The Surgical Wars
Stooges noise obsession, haphazard stage presence, tendency to throw guitars and drumsticks around.
They came, they saw, they split up after six gigs. Ah well, for all you 80's nostalgia fans here are the Surgical Wars:
The Surgical Wars were: Stephen Simpson - The singer, Ian Cargill - the guitar player, Bill Gimix- the Drummer and Tom Reid (me) - the bass player.
Special Note: The more observant amongst you will have noticed that it's Bill holding the bass on the pic. This is due to the fact that we only have these pics of the band and have to use what we have!
The Surgical Wars were formed as a result of the disintegration of the Cassette Tape Trees. Guitarist Ian, occasional vocalist Stephen and bass player Tom were determined to do something completely different. The very beginnings of the band were in December 1985 in Sang Place, Kirkcaldy. Ian, Stephen and Tom got together in Tom's house to plan and look for a drummer. Quickly a drummer emerged in the form of Gavin from the drama students course at the Tech. They had one practice and things seemed to go OK. The band then planned their set list and tried to figure out what sort of noise they were going to make.
Stephen and Tom then really hit the big time in an interview with the Tech's "rag mag" "Private Parts", see below.
The band had another four practices and reckoned, not unreasonably, that they were ready to play a gig. One quickly appeared in the form of the 1986 Kirkcaldy College of Technology Charities concert. This year it was not held at Bentleys where the Crucified Brains and the Gimix had played the year before (probably too much for the bouncers) but was held at the Tech itself.
There are a million stories of this day (Friday the 21st of February 1986), it was an eventful experience. The bands advertised on the poster largely didn't turn up and, as it was supposed to go on in the afternoon as well as the evening, there was a lot of time to fill. It was really the afternoon that was badly hit, with the great exception of Political Asylum, who did turn up and played a brilliant set to about 10 people. I remember a band from somewhere like Windygates playing twice in the afternoon, they were awful enough to only want to hear once and did a truly dreadful version of "Paranoid" which I can remember to this day.
Tom had a few beers in the Wheatchief in the afternoon (never a good idea) and was persuaded by Angela to form an impromptu band with Mark Nichol the one of the guitarists of the Ghost Train on drums and Davie Brown another guitarist in the Ghost Train and ex Crucified Brains on guitar with Tom on bass. Tom decided to do the Crucified Brains fav "Wipe Out" and then realised half way through that he couldn't play all of it. Amasingly enough Davie then wanted to do another and it was Souxie and the Banshee's "Spellbound" which Tom had even less idea how to play. I don't think there were any monitors and it was a large hall, so probably no one on stage could hear what they were playing anyway. Good thing there was hardly anyone there.
The evening session was not uneventful either. Other MP3's made from recordings that day are one this site from Blue Vega (including ex Crucified Brains guitarist Rob Jackson), The Ghost Train and Domestos. There will be other stories from the day on these pages.
The Surgical Wars played in the evening and were pretty bad really. Four practices wasn't really enough before doing a gig. Stephen looked good though, Penny (ex Crucified Brains) did some great scary make up for him, very gothic. The guitar amp that came with the borrowed backline was broken and stuck on a strange flange effect, that kinda spoilt the bands overall sound. Stephen was away on the wrong part of the song in the opener "I Wanna Be your Dog" which confused the hell out of Tom and Ian. Tom got a two note bass line in TV Eye the wrong way round at and Stephen didn't realise that the lack of monitors meant that the audience could hear him fine but he couldn't hear himself. This then led to him screaming every song out at the top of his voice, which must have been very disturbing for the everyone in the hall. Someone listening from outside (probably the best place to be) thought he sounded like Tom Waits. Curiously enough the band got a lot applause that night, what were the audience thinking? The evening finished with someone stealing the bottle of whiskey that was supposed to be the prize in the "battle of the bands" part of the day. I don't think The Surgical Wars would have won somehow.
There was a picture taken that day by Angela McCourt, who organised the event, it's the only known picture of the band on stage and I would love to get a copy of it to scan someday.
Bill Gimix used to organise these great things at the St Clair Tavern (known locally as "the Skittle") that were supposed to be workshops for new local bands. Bill did the disco and sometimes appeared in up to three bands on the same night (The Surgical Wars, Sphincter Control and The Gimix). The Surgical Wars played two workshops in March 1986. On the first workshop that the Surgical wars played Tom turned up without a bass and borrowed Bill's. Unfortunately he didn't realise that Bill has left it tuned up to use with the Gimix later on. Tom buggered around with the tuning which left Bill sounding rather funny at the beginning of the Gimix set that night.
The band continued to practice through the summer, mostly in an old garage at the Langtoun Coachworks. The photo's on the main page were taken there and as are the MP3's of Sick Things and Big Mince Pies which were recorded there on the 6th of May 1986.
The Surgical Wars next gig was at the Abbotshall Hotel on the 27th of June 1896, at the birthday party of Jamsie, the singer from the Gimix girlfriend. The Surgical Wars played quite well that night, apart from Tom and Ian trying to play Diane in two different keys. Sphincter Control also played that night and Domestos turned out to shout for themselves.
As if one charity gig wasn't enough, another was arranged that year at the WMCA on the 5th of July, this time I think all the bands turned up (see poster below). It quickly got dubbed Kirkcaldy's version of Live Aid (well we are generous people). This was one of the stranger gigs of the bands world tour of Kirkcaldy. There was no backline arranged so some had to scraped together on the day, Davie from the Ghost Train supplied a guitar amp at short notice. Bill seemed to get lost until the last minute, causing some concern. It happened on the same day as "the Punks Picnic" which I don't suppose you have anymore, however loads of punks from places like Kennoway turned up. Problem was that they were so stoned that they hardly knew where they were, let alone to appreciate the high-energy performance the band were trying to give them. So every time they finished a song, the whole room lapsed into an indifferent silence. This then caused the Surgical Wars to play even louder and try to get the audience to react. This then caused the audience to get even more lethargic. It all ended with Tom trying to play a version of "the Death March" on the bass and then trying to brighten it up with a version of "Rock Lobster" at the beginning of TV Eye. Ian cut his hand so badly on his guitar that he has to stop playing, leaving just Tom and Bill playing at the end of All to Hell; I think it sounded better that way anyway, drum and bass - ahead of their time. The dialogue with the audience and Stephen in the intro to take it Easy Baby was probably one from the heart from Stephen, also one of the audience seems to be ranting in the background. Chez's (ex-Crucified Brains) then girlfriend was the biggest Door's fan in the world and told Stephen never to cover a Door's song again. My fondest memory of the whole evening was Ian giving away all the leads that kept the PA working to a drunk man. The PA belonged to some awful heavy metal band who wore tight trousers and grinned at each other on stage. Sorry about your leads, but really........ The tape deck was in a bizarre place, on the floor next to Tom's feet and near the drums. Therefore the sound is a little bit odd. You can also hear Tom kicking the tape deck (listen for it before Stephen sings the lyric; "Lose your heart on the burning sands"). The huge crash at the end of All to Hell (WMCA), which was also the end of the set, was Tom, in the huff about the lack of audience reaction, slamming his bass into the stage, at which point one of the stoned punks in the audience woke up and said "watch your bass, man".
I can't remember why there was such a big gap until the Surgical wars played another gig. There was certainly loads of practicing and some of the tapes from the practices are really quite good and loads of new songs were written.
The Surgical Wars hit the big time with a headline gig of their own on the 11th of October 1986. This would be the longest set the band had ever played. The band also needed a support act and gave Cameron (ex-Crucified Brains and Cassette Tape Trees) his first gig with his new band, All Days Fade. The Skittle was booked and posters made. The Skittle was having terrible problems with the Environmental Health at the time and had been made to install a gadget that cut the power to the stage if the band went over a certain amount of decibels. The Surgical Wars had tried to work with the thing at a practice and had found that they couldn't really play at any volume at all without it bleeping a warning message and cutting them off, so a way round had to be found. The gadget's failing was that it only effected the power sockets on the stage, so it was simple enough to take an extension lead from another part of the room. If you listen carefully to the MP3's made from that night, you can hear the gadget giving off warning bleeps to no avail at the beginnings of songs, even at the volume of the band tuning up. Unfortunately the band didn't bother to tell the support act about this and they connected their vocal pa through the gadget's power supply. I can still picture Cameron getting halfway through each song and losing his vocal. I don't think he figured out what was going on as he gamely went right through his set with this problem unresolved.
The tape made at the Skittle that night is The Surgical Wars that their very best. They had been together for 10 months and now had no excuse for being under-rehearsed, which in truth, had been a problem at earlier gigs. The set was still loud, anarchic and unpredictable. The new songs and improved old songs sounded good too. More than that, the atmosphere in the gig was brilliant and that comes across well on the MP3's.
The tape deck was positioned in the middle of the audience, so it picks up some classic comments. You can hear Cameron going through the "crashing of the fags" (that'll confuse the Americans!) ceremony with Chez at the beginning of One Way or Another. I love the shouts of "get the singer off" at the end of the Instrumental. Stephen wore a great red shirt, which led to all the shouts of "love the shirt". Bill was trying to get the other members of the band to say something to the audience at the beginning of Fall, but no one could understand what Bill was talking about, but Stephen announced "What's happened to Bill's drum roll?" anyway. What he was actually trying to say was "What's happened to Bill's drum Roadie?" as he was chucking a away sticks often and Bruce had agreed to pick them up for him. I'll translate "ghan yersel Stevie" when I find out what it means myself. Being from Forfar, I couldn't always understand what these Fifers were talking about.
The gig as a whole was eventful. Ian broke a string on the second song (Diane) and played the rest of the set on his ancient Kay guitar. Tom decided to walk into the audience during Diane and half disconnected himself. Chez threw Stephen backwards over a table in the middle of the set (for why I can' remember). Tom chucked his bass on the stage at the end of All to Hell, bending to bits the plug on the lead he had borrowed from Clarke, the bass player of All Days Fade. We smelt burning at the end of the set and realised that one of the atmospheric red bulbs had fallen over and was burning a hole in the stage. Bill's drum stool collapsed right on cue at the end of the set, leaving him on the ground.
Well, if you're gonna go out, go out on a high note. That was the end of the Surgical Wars. Why exactly, I can't really remember. It was maybe a feeling that there was nowhere else to go, and that the band could only repeat itself now. Full time work was beckoning. Certainly the band (with the exception of Bill, nothing seemed to upset him) had begun to get on each other's nerves and the band never played again after that night.
A small coda to this is that Ian and Stephen formed a Surgical Wars mark two in the Spring of 1987. They were joined by Bill (this time on bass) and Chill (the drummer from the Gimix). I believe this line up only lasted two or three practices. Bill had decided to move to London and couldn't continue with the band. In the event Bill never moved, but Ian thought that the new line up wasn't the same and no one continued it. There are some tapes of this line up, and I may get round to putting some MP3's of them into Cyberspace one day.
There is miles and miles of tape existing of The Surgical Wars, mainly doing the same songs! Almost every practice and every gig bar one was taped.
I'm sure, apart from those involved, the rest of the world (including Kirkcaldy) has completely forgotten this band. Or it's just a hazy, beer fuelled and smoky memory of a band amongst so many other bands, of a guy in a red shirt or a terrible version of an old Blondie song. However I hope I've been able to resurrect the memory of the band by giving it's final resting place in the wonderweb and that there are some people out there in cyberspace that remember them and are re-living past times, that are now too many years ago.
Well, where are they now........
Stephen is, and has been for a few years, a happy husband and father to many children and lives to the North of Kirkcaldy. I hope Bill is still out there somewhere having fun in KDY. Ian went on to be in many bands, including Who Cares? and the Schoolhouse and is now in the Cylinders and lives in Edinburgh. Tom, after a very brief spell with The Uppermost (who met with a similar fate to the Cassette tape Trees due to lack of drummer) decided that he wasn't very musical anyway and formed The Pooheads with Ian in 1991, where not being very musical was a bonus, really......Tom now lives in San Jose California and he created www.kirkcaldybands.com.
Songs you can play and download.
Where the songs are from gigs, they are in the order here that they were played on the night, so (if you really wanted), you can download them all and re-create the order the whole gig (but you surely have better things to do that that....?). The songs are arranged here below in chronological order, from first gig to last, with some practice tapes thrown in. These MP3's represent most of the bands recorded material, but there is much, much more! Could be that after over 20 years The Surgical Wars represent the largest remaining archive of recorded material of any of the Kirkcaldy Bands of the era, scary thought.
1. The debut gig from the Charities concert at Kirkcaldy college of Technology in all it's full awfulness, available in MP3 for the very first time. Worth it for the audience reaction and comments alone. They actually seem to like us here, what were they on? A lesson to all you young kids out there on the wonderweb from the older generation; don't be tempted to go out and play in front of real people, after only four practices - OK? Recorded on my ever faithful mono Superscope by Marantz tape player, with my flatmate Dave trying to keep people away from the machine as its sat at the back of the college hall (why'd he think he had to do that?).
1 The Surgicals Wars 21 Feb 1896 - I Wanna Be Your Dog
2 The Surgicals Wars 21 Feb 1896 - Diane
3 The Surgicals Wars 21 Feb 1896 - TV Eye
4 The Surgicals Wars 21 Feb 1896 - All to Hell
2. Somewhat better than the first gig, this was the Surgical War's third gig (the second one was the only one that was not recorded, and is therefore not here with the others in cyberspace. This was (like the second gig) recorded at one of Bill Gimix's workshops. I have recordings of Sphincter Control and the glorious "Workshop Band" from that night too. The recording of this was a bit of an experiment for me. I had bought hifi quality pioneer cassette deck at great personal sacrifice in 1986, it was a bit of a treasured possession and I had to think carefully about taking it to a rough old place like the St Clair Tavern. But Ian and I got it miked up with two different spare microphones (as I remember, the two mics sounded quite different, so the left and right channels had different sounds). As tended to happen, Bill borrowed the original tape and I never saw it again, it's probably one of the many things locked in his 1980's time capsule. Luckily Ian copied the original before Bill borrowed it, so these MP3's are taken from that. As ever with copies of tapes in those days, it's lost a little sound quality, which is a shame - to think I worried all night about my pioneer deck, and only ended up with a second generation copy. Hearing this again after 21 years, it's rather good - well, a lot better than the first gig!
1 The Surgical Wars Workshop St Clair Tavern March 29 1986 - I Wanna Be Your Dog
2 The Surgical Wars Workshop St Clair Tavern March 29 1986 - Diane
3 The Surgical Wars Workshop St Clair Tavern March 29 1986 - TV eye and All to Hell
3. This was the the fourth gig, I think this was a private party for Jamsie Gimix's girlfriend. We were the first band on and in support of (I think) Sphincter Control, who had also just got started at the time. This must have meant Bill playing in two bands that night, I think he liked doing that. I was playing through an amazing old bass amp and speaker that was, like most of the equipment we used, borrowed off someone or other (probably Johnny V). I loved the bass sound and always liked the acoustics in the Abbotshall. There are some horrible technical screw-ups on the night. Ian and I begin "Diane" in two different keys and take some time to sort out what is going on. Listening to this again, there also seems an inordinate amount of tuning up going on between songs. I remember being particularly pleased with our version of "I wanna be your dog" that night, we were debuting our expanded set that night - some of the new songs sound good on their first outing. I an is also playing the "proper": guitar solo of "I wanna be your dog" for the first time. I remember someone from (who we thought of at the time as one of the younger bands - younger in this context probably meaning they were in the year below us at school), probably the Silent Falls or someone like that, saying that we needed more rehearsals and hearing this again, it's difficult to disagree although I remember being pretty offended by that at the time! I think we were trying to get over a "Stooges like,sloppy but great all the same" kind of vibe - that only really came over at our last two gigs at the WYWCA and St Clair Tavern below. I remember also at this gig I felt like shit all night as I had terrible hay fever and had no where to stay in Kirkcaldy and had to get the last bus home to Burntisland, such is the life of a 19 year old Kirkcaldy rock star! This was recorded in mono on my faithful old Marantz. I think it was sitting at the back of the dance floor, in roughly the same position as where it had been at the Crucified Brains gig at the Abbotshall the year before. I think Cameron must have been sitting next to it as it was recording. Listen out for Kirkcaldy's only skinhead band, Domestos, shouting for their own band as they were in the audience. See if you can spot me playing the theme tune from "Chigley" on the bass!
1 The Surgical Wars Abbotshall Hotel June 27 1986 - I wanna be your Dog
2 The Surgical Wars Abbotshall Hotel June 27 1986 - Take it Easy Baby
3 The Surgical Wars Abbotshall Hotel June 27 1986 - That Man
4 The Surgical Wars Abbotshall Hotel June 27 1986 - Diane
5 The Surgical Wars Abbotshall Hotel June 27 1986 - Sick Things
6 The Surgical Wars Abbotshall Hotel June 27 1986 - TV Eye _ All to Hell
4. The fifth gig, we thought of this as Kirkcaldy's version of "Live AId", as this charity concert was played exactly one year on from the classic Bob Geldof organised Wembley affair. This was a charity concert organised again by my college mate Angela McCourt. There are a million and one stories of that day, some of which are above. I only decided at the last minute to record this one, which explains the really eccentric placing of the Marantz recorder on the day. As it was a last minute thing, I didn't have time to place it in the audience so it would capture the gig as the audience heard it, rather it was sitting at my feel between Bill and me - therefore the bass and drums are the loudest things here, also the WYCA was pretty echoey. So the guitar was pretty under heard on this tape - I think that's OK though as I thought one of the best things about the band was Bill's drumming, which is very prominent on this tape. Stephen's in between song chat is priceless here. There is also a ton of audience noise on the recoding, so the atmosphere of the day is pretty well captured. This was the gig where we thought we played really well (after the, what we thought of as a below average performance at the Abbosthall the week before), but we got zero audience reaction, due to (unusually for the times) a lot of the audience being from out of Kirkcaldy and ( I think) the fact they were all very very stoned. Maybe if Ian and I had played a few of the Hawkwind covers we had been playing the year before, we would have got more of a reaction?
1 The Surgical Wars WYCA July 7 1986 - I wanna be your dog
2 The Surgical Wars WYCA July 7 1986 - Take it easy baby
3 The Surgical Wars WYCA July 7 1986 - That man
4 The Surgical Wars WYCA July 7 1986 - Diane
5 The Surgical Wars WYCA July 7 1986 - Sick Things
6 The Surgical Wars WYCA July 7 1986 - TV Eye _ All to Hell
5. The only non gig recordings immortalised on this website. The band sound really different here. This was recorded on my pioneer hifi cassette deck, with the same (slightly unmatched) pair of mics we had used at the St Clair Tavern back in March. The two mics were put on stands and Bill was in between them, I wanted that left to right drum fill thing to happen on the recording, we also recorded straight to chrome cassette tape, so the quality was quite good (however did I afford that?). Although it does sound like a second hand chrome tape, as I can hear some distortion that sounds like tape crease on "Big Mince Pies". Also, the left channel seems a lot louder than the right here, must be to do with the unmatched mics. This was recorded at Langtoon Coachworks (for those of you outside of Kirkcaldy, a. why are you interested in this site? and B. If you are, "Langtoon" is a nickname for Kirkcaldy, because it was, er, long, I suppose. The pics at the top of this page were all taken at Langtoon Coachworks. It was really just a collection of garages, so I suppose we were really a garage band. This was the band running through it's set. The only song here that was never played live was a real oddity. My memory of it was that it came from jamming around at the first practice back in January 1986 and we played it in rehearsals a lot. I think we thought that the riff was too basic to play it live and I always suspected the lyric was too good for Stephen to have thought of it himself. Right enough about 15 years later I heard a song (my memory is fuzzy now, but it may have been Mac McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen) on 6 music that had these lyrics! We thought of this song as a bit of a joke really, as I also thought it it's riff sounded like a children's song I used to have that had John Pertwee singing on it about "Three little fishes...", "and they swam and swam all over the dam". Other children of the 60's may recognise this - I think it was on Junior Choice with Ed Stewart a lot in the 70's. For some reason also, Bill took to calling it "Big Mince Pies", probably he thought that was what Stephen was singing instead of "Biggest Lie". We thought "Big Mince Pies" was a better name anyway and it stuck. This version is a classic as Bill and Stephen think the song is longer than Ian and I, so we stop and they don't. I whacked up the level control at the time, as I wanted to capture the band's dialogue after the song fell to bits, this is priceless. Note to all Parents, Bill says a very naughty word after "Big Mince Pies" finishes, please do not try this at home.
1 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - I Wanna Be Your Dog
2 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - Take it Easy Baby
3 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - That Man
4 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - Diane
5 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - Sick Things
6 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - Lessons Better Learned
7 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - Big Mince Pies
8 The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - Tom's Song
9 - The Surgical Wars Langtoon Coachworks June 6 1986 - TV Eve _ All to Hell
6. The bands last and best gig. There was so much to say about this gig - most of it is in the main section of this page above. The tracks start counting here at number two, as Cameron (who was in charge of the cassette deck) forgot to switch it on until the second song (he was reminded to turn it on by Clark Thompson). So all of our classic gig could have been lost forever, in the event thanks to Clark - only "I wanna be your dog" was lost. The St Clair Tavern was my favourite place to play. As we had also begun to use it as rehearsal space, it felt a little like our own front room. This was recorded on the mono Marantz machine sitting right in the audience at a table that Clark Thompson, Chez Holmes and Cameron Campbell were sitting at - there is therefore loads of atmosphere and audience chat on the tape. It was recorded on a second hand maxell C120 and there was some pretty bad tape crease on it before the gig was even recorded, this is pretty evident on the earlier parts of the gig. I'm glad we went out on a high like this - although, as Cameron was pretty sharp in switching off the cassette desk after the gig finished, you miss me shouting at the audience "do you want some more" and the audience shouting back "no". Good thing, we didn't have an encore planned anyway!
2 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Diane
3 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Take it easy baby
4 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Tom's song
5 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Sick things
6 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Instrumental
7 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Fall
8 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Lessons better learned
9 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - One way or another
10 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - That man
11The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - Slow song
12 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - TV Eye
13 The Surgical Wars St Clair Tavern October 11 1986 - All to hell