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Specimen

interview by Frank Andrick and Mark Hoffmeister
published in Artist Magazine (U.S.)



Specimen

“There's bad taste that's just vile, and there's bad taste that's amusing.

--Ollie


The Batcave — considered to be the birthplace of the English goth subculture — was a nightclub in London, at Meard Street, Soho. As one of the most famous meeting points for early goths, it lent its name to the term "Batcaver." The fans of the original gothic rock music would adorn themselves in Batwing Coffin necklaces to distinguish themselves from other, less prolific goth nightclubs. The term "Batcave" is also still used by Europeans to refer to gothic music with a prominent post-punk sound and spooky atmospheres.

The club opened in July 1982. Originally specializing in New Wave and glam rock, it later focused on gothic rock. Ollie Wisdom, the lead singer in the house band, Specimen, ran the club with Specimen's Jon Klein as art director, and initially with the assistance of production manager Hugh Jones. Famous regulars at the Batcave included musicians such as Bauhaus, Robert Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin, Foetus, Marc Almond and Nick Cave.

The night before their appearance at the I-Beam in San Francisco (1983) Frank and Mark conducted the following interview with Ollie and Chris, who turned out to be a couple of quite nice chaps.

Q: Let's begin by talking about how Specimen got together, and the move to London.

OLLIE: [It was] after I met Jon in Briston — he was in art college then and he had to move to Brighton. So, I decided to move to London, and we spent about a year developing the band. Well, we finally started doing a few shows here and there and we were constantly being shat on, so we thought we'd establish this thing which turned out to be the Batcave. It cost us about £600 to open, initially. It was in a  strip club in Soho, on the fourth floor of a building, and you had to go up in this tiny little lift that only fit four people. It was a gorgeously tacky place — upstairs they had a little theater, and downstairs was a total sleaze pit. We'd have women's mud wrestling and hire bands that we liked. We were basically just entertaining ourselves and our friends, [but] eventually it started drawing people in. The Batcave is just one limb of ours; the others will be revealed over the next few years.

Q: What about taking the Batcave on the road with you?

OLLIE: Obviously, wherever we go a little bit of the Batcave goes with us. The whole thing about the Batcave is that it is an attitude that is really indefinable.

Q: How did you meet up with the other bands and musicians associated with the Batcave?

OLLIE: Well, it's just a lot of people who came down and met at the Batcave, and they were just drawn together by the attitude.

CHRIS: It's a bit like all the people who have joined — Ollie, Jon, Kevin, Jonny Slut and myself. We just all met up at the Batcave by chance.

OLLIE: And you just know that it's right. You know you're on the same wavelength. The Specimen gave birth to the Batcave and the Batcave gave birth to the metamorphosis of Specimen.

Q: What sort of outside influences affected Specimen?

OLLIE: There's parts of everything we find funny or tasteless in our lives. There's bad taste that's just vile, and there's bad taste that's amusing. Our publicist, Chris, walks around with penis nose glasses on, and he managed to buy a hat in Toronto with this big, false turd on the top of it.

CHRIS: Going through customs yesterday morning, he had all these things in his bag, and the customs guy is just freaking out, pulling out all this stuff — penis nose glasses, penis water gun, shithead cap... It's that sort of thing that shocks people even more than our appearance.

Q: Has Specimen delved into video at all?

OLLIE: We did do a BBC program called Riverside for Halloween. We had Alien Sex Fiend, and we put on mud wrestling with TV's original Batman, Adam West, refereeing. We'll be doing some videos early in the new year, but I'm not sure exactly when.

Q: How do you feel about all the bland, semi-disco synthesizer music that is currently dominating the New Music scene on commercial radio?

OLLIE: They really do nothing for me. It's like it was in 1976 before the punk thing happened. It's totally vile and bland, useless rubbish. I think it's great when groups like Big Country and The Alarm make it, 'cause they're real groups and they go out and play and play.

CHRIS: People are clever at playing it safe, like Duran Duran — they're the cleverest — with Spandau Ballet following up. Everyone at the moment likes that stuff, even grannies.

OLLIE: When I was 14 or 15, my mother never liked what I listened to. If they [mothers] can listen to it, it's obviously too bland. In England it's really the radio stations that are responsible — it's all controlled by the government. That's why your mother likes it, and the kids just don't know any better.

Q: Chris, let's talk about some of the other bands you've been in.

CHRIS: I started out in the Thompson Twins and that lasted about 2-1/2 years. It was a great training ground until they became too commercial, [so] I just sort of split. Then I toured with a band called King Trigger. After that, I joined Spear of Destiny, but I just couldn't be that serious all of the time, so I got out of that by the skin of my teeth. I was lucky not to have been burned in that one. And after that came Specimen.

Q: What kind of preconceptions did you have about California before you came here?

OLLIE: I didn't have any. I try to go into something as open as possible because if you have preconceived ideas, you tend to stay inside those boundaries. You've got to meet up with a couple of local people and try to find a place's character. There's nothing you can find by reading the local entertainment listings, you've got to go out and look for it. You can't be paranoid about these things or you never get to see a thing.

  

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