It’s a testament to Johnny Moped’s sheer oddness that they stood out in a late ‘70s punk scene overly populated by strange and unusual individuals.
Boasting a ranting frontman whose mother-in-law banned him from gigs, a pair of Berks for a rhythm section and a Slimy Toad on guitar, they were the unlikeliest of rock stars.
But now, more than 40 years later, they’re on the road to becoming national treasures, with a new record deal and Fred Burns‘ Basically Johnny Moped documentary – currently showing on that there Netflix.
And, if that wasn’t enough, Fierce Panda label boss Simon Williams has only gone and turned their story into a brand spanking new book called 1-2 Cut Your Hair.
Hailing from unfashionable Croydon and with a roster of songs, such as Groovy Baby. VD Boiler, and, controversial B-side Incendiary Device – from which the book’s title is drawn – The Mopeds would enjoy an all too brief moment in the sun around the release of their debut album Cycledelic in 1978.
But theirs would be a quintessentially English story of heroic failure, the author striking an appropriately irreverent tone for this romp through the Moped’s shambolic, but enduring career.
An effective companion piece to the doc, Williams’ writing puts flesh on the bones of events and anecdotes portrayed in the film.
It’s all here; gigs in back gardens and on a Croydon roundabout, Roxy shows soaked in flob and ‘grollys’ and a drunken bassist thrown off stage by an irate drummer at the climax of a disastrous showcase for major label scouts.
Not to mention, a singer so reluctant to lay down vocals for their debut album, that the rest of the band are compelled to kidnap him, relieving him of his trousers to prevent his escape.
And then there’s their numerous encounters with scenesters who’d go on to make the big time.
I’m talking the likes of Shane MacGowan, Sid Vicious, Billy Bragg and notably Chrissie Hynde, who the Mopeds effectively sacked twice before she shot to fame with The Pretenders.
Despite repeated slaggings from Moped members for a being “a commie,” Bragg would go on to cover the Moped’s Let’s have Another Baby in a duet with the late Kirsty MacColl.
Motorhead‘s Lemmy Kilminster appears as a rare champion of the Mopeds, along with founder member Ray Burns – father of the aformentioned filmmaker Fred and better known as Captain Sensible.
To this day the Captain’s affection remains undimmed, taking the reformed Mopeds on tour with The Damned and eulogising the ‘genius’ of their titular gap-toothed vocalist.
‘There’s more anarchy in Johnny Moped than your Joe Strummers, any of them. There’s nobody like Johnny. He’s really special.’Captain Sensible
Another key character in both book and film is Xerxes – a kind of auxiliary Moped – who fills in on vocals when Johnny, alias Paul Halford, is prevented by his feisty much older wife – and even older and fiestier mum-in-law – from fronting his own band’s gigs.
In both book and film Xerxes’ is something of a Chorus figure, offering a wry commentary on the band’s history – happily taking the piss, while at the same time applauding their fearless punk spirit.
Variously described as Croydon’s “11th most famous musician” and “New Wave’s Alf Garnett,” Halford is portrayed as some kind of artistic savant.
Like superman in a phone box he transforms into a living legend – or ‘leg-end’ as he would say – every time he shuffles on stage as Johnny.
If you can get him on stage in the first place, that is.
Almost despite themselves, the band enjoy pretty encouraging reviews for Cycledelic – but all too quickly their considerable appetite for self-destruction takes over.
While frequently laugh out loud funny, things take a darker turn after the band are dropped by Chiswick Records.
There are two deaths in their inner circle and a fallow period follows, when it looks the Mopeds have all but ridden their last.
However the tragi-comic tale ends in triumph of sorts with the release of a new Moped’s single – a mere 37 years after the previous one – and “an even brander” new album – 2019’s Lurrigate Your Mind.
Whether such a wilfully idiosyncratic band is worthy of such an exhaustive biography may be open to question.
But thanks to thorough research and interviews with most of the key players, Williams – an ex-NME hack – delivers a surprisingly coherent account of one of the most hilariously dysfunctional bands never to trouble the charts.
- 1-2 Cut Your Hair – The Johnny Moped Story by Simon Williams published by Damaged Goods is out on August 19 and available to pre-order on this link
- Originally released in 2013, Fred Burns’ Basically Johnny Moped documentary is available to Uk audiences on Netflix
- More about Johnny Moped at the Damaged Goods website and on their Facebook and Twitter pages