Early Napalm Death: old-school content from long-dead fan site

Being a Napalm Death freak, D.U. used to be a frequent browser of Twisting the Knife (Slowly), a fan site from the 2000s run by Joachim Ghirotti that featured an intriguing section called “Early Napalm Death,” dedicated to the proto days of the band.

At some point in the past the site was taken down. About the only evidence that the site existed your editor can now find using the Internet Archive Wayback Machine is a screen capture of the main page. But luckily, we stumbled upon a word doc from 2013 saved on our laptop that has Ghirotti’s content and photos from the “Early Napalm Death” section pasted into it. That content is below, unabridged and unedited, featuring a band biography by and interview with early Napalm Death drummer Miles Ratledge, who played on the old demos. Following that is a letter Ghirotti posted from a schoolmate of the old Napalm Death bandmembers. 


EARLY NAPALM DEATH

I decided to write this page after gathering more and more information on the roots of Napalm Death. Most people do not know much about the origins of the band, the truth is that data about the early period of the band is rare, obscure and hard to find. After starting TWISTING THE KNIFE I was fortunate enough to be contacted by some people who helped me shed some light in the band’s past. Much appreciation goes specially to Sw@g, Stewart Lee and Mick Harris for that.

Recently I have been contacted by what has become the most important collaborator of the page, Napalm Death’s original drummer and founding member Miles Ratledge. Rumoured to have become a monk or losing it and going to an mental institution, the fact is that the legend is back, alive and well. Miles has shown support, interest, availiability, friendship and appreciation for my work, more than any other member/ex-ND member I have met. With his help I have learned so much about the roots of Napalm Death that I decided it would be important to make a special page just for the band he was in.

Which brings us to the main point of this page. Early Napalm Death was very different, music/lyric and concept wise from the band we discovered with Scum. They released a considerable number of demos/songs that would never see the light of day with a proper commercial release. Also, this band featured a completely different line-up, none of the original members got to record what became the side B of Scum (Napalm Death’s first album). Hence, what we had was a different band, with the same name. With this page I’m trying to preserv the memory of this band which would been lost (except for the memories of the mentioned here). I think that what the early band has produced has significant importance in the history of post-punk/pre-crust/crass-influenced european hardcore and it is a portrait of an era.

Their influence (and of all the bands on the Crass label/early britcore scene and surroundings) can be felt to this day in lyrics, music, aesthetics and subjects addressed by true punk and hardcore. Those bands brought a more serious approach towards anarchism, ideas concerning vegetarianism, the concept of making your own scene by stablishing your own record label, gig place, wrting anarchist fanzines with your own reviews of books, bands shows, etc. The use of collage for the making of posters/flyers inspired in the dada astehethic, addressing worlds problems brought by globalization (a decade before it became fashionable to debate such subjects) such as the use of radioactive elements as a source of power, exploitation of underdeveloped countries by giant corporations, the alienation of the individual when facing a society/system based on competition leading to isolation among the mass and so on. The developing of very specific way of dressing/adorning the body with jackets, haircuts, pins, tattoos, etc. Those were all items/subjects which were explored by the scene in which Napalm Death was born.

What follows is a small biography of the band concerning Napalm Death’s beggining written by Miles Ratledge and followed by an interview I have conducted with him through mail.

NAPALM DEATH BIOGRAPHY by Miles Ratledge

left to right: Finbar Quinn, Nick Bullen, Rat, Robbo

Napalm Death first began in 1981 and the founder members were Nic Scab ( Nicholas Bullen) + Rat (Miles Ratledge). we were both neighbours living in Meriden, not far from Soilhull and Birmingham. We were only 12+ 13 years old and couldn`t play any instruments but improvised as best we could and sung/shouted songs mainly about police oppression and war. We were both involved in the anarcho- punk scene at that time and were both fanzine editors and school boys at the same time. We recruited Robo on Bass and Sid (Daryl Fideski)-guitar who went to the same school as me. The good thing about having Sid in the band was that he had a decent guitar and a distortion pedal. It was a great dissappointment when he left the band mainly because of the pedal.

left to right: Finbar Quinn, Miles Ratledge, Robbo, Nick Bullen

Anyway Robo stayed with band and switched to guitar and Finbar Quinn ( a drunken yob but a good musician ) joined the band on bass. We did early gigs with The Amebix, Chaos UK, The Apostles and the Subhumans. This is also the line up which appears on Bullshit detector 3 (…). This Napalm death sort of burnt out and then we reformed with the line up Nik- vocals, Justin-guitar, Rat-drums, P.nut-bass. It was Daz Russell from Birmingham that helped put Napalm death on the road to fame+ fortune by giving us regular gigs at The Mermaid in Birmingham . It was here that we first developed a following of loyal fans, the most eager of these being Mick Harris, of course. It was also The Mermaid that had the best scrumpy cider in town which we had a great passion for.

With the money we got from Bullshit detector 3 we recorded Hatred Surge and things around us were starting to happen . We were no longer a bunch of school boy punk thrashers, we were a serious band with a future ahead of us. We`d had a lot of talks together about in which direction we should take musically, should it be louder, faster or should it be deeper and darker and more like the Amebix+ Killing Joke ? Louder, faster and more metal it was and it was goodbye to Rat. So there you go . There was a bit more of the early Napalm Death story for you. Interestingly enough Dig from Earache records knew Nik Bullen + I long before he even started Earache records. He had a mutual friend from Nottingham called Dave from a group called Verbal Warning who helped get us get some gigs in the early 80`s. Dig was also present at these gigs.

Q AND A with Miles Ratledge:

About Hatred Surge: I`m glad that you liked the Hatred Surge demo. We liked it at the time ; we realized that it wasn`t good enough to put out as a record but recognized that there was definately some potential there. The song “Abattoir” was a classic and a favorite among our followers. I don`t think that this song ever appeared on vinyl in another form did it ? The lyrics (written by Nik) were a work of genius

The name Napalm Death: The name was decided upon by both Nik and me because the name Civil Defence was too wimpy. We both wrote down all our ideas onto our own individual pieces of paper and then when we were finished we compared them. All the suggestions that were on both papers were taken into consideration. We had both chosen the word “Death”. This word on its own conveyed part of the image we wanted to achieve but seemed to lack something. One of us ( I would say it was me, Nik would say it was him) suggested Napalm, the idea coming from one of our favourite films of the time “Apocalypse now”. Yes it was agreed . The name should be Napalm Death.

How you got out of Napalm Death:You asked whether I left or was kicked out. This is how it was: Basically I was kicked out but they told me in a very gradual way. I was sitting in the MermaId drinking scrumpy cider as usual and Justin told me that Nick wanted to leave the band. This was a complete surprise to me, “what the fuck are we going to do without Nick ?” I thought, then later justin told me that him and Nick wanted to do a band with Mick, a total thrash band . Good idea I thought but then later at a “Stop the city” demonstration I got the news that the Mick, Nick and Justins new thrash band would be called “Napalm Death” , why? Because people already recognized the name, and furthermore that the old band with me in was over. Now you are probably interested in hearing how I felt about this and so were a lot of people at the time. People used to say to me “Aren`t you pissed off about getting kicked out of your own band ? “…. You bet I was, but only for a while. Change is good and things happen for a reason.. I wanted to play more slower darker music like The Amebix and Killing Joke as well as thrash, Nick just wanted to play total thrash, nothing else. Siege were just appearing on the scene and Nick loved em, almost anything else was shit. He wrote a song called “Siege of Power” in their honour. I was having a few alcohol problems at the time, infact we all were, it was the Mermaid ( centre of the punk/hardcore scene in Birmingham in the 80s thanks to Daz Russell- you`re not forgotten mate !) scrumpy we were all getting addicted. If the lead singer is drunk then the band doesn`t suffer too much but if the drummer is drunk then thats a problem. Mick didn`t drink or smoke at that time and his motto was “I don`t need to get fucked up all I need is a good thrash on the drums” – we all respected him for that. He was looking for a piece of the action and he got it

What did you do after that? So what happened afterwards ? I joined a few punk/metal bands but my expectations were high and the bands were rotten so I didn`t stay with them too long. I started my own band called Witch hunt with Finbar who was the earlier bass player for the young Napalm Death. We worked well together and would have been good but we had troubles finding a decent lead singer. A couple of friends helped out but they didn`t have much talent in that direction. We really wanted Mark Mob (Crass era) for the job but that was just a dream. When Mark Mob never appeared we gave up. I left the country and went travelling instead; all sorts of places, and got on with my life basically.

How did the bullshit detector track came: I wrote to Crass and sent them a copy of our demo tape, they liked it. They wanted to use the song “The good book” a song about religous hypocrosy but we prefered The crucifixion of possesions.

What about this funny stories that I heard about you (that you became a monk or went to an institution?)Do you have any idea of how did they start? Theres an element of truth in the first of these rumours, the one about me becoming a budhist monk started as a result of my travels :I became very interested in Buddhism and have spent time at buddhist monastries. It seems rather bizarre that I should become a buddhist but actually buddhist philosophy is very close to Crass`s beliefs of Anarchy, Peace and Freedom so really its not that strange A mental institution ? Not me, I`m pretty together really- Maybe when someone heard that I was staying at a buddhist monastery it seemed so alien to them that they considered it a place for Mental cases, who knows ?

What do you work with nowadays? Are you still a punk at heart? Do you still have any contact with punks etc? What sort of music do you like? I am a student studying Anthropology (inspiration came from travelling) – Punk at heart ? Of course. nowadays I listen to lots of different stuff anything from Asian underground to Godflesh.

Did you follow the other ex-members careers? I mean do you have any idea on what is up with Darryl Fidesky and the others? Have you followed NxDx’s carreer? Did you met Bill Steer or Shane Embury or Lee Dorrian? Darryl Fideski was never a significant member of the band he was only member for a few months. The main early members were Robbo+ Finbar Quin who have both got good , well paid jobs now, they were never really Anarchists- they were more like the Paul Cook + Steve Jones of the band. That guy who wrote in Bragg made too much out of the Southern death Cult thing. Yeah we liked them for a while but not for very long , I might have said that we were going to sound more like them but we never did. Yeah I met these two I think, I can`t remember exactly,. I remember I saw Lee sing at a concert one time.

Do you think that the band became more thrashy because of Justin? That’s the impression that Mick gave me when speaking of how the band became thrashier. The band became more metal because of Justin, he is a talented guitarist and he picked up those metal riffs very quickly, first by listening to Metallica Ride the lightning and then Celtic frost etc. We were getting into thrash before Justin came along and we loved Discharge + Disorder etc.

Does this place, the Mermaid Pub, still exist? I know Mick has fond memories of it. No sadly, it got shut down by the police because it was a hang out for undesirables ;Punks, crusties, alcoholics, prostitutes etc but we had a great few years there and if it wasn`t for the Mermaid the present Napalm Death would not exist.

Do you have any recorded material with Witch Hunt? No, no such recordings exist anymore.


Below Ghirotti introduces the letter. He had inserted parenthetical comments to it.

This is a letter sent to me by Stewart Lee, who went to school with the originators of Napalm Death, here are his comments on this experience:

“I went to the private fee-paying boys’ school in Solihull, West Midlands from 1979-1986. Napalm Death were all in the year above me, apart from Nic Bullen, who I think was then known as Nic Scab. “The Rat” was a really nice bloke called something Ratledge, who I think left over musical differences when he got into early posi-punk stuff like Southern Death Cult. I think he was called Nick Ratledge (Actually his name is Miles!). He was the drummer I think (Yes, Mick Harris confirmed this). He was thin and small and often had a runny nose, but was one of those people who could always make a school uniform look like a scarecrow’s outfit. I remember, after the first Southern Death Cult single came out he wanted Napalm Death to go in more of that direction. You have to remember, all music was shit in the early 80’s, and even though Southern Death Cult ended up as the awful Cult, it was a veritable wilderness back then and they seemed brilliant. I thought he was really cool and was impressed that he spoke to me. Other members of the band were this guy who had a leather jacket with a picture of The Damned, who played a fisherman in a school production of the Agatha Christie play 10 Little Indians (…) he just had a European kind of name. I remember now it was Darren or Daryl Fideski. Maybe he had a Russian family. I dunno. He played guitar with early Napalm Death for a bit, or it might have been bass. His hero was Captain Sensible from The Damned. (…) after he left Napalm Death he was critical of what he called their “Crass style instrumental pieces”. (…) and a blonde boy with a freckly face (…) He was called Rob something (and) I used to go mountain walking with in Wales.

At about the time they appeared on the Bullshit Detector compilations Napalm Death were about 15 years old. it’s worth explaining that Napalm Death in 1982/3 weren’t operating out of some urban nightmare landscape. Aprt from Nick, who I didn’t know at all, they were all living in a middle-class, semi-rural suburb of Birmingham, Solihull. It’s closer to Stratford, the pretty tourist town associated with Shakespeare, than to the centre of the city. Most of Napalm Death were nice, middle class kids that you’ be happy to introduce to your grandmother. They weren’t urban warriors.

Also, speed metal, death metal etcetera were genres that just didn’t exist back in the early 80’s. The early Napalm Death were in the vein of Crass, and the difference between songs like Traditional Society or Punk Is A Rotting Corpse on their first demo tape and the album Scum is incredible. Also bands just didn’t have names like Extreme Noise Terror, Cradle of Filth or Napalm Death back then. I remember the name causing much amusement at school – it seemed so absurdly over the top. I imagine there may have been an element of humour in choosing it, but it would be presumptuous to say so. (No itwouldn’t, you are probably right Stewart – Web)

This meant nothing to me at the time, but the Napalm Death lot and their mates were the cool older kids who liked good music, whilst everyone in my year liked shit like Saxon, Iron Maiden, and New Wave of British Heavy Metal (obs: the owner of this page doesn’t necessarily agrees with this opinion, even though I do think that most of Saxon’s records are SHITE! And i don’t hate Iron Maiden or anything, I actually like them a bit – Web), even though they’d deny it these days. Last time I saw D Fideski was in about 1984 at a Sisters of Mercy concert (oh dear – I was young) and he was on magic mushrooms

I only saw them (live) once. It was at Dorridge Village Hall in about 1982 or 1983. Dorridge was a little village just outside Birmingham (…) (It) was the kind of place where you would have Cub Scout Meetings, Infant School plays and local Christmas pantomimes. This was very small scale. Napalm Death performed in front of a banner that said “Punk Is A Rotting Corpse” and this was the title of one of the songs the performed. The music was like Crass. They were supporting Nobody’s Heroes, a Stiff Little Fingers covers band fronted by my friend Tim Collingwood’s brother. As usual in the early 80’s there were some hard punks there who kept hitting my friend Pete Davis on the head during the Nobody’s Heroes set so, being 14 or so, we had to run away. The violence at the gig was not part of some wider trend within a “grindcore” scene or anything. There wasn’t a scene. It was just 14 year olds fighting. I used to have a copy of the demo tape from this era but I taped over it.

When I saw Napalm Death they were children aping their idols, and being spat at by a small audience of middle class teenagers who thought that was a ‘punk’ thing to do. But what was impressive about it was they’d got on a record and shown you could do stuff. For me, Napalm Death was a link from our tiny closetted community out to a wider world of possibilities. And I still sometimes find myself singing Traditional Society, although the only words I can remember are the chorus – “Traditional Society, Traditional Society, Traditional Society, Traditional Societ-eeeee!”. I don’t know how interesting this is to you, but whenever I read about or hear about Napalm Death, grindcore originators, it always amazes me to remember them playing Dorridge Village hall as pubesecent public schoolboys. Even at their worst, they were an inspiration.”

Related:

– Napalm Death tribute records
– Live video from 2015
– From the Vault interview, 2005
– Article about the music business featuring Napalm, archive ‘zine issue #39
– Lots of Napalm interviews at our archive ‘zine site
– New Mick Harris band: Fret

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