Andy Pandemonium - History.

Andy Pandemonium - Living in Flats. Andy Pandemonium was formed in the late summer of 1979 in the South Wales industrial town of Llanelli.  The band members had played together previously in various combinations on the local scene, but the summer of 1979 saw keyboard player Paul “Nick” Nicholas write a series of distinctive songs that effectively combined the eccentricity of the less self-indulgent aspects of 1970s British rock with the urgency and energy of the post-punk new wave.  Nick had previously featured in Llanelli-based folk rockers Carraig Aonair alongside drummer Pete Mason, and the pair had previously played with guitarist John “Sioni” Davies and bassist Gareth Phillips in numerous local ventures.  Aware of the need for audience friendly presentation of the material, the band decided to recruit singer, sax-player, accordionist and all round dramatic performer Roj to complete the line up.  The rest, as they say, is history.

First Stop - Coach House.

Andy Pandemonium - Live at the Whatnot, Llanelli. The band performed it’s first gig at the Coach House in Swansea in early October, with a set featuring such soon to be Pandemonium live classics as “Feel the Electricity”, “I Dont Seem to be Quite Normal” and “Get Up and Dance”.  By Christmas they had already become a major attraction on the Swansea pub and club circuit, and were regularly turning the Dublin Arms into what Herald of Wales music scribe Graham Larkeby described as “something resembling a tube train in the rush hour”.  New material was regularly breaking into the set, with numbers such as “Turkish Bullshit” and “I’m Just a Dummy For Your Love” proving lasting crowd pleasers.

In early 1980 the band began to spread their wings and venture Eastwards down what then existed of the M4, with regular gigs in Cardiff, Newport and the Valleys.  The Isca pub in Newport regularly replicated the scenes from the Dublin, while a performance at University Hall in Cardiff resulted in the band being brought back for five encores, a sixth only being prevented by the intervention of the college authorities.

First Single - Living in Flats.

Andy Pandemonium - Living in Flats. These were heady days for the band, and the attention of the South Wales media was further focused in August 1980 with the release of their first single, “I’m Just a Dummy For Your Love” backed with “Living in Flats”.  The record appeared on the band’s own Dummy label, and attracted substantial airplay on BBC Radio Wales, Swansea Sound and Cardiff’s CBC. However, without national airplay and distribution the single didn’t secure the wider breakthrough that the band’s growing army of supporters thought was due.

If recognition on the wider British stage wasn’t forthcoming at that time, the band’s local popularity was increasing in leaps and bounds.
A headline gig before a huge crowd at Swansea’s Top Rank was followed by the band taking second place in the Welsh National Rock Contest before an even larger audience at Cardiff’s Top Rank.  The autumn of 1980 saw the band busily hitting the college circuit with University gigs in Swansea, Cardiff, Bristol, Pontypridd and Aberystwyth.  With an ever expanding booking-list and a huge local fan-base it seemed only a matter of time before the band would break onto a higher level.

Mine's a Lamb Kebab.

Andy Pandemonium - somewhere in Llanelli The band’s repertoire had also increased substantially with numbers such as “She’s My Digital Alarm Clock”, “Decisions” and a radical reworking of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” proving great crowd favourites.  The band also enjoyed a seminal moment when, on their way home from a gig late at night and in need of food, they chanced upon Swansea’s first kebab house.  So inspired were the Llanelli minstrels by this culinary revelation that they immediately set about composing a paean to the delights of grilled meat, salad and pitta bread entitled “Mine's a Lamb Kebab”.  The song was to become an instant live classic, and local folklore had it that kebab sales doubled in the vicinity whenever the band played.

The song appeared as the B side of the band’s second single, “Controlling Factor”, which appeared in September 1981, but it was not long before radio stations picked up on the ode to late night takeaways.  The Autumn of 1981 saw the late Alexis Korner play “Kebab” on his show, and soon after other Radio One disc jockeys followed suit including Anne Nightingale, who continued to receive requests for the record on her Sunday evening show for years to come.  The result was a licensing deal with Original Records, a label who had championed “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and who also featured Angus Deayton’s Cambridge graduate satire-poppers The Hee Bee Gee Bees, as well as top British jazz composer Mike Westbrook.

London - Lyceum Ballroom.

Andy Pandemonium - in Swansea The band entered, and won the Welsh heat of the national RCA Records backed Battle of the Bands.  After a controversial semi-final at London’s Lyceum Ballroom, where they were given handsome praise by judge David Thomas from USA post punkers Pere Ubu, the band appeared in the final at the Dominion Theatre in Tottenham Court Road on the 25th March 1982.

The event was televised on BBC-1 but sadly the band did not come across as well as they might.  Despite the version of “She’s My Digital Alarm Clock” that featured on the RCA Records “Battle of the Bands” album being chosen for extensive airplay to promote the show, the band’s profile was not raised as they had hoped by their national television exposure.  Suddenly, after two and a half years of steady growth on the South Wales circuit, the band seemed to have hit a brick wall in terms of gaining wider recognition.

Indeed, the music climate was changing fast to reflect the Thatcherite times, with the slick songs and imagery of early 1980s pop replacing the more eclectic songs and homespun values of the post punk era.  As the quick profits realisable from mainstream hit singles became the record industry’s guiding star, quirky experimentalism became distinctly off-limits in most record companies A and R departments.  The off the wall music of Andy Pandemonium, with it’s catholic melange of styles and self deprecating humour was caught out of time.

Festival Time with Tony McPhee and the Groundhogs, Trimmer and Jenkins.

Festival Time with Tony McPhee and the Groundhogs, Trimmer and Jenkins.
The band was suddenly facing a crisis of confidence and the feeling was abroad that the boat had been missed.  While a number of notable gigs followed, including the Blackwood Festival on a bill which also featured Tony McPhee and the Groundhogs and Trimmer and Jenkins, one time Burlesque members Billy Jenkins and Karl Trimmer, a parting of the ways seemed inevitable.  In the summer of 1982 drummer Pete Mason decided that he was going to relocate to Australia, and the future of Andy Pandemonium looked bleak.  In many ways this was a shame as the final months of this incarnation of the band had seen the development of material such as “Growing Older” and “Choose a Brite Color” that demonstrated that whatever problems existed in terms of commercial success, the band had retained it’s ability to come up with songs that were both musically interesting and lyrically humorous.

New Recruits.

Andy Pandemonium play William Shakespeare The band might easily have folded at this point, but Original Records decided that they still wished to pursue their interest in “Mine's a Lamb Kebab”. Consequently the four remaining members recruited a new drummer in the shape of Steve Sambrooke.  The band also saw the enforced lay off as a chance to reinvigorate the set, with no less than eight new numbers being featured including “This is the World”, “Too High on This Tightrope” and the wonderfully whacky “William Shakespeare”.  The songs retained typical Pandemonium quirkiness and continued to feature ambitious instrumental sections, but also saw a distinct dance influence introduced.  The band was also augmented on live gigs by a brass section featuring sax players Chris Ryan and Rob Marks.

The new line up made it’s debut at the Carmarthen Festival in August 1982, and were soon back on the South Wales pub, club and college circuit by the Autumn of that year.  Musically, the band was as strong as ever, but the impetus of the early years was hard to recapture.  The band hoped that the release of “Mine's a Lamb Kebab” would provide fresh interest and energy, but sadly by the time that national distribution was achieved, national radio play had ceased.  By the early months of 1983 it was clear that the band had run out of steam, and the final gig was played at Whites in Swansea in May of that year.

Circus Tunes.

Top Rank, Cardiff The band were recognised by the local media as one of the most genuinely original to emerge from South Wales in the era.  The songs and instrumentals drew on a wide range of influences including rock, jazz, folk, classical and stage musicals.  Listeners attested to hearing a wide range of sources from the early Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa and French progressive rock, through the white reggae, ska and no holds barred energy of the new wave, to circus music, big band swing, Celtic folk, the kitsch drama of stage music, the Western orchestral tradition and the dance music of pre-war Europe.

Front man Roj's epic style of presentation was never forgotten once witnessed, while Nick’s compositions trod the fine line between self-knowing cleverness and musical psychosis.  The instrumental abilities of the members provided a musical backdrop that was both inventive and sympathetic, while the anarchic humour of a band that could never take itself too seriously frequently provided a collective sense of the ridiculous.  This was a band that combined humour and sadness, irony and melodrama, harmony and dissonance.  Sadly, few of the bands tunes were ever properly recorded, and many fans believed that those recordings that did surface failed to capture the excitement and power of the live performances.

Following the demise of the band Gareth and Pete were later reunited and enjoyed a further degree of local success as members of Swansea based latin funk rockers Just Bongo, while Roj and Sioni performed locally with a popular Cajun / Zydeco set.  Nick was seen in a revived Carraig Aonair, a further folk project named Ji-Binc and also developed his compositional talents, occasionally writing TV theme music.

What Next.

While Andy Pandemonium had long been dead, interest in the band remained very much alive, and over the years a number of requests were made for the band to reform for one-off gigs.  However, with the various band members committed to other projects the time never seemed right.  By late 2007 interest had seemed to reach new peaks, particularly as the band were mentioned on numerous occasions by former Swansea based anarchist Ian Bone in his memoir “Bash the Rich”.  With other fans of the band also pressing for a reunion, the decision was taken in October 2007 to reform with a view to playing a series of gigs in the summer of 2008.

Watch this space .......