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johnny and the self abusers

Clockwise from left: Charlie, Jim, Tony, John, Brian and Alan.

vocals/keyboards: Jim Kerr (Pripton Weird)
guitar/violin: Charlie Burchill (Charlie Argue)
drums: Brian McGee
bass: Tony Donald
vocals/guitar/sax: John Milarky (Johnnie Plague)
guitar: Alan McNeil (Sid Syphilis)

"Just ye wait til you hear Johnny And The Self Abusers. Johnny And The Self Abusers, the band in my head that's gonna blast all those fucking bands here off the stage." - Alan Cairnduff

After meeting Alan Cairnduff in the Doune Castle on a Saturday night in March 1977 and hearing his ideas for a band, the next morning found Jim and Charlie wheeling an amp to John Milarky's house. There they witnessed John Milarky, showing off his first composition Pablo Picasso, playing guitar and singing into a microphone hanging from the ceiling.

Jim was adamant that it just wouldn't be talk. No problem, said Milarky: we'll book the Doune Castle, that way we'll have to do it.

As Charlie later stated " We decided, if we were going to do anything, we should do it, sort of, fullheartedly." That included forming an unweildy line-up of six: adding Alan McNeil, a guitar playing friend of Milarky, and Brian McGee and Tony Donald from Jim and Charlie's school band days.

So, they hired the Doune Castle, and after one weeks practise, and with one original song, they were on stage. It was Easter Monday, 1977.

(They weren't the first Glasgow punk band to play live, they were beaten to it three-piece The Jolt by two nights.)

"Charlie and I only had to do it only once to realise that this was what we wanted. It was all lots of fun. Charlie had a violin, I played the few chords Charlie taught me on the keyboards and we also had a few girls who had made themselves up like Indians out for war, at our request. There was a touch of glamour there. Even then it wasn't punk. No spitting or anything, more like kitsch."

Two weeks later, Johnny And The Self Abusers played Edinburgh supporting Generation X. "Nobody liked us, so we started to practise. John Milarky got money from his parents, and we used it to record a demo." This came to the attention of Chiswick Records, who promised to release a single in August.

In the meantime, The Abusers continued writing and gigging. All of Milarky's songs were filtered out (no-one wanted to play his other compositions such as Toss Yourself Off which Charlie described as trash), and Jim and Charlie became the main songwriting team.

Tensions started to mount between the two groups. This even erupted into fits of fury; one night, Brian McGee threw a wellington boot through Milarky's front window. By July 1977, it was obvious that they had nothing in common. But they stuck together - waiting for the single. They even bought a flat in Wilton Street, Glasgow that October, leading to more riotous behaviour.

By now, fed-up with the confines of punk, and unhappy with the group's lavatorial name ("I began to feel Johnny And The Self Abusers sounded like Big Dick And The Four Skins. I can do without that kind of toilet humour"), Jim changed the name of the group to Simple Minds. This resulted in calls to Chiswick Records to get the name on the single changed - which was in vain.

"The group's legend far outweighed their musical ability." - Billy Sloan

JE: Let's go right the way back. You were rooted in punk.
CB: Yeah, that's right.
JK: We were...
JE: Sid Syphilis. Is he still knocking around anywhere? Have you seen him lately?
JK: I hope not. [Laughs] But you never know.
JE: Just for clarity, you guys gave yourselves nick-names.
JK: You never know who'll you'll bang into!
JE: But that was from where you guys came together.
JK: Liberated by punk.
CB: As were many bands from that era. It was great. You didn't have to play anything to get on a stage and do something.
JE: But I've spoken to quite a lot of people who formed around that time and that's the beauty of that era, that it gave everyone the self-belief and confidence to get up there and start banging them out.
JK: Genuinely yeah. We talk about people who know our history, there was a pre-Simple Minds called Johnny And The Self Abusers who were a tenth-rate punk band. But in some ways, it was still better than some of this stuff: it had the energy, it had the fire. This stuff wouldn't exist if it wasn't for it. Even if it was a bit of a joke and a satire.
JK: We used to stay in this - it wasn't quite a squat - it was this flat where we all stayed. And someone said "Could you describe it?" And I said I'm sure The Young Ones were based on it. The famous TV show. Because it was a bit like that.
JK: But the point being, had we not done that, it was the catalyst. Because we'd probably still be sitting in a pub and saying, "One day we'll get a band together." But in the madness of that punk thing was where the whole ethos was. And it was a brilliant ethos: anyone can get up and give it a go. Because the year prior, when prog rock ruled the world - and we liked a lot of that too - we didn't see ourselves in that.
JE: It's difficult to play.
CB: That was the thing.
JK: And for a start you'd need to be classically trained and all this stuff. But that punk thing liberated not only the music but also out there in the Styx people were starting their own fashion labels and fanzines and doing their own documentaries. It was almost like the gatekeepers had moved aside and we could get in. And it really did liberate us. And, certainly, from the first gig we played - this probably didn't happen - Charlie and I looking at each other and thinking "Wouldn't this be amazing if we could really do this!"
JK: Because we were lucky. When people talk about their first gig it's normally two men and a dog. The first punk gig in Glasgow - people were just rabid for anything punk and...
JE: Didn't you support Generation X?
JK: We did eventually. But when we played our first gig there were queues around the block. So, we thought we were the real deal before we'd done anything.

Interview with Jamie East
Virgin Radio
17th November 2019

April 1977 - November 1977

Johhny And The Self Abusers: 2 tracks demo tape Saints And Sinners 7"

live legacy:
Scotland 1977

By November 1977, the band ceased to exist; since they were now recording and gigging under the name of Simple Minds.

see also:

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