The Wanglers/Combo Zombo

Keith Bloomfield – guitar
Chris Robson – guitar / vocals
Chuck – bass
Adrian Johnston – drums

I found a cassette of The Wanglers in a plastic bag in the attic, I think it was given to me by Pug (?) many years ago, but I could be wrong. The Wranglers were one of the early punk bands from Carlisle, and the singer Chris, later in a host of other bands, including Combo Zombo and Havana Affair.

Here is the recording of their cassette “Wax”

There is an article in the local paper “The Evening News and Star” of an interview given by Chris and Keith, you can read the full interview if you click this link, but I have copied it to this blog also. The article covers punk in the early days in Carlisle, and talks about the other bands that were around at the time:

“The Sex Pistols at Carlisle Market Hall could have been a legendary gig. The band was booked to play there in December 1976. Days earlier they had sworn enthusiastically on tea time TV, prompting the Daily Mirror headline: ‘The Filth and the Fury!’ Carlisle City Council’s recreation and amenities committee considered the Market Hall booking. Councillor Linden West said: “This is something objectionable and undesirable… There is nothing of any artistic or other merit in what these people are doing.” The committee refused permission for the show. The Sex Pistols never played in Carlisle.

And as a Carlisle punk, Chris Robson was living in a hostile world. In the late 1970s forming a punk band was a political act as well as a musical one. The establishment despised punk, which was one reason why teenagers embraced it. Chris was one of them. His teenage days are a memory. But Chris is about to take to the stage for the first time in years to give that youthful passion one more blast. Chris became friends with Keith Bloomfield when they were students at Trinity School in Carlisle. Both had moved to Cumbria from elsewhere and instantly bonded.

Chris says Carlisle was a bit of a backwater. Even so, it couldn’t avoid punk. The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers and The Jam were among those who evaded the recreation and amenities committee and performed at the Market Hall. Plenty of locals were inspired by punk’s DIY ethos. Bands like The Ironing Boards and Skidmarx sprung up.
So did No Support. Chris and Keith formed this band soon after leaving school. Both played guitar. Chris sang. They were joined by drummer Terry Jackson and bass player Martin Hogarth.

“We called ourselves No Support, because that’s probably what we had,” says Chris. “My parents put up with us playing about in the attic and thrashing out chords. “None of us were really angry young men at all. We had jobs so we didn’t sing about being on the dole. I smashed a guitar once, and regretted it because I didn’t have another one. We weren’t getting much of a reaction from the audience so it seemed a good idea.” Chris remembers being thrown out of Carlisle’s Twisted Wheel nightclub for wearing a shirt with safety pins in it. He was working in WH Smith at the time, and recalls laying out the ‘Filth and the Fury!’ edition of the Mirror.

“I thought the Sex Pistols were great. We could all latch onto punk. It wasn’t something that had been passed on by our dads or our brothers. It was something new. And we were told anybody could form a band. So we thought, ok, let’s do it. “We started gigging around Carlisle. There wasn’t that much of a scene. There was Mick’s Club [on Fisher Street]. Mick Potts was a jolly decent bloke who was prepared to support minority music.” No Support used to drink with Annan band The Limps at The Shambles [now The Gilded Lily] on Lowther Street. “We had this great idea – we would make a record together. There were loads of indie labels. The big labels weren’t looking out in the sticks so it was ‘Right – we’ll make our own records.’”

The eight members of both bands and two of their friends each chipped in £50 to fund an EP. They booked a studio in Hull and piled into a Ford Transit. The bands recorded two songs each and had 500 copies pressed. It was called Opposite Sides. No Support on one side, The Limps on the other. The record label was christened Matchbox Classics. “The Limps used to scrawl songs on cigarette packets. When we tried to come up with a name for the record label it was going to be ‘Fag Packet Classics’. “Someone thought Matchbox Classics sounded better.”

Part of punk’s DIY ethos involved doing things without too much finesse, making the rough edges part of the show. No Support took this approach too far even for some of their fellow punks. Chris admits: “Certain established bands in Carlisle didn’t particularly like us because we couldn’t play that well.” Maybe so. But 33 years on, time has been kind to Opposite Sides. There’s an element of ‘Who do you think you’re looking at?’ in Chris’s vocals. The playing is urgent and tight. But in the lyrics and riffs are hints that this band is fuelled by fun rather than fury. No Support were third on the bill when the UK Subs played the Market Hall, earning £20. The Limps also supported a famous act there; Angelic Upstarts. “The Limps gig has gone down in folklore,” says Chris. “A couple had sex on the floor before the Angelic Upstarts came on.” Both bands’ audiences were exclusively young, and not always appreciative.

No Support and The Limps played a gig at Langholm. “Everything was going fine,” recalls Chris. “We did an encore, by which time the pubs had shut. All the angry young men of Langholm came down. They started throwing chairs. We pulled the curtain down and retreated to the dressing room. “When we got outside they’d tipped our van onto two wheels so it was now leaning into another van. We pushed it upright and drove out of town, quickly.” Opposite Sides was sold by Pink Panther Records in Carlisle, and by record shops in London. John Peel played a track from it on Radio 1. The EP sold out and the bands made enough money to make another, this time pressing 700.

Matchbox Classics’ third EP was a celebration of Carlisle’s punk scene. 8 from 80: A Carlisle Compilation featured The Spivs, The Pedestrians, Mr Bulder, Veldt, The Toolbox Murderers and Kirsty & The Husbands. And, of course, No Support and The Limps. “John Peel played every song on it over two nights,” says Chris. “Four songs one night, four songs the next. That was unheard of.” The 700 copies soon sold out, as did a re-pressing of 500. Matchbox Classics was doing well but The Limps and No Support both split up around this time. Chris and Keith stayed together in Supermatix, whose CV boasts one gig and one EP. “There was maybe a bit too much seriousness in the local scene at the time,” says Chris. His reaction against that was The Wanglers. This was Chris and Keith, Chuck from The Limps on bass and Adrian Johnston, who had been drummer with The Spivs.

Chris describes Adrian as “the band’s success story”. He went on to play with The Waterboys and with Mike Flowers Pops, who had a number two hit in 1995 with their spoof of Wonderwall. Adrian has since written scores for many films and TV programmes, winning an Emmy award for the series Shackleton. In The Wanglers he was known as Mr Pie. Keith was Tiger and Chris was C J Nuke ’Em. Chuck was still Chuck. “We liked the idea of alter egos. We didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We had the idea of a more surfy-type sound. It was a lighter sound, like a 60s garage band.” There were horns, female backing singers and an EP called Surfin’ on the Solway. John Peel played the title track, a kind of rockabilly Beach Boys.

In 1983 The Wanglers’ next EP featured the song My Zombie Baby ‘n’ Me. The following year The Wanglers became Combo Zombo, then the band drifted apart. Watch Combo Zombo. Article continues below… Chris ran Vinyl Vaults record shop on Botchergate and Keith continued to work as a finance officer.Matchbox Classics was resurrected in 1991 to release an EP by Carlisle band The Exiles. Two years later came a compilation CD of local bands. And that was that. The label became a footnote in the story of punk, with Matchbox EPs occasionally appearing on eBay and selling for up to £50.

But 20 years on, Matchbox Classics and Combo Zombo might be about to rise from the grave. “There’s a distinct possibility that there might be some recording done this year by the Combo,” says Chris. “There’s bound to be songs about zombies. And a song about Border TV personalities.” Combo Zombo, The Exiles, and The Limps will be among the acts in a ‘Matchbox Classics presents’ evening at The Club Victoria, Victoria Place, Carlisle, on Friday June 8 as part of Carlisle Music City festival. Chris estimates it’s been at least 15 years since Combo Zombo’s previous show. Adrian Johnston will be travelling from London for the occasion. A query as to whether they’ve rehearsed provokes a gale of laughter from Chris and Keith. “Rehearsed?! Maybe the day before.” It seems the punk ethic, rough edges and all, has survived the decades. “The combo are really just four friends who enjoyed similar music and making a bit of a racket together. We didn’t play terribly well but the songs themselves are ok, kind of naive.”

Chris reckons the punk gene has been passed to his 13-year-old son Adam, who enjoys playing guitar to Combo Zombo songs. Adam is now roughly the age his dad was when he met his best friend. Chris and Keith have been friends for nearly 40 years. Chris is the front man, on and off stage. But he pays tribute to the quiet man who has always been with him through various bands, from adolescence to middle age. “I don’t think we’ve ever fallen out. Keith was the first person I talked to when I moved to Carlisle. We’ve always been best friends. He might not have always wanted to be up on stage, but he’s always been there.” No Support? Not quite.”

Kieth Bloomfield writes via FB “Thanks to Kevin Tilbury for putting this out there. The drummer in No Support was Terry Clark, not Jackson. It all seems such a very long time ago now…”

Nigel Holmes writes, “…the Wanglers formed from the ashes of No Support (probably Carlisle’s first punk band) and The Limps….”
Sean Duval-Todhunter replies, “I think Skidmarx were the very first think but No support can’t be far behind”.
Grant Christie writes, “I still have ‘Surfing on the Solway’ on 12″ vinyl by Combo Zombo of whom some of the Wanglers were also members if not all of them”.

Shiela Gill writes, “Me and Lesley McCue were in the Wangler’s at the very beginning for the first six gigs. We were the Mott backing vocalists. Al tho my singing was likened to a bleating lamb!! Hope all is well”.

Keith Bloomfield writes, “Cheers, Kevin. And thanks for doing the blog. As with a few things, Carlisle was a bit slow to cotton on to punk/new wave but your blog is bringing back some fine memories”.

“Kicking Out For the Coast” is another recording from The Wanglers to be added to their page. I play this record a lot, it is “uplifting” it is refreshing to the doom and gloom that is often heard. Also the first song “Surfin on the Solway” mentions an area which I love…the Solway Coast, very close to Carlisle and it is the 3rd fastest estuary in the UK for incoming tides. Becasue its speed it creates a tidal bore a few times a year. A few surfers and the odd kayaker have been known to follow it down (there was even a runner who tried to out run it! He did not succeed) , and its currents drowned an army and an English King.

My record is full of scratches and jumps. These tracks were kindly sent by Sean Todhunter, which will be included in The Wanglers page:

It is a great image of the forgotten coast line, its cold beaches, its windy dunes, murkey waters, tretcherous estuary’s forever moving sandbanks, does not conjur up the sun swept coat of the Western USA of “The Beach Boys” and “Jan and Dean”, but that’s what happens when you mix Cumbrian humour and Carlisle’s music. Matchbox Classics produced a classic.

The photos are of my (well used) record slieve:

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Grant Christie mailed me “Hi Kev, here’s a few pics of the Combo Zombo 12 “Surfing on the Solway record”

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(photos by Grant Christie)

Combo Zombo
I was always a bit confused where The Wanglers ended and Combo Zombo started. A biography in last.fm writes about the transition from The Wangers to Combo Zombo, which helps a bit… but I am going to group them into one.

“Combo Zombo are a Surf Punk band hailing from Carlisle, Cumbria. The band started their own record label called Matchbox Classics when all the members of two local bands; The Limps and No Support contributed £50 each to fund the creation of a split EP entitled ‘Opposite Sides’ releasing two tracks from each band.’ Chris and Keith formed Supermatix from the ashes of No Support in 1981, released another EP called ‘Bad Timing’ then formed The Wanglers with members of The Limps and Adrian Jonnson from The Spivs. They released their seminal EP ‘Kickin’ out for the Coast’ which featured the signature tune ‘Surfin on the Solway’, the album ‘Wax!’ came the following year. In 1984 the band re-booted themselves as Combo Zombo and released ‘Zom Bee Eye Eee’ before taking time out for other projects. Although they did all get back together at various times during the ’90s for festive shows.

In 2012 Chris, Keith, Chuck and Adrian hit the boards again for the first time in 15 years with a ‘Matchbox Classics presents’ evening at the Club Victoria in Carlisle, they were joined by Izzy Strugglin’ and Captain AD for the set. There are threats of more action from these surf-punksters!”

Sean Todhunter kindly sent these recordings of Combo Zombo and “Zom Bee Eye Eee”

Here is the video for the recording “Zom Bie Eye Eee”. The quote underneath reads “The Wanglers all the way from 1981. A ‘Matchbox Classics’ release. Hi to everyone involved who remembers me. Looking out for that digitally re-mastered re-release and my share of the royalties for my toy ray gun session work on ‘My baby’s lost in space.’ (Bob Jefferson)

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