In '79, Leicester's Disco Zombies self-released their debut single: "Drums Over London." The tune was a strong, driving punk number, a mix of the Buzzcocks' charged pop and Subway Sect's ironic commentary on life in the UK.
But the irony largely fell on deaf -- or dense -- ears. While the band intended the song as a swipe at nationalist and racist sentiments pervading the UK in the late '70s, many who heard it on John Peel's program misinterpreted its message entirely. Some complained, requesting Peel remove it from his playlist. Some embraced the song with little regard for Dave Henderson's acerbic vocal, for guitarist Andy Ross's sardonic lyric, and they took the song as a serious anthem. Others understood the band's spirited message and appreciated their energetic take on punk, and the Disco Zombies quickly sold through 2,000 copies of their first 45.
They'd made a name for themselves in England. They released The Invisible E.P. -- actually recorded before their debut -- later that year.
And after that, they lost their drummer.
And it's here that the Discos enter their second and much more interesting incarnation, playing initially with the rhythm track of Henderson's keyboard, then moving on to a Doctor Rhythm drum machine. This version of the band released "Here Come the Buts" b/w "Mary Millington" on Henderson's Dining Out Records in 1980.
Now a sparse, stark quartet informed by the post-punk of their time/place, the band began aligning themselves with similar groups in Leicester, London and elsewhere in the UK.
"We were moving into covering Faust and Eno and were inspired by seeing the Bunnymen with a drum machine," Henderson recently commented via e-mail. "I'd seen Joy Division a lot as my friend Kev was mates with Ian and Barney, so we seemed to see them every week. They had a huge effect on me and the other bands we were hanging out with in London by that time were similarly inspired."
The Disco Zombies, in turn, inspired many of their other peers. When they played a show in London supporting Knox from the Vibrators, "Captain Sensible was in the audience and came backstage. He was fascinated by the machine and bought one the next week which he used in his solo recordings," wrote Henderson.
Unlike Echo & the Bunnymen, the Damned and Joy Division, the Disco Zombies were much more sarcastic, and to great effect. "Mary Millington," a paen to a British porn actress who took her own life, is just as sardonic as it is haunting, especially in its refrain of "You made me fall in love with you."
Thankfully, Acute Records just issued the Drums Over London LP, a compilation of the Disco Zombies' single tracks and unreleased nuggets, including live Eno and Faust covers available as a free download. Drums is a long-overdue nod to a band whose character -- and Henderson's excellent screenprinted graphic design -- sets them apart from a number of their contemporaries. Highly recommended.