A Brief History of Z Block

(related by Spike via e-mail)


Z Block was founded in 1978 by Phil John, Andrew Tucker, Simon Smith and me [Spike] in the Ebbw valley in Gwent, South Wales. Scritti Politti provided the inspiration, the information and a great deal of moral support. The name Z Block came from a college annex we occupied for our entertainment (complete with 'borrowed' table tennis table). In fact, we struggled for another 6 months to find a name for the band ­ Reptile Ranch (a joke category in a tick-list from our collective film review book) was a last-minute choice ­ we actually had the first single in our hands before we settled on the name.

In true indie fashion, we released our first single before we'd played our first gig. On the way back to Wales after picking up the blank-labeled singles, we bumped into Scritti Politti in a motorway service station (what are the chances???). Ian Penman (NME) was so struck by the coincidence that he reviewed the single ["Lifeguard" / "WTB": Z Block #1], giving us our first press.

In April 1979, Z Block moved out of the valleys and into 'the big city' ­ Splott, Cardiff. We worked from a small flat above a leading member of the Cardiff ('Berzerkers') Hells Angels. 1 Walker Road became notorious for our "Valleys boys" interpretation of a bohemian lifestyle ...with touches of Anarchy and Marxism thrown in for good measure.

Venues for punk and post-punk bands were few and far between so we, along with other bands in the same boat, began to build up a network of alternative venues. The first was 'Grassroots' coffee bar, where Reptile Ranch and YMGs played their debut gigs within 2 weeks of each other. Grassroots was one of the few safe havens for Cardiff's punks and redskins, and it became central to the post punk scene ­ that's where the poster inviting contributors to help create the first Cardiff compilation LP was posted in May '79. YMGs were not among the original list of 8 bands, and in fact they only ended up on the album when one of the bands dropped out, and they still had to be persuaded it was a good move. (This proved to be more significant than anyone could have imagined at the time...)

Is The War Over? was recorded in Grassroots over a couple of weekends ­ each band forked out around £120 for a block of 8 minutes to do with whatever they wanted, as long as it was original. The album was released in September/October '79 and featured on the John Peel show (all except Test To Destruction and YMGs, despite "Searching for Mr. Right"). However, prior to its release, YMGs decided they'd split up.

Then one day in late October, a 10 year old 'street kid' rang the bell to say there was a call for 'Z Block' ­ Rough Trade had called the number we'd listed, it was a public call box across the street. The caller was Geoff Travis who said he really needed to speak to the YMGs. YMGs reformed, the rest is history.

Reptile Ranch split in November 1980 and Alison and I began work on a project that eventually became Weekend, signing to Rough Trade a year later.

You get the picture.

Spike's Reptile Ranch appear on Messthetics #1

The Czechs (from the Rough Cuts EP) are on Messthetics #7

Addiction (from the Is the War Over? LP) are on Messthetics #5

Scritti Politti are of course our patron saints, as well, and contribute the title song of this series to Messthetics #1...