The Vicars

The catalyst for The Vicars was a band called '8% Proof'. Formed in Mr McNealey's 'O' Level Drama class at Furtherwick Park School, Canvey Island, Essex, in 1976. Kirk Matthews, Michael Coleville, Martin Benson and Dave Knight would all prefer to spend time in the store room/office learning to play guitar on Mr McNealy's acoustics than poncing around pretending to be trees. This then led to the band getting their own guitars and playing along to the likes of David Bowie, Roxy Music and T. Rex round Dave's Nan's house, where Dave tapped out a beat with a couple of drumsticks on cushions. Once big amps and cabinets became the order of the day, rehearsals moved to a room at the back of "The Clockhouse" a second-hand bookshop on Canvey High Street and then into Kirk's Dad's garage.

Late 1976, having left school and not seeing so much of each other anymore, along with changes in musical tastes, Michael Colville and Martin Benson no longer played any part in the band. Influenced by local R&B heroes Dr. Feelgood, and very early Punk, the band took off in a new direction. Dave's younger brother Brian, had a mate a year younger than the rest of the band and still at school, but he could play a mean Rhythm guitar. Mark Salkeld, who had just moved to Canvey from Blackheath was recruited into the band. During this time of uncertainty Kirk had been auditioned by another local band to play Bass, but realising they were only into Beatles covers he paid no more interest. However, the lead guitarist and drummer from that band were more interested in what Kirk, and now Mark were hoping to put together, so asked to join up.

This was now 1977 and the very first line-up of The Vicars as the band were now known. Dave was let go as drummer as 2 drum sticks and a tambourine really didn't cut it anymore. Rehearsals took place in Kirk's dad's garage with Kirk on Bass/Vocals, Mark on Rhythm guitar, Andy Stevens on Lead guitar and Micky Ogden on drums. Another school friend, Mark Saville was auditioned on vocals but was no where near committed enough, so he was out as quick as he came in. Over a few weeks a set was put together consisting of self penned Punk and R&B tunes along with some Punk and R&B covers. This very well rehearsed and extremely 'tight' set was only seen and heard within the rehearsal garage or the "Musicians Workshop" held at the Zero-6, Southend, on Monday Nights.

The first gig by The Vicars was a support slot on Xmas Eve 1977 to another Canvey Island based Punk/Garage band, Deenos Marvels at The Admiral Jellicoe pub which was the local watering hole for Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Lew Lewis and any other band on the Island. Having seen the band at the Zero-6 a few times and that first gig at the "Jelly" Chris Fenwick, Feelgoods manager, offered the band a support slot to the Felgoods at the Shrimpers Club in Southend.

A front man/vocalist had always been the 'edge' the band felt they were missing and this spot was shortly filled by ex Barracuda front man/vocalist 'manic' Mike Maynard. Mike was fully rehearsed and well gigged by the time the Feelgood support slot came around and that really was the launching point for The Vicars. A really busy few months followed, both supporting and headlining in their own right, including a support slot to "Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch and Titch" at the Odeon, Salisbury, Wiltshire, where the band and entourage got accused of stealing the headliners gear and spent the night in Rayleigh police cells before being released the next morning without charge. The publicity from that infamous incident did the bands reputation no harm whatsoever.

Just as the Vicars were making a name for themselves and gaining a large fan base both locally and in London having headlined at both Dingwalls and the Hope and Anchor, Mike Maynard left to form Potters Clay with John Potter who had just left Wilko Johnsons Solid Senders. All vocal responsibilities went back onto Kirk. As well as playing Bass, arranging gigs, rehearsals, transport, fly posting etc etc. Kirk then had the responsibility for laying down the vocals for the bands first demo. 4 hours free studio time had been given to the band by Dr. Feelgood. The Feelgoods had the studio booked for them by United Artists who were their record label at the time, but they couldn't make it. Instead of wasting the time they offered it to The Vicars. A 3-track demo was produced of two self penned tracks "No one listens" and "School" and a cover of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer", a live version of which, from the Hope and Anchor gig, was described in New Musical Express as "making the Dead Boys sound as though they had been marinated in Dettol"!!

The rest of the year saw Kirk on vocals for all remaining gigs whilst on the look out for a replacement for Mike Maynard. During this time a local Singer/Songwriter, Dave Sparks was auditioned and a number of his songs ''Punked-up'' and included in the set. Despite it not working out with Dave, his songs stayed in The Vicars sets until the bands final demise. After watching Laindon based Punk band The Vandals a couple of times Alf (Alison Moyet) was poached and she joined The Vicars on Vocals for a first rehearsal Xmas/New Year 1978/79. Very regular rehearsals took place after that. Much more so than before, as the band had gigs booked and wanted to get the new line-up out as soon as possible. Rehearsals started one on one with Alf and Kirk in his bedroon at home. Then the trusty garage as before, then alternate Monday nights at Furtherwick Park School Drama Studio (ironically where it all began) and the Zero-6 Musicians Workshop. So intense were rehearsals at that time Alf would always come to Canvey straight from college in Southend, have dinner cooked for her by Kirk's mum, and then get stuck into learning the material. All of which now had to played in different keys in order to suit her vocal range.

Following all of the usual small time local gigs, came Southend College of Technology supporting The Bishops, and then support to The Banned at Shrimpers Club, Southend. The Alf-fronted Vicars then won their heat of the annual Southend Rock competition and then went on to take second place in the final. A support to the Damned at Crocs, Rayleigh, saw the band return to headline the same venue a few weeks later. That was followed by a support slot to Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Moonlight Club, West Hampstead. During this time a very poor quality sound, studio demo tape was put together which in no way reflected how good this particular line-up really sounded. The final gig with this line-up was at Lindisfarne Centre, Westcliff on Sea, in May 1979.

By August 1979, The Vicars had returned with a new drummer and guitarist to play at Scamps, Southend, and on the same bill that night were The Screaming Ab-dabs fronted by Alf with the old Vicars, Andy and Mick in the band. The Vicars still had Kirk on Bass/Vocals and Mark on Rhythm guitar, with new boys Alan Bell (ex Savage) on Lead guitar and Doug Gibbings (ex Magnus Opus) on Drums.

That final gigging line-up of the band managed to hold onto the hard core of the fan base by playing at several local venues and also cut a 3-track studio demo, before once again requiring a replacement guitarist due to musical differences. The very final line-up of the band with Paul Zucker (ex Magnus Opus) on Lead guitar, never made it out of rehearsals in early 1980.

Text by Kirk Matthews


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