It must have been sometime in early 1981 when I was about 13 I saw, not far from the flats I grew up in, (Lambeth, South East London), a 3 piece band shooting a video, I stood and watched fascinated, they were (as I found out) The Gas and the song was ‘Possessions”. I chatted with them afterwards and they were great guys, really patient with this nosy kid. The next day I went to Our Price Records in Victoria and found their just released LP, Emotional Warfare, it came with a lyric sheet inside and was released on a major label, Polydor Records , the sleeve depicted the band (Donnie Burke – Vocals/Guitar, Dell Vickers – Bass/Vocals, Leslie Sampson – Drums) wearing military garb with a red sky sunset as a backdrop.
On the back of the album is a picture of the band by a local mural. It was produced by Nigel Gray and is a lost classic of the post punk era. I think it’s a classic album 36 years after buying it, I love it as much today. They also released a video album on VHS, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would never see it (including the video I saw being shot) but some fucking megastar uploaded it to YouTube here (Emotional Warfare)
Their HQ was right across the street from me on Finck Street SE1. I went back to see them when I noticed they were in front of their office and they signed the album and some Polydor publicity photos. They seemed like really nice, cool guys and I had seriously gone ape shit about how good their album was.
I was lucky enough with a bit of hunting to track down their Polydor singles, Ignore Me b/w Do it, Don’t tell me, The Finger b/w Knock it Down, and a 12″ of Treatment b/w That’s it + Getting Might Crowded (a cover of a Van McCoy song), there was also a 7″ of Treatment that I never tracked down. A schoolmate got me a copy of their amazing first single ‘It shows in your face’ . I remember thinking that it should have been a number one single (how little I knew about the music industry), it’s one of the great lost pop songs, a masterpiece which still sounds fresh and brilliant today. I just recall thinking, how do you write something this good? It has a killer riff, a massive chorus, and great lyrics, and yet it was not a hit, a criminal oversight. Now I wanted to be in a band more than ever.
They released one more single on Polydor, Breathless, another great track that was ignored that came with two killer B-Sides, Heartache and Hostage. I assume they were dropped by Polydor at this point as that is what record labels do sadly.
In 1983, I heard they had a new album out and I managed to find it, released on Good Vibrations records and recorded in the country that was to become my new home many years later in adulthood, Canada. (Recorded in Toronto to be precise). The album, From the Cradle to the Grave, has some great tracks on it, it was a step forward in their development as a band and in the incredible song writing talent of Donnie Burke, I can’t say that it stands up to the first album, but that was a big act to follow. It saddens me with the shite that was around at this time, that this was to be the last release by this great band. Although I can’t remember the timeline exactly, I was privileged to see them live once, in an unusual venue, a church hall. (This was thanks to my schoolmate Dave Earl who got me their first single, who also played that night in a band called Flowers in the Desert, and who went on to front another criminally overlooked band called Lightning Strike.)
Their debut remained in my top 20 albums of all time list (that boys make all the time), I never stopped loving or listening to it. Sometime in the early 2000’s I noticed that Donnie Burke had a new band, Roadhouse Dogs, I made contact on their MySpace page (yes, it was that long ago) and got into conversation with Donnie, who with incredible generosity, mailed me CD copies of the first album and all the singles and B-Sides and the second album with unreleased material. I treasure these albums and love having digital copies. He also sent me a live album of Roadhouse Dogs, it was great to hear he was doing music still, that generosity is rare in this world and I am very indebted to his kindness. The power of music is sometimes difficult to describe, it’s something that stays with you on an artist and emotional level, it takes you through time, reminds you of different stages of your life, and inspires you in so many different ways.
The Gas were a lesson that you can sound like a sure fire thing, have everything it takes to get somewhere and sadly fizzle out. You have to ask yourself, how many other great bands were (are) out there that we never got to hear? If the music is good it stands the test of time, The Gas, Lightning Strike and another great live band from the late 80’s called Pop Icons, they did their thing, looked and sounded great and then they were gone.