One of the most chaotic and uncompromising bands on the British punk scene, the Nipple Erectors released four singles and one album in their lifetime, none of which were heard much beyond the scene itself. They're remembered today not for their music, but for their singer, future Pogues' frontman Shane MacGowan.

It was an unusual conglomerate that came together in 1977. MacGowan, himself, was already famous, if only for getting himself onto the cover of the music paper Sounds. "The Face of '76," as the cover was titled, appeared with blood streaming down his face, as the epitome of punkdom, in an infamous photo taken at the Clash's ICA show in London. A regular scenester and tear-about, MacGowan, better-known as O'Hooligan back then, was renowned for his out-of-control behavior and the blood came courtesy of an ear bite.

Guitarist Adrian Thrills was even more famous, not as a musician, but as a well-respected journalist with another weekly music paper, NME. The Erectors' other guitarist was known simply as Roger and had played with an early lineup of the Tools. Drummer Arcane and bassist Shanne Bradley were both novices, although the latter had been tutored by Captain Sensible. Needless to say, interest was acute, but the group found it difficult to get gigs and not a single record company, even at the height of punk signings, would touch the band.

Eventually, the owners of the hip Rock On record shop in London's Soho set up their own label, Soho, to start the Erectors down the road to infamy. King of the Bop/Nervous Wreck was released in early 1978 and encapsulated the group's intriguing sound. An unusual blend of punk and rockabilly, the press quickly invented the term punkabilly, especially for their new style. A second single, All the Time in the World/Private Eyes, followed later that year and featured a new band lineup.

Roger had left and was replaced by Larry Hindricks, who had no previous experience, but had once stepped onstage as replacement for an errant Dave Vanian, singer with the Damned. His guitar teacher was Mark Harrison of hard rockers Bernie Torme Band, who himself filled in with the Erectors one night on drums. And drummers came and went through the group's ranks with dizzying speed. A surnameless Gerry went off to play briefly with the Pretenders, Eater's Phil Rowland took his place for a while, at which point the seat was taken over at one time or another by just about everyone in the scene with a pair of drumsticks.

Bradley, meanwhile, changed her name to Dragonella, to stop people confusing her with MacGowan (Shanne is pronounced Shane).

Both Erectors' singles had received press acclaim, but no label offers were forthcoming and many promoters still didn't want to know. In desperation, the group gave in to public pressure and changed their name to the less contentious the Nips. Hindricks now, too, departed, to be replaced by a guitarist known simply as Fritz and the band began work on their third single, Gabrielle/Vengeance. The single appeared in October 1979 and was immediately hailed as a pop masterpiece. With the song and name change came respectability, and for the first time, the band found themselves welcomed outside London. They were also invited to open tours for the likes of Dexy's Midnight Runners and the Jam.

It was on such an outing with mod heroes the Purple Hearts, that the Nips recorded their live album, Only at the End of the Beginning. Released by Soho in July 1980, the record sleeve was done up like a bootleg and was subtitled Soho Records Official Bootleg, in case anyone was unclear on the concept. The lineup at this time included MacGowan, Bradley, guitarist Gavin Douglas, and drummer Stan Brennan.

By the time the album hit the shops, the Nips themselves were already a dead letter, sundered by infighting and boredom. Bradley soon re-surfaced with the Men They Couldn't Hang. However, a year later in October 1981, the Nips' specter rose anew, if only long enough to release one final single. The membership of this incarnation of the phoenix-like band remains unclear and the enigmatic label Test Press only deepened the mystery. To add to the general bafflement, the producer was named as P. Weller, although it wasn't the one most people assumed. Happy Song/Nobody to Love was totally mystifying, but by that time, nobody really cared, least of all MacGowan. He was now composing very different kinds of songs, most based on traditional Irish music. Three years later, he reappeared with the Pogues and by then the Nips were all but forgotten. That is at least until 1987, when Big Beat released Bops, Babes, Booze Bovver, a compilation which gathered up the first three Erectors' singles, plus So Pissed Off and Stavadale Rd N5. In 1990, the album was reissued on CD, yet another reminder of MacGowan's wayward youth. ~ Jo-Ann Green, Rovi

The Nipple Erectors - All The Time In The World
The Nipple Erectors - So Pissed Off
The Nips - Gabrielle
The Nipple Erectors - Nervous Wreck
The Nips - Live concert 1979
The Nipple Erectors - King of the Bop
The Nipple Erectors _ Stupid Cow
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