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They’re most famous for being the hugely successful Wolverhampton-based heavy rock band captured on film in Merti di Bergi’s 1982 rock-umentary, ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ (out now in all good video/DVD shops), but the Tap have had a long and colourful career. They’ve even been on ‘The Simpsons’, causing a riot when they left the stage under disastrous circumstances after only 20 minutes. There are rumours that bassist Derek Smalls has been on the programme several times, but we at DiS believe not a word of this nonsense.
The story goes like this:
The creative genius of David St Hubbins (vocals, guitar) and Nigel Tufnell (lead guitar, backing vocals) met at school back in the 1950s, forming a skiffle group called The Lovely Lads. When skiffle fell out of fashion, they jumped on the r&b movement and changed to The Originals, penning the song Gimme Some Money (or ‘GSM’ for short). When it was discovered another band of the same name was in existence, they renamed themselves The New Originals. The other Originals complicated matters further by renamed themselves The Regulars.
It wasn’t until the aforementioned Derek Smalls joined the band in 1967 and they became The Thamesmen that the band scored an international hit with the psychedelic pop classic Listen To The Flower People. Sadly, that year also saw the death of their first drummer Peter James Broad. It was this point the band changed to Spinal Tap.
Out of 30 or so albums they have had a few low points (Shark Sandwich received one review which simply said “shit sandwich”, much to the band’s shock and dismay) and a number of high points, most notably the none-more-black-sleeved Smell The Glove, which contains such classics as Big Bottom, Heavy Duty Rock’n’Roll and the beautiful Lick My Love Pump (written in D minor, “the saddest of all chords” says Tufnell). The album was initially slow to take off but has now become a classic on the scale of Pet Sounds or even Hey Tiempo.
Tufnell briefly left the band in the early ‘80s, along with Svengali manager (at least he was in his head) Ian Faith. Now at the guidance of St Hubbins’ fiery other half, this left him and Smalls to concentrate on bringing to life their much vaunted Jack The Ripper opera, Saucy Jack, and play out Smalls’ jazz compositions. Tufnell thankfully returned with Faith along with the news that they’d had a hit in Japan, so another tour followed. They took along their famous guitar amps which turn up to 11; one louder than all other bands’ amps.
Sadly the band then acrimoniously split after more backstage catering disputes and lawsuits. It wasn’t until a chance meeting between the three at the ‘Monsters of Jesus’ festival in the OC, California, that the Tap went back into the studio together in 1990 to record comeback album Break Like The Wind. The album produced the hit single Bitch School, and with creative freedom now to their name they were able to give it the front-cover they’d originally intended for Smell The Clove. The song, they told all the journalists at the time, was about dogs.
This period also saw them perform live at the Wembley Stadium tribute concert for deceased Queen singer Freddy Mercury, where they had new amps which “go to infinity”. Fittingly, they played The Majesty Of Rock, which could’ve been written about Mercury himself. In true Tap form, they had a few technical difficulties to contend with.
Along the way they’ve lost drummers in bizarre gardening accidents, spontaneous combustion, choking on other people’s vomit etc, but the solid 3-piece nucleous remain as successful today as they always have been, now with their own website proving that they’re not just a band, they’re a BRAND.
by adie nunn, january 2005