I am frequently asked questions about the history of Underground Zerø, the crew, equipment, recordings, etc. which take me ages to answer. Sometimes because even I don’t know the answer. So I thought I’d write this as a kind of general information sheet and also to get things straight in my own mind.
A SHORT HISTORY OF UZØ
The nucleus of UZØ was started in 1979 by Andrew Rix (bass/vocals), Adrian Rix (keyboards) and Judi Griggs (vocals) who, together with drummer Brian Savage and guitarist Karl Dawson (the third guitarist to attempt the task!), started to play a wide range of covers and original music in the clubs and pubs around the Norfolk area under the name of ‘ROKO’. The cover music, whether it was a piece by Fleetwood Mac, The Stranglers or Hawkwind, often ended up sounding very different to the originals. This was probably due to the influences behind the playing styles of Adrian - Dave Greenfield of The Stranglers and John Lord of Deep Purple, Karl - Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and Angus Young of AC/DC, and me - Lemmy of Hawkwind and Jean Jaques Burnell of The Stranglers. The only other member of the clan in those days was Tony Morter who was in charge of the PA (and occasional odd noises!). The lights, such as they were, were controlled by anyone who happened to be handy.
From 1981 the group underwent several major changes. Brian left and was replaced by Mike (Mel) Melnyk and guitarist Paul Holden joined. The music changed - most of the covers were dropped and the overall sound was altered by Mel’s highly technical (if maybe unpredictable) style and Paul’s blistering speed. There were also several non-musical changes within the band. The name was changed to ‘Ground Zerø’, Richard Nuttall (the infamous Coherent Ric) joined and started to build what was to become probably the biggest light-show in the area; Keef Looney joined and developed a projection show with five slide projectors, five special effects projectors and two cine projectors; and Les Smith joined and brought on stage arrays of up to nine video monitors connected to a bank of video recorders and a computer.
During this period (1981-1983, the GZØ period) the group’s own PA was also built up to its final 2.5kw. However, as the venues performed in were also constantly increasing in size and were frequently in the open-air, it became more common that larger PAs were hired or supplied by the promoters. This meant that Tony, although still responsible for the final mix, often found himself with some time on his hands and so was able to demonstrate one of his other ‘skills’ - pyrotechnics! These ranged from the spectacular - simple flares, rockets, maroons, etc., to the down right lethal - there is a club somewhere in Suffolk which still has a large hole blown in the ceiling twenty feet above the stage!
In 1982 a man approached Adrian in a pub in Norwich and offered to make us all Super-Stars! We said, "OK." So he took us to a studio in Ipswich, (arriving himself in a red bimbo-driven Porsche (the Porsche not the bimbo) - very impressive), recorded four of our songs (in what he thought was the way it should be done), took some posy photos and then disappeared, leaving us with a box full of cassettes and promo. photos. As he didn’t take any money from us we weren’t too cut-up about it though and it did give us our first taste of a professional recording studio. Plus the tapes turned out to be quite popular at gigs, even though we thought they were terrible! They just didn’t sound like us - they were too clean and ‘nice’ - not at all like the real Ground Zerø!
A few months later a man came up to us in a pub and said he would like to arrange a ten-date tour of France for us. We said "OK."
We never saw him again!
Later that year we had one of our lucky breaks when we were asked to support ‘Marillion’. OK - so the stage lighting turned up late and we did half our set in darkness and the other half with riggers climbing all over the stage but the audience were great and we all had a good time.
Having got a taste for recording we decided to have another go. So in 1983, after raiding our piggy-banks, we moved into a small recording studio in the Norfolk countryside and recorded four more tracks. This time we recorded them the way we wanted to. They were still awful but at least they sounded a bit like us. Copies of this tape (which, with a flash of rare originality was called ‘Ground Zerø’) were sent to all the record companies in the country (some of them even replied!), BBC Radio One, several local radio stations and all the music mags. It received a few good reviews and several bad ones and was played by several of the independent radio stations, but the biggest surprise to us was when we heard a track from it being played on Tommy Vance’s Friday Night Rock Show on Radio One. This seemed to give us instant credibility and letters started pouring in from all over the country asking for copies of the tape. One of these letters was from Brian Tawn, the organiser of the Hawkwind fan club. In it he said that he’d been told that we had a tape out and that he should hear it. We sent him a copy and for good measure we sent copies to Dave Brock and Nik Turner of Hawkwind as well.
A few months later we were booked to headline et an all day ‘Peaceful Green Fayre’. During the day while walking around the stalls we met Nik Turner who said that he had liked our tape and so, not wanting to miss an opportunity, we asked him to join us on stage. At the end of the evening Nik dragged his sax on stage and we played manic versions of ‘Master of the Universe’ and ‘Silver Machine’. A recording of this found its way onto a tape in November 1983 with some tracks recorded at another gig and ‘The Official Bootleg’, our first live tape, was born.
After the ‘Peaceful Green Fayre’ a local 'event' organiser, who shall remain nameless, offered to manage us. He got us a few gigs, bought us a clapped-out ambulance, started to arrange two 42 date tours of Germany (hang on a minute.....) ending with a massive finale on some private grounds in Southern Germany..... then disappeared! This time taking four hundred quid with him! Is it us?
In 1983 Mel started to play drums for, and manage ‘The 4D Scientists’, a group who had played with us at several gigs around the Norfolk area, and after a while it was decided that it was impossible for him to do this and continue to play with us and so, once again, U2Ø found itself without a drummer. A solution to this problem was soon found however in the form of Sean Holden, a relation of Paul’s. At the time (he’ll hate this bit) he was very, very, young, but when we went to see him performing with the group he was currently with we were very impressed and immediately asked him if he would like to join us. As it happened his group was about to break up and so he said he would.
Soon after Sean joined several things happened in fairly quick succession; first, we started to get letters from people in which they complained that they had been to see us play, mainly in and around the London area, expecting to see a six-piece space-rock group but instead had seen a three-piece R & B group! We soon realised (especially when we received a threatening letter) that there was another Ground Zero! We were beginning to think that Ground Zerø was not the right name for us anyway because it’s meaning was a bit limiting so we tried to think of a name which, while still maintaining the uncompromising strength of the old name, would subtly, perhaps even subliminally, suggest the ‘underground’ nature of our music - anyone can write like a record reviewer if they want to! In the end we just stuck the word ‘Under’ in front of the old name.
Next, on the advice of Tony Wilson, Tommy Vance’s producer, a recording of our song ‘Robot’ which we had intended to release as a single (on vinyl) was abandoned and we went to Spaceward Recording Studios to record ‘Seven Light Years’ and ‘Canes Venatici’ which were released instead in September 1984 as a 12" single on the ‘Underground’ label.
Next, we were asked to play at the Stonehenge solstice festival and as an extra ego boost I was asked by Radio Norfolk to do a live telephone interview from Stonehenge.
Next we received a letter from Hawkwind’s Dave Brock asking if we would like to have a track included on their record ‘Friends and Relations III’ (would we!?).
Soon after that Tony Wilson phoned us to ask us to record a session at the BBC studios for the Friday Night Rock Show. We recorded the session over two weekends at the Maida Vale Studios and it was transmitted in August 1984 and again in early 1985.
We were so pleased with the results of the BBC session that we thought it would be a good idea to buy the rights from the BBC and use it as half of an LP. Frenchy, of ‘Flicknife Records’ who had released the ‘Friends and Relations’ record, agreed to press and release it, Tony Wilson agreed and the BBC agreed so we recorded the other half of the LP at Spaceward Studios.
A couple of days later Frenchy 'phoned to say that if we could get the artwork to him by the end of the week and the master tapes by the end of the month we could promote the album while on tour with Hawkwind!
We frantically got the artwork together - the artist/photographer, Jon Morris, finishing it in the back of our van while I tried to delay the last Securicor van that would get it to Frenchy on time -
and were about to send the masters to Frenchy when the Musicians’ Union stepped in and refused to allow us to use the BBC tapes!
Panic broke out!
We managed to get a cancellation at Spaceward and re-recorded the first half of the LP but at the last minute we heard that although Dave Brock and Frenchy wanted us to do the tour the organisers wanted a LARGE sum of money from us. All our money had gone into producing the album so we had to back out.
The LP ‘Never Reach The Stars’ finally came out early in 1985.
In 1985, soon after the Live Aid event we played at three of the many sub-events. The first was ‘Anglia for Africa’ which was held on Earlham Park near Norwich and featured a host of star acts - plus us. Among others were Magnum, The Supremes, The Farmers Boys, Amazulu, Dean Friedman, Jah Warrior, Aswad and Hawkwind. The event was televised by Anglia TV and we got our mugs on telly for about thirty seconds. The section they transmitted was the end of ‘Never Reach The Stars’, which is an instrumental piece with a keyboard lead, unfortunately in the TV sound the keyboards were mixed so low they were almost inaudible. The result was thirty seconds of roaring guitars and pounding drums - ho hum! During the day Hawkwind’s Dave Brock asked Judi if she would like to join them on stage at the end of their act and so she sang ‘Master of The Universe’ with them to nine thousand people while an enormous firework display burst over our heads.
The second was the ‘East Anglia Live-Aid’ which was held in a field near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. This one was a disaster! It was well organised and publicised but at the last minute the headlining group pulled out. This caused the rest of the ‘big-name’ groups to follow suit until in the end only the local bands were left. As only a couple of hundred people turned out to watch us (in the rain) the event made a massive loss.
The third one was ‘The North Walsham Live Aid’, also in Norfolk, this one, in January 1986, was co-organised by our manager and was headlined by us (surprise!). Although it was an indoor gig - and so didn’t have the space for an enormous audience like the outside ones - it still managed to raise enough money to buy and send two ex-army trucks to Africa to help carry supplies.
Also around this time we played the first of several gigs with Hugh Lloyd Langton’s own group (Hugh, as you probably know is, was or has been lead guitarist with Hawkwind), this was a double first for us as it was at ‘The Marquee’ in London.
In 1986 two tracks we recorded in our own ‘studio’ were released, the first ‘Rainbow Warrior’, on one of Terry Hopkins’ ‘Orbit Tapes’, the second ‘Aimless Flight’ on Brian Tawn’s ‘Hawkwind 12’, a kind of vinyl fanzine. Terry also released a cassette-interview with us - ‘Orbit 10’ in the same year.
During the period 1985 - 1987 ‘The Doctor’, of ‘Dr. and the Medics’, started a club called ‘Alice in Wonderland’ in Soho which soon became the place to be seen for the ‘new hippies’. For some unknown reason (us fashionable?! - Heaven forbid!) we played there quite frequently and when Frenchy decided to release a live LP recorded there two of our tracks found their way onto the vinyl. Unfortunately (actually it later turned out to be fortunately) Frenchy chose the worst two tracks (in our opinion) of the five recorded for ‘A Pretty Smart Way To Catch A Lobster’ which was released in 1986.
Also in 1986 Judi was asked to sing a line on a ‘Feed the World’-type record called ‘Flesh & Blood’ in aid of ‘Children in Need’ - I joined in the backing vocals for good measure. It was finally released in 1988.
Soon after the release of ‘The Lobster’ we arranged with Frenchy for a new LP to be recorded. This time it would be recorded in Rockfield Studios and would be produced by Dave Charles who has produced some of Hawkwind’s records. The next few months were spent in our studio preparing a demo. tape for ‘Hunting Dogs’ as it was to be called. Unfortunately, just before we were due to go to Rockfield, Frenchy decided that it would be bad timing to release another LP so close to ‘The Lobster’, and that it would be better to release an EP containing the rest of the tracks that had been recorded at ‘Alice’s’ and a couple of studio tracks instead (now you can see why it was good that the three best tracks from ‘Alice’s’ had not been used). Two of the tracks from ‘Hunting Dogs’ were therefore recorded at Raven Recording Studios and ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was released in 1987. The recording of ‘Hunting Dogs’ was shelved for a while.
Later in 1987 Paul decided that, due to a number of pressures from outside the group, he was going to have to leave UZØ. This was a big blow as he had been a major writer of both words and music, but the rest of us were determined to continue and, after a few months of searching, a new guitarist was found in the form of Fil. Fil had seen us perform many times and although his style was very different to Paul’s we were soon able to get back on the road and his first gig with us was at ‘Alice’s’. ‘ Around this time Ric decided that he wanted to concentrate more on the slide-show at our gigs and so ‘Little Neil’ (all six feet six and a half inches of him), who had occasionally roadied for us joined us as main lighting engineer. One of his contributions to the set was ‘The Soup Dragon’. This was made of various bits of tubing, boxes, bits of wood, electric fans, a smoke machine, lights and anything else he could find. The result looked as though someone had parked an aircraft engine on the stage and at various points during the gigs smoke and beams of coloured light would pour from the ‘exhausts’. In December 1987 we played a gig at the University of East Anglia. Before we went on stage we were asked by two people, independently, if we would mind if they recorded our set on video. A few weeks later we were given a copy of one of the videos and were so impressed by it that we decided that we would try to get a copy of the other video and mix them together into a single live video LP. It took us a year but we finally managed to track down the other cameraman and get a copy of his video. Two years after the gig we completed the video ‘UZØ LIVE!’. This may seem a long time to produce a video but those of you who have known us long will know that with uzø everything takes a long time!
In the summer of 1988 Tony was finally banned from producing firework displays on-stage while the group are playing. This happened after an outdoor gig at an all night festival in a wood somewhere in the heart of Buckinghamshire. He and Neil had spent a couple of weeks preparing the display that was to be used at the festival and I must admit it all looked very impressive as it came out of the van they’d hired just to transport the fireworks! They had a large bank of four-foot rockets with radio-controlled electric fuses which was set up thirty yards behind the stage (fair enough) and two very large wooden structures covered with very, very, large fireworks which were set up either side of the stage (not so good!). The set started well - and then we came to the point where the fireworks were due to be set off - the first bank went off - golden curtains of fire fell on either side of the stage - very pretty - second bank - streams of silver sparks arced over the top of the stage - also very pretty, (luckily the stage covering was still wet from an earlier shower of rain:) - third bank - all hell was let loose, half a dozen wide bore cannons opened fire directly onto the stage, suddenly we were getting a first class view of the display - from inside it! Balls of coloured fire were bouncing off us and our instruments, along Adrian’s keyboards and making a spectacular display inside Sean’s kit! We all managed to keep playing - well, Fil did pause for a few bars to beat out the flames in Judi’s hair - and I think the audience thought it was all part of the act. Since then there have been NO fireworks on-stage during a gig!
By 1988 it had been decided that there was no way that we could afford enough studio time to record ‘Hunting Dogs’ in the way we wanted to so a decision was made to sell off all the hardware we could do without or could hire for gigs and turn our ‘studio’ into a STUDIO! It’s amazing how many large black wooden boxes left Castle Zerø and how few small black metal boxes entered in their place - ho hum!
At the end of 1988 Flicknife released a CD called ‘The Best of Friends & Relations’ which was made up of selected tracks from the previous LPs. Our track ‘Canes Venatici’ was included. UZØ had gone digital!
Early in 1989 there was a feeling within the group that although Fil had given a good account of himself for a couple of years he was never going to become a fully fledged high-priest of Castle Zerø. It had also been rumoured that Paul was ready to return to the fold so in the course of a weekend the clocks turned back two years and the old uzø was rehearsing again at Castle Zerø!
On the evening of December 2nd 1989 Brian Tawn ‘phoned to tell me that Hawkwind wanted us to support them at the University of East Anglia on December 3rd! I quickly ‘phoned the musical members of the group to make sure that the minimum crew could make it and ‘phoned Brian back minutes later to tell him it was OK. I then spent two hours on the ‘phone confirming it with the rest of the crew and organising equipment and transport. I had just finished when Brian called back to say that it was all off! Apparently Hawkwind’s tour manager had panicked while he was waiting for confirmation from us and had booked another support! Ho hum that’s show biz - still, I’ve never seen the old dinosaur kicked into action so fast before!
At the end of the ’80s and in the early ’90s a few things happened to keep us off the road for some time. I moved away from Norfolk and bought a house. Maybe I was beginning to grow up - who knows? Then Sean completed his first degree and started on a PhD in Cambridge. For several years we had to limit ourselves to a few very special performances while working on ‘Hunting Dogs’ in our studio.
In 1994 ‘The Best of Friends & Relations’ was re-released. This time by Emporio. For various reasons ‘Hunting Dogs’ was still not complete but we thought, "If other people can keep turning out our old recordings, why shouldn’t we?"
For some time we had been intending to re-mix, re-edit and add-to some of our earlier recordings, ones that had been made quickly because, at the time, we couldn’t afford the money, time, or both, to do them as we really wanted to. Frenchy agreed to release the resulting album and gave us back our master tapes and we spent a very enjoyable few weeks in the studio fiddling with the tapes, adding extra vocals, keyboard and guitar bits, sound effects, etc., etc. As an example of the kind of thing we did, Paul had always been unhappy with one of his lead guitar pieces so we re-recorded the second half of it again, surely making it one of the longest guitar parts ever as it took ten years to record! An excellent artist, Andy Hemingway, designed a cover and CD label and the whole lot - digital master, artwork, test CD and instructions for the making of ‘From Year Zerø’ - was sent to Frenchy. At the same time we decided to make a promo. video to go with the new CD so we spent a couple of cold February days and nights in an old schoolhouse in the Norfolk countryside miming and posing in front of video cameras. A few weeks later the video ‘Forlorn & Lethal’ was completed and was played for the first and so-far only time on German TV!
During this time Frenchy’s company, Flicknife, was bought-out by Cherry Red - which has probably got something to do with our album not getting released. However, in 1995 Frenchy contacted us again. This time he wanted some material from us that had been released before but not on a large scale as he was making-up an album called ‘Hawkwind, Friends & Relations - The Rarities’. We rummaged through our master tapes and gave him ‘Aimless Flight’ - which had been released on Brian Tawn’s ‘Hawkfan 12’ LP - and ‘Rainbow Warrior’ from Terry Hopkins’ ‘Orbit 9’. The CD came out later that year under the Anagram Label.
In 1996 Karl was offered an opportunity which was too good to turn down but which, unfortunately for us, kept him out of the country for most of the time and Underground Zerø truly went underground.
Also in '96 Frenchy told us he was making another compilation CD, this time called 'Hawkwind, Friends & Relations - Cosmic Travellers'. He asked us to send him the master tape of 'Between Worlds', which we did. We also gave him another 'From Year Zero' gold CD.
However, when the CD finally came out, 'Between Worlds' sounded as though it was from some old cassette demo tape someone had left in their car-cassette player for a few years! Where they got it from I will never know.
If you've bought this CD - PLEASE skip our track!!!
In 1997 we decided to turn 'From Year Zero' into a multimedia CD with photos, info, and an MPEG movie of the 'Forlorn & Lethal' video.
It was completed just before the end of 1997.
In 1998, Underground Zerø still, technically, existed. Individual members explored other areas of music and new projects but we still got together occasionally to discuss ‘Hunting Dogs’ and The Big Gig!
I suppose, with the website and multimedia CD, it could be said that UZØ had really gone virtual!
Andrew Rix 1998 - with extra bits I'd forgotten from Si Halley.
After a year or so off several members of UZØ started getting itchy fingers and gravitated towards other musical projects.
Adrian moved firmly into keyboard/computer music and produced several pieces for use within video programmes.
Paul expanded his guitar collection, learned to play the violin (playing a right-handed violin left-handed!!), and then started playing in the DBs with his brother Barry Holden.
Andrew and Judi went through a folky phase and then, with Sean and guitarist Adrian Jay, formed 'Bunty'..
Sean and Paul have been performing under the name of 'Cruel Folk'. See their website for info. and demos.
Eleven years after our last live performance Underground Zero performed at a private party for our old manager, Barry Holden. As one person at the party (who last saw us in 1982!) commented afterwards, "It was like traveling back in time!"
A new compilation CD, 'Powerplay', has been made from remastered versions of ten of our previously released tracks and is now available from us. See the Demos page for clips from the CD.
We're currently working on a new DVD made from all sorts of video material made over the years. We'll post it here when it's done.
After 11 years without performing UZO have gigs in 2005! See News page.
The engines still work, maybe they'll be turned on full again!
The Bicester gig - 30th September 2005 - was great fun. It felt as though the clocks had gone back 11 years! It ended a bit suddenly though unfortunately!
We got off the stage after Aimless Flight hoping to be called back. We would then have played Genocide. Unfortunately, as soon as we got off, the PA crew jumped on stage and started pulling things apart so we weren't able to go back on! Ah well... let's see how Walthamstow goes!
Walthamstow October 7th 2005 was another great gig for us. Much more noisy than Bicester but more cozy and intimate too. Litmus were brilliant.
At the end of Litmus' set Paul, Sean and I joined them on stage and played a long, rambling and chaotic 'Brainstorm'. A great end to our second public appearance in 11 years!
In October the latest edition of Unbroken Metal, a heavy metal magazine released in Germany, was released with a long interview with us by Rudiger Abend.
Four gigs arranged!
The first in January - North Walsham Live-Aid - was a 20th anniversary gig! Yes, it's 20 years since the first North Walsham event - can you believe it??!!
A great evening which, again, raised loads of money for a local charity.
The Nant-y-Moel Motorhead Festival, in June, unfortunately ended up being cancelled a month before it was to go ahead.
Apparently there was some disagreement with the local council about making a little noise after 7:30 on the Sunday evening - as if...
Oh, and there was also something about the field collapsing into the centre of the earth.
More bad news followed... The organisers of the Thornborough Festival, in North Yorkshire, in June, booked us to headline on the Saturday. Unfortunately they forgot to put us on the poster and the website. Karl was in Russia over the weeks before the festival and had to make a decision about when to come back. Eventually, with no mention of us on the Festival website and lots of pressure from the people he was working with, he decided to return four days after the event.
To make matters worse, on the same day the organisers added our name, in big letters, to the poster and website!
The Eastern Haze festival on the weekend of July 23rd 2006 was a great event marred for us only by Adrian's master keyboard dying on stage! Luckily Harvey Bainbridge stepped in and loaned us his which, although it was two octaves too short and meant that Adrian had to recompose his lead pieces on-the-fly, got us out of trouble. Many thanks to Vinny Shillito, Lise Hudig and the other organisers for a perfect weekend. See our Images page for photos etc.
I received a rather annoying invoice from the MCPS asking for over £250 as royalties for the tracks we used on Powerplay. It seems that Cherry Red have sold the rights to some other company. Maybe that's how the Black Rose album came into existance! I'll have to try to find out. Maybe, as they want money from us now, the MCPS will answer my emails!
October 20th saw our only gig of the year and, sadly, our last. Karl is emigrating to Thailand at the end of the year.
The gig was a good one with five bands performing - Xoo, Peyote Mothership, Assissins of Silence, Dr. Hasbeen and us. Huw Lloyd-Langton and Harvey Bainbridge were also there adding their little bit of magic. Some of the other bands had a few technical gremlins but our set went smoothly and I think the audience (which was depleted by the England/South Africa Rugby Final) all had a good time. Thanks again to Dave of the Assassins for organising it.
Karl's off, half-way round the world. We could never replace him. How can we replace someone who's been with us for 30 years?
So that's it is it?
Watch this space!