The thriving Leeds post-punk scene saw the emergence of bands like The Gang of Four, The Mekons and the two bass, two guitar toting, Delta 5. Along with Julz Sale and Bethan Peters, Ros Allen became the third girl to join, having previously played in the starting line up of The Mekons. Their first single “Mind Your Own Business” was released by Rough Trade (RT031) in September 1979, and the band slotted right into new tight, stark post-punk landscape in much the same way as The Gang of Four and the Au Pairs did. Bands had started incorporating choppy rhythms underneath post-punk’s plainly delivered vocals, with lyrics that often preyed on the intellect, sometimes delivering political messages as part of the song. After two further releases on Rough Trade the band signed with a subsidiary of Charisma releasing the album “See The Whirl” in 1981, but by 1982, the band had split.
There’s an interesting interview dating from 1996 with Ros Allen by Mike Appelstein via furious.com, from which the rest of this post is taken.
Q: When and how did you first become interested in music? When did you first start playing?
One of my earliest memories is driving along the coast with my dad and singing along to “Please Please Me” by the Beatles – throughout my childhood I loved to sing along to a good tune (and still do), whether it was Burt Bacharach’s “Walk On By” or Bizet or Rogers & Hammerstein. We listened to the radio a lot, and my mum took us to the cinema to see Beatles and Elvis films and all that. My dad played the piano. “You Are My Sunshine if was a favorite of mine and I learnt the cello at school. I used to go to the ice rink where they played a lot of Tamla, Motown, Beach Boys — inspiring stuff. As I got older I listened to pirate radio stations late at night as well as John Peel. I remember my friend dragging me over to her house to listen to “The Murder Mystery” by the Velvet Underground … we were 14 and it was amazing. I swapped some boots for a guitar and tried to play along to my Hendrix records … ambitious, I know. It was easier to follow the bass lines and I managed to stumble through “Hey Joe” and “Manic Depression,” but I was always a closet bassist. It wasn’t until I joined the Mekons that I got a real chance to play in a band.
Q: When and how did Delta 5 form?
Julz and Bethan, who were Mekons girlfriends at the time, decided to form a band and asked me if I’d like to play bass (I’d already left the Mekes supposedly to concentrate on my degree — ho hum!). I thought it might be fun so I did and it was sometimes. We asked Jon Langford to play guitar and Simon Best, who was then the Mekons’s soundman, to play drums. With them we wrote a small set, including “Mind Your Own Business” and “You,” and played a few gigs. Jon was brilliant in the band — he’s a lot of fun and talented with it — but his first commitment was to the Mekons. Fortunately we got Kelvin to play drums (Simon wasn’t right), and through him we got Alan on guitar. They had both been in bands in York. Kelvin had auditioned for the Gang of Four when Hugo left briefly (not for long though), so that’s how we made contact. Jon also did the artwork for the “Mind Your Own Business” and “Anticipation” singles.
Q: Are you from Leeds originally?
No, I’m from Tynemouth, which is or the northeast coast and close to Newcastle. Bryan Ferry, Sting, The Animals. Jimmy Nail and Viz comic are all from this area. I went to Leeds to do a Fine Art degree at the university. Most of the Mekons and Jon and Andy from Gang of Four were on the same course, though only Tom (Greenhalgh) and Jon Langford were in my year. Tom, Mark, Kevin, Jon King and Andy Gill had come from the same school and were already friends. We all sort of gravitated toward each other and hung around together. This was in October 1976, and by the following summer the Gang of Four started playing, followed shortly by the Mekons. The Mekons really picked up on the atmosphere of the time of “spontaneous amateurism,” as Mary Harron described it, and formed and played their first gig in about a week! They’d been to see a band at the F Club, which was a popular punk venue, and had managed to get themselves on the bill the following week supporting the Rezillos. They had to get a set together really quickly and as they didn’t have a bass player they asked me; they knew I used to play the cello. That gig went surprisingly well. Bob Last, who was the Rezillos’ tour manager was about to start his own label, Fast Product, and approached the Mekons that night. We recorded “Where Were You?” shortly after in a cottage somewhere and gave Bob a tape of Gang of Four, who did their first single with Fast as well. The Gang of Four, the Mekons and later Delta 5 shared a rehearsal room, equipment, even a homemade PA at first, and did their best to get each other gigs and lead mutual support.
Q: Why two bass players?
Because neither of us played guitar and we thought it would make the music more exciting with two different bass sounds, one trebly and funky (Bethan) and one more double-bass-like (me). It definitely enriched the sound of the band. We also had two guitars sometimes as Julz played occasionally. Come to think of it, we doubled up the vocals as well.
Q: How did the band break up?
It was a slow process. Bulk was sacked toward the end of 1981 because she’d virtually given up on the band. Jacqui Callis joined and she contributed so much as she’s got a great voice, can play guitar and bass, and also she didn’t play games with people the way Julz did. I can’t remember why Alan left; I think it may have been before Julz went. Then Graeme Haigh from Edinburgh came in on guitar. His style of playing was completely different — he was less accomplished technically, but he came up with some great quirky guitar parts. It was their extra contribution that helped produce the last single. I think there was a lot of potential there. Unfortunately, Sue, Bethan, and even Jacqui felt that Graeme’s guitar playing wasn’t good enough and they wanted someone more skilled to replace him…I didn’t, and felt really let down when they went ahead and sacked him anyway. The guy who replaced him, who since has become a good friend, was way over the top guitar-hero-posturing and he had to copy Graeme’s guitar parts for this prestigious gig, which was just ridiculous. I left shortly after that, really unhappy with the way things had worked out. Also, Kelvin had left sometime after the last single — I’m not sure why — and we went through a few drummers (a bit like Spinal Tap minus the humour). The day after I left, Delta 5 were dropped by PRE — this would have happened anyway. I don’t think they even knew that I’d gone!
I’ve kept in touch with Bethan and Alan, but Kelvin’s vanished somewhere and Julz has married a policeman and gone off to live in Hong Kong (or Singapore)! Very odd — reverting to type, perhaps, as her dad was a policeman!