Punk Interviews

Interview: Punk stalwarts The Zips, unzipped!

Part of the first wave of punk bands to come out of Glasgow in the 1970s, The Zips have been flying the punk flag ever since. Punktuation’s Michelle caught up with vocalist and guitarist Jon McNeill to reflect on punk past, present and future.

The Zips formed in that fertile period of the late 1970s when punk was spreading throughout the UK (and beyond) and musicians from everywhere wanted to get involved in this exciting new scene. McNeill picks up the story:

The Zips were formed in late 1977, by me and Brian Jackson [lead guitar], when we both left the pub rock outfit, Road Angel. Whilst drummer Joe Jaconelli was easy to recruit, it took until February ’78, to find a suitable bass player- Phil Mullen- amongst the late 70’s, knuckle-dragging, heavy rock musos, that dominated the Glasgow music scene!”

But as soon as they had the right bass player ensconced, they were ready to take to the stage!

“With most of the original set of songs already written before Phil joined, our first gig was in late March ’78. The original line-up lasted until December ’80 when, due to the demise of punk, it got steadily harder to get gigs.

We reformed in 2002, because Dizzy from Detour Records in the UK, informed us that tracks from the original releases were increasingly turning up on bootleg punk compilations in Europe. He offered to release a couple of those songs on his next official punk compilation, ‘Bored Teenagers Vol 2’.

Over the years, we have had four lead guitarists, with Fred X, being the latest (and longest-serving) guitarist at 12 years service. Drummer Joe also left around 2010, and his replacement, Buddie Poor, has been with us ever since.”

John McNeill, 2022. Pic by Michelle Nursimiloo

Glasgow was not the easiest place to nurture a growing punk scene, with the cautious authorities attempting to shut any burgeoning scene down with draconian licensing measures and a general hostile attitude to these new rag tag musicians. Not that that stopped The Zips:

“The punk scene in Glasgow was mostly strangled at birth, due to the City Council almost banning punk music within its boundaries, after being freaked out with the “red-top” press reaction to the Sex Pistols, and a rowdy gig by The Stranglers at the council-run city halls in ’77.

Pub and club owners were scared of losing their licences if they booked punk acts, so we used to say we were a pop band! Sometimes, we got away with it, but other times, we got kicked out halfway through the set, and with half the fee!

Our saving grace, was living so close to Paisley, which was outside Glasgow’s control, and had some brilliant punk venues, including The Bungalow Bar, where everybody and anybody on the local and national punk circuit played.”

The Zips, 2022. Pic by Michelle Nursimiloo.

It wasn’t just touring and gigging that bands had to think about, but also recording and distributing. Which often meant being creative and tapping into a network of labels, studios and distributors that could support band’s outputs, or doing it yourself:

“The Zips released two 7” records- ‘The Zips’- EP in ’79, and ‘Radioactivity’ in ’80. The EP was a learning process, released via Black Gold Records. However, having learned the ropes, ‘Radioactivity’ was the first release on our own label, Tenement Toons.

The 4 original songs on the EP were recorded in one afternoon, on a 2-track reel-to-reel tape deck, in the upstairs lounge of a pub called, the Burns Howff. We sold the 500 copies at 75p each, mostly at gigs, through local record shops, and Rough Trade, and it was gone in 6 weeks.

In November 2022, one copy went for £577 on Ebay! Hot on the heels of that, German label, Mad Butcher Records, has just reissued The Zips EP, same format, 500 copies, only with some in stunning, electric blue vinyl.

Those four songs, ‘Don’t Be Pushed Around’, ‘I’m In Love’, ‘Take Me Down’ and ‘Over And Over’ have had some mileage, as on top of the reissues, individually they’ve been included on numerous punk compilations, including Gary Crowley’s ‘Punk And New Wave’, compilation in 2017.”

The Zips, 2022. Pic by Michelle Nursimiloo.

Of course now, the whole music industry has changed including how bands get from A to B and put on a kickass punk show:

“Back then, we had our own PA and lights, amps, drums, and van, to cart the whole lot about. Very few venues had anything in house for live music – they depended on the bands supplying everything.

Nowadays, it’s the complete opposite. Some young bands don’t even have their own amps. The rehearsal rooms are all kitted out and lots of venues also have everything ready to plug in and play. Or they encourage bands to share equipment.

Because the original Zips had a van, we could travel any distance for a gig, but never played outside the UK. However, this time around, and pre-Covid we played all over Europe, and extensively in Germany.”

The Zips 2022. Pic by Michelle Nursimiloo

McNeill has some advice for all the young punks starting out and navigating a creative process in these challenging times:

“Watch You Tube videos of The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Jam, anything from the ’76/’77 era. If you aren’t inspired by the sheer energy through the screen, forget punk, and form an indie pop band instead. It’s not about musicianship, technique, and the shiniest new guitar on the block. It’s all about the attitude! Oh, and ditch the FX pedals – just plug the guitar straight into the amp, turn everything up, and let rip!”

You can catch The Zips letting rip during their live dates in 2023 including Unity Fest and Rebellion Festival both in August.

Keep up to date with The Zips on socials!

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