The Cult Maniax came from the darkest depths of Torrington in North Devon, and were without a doubt one of
the more original punk bands to leer out of Britains second wave of punk. Their name alone conjured up all
sorts of dubious scenarios and deviant behaviour, which any self respecting punk should dive into without a
second thought! They sung about Devil worshipping, riots, and loose women. They were managed by a local
MP's daughter and even got sued by a nearby boozer for recording a song about the landlord. If you never got
to see em live you dont know what you missed. I was lucky enough to catch em live one night at Plymouth's
Roxy venue in the early 80's. I walked into this upstairs bar on Union street on the sniff for some action and
spotted a motley crew of punks making the place luck untidy. The band on stage were the Cult Maniax whose
singer must've been about 6ft 6". They had a unique sound and presentation and dominated the night with
sheer fucking punk rock entertainment. I was a fan of em ever since collecting as many of their rare records as
I could find. I couldn't compare em to anyone else in the scene then or since. Higgs their roadie who also wrote
the brilliant Never Surrender fanzine sent me some great records, zines and info on the band that created a
cult within a cult this was back in the 80's. It wasn't until I was looking through their records for my mate Dick in
Canada that wanted to hear some that it all came rolling back. They deserve a web presence! So here's a
pretty indepth history into the band stolen from the Burning Britain book. There's a load more little snippets of
debauchery and skullduggery that deserve including at a later date.... but for now....
THE ANTICHRIST IS HERE!!!
One of the few punk bands from the extreme
Southwest to make an impact on a national
level were the Cult Maniax, formed in
Torrington in 1978 by vocalist Alan 'Big Al'
Mitchell. They, still exist - albeit on a casual
basis - even today, but are best remembered
for their brilliant 'Blitz' single and the trail of
chaos they left wherever they played during
the early Eighties.
"It was a good scene down in Devon back then, just as
rocking as any of the cities," reckons Al. "We'd go and
see The Pistols and The Damned in places like Plymouth
and Exeter, but the country towns had some good little
scenes going too. Before punk came along, I was already
into stuff like T-Rex, Bowie and Iggy Pop. I was a little bit
older than the rest of the band, and I was already playing
acoustic guitar, doing folk and stuff like that.
"The band's first ever show was in late 1978, or early 79,
supporting Hawkwind at a festival. Their singer's daughter
used to hang around with us, and that's where most of our
amps and speakers came from; we got them second-hand from Hawkwind. We used to play with them a lot and that first gig was a little
biker's festival above an antique shop in Barnstaple. I think it was just called the Barnstaple Antique Emporium, and it was owned by a load
For the earliest Maniax line-up, Al was joined by Rico Sergeant on guitar, Michael 'Foxy' Steer on bass and Paul 'Mildew' Mills on drums.
Their first official release was the (early 1982) 'Black Horse' EP, for Next Wave, a four-track affair that, as well as the title track, featured
Toung Anarchists', 'Frenzy' and The Russians Are Coming'. A vicious attack on the landlord of Torrington pub the Black Horse, who had
previously barred the band from his establishment, it caused a storm of controversy and only sold two hundred copies before it was banned
by the Bristol High Court and all remaining copies were seized and destroyed.
"It's a long story," laughs Al. "I wish we never did it, really, but it was basically our old manager, Bunker Brazier, who talked us into it. He had
twisted testicles, and had to have an operation to put 'em straight... but I think he had a twisted mind 'n' all!
"When the single came out, my old dear said, 'Oh, for fuck's sake, don't let your old man find out, he'll kill you!' But then he turned on the
TV and there we were, being called 'A sick punk band' on the regional news! It was all over the front pages of the local papers. Next Wave
was our manager's label, set up for just that EP, but after all that he freaked out a bit and didn't do anything else."
Soon after, the band replaced Rico with Paul Bennett on guitar and released their crowning glory, the superb 'Blitz' (b/w 'Lucy Looe') single,
on their own Elephant Rock Records, that went on to sell over 20,000 copies.
"That was banned by the Bristol High Court 'n' all," says Al proudly. "On account of
'Lucy Looe' being all about blow-jobbing! Me and Paul wrote it in less than five minutes
whilst we were waiting for Foxy and Mildew to turn up at practise. It seemed a bit stupid
banning it after it had sold so many copies though."
Whilst lacking certain production values, both the early releases captured the band's
abrasively melodic punk rock and Al's sneering Lydon-esque warble more than
adequately, with 'Blitz' an especially memorable moment grimly likening the devastation
wreaked by the riots of 1981 to that of burnt-out London during 1942.
"We released the next single too quickly, really, and it flopped a bit," continues Al. "That
was the 'Black Mass' EP, which was all about witches... we get a lot of 'em around this
way. It was all a laugh but we had this big backdrop with a pentagram on it and
everything! We even had people turning up to gigs in black cloaks and stuff... I just
thought it was the acid kicking in! To be honest, most of the Eighties was one big blur of
noise and colour for me; we were absolutely fucking blitzed all the time."
The Cult Maniax played the length and breadth of the country, from the 100 Club in
London, with the Cockney Rejects, to Adam And Eve's in Leeds.
"The most memorable show we ever did was supporting the
Anti-Nowhere League at the Top Rank in Plymouth; there
must have been three or four thousand people there. But on
the way down, we stopped the van for a piss, and we looked
over the hedge and there were hundreds of magic mushrooms
in this fucking field. So we jumped over the hedge and ate all
these magic mushrooms, and by the time we got onstage at the
Top Rank, the whole band were tripping their tits off. Anyway,
we managed to get the gear into this big dark backstage area,
and we were stoned, and the management comes over and
asked anyone who wasn't in the band to go back outside to get
their hands stamped, and of course, the whole band walked
"The drummer from the League came back there later on, and he asked to have a go on the drum
kit. So we let him, and he said one of the drums was out of tune, and we all started really freaking
about it, 'cos we were tripping so strong by then. We were like, 'Oh my god, our drums are out of
tune', and really panicking!
"Anyway, we managed to get the gear onstage, but halfway through the first song, Paul went mad
and did a Pete Townshend and smashed his guitar up; he had to borrow another guitar off one of
the other bands, but it wasn't so good. The gig was wicked though; the skinheads went mad, the
crash barrier went down, two kids ended up in hospital, and the place got wrecked... but it was a
"For another gig in Plymouth, our van fell
through at the last minute, and we just
couldn't get another one anywhere. In the
end we borrowed an open-back truck, and
then halfway to Plymouth, a fucking car
pulled out in front of us, and the truck
somersaulted down the road, with gear and
people flying out everywhere like rag dolls!
Some of us got taken to hospital in an
ambulance; it was a helluva mess! We
couldn't play the gig, of course, and all the
punks went on the rampage and had a riot
'cos we didn't turn up. One of our crew's still
got grit in his face from bouncing along the
road in front of the van."
In 1983, American Phonograph released the
band's one and only studio album, 'Cold
Love', which after the preceding singles was
something of a disappointment. Despite some
good material, not least of all the furious
opener 'Time Bomb City', the release was
castrated by a weak mix, too much drums and
hardly any guitars. "We recorded for two
weeks down in London," explains Al. "And we
were meant to go back the following week to
mix it, after we'd all been away on holiday to Belgium. But then the bastard from American
Phonograph mixed it without us and started pressing it before we'd even got back. It even had
some of the tracks with the drums all backwards on it, all experimental, and it was crap! It's
fucking awful; luckily for him, we never ever saw the guy again!"
On one of the band's forays up north, they impressed Xcentric Noise Records from Hull enough
at another Adam And Eve's show in Leeds to sign them up. They released the 'Full Of Spunk'
single in August 1984, which made No. 11 in the Indies during a three month chart run, It was
closely followed by 'The Amazing Adventures Of Johnny The Duck' single (that was also issued in
12" format) during Christmas '84, and the 'Where Do We All Go?' six-track live 12", June 1985.
All sold well, narrowly missing out on the Indie Top Ten, but none were as musically convincing as
the earlier, more fiery, Maniax releases.
"Our problem was that we peaked too early, and it was all downhill from there," Al agrees. "For
the last few singles we were running out of ideas, and it was all getting a bit experimental. We
even had a single released in 1987 as The Vibe Tribe, which was basically the Cult Maniax
under a different name, called 'Skylark Boogie', about this big old American car I had, a Buick
Skylark; that was on Tribal Records, an offshoot of Elephant Rock. And then we split up in the
late Eighties; it had just come to an end really. Things die off eventually, don't they? The spirit
had gone; the songs were sounding stale, and... well, we were going to rehearsals and we
couldn't stand the sight of each other.
"But it was a good thing in the end, 'cos we wrote some really good songs independently of each
other, whilst staying good friends. Paul formed The Whirliebirds, and I started The Sweet
Thangs. I actually prefer The Sweet Thangs to the Maniax really. We were just getting in each
other's way towards the end; we had very different ideas about where we wanted to take the
Despite 'splitting up', the Cult Maniax have played various shows together over the last fifteen
years, with Jez 'Fluffy' Evans on bass, "Just for a laugh", including the 1996 Fuck Reading festival
at the London Astoria.
Al went on to become a keen historian, particularly regarding Seventeenth Century! warfare, and
a trained swordsmen, heavily involved with the Sealed Knot. A loveably eccentric character, he's
now also the town crier of Torrington, and a bona fide lay preacher. He currently plays with his
own two-piece folk outfit, Freeborn Men ("We play all sorts of stuff, based on rebel music
throughout the ages!"), but the world hasn't heard the last of The Cult Maniax. "We're even
thinking of getting together for a few shows later this year, it should be a good laugh. And it's a
good way to get stuff off your chest. The lyrics are a bit dated nowadays, I know that...but they
meant something to me when I wrote 'em... after ten pints of cider at least!"
IAN GLASPER (Burning Britain)
(Additional imagery from the DC Archives)
'The Cult Maniax' EP (Next Wave, 1981)
'Blitz' (Elephant Rock, 1982)
'American Dream' - 'Black Mass' (Elephant Rock, 1982) (no P/S)
'Full Of Spunk' EP (Xcentric Noise, 1984)
The Amazing Adventures Of Johnny The Duck & The Bathtime Blues' (Xcentric Noise, 1984)
The Amazing Adventures Of Johnny The Duck & The Bathtime Blues'' (Xcentric Noise, 1984)
'Cold Love' (American Phonograph, 1983)
'Where Do We All Go?' (Xcentric Noise, 1985).
The first live set from Adam & Eves, Leeds gets a release.
'Live At Adam And Eves' (Retch Records, 1997) Reissue of the Xcentric album on CD.