John ‘Segs’ Jennings and Dave Ruffy talk about life, how they refused to let a little thing like a global pandemic slow them down, and enjoy a stroll down memory lane to the early days of The Ruts.
It’s been a tough 12 months for all of us, and it’s been especially hard for musicians. Ruts DC, for example, had a very busy 2020 planned with tours and festivals around the world – all of which went down the Swaney as lockdown’s grip tightened. However, these punk stalwarts refused to sit on their laurels, and they worked hard to turned what could have been a totally wasted year into a very productive one.
“Yeah, it’s been shit here in the UK,” drummer Dave Ruffy says as he beams in via Zoom while he sits in his car in his driveway (he’s got tradesmen in sanding floors). “You can’t do anything at the moment. I’m moving house today, but that’s ok, you’re allowed to move… and you can probably have a shag if no one is looking.”
Segs bursts out laughing. “Yeah, but only with one other person,” he chimes in from his home office. “And you have to be socially distanced,” he adds with another little chuckle.
“Worst of all,” Dave adds with mock irritably, “you can’t go to the fucking pub! Which is particularly hard for Segs isn’t, it my old friend?
“Yeah, I miss it, ” Segs agrees. “But it’s not really the drinking I miss, it’s just being able to go out for a walk and pop into the pub, for the social thing, you know. I miss that.”
“We had a hectic 2020 planned, Dave says. “We were meant to be doing Punk Rock Bowling, doing loads of dates of our own, The Stranglers tour, an acoustic tour, a Dead Men Walking tour… so obviously we got no income from gigging.
“Anyway enough moaning about all that bollocks,” he chirps. “It could have be worse!
“What saved our bacon in 2020 was keeping busy,” Dave admits. “We started Ruts TV – just small online chat shows with us nattering away – and that proved to be really popular. It engaged and hopefully entertained our wonderful fans, and they were also enjoyable to do.
“We also mixed a double live album that we recorded in 2019 to celebrate 40 years of The Crack, and we recorded an acoustic album too. Thankfully we’ve got a great fanbase who bought our records, which kept us alive financially and, more importantly, it kept us off the streets causing trouble,” Dave chuckles.
Segs smiles and nods in agreement.
“Yeah, we kept ourselves very busy. I really like the acoustic album; it came out really well,” Segs adds. “And because there was a short gap in the lockdown, we also did two socially distanced sitdown shows – which were brilliant. You could almost hear the audiences let out a collective sigh of relief because they were finally listening to live music… not to mention our own sighs of relief because we were playing again. We were meant to do three gigs but the third was cancelled ‘cos we went into tier 4 lockdown again – we was gutted about that.”
Talkin’ ’bout a punk revolution
More about the present day a little later… I’d like to take you both for a walk down memory lane if that’s ok with you? The Ruts formed in August 1977 at the height of the punk revolution and your first gig was one month later at the Target pub in Church Road Northolt. Do you guys remember that night?
“Yeah, I do,” Dave says. “I was playing bass ‘ cos for those first few gigs we had our mate Paul Mattocks on drums.”
“I was there too,” Segs interrupts. “But I was in the audience. I am the only Rut that has seen The Ruts play live!”
Dave smiles and agrees. “Yeah, we played four songs in-between a set by a jazz-funk pub band called Hit and Run that Foxy (Paul Fox the Ruts guitarist) and I were also in. The rest of Hit and Run didn’t like we did that. And they also didn’t like it that people liked us as well,” Dave chuckles.
“From the off, The Ruts had a sound, “Dave continues. “The Ruts proper didn’t start until a month later but we had a sound even then. Without a doubt, our sound was due to Paul Fox’s amazing guitar sound – he was a really excellent guitar player. He wasn’t a show-off, he didn’t blow his own trumpet, but his style was unique, a nice guy…yeah!” Dave trails off his smile lost for a moment.
“We formed The Ruts ‘cos it what was going on at that time,” Dave continues. “We were pushing against the hippies, I guess. We got our hair cut short and got a different look from all the pub rock bands of that time. To be honest, about a month before that gig, I had a beard and long hair. We just didn’t want to be associated with people who just sat around and got stoned all the time.”
Segs, you joined The Ruts in October 1977. Ruffy took the stool behind the drum kit, and you picked up the bass guitar. The first Ruts gig, with its legendary lineup, supported Wayne County and the Electric Chairs at High Wycombe Town Hall 25 Jan 1978.
“Yeah, that’s right. High Wycombe was my first gig with The Ruts. I remember I was really nervous before the show, so I thought, I know, I’ll have half a Guinness to calm my nerves. Then, I had another half, and then another! Drinking always calmed me down before a show, and here I am, 40 years later – a drunken out of work musician.” Segs laughs, adding with a mock slur, “I’ve given up the music… but I’ve continued the drinking!”
“It was a fun time, wasn’t it Dave?” Segs says. “But, as we all know, punk history has been rewritten. At the time no one really liked punk. People say they liked it, but they didn’t.
“Everyone, from The Stones to the Phil Collins’s of this world – they all hated it – and that’s why we loved it as well.”
“Punk was also a really enabling movement,” Dave adds. “That’s what I liked about it. And It gave me the conviction to do what I really wanted to do and that was music.”
“It was a very inclusive movement,” Segs adds. “We had loads of female fans, black fans, trans fans, Muslim fans. Our fans were great. At the time the Yorkshire Ripper was around and I always remember one female fan who had a T-shirt that had ‘Yorkshire Ripper Come and Get Me’ written on it – it was outrageous,” Segs laughs. “You wouldn’t get away with that today, would you? We also had a Muslim girl who always came along and she wore bin liners as clothes. I met her again just recently and she admitted that she always got into terrible trouble with her parent when she got home in her bin bags.”
“Yeah, punk wasn’t about, sexual orientation, colour or religion,” Dave chips in “It was a mutual respect we had for each other ‘cos it was all about the music. It was great all being part of this exciting movement.”
“Punk wasn’t about, sexual orientation, colour or religion. It was a mutual respect we had for each other ‘cos it was all about the music.” Dave Ruffy, Ruts DCTweet
Segs agrees. “It was a movement that suited us down to the ground, wasn’t it?” he says to Dave. “And Foxy loved that aspect of it too. He said he was a hippy at heart but was also punk, so he used to say, ‘Yeah, I’m a hippy. Peace and love or I’ll smash your face in,’.”
The Ruts Gang
Dave and Segs laugh at the memory. There was a slight pause then Dave says, “When we were together we were feared as a band and we were all good mates, like a gang. We felt untouchable.”
“Malcolm was a great frontman for the gang as well,” Segs adds. “He had a lot of front. Malcolm just oozed punk. But you had to have this front ‘cos back in the day all the other bands were rivals. We, as The Ruts gang, felt we were the best. We had this attitude that we will get on stage anytime and we will play better than you – and we still get that now.
“But these days,” Segs continues, “when we bump into our old rivals – mates like Charlie Harper and a whole list of others from that time – we’re just pleased to see each other and pleased we are still breathing. ‘Oh hi! You’re still alive Charlie?’.” Segs and Dave chuckle.
“When we were together we were feared as a band and we were all good mates, like a gang. We felt untouchable.” Dave Ruffy, Ruts DCTweet
In the April of ’78, The Ruts headed into the studio to record their first single ‘In A Rut‘ but the song itself didn’t come out until January 1979. Dave explains the reason for the delay in releasing the single
“It was because we had no money,” Dave says matter of factly. “We were broke. Misty In Roots paid for us to go into the studio where we recorded ‘In A Rut‘, ‘H-Eyes‘ and ‘Society‘ and we ran out of money to master them.”
“We were on the dole and Segs and I was moonlighting in a petrol station that was run by our first manager – a ‘Del Boy’ character called Andy Damon. The service station was in the City of London right under Southwark Bridge. Andy was a bit of a wide boy really. He used to drive BMW, wear gold sovereign rings and stuff like that.
“I remember when he offered to be our manager and we said to him straight up; ‘But you know nothing about music,’ and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it, boys. What do you need?’
“We said, ‘We need a few gigs,” Dave continues. “So, he basically got on the phone and hassled everyone every day until venues started to say, ‘Ok! Ok! For fuck sake!’ You can have Tuesday night in three months time.’
“So we went on like that for a while – and we didn’t get paid a lot.” Dave pauses for a moment as if he was trying to remember something. “So, how did we save up for the mastering of In A Rut, Segs? Do you remember?”
“Yeah. We didn’t,” Segs says. “Our manager sold his sovereign ring and I think it was a gold bracelet or something. We needed something like 100 quid to get it finished and that was big money back then.
Dave laughs “Ah shit, yeah! That’s right. Then we pressed 1,000 copies of In A Rut’. I used to run a record store, so I was aware a little of how it all worked, and I knew the record business was changing with punk rock and the rise of independent labels, and I was like; ‘Let’s do this independently as we will make more money.” But Malcolm really wanted to sign to a major and be a rock star!
“But anyway, the first single we pressed a 1,000. I went to Rough Trade Records in Notting Hill and Jeff Travis, who founded Rough Trade, bought 500 for cash and gave me the money there and then. I thought ‘fuck, this is great.’
“Then we had a mate, Simon Potts, who got a record into John Peel‘s record box. Peel played it and gave us a big-up and suddenly we got some credibility. And then he played it again, and then again and again. He played it three or four times a week and suddenly we were doing big gigs and the like.”
Segs jumps in.”Yeah, I remember the gigs suddenly taking off.” he says. “I remember supporting Phil Rambow‘s The Winkies. It was a month of gigs – Red Cow, Hope and Anchor, City Arms – and one week there weren’t a lot of people, then after John Peel there were queues of people around the block.
“I went to the Hope and Anchor recently,” Segs adds, “and it was so tiny! It only holds about 100 people, but at the time, I thought they were huge gigs.”
“Yeah, they are tiny, but they are legendary places, aren’t they?” Dave responds. “But we also played venues like the Marquee in Wardour Street, where, in 1968, I saw Led Zeppelin’s first-ever gig when they were called the New Yardbirds‘ brackets Led Zeppelin.
“I didn’t know him then but Paul Fox was there as well… Anyway, I digress,’ Dave says. “But playing the Marquee was a stardust moment ‘cos it’s a legendary place. It was small but so intimate – you could smell the bands they were that close.”
“It was exciting times for us then,” Segs reveals. “We were at the top of our game and we felt invincible, we really did. I felt nothing could go wrong.”
Coming Up in Part 2…
“The difficult thing is we had the beginnings of a great second album, and let there be no doubt about it, Malcolm fucked that up.” Segs.
In part two of this exclusive interview, Segs and Ruffy talk about the Rock Against Racism gigs Babylon’s Burning, the making of The Crack, Malcolm’s tragic death and the beginning of Ruts DC
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I’m a London born and bred music journalist, a mediocre bass player and the occasional strummer of the guitar. In the ’80s I worked in recording studios and made a few records you’d probably recognise. I have written a couple of books and made the odd media appearance as a music commentator. I now call Brisbane home.