Third World War
Third World War is Over (You Didn't Want It) - Marcus Gray
'Working on the plot and the prime
No, not the bug-eyed ranting of some Mohawk-topped anarcho-punk outfit. Instead, a verse picked pretty much at random from the closing track of Third World War, an album released in April 1971 by the London-based rock band of the same name. It’s preceded by another seven tracks with similarly no-nonsense titles like 'Working Class Man' and 'Shepherd's Bush Cowboy'.
Musically, TWW's blues-based hard rock is saved from over-familiarity by tunesmith and bassist Jim Avery's canny knack with riff and hook, and - at the opposite end of the melodic spectrum - Terry Stamp's bellicose vocals and vicious 'chopper' guitar. Head-on, and without flinching, Stamp's lyrics tackle political violence, working class working life, and booze-fuelled nights of casual sex and mindless aggro.
At the start of the Seventies, no-one else was offering dirty realism quite as dirty as this, or projecting the same level of social menace. Listening to the album even 35 years later, your jaw hits the floor in shock and awe after the first verse and stays there till the last bellow dies away.
The band started as a concept. According to manager John Fenton, the Third World War was a covert Establishment offensive against education, rights and the quality of life for the poor and working class. 'All that love and peace nonsense was still going on,' he says. 'It was time to stop putting flowers down the barrels of guns, and make a real protest.' The band was his way of turning the gun barrels around.
Fenton knew Stamp and Avery, seasoned live musicians and aspiring songwriters, who were also working class West London boys. He introduced them, signed them up and put them on a retainer, enabling Stamp to give up his job driving trucks. The duo clicked instantly, and began churning out provocative material at a prolific rate.
Whether any one of the three really meant it, maaan, is open to debate. Fenton says they were 'telling it like it was'… but he was a successful music business hustler with a track record of canny predictions and imaginative hypes. Avery is sincere when he claims 'rock'n'roll should be music from the streets for people from the streets', but, like Fenton, he's also keen for TWW to claim a belated place among the Godfathers of Punk. Stamp refuses to play along. 'I didn't care what I was writing about,' he shrugs. 'It was really about pleasing Fenton to get that cheque.' But he too has an agenda: he'd rather direct attention towards his more recent music than rehash the past.
TWW HQ was Fenton's flat - where Avery had been given a room - located in Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, within a grenade's throw of Harrods. By way of contrast, TWW photos were shot in grainy black and white against brick walls, the rest of the band taking their sartorial cue from Stamp's greasy trucker anti-image of shortish hair, straight leg jeans, boots, and leather or denim jackets.
Basic tracks for the album were recorded over two weeks in Island’s Basing Street studio in September 1970, neophyte producer Fenton winging it with the help of young house engineer Phill Brown. It was deliberately rough stuff: recorded live, with the bum notes left in and the bleeding not confined to Stamp's fingers. The core line-up was completed by drummer Fred Smith and affable Australian guitarist Mick Liber, who wailed away through a Leslie cabinet. Fenton charmed guests in from the Speakeasy, including Tony Ashton on rollicking piano, and in-demand horn section Bobby Keyes and Jim Price. He came close to getting totally carried away. 'He wanted to put a low frequency - 7 cycles - at the end of the album,' laughs Phill Brown. 'To destroy the stylus or make people shit themselves.'
Having paid for the recording himself, the manager was able to arrange a small advance from the quasi-independent Fly records. He then orchestrated a steady drip of publicity for TWW via the underground press and even the Guardian, ensuring that a buzz was building around the band well before the record's release…
So why haven't you heard of them?
'Third World War are being hyped right, left and centre… They are the worst band I have ever heard perform, ever… At one point I felt like soaking myself in vodka, setting myself alight and flinging my body from a balcony in protest.' Roy Hollingworth's Melody Maker review of TWW, supporting Mountain at the Lyceum, 23 May 1971.
Liber was poached by Ashton immediately following the album sessions. Following a very early TWW residency in Germany - ‘a club called the Dustbin in Hanover’, according to Stamp - Smith’s defection was far more unlikely: to the Three Degrees. Both losses served to slow the band’s development as a live act. During March and April 1971, though, Stamp and Avery recruited ex-Nashville Teens and Renaissance pianist John Hawken, ex-US Marine 'Funky' Paul Olsen on drums, and - with just a week or so to spare before the Mountain support - a blistering young blues guitarist named John Knightsbridge.
The Lyceum crowd reacted warmly to TWW's raw aggression - despite lack of rehearsal time and poor sound - but Roy Hollingworth was clearly hunting for bear. Fenton reacted in two ways. To hone the band's chops, he set up a summer tour of Finland, comprising 35 dates (plus one TV appearance) in just 30 days. Before that, though, he had the histrionic MM review blown up and flypostered all over London.
It was at once a brilliant promotional wheeze and a measure of his frustration. The album had already been out for over a month, and Fenton might reasonably have expected the right-wing media to respond with the kind of apoplectic editorials the Sex Pistols would inspire just over five years later… but instead they did the journalistic equivalent of coughing and looking the other way. Less surprisingly, the BBC didn't play the single, 'Ascension Day'. But they didn't ban it, either. 'Which, of course, I was hoping for,' says Fenton. Subverting the MM review was his one opportunity to prove there is no such thing as bad publicity. Yet while it boosted TWW's hip quotient around the capital, it also shot the band in the foot. The music press's revenge was to join the chorus of silence.
Which left TWW with the underground press, tail-end hippies and bolshier students for a British audience: their gig schedule included the Oz obscenity trial benefit, a Time Out anniversary party, a Young Socialists' Ball, a sit-in at North London Poly, and a benefit for a couple of members of the Angry Brigade. After that early trip to Hanover, the band followed it up with several visits to Paris and its environs, where they were warmly received. The album had been released on Polydor in Germany and EMI in France, countries where radical youth elements were larger in number (and more effective in action) than their British counterparts.
Underground gigs seldom went off smoothly at home. 'It was a good band to riot to,' laughs John Hawken. 'If you weren't pissed off when you came, you were certainly pissed off after a couple of songs.' And if the band didn't cause trouble, their over-zealous roadies did. Despite their material, TWW had little affinity with their core audience. 'There were no commies or revolutionaries in the group,' says John Knightsbridge. 'Just musicians trying to make a living.' Which raises the key issue: 'It wasn't really a commercial proposition,' says Hawken. 'The type of people the band attracted had no money. And you just can't keep doing those cheapo gigs forever.'
Aware of this, Fenton got busy while the band was away on the gruelling Finnish tour. He lined up professional booking agency, March Artists, and a run of UK shows, including gigs at the Marquee and Roundhouse. For these, Olsen was replaced - according to Olsen, without his knowledge - by new Aussie drummer Craig Collinge.
The manager then departed for New York for talks with an American record company (CBS were in the frame for a while) and - he claims - to finalise a US tour supporting the Allman Brothers. Stamp and Avery had already written a second album, and plans were made to record it upon Fenton's return. It looked as though it still might happen for TWW, after all…
The first part of Fenton's US campaign came to grief when he played hardball over percentages. The second when Duane Allman drove his motorcycle into a truck. In December 1971, sessions for Third World War 2 commenced anyway at Olympic in Barnes. The road-tested new material was laid down quickly, and more cleanly than previously, with the seasoned live band…
And then the money finally ran out. Fenton had been winging it for months, borrowing, deferring, making and breaking promises to the band. The only way he could have continued was by raising a second advance from Fly. The album the record company was presented with featured just seven tracks with titles like 'Yobo', 'I'd Rather Cut Cane For Castro' and 'Hammersmith Guerrilla'. Stamp's black humour was more to the fore, especially on the psychopathic Hell's Angel lament 'Coshing Old Lady Blues'. But Fly didn't get the joke, and refused to release it.
Fenton had made one serious error of judgement. Come hard times, people would rather party than revolt. During 1971, T Rex’s escapist high-camp boogie had given Fly two number one and two number two British hit singles. Dirty realism was now an unwelcome gatecrasher at the decadent glam ball.
With Fenton no longer able to pay wages, the band started to fall apart. Hawken left, and then, with a family to support, Stamp went back to driving trucks. Fenton kept on searching for another outlet for the album. In a desperate move to maintain interest in France and Germany, there were a few Continental gigs with Knightsbridge taking over as singer. Both he and Fenton now concede it was a desperate move, and afterwards – inevitably – the band was put on hold.
It was not until April 1973 that the Who's label, Track, finally released Third World War 2 in Britain. And then only following the personal intervention of Pete Townshend. Working the media, Fenton successfully spin-doctored the year-long delay into a mass conspiracy to silence TWW. Reviews were surprisingly numerous, and mostly highly positive. Already released on Polydor in Germany, the album also eventually emerged on Vertigo in France. It appeared TWW's hour had come at last… only there was no band.
In May, Fenton made a last attempt to rally the troops. Disillusioned, Avery refused to heed the call-up. Stamp agreed to to back to the front, but cynically insisted on payment upfront. Already onboard, it was left to Knightsbridge to recruite a pick-up rhythm section. After just a couple of low-key shows, though, it was clear the spirit had gone. Without ceremony, announcement or, indeed, anyone noticing, TWW finally split.
As accomplished gigging and/or session musicians, the hired hands found it easiest to adjust to life after TWW. The band's originators enjoyed rather more mixed fortunes: Fenton had a nervous breakdown, Avery battled the bottle for many years, and, although he recorded solo album Fatsticks for A&M in 1975, Stamp was never able to give up the day job again.
'Terry and Jim only realised how much they'd blown it when punk happened,' says Fenton. But that was true for all of them. There have been TWW reissues, but nothing that has succeeded in fully establishing their influence. Although not available in the band’s home country, CD releases of both albums are available in France and Germany… and, of course, via the internet.
Fenton returned to the music business for a few more years before pursuing business interests further afield. Stamp and Avery still play, write and record. In the late Nineties, Avery, by then in recovery, started collaborating with Stamp once more, mailing song ideas to Los Angeles, Stamp's home since the late Seventies. Wary of the music business, the duo release and promote CDs via their own label and site, GSLmusic.com. If anything, their writing has continued to improve. The songs are more obviously melodic these days, and lyrically more varied… but no less edgy.
In 2004, long-time fan Alistair Murphy set up official TWW website stardomroad.com, and persuaded Stamp to agree to a more polished mainstream CD release of his and Avery's recent material. Produced by Murphy and issued on Burning Shed, Bootlace Johnny And the 99s was warmly received. Follow-up Howling For The Highway Home came three years later. And Marc Almond recorded a version of TWW's 'Stardom Road' as the title track for an album of cover versions.
The Bootlace Johnny track 'Tender Guillotine' reveals Stamp to be more sentimental about TWW than he cares to admit. Telling the story of the band with ill-disguised affection, it closes with the lines: 'We kicked their arseholes then / And we'll kick their arseholes now.' If you never give up, you have the right to remain defiant.
Third World War: Influences
The Who monitored TWW's progress from the start. 'Won't Get Fooled Again', recorded in March 1971, was a song 'against the revolution', and could be seen as an answer song to 'Ascension Day' and 'Preaching Violence'
When TWW's Fly labelmate Marc Bolan moved T Rex to EMI in 1972, he recorded 'Children Of The Revolution'. This would also seem to be an answer song to 'Preaching Violence'. Why else would it use such a similar riff?
In 1973, would the Faces have recorded 'Borstal Boys' (with its references to Molotov cocktails and sawn-off shotguns), or Elton John 'Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting' if TWW hadn't gone much further much sooner with 'Shepherd's Bush Cowboy' and 'Urban Rock'?
TWW's 'MI5's Alive' was 'Bawling down the Royalty' five years before the Sex Pistols' 'God Save The Queen'. In January 1977, John Lydon sat next to John Fenton in the Oxhoft club, Amsterdam, and recited 'Ascension Day' to him word for word.
The punk band closest in spirit to TWW was the Clash. Riot warnings? 'Sten guns in Knightsbridge'? Been there, done that. Also in January 1977, Joe Strummer shook Jim Avery's hand in the Speakeasy and congratulated him for being part of the only outfit doing it in the early Seventies 'when everything else was dead'.