AOS3 were legends of the early 1990s underground festival/anarcho-ska-punk scene. They burned brightly but briefly and after two critically acclaimed albums and five years on the road, split in 1995,
In 2007, the band started to hang around together again, doing the occasional gig, all be it with a slightly different line up. We managed to catch up with them for one of their very early gigs in Birmingham and bagged an interview with front man John. At that time we got the vibe it was not going to be a permanent reformation.
Little did we know that they would still be gigging over a decade later. The reformed band has now been around twice as long as the original incarnation of the band and, it could be argued, they are ‘bigger’ now than they were ‘back in the day’.
Since those early tentative steps back into gigging, the band has expanded and now features John’s partner Penny and his son Oz-ska. A family affair if you like.
They have also finally got around to recording that third album we have all been waiting for.
On the subject of waiting, we interviewed them at the Surplus Festival in Porthkerry, back in 2015, before the album had emerged. This is us finally getting around to transcribing that interview.
We gathered around the AOS3 van in the car park and started by asking if they had planned staying together this long when they reformed.
“Not really”, John contemplates. “We just wanted to have some good times again and it just sort of gathered momentum. It gathered steam and it was fun to stay on board basically.”
“The most important thing for me, in this era of the band, is that we have totally given up on the idea of trying to ‘make it’. We have abandoned that and now it’s, ‘let’s just enjoy playing gigs’, which we really do. It is so much easier once you have given up on chasing that dream, which we did do in the first version of the band and when I was with PAIN. We chased the dream of making a living from it, and that dream comes at a cost. A cost I don’t want to pay anymore.”
We then ask if they would agree that they are now bigger than they were first time around.
“We have had a good couple of years. A lot of that has been down to Alchemy (the festival, rather than actual alchemy). Crispian from Alchemy looked after us and then became one of the band”
“Crispian was in the band for the last year, but before that he ran the main stage at Alchemy. And doing it in a really great way, with the kind of bands he was cherry picking and organising. He was on a mission. He said to me quite early on ‘we all lost each other early on and its time we relaxed and had a party’. He really did achieve something, it was a meeting point for the various clans and a rejuvenation for our generation of bands.”
“I think Crispian being in the band”, chips in Sam, “brought us all closer together, especially when he passed away. His presence brought about a transitional sketch for us”
“He brought exactly the right energy”, John confirms “he was the easiest person to be in a band with. He turned up on time, he organised gigs and did everything you would hope someone in a band would do. Crispian was always there.”
Crispian played numerous gigs with the band throughout 2014, including the first ever Surplus Festival in Mid Wales. The band were all set for 2015, when in February, he suddenly died- and left the band, and many, many others shell shocked.
When AOS3 were on the scene first time around, the festival scene was very different to the scene today. It was free festivals or mega corporate events like Reading, with not much in between. These days there are festivals on just about every weekend in the summer.
“Once again the moneyed and the privileged have bought up what the poor invented decades ago and are selling it back to them”, John says through gritted teeth. “If I could go back to the old free festivals and the chaos that they involved, I would in a heartbeat.”
“Thank fuck we have festivals like Alchemy and Surplus keeping that old spirit alive”, Sam chips in. “it’s got an old skool vibe, it is how it should be. There should be more shit like this but that’s never going to happen”
“Well, we never thought there would be this many”, John muses positively.
Penny jumps in at this point. “The more events like Boomtown keep growing in size, the more people hanker for the vibe of small events like this. This place is just lovely. And I think Bearded Theory has the balance about right. If it stays the size it is this year (2015) without growing it will be OK, but any bigger than that and it will be just silly.”
We then start to chat about the album, which at the time of the interview had not been released. They were still “rolling it in glitter” ready for release.
“Some songs go back four or five years, but there was a whole burst of creativity this year”, John tells us. “Oscar was really instrumental in making the album happen. He is nineteen and in a sort of explosive musical moment in his life. He is really prolific. Because he has grown up around all of my music, he has all our chops on guitar and it is hard wired into him.”
“It’s having nuances of AOS3 and PAIN, added on top of rock and prog and psychedelic thrown in.” Oscar contributes from the depths of the van.
“He is really into all these things, and he is very multi instrumental”, proud dad tells us. “He plays bass, drums, guitar and saxophone”
“Which makes the writing process easier. We do loads at home and due to advances in technology it is suddenly good quality, the same quality we used to pay hundreds of pounds for in the studio. And we don’t need any session musicians because I grew this musical prodigy”.
After the interview, Oscar casually joined the Sporadics on stage, along with Jay from Inner Terrestrials, to cover for Sporadics guitarist Andy, who was stuck on the continent with his other band due to a truck drivers’ blockade of the ferry port. You have to be pretty confident about your craft to do that sort of thing at short notice.
At this point we turn our attention to the musical prodigy skulking in the back of the van and ask what it’s like being nineteen and in a band with his dad. Once the laughter dies down he manages to reply.
“It’s not as hard as you would think. We only fall out when he tries to limit what I drink. But it’s fun for the most part.”
Perhaps the more pertinent question is how does John cope with being in a band with his wife and son, do they cramp his style?
“No mate, I’m well past it. But in this band I have always been the first to bed. And do you know what that has got me? The best bed, every time”.
But being successful and headlining sometimes has its down side. We once caught the band headline at the Black Swan in Bristol, which meant coming on stage at 3am.
“That is fucking horrible”, moans lightweight John. “It’s a fate worse than death. It is hard work keeping it together sometimes, but if you don’t, you regret it afterwards.
Oscar is also in bands with people his own age though. He is in a “more folkie, indie type group” called the Vernacular, who have an EP out. He had a guitar at the age of ten but has only really been playing it for four years (at time of interview).
“I started out playing Iron Man and then got into really heavy stuff like Slipknot before getting sucked into playing with these guys. I’m a massive fan of American hard-core punk but I have grown up around ska, two-tone, reggae – so it is all hardwired into my head.”
Oscar started playing with the band around the time Paco, legendary punk drummer with Inner Terrestrials and Conflict passed away. His second gig was at the ‘Racket Club’, one of many informal wakes for Paco.
“That Racket Club gig”, john tells us “Oscar and his teenage mate Dan joined us, cos none of our regular guitarists were available. Dan, luckily, is a big fan. We had taken him to the Garry DS anniversary gig, so he has been exposed to a lot of the bands on the scene.”
“But it was terrible to lose Paco. He was such an important figure in the punk scene. He was important to punk, generally, but also important to drumming worldwide. No Paco, no Sepeltura, he invented that sort of drum language. A whole generation heard it and thought ‘fuck, you can drum that fast!’”
“He was also one of those lovely people who brought people together and looked after people. He was the most generous person I ever met in South London. He saved me personally by getting me into a flat when Oscar was only about two years old. I moved into Paco’s for about three years with me Korg Trinity. That was about all I owned in the world at the time. Paco said ‘I’m looking for somebody who is not an idiot. Youre not an idiot are you? You can move in’ ”.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Oscar is not the only one in more than one band. Sam is also in Nuke on Route (and at the time of interview was in Headjam)
“It’s a fucking nightmare”, Sam tells us. “I really have to keep at the top of my game with all the conflicting gigs. It is fucking difficult but AOS3 take precedence”
“In the beginning we said this will be a ‘floating collective’” reflects John, “If people could not make it we would ask other people to come in and fill their boots and it has worked out like that. It has been nice recently cos people like Fran from Inner Terrestrials and Chris Williams from LESS have stepped in, Mark and Magnus from Tarantism have had a go. But we always intended to take the Gong, collective approach. And I am really really chuffed cos it’s working out”.
The weekend of the interview saw the band miss a trip to Europe due to a ferry strike, but they are starting to get a more work over on the continent.
“We are going out to play a festival in Holland for the first time in years and we are starting to get more gigs. People like the Kopi in Berlin wanted us to wait till there was a new album out, and that has taken us five years, but we hope to get over there when the album is out”.
The album is out now, and it was worth the wait (review here). And in keeping with the ethos of the band it is entirely DIY, released by themselves, on their own, and nobody else. It was released on the band’s own ‘Skatedog records’ label in November 2015. The launch party doubled up as a twentieth anniversary party for their mates Tarantism.
Two years on from this interview, the band are showing no signs of slowing down and have a full summer of festivals and gigs ahead of them. Oscar and Penny are now fully embedded onto the band and they just keep getting tighter and tighter. The new album also means they are continuing to evolve and grow before our eyes. So if you see them on festival line up, make sure you check them out.