If you’ve lived in Brighton a while you’ve probably heard of Anal Beard, even if you’ve never seen them. This is your last chance. Having spent twenty years working up a weirdly compelling mix of thrash rock, terrible dancing and bleak humour, the comedy punks are finally calling it a day with a farewell show at the Albert on September 12th. We met the band’s two singers, Grebn (the chap in the cap) and MC Sofa (the other one), under a bridge for a cup of tea and a chat about the band’s history, the Brighton punk scene and their unshakeable sense of disappointment.
Let’s start at the start. How and why?
Grebn: It started in 1995 because there was this band playing in Brighton called Sperm Ov Doom. Me and my friend Russell wanted to see them, but we didn’t want to pay to get in. So we pretended we had a band called Anal Beard so we could support them. We didn’t have a band, we just had the name. Our bid for a support slot was accepted so we had six days to form a band and write songs.
How was it?
Grebn: It was fucking awful. I roped in my sister to play bass, but she couldn’t remember the songs. Our drummer Josh was just hitting anything and I was playing a really horrible guitar, trying to get distortion through the PA. It sounded grim. It was met with amused bewilderment, but after ten minutes people had had enough. I’ve got a cassette if you really want to hear it.
Did it get any better?
Grebn: This very early incarnation did about four gigs in three months. All of which were fairly awful. We did a wedding reception for a local ‘chaos punk’ couple at the Steam Inn. Josh ran home with the other drummer’s sticks because he was scared. My sister got dragged home by our dad halfway through the gig because my mum and my nan had come down to watch us. My mum got chatted up and my nan got offered drugs. The wedding night concluded with both the bride and groom ending up in different prison cells because they’d taken on a load of mods at the Freebutt.
Surely it got better at some point?
Grebn: We did four gigs, all of which were useless. Everybody decided they didn’t want to do it anymore.
MC Sofa: I do believe that one could get away with being shitter back then. Sperm Ov Doom were fucking terrible. Would you say?
Grebn: They weren’t as bad as we were though. We were worse.
MC Sofa: I’m not aware of any bands on the scene at the moment who are absolutely dreadful. It’s harder to be crap now. If you’re crap these days, you’re crap on YouTube. And you’re crap forever. And you get all that hate.
Grebn: There was this offshoot of punk called Pathetique, do you remember? There were bands like Belinda Carbuncle, Barney Rubble & The Boot Boys and Splodgenessabounds who traded on being crap. The Fish Brothers as well.
MC Sofa: We had a battle of the bands with The Fish Brothers to decide who was the worst band in Brighton. I think we won.
So when did MC Sofa get involved?
Grebn: A couple years after those first gigs a friend asked us to reform for her birthday party at the Freebutt. You did that one didn’t you? You were wearing a gasmask. You puked up in it, as I remember.
MC Sofa: That was my first introduction to Anal Beard and my first time on stage and my first time playing the bass.
Grebn: Did you play bass?
MC Sofa: Yeah. Well, figuratively. I’d dropped out of university by this point and ruined my mind. You came round to teach me the bass and I thought I understood it. It was just hitting a string and putting your finger on another place. But when we played live it was really fast. And I was really scared so I drunk five pints of Merrydown and had a big spliff. I was basically whiteying on stage. In a gasmask. But that was good, because I didn’t have to look at anyone. And I didn’t want to.
Grebn: I have no memory of that. I don’t remember you playing bass at all.
MC Sofa: What did you think my role was?
Grebn: I thought you were doing vocals.
MC Sofa: In a gasmask?
Grebn: Oh yeah.
How did it go down?
MC Sofa: We sounded fucking hopeless. I just gave up in the end. I just sat down. On the way home I rode into a tree and hurt my shoulder. So it was a sad day.
But people liked it didn’t they?
Grebn: I think it helped that most of them were our friends. They were our friends.
MC Sofa: It was really bad. I mean proper really bad. But people thought it was… funny.
Grebn: There was a sense of notoriety quite soon on. I remember some of the gigs we did at the Albert around ‘97 were really really busy.
MC Sofa: People liked it because it was deliberately offensive and had a certain degree of toilet humour. “Bird on the blob – she’ll have to use her gob.”
Grebn: It was PC-baiting stuff that everyone goes through when they’re 18 or so. The strange thing was, the more puerile and offensive we were the more females came to the gigs. They stopped coming when we starting writing proper songs.
When did it stop being shit?
MC Sofa: The turning point for me was when Ash joined and Bemble and Simon.
Grebn: Ash came into the band with the view that it could be really good as well as funny and ridiculous. That’s when we realised they were all really good musicians. So we built everything from the ground upwards. When we did our first album in 1998 it was one hell of a leap. And we had that line-up for about three or four years.
MC Sofa: My role was backing vocals and dancing. I couldn’t do anything else. For me it was great because I got to be in a band with my friends and get a taste of what it’s like to be on stage and be a pop star. I used to think it was really beautiful. I was off my head.
Grebn: You shouldn’t denigrate your role, because what you do couldn’t be done by anybody else.
MC Sofa: It’s an interplay though, isn’t it? Bez to Shaun Ryder. Flavor Flav to Chuck D.
Grebn: Millican to Nesbitt.
MC Sofa: I certainly never felt like I could hold it on my own. I think you could, but it would be different without me there. There’d be lots of… gaps.
So what sort of things were you singing about?
MC Sofa: My favourite was ‘I Have No Idea What I’m Doing Out Of Bed Today’. At that time I worked in Threshers, the old off licence at Seven Dials. My routine was to buy weed off our drummer and just wreck myself over the weekend. I remember staying up all night and going to a party with no money. It was the end of the night. For most people it was the end of the night, I couldn’t really tell. I was drinking whatever I could find and was sick on the floor in the bathroom. We were asked to leave and I was handed this bag of sick on the way out. And then we used to just walk the streets, looking for things to do. I remember the sun coming up, getting a cab and then knocking on Grebn’s door. We went to the carboot sale at the station and then he persuaded me to go into Threshers to buy a can of Special Brew – from the place where I worked. So I did. Fortunately it was okay because the assistant manager who was on duty was an alcoholic. It was okay, that was just what people did. That was my lifestyle. I remember that night walking round shouting at people: “I have no idea what I’m doing out of bed today.”
Did people react badly to the humour?
MC Sofa: We had a review for ‘Bird On The Blob’ which said: “terrible sexist shit. The worst record in the history of music”.
Grebn: That’s not just a quote from the review; that was the review itself.
MC Sofa: And we got banned from the Freebutt.
Grebn: Did we? I don’t remember that.
MC Sofa: It was to do with the paedophile song.
Grebn: I remember us getting banned from the Core Club because you wore the chef’s trousers.
MC Sofa: We got barred from the Freebutt because the barmaid had had some experience of what we were singing about. It got me thinking that some things aren’t very funny.
Grebn: The songs developed. To start with the humour was as crude as the music. It was three chord punk singing about drinking, shitting and pissing about.
MC Sofa: And masturbating. But that stuff gets boring quite quickly.
Grebn: I wouldn’t do it now. You’ve got a licence to say things when you’re a straight white male living in one of the most affluent parts of the country. But back then it felt like a bit of a release. Everything was so desperately serious. Anyway, we realised we found other things funny. Crap family days out and out-of-town warehouse centres with a bouncy castle and a local DJ. Things that were bleak rather than disgusting.
MC Sofa: The ‘Din Noir’ album we put out in 2004 is very much like that. Most of the songs on it are the first person. What’s that song called where I list jobs I didn’t get?
Grebn: It was more about the humour in everyday frailties.
MC Sofa: “All I’ve got is my bed, my cock and alarm clock.”
Grebn: Observing seediness rather than being just being crass.
MC Sofa: Scenes of loneliness and life just happening to you.
Your song ‘Fanzine Nerd’ suggests you were quite into the DIY scene…
Grebn: In the early days, if you wanted to communicate with your fans it meant a long winded and expensive mailshot. It cost a few hundred just to send it out. Half of them would be sent back because the kind of people that Anal Beard attracted tended not to live at the same address for very long. But there was this whole DIY circuit which we were part of. It ran well. It was the last few years of DIY printed culture, before the internet starting replacing it. I used to run a distro for a few years. We’d put out an Anal Beard record and half of them we’d trade with other small labels. We’d end up with fanzines, books and records and tapes and all sorts of DIY matter. It was great. Your stuff would end up in weird places. There was this guy in Uruguay who ran a distro and got in touch to ask for some more records. It was a really weird idea that our stuff had sold out in Uruguay. That sort of thing isn’t so remarkable now. We’ve managed to sell out this last gig just using Facebook.
MC Sofa: That’s not true, we’ve told people with our mouths.
Grebn: Yeah, we’ve used mouth words too.
How did Anal Beard fit into the punk scene at the time?
Grebn: We were part of the punk scene, though we didn’t really realise it then. We were quite an unusual band. Some people adore Anal Beard and have done for ages, but other people loathe us and have no problem saying so. That’s okay with us. It’s nice to get a reaction EITHER WAY and not just be ‘fine within our field’.
MC Sofa: I remember when we went to that festival in Morecambe. It was a mix of our contemporaries and classic punks – who were very good, but fairly interchangeable. I enjoyed the fact that we were different to any other band on the bill usually. Except maybe The Lovely Brothers.
Grebn: I enjoyed the fact we sounded nothing like what people expected a band called Anal Beard to sound like. People would come along expecting us to be grind or thrash.
MC Sofa: Or nude.
Grebn: Yeah, but different people got into us. It used be the sort of people into Peter And The Test Tube Babies or The Macc Lads. Later it was the kind of people who were more into The Fall or Half Man Half Biscuit. It was a massive shift in style. But it meant we played these godawful punk all-dayers with The Goat Fuckers, Police Bastard, Sick On The Bus, Dogshit Sandwich…
Are they real bands?
Yep. They were all kind of uniform and Anal Beard were in the middle. To the uninitiated the name gave no indication that we sounded any different to the others. Then we’d come on with this kind of weird jangly unusualness. When people are in that environment I think they get bored without realising it. And when something else comes on they appreciate it.
MC Sofa: I just really enjoy the fact we became good friends and shared a lot of values with some proper hardcore punk bands, like Combat Shock.
Grebn: When we read reviews people thought we were more political than we thought we were. Getting more out of the lyrics than were intended. Maybe it could be seen as somewhat ‘urban’. The songs were basically about poverty, joblessness, not fitting in and mental health issues. It’s all in there. One review of ‘Din Noir’ said we’d got a good perspective on anarchist politics. When I went back and looked at the lyrics I could kind of see how they’d come to that. It’s the same concepts from a different angle. Characters rather than policies.
Did you ever try to break out of that scene?
Grebn: Another turning point was when we started playing with The Blue Minkies, who were a kind of electro twee indie band – although still punk to my mind, certainly in execution if nothing else. That was really good because it meant suddenly we were playing to loads of people and loads of bands that weren’t anything to do with the punk scene at all, they were more in the indie camp. I think we always went down better with them. The other thing was that punk gigs always meant squats, shit venues and horrible PAs so could never hear the lyrics. That’s always been my bugbear. And when you can’t hear the words we compensate with… movement. Jumping around and acting like dickheads. When the lyrics can be heard it’s got more of a cabaret element. You can draw things out and engage with the humour of the songs a bit more.
Do you think the name Anal Beard helped or hindered you?
Grebn: Both. It was always good when people said we weren’t what they expected. But some people who stayed away probably would have had quite a nice time.
MC Sofa: I think it has restricted our audience quite a lot.
Grebn: We were tempted to change it. We tried to change it.
MC Sofa: Given how broad our appeal actually is, it makes me wonder. Though I don’t know if we would have done much more, to be honest. The last five years we’ve done very little. I know personally I’ve felt less and less impetus to leave Portslade.
Grebn: It meant our posters got taken down by the council. That happened in Sheffield, didn’t it?
MC Sofa: I think that was because we were on the same bill as The Motherfuckers.
Grebn: Ah, yeah.
So why is the band splitting up?
Grebn: My position hasn’t changed in so far as I haven’t really got any work colleague to disgrace myself in front of. But I can understand. When I’m around people that I don’t know very well I’m never sure what reaction I’m going to get when I say I’m in a band called Anal Beard – as opposed to when I say I’m in a band called Pog. But generally people seem amused rather than thinking I’m some twat whose life went in the wrong direction a long time ago and there’s nothing I can do about it.
MC Sofa: I did go through a phase a couple of years ago where I was really keen to get a job. I created a LinkdIn profile and Googled myself and found the first page of results referenced Anal Beard. I thought that was bad.
Grebn: My fear is telling someone I’m in a band called Anal Beard and them telling me that their dad used to like us. That’s what I wouldn’t like.
MC Sofa: What’s become clear is that we do talk about the band much more in the context of nostalgia.
Grebn: For four years between 2005 and 2009 we didn’t really do anything. After that we decided to do three gigs and call it day, but before we did those gigs we were offered some more and they went down really well. So we carried on playing sporadically, but we haven’t written anything new.
MC Sofa: And we can’t, can we?
Grebn: No, we have actually tried. We’re no longer able to write Anal Beard songs.
MC Sofa: Perhaps it’s because we don’t live together anymore.
Grebn: Could be it. We’ve tried individually and together and we can’t do it. And in a way there’s something quite nice about that. But at the same time dragging out this slowly dwindling set of songs is kind of pointless. For me Anal Beard became – in a really low rent kind of way – a heritage band. It would be far nicer just to end things with something that’s really memorable.
MC Sofa: Ironically, I do think we sound better these days than we ever have done. There were times when it sounded excellent with the classic line-up, but these days, in my opinion, we are consistently really good. But any innovation does feel quite forced. I was writing a poem for each gig because I couldn’t get it together to write a song.
Grebn: It has frustrated me that the ability to write songs is no longer there. It’s probably because I’ve completely sold out. I have my own washing machine now.
Grebn: It has been brilliant. What I’ve been reflecting on recently is how many bridges it’s built, not just in terms of bands but people who have met other people. There are people who’ve got married and gone on to have kids who wouldn’t have met if it were not for the Beard. That’s one of the best thing about being in a band, I think. The amazing links and friendships you make. And whatever else, that’s the bit that will endure. But there’s a flipside to it. Over the years we recorded about hundred songs which we’re putting together on a three CD anthology with a booklet. People have been sending me stuff like photos and videos and when you see how much fun everyone was having it is sad when you realise that it won’t happen ever again. But I’d rather be sad in that way than sad in the other way.
So what can we expect from the farewell show at the Albert?
Grebn: We’ve got The Lovely Brothers supporting and we’re gonna do two sets, about 26 songs. Some of which we haven’t played for a long long time. We’re not doing ‘Paedophile’ or ‘Bird On The Blob’. All the songs people have asked for are the songs we’ve chosen not to do. So already there’s disappointment in store. But they’ve already bought their tickets, so fuck them.
MC Sofa: Oh, shit. I’ve gotta go. I’m off.
WHAT: Anal Beard
WHEN: Saturday 12th September 2015
WHERE: Prince Albert
WEB: Facebook Event
Interview by Ben Bailey
Photos by Ashley Luke Laurence