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The Lambrettas

Along with London lads The MERTON PARKAS, SECRET AFFAIR, The CHORDS and PURPLE HEARTS, Brighton boys The LAMBRETTAS (from Lewes, actually) were part of the reprised mod movement that emerged from the late 70s, but unceremoniously fizzled out after only a few years – if that! Arguably the most commercial pop proposition of the five combos, with two major hits and a Top 30 LP, another relatively ironic and profound comparison to their Italian Vespa scooter-loving cousins from the capital, was that “Lambrettas” had extended body parts and were easier to service. Tell that to the mechanic… or judge.
Jez Bird (vocals, guitar), Doug Sanders (guitar, vocals) – both from Shakedown, Mark Ellis (bass, vocals) and Paul Wincer (drums) were unlikely candidates to ink a deal at ELTON JOHN’s Rocket Records, after appearing on the label’s `499 2139’ various artists compilation.
In November ’79, the scooter-powered quartet failed to click into gear their career with flop debut single, `Go Steady’, but with their more focused Leiber-Stoller cover of `Poison Ivy’ (a 50s hit for The COASTERS), they gate-crashed the Top 10 early the following year. The sharp-suited lads encountered the first of their legal skirmishes after the 2-Tone label objected to the latter platter’s artwork, although the ensuing controversy didn’t exactly hinder the near Top 10 success of their third single, `Da-a-a-ance’. The accompanying debut album, BEAT BOYS IN THE JET AGE (1980) {*7}, featured the aforementioned hits, alongside future single `Page 3’, a laid-back 7-inch – so to speak – that almost landed the wee Lambs in soapy bubbles after pressure from The Sun tabloid newspaper forced them to alter the title to `Another Day, Another Girl’. This was to be the pop band’s final Top 50 bow as the mod scene duly ran out of gas.
Now with Steve Bray (from TOYAH’s band) replacing Wincer, a further brace of singles in ’81: `Good Times’ and `Anything You Want’ (both from their second Peter Collins-produced album AMBIENCE {*4}), proved conclusively that their M.O.T. had long been overdue. Cynics had forever been callous and critical of these Johnny Mopeds, but in this case the cloth was cut accordingly, as material such as The JAM-esque `Decent Town’, `Written In Neon’ and a cover of GEORGE HARRISON’s `I Want To Tell You’, brought about a mocking silence.
While one can’t quite recall the reviews to their jangly end-of-career cover of JEFFERSON AIRPLANE’s `Somebody To Love’, The LAMBRETTAS trip to mod-psychedelia was well and truly buried right here. It mattered not that it featured a fresh drummer in Pat Freyne, the party was over bar the shouting. As with every band under the sun, the lads re-formed in the 90s, and went as far as to record demos and a re-recorded version of `Da-a-a-ance’ for a Dr Martens Records-sanctioned V/A set, `Generation To Generation’.
Sadly, with a LAMBRETTAS reunion on the horizon, Jez Bird died of cancer on 27 August 2008, aged only 50. As a mark of respect to their former buddy, Sanders, Wincer and Co reunited for the “Modrophenia ‘79” event staged in Brighton in August 2009; Philip Edwards was on guitar and Chris Venzi-James – who was subsequently deposed by temp Nick Beetham – was on bass. Still going strong as of 2015, Ant Wellham has become their permanent bassist.
© MC Strong/GRD outtakes // rev-up MCS Jul2015

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