Along with The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, The Vibrators played the pivotal 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976, and the following year supported Iggy Pop (when David Bowie played keyboards). Among the musicians Knox has recorded with are Chris Spedding, Alex Chilton, Robin Hitchcock and Hanoi Rocks.
Prior to punk, Knox attended art school in Watford. His paintings are inspired by both classical and contemporary artists such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, and Andrew Garnet-Lawson.
A prolific songwriter, Knox continues to write for The Vibrators, but nowadays devotes most of his time to running Rock 'n' Roll Rescue, a music charity shop.
PML: It might seem strange to some people for a “punk rock” star to get involved in charity. How did the shift come about?
KNOX: I think it’s probably a normal thing to happen when you get older. You don’t have all the distractions like youth and a family to clutter up your vision. You start seeing more of the ‘big picture’ and you realise also that maybe you should try and do something about the things that are not OK in the world.
PML: You don’t think that looking after the poor should be the responsibility of the state? Or those with money?
KNOX: Well yes, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work too well, profit before people, that sort of thing. So rather than try and change things through legislation, though that is what should eventually happen, you think: I’ll just get on and do what I can. Straightaway. Where I am.
PML: Listening to some of your songs, it seems as if “Poll Tax Blues” is the first manifestation of a concern for the vulnerable?
KNOX: It might be. I had another song called “Modern World” which had some concerns about people in it. Some of my friends used to say my songs weren’t about anything, but now I can’t seem to write one that isn’t about something. I’m probably a late developer.
PML: Where did the idea for a charity shop come from?
KNOX: Because my nickname is Knox, and there is an existing chain of charity shops called Oxfam, I used to make jokes about “KnOxfam. Charity begins at home!” From there I think I got the idea of a music charity shop. As I got more horrified at the state of the world, especially vulnerable people not being properly supported, I felt I had to go ahead and start Rock ’n’ Roll Rescue.
KNOX: I had been looking for a few months but was always busy until a week before I started the shop. One of my friends, who I mentioned the idea to, said the premises right next door to the Dublin Castle pub in Camden Town would be perfect. So there we are.
PML: But isn’t it expensive to rent in Camden? Where did you find the initial capital?
KNOX: I was left a little bit of money in my aunt’s will, and I thought she’d like the idea of it being used to start a charity shop. It is expensive, but we struggle on. I always think the shop, given the right breaks, could make a million pounds a year. If it got supported by ‘pop stars’, it could have quite a bit of political clout. But I’ll leave that to people who know more about that sort of thing than me. I much prefer being invisible, and not the face of the shop.
PML: How is the shop organised?
KNOX: I supposed it is organised, even though it always seems to be running out of control. We’re a registered charity (No: 1162829) and the money goes to the local food bank, and the Hare Krishna van. It goes round feeding 1,000 meals a week in the local area (Para, the guy who cooks, has been getting up at 5.00 in the morning to do this for twenty years, I think). We bankroll that van and another to take stuff out to the migrants in Calais, also we give money to the Mayhew animal place, and a local women’s refuge, that sort of thing. Rather sadly there’s an endless list of people and places to donate the money to.
PML: What are the main challenges in running the shop?
KNOX: I think it’s getting the right people to help who properly know how to do things, and finding the time to get things done, as you will start something, then get interrupted. There are plenty of ideas that the shop could do, but getting any of them implemented is extremely hard, because of the lack of time and available people. Everyone’s a volunteer so it’s not like they’re being paid to attend, and life gets in the way.
PML: Do other ‘77 era musicians help out?
KNOX: Quite a lot do. We get stuff donated from some of these people, but I think generally they help the world in other ways, not just dropping a few things off into our shop.
PML: What sort of stock do you sell?
KNOX: We have tons of old electrical band recording stuff, small amps, guitars, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, 8-track tapes, LPs and singles, clothes, shoes, etc. We’re very much dictated to by what people donate, so the stock is constantly changing.
PML: You also organise concerts on the premises?
KNOX: We have very small gigs in the middle room in the shop. We move the clothes racks and other stuff out of the way, and it’s actually a very nice small intimate space. Our ‘house band’ which plays once a month is Pete Parker’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Club and are a two piece a bit like the White Stripes. They’re really good. We’ve also had other people playing: Charlie Harper (UK Subs), John Ellis (Vibrators/Stranglers), Luke Haines (who started Brit Pop), Dead Letter (Black Metal), Lach (one of the starters of the Anti-folk NY scene), and a few others.
PML: Is this a long term project?
KNOX: Hopefully it’ll run and run. It’s a lot of work so the shop always need more people to help as frequently the best volunteers will get a job, that sort of thing, so we always need more.
PML: What about your own musical and artistic projects?
|Camden Town Postcard by Knox|