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B L A G G A S T Y L E
"Shout down the road and we're all gonna come,
Formed in 1988, in the midst of a scene that was rife with racism, extreme right wing politics or fence-sitting "centrism", the Blaggers were an openly left wing and vehemently anti-fascist skinhead band. Originally a mere five piece unit, with Matty Blag as their colorful frontman and main vocalist, Bilko as their OTHER vocalist (really, every band needs at least two vocalists), Steve Serious on guitar, Matt Vinyl on bass, and Jez the Jester on drums. This lineup of the band recorded the mediocre On Yer Toez LP for Oi! Records, and supported the Angelic Upstarts for their first gig in London after the disastrous "Main Event" Oi! festival. That gig went off without any hitches (thanks to Anti-Fascist Action and Cable Street Beat), but at the Blaggers very next gig they were attacked by fascists, and Jez left the band.
"A kid I know just wants to fight,
"One track mind, he wants you dead,
The band toured Europe (in particular Germany), with Cab on drums and then slimmed down to a four piece for about ten minutes when Bilko left, but they added a rhythm guitarist (Gary the Squatter), so as not to be TOO comfortable in the tour van, and replaced Cab with Jason "Wrist Action Jackson".
This lineup of the band recorded their first 7" in 1990, It's Up To You, with a new name--the Blaggers ITA. The idea for the name change came from Brendan H, who also played trumpet on the single and designed the sleeve (both of which he did for most of the Blaggers' releases). The single showed a definite improvement in the band--gone was the generic Oi! sound and cliched lyrics, this was a serious attempt to make music and get a message across, rather than chanting slogans.
The band toured Germany again in 1991, with a new rhythm guitarist (Paul the Pig) and a roady named Christie--actually a house DJ who was only travelling with the band because he wanted a vacation! Much to the band's (and audiences') surprise, Christie would come out on stage and rant/rap along with the music, which was really the beginning of the Blaggers' unique style.
"His mother cried, she's got a broken heart,
When the band returned to England, they attracted the attention of two record labels, Released Emotions and Words of Warning. The band contributed compilation tracks for both labels, and released another 7", the Beirut EP, on Germany's Knockout records. The release features two of the Blaggers most striking lyrics--the title track, about the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut* and war in general, and the amazing Ten Men Dead, which was written to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the IRA/INLA hunger strike of 1981, during which ten prisoners starved to death.
In 1992, the Blaggers released their second long player--Fuck Fascism, Fuck Capitalism, Society's Fucked, and were promptly fucked by their record label, who gave them 200 copies of the record, and never spoke to them again. Luckily the band were playing out in London on an almost weekly basis, and attracting quite a following. Their new sound, enhanced by the band's movement away from strictures of punk and Oi!, as well as Christie's eclectic taste in music, gave them a reputation that helped their next release, the Blaggamuffin 12", sell well.
"Self respect and self defence;
The band kept busy during the year too, releasing two excellent 7" singles, the Way We Operate on Fluffy Bunny, about the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and Here's Johnny on WOW, released to coincide with the 1992 general election (in which John Major was a candidate for Prime Minister). They also recorded their third LP with the largest lineup yet (nine people, as opposed to seven for Blaggamuffin), and began to attract attention from corporate sectors.
On January 18, 1993, the Blaggers released their third LP, United Colours of Blaggers ITA on WOW, and saw it hit the top ten in the indie charts...at the same time they were busy negotiating a deal with EMI. If only they knew what was in store for them.
When the Blaggers finally did sign to EMI they were branded sellouts by indie purists like Chumbawamba, and alienated a sizable portion of their audience. Fluffy Bunny records, who had released the Way We Operate 7", promptly bootlegged it as a limited edition release, and put out a "Ramraiders ITA" 7" with two of the Blaggers' demos for EMI.
Despite the negative attention from the indie quarter, the band's three other releases in 1993 (the Stresss, Oxygen, and Abandon Ship singles) were all very strong, except for the annoying habit of re-recording old songs to use as B sides. All three singles hovered around the 50 mark in the singles charts, and the Blaggers seemed set to make a mint as "the next big thing"...
"We've been fit up and shut up by what's been said.
...and were it not for Matty Blag roughing up Dave Simpson (from the Melody Maker) for being an asshole, they would have been. Where in one instance beating a journalist is lauded (Oasis), in another it's damned (Blaggers ITA). The Blaggers were screwed, and all positive press in the mainstream vanished--leaving them without ANY friendly media outlets.
Surprisingly EMI stuck with the Blaggers for several more months, releasing their final album, Bad Karma, in August of 1994, and the Mantrap single shortly after. When neither hit it big, they were dropped.
Damaged Goods reached a deal with EMI in 1995 and the Blaggers released a 7" with two leftover tracks, Thrill Her With a Gun and Dairy Thief, but it was a one off deal, and didn't do much. Matty Blag was receiving some publicity around this time, but all of it was directed at his heroin habit, rather than any of his musical efforts.
Al Rhodes, the band's manager, set up his own record label (Disinformation), and released the Rumblefish single in early 1995. It did nothing, and the band booted Matty out because of his drug problem. Christie took over all vocals and the band toured Germany again, releasing two more singles on Disinformation (both of which featured Matty on vocals, and pot-shots at Matty on the sleeves) before breaking up in 1995.
In 1997, with most of the Blaggers back catalog out of print, the German label Mad Butcher re-released On Yer Toez + Beirut + God Save the Cockroach on CD as the first of their "Mad Butcher Classics" line.
In February of 2000, Matthew Roberts, better know as Matty Blag, overdosed on heroin and died.
In 2001, the (remaining) Blaggers released a video collection called "It's Up To You" dedicated to Matty Blag, with all proceeds going to anti-fascist organizations, and reformed (as the Blaggers AKA) to play several shows in Germany.
"This is for all the prisoners in jail,
This is for Matty.
*A verification of this would be appreciated, since the bombing in Beirut took place 8 years before the song was written...still, I can't think of anything else in Beirut that would have inspired those lyrics.
[OBIK: As far as I know the biography I wrote is reasonably complete and accurate, but it's more than possible that there are mistakes and/or omissions. If you know of any, point them out!]
2003/01/05: Updated discog.
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