Interview with Johnny Moped, 1991

Johnny Moped
Johnny Moped

Alex Ogg presents a play in four acts for Spiral Scratch fanzine.

It contains references to the Drug Addix and early days in Croydon. Fred Berk, of course, wrote ‘Darling, let’s have another baby’, which Kirsty recorded with Billy Bragg. Among the cast also are Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies and Chrissie Hynde. Not forgetting Xerxes!

Oh, Kirsty crops up in Act 4 for the impatient …

Johnny Moped

Starring (in order of appearance): Johnny Moped, Captain Sensible, Martin Newell, Dave Berk, Kirsty McColl and introducing mystery man Xerxes. Well, it was a bit of a one off kids, how could we fail to have a Scratch reporter down there to record it for posterity. The mighty Johnny Moped band, reformed far the first time in 12 years, with rock god Johnny, in person, taking the microphone. Croydon’s very own Robert Plant was back at the Marquee, bashing out the hits from his new album Searching for Xerxes, not to mention those classics from yester-year.

Frankly, it was a bit like a school reunion, with old friends includiing Xerxes himself turning up. The gig itself was a fine spectacle of rock power and the cheesy charisma that Johnny Moped brings to bear on an audience. Finding it impossible to get hold of the star for more than three minutes without interruptions from his: legions of loyal supporters, I left the tape running in the dressing room as we tried to sort out the history of one of nature’s strangest phenomena.

Act One: Trying not to lose it

starring Johnny Moped, Captain Sensible and a voice in the crowd.

Scene: backstage after the Moped reunion gig.

SS: Was It All Worth It Then?

Johnny: Well, I thought I wasn’t holding it together half way through, but I just managed to pull the audience back. For one awful moment I thought I was losing it, but I managed to get the punters back.

Sensible walks inwith 2 foot long cigar for Johnny – I kid you not

Everyone: You’re fuckng joking!

Capt: No, lets see if it will light up

Someone: Give it some suck Johnny!

Capt: It is a real cigar

Someone: That’s the only time you’ll see Captain getting someone to smoke.

SS: Has he given up?

Someone: World’s worst ex-smoker.

Capt: Yeh, you’ve really arrived Johnny. You’re in the big time now. Johnny Moped OBE.

Johnny: I’m enjoying the cigar, but not when I’ve got a mouthful of tobacco.

SS: What’s the story behind the album then?

Someone: Ah, that’s really Dave Berk you ought to ask.

Capt: Go and show your audience what it’s all about, why you’re a star and they’re not. Show ’em the cigar.

Johnny; This must be the biggest fucking cigar i’ve seen in my life.

SS; This must be the weirdest interview we’ve ever done too. I’ve never talked to anyone with a two foot cigar in their mouth before.
How long have you been practising then?

Johnny; About a couple of weeks

SS: So who’s this Xerxes bloke?

Johnny; He was in the original band.

Smoke rings waft across the room, the door opens stage left.

Act Two: Catching up

starring Johnny Moped, Martin Newell and Xerxes

Enter Martin Newell.and Xerxes.

Martin: Where are you from then?

SS: That’s the second time someone’s asked me that, Scunthorpe.

Martin: (A bit pissed, it must be said) Scunthorpe is a really good gig. We did this free festival and the audience looked really poor, and I took loads of crates of free lemonade from the dressing room and gave them some. I’ve got nothing but good memories ot Scunthorpe. There are a lot of warm people in Scunthorpe … .l’m reasonably articulate when I haven’t been drinking.

SS: Where do you live now Johnny?

Johnny: South Croydon.

Xerxes: Still having arguments with the mother in law?

Johnny: I constantly have arguments with the mother in law. It’s become an occupational hazard.

Xerxes: What particular part of your persona is she not enamoured with?

Johnny: She thinks I’m a slob. She thinks I can’t provide for Brenda, cos we haven’t got our own place yet.

Xerxes: How is Brenda, is she still working?

Johnny: She’s not working. She hasn’t worked fun the last seven or eight bloody years.

Xerxes: Are you getting a lift home tonight. How did they get you up here. They didn’t have to kidnap you did they? That was always the bit about the band that I remembered with most affection. Putting dark crepe paper round the car, putting barraclavas on and going in to kitchens with dark glasses on and stealing their favourite kitchen porter. So when’s the next gig?


Xerxes: You’ve lost your Motorhead Born to Lose badge.

Johnny: That was a classic. I didn’t come by these badges myself … Where’s the rest of my band gone?

Xerxea: They’ve probably all gone to a swish restaurant to spend all the money they’ve eamt.

Capt: Is Johnny going to come and meet his audience?

Exit Captain with Johnny Moped.

Act Three: It’s like the Eighties never happened

starring Xerxes

The shot tightens to frame Xerxes and the Narrator.

Xerxes: It’s like the eighties never happened. I’ll tell you how he first came to notice. What happened was, Raymond (Capt) had a friend called Cox, and he said that he used to hang around with these hell’s angels called.the Road Rats, and he’d met this amazing bloke, who they used to pick up after hed finished work, hence the Hells Angels’ tattoos. They used to pick him up when he’d just got paid. They used to take him on the back of their bikes for about 30 yards, and Johnny used to give them all his money. So the Road Rats were quite enamoured by Johnny. So through Cox, Ray met Johnny, and it was so obvious that he was a rock star.

I can only describe it as, someone once said if you put John Arlott in a field, eventually a test match would grow around it. Well it was a bit like that with Johnny, cos it was obvious that the man had so much talent. And although people didn’t have that much idea about forming a hand at that stage, it was obvious that Johnny was the catalyst for it. And it sort of grew from that. It was never a question of rehearsing or anything like that, it was just a question of letting him loose in front of a microphone, and us doing the rest of it behind him, and just letting it grow organically. And it was really strange cos this must have been around ‘71 and people used to say we really sounded like the Velvet Underground. And we didn’t even know what the Velvet Underground sounded like. I suppose over the years it grew out of that.

Raymond got his job cleaning toilets and met Chris (Rat). Anyway, we played some gigs in Croydon, and people who could play their instruments used to laugh at us. And all of a sudden, not that we changed one iota, instead of people laughing at us they began writing long essays on us, which was quite strange.

SS:I never knew that Rat was in the band.

Xerxes: Well, they played a one off once in the Vortex. We used to support the Damned a lot though. It was when the band weren’t doing anything and Rat thought he’d give Moped a hit of a hand. It was just quite strange that from playing the same old shit for years, like every band who plays R&B ‘in a pub, only we weren’t as good as that …

SS: You had your own peculiar charm

Xerxes: I suppose you could say that It was very much a Croydon thing. People who have never worked with Moped or known him have this peculiar affection for him.

SS: Paternal almost.

Xerxes: Well, I dunno about that. A. brotherhood almost. It’s strange because a friend was telling me that a lot of bands who came over from. the US, like Dinosaur, and even The Ramones in the 70’s, were big fans of Moped. Why? How they ever heard him, we have absolutely no idea. It is odd, that such an untalented bunch of people are still held in such affection.

SS: Well, there were a few out there tonight.

Xerxes: I was out the front when he started off, and there were all these blokes of about 35, who knew every word. They knew the songs better than .Moped did.

SS: I’ve never seen so many genuinely old people pogo in my life.

Xerxes: There were several geriatrics who gobbed on me.

SS: What about him not being allowed to go to rehearsals by his missus?

Xerxes: We did actually have to sign a contract with her once, with Brenda, saying we would not play a gig outside of Croydon without her express permission. That was after a patiiculliarly unpleasant scene in some public toilets, when she dragged him down the ladies to prevent us kidnapping him.

SS: So ifs true, you literally had to kidnap him for each gig?

Xerxes: Oh yeh. The first proper Moped gig as the Johnny Moped Band was at the Hope and Anchor in ‘77, supporting the Damned. We actually went on to annoy people. but we didn’t, they actually liked it. We used to get so much stick because we couldn’t play Genesis songs. The big turning point was when we played this Free Festival at Bold Heights. We played there and Johnny always used to take his bloody hohdns in Bulgaria. Well it was the cheapest place you could go. I think it’s cheaper than Gt. Yarmouth. And he always used to miss it. And it was weird cos we got a favourable write up in the Croydon Advertiser, and we could not believe it. Anywav three years running he went on holiday during this free festival, he’s nothing if not a man regular in his habits.

SS: But you always played under different names didn’t you?

Xerxes: Oh yeh. Johuny Moped and the Iron Brains, Paula Halford’s Wooden Underpants.

SS: Was this so that Brenda wouldn’t find out?

Xerxes: No, we just used to like.changing the name of the band. But our only prestigious gig in Croydon and he used to take his holidays. And so the backing band used to have to do the best they could. Then we’d tell him how good it was and that he shouldn’t have missed it. We never really changed but suddenly we came in to fashion. The thing with Moped is, it’s never really been done very carefully. I ’d like to see it done carefully one day cos would go really well with big ballads. Working big ballads with that fucking awful voice. He used to work in these bloody awful factories with these sulphur fumes coming up. He used to do electroplating, sticking lumps of metal in acid and stuff like that and having to stand over it and you’d get the most brilliant vocals at the weekend, cos his lungs were so full of gunk. Sulphur voiced Johnny Moped. The first ever Johnny Moped gig was at a talent contest on. Brixtock Road in Thornton Heath And he was brilliant.

SS: Sorry, what did you play?

Xerxes: I used to play sax and sing. This was about 1971 and there was a miner’s strike, and all the electricity got cut off. The first group was catted Genetic Breakdown. That was when everyone came together. You may not believe it but Ray (Capt) used to be a very shy retiring boy. I can actuallv remember the night of our first gig. Trying to get him out of his sick bed, and him saying I’m too ill to play.

sounds of partying and breaking glass in the main bar, for ambience

Act Four: A misunderstanding, with death threats

starring Xerxes and Kirsty MacColl

The door opens

Kirsty: Could I come in please?

Xerxes: I’m afraid the talent’s gone.

Kirsty: I know, they’re all out the front minding my drinks. is there a toilet in here. Oh good.

SS: Er, it’s a fascinating story, have you sold the film rights yet?

Xerxes: The second talent in the band unfortunately threw himself under a train at Thorpe Mead Station.

Kirsty (From the toilet): Fred?

Xerxes: Yeh, Freddie, Mills win the family name.

Kirsty: I thought Bachelor was the family name.

Xerxes: No, you’ve get the wrong one.

Kirsty: I thought Fred was Dave’s brother?

Xerxes: Noooo.

Kirsty: Oh. Chrissie Hynde christened them Berk didn’t she?

SS: I thought she was turning up tonight?

Kirsty: I spoke to her earlier and she’s stuck in the studio. She said she’d try and get down here. I said whaddya mean you’ll try to get down here. And she said she’s been stuck in the studio and she’s had so much trouble getting anything done cos of her kids, and they’ve got to got it done tonight. So she said she’d get down if she could; if she can’t she said she’d like to know about the next one.

SS: So there is a next one?

Kirsty: Well, as long as it’s alright with Brenda, he’s got to have permission.

Xerxes: Well, you’ll have to have a word with her woman to woman or something, it’s his mother in law you’ve got to watch.

Kirsty: Well he didn’t marry his mother in law, he married Brenda.

Xerxes: Have you met Brenda?

Kirsty: No.

Xerxes: Well then.

Kirsty: Well, everyone’s having a great time so why don’t they do a gig every weekend.

Xerxes: You should meet Brenda.

SS: Can’t you offer him loads of dosh?

Xerxes: Who’s gonna give him loads of dosh.

Kirsty: What’s your name?

Xerxes: I’m John. Well, actually I’m Xerxes.

Kirsty: I know Xerxes. I used to work in Bonaparte Records.

Xerxes: Did you really. 1 used to buy all my records from there.

SS: Watch out, there’s a tape recorder running.

Kirsty: I used to run the mail order, and they used to let us rehearse in them at night. And I was in the Drug Addix. I was Mandy Doubt.

Kirsty: Fuck you then (Screams in to tape recorder) Baaaaastaaaard! Where you from?

SS: (That’s the third time now), Scunthorpe.

Kirsty: That’s alright. You don’t work for the Melody Maker then?

SS: Certainly not madame.

Kirsty: Better not be the NME, cos I’ll fucking head butt you now y’bastard.

The door swings open again, enter Captain.

Capt: Bloody hell, Kirsty’s still here.

Kirsty: Yeh but I’ve got a drink out there so I’m off out now. Anyway, I’ve had a lovely time, it were fucking greeeet.

Exit Kirsty in search of her drink, followed by Captain

Act Five: Every dream came true

Starring Xerxes and Martin

Xerxes: Where were we, Fred was the genius. Fred wrote 90% of the songs out there.

Martin reappears, picking up on the conversation

Martin: What, Every Dream Came True?

Xerxes: Apparently.

Martin: It’s a good song that.

SS: I thought that was a new one.

Martin: Captain’s been playing around with it for the last couple of years, but it’s never been released. The genius of Johnny Moped is that they were one of the earliest of the punk bands. But they were overshadowed by bands who were slicker.

Xerxes: Who had more talent.

Martin: No, I don’t think that’s true. Not judging by tonight’s performance.

Xerxes: You should have heard us years ago. No actually it was probably exactly the same.

SS: But that was a nice, poignant song (Every Dream Came True).

Martin: That’s cos there’s elements of truth in It, and anything that’s got truth in it, like Hemingway said, you should only write about what you know …

Xerxes: Well anyway, the guy who wrote it threw himself under a train, so I don’t know how much truth’s in that.

Martin: Quite a lot of truth I would imagine.

Xetxes: Quite a let yeah. But I wish he’d stuck around and wrote a few more songs.

Martin: Yeh, Captain told me about him.

Xerxes: Wonderful human being

Martin: Captain get’s a bit misty eyed when you talk about Fred.

Xerxes: lf it wasn’t for Fred, Captain wouldn’t he doing what he’s doing now.

SS: Hey, I still haven’t found out where the Xerxes bit comes from.

Xerxes: Oh, that was Ray’s brother. At our first ever pub gig, Johnny was working at a printers, and got sone stuff knocked out cheap, and they said John wasn’t good enough … .

SS: Not very rock and roil …

Xerxes: … and Ray’s brother was reading some Greek poetry or something.

SS: That’s not mineral water Johnny’s been drinking is it?

Xerxes: Yeh, course it is. He’s a dear sweet soul.



Andy Butler informs me that this really was Johnny’s last gig – well, for another twelve years anyway and I was there! A story for the grandchildren I can tell you. Sad to say, but apparently Johnny spent the next two nights sleeping out under a bush, too scared to go home and face the wrath of Brenda. What a star.

Andy Ogg (SS)