It’s 1971 and Andrew Matheson, 18, leaves his job in the mines, armed with a tatty suitcase, five LPs (Kinks, Shadows of Knight, Beatles and two Stones), a black Vox Mark VI teardrop guitar and moves to London with a head full of ideas and a template to create the perfect rock ‘n’ roll band stuffed in his pocket.
Cut to 1975 and that band, the Hollywood Brats, have disintegrated, their solitary album, Grown Up Wrong, sneaking out, belatedly, in, of all places, Norway, selling a meagre 563 copies. It was an inglorious conclusion to a band that should’ve been – and actually were, for the blink of eye – contenders.
What happened in between is told with style and panache in Sick On You. Matheson’s creation, the Brats, a mess of eyeliner and spray paint, strutted and preened their way around London without a penny to their name but as that lost album, especially the searing, slash and burn ‘Chez Maximes’ (“We don’t care what you say…”) and the magnificent proto-punk single-that-never-was ‘Sick On You’ testify, they had, way before the class of ’76, the razor sharp, adrenaline fuelled tunes to back their ballsy attitude and they got to the Phil Spector girl group songbook before the Ramones; The Crystals' 'Then He Kissed Me' provocatively left without switching gender.
Glamourous boys in women’s clothing sashaying around pubs and clubs, indulging in petty crime, in dank early 70s Britain didn’t endear them to many – a kicking was seldom far away - but Matheson’s mouthy prose sparkles on every page, glitter sprinkled on the grime. One line in particular encapsulates life as a Hollywood Brat, “Have you ever tried running for your life in a top hat and clogs?”
Whether you’ve heard of his band or not, and the chances are not, Andrew Matheson has written the best music memoir I’ve ever read, it’s brilliantly told with an array of funny cameos from individuals as diverse as Keith Moon, Freddie Mercury, Malcolm McLaren, Cliff Richard and the Krays. He talks it the way he surely walked it, reducing the opposition to the role of boring dullards. Despite being tantalisingly close to the edge of success – recording at Olympic studios, photos by Gered Mankowitz, limos to film premieres - The Hollywood Brats never “made it” but from the evidence now available they should at least be held in the same esteem as the New York Dolls, who hit on the same idea almost simultaneously Stateside. And in Andrew Matheson it’s impossible not to rue the fact rock ‘n’ roll missed out on potentially one of its greatest, gobbiest frontmen.
Sick On You by Andrew Matheson is published by Ebury Press, out now.
|The Hollywood Brats (photo by Gered Mankowitz)|