Last Thursday, the rumour became official: No Thrills were splitting up. Following the sad news, I wanted to write about the band, what they meant to me, and how they changed my life. This is something anyone who has ever loved a band can relate to.
'All you punks and all you skins, hold your head up high
All you people that don't fit in,
Punk Rock 'Til I Die'
Anyone who cares about music will have those bands that changed their lives. You discover them at the right age, they have the right message, and afterwards things are never the same. These bands become a part of your identity, you hear their words in your head at crucial times in your life, and they help you define just who you are. For me, No Thrills were one of these bands.
I was about fourteen when Pez and the boys first entered my life. Living in the Castle Hotel, my mam said there was going to be a live band on one Friday night, so it might be a bit noisy when I was trying to watch the wrestling. She wasn't wrong, except about the watching the wrestling bit. I came downstairs into the pub to watch these purveyors of noise, and I'd never seen anything like it. Our pub, normally frequented by middle-aged men, teenagers taking advantage of the free pool table and, at the weekends, the football lads had been transformed. What I saw was leather, studs and mohawks, the band and their entourage completely changing the aesthetic of the packed-out venue. As I squeezed past these fascinating new people to get closer to the front, I saw him for the first time.
I started late, getting into music. I didn't buy my first album until I was about twelve, and I didn't really know anything beyond what was in the charts. The singers I saw were all on Top of the Pops, wearing nice clothes and with neat hair, while the man perceived as the coolest in rock 'n' roll did nothing but squat with his hands behind his back while occasionally shaking a tambourine. Pez was so different. The mohawked madman moved like a Tasmanian Devil with ADHD, jumping off chairs, bouncing around the pub, singing in the crowd, only pausing to swig his beer before spitting it back over his rapturous acolytes. To a virgin in the scene, it was the most captivating thing I'd ever seen, and I got swept away by it all. This is what music was meant to do to people.
I obtained a copy of their album, entitled Thrilldisc, and it stayed in my CD player for months. Songs like Don't Matter, the Iggy Pop cover Search and Destroy and the immense Wasted became the soundtrack to my life when I wasn't at school. When Pez asked if I wanted to come on the minibus to a gig at Kendal, the acceptance I felt stood out so much compared to the increasing disenchantment I felt at school and in the rest of my life. Here's me, travelling to see this incredible band, sat in the minibus with them and the gang that followed them. That night, free from the gaze of my mam, I let myself go wild with the rest of them. It didn't matter that I didn't know what to do, or how to dance the punk style. I watched what the others did and did my best to do the same. Whether I was good at it or not was irrelevant; all anyone cared about was the music. When Pez held the microphone out for me to shout 'Wasted!' during the chorus, I felt a million feet tall.
At fifteen, I made my first venture into the Blues Nightclub. No Thrills were playing and Pez had promised my mam I'd be looked after. I spent the afternoon and early evening glass collecting in the pub, earning extra pocket money to buy a few drinks when I went out. As I stepped into the dark, dingy, smoke-filled venue, the detachment I felt from my schoolmates increased. What did they know about life? What did they know about real music making you feel alive? They listened to pop music and indie shit. They talked about what was on the television the night before. They didn't talk about No Thrills, and they weren't here tonight, where the world was about to become alive. They were tucked up in bed, while the coolest bloke I'd ever known had swung it so I could go to a nightclub to watch the best band in the world. It didn't matter about the dickheads in the world, and how they tried to make me feel, because Pez had shown me there was a place in the world where I was accepted for exactly who I was, where I could lose myself in reckless abandon.
As I grew older, I started going to see No Thrills less. I still loved the band, and Sally's Seven Deadly Hymns, featuring the immense Loser, still received heavy rotation in my stereo. It's just life, as it tends to do, started getting in the way. Sometimes, I'd miss a gig because I was working. Sometimes, my friends were having a party, so I'd be with them instead of the club. As I got into two serious relationships, one with a lass, the other with weed, I stopped going out altogether. Rather than dancing to Wasted, I spent years just getting wasted instead, desperate to alleviate the demons in my head. I listened to the CDs, but going to gigs, any gigs, became a thing of the past.
As time went on, my close friend Jeeves finally got his band, the Revolution, together. As much as I wanted to avoid going out, I had to: I needed to support Jeeves in his endeavours. As one of the few people who I had maintained contact with in the previous years, staying in was just not an option. The Revolution played their first gig in the Board and Elbow; as fate would have it, 20 yards away in the Gloucester Arms, No Thrills were playing their own gig. While waiting for the Revolution to take the stage, I popped across the road to relive my younger days.
As I watched No Thrills that night, I noticed the line-up had changed. Pez was still there, and Duane, but I didn't know the other lads. I didn't need to. Within moments of seeing Pez in action, I was hooked again. He was a little older, a little slower, but the same energy and charisma exuded from him. The crowd was as wild as ever. The words, some of which I'd not sang in so long, came rushing back to me as I sang along with the rest of the audience, and the new songs made me regret that I'd lost touch with the band. As I left the pub to go and see The Revolution, I resolved to go and see No Thrills again, furious with myself for leaving it so long.
After that, whenever they were in town, I made sure to see them, normally with Dinga Bell and Ox. No Thrills gigs became events, things to look forward to weeks in advance. When The Revolution and No Thrills were on the same bill, these were the greatest nights, the ones where I'd make sure to have a bit extra in the wallet so I could get a bit wilder. The only disappointment was that they'd stopped playing the song I identified with so much. They'd stopped playing the anthemic Loser. At the end of every gig, Ox, Dinga and myself would chant for Loser, in the hope that, maybe, just once, they'd bust it out as an encore. Gig after gig went by without it, but we never gave up hope, especially after one gig when, leaving the stage, Pez said to us, "We're going to have to put Loser back into the set. Everyone keeps screaming for it!"
At the start of 2011, Jeeves, sick of seeing myself and Dinga dance like mad for No Thrills and a band called With Lights Out, said to us his goal for the year was to get us going as wild to his band as we did for the others. He accomplished that goal when, halfway through the year, he replaced Duane in No Thrills. He did so on one condition: that the monster that is Loser was restored to the setlist. The first time I saw him take the stage alongside Pez, in early 2012, was a special moment for me, watching my first musical idol performing with one of my closest friends. Towards the end of the set in the Gloucester Arms, so full people had to stand in the beer garden just to be involved, Jeeves gave us the look as he started to strum his guitar. After so long, years in the waiting, the moment was upon us: No Thrills were playing Loser live. I danced like I've never danced before and I sang myself hoarse, while carnage erupted in the crowd around us. Watching us go wilder than we'd ever gone before, Jeeves knew he had achieved his goal, even if it was a few days late. So wild had the place gone, so over-filled was the venue, so chaotic was the aftermath, that the Gloucester refused to put bands on again. No Thrills were just too wild, the fans just too reckless, the neighbours just too deafened, the tables and glasses just too fragile.
What followed were the most successful years No Thrills had ever known, as Jeeves drilled the band to become sharper, tighter and better than they'd ever been before. Ox replaced Jay on bass, giving them what I, and many others, see as the definitive No Thrills line-up: Pez, Jeeves, Ox and Tones. Pushing himself to become more than just a musician, Jeeves became a producer too, and the band self-recorded their definitive album, It's What's Inside. It featured 23 songs, some new, some reworkings of classic anthems with an added rock 'n' roll swagger that elevated them above the rest of the bands on the punk scene. The words of Pez fused with the music of Jeeves proved an irresistible combination. Taking every gig they could find and making new fans far and wide, No Thrills were rewarded for their hard work and devotion with their debut appearance at Rebellion, the world's biggest punk festival.
The years that followed were the most successful for the band, with two more albums recorded, five appearances at Rebellion, many t-shirts made and countless gigs performed all over the UK. They played with punk forefathers like the Cockney Rejects and UK Subs, while never losing touch with their roots, playing hometown gigs whenever possible. As venues started closing and the punk scene started dying, No Thrills were the defibrillator, pumping heart into it and keeping it alive. They went through a succession of drummers, finally settling on Haz, who performed until they called it a day. Jeeves left at the start of the year and, though they found a replacement, the band announced their decision to call it a day last Thursday - though not before an unusual development. Their last TV appearance was related to how their song 'This Town Stinks' had reignited the fight against the Omega Proteins Group, and the awful smell created at their animal rendering facility that lingers for miles around, known as the Penrith Pong. Following their song launching the campaign into the wider consciousness, a £30m investment to combat the smell was announced, just days before the band went their separate ways. With this announcement, No Thrills proved that a local punk band could change the world, even if only within a ten-mile radius.
Their decision to call time on their career has brought sadness to the punk world, with fans near and far paying tribute to a band that made us all feel a little bit taller, a little bit prouder in ourselves, that made us stick our chests out and say, 'This is who I am, and I don't care if you don't get it, because I do, and so do they.' For me, it was a privilege to travel with them to many of their gigs, to watch their practices, to take photos and videos of them, to support Jeeves through the difficult process of producing It's What's Inside, and to get to spend time with Pez, not as a wide-eyed kid, but as a grown man - a man he played a big part in shaping. Not many people have the opportunity to know one of their heroes in such close quarters, but I did, and he lived up to every expectation. I'll always hold out hope for one last reunion gig, once last chance to go wild for a band that played such a huge role in my life, but if it never happens, the memories of the last 20-plus years will always bring a smile.
The world won't be the same without No Thrills. It'll be a little quieter, a little less fun and a little less hopeful. The fans will always listen to the songs, and will regale younger generations with tales of the legendary punks that proved a bunch of rejects from a small market town could truly impact on the world. They'll talk about Ox, and his metrosexual vibe. They'll talk about Jeeves, his fiery determination and his rock 'n' roll swagger. They'll talk about Haz, and Tony, and Jay, Duane, Daft Gary and the rest. And they'll talk about the Peter Pan of Punk, Pez, and how his words, his passion and his heart impacted on everyone that he came across, from £30m investments in improving society, to the bands they inspired, to the fans they entertained, right down to a fourteen year-old kid, lost in the world, who started to find his way because of No Thrills, and because of Pez, the mohawked madman who changed the way that kid saw everything.
'They say you're nothing, a loser, but we don't care.
People like you and me are everywhere.'