The Time Machine recently visited the Cellar Arts Club’s celebration of the late great DJ Andrew Weatherall, who died suddenly in February. One of the DJs playing the event was Ross Malyon, a Worthing resident for the last twelve years. Over a beer, he spoke of his friendship with Weatherall, mentioning how he went around the world with Primal Scream’s Screamadelica tour. The Time Machine made a note to dig deeper. When we did, it was a heady trip.
Ross was born in Carshalton, south London, the second of three children. His family moved to Kent when he was a toddler and his formative years were spent in Faversham.
Describing his school career as “appalling”, he was, nonetheless, interested in music from an early age. His older sister, Suzanne, introduced him first to glam rock and then, when she became an early 70s skinhead, to reggae. She also had a hippy phase.
“She used to drag me, aged 14-15, to Leas Cliff Hall in Folkestone to see prog bands like Man and Steve Hillage,” he recalls. “Things changed when we went to see The Enid and I thought, ‘This is awful.’ The following week we went to see [actor] Gary Holton’s band The Heavy Metal Kids. Supporting them were [early punks] Cock Sparrer. That was amazing. A few weeks later we went to see Wire, and from then on it was downhill all the way.”
Now a punk convert, when he left school in 1978 Ross devoted his time to gigs, including the likes of The Jam and Killing Joke, but also now-long-forgotten acts such as Teenbeats and Smeggy & the Cheesy Bits (the latter’s lead singer would eventually front 80s psychobillies King Kurt). The lifestyle involved hitching about, sleeping where you fell, and reached its apex with The Clash.
“I followed them round the country for the Give ‘Em Enough Rope tour,” he says. “We’d bunk in at soundcheck and they’d just let us stay there. They loved their fans.”
He also recalls dating Paul McCartney’s adopted daughter, Heather, staying at the ex-Beatle’s home in Rye, and being “quite disdainful, because I was punk and it wasn’t cool”.
In 1980 Ross and three friends moved to London, squatting in Battersea and reconnecting with Killing Joke roadie Alex Patterson, later of The Orb, who would one day play a pivotal role in his life.
“I was working, on and off, for [Joly MacFie’s groundbreaking post-punk company] Better Badges,” Ross remembers, “I’d make up the badges in this place in Portobello Road, then go with Hamish McDonald [later a DJ at goth mecca The Batcave] and set up a badge stall at the back of all these gigs.”
Ross consequently saw multitudes of bands. Highlights included “Siouxsie and the Banshees at the Electric Ballroom, various Adam and the Ants gigs in the early days before Kings of the Wild Frontier, The B52s, Kraftwerk at the Hammersmith Palais, Bauhaus, The Cramps’ original line-up”.
Following Theatre of Hate around the country, he fell in with their support act The Meteors and started doing their backline circa 1981. This, in turn, led to working for punk outfit Chelsea (“past their heyday”) who, after a UK tour supporting Anti-Nowhere League, took him with them to the States.
“In New York, the record company played us [hip hop pioneer] Afrika Bambaataa,” says Ross. “They were saying, ‘This is just the maddest thing, you’ve got to hear it,’ and I thought it was fantastic. Then one of them took me to a block party. I was this white punk rocker with bleached blond hair, but if anyone challenged me I’d say, ‘It’s all right, I’m from London,’ and it was fine, there wouldn’t be a problem.”
Returning home, Ross moved to Brixton and took a night security job at Basing Street Studios, Island Records’ longstanding recording hub which, bought by star producer Trevor Horn and his wife Jill, was refurbished and turned into SARM West Studios. Ross soon wangled his way to becoming an assistant sound engineer, just as Horn’s ZTT label exploded to rule 1984 with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, alongside artists such as Art of Noise and Propaganda. Ross worked with all three and many others.
“The big stand-out for me was an album with Scott Walker, Climate of the Hunter,” he says. “I’m listed on that album but they spelt my bloody name wrong.”
He also recorded with Julian Cope during his most unhinged period, and assisted on the hit song Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) by Scritti Politti, working with legendary Atlantic Records producer Arif Mardin. On both occasions, he strongly hints intoxicants were involved, but is reticent about expanding on such matters. He also became friendly with the studio’s night shift cook, Lucky Gordon, a name connected to the Profumo scandal and, later, Bob Marley’s personal chef.
“He’d take me round to The Mangrove on All Saints Road,” recalls Ross. “A West Indian club where they’d play dominoes all night long. He kind of adopted me, taught me how to cook West Indian food. He talked a lot about the Profumo stuff but I didn’t realise the relevance at the time. We’d raid SARM’s tape store at night, just play around on the desks with 24-track masters of Island stuff: U2, Talking Heads.”
Let go by SARM in late 1984 for being brusque with a producer, Ross was soon working with goth rock’n’rollers Flesh For Lulu; however, most of his time was spent in the capital’s mid-80s nightlife hot spots, sometimes returning for after-parties at the Warwick Avenue crash pad of Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore, who he knew via a mutual friend.
“The Batcave, Mud Club, Wag Club, The Fridge,” he reminisces, “And Taboo, Leigh Bowery’s club in Leicester Square, oh my God, that was pure hedonism, one of my mates crawling around on the floor licking peoples legs. We were all very badly behaved. Then there were the warehouse parties, Dirtbox, the Westway clubs, playing rare groove and hip hop – these were precursors to the raves.”
It was his increasing involvement in this scene that would see Ross involved in the next musical revolution, from Deee-Lite to Primal Scream to touring the US with the Lords of Acid – but you’ll have to wait until next month for that.
We’re interested in hearing your stories and scenes from any era. Do you remember dances in the 40s or rockin’ out in the 90s? Please email Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Main picture Ross, face covered in fake blood, on stage with The Meteors C1981. ‘Doobie’ – Caption: Relaxing, c1983-84
Want to see more photos? Head over to April issue of Here & Now, pages 28-29.