BETTER OFF CRAZY:
AN INTERVIEW WITH GRINNY FROM SKREWDRIVER
When I first started typing out this interview, I had written a long and boring intro about journalistic
objectivity and context, given the controversial nature of the band, which I don't think I need to go
into at any length here.
Interestingly enough, my computer neglected to save this introduction, which might be a sign. Let the
material speak for itself, the reader can make up his or her mind.
We all know the story of Skrewdriver and Ian Stuart at this point. The punk era of the band however is
often overlooked, given the associations that the group later developed. It's impossible to write any
kind of comprehensive or authentic piece on the group without addressing these issues on some
level. However, to the best of my ability I tried to stick with the '77-79 period where politics other than
punk anti-authoritarianism (always healthy, to my way of thinking) did not exist.
The album "All Skrewed Up" and the singles "Your So Dumb" and "Antisocial" constitute some of the
best punk music of the era, and all the more interesting since the din was emanating from the rather
bucolic--or so I'm told--Blackpool/Poulton-le-Fylde area.
It shouldn't come as any surprise that this article was already becoming a huge headache for me
before the ink was even dry. The website that had tentatively agreed to carry it decided not to. Several
other sites either wouldn't take it or didn't even get back to me. For a brief moment it looked like the
whole thing would languish at the bottom of my desk drawer, before Pete from "Nihilism on the Prowl"
agreed to run it. So, many thanks for printing this, Pete.
I tracked down Grinny almost by accident after several months of fruitless searching for members of
the original line-up of the band. Grinny was extremely affable and answered all the questions with
complete honesty and candor, which is what any interviewer hopes for. So, of course, a massive thanks to the sticks man behind not only
Skrewdriver but The Nips as well. The interview was done on 10-22-03 by both phone and mail. Incidentally, this piece is copyrighted under
my name and as part of "Nihilism on the Prowl" as well. So don't fucking steal it. (it's already been stolen tee hee - PDC)
I welcome feedback and constructive criticism on this interview. For those of you from any side of the political spectrum who feel like
haranguing me or Pete, please save your breath and find something else to do with your time.
Alex Gottschalk at email@example.com
AG: Alex Gottschalk
G: John "Grinny" Grinton.
AG: Here's a question you must get tired of. How did you get your nickname? Do people still use it?
G: My nickname "Grinny" comes from my surname, Grinton. I have been called Grinny for as long as I can remember, and yes people still call me that all
AG: Was the first band you were in "Warlock" (a teenage rock band Grinny was in just prior to Tumbling Dice who became Skrewdriver-AR)
or did you play music before then?
G: The first actual band I played in was Warlock. But before that I played at hotel, clubs and pubs, usually with just a keyboard player. We would usually
play the popular tunes of the day and old stuff like waltzes and quicksteps. This obviously was not the thing I wanted to do, but it paid well and gave me
AG: How did Tumbling Dice come to exist? I
heard you had a deal with Chiswick under this
name but it fell through before the band could
G: Tumbling Dice came out of the remains of
Warlock, while Warlock were playing. Ian had asked
me to ask Phil Walmsley, the Warlock guitarist, if he
would teach him guitar. So Phil was teaching Ian, who
was writing songs at the time. Ian in turn got Kev and
Sean McKay, twins who had been friends for years,
to learn guitar. They were both good pianists and
picked up guitar quite quickly.
When Warlock split up in 1975 it was logical for Ian to
ask if me and Phil would join him, Kev and Sean to
make a band. We agreed and started to rehearse at
Ian's Dad's factory every Saturday and Sunday
Tumbling Dice did get a chance to record with Chiswick. I continued to play with in Tumbling Dice for about seven months then I had a break up with a
girlfriend and hit the bottle, which ended up with me getting sacked and being replaced by a guy named Steve Gaulter. I went back to occasional gigs with
Warlock, with a new guitarist, Huw Melt.
Ian continued working hard for Tumbling Dice, rehearsing, sending tapes to record company's etc. He got them regular gigs on the Northern circuit with
an agency. Finally, great joy, the chance of a record deal with Chiswick. Ian got the band together and proudly told them they had a record deal with
Chiswick and would have to move to London. When the band heard this Sean said "I'm not moving to London, I'm going to University". Then Steve said he
would not move because he had a job and a girlfriend. Ian went mad and broke up the band. Not much point having a band that does not want to leave
home. Ian came round to my house the next day and said "Them wankers had a record deal would not move to London so I have broke up the band".
Then he said to me "You would have gone, wouldn't you?" and I said "Yes, course I would".
AG: Where did you know the rest of the band from, as you didn't go to Baines Grammar with them?
G: I knew Ian from the age of one since he was my next door neighbor. I knew Kev from the age of six as we all went to the local Carleton C of E primary
school (pre-eleven years). At eleven you took an exam the eleven plus. If you passed you went to the local grammar school "Baines". If you failed, as I
did, you went to the Hodgson High School, which was mixed. They were both in the town of Poulton-le-Fylde, about a mile and a half apart. So most of the
pupils at the schools knew each other. I met Phil when I was about thirteen when we played football against each other.
AG: Prior to punk, what music did you listen to? Any particular influences?
G: I listened to and liked most types of music. Particular influences were THE ROLLING STONES, VAN MORRISON, FREE CANNED HEAT, LED ZEPPELIN
and THE BYRDS.
AG: Did you have any formal drum training or was it something you learned as you went along?
G: I did have some formal training. My family is all very musical and my dad had his own jazz band. When I wanted to learn drums, my dad said he would
get me some but I had to learn them properly. I went to a teacher named Ted Hardy for two years. Then another, Bill Scott for six months. And finally, in
1977 when we were in London I had lessons off an Irish lad, Gerry McAlduff, who played drums on the first PRETENDERS single "Stop Your Sobbing".
AG: What did you think of punk
when it first came out?
G: I liked punk. It was going back to
the basics; drums, guitar, vocals
played live in small venues. Up until
'76-'77 most bands struggled
against DJ's and the discos. There
was not the work, most places just
hired a DJ for the night and that was
very bad for live bands at the time.
AG: Is it true the band had no
name when you sent your punk
demo to Chiswick and that the
label named you?
G: We didn't have a name when we sent the demo. I'm not too sure if we had a name when we played our first gig as a punk band at Manchester
Polytechnic in January '77 supporting LITTLE BOB STORY, another Chiswick band from France. I think we got the name off a list of possibles that
Chiswick supplied. The boss of Chiswick, Ted Carroll, wanted to call us "The Nervous Wrecks". We didn't like that, but we settled on Skrewdriver.
AG: Was the band a "democratic" organization or as frontman did Ian have the most say?
G: Ian, as leader, had almost all the say. There are many stories of things photographers, producers and managers wanted us to do butâ€¦Ian would
not do some of them all down to cool and street cred. Ian could most certainly be stubborn when he wanted to be.
AG: Do you recall your first few gigs as Skrewdriver?
G: Yes, I remember the first gigs. The first, as I said, was at
Manchester Polytechnic. The first gig in London was at The
Roxy in about March of '77, supporting JOHNNY MOPED. I
remember this gig well. The day before the gig on a Friday I was
at work as a sheetmetal worker, when I cut my hand on a piece
of metal. I had to go to the hospital and had four stitches put in
the wound, which was across the palm of my right hand. As soon
as I got home Ian came running round and said: "Shit, what have
you done to your hand?" I told him I'd cut it. He said:" We've got
a gig tomorrow at The Roxy". I said: "Don't worry, I'll tape it up".
So we hired a van, loaded it with equipment and off we went to
London in good spirits. Trouble was, when we got to about 40
mph the drive shaft on the van started squeaking loudly so it
drove us mad all the way there.
The gig went well and I got my minute of fame by getting my
picture in New Musical Express. The picture was taken in the
grotty dressing room with me all sweaty and the drumstick taped
into my hand. The picture had the headline "Whose Skrewing
AG: Locally, as punks, did you get a lot of abuse or were the people in Blackpool somewhat tolerant? Were you the first punks in the
area? What this situation even worse when you went skinhead?
G: As punks we really did not get a lot of abuse, though I was banned from two local pubs, The Bull and the Thatched House in Poulton for my dress
sense. Most of it was funny looks, but as we knew most people and those others didn't fancy a punch up with the band and our friends, we were
welcomed. Especially when we moved to London, we had a good fan base at home. As for the skinhead image, probably even less trouble and looks
at home, but it became a lot harder to get gigs.
AG: What punk bands of the time did you like?
G: My favorite punk bands to see live were SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, 999, THE JAM, SEX PISTOLS and DR. FEELGOOD.
AG: How were the gigs in London at the time?
G: The gigs were good in 1977. There were plenty of them to go to, and they weren't expensive to get in. You could see good bands down the road at
the local, "The Brecknock" in Tufnell Park. Or travel fifteen minutes to The Roxy or the Music Machine in Kentish Town. There would be two,
sometimes four bands on.
AG: Famously, some Teds attacked you guys after a gig and you lost some teeth. Did you ever
get revenge? Was the Punk vs. Ted rivalry as bad as some people say it was?
G: Yes, we had a punch up with the Teds after a gig at the "Railway" in Putney. We were support to THE
POLICE before they were famous, Sting etcetera, not the law. All night at the gig people were talking
about the Teds coming down from a nearby Ted gig featuring SHAKING STEVEN & THE SUNSETS. Near
the end of the night punks and THE POLICE began to disappear rather quickly. We hung about packing
away gear. We started loading the van up when we heard this noise, I looked up and there was this gang
of about twenty Teds coming towards us shouting, "Get the bastards!" I was at the back of the van,
outside it with the back doors open. I thought, well, I'm not going to run as I grabbed a cymbal stand and
decided to battle it out. I saw one Ted approach and I swung the stand at him. I caught him somewhere
high on the arm. But next thing I knew I was surrounded by Teds, one of them picked up a mic stand--It
was one of those heavy ones with the cast iron feet--and wham! Straight in the mouth. I saw flashes and
stars and ended on the floor in the middle of the road. My head was spinning and everything was going
in and out of focus. I could not pick myself up. Next thing I remember was Police and Ambulance men
picking me up and putting me in an ambulance.
I was taken to Queen Mary Hospital in Roehampton where I had 36 stitches put in my mouth. Two of my
teeth had been knocked straight out, never to be found again.
Revenge came quickly, though not from me. I was patched up and leaving the hospital with Effie, our
manager at the time, when I saw a Teddy Boy coming in on a stretcher with facial wounds. Apparently,
after I had been taken to the hospital, the band all got back in the van, minus it's windows. Kev was
driving, Ian was next to him in front, then there was Phil and Kev's brother Sean, who had come down
from Blackpool to see the gig. As they were driving back Ian spotted a group of Teds walking on the
pavement towards the van. He told Kev to get close to the pavement and then put his foot down. The van had sliding doors, so as they got near, Ian
slid open the doors and went whack! with a mic stand.
A couple of things came out of this. The van was later nicked in Covent Garden with all the gear in. And Ian's constant piss-take out of Phil for running
away and hiding behind some dust bins when we were attacked. Phil, whose not used stage name was "Ronnie Volume" had to listen to Ian playing
the guitar and singing the song "Working Class Hero" by John Lennon. The words became "Ronnie, Ron runaway, where have you been, hiding
behind the bins from the Teddy boy's boots".
Also, a couple of days after the attack we were interviewed by Janet Street Porter for a TV program. The interview w went along the lines of a rant
from Ian about what the punks were going to do to the Teds.
The interview was
shown a few
months later, when
all the trouble had
calmed down. This
set it all off again
The Punk vs. Ted
rivalry could be
bad if you were in
the wrong place at
the wrong time.
between the two.
AG: Why did you switch to the skinhead image? Was it important to you or just something you felt like doing?
G: All of us had grown up with the skinhead, suedehead and bootboy fashions of the early '70's. I decided in 1977 that I had always been happier
with the skinhead thing than the punk thing. So I got my haircut, boots, Levi jeans and jacket and away I went. Later, when Ian saw me--this was the
time between Phil leaving and Ronnie joining--he decided the band should become a skinhead band. Ian was always well into the skinhead thing, he
loved the violence. Kev was not too keen but went along with it.
SKREWDRIVER All Skrewed Up (Chiswick)
FOR YEARS, Blackpool has laughingly been
compared (by the Town Hall entertainments
office) with Las Vegas. For a town whose
motto is "Progress", Blackpool also has the
dubious distinction of (just a few years ago)
banning all outdoor rock events for something
like twenty years. I don't believe the act has ever
been revoked.Not only have there never been
more than three or four half-decent bands
working out of Blackpool at any given time, but
unless you adopt the pose of a human juke box,
there's practically nowhere to perform. Being a
Northern Soul fortress also cuts back on the
number of 'live' venues. As a transient denizen
of that coastal resort, I speak from experience.
Apart from records, the papers and the
occasional stopover by a name band, you have
plenty of time to attempt to mould a personalised
style, even if it means practically no feed-back
for your efforts.Skrewdriver emanate from
Blackpool, so is it any wonder that most of the
time they sound genuinely uptight? Sadly stating
their fears, paranoia and frustrations
occasionally get the better of them. But that's
only to be expected; Self-confessed skinheads
are not welcome around their locale.
"All Skrewed Up" kicks off with promise,
"Where's It Gonna End" being a menacing heavy
acoustic strum. But instead of refining this
approach, they get stuck into re-cycling de
rigeur Two Sevens Clash themes of persecution
complex in "(Too Much) Confusion", knocking
the system in "9 Till 5" and slamming what one
assumes to be local press in "We Don't Pose".
There are no survivors. "Back Street Kids",
"An-Ti-So-Cial" and "Jailbait" give more than an
inkling of a personal approach, but they cop-out
far too often and restrict themselves to the
Skrewdriver don't need to warm up other
people's leftovers because in singer lan, these
B'pool boot-boys have (potentially) one of the
best gravel throated vocalists to emerge this
year, whilst Ron (guitar), Kev (bass) and Grinny
(drums) give the listener the distinct impression
that they would be better deployed on more
adventurous chords and rhythms. This is one of
Rockin' Roger Armstrong's better productions,
though personally I'd have preferred lan's vocals
pushed more to the fore on the final mix.
Technical note: This album is the world's first
13 track, 12 inch 45rpm single. It retails at
Â£2.50 and is pressed in black plastic. I wonder
if Skrewdriver will take heed of the lyrics of
their shambling retread of The Who's "Won't
Get Fooled Again".
(Roy Carr - NME DECEMBER 3RD 1977)
AG: What was your favorite Skrewdriver song of the time? How did you feel about the quality
of your recorded product? Did you feel "All Skrewed Up" and the two singles were good
representations of the band?
G: My favorite Skrewdriver song, and funny enough it is my two daughters favorite Hannah 16 and
Rebecca 12, is "Too Much Confusion". All of the band thought that "All Skrewed Up" could have been
done better. It was commonly thought that Chiswick always did things on the cheap as far as recording,
advertising, etc. went. The album was recorded over a few days, it is virtually live, there were just a few
overdubs on vocals and guitar. Trouble was all the tracks were over in 2-3 minutes. I'm no technician, I
don't know why the album came out at 45 rpm. The songs on it were what we played live, so it was a
good representation of the band. But we all felt the sound was a little tinny.
AG: Do you think Chiswick was a good label? Were they fair to the band? Did you listen to any
of the other bands on the label? And weren't they planning a single release of the song
G: As I said, the feeling was that the label did things on the cheap. When "All Skrewed Up" came out
Chiswick only pressed a few hundred copies to put in shops. They sold well and ran out, and we had to
wait for more copies. By that time we had lost momentum. We did listen to other bands on the label. We
always liked MOTORHEAD the best, LITTLE BOB STORY were always good to work with. I think
Chiswick was going to release "Streetfight" but we went our different ways. I was sorry that they didn't.
AG: What was your relationship with the band like? Did you guys all hang out together or go
your separate ways offstage?
G: The relationship with the band was always good. Me and Ian and Kev had all grown up together,
been through school, cub scouts, holidays, parties, piss up, girlfriends and fights together. Life was
really one big
AG: Did you have any political views at the time? Chiswick head Roger Armstrong has
mentioned that you came from a "Northern Socialist" background.
G: The political thing really did not come to the front until probably about 1979. Up until then Ian had
always held racist views although he did not discover the National Front (NF) until maybe '79 or '80.
That was when I heard of the NF. My family has always been interested in politics. My dad stood for
Labour in local elections, I used to help on these as I grew up with politics. I voted for them in 1979 in
the general election when they lost. Then I started to look closely at the party and I realized that their
views did not match mine. So in 1980 I went in a different direction for politics. I used to talk to Roger
and he was a Labour supporter. But I think he got this romantic idea that all Northern bands were
working class, flat capped whippet owning Labour supporters. This just was not true.
AG: The band later reverted back to a punky image again. Did all this changing around annoy
you? And here's a frivolous question: did you prefer one look to the other?
G: The band did change image, but I think we were always closest to the skinhead thing. A lot of the
reason for the change was that as a skinhead band we found it impossible to get gigs, because of the
violence. We enjoyed the atmosphere, but we definitely lost tours and gigs because of the image.
AG: Did you read Radio One DJ Mark Radcliffe's book?
G: No, I have not read the book, but I would like to get a copy. I bumped into Ronnie Hartely about 12
months ago and he had read the
book and liked it. I have not
met Mark Radcliffe, he stood
in for me when I could not
make a tour in '79. He
borrowed my drum kit for the
tour, which came back minus
the Zildjian cymbals, so he
owes me two 14" hi hats, a
20" ride cymbal and an 18"
crash cymbal. (Mark: If you
are reading this, pay up.
AG: Kev and Ian later
formed a Manchester
version of the band. Were
you any part of that?
G: Yes, I played in that band,
I can only remember doing
one gig. MOTORHEAD at
Queen Marys Hall in
Blackburn. We lived in a
rented house in Longsight,
Manchester. I think this
line-up was with Phil back
and Chris Cumming joining
joining in on guitar. That was the best line up we had. Ian wrote some good songs and we made some
tapes but Chiswick did not like the change of direction. (Around this period the band recorded the
single "Built Up, Knocked Down" for TJM which was to be their last material until the NF era of
the '80's. Alex)
AG: What was playing with The Nips like? Any impressions of
the young Shane McGowan? Any other personalities of the
period you remember?
G: Playing with THE NIPS was great. Shane was good fun and we both
liked to drink. We all lived in a squat in Burton St. near Euston. A little
while later Ian and Ronnie moved in. We played with THE JAM, who
were friends of Shane's, and I met plenty of interesting people.
AG: After the band split did you keep up with Punk at all? Did
you listen to the later Oi bands, many of which claimed you as
G: Yes, I have always followed new music and I listened to the Oi
bands. I have quite a lot of tapes and CD's of Nationalist bands. They
are very good. My favourite Nationalist band is NO REMORSE, I love
the track "The Winning Hand".
AG: When Ian reformed the band in London, did he invite you?
Were you annoyed that he used the name again? How about the
other members like Phil, Kev and Ron?
G: When Ian reformed Skrewdriver, I was glad he had. I saw Ian
regularly and knew his plans. I would have liked to join him but I had a
steady job and was engaged, so it was not practical at the time. Kev
had a successful glass business and we did not know where Phil was.
Ian always kept in touch, he used to send me CD's and t-shirts.
Whenever he came home we would visit and tell me what was going on
with the band.
AG: Did it bother you that the new version kept the name but became NF involved and political?
G: No. It didn't bother me at all. Me and Ian both became members of the NF in 1980. The trouble was again the bad publicity and being unable to
get gigs. But Ian made his decision to go political and it was what he believed in right until the end.
AG: Did you keep in touch with Ian? Did you know any
of the line-up besides him?
G: Yes, we kept in touch. I last saw him on his last visit home.
He came around and I had a wife and two daughters by
then. He told me all about the band and going to prison and
what it was like in Heanor. I have met and seen perform
"Stigger" the guitarist in the last line up of Skrewdriver. He's
very good, and still making good music.
AG: Were you active in the '80's skinhead scene?
G: Yes, I was involved in the scene from 1980-1984. It had a re-emergence
then, probably due to the NF.
AG: Did you play with any more bands or had you lost interest by
G: Yes, I played with a few bands locally. One of them was called TWO WAY
SPLIT. It was just for fun. I haven't played since 1987.
AG: What was Ian Stuart really like? Did politics have any effect on your friendships in the band?
G: What was Ian really like. Hell! I could write a book on Ian. There are many stories connected with
Ian, coupled with the fact that we grew up together. Ian was funny to be around, he as a piss taker.
Where we lived, even now, people who knew Ian nearly all had nicknames that have stuck, that were
made up by Ian.
He was always very focused on what he was doing. And anyone who has ever met him will tell you
that he could talk anyone round to his point of view. He was definitely charismatic and once you met
him you didn't forget him. There is a good book about Ian called "Nazi Rock Star" by Paul London,
which I helped with, and also one more in the pipeline.
As a group we usually saw eye to eye. Ian and Phil had a good bust up about who was credited with
writing material for "All Skrewed Up". Also Kev, or more so his girlfriend, did not like the idea of
turning skinhead. "You look ridiculous" was his girlfriend Kathy's comment.
Politically, Ken, Phil and Ronnie were never really interested. But me and Ian were. It never affected
our friendships. But it did stop Skrewdriver from making it on a commercial level.
AG: What kinds of things have you been doing over the last few decades?
G: Since I finished music I have worked as a bricklayer, undertaker and at present I am a postman
working in Poulton. A great job, though not very rock and roll! But it pays the bills.
AG: Earlier you mentioned your daughters. Ever let them listed to the old records? Do they like them? Do they like punk? Do you
ever see young punks or skinheads and feel like telling them the old war stories. Ever run into anyone from the band?
G: My daughters both listen to Skrewdriver and like punk. They laugh at the old pictures of the band but are very proud of the fact their dad was in
a band, especially at the moment as there seems to be a lot of interest in the band. I do get to see a lot of young people through my daughters
and there is a lot of interest. I see Ronnie quite a bit, he still lives locally. Kev I used to see but he has now moved to Canada where his brother
has lived for years. I still see his Mum and Dad. Phil I have not seen for years, but I have heard he lives in Manchester and is still playing the guitar
in a good Blues band.
AG: Are you surprised at how sought after and expensive the Chiswick records are
these days? Do people approach you about the band? Does anyone give you any
problems about it because of the later activities of the band?
G: Yes, I am surprised at how sought after Skrewdriver things are. I have just been sent
a good new t-shirt of "Antisocial" and some bootleg tapes of Skrewdriver gigs from a guy
named Sean from Dunn Loring, VA. He also sent me a CD of his band, THE SUSPECTS,
which is good. People still approach me about the band. I never have had any
problems, though of course Ian had plenty. Ending up in jail and finally having to
leave London and move to Heanor because of the constant trouble.
I meet Skrewdriver fans at the "Red, White & Blue" festival that the BNP (British
National Party) annual get together at Clitheroe in Lancashire. While I was there I met
loads of fans and they told me that there were tribute concerts to Ian, usually near
the anniversary of his death. Also, the main band at the event played "Too Much
Confusion" and "Antisocial" and played them very well.
AG: If you could have done something differently, would you have? Famous last words or closing comments?
G: I have enjoyed doing this and I am glad that there is still interest. I hope it has been of some help.
I often wonder that if we had stayed a punk band, and Phil would not have left after the album was released. With good publicity from Chiswick
could we have made it as a mainstream punk band? But, on the other hand, Skrewdriver are known for what they did so I am happy with that. Also,
I should have ducked quicker and saved my teeth in Putney!
While your here why not check out the equally captivating Stephen Yarwood interview with Skrewdriver's guitarist Phil Walmsley, who spills the
beans on inside life with Skrewdriver in the summer of '77.
EPITAPH: Sadly Grinny has since died of a terrible combination of Lung, Liver and Pancreatic Cancer on June 29th 2005.
Our condolensces go out to his Family and friends.