The Vaj

The second generation of Prestatyn punk band was spawning in the form of The Vaj, who decided on the name after toying with being called The Grip, Captain Black and The Mysterons, The Plague, Rich Dick and The Phallic Emblems. Featuring Nik Eragua (bass), Pete Bretherten (guitar), Richard ‘Tucker’ Gray (Rich Dick) (vocals and songwriter), Chris ‘Smooth’ Jones (drums), they were managed by Mark ‘Muss’ Jones (now working for the North Wales newspapers). The Vaj formed in late 1980, the four Prestatyn High School sixth formers drew upon the influence of the Cockney Rejects, Angelic Upstarts and John Cooper Clarke. The name came from a Derek and Clive sketch (Peter Cook and Dudley Moore double act of the seventies) and their first rehearsal was at Chris Smooth’s house in Dyserth on Boxing Day 1980. Rich’s dad worked at the old Tower Beach Pontins Camp in Prestatyn and Nik remembers, ‘We were allowed to play; using the term loosely, on the full size camp stage with full lighting system and Bernie Clifton’s ‘ostrich’ looking on; quite surreal. Friends came to watch and have a nose around a deserted holiday camp and my favourite bit was the plastic, multi-coloured strips that adorned the stage in that kitsch seventies way.’

Their debut gig in the North Wales Inn (Rhyl) on the same bill as The VOTS in January 1981 was greeted with great enthusiasm by the dozen or so punks who pogoed throughout to songs like We Are The Vaj, Who Guards The Guards and Stepping Stone (their only cover!), but the reviewer Jill Roberts wasn’t so enthusiastic; again, in the fanzine Live From The Foxes (ironically edited by Muss) she states:

‘[The Vaj’s] music was certainly not original. If you believe in punk for punk’s sake, you probably had a wonderful evening; in fact you were probably one of the dozen or so enthusiastic fans madly pogoing at the front (most of who looked as though they were only 12 or so in ’77, so who can blame them for having their fling now?). If so, you probably didn’t notice the frigid stupor of the rest of the audience, which was such a shame because most of the people had gone along with the intention of liking the bands.’

Nik said about that gig, ‘It cost us £20 a night to hire the PA from the Sound Centre and we were paid; you can see what’s coming can’t you, £20 per night to play. The first time, one of the crew collected the cash from the barman at the end of the night and sped off in his mini van. He was soon caught by the Town Hall by a gang of rather miffed musos.’

The Vaj then played that CND Benefit gig in the Queens with 15/20 other bands (which was attended by over 1000 people). They did another five or six gigs in the Prestatyn and Rhyl area (changing Pete on guitar for a punkette from the Midlands called Jenny Bell, for the last gig). Rich got bored and wanted to bring in saxophones etc so musical differences were “actually” the reason this time for a band splitting up, and the legend was all over in five months. Rich was also an A-level Arts student and he designed “The Vaj” logo to be printed on t-shirts that Nik pinched off his father (work’s promotional ones) which had an oil slogan on, they just turned them around and screen printed them and sold over 200 to mainly Prestatyn-ites at £3 a time.

It goes to show how few people it takes to create a scene in the area that so many others can enjoy and how it can snowball or fall flat on its face. Muss produced the Live From The Foxes fanzine, giving the coast its first ‘zine. The title comes from a reference to Prestatyn’s Cross Foxes Hotel, and it mixed local stuff with existential poetry, feminist ideals and wasn’t afraid to give an opinion, for example:

‘Prestatyn poseurs, Nick Wilson, Roy Mitchell, Chris Detton and the appropriately named Andrew Wally are to form a band called Civilian Life, citing themselves as Joy Division. Let’s hope these prats have the sense to hang themselves as well.’ It was a typical photocopied ‘zine of the period with an off-putting puke green cover that lasted no more than three issues up to February 1981.

After the demise of The Vaj, drummer Chris Smooth moved to Manchester and worked at Strawberry Studios for about five years engineering the likes of Buzzcocks, New Order, Lurkers, Killing Joke, GBH, Sisters of Mercy, Discharge and Boomtown Rats with, he says, ‘Johnny Fingers wearing pyjamas… bizarre!’ He didn’t want to mention also 10cc, Barbara Dickson, St.Winifreds School Choir and Johnny Mathis (who seemed to fancy him). Chris then left to run a studio in North Manchester which Peter Hook (New Order) had bought, and worked there for a number of years as the engineer / manager / dogsbody / brewer up etc. It was hard work, and in his own words, ‘Not good for the health, twenty hour days seven days a week. I think I had four weeks off in ten years and that’s no lie!

‘It was a good studio though, we did albums with the Fall (‘Curios Oranj’), Chameleons, Inspirals, Mondays, Roses etc. basically all the Manc bands passed through me at some stage. Mark E Smith was a great character, always pissed and always funny.’ Then Peter Hook, Chris and a guitarist with the playing ability of a hippo (plumbers fingers they call it in the trade) started Revenge during some down-time with New Order, which Chris described as, ‘Good fun; crap band though.’ They recorded an album and some singles and toured everywhere and made it to the front cover of Sounds magazine. Chris then had a huge fallout with Hooky one night, ‘He was going through his obnoxious drug induced Bloody Mary phase, and after fifteen years of working with him I turned round and told him to fuck off and quit. Probably a bit drastic in retrospect and a shame because we were best mates.’

The Revenge thing was before Monaco, they used all the new Revenge songs and changed the name. Chris had to sign a song disclaimer before they released anything, unfortunately for him they had a #13 chart hit and were on Top Of The Pops.

(gig review)

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