Bands suffering from lockdown fever can be forgiven for crawling into a cocoon. But UK four-piece The Ramonas have been as busy as ever – albeit absent from the live scene like so many.
When lockdown kicked in, their hugely anticipated second LP release, a mini-album called I Want To Live In Outer Space, aptly came into orbit.
Eight tracks and fewer than 20 minutes in total running time – quite long really for a band that got its initial inspiration from the ‘hey ho let’s go’ outfit The Ramones who weren’t known for epic-length songs.
The Ramonas have moved on massively from being a tribute band to the New York City Fab Four – Joey, Dee Dee, Johnny and Tommy Ramone. (Who knew they got their name from Paul McCartney who would check into hotels as Paul Ramon? Answer – probably everyone reading this article!).
The Ramonas started their life in Brighton, on the south coast of England, formed by a friend called Claire back in 2004 whose love for The Ramones knew no bounds. She left the band to go to America and play with Marky Ramone (Tommy’s replacement on drums).
Four years later singer Lisa Lathwell and bassist Vicky Smith, joined the Ramonas for a one-off gig. “Then another gig came in. Then another. It was just one of those snowball things. It was never intentional,” explains Lisa.
And Vicky adds: “When the line-up became more solid we thought let’s get our act together a bit and work on it. We got a booking agent involved, looked to doing Europe, then a few members changed and we started doing some original stuff. I guess in the last six years it’s become a little more serious. We stabilised the line-up and started to get a following.
“We had a revolving line-up because there wasn’t many girls playing this kind of music, and being an all-female Ramones tribute helped us because there weren’t many all-female bands.
“But the agent changed things for us and got us into places we wouldn’t have otherwise got near. A lot of people write you off for being a tribute band, so you have no proper respect from the industry. But we never really slotted into the tribute scene. ”
And Lisa adds: “You’re right, we never did the tribute scene, just the punk scene. Which is why we’re not rich!”
“We weren’t really tribute. People would say, ‘I don’t like tribute bands but I really like your band.’ We’ve never worn wigs and tried to emulate The Ramones – just keep the spirit of them,” says Camille.
It took a year for the band to decide whether they would carry on evolving with a mix of original material as well as Ramones’ covers, and stay as The Ramonas or form a completely new band.
Now the four-piece – with guitarist Maxine Cahill and drummer Camille Phillips firmly in the line-up – are flying the flag.
And despite being miles and countries apart – Lisa has been locked down in her native Scotland while the others remain on the south coast – they’ve been collaborating, playing the Rebellion Festival (online, of course, not at the usual long August weekend in sunny Blackpool, in the north-west of England), and recording tunes.
“I hope we’ve moved on from being an all-girl band – would you call the Ramones an all-boy band?” Lisa Lathwell – The RamonasTweet
Live, they are a powerful, tour de force which often gets the good-natured, but inherently mildy-misogynist comment of the drummer Camille: ‘So how do you get to hit the drums so hard.’
Lisa laughs it off. ‘The guys at gigs are friendly enough and we’ve got amazing fans, but we occasionally get these comments after shows. I hope we’ve moved on from being an all-girl band – would you call the Ramones an all-boy band?’
They’re missing the live circuit madly – honestly, you must check them out and see just how hard Camille can bash the skins, how Lisa can engage the audience, how Vicky holds it together and newest recruit guitarist Maxine is an axe-maniac. They rocked the joint when I saw them supporting the Skids at Chinnery’s in Southend 18 months ago.
Here’s a taste of them live in Germany.
“When we supported the Skids I was a bit scared because our music sounded so different from them,” says Camille.
“Our music is loud and fast so for a warm-up to the Skids I guess that’s good, but I was still worried. The reception from the fans though was unbelievable. That was a pivotal moment for me in the band.”
And they’ve got ‘First World Problems’, apart from not liking cheese! With no cash from gigs coming in Maxine went for a job at supermarket Tesco (and was turned down), Vicky and Camille are teaching and Lisa has a put her side-line front and centre to bring in the dough.
“It’s been tough and we love touring so much, but we’ve had to do this,” says Lisa.
“When we got approval from the Rebellion festival (they’re regularly on the annual line-up now, and will be playing it in 2021), that was a massive step because that’s where the punk family is in the UK.
“But we’ve tried to keep busy through lockdown. We’ve written quite a few new songs, which obviously haven’t been put out there yet. We’ve got enough to put out an album as it’s not going to be till next year that we’re gigging again properly. We’ve stayed in contact with each other pretty much every day.”
Vicky: “Yeah, normally with a gig cancellation!”
Camille: “We’ve been doing a lot of writing remotely and now we’re gagging to get in the studio and play it together. That will come with time.”
Maxine: “We usually send each other what we’ve done individually and send each other our results so nothing’s changed in that respect, but usually we’d be in the studio jamming it – so I guess it brings a new dynamic of frustration!”
Check out this Youtube video of the mellow re-working of their first single Speak Up. The Zoom-style video makes it even more powerful. Compare it to the original, full-throttle, high-velocity version here. Both good versions, and both demonstrating their versatility. Also, tune in to this Ramonas lockdown version of Pet Sematary.
I’m Roger Kasper, 55. A punk since October 77 when the Stranglers rocked Top of the Pops with No More Heroes. Journalist since 1983 with stints on national newspapers and magazines and editor of local papers. I’m Gravesend born and dragged up I keep poultry, garden, run and generally make a nuisance of myself!