100,000 Bodybags, 3,000 words, 30 Years, 10 albums, 1 history, zero fucks given. The story of one of Wales’ longest lasting and most uncomproming punk bands.
On 20th May 2020 South Wales punk stalwarts 100,000 Bodybags announced that after three decades of rubbing people up the wrong way, they were splitting up.
We thought it was about time somebody wrote up their story. But hey, turns out they have done it themselves – so here is the story of the band that just refused to compromise, in their own words (Actually, Simon Cullen’s words to be precise)
O.k., I know this is a little self indulgent, but I wanted a chance to say goodbye to something. A relationship of sorts. One that’s been with me since I was a teenager. One day I was given the chance to rehearse for a new band. One Sunday afternoon, July 22nd 1990, a friend of my cousin knocked my Mum’s door and asked if I wanted to try rehearsing for a new band he was starting. I would have a single Sunday afternoon rehearsal to learn about 15 songs for a gig the following Saturday afternoon in the Six Bells Working Man’s Club near Abertillary. A prestigious venue, that I knew well having played there a few months before with my incredibly bad thrash metal band Xposed, to a packed and appreciative room, that particularly enjoyed our opener “The Beast Within”, but weren’t quite so keen on our 2nd song “The Demon’s Left Bollock”.
So it was that on that Sunday afternoon, I headed to Blaina to meet Craig Bruzas (Brewer) and Mike Ellison (Micky Mill) in a damp, but lovable rehearsal room called Slip Studios.
Apparently the band had previously been a five piece with a female singer, but the drummer disappeared with some money, and the band fell apart a week before the gig. Some songs were already written and just needed learning, other songs needed writing from scratch that afternoon to complete a set of 14 songs including such classics as “Visitors from the Planet Zenobia”,“Crazy Kid”, “Sister Virtue”, “Laura Is…” and “We’ve Got A Problem”.
After just one practice we pulled it off and managed to bundle together 14 songs and on July 28th 1990, played as the support band for local punk heros Classified Protest and a band called Anal Vapors. I seem to remember the band not having a name so we played the first gig as Laura Is…. Named after one of those first songs in that first set. We may even have a recorded our first demo as Laura Is… the demo consisted of 3 songs recorded using a drum machine. “We’ve got a problem”, “Worthless Soldiers”, “ and “Plunder”.
On the way to our second gig, we had a conversation about changing the name of the band.
The 1st Gulf War had just kicked off (in Iraq, not in the van, although in those vans, anything was possible) as Iraq “invaded” Kuwait and the news had reported how the war was clean and lacked casualties, this was the days of pretty much no internet, so to learn a counter narrative that 107,000 people died in Bagdhad alone on the first night of bombing, as King Bush 1st kicked off of the New World Order, it really blew my mind.
I think in the van someone may have suggested Bodybags as a name, and I suggested throwing the 100,000 on there and away we went. 100,000 Bodybags was born.
Local bands, as a rule, don’t last for long. This is our 30th year and I’m finally going to let all 100,000 of them die.
Every week, for nigh on 30 years, we’ve rehearsed, gigged, toured, written and written and written. All for ourselves. If this band had ever been about anything other than our love of doing it, it would never, ever have lasted 30 years.
We’ve never made a penny from the band. We’ve released 10 albums or singles on labels, some of which have sold well, some not, and not a penny has gone into our pockets. We’ve played to rooms of hundreds and rooms that would hold hundreds but just contained my long suffering ex-girlfriend and best friend who came to every gig no matter what or where just to get out of their houses
Some of the best times I’ve had in my life have been crammed into the back of some transit van with 7 or 8 of my friends, on the way to some weird gig in somewhere like Midsommer Norton. Drinking cheap beers and then begging the driver (usually Brewer) to stop. We once travelled from South Wales to York for a gig on a Friday night (2 x 45 minutes sets of original songs to the promoter (Dougie Leatherpants) and about 7 confused looking students) drove back home from York to Blackwood so Brewer could do his round as a Postman, before hopping back in the van, and driving with a convoy of friends/fans up to Carlisle to play on the Saturday night to 250 people in a sweaty basement decorated with pornography.
They were days of drinking, drugs and chaos. Micky once was so desperate for a piss, he jumped from a moving car, while we turned around lost in Mayfair, rolled down the street past the car as it stopped, leapt to his feet and pissed right in front of the doorman in the doorway of a fashionable London Hotel. We also travelled to Southampton for a paid gig once and Mickey got so pissed in the van to impress a girl who was coming to watch us, that we had to use belts to strap him to a pillar in the pub and hang the bass around his neck so it at least looked like he was conscious. We were booked to play several gigs in pubs and got paid just to shut the fuck up and leave by miserable commitee members who weren’t fans. We were booked to play a set at the “Noise Factory” in Maesteg only for the commitee to ban us for being too loud, we ended up drinking a slab of beer upstairs with the promoter and listening to Metallica on the jukebox. Good night.
We recorded a few demos, and a London label got to hear a version of We’ve Got a Problem which was recorded using a programmable drum machine and offered to release it for us as a 7”. In 1991, getting signed and released by a London label felt like winning the lottery. We worked with welsh producer Richard Jackson and recorded two songs in Monnow Valley studio in Monmouth. On the same desk that Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody on. We did it fine justice by recording what became our anti-police anthem “We’ve Got A Problem” and a song about a manufactured race war and the Rodney King beatings in LA called “No Better”. Damaged Goods Records sold out of the initial pressing very quickly and had to do a second pressing and we were inundated with gig offers from all over the country.
The fanzines and magazines gave it great reviews. Maximum Rock and Roll had 3 of 5 writers include it in their “best single of 1993” end of year awards. I remember getting letters from the Phillipines, Brazil and several other places. We were playing to sold out venues wherever we played. Times were brilliant. We continued rehearsing every single Sunday for 4 hours at a time. Stopping only for a brief lunchbreak up to Rusty’s store for some out of date Space Raiders, a Mars Bar and a few cans. Then back to rehearsing and writing. We were playing local gigs where were able to play 2 x45 minute sets of all our own songs for a £150-£200. We were in touch with Cheap Sweaty Fun who were the main promoters in TJs so regularly got gigs supporting some of our favourite American touring bands. One summer we were offered a few gigs in London and apparently, inadvertently became part of the “Camden Bohemian Scene”. There were a group of young students who turned up at every London gig and wanted us to contribute a song called Sick and Tired to an animal rights benefit CD they were producing so we recorded the song as a one off demo for them. I was also in touch with a promoter in Japan who wanted us to spend two weeks there and play 10 gigs with local punk bands. As with a lot of things in those days those, it petered out without coming to anything.
After the success of the first single, Damaged Goods were keen to do a second but it was a cursed project from the outset. Firstly we made the rookie mistake of putting a new song on the single instead of a tried and tested live favourite. We wrote “She’s A Stereotype” and recorded it in Grassroots studio in Cardiff in 1994. Unfortunately the engineer left halfway through mixing because he wanted to watch Ireland vs Italy in the 1994 US World Cup so the mixing is a mess. When we went back to pick up the masters the next day, they had already recorded over them with the next band in, so the record label were forced to master the vinyl from a BASF C30 cassette tape. The B-Side was a much better song called C.A.T. which was written by Anthony Gingell, a long time friend of the band and the guitarist out of a band we were friendly with who’d kindly let us use his riffs and songs on occasion.
The vinyl was finally due to be released, and the label owner asked us to play a gig in London at his own venue, in order to showcase a few bands and launch our 2ndsingle. We decided to make a day of it, and filled a minibus with band gear, cider and Welsh idiots and drove to London. Unfortunately during our set our fans got a little too enthusiastic (pissed) on the dancefloor and started smashing furniture, then the bar, then the seats, then the bus stop opposite the chippy, then the chippy. Needless to say the label weren’t very impressed and weren’t in any way interested in working with us after that. In fact, for a long time, his own description of us on the label’s web page was “The most obnoxious bunch of fucks I’ve ever worked with”. Which is fair enough.
We kept releasing DIY singles and Eps either self-releasing on “Doggybag Records” or on small, local punk labels. We were gigging probably 3 days every week all over the country still. As we were recording the Left, Wing! Right, Wing! Ra! Ra! Ra! EP, we were taking another of Anthony’s songs for ourselves, so decided we may as well let him join the band, so in 1997, Anthony joined as a 4th member on lead guitar. His first gig was in the Philharmonic in Cardiff. I turned up 3 hours early and binge drunk Strawberry Concorde in a multi story carpark until everyone else turned up. Then I drank a million pints and watched Liverpool get knocked out of the UEFA Cup against Strasbourg, 2-3 on aggregate, then I fell off my drum stool every time I tried to do a drum fill. From there, the second chapter of 100,000 Bodybags was born.
In 1997 we self released “Left Wing, Right Wing, Ra! Ra! Ra!” to great reviews from the local press and UK Punk Zines. We were getting regular gigs at both ends of the country working with a few different promoters, where else but the local punk zine could you have contacts written in a diary under the names “Fat Tom, “Dougy Leatherpants” and “Mental Mark The Greaser”?
There was an odd little town called Midsommer Norton down near Bath that had a great venue called The Wunderbar. It was a low ceilinged cellar bar that would book once every few weeks and pay us £150 – £200 for travelling down, getting pissed and playing to an absolutely rammed cellar full of punks and metalheads. Unfortunately the venue closed down sometime around 1998 but another venue took up the rock/punk mantel at the top end of Midsommer Norton. The Stones Cross was run by an old school crusty punk couple who had seen us at The Wunderbar and loved us, so wanted to book us as often as possible. The first time we played there with Anthony in the band it was absolutely crammed to the rafters in there. It was hot, sweaty and noisy; there was a local support who’s name escaped me, and then us, we planned to play for 90 minutes as that’s what the venue requested, I think we threw in a few covers, but it was mostly our own material and we had enough of our own stuff for a 3 hour set if we wanted to play it! It was a brilliant gig apart from two incidents…there was a dreadlocked crusty dude up front in the pit and he’d taken his standard issue crusty para boot off and was holding it over Brewers mouth and nose as he tried to sing. Unfortunately Brew wasn’t the most patient of people so hit him square on the forehead with the base of the microphone stand, knocking him out cold in the pit.
As we were rounding up our set (our crusty friend had continued dancing, but at a safer distance just out of mic stand reach) and were just about to launch into a final encore when the pub owner came running in yelling to us to stop, the gig had to stop! We were more unhappy than the crowd to have our triumphant encore of No Better/Problem denied and were about to complain when in scuttled 15 members of the Avon and Somerset constabulary into the pub followed by the Chief Constable, resplendent with his grey hair and smart uniform. They burst into the pub like the fucking Stasi because they were operating on noise complaints from the local Vicar who happened to live opposite the Stones Cross, and apparently wasn’t one of 100,000 Bodybags’ biggest fans. The Chief Inspector stood in front of us with his hand raised and 15 coppers and a room full of punks at his back to demand we cease and desist immediately. The response from the band was to shout “Fuck you, you Father Ted looking bitch, this songs about the police, it’s called We’ve got a fucking Problem” and in we launched. We managed to get to the middle 8 before they cut the power in the pub. Not wanting any stain on his otherwise unblemished criminal record, Mad Ant went and sat in the van, Brewer and I were egotistically absorbing the praise of our adoring fans, and considering offers of which house party we should go back to, but the band was split 50/50 with Mad A not wanting to get arrested and Micky wanting to get home to an internet chat room, we had to call it a night and drive home. As Brew and I lingered in the pub sorting payment and booking another gig, the landlady strode across, sweaty and pissed from dancing in the pit all night. In her hands she had Anthony’s packed lunch which he’d left on the stage. We let her know it was ours, so she took the apple out, and vigorously rubbed it into her minge, before popping it back into the Tupperware box and handing it to us. I’ve never laughed through my revulsion as much as I did on that journey home, listening to Mad Ant working his way through the delicious, crunchy “toffee” apple in his packed lunch.
In 1999 we released the 6 song CD “Iconoclast” which is still one of my favourite CDs we recorded but Micky was never happy with the mix, and I believe it started the rot setting in for him. In early 2000 a had a long term relationship end and so much more time on my hands. so Brewer and myself formed a second band called This System Kills, for a while both bands co-existed in beautiful harmony, occasionally playing on the same bills at
gigs but at around this time, Micky was changing. He had discovered dance music and the internet and was barely interested in anything else. It was around this time that Brewer broke his leg pretty badly playing rugby, we were still managing to fulfil gigs as long as he could sit on the stage on a stool, with his foot up like Val Doonican. On 23rd May 2001 we were playing in the legendary TJs club in Newport supporting US Punk band Burning Airlines. There was a decent crowd in for our set, but not as many as expected because up the road, two local skaters were releasing a skate video along the lines of the old CKY stuff that formed Jackass. They were pretty well known by this point as Pritchard vs Dainton and later went on to find fame with Dirty Sanchez on MTV. Halfway through our set, the two lads and about 50 of their fans poured into TJs, stark bollock naked and pissed out of their heads and generally smashed fuck out of the place, photographs, pint glasses everything got turned over. It was great for us as a crowd reaction, not so great for Burning Airplanes all the way from Washington DC when everyone left again just before they went on stage.
We packed our stuff in the van after our set, Brew had to sit outside because of his leg so I carried the gear back and forth, as I was waiting with the last of the amps, I heard an angry mob in the pub shouting something about how “some cunt from a band has knocked Pritchard out on the pavement” and they were going to fuck him up. I followed the angry mob out, carefully trying to look like I wasn’t in a band and saw an angry mob running in all directions hunting the culprit, yet no sign of Brewer or his Dad’s van.
Later I got the story from Brew that Pritchard had kung fu kicked a bin, which then hit and dented Brew’s Dad’s offside front wing, so he’d stood up on his crutches and knocked him out before speeding off like Starsky and Hutch before the angry mob of shirtless 15 year old skater boys could kick his face in.
We replaced Micky with my brother Sean on bass and played one final gig in Barfly in Cardiff late 2002, but then 100,000 Bodybags went into a small hiatus while This System Kills took off. Bodybags still released a full album in this time, an electronica offering called “There Is No Conspiracy But The One True Conspiracy” but there were no gigs, and no writing during this period.
In 2006, Bodybags came back as a 3-piece, after an initial awkward start, released a 6 song EP called “Is This The Best That Evolution Could Come Up With?” gigs picked up from there and we were involved in a student scene in Cardiff, as well as a slowly re-building scene in Newport in places like The Meze Lounge (as Neil Dugmore would say, it smells like protein) and The Hornblower. Through these gigs. We met a band called Nine Plan Failed and really clicked with them, they had a similar sound to us and were good guys. Through them we got involved in the Swansea punk scene and I bumped into an old student of mine who was starting a record label. Death Monkey Records was born in 2010, and after much hard work in studios and long hours mixing in the bedroom of our long time sound engineer and sometime band member Neil Dugmore, we finally managed to release the 2014 EP “Breaking Something Beautiful”. The singles from that EP “All BMW Drivers Are Arseholes” and “The Providence Of Recompense” both still regularly chart on internet radio stations and were regular crowd pleasers that helped us build up the healthy following we have today. Its the best thing we’ve released with mature writing, great production and good, catchy tunes. Even if I do say so myself. Death Monkey were great with the release, and allowed us to keep the cost down to a maximum of £5.
Unfortunately, Breaking Something Beautiful will be the last writing and release from us as 100,000 Bodybags. I feel now is as good a time as ever to call it a day. I’ll never again have to explain what the band name means. Explaining band names when your 20 is a lot different to when you are 48. I wanted to end the band to give myself a chance to say goodbye to something that has been an ever present in my life and a great release for me socially and psychologically.
I want to start something new. A new band is formed, a set is written and we’re ready to gig and record. I won’t say anything more here because this is about saying goodbye to 100,000 Bodybags and everything we took 30 years to build. All the current members of Bodybags will continue to play in projects together or apart, but we’ll continue to play no matter what.
I hope some of you reading this will have your own stories and memories, if you do, please, please share them. I always felt our little band was underappreciated, so it’d be nice to know we touched you in even the smallest way (but not in that way you filthy beggars). If you can share this post on Facebook, maybe some people will remember seeing us in some mad pub in some small village in 1997, screaming profanity’s from the stage to a bouncy castle full of 7 year olds or something.
See you from the stage at an empty pub soon.
Simon, Brewer, Anthony – 100,000 Bodybags 28/07/1990 – 20/05/2020. Spanning millennia like bad motherfuckers.
(NB: all photos lifted from the 100,000 Bodybags Facebook Page – if we have used one of yours and want a credit please let us know. If you have your own you want to share with us, again, please let us know)