The Hamsters

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The Hamsters
Hamsters-moon-300.jpg
Background information
Origin Southend on Sea, England
Genres Blues rock, R&B, Americana, rockabilly
Years active 1987–2012
Website www.thehamsters.co.uk
Members Snail's-Pace Slim
Rev Otis Elevator
Ms Zsa Zsa Poltergeist

The Hamsters were a British band from Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England.

They performed their first live show at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea, on 1 April 1987, and their last at The Half Moon, Putney on 1 April 2012, exactly 25 years later. They initially played in local pubs with no ambitions to take themselves seriously or to turn professional.[1] As the band ethos is to combine humour with music[2] two members of the original band (now all three) use light-hearted and parodying pseudonyms as stage names.[3] The original line-up was Snail's-Pace Slim on vocals and guitar, Rev Otis Elevator on drums and Andy Farrell on bass. Andy Billups, aka Ms Zsa Zsa Poltergeist, replaced Farrell on bass in 1988.

The band's name was based on a pseudonym used by the Sex Pistols.[4]

History[edit]

Their first performances were in local pubs in and around Southend as a part of the area's well-known R&B scene which had begun in the 1960s; they initially formed for their own amusement[5] and didn't take themselves too seriously.[6] Their bookings quickly started to increase as an increasing number of local music fans requested venues to book them.[7] Eventually it was decided to turn pro and slowly they started getting bookings from venues further afield. During 1988–1990 they released a limited run of four cassette releases of their music until they released their first CD in 1990, titled "Electric Hamsterland" as a parody of the Hendrix "Electric Ladyland" album. There was also a limited run of vinyl LPs of the album.

Influences[edit]

The Hamsters were called Britain's leading interpreters of the music of Jimi Hendrix and ZZ Top.[8][9] and so were called a blues rock band, although they were not a tribute band "they take the music and push it a little further in the direction originally intended".[10] These covers only made up a small part of their playlist, the majority being Americana.[11]

Work schedule[edit]

As of March 2009, the Hamsters are in their 21st year and claim to have performed more than 4,000 shows.[1] They have constantly toured throughout UK and occasionally mainland Europe.[12] In 1991 they performed a small tour in the US. The group has been described as "the hardest working band in the UK".[13] In 2000, the Hamsters were runners-up in the best blues rock band category, voted on by the readers of Blueprint.[14] They contributed a track for the BBC Radio 2 series "Bright Lights, Big City" documenting the story of British Rhythm and Blues from the fifties to the modern day and presented by former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman, and was broadcast in late 2001. They performed at the 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 London Guitar Shows at the Wembley entertainment complex.

In 2003 the Hamsters performed two live sessions on Paul Jones' BBC Radio 2 blues show. The track "Taxi Driver" from their Open All Hours album was included in Classic Rock magazine's (August 2006 issue) '100 Blues Anthems'.

They have supported such artists as Albert Collins and Status Quo.[15][16] During 2006 and 2007 they joined Wilko Johnson and John Otway to perform The Mad, The Bad & The Dangerous tour.

The band have been Whispering Bob Harris' featured band on his BBC Radio 2 radio show on several occasions.[17]

In October 2008 the band announced that their track "Route 666" (from the Route 666 album) was selected by producer/director Neil Jones to be played over the end credits of a low budget British horror film titled Stag Night of the Dead.[18]

Retirement[edit]

On 13 March 2011, via their website and Facebook, the band announced that on their 25th anniversary they would be splitting the band so the individual members could retire from the music business. They also announced that their last show would be performed on 31 March 2012.[19] Their final two shows were actually on 1 April 2012, at The Half Moon, Putney.

Personnel[edit]

Snail's-Pace Slim[edit]

The Hamsters' lead singer and guitar player, Snail's-Pace Slim (Barry Martin) has been part of the Southend music scene for many years. He formerly played in various Essex-based bands including Dr Feelgood, the Kursaal Flyers and the Old Pals Act (with bassist Dave Bronze and Robin Trower's brother Brad). He was voted one of the top 100 guitarists of all time in a radio poll on LBC.[20]

Slim also contributes technical articles to guitar magazines, and was featured in the September 1994 edition of Guitar Techniques. Slim was asked by the magazine to contribute a monthly recorded lesson on how to play the blues for inclusion on the CD which accompanied every issue. He was also included in the Guitarist Magazine Book of Guitar Players, published in 1994.[21] In 2007 Slim was interviewed as part of a 3-hour video documentary about the Fender Stratocaster titled Stratmasters,[22] and in August 2008 he was interviewed by Guitarist for their October 2008 issue.[23]

Zsa Zsa playing at Colne Municipal Hall

Rev Otis Elevator[edit]

Rev Otis Elevator (Alan Parish) was the drummer of the Hamsters. He was born in Edmonton in 1951 and is largely self-taught as a musician.[24] Before joining the Hamsters, he worked with various Top 40 bands, as well as playing radio and TV jingles.[25] He also provided back-up vocals and plays bass during the traditional Hamsters' finale.[26]

Ms Zsa Zsa Poltergeist[edit]

Ms Zsa Zsa Poltergeist (Andy Billups) was the last bass player. He had replaced original member Andy Farrell in 1988. In 1992 he left the band, after he was diagnosed with focal dystonia, affecting his right hand. He was replaced by Dave Bronze. In 1994, after having re-learned the bass using a custom-designed thumb-pick,[27] he rejoined the band when Bronze left to join Eric Clapton's band.

In 2011, Billups released a solo album Afton Down, in a more "folky" style than The Hamsters material, which does not credit any contributions by Martin or Parish.[28]

Pseudonyms[edit]

As the band always intended to combine humour and music and wanted to remain relatively anonymous, they decided to adopt light-hearted stage names:[29]

  • Snail's-Pace Slim's stage name was selected as a parody of old time blues players such as Lightnin' Slim.[30]
  • Otis Elevator's came about after seeing a manufacturer's name plate at the base of an escalator in a local shopping mall.
  • Ms Zsa Zsa Poltergeist's is based on the name of an incidental character from the BBC radio comedy show Round The Horne.

Discography[edit]

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Cassette[edit]

  • Live At Kent Custom Bike Show (1988)
  • Revenge of the Killer Hamsters (1989)
  • The Night of the Rocking Rodents (1989)
  • Flasher Hamsters From Hell (1990)
  • Rodent Rock (1990)
  • Condensed Hamsters (1990)

Albums[edit]

Videos[edit]

  • Burnin Vermin' (1991)
  • Band of Gerbils (1996)
  • Verminator! (1997)
  • Rodents Rock The Reich! (1998)
  • To Infirmity, And Beyond! (2004)
  • The Mad, The Bad & The Dangerous (2007) with Wilko Johnson and John Otway)
  • Curse of the Killer Hamsters! (2008)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "The Hamsters' 'Biography'". Thehamsters.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  2. ^ Shane Homan, Access All Eras: Tribute Bands and Global Pop Culture, McGraw-Hill International, 2006, ISBN 0-335-21690-0, p.112. "Elements of self-mockery in [The Hamsters'] presentation [...] are persistent, strongly marking their distance from what they typically refer to as 'muso' culture."
  3. ^ Homan p.112: "lead guitarist and singer [...] known as Snail's Pace Slim, [...] Zsa Zsa Poltergeist plays bass. Alan Parish plays drums and is also known primarily by a facetious pseudonym, The Reverend Otis Elevator."
  4. ^ Homan p.118 "Slim further explains the reasoning behind the band's name; 'The Hamsters was a name [the Sex Pistols] used on one gig. I just liked the irony of it – vicious group, cuddly name.'"
  5. ^ Friend, Doreen (30 November 2007). "Catch the Hamsters". Waltham Forest Guardian. Retrieved 2009-08-29. [dead link]
  6. ^ "The Hamsters in Tavistock (preview)". What's On southwest.co.uk. Retrieved 2009-08-29. 
  7. ^ Homan p.113: "The successful growth of the audience for the Hamsters in the early 1990s is substantially attributed to their inclusion of an increasing proportion of material from Hendrix."
  8. ^ "Coventry and Warwickshire - Entertainment - Hamsters do Hendrix at Cox's Yard". BBC. 2006-02-22. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ Leonard, Deke (2012). The Twang Dynasty. Bordon, Hants: Northdown Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 978-1-900711-18-0. 
  11. ^ "Hamsters special at Bridgwater Arts Centre". Bridgewater Mercury. Retrieved 2009-03-11.  "....playing their own brand of rootsy Rock, Blues and Americana"
  12. ^ Homan p.111: "They play regular sets [...] largely on a pub rock and beer, biker and blues festival circuit in England and to some extent in Holland and Germany."
  13. ^ Frame, Pete: Pete Frame's Rockin' around Britain, Music Sales Group Ltd, 1999; ISBN 0-7119-6973-6, p.36: "Britain's most popular and hardworking pub-rock band, The Hamsters"
  14. ^ The results of the poll are reproduced at [2]. The overall winner of the category was Nine Below Zero, with the Hamsters listed as runners-up.
  15. ^ "The 2004 Quo Annual". Archived from the original on 2009-10-26. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  16. ^ "The Hamsters wheel into town". Crawley News. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  17. ^ Bob Harris. "Bob Harris' Artist Pages". Retrieved 2009-03-08. 
  18. ^ "Preview: The Hamsters, The Boardwalk, Friday". The Star. Retrieved 2009-03-10. 
  19. ^ "The Hamsters Website Home Page". Thehamsters.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  20. ^ [3][dead link]
  21. ^ Douse, Cliff (1994-04-10). The Guitarist Book of Guitar Players. Music Maker Books. ISBN 978-1-870951-22-7. 
  22. ^ "Stratmasters DVD". Retrieved 2009-03-11. [dead link]
  23. ^ "Guitarist Magazine | MusicRadar". Guitarist.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  24. ^ Gregory, Andy: International Who's Who in Popular Music, 2002, Routledge, 2002; ISBN 1-85743-161-8, p.394
  25. ^ Gregory, p.394
  26. ^ Homan p.114: "They routinely end their performances walking among the audience, swapping guitars while playing a ZZ Top track."
  27. ^ "Dystonia Debilitation In Musicians". Thehamsters.co.uk. Retrieved 2014-06-28. 
  28. ^ CD booklet to Afton Down
  29. ^ "Heroes: Slim Hamster". Guitarist magazine (308). October 2008. pp. 35–37. 
  30. ^ Marten, Neville (June 1991). "Lightnin' Slim". Guitarist. 

External links[edit]