever know how much hard work went into Brentcon, and the purpose was multi faceted as the big surprise on the Sunday Proved, when in the grounds of Brentford Library, where one of Robert’s characters had sat in many a book, looking at the racing papers, we unveiled “Pooley’s Bench” as he called it, with a special plaque commemorating the connection between Robert and the borough of Brentford and his fans.

Music continued apace, we had another gig in Brentford after the Brightonomicon Bus Tour and this was the last outing of The Rock Gods in 2005. It’s all a bit manic, it’s not normal to have a book launch and gig and fannish activities and much beer, but that’s the nature of this corner of UK and Irish fandom.

This year Robert’s Book, The Da Da De Da Da Code featured a free CD with all 18,000 hardbacks, which is impressive, this CD had tracks by himself, his wife Rachel, who happens to be one of Europe’s leading steel pan artists, poetry and songs, mixed with music by Rankins’ own son William, known to all as High Rankin and finally Dry Rise a Brighton band who feature in Da Da and it is truly an eclectic mix.

The book launch coincided with a museum exhibition of Robert’s work and also his third wedding to the same woman, the first having been in Las Vegas with Elvis performing the ceremony. It was a superb weekend and of course there was a gig, Dry Rise played, as did Dark Society, a band fronted by Roberts Son the aforementioned High Rankin and of course Robert sang while his wonderful wife Rachel played the eukalalle.

It was amazing. The venue rocked and then as an afterward, we danced and jumped around all night to rock music.

It’s an amazing thing and now you can see how I must have been insane to think that I knew of no links between SF and Rock and Roll. I forgot man...

 

Many thanks to Dave Baker, Ian ‘Red’ Brown, Ian Case, Lee Justice and Robert Rankin for permission to use their writings, which on occasion have appeared in the pages of The Brentford Mercury, the periodical of Sproutlore, The Now Official Robert Rankin Fanclub. www.sproutlore.com

 

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