Biography taken from NO MORE HEROES by ALEX OGG A Complete History of UK Punk from 1976 – 1980 Cherry Red Books
Jon Buxton (guitar, vocals), Tony McIlwain (drums), Steve Cull (bass/vocals)
Misspent Youth, who formed in 1975, were one of the more popular underachieving punk bands of the era, their name to be found immortalised on many walls and underpasses in the Midlands. The graffiti became so widespread that the band were forced to write to the Birmingham Evening Mail to disassociate themselves from the ongoing campaign to publicise their name. Yeah, right.
The group’s initial line-up featured Buxton alongside Ian Hewitt on bass and Terry Boazman on drums. They made their debut in early 1976 as support to Birmingham heavy metal non-legends Supernova (whose guitarist Keith Rimmell would later join the Killjoys) at the Golden Eagle. The band’s initial influences were the familiar ones for upstart aspirants of the era – the New York Dolls, Stooges, etc, and there was a self-evident indebtedness to the glam era. They were already writing original material, including ‘The Smoker’, ‘Machine Gun’ and ‘Midland Red Bus’, eventually adding vocalist Dave Banks as they secured a residency at the Barrel Organ.
However, there were a few hitches along the way. Boazman would leave to be replaced by an old school friend, Tony McIlwain, with whom the band recorded its first demos at the city’s Nest Studios. Buxton: “The master tape of the three songs, ‘School Report’, ‘Misspent Youth’ and ‘Suzie’s Shinin’, either still resides in the EMI vaults (to where it was sent) or (most likely) ended up in the bin.” Shortly thereafter they also lost their singer, Dave Banks. “Dave was known to like a drink or two. He took to offering out most of the other local bands/promoters/landlords single handed”. That was all very well, but his band drew the line when one day he turned on them. Hewitt was sacked shortly afterwards for lack of commitment after his girlfriend banned him from turning up to a practise when they were auditioning new singers.
Undaunted by these knockbacks, while still ducking and diving to avoid the threat of redemptive violence that resulted from their legacy of working with Banks, McIllwain and Buxton set about writing a new set, one which would deliberately stoke controversy. ‘Powder Room Obsession’ was themed on lesbianism, ‘Goodbye Baby Doll Blue’ on rape, and ‘Plaything’ on underage sex. At the same time they added Steve Cull on bass. Not only did he fill out the sound, he also added another visual dimension on stage – a leopard cat suit-like dimension. Dozens of gigs followed, before they recorded a second round of four-track demos at Outlaw Studios in Birmingham – ‘Nightclub’, ‘It’s A Raid’ and ‘Birmingham Boys’.
After support from local radio station BMRB, which was sustained throughout their career, further sessions were convened at Horizon Studios in Coventry. The idea was to get a fuller sound, and thus they committed to 16-track their most commercial song, ‘Betcha Won’t Dance’. There are some who say the latter had a direct bearing on Duran Duran’s subsequent hit ‘Planet Earth’. Certainly, future Duran Duran members (then performing in TV Eye) were present at Misspent Youth gigs, as were Martin Degville (Sigue Sigue Sputnik), Boy George and the hapless Kevin Rowland. Speaking of whom, as Buxton recalls: “I was making an impromptu appearance at a Sussed gig and borrowed Kevin Law’s guitar. ‘Careful with that,’ he said, ‘it’s Kevin Rowland’s. He’s just bought it from a catalogue.’ I couldn’t resist. I smashed it up and rubbed it against the microphone stand so hard that the top frets all came out. This might not seem hugely funny to you, but I can assure you to all those who knew Kevin Rowland, this was a scream.”
Eventually they found someone to release ‘Betcha Won’t Dance’, local entrepreneur Jim Simpson, head of Big Bear Records. The single is now a huge collectors’ item, largely due to the problems the band experienced with Simpson. He’d given the single a provisional catalogue number of BB20, but its release was continually delayed, resulting in a big row. The band, after being told to take time out and chill, drove to the pressing plant in Dagenham and disposed of 950 copies of the 1,000 pressings by throwing most of them in a dump. Buxton: “The next and last time I met Jim Simpson was when I was running Flick Recording Studios and we used his local paper, Brum Beat, for advertising. There was that real movie moment when our eyes met, each waiting for a comment. Nothing was said, just negotiation over the advert.”
The gigs continued but were becoming more fractious all the time. At Martin Degville’s private party at Barbarella’s, they ended up in a pitched fight with skinheads after making some disrespectful remark about Sid Vicious. On another occasion ‘Plaything’ was deemed a little beyond the pale by some of the same venue’s audience (especially when its subject matter was spelt out by Buxton’s on-stage introduction) and resulted in a hail of pint glasses arcing towards them. Buxton concedes that, with one glass breaking over his arm, “we realised that maybe things were getting a little out of hand”.
By now they were able to sell out Barbarella’s Friday night Spectrum club and pull over 1,000 people through the door. It was heady stuff, and a little too heady for Cull. At the start of 1979, he left to form his own band, but became hooked on narcotics and, suffering from depression, committed suicide in 1984. The band had already written a song based loosely on his life, ‘Cry Tonight’, which he’d come along to hear them play on an emotional night at the Barrel Organ in 1980. He’d replaced by science graduate Peter Chapman.
But handicapped by the limited distribution of their grand opus ‘Betcha Won’t Dance’, Misspent Youth began to flounder, despite huge local popularity and a two-song appearance on the BBC’s Look Hear TV programme as support to the Specials. This was broadcast in January 1980 after 1,000 local signatories had petitioned the BBC to get the band this media exposure, a campaign instigated by McIlwain’s girlfriend Twig.
The BBC appearance turned out be pretty surreal. “We are sitting on the edge of the stage waiting for a rehearsal, heads bowed. Up comes the TV make up lady. ‘OK, guys, time to make up.’ As we lift our heads, faces already caked in the stuff, she exclaims: ‘Oh, my God! Roger [Castles], who are these people?’ Then she turns to us. ‘I think you’re done!’ Later, we’re running through our opening song, the cameramen are practising angles/positions etc, but there is a fault in the studio wiring and all the producer’s confidential comments are heard loud and clear through my Marshall amplification. ‘OK, camera two – George, move in on the great big poof playing the bass’. At which point Peter (our great big puff playing the bass) pouts his lips, rests his hands on his hip, exclaims: ‘Who’s he calling a poof?’ At which point he walks off.
But the piece de resistance came when the show started. “The music comes on and at this point each week, Toyah Wilcox rides into the studio on a different form of transport. This week, it’s on the back of a motor scooter. Chris Phipps, the other presenter, is driving. Chris has forgotten to tell the producer that he has never ridden a motorcycle before. He cocks the throttle and rides the motor scooter straight into the audience, flattening half of them and sending Toyah skidding across the studio.” There is, apparently carnage. “Needless to say, Toyah storms off and the show is put on hold for 20 minutes while the show’s staff persuade her to do the professional thing and return. It also took that long to stop laughing.”
However, despite a further studio session at Outlaw where six new tracks were recorded, the cracks were beginning to show, exacerbated by the band failing to secure any interest from the majors on a trip down to London. Buxton wanted the band to take a more melodic pop direction, while McIlwaine favoured a more hard rock approach. When later that year it emerged another Misspent Youth was operational in London, Brum’s finest live band of the punk generation, according to many who saw them, collapsed.
Buxton would later work in the Jet Set with former members of local punks the Sussed, and then the Broadway Rebels, before setting up The Attic and then Flick International recording studios, working with bands ranging from the Sweet to Felt and Napalm Death. McIlwaine joined metal band Steel and then The Boy, before obtaining a publishing deal with Warners and writing hit records for artists including Jane Weidlin, Debbie Harry and Tevin Campbell, eventually settling in Los Angeles.
Misspent Youth finally realised silver surfer certitude over two decades later when Garden Records released Misspent Youth – The Punk Years 1976-1980.
Betcha Won’t Dance/Birmingham Boys 7-inch (Big Bear BB20 1979)
Misspent Youth – The Punk Years 1976-1980 CD (Garden November 2002)
Nightclub/Birmingham Boys/Betcha Won’t Dance/Nervous/It’s A Raid/Blackmail/Breakdown/Blue Eyes/Interview (BRMB Radio 1978)/Cry Tonight (the single plus radio and TV appearances)
Thanks to Jonathan Buxton for sending this into the BMA