I’m not entirely sure what year I wrote the lyrics for ‘Last Rockers’ but I think it was 1981 and it would have been scrawled in an old school exercise book. Back in the eighties I would give sheets of lyrics to original Vice squad guitarist Dave Bateman and he would write chords around the lyrics, which is the opposite of how I write these days. Generally Vice Squad guitarist Paul comes up with a riff and I find a vocal melody and sing a chorus and he finds the chords underneath, but as teenagers in the old band we didn’t know how to construct songs or how to play our instruments, which turned out in our favour as it meant we couldn’t copy the ‘real’ bands and consequently we sounded quite unique.
‘Last Rockers’ is a typically depressive adolescent song about nuclear war and being too young to die but too late to live. CND was pretty big at the time and members of my family were active in the movement so it was something I was very aware of. Like most teenagers I felt I was immortal and I believed Punks were the ‘Last Rockers’, the final youth cult before the Apocalypse. I was obsessed with Punk and all I wanted to do was sing in a band and be part of the movement so I would often romanticise the idea of Punk in my lyrics.
It was easy to wallow in pubescent hormones and self pity and glorify your tribe when you lived with your parents and they paid the bills!!!
The song has some religious overtones, ‘As politicians do the thing no God can forgive’ and in the final verse Punks are the only survivors but ‘There’s no-one left to fight now’, which alludes to the violence between Punks and Mods/Straight people at the time.
Once Dave had written some music around the lyrics he told me that he’d ‘Written the perfect song’, which of course he hadn’t, but he’d certainly written something that sounded quite different.
We borrowed £200 and recorded the song in Cave Studios, an 8-track facility in St Pauls, along with 2 other songs.
‘Last Rockers’ always sounded a bit weird to me, probably because Dave played octaves instead of power chords on the choruses and the low ‘Oh oh’ backing vocals are slightly sharp because the band and roadies couldn’t quite hit the low notes. The lead vocal is double tracked imperfectly (no time for any re-takes) so sounds a bit odd. The verse riff is based around an open ‘A’ string which is something we hadn’t done before and there is a drum riff between the verses and choruses which a more experienced band probably wouldn’t have thought of.
We donated a white label copy of the Last Rockers EP to the underage Punk pub we frequented and the landlord added it to the juke box and when it was played for the first time I hid in the loo because I was embarrassed about it and knew my peers would mock me, which they did of course! ‘Last Rockers’ sounded nothing like the other offerings on the juke box, but we’d only paid a couple of hundred quid to record it which was nothing like the budget of bands like Adam and the Ants, Siouxsie and the Banshees etc.
I’ve written far better lyrics since my early attempts at songwriting, probably because my writing became more authentic once I’d left home, moved to London and learned to survive in the music business as opposed to skulking in my bedroom at my parents’ house writing about adolescent angst. Even so, ’Last Rockers’ is known all over the world, probably because it’s been included on several Punk compilation albums over the years.
Several bands have covered the song, which is the ultimate compliment, and there is a Canadian band called ‘The Last Rockers’ and a Colombian band called ‘Los Ultimos Rockeros’ who cover Vice Squad songs and a Last Rockers TV channel, plus we have our own label called ‘Last Rockers Records’.
All these years later I think we were quite courageous being in a band so young and making things happen, we got banned from virtually every town in the West Country at one point because of violence at gigs yet we kept going and eventually signed to EMI and made it as far as the USA, pretty good going for 4 clueless kids. I do wish that I’d waited till I was older, at least in my twenties, before I’d joined a band and started songwriting as no-one is at their peak creatively in their teens. Nonetheless Last Rockers’ seems to have stood the test of time as a Punk song and still gets an audience excited when we play it today.