He landed the inaugural Independent Chart’s first Number One single with Spizzenergi’s ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’. Four decades on, the irrepressible Spizz shows little sign of slowing down… 

“I had to have an injection. In my eye. In my eyeball. AN INJECTION!! IN MY EYEBALL!!” 

I’m not sure this is a good start. We’re barely five minutes into the interview and Spizz is telling me about his trip to the hospital the day before. He’s had problems with the vision in his right eye for a while and it turns out to be because of a protruding vein. It’s nothing too serious, thankfully, and the treatment is fairly straightforward. But it’s also quite unpleasant.

“AN INJECTION RIGHT IN MY EYEBALL!!!” 

That sounds… 

“Wanna see a photo?” he asks, pulling his phone out of his pocket.

Err, no, not really… 

“Oh, it’s not too terrible. Look…” 

Spizz thrusts his phone under my nose and I’m relieved to find that he’s showing me a fuzzy black-and-white scan rather than a picture of a needle being jabbed into his eye. 

“There’s this one as well,” he says, swiping the screen. “This is a bit worse.” 

It’s considerably worse actually, but it’s not a photo of Spizz at all, it’s a shot of Alex with his eyes clamped open from ‘A Clockwork Orange’. Spizz chuckles loudly, which is something he does a lot over the next couple of hours. As do I, as it happens. I’ve no idea how many people I’ve interviewed over the past 30+ years that I’ve been doing this, but Spizz is certainly one of the most entertaining. But then that’s perhaps to be expected from the man who wrote the unforgettable ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’, the single that topped the very first UK Independent Chart when it launched in January 1980. The man who also changed the name of his band countless times, starting out as Spizz 77 before switching to Spizzoil and then Spizzenergi. A little later on came Athletico Spizz 80, then The Spizzles, and then Spizzenergi 2. There were half a dozen others after that. 

“Someone suggested I write to ‘The Guinness Book Of Records’ and tell them I’d released more records under different names than anybody else,” he says. “So I did… ‘Dear Sir-stroke-Madam, blah blah blah’. I got a letter back from the deputy editor, a lady called Shelagh Thomas. I’ve still got it at home. She said, ‘Thank you for your letter, but your request is too specialised’. I thought, ‘Specialised? SPECIALISED!? You’ve got people in there who saw motorbikes in half and eat them! That’s what I call specialised’.”


Photo: Flore Diamant

The DIY revolution that quickly followed in the aftermath of punk resulted in a slew of edgy and exhilarating new artists and records and labels and shops. One of the most exciting releases was Spizzoil’s ‘6000 Crazy’, a three-track seven-inch that came out on Rough Trade in late 1978. The work of two guys from the West Midlands, Spizz (real name Kenneth Spiers) and his old school pal Pete Petrol (Pete O’Dowd), ‘6000 Crazy’ was like nothing else out there. It’s what Suicide might have sounded like if they’d come from Solihull rather than New York City. 

Spizzoil’s music was minimal and yet strangely frantic, consisting of some fuzzy guitar, some squealing noises, some rumbling noises, and the occasional burst of kazoo. That was pretty much it. But it was Spizz’s distinctive vocals that really made ‘6000 Crazy’ and the band’s second record, the four-track ‘Cold City’, really stand out. Slightly deranged, wholly unsettling, oddball to the point of being almost alien, this was the voice of someone or something from another planet. 

With this in mind, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn that Spizz’s first musical love was David Bowie, not least because of Bowie’s own unearthly connections. He saw Bowie playing at Birmingham Town Hall in 1973, on one of the last dates of the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour. He was still in his early teens at the time. 

“I got into music when I realised that going to concerts was more fun that going to football matches,” he says. “It was warm and dry, there were girls and there was beer, you didn’t have to sometimes run for your life and you never came away with a bad result. I really liked glam rock, but the Bowie and Roxy Music and Alice Cooper side of it rather than bands like The Sweet. I liked the arty glam stuff, not the tin foil stuff. 

“I paid £1.50 to get into that Bowie gig. ‘Life On Mars?’ had been released that day and they had lots of copies of the record at the venue. It wasn’t just Bowie, though. Mick Ronson was a big hero of mine too. I met him once, many years later, when a mate brought him round to my flat when he working on his last album, just before he died. This same mate got me involved on the production side for Mick’s memorial concert. One of my jobs was picking up his mum from King’s Cross station. I had to hold up one of those boards saying ‘Mrs Ronson’. I took her to her hotel and up to her room. I told her I had to get back to the office, but she said, ‘Not before you have a cup of tea’. So she made me a cuppa. She was lovely.” 

Like so many kids of his age, punk changed everything for Spizz. He read about punk in the weekly music papers and went to see The Clash at Barbarella’s in Birmingham in the summer of 1977. A month later, he blagged his way onto the bill of another Barbarella’s gig, playing alongside Eater and The Killjoys. He could barely handle a guitar and he made up his songs as he went along, but the crowd appreciated his ability to head back all the plastic glasses they chucked at him. The local press dubbed him “Brum’s own punk poet” and other shows followed, including one at The Music Machine in London, after which he was invited to play at the Vortex. 

It was at this point that Spizz decided he needed to take things a bit more seriously and recruited Pete Petrol to the cause. The pair called themselves Spizz 77, hastily wrote enough songs for a live set, and spent the next few months playing one-off gigs within 100 miles of Birmingham, driving around in Petrol’s battered Ford Anglia. By the summer of 1978, they’d changed their name to Spizzoil, picked up a John Peel session and hooked up with the newly formed Rough Trade imprint. As ‘6000 Crazy’ hit the shops, they went on a nationwide tour supporting Siouxsie & The Banshees, who were promoting ‘The Scream’, their acclaimed debut album. The Human League were another of the support bands on some of the dates. 

“That’s how I first met Martyn Ware,” says Spizz. “Martyn and I have been good buddies ever since. He’s like a big brother to me. I played in Heaven 17 for a while, you know. Sort of. This was when ‘Temptation’ was a hit. Heaven 17 were doing a load of TV shows in Europe, but Glenn Gregory was having trouble with his knee, and with Martyn and Ian Craig Marsh stuck behind their keyboards it all looked a bit static on stage. So Martyn asked me to come along and jump around while pretending to play guitar. We did Italy, Spain, Germany, Belgium… they had to keep going off to do interviews, leaving me sitting by the pool drinking cocktails. It was great. It was like being in the Wham! video for ‘Club Tropicana’.”    


Photo: Flore Diamant

Spizz and Pete Petrol parted company soon after ‘Cold City’ was released in early 1979. By then, though, Spizz had teamed up with keyboardist Mark Stephens and bassist James Little. The revamped band called themselves Spizzenergi and the new members adopted an energy-related pseudonym. Stephens became Mark Coalfield, which was also a play on Mike Oldfield, and Little opted for Jim Solar. For a while, Bryn B Burrows joined on drums, working under the name Brian B Benzine. Bryn, who had a regular job with cult art-popsters The Fabulous Poodles, later played with Karl Hyde and Rick Smith in both Freur and the original line-up of Underworld.   

Spizzenergi stayed with Rough Trade, but their first single signalled a musical shift. ‘Soldier Soldier’ was as raw and as harsh as anything Spizzoil had produced, beginning with a burst of gunfire and ending with a snippet of marching men taken from the same BBC sound effects album the Sex Pistols had plundered for ‘Holidays In The Sun’, but the pulsing rhythm had a touch of DAF about it, perhaps even a hint of Giorgio Moroder. The B-side, meanwhile, was a two-minute out-there version of Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’. 

And then came ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’, a song written late one night on a bus and recorded in a single day at a studio chosen by the band’s manager because it was round the corner from his flat. More pop than punk and with a lighter mood to match, the track incorporated lots of sci-fi noises along the way, although the parts that sound like a theremin were actually Spizz himself pushing his voice to where no voice had ever gone before. The record was released in December 1979 and was an instant hit with post-punk music fans. When the first UK Independent Chart was revealed the following month, ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ sat proudly at Number One. What’s more, it stayed at the top for seven weeks. 

“It was a historic date – 19 January 1980,” laughs Spizz. “I think we always knew the record was going to do well, though. When we started playing it live, people went nuts when they heard it.” 

How did it feel when the record was still Number One the next week, then the next week, then the next week…? 

“It was mad. We held off some strong competition too – Joy Division, Toyah, all sorts. I’d also been Number Five in ZigZag magazine’s Christmas poll of favourite people of 1979. To be in that list, up there next to Joe Strummer, oh, I thought that was amazing. I kept thinking, ‘Hold on, I’m a star!’.” 

Did you really think that, though? 

“Nah. I had people saying, ‘I suppose you think you’re a big rock star now’, but I never felt like that. Rock stars had houses and cars. I didn’t have a house. I didn’t have a car. I was still getting the tube for half price because I didn’t have much facial hair then. I was 21 but I wasn’t really shaving yet, so I used to buy my tickets in a high-pitched voice – ‘Half price to Baker Street, please sir’. I mean, the tube fares were 25p or something, but I always tried to get half price when I could.” 

‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ had originally been on the Rough Trade schedule for much earlier in 1979, but the record was delayed to coincide with the Christmas release of the first ‘Star Trek’ movie, ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’. A daft question probably, but were you a fan of ‘Star Trek’? 

“Totally. I loved the photo novels that were around at the time, they had stills from the TV show and then bits of the script in speech bubbles. I remember reading them when we were on tour with Siouxsie. I really liked how the Enterprise crew included a Russian bloke, a Chinese bloke, a black woman, a Vulcan, and they all mingled together in a harmonious way. I loved the ridiculously colourful costumes too. The costumes were like that was because colour TV was starting to reach the mass market in America when the show was first broadcast.”

Were you a fan of other sci-fi television shows when you were growing up? 

“I was a fan of them all. I suppose ‘Doctor Who’ was the first one I remember seeing. I used to do Dalek voices at school. I’d roll up my exercise book and use it as a megaphone, bellowing ‘WE ARE THE DALEKS!’ really loudly across the classroom. Then there was ‘Captain Scarlet’ and ‘Stingray’ and ‘Thunderbirds’. There was so much of it on TV then. It was like a candy shop. I mean, we were acid tripping all through our childhood, weren’t we? TV21 magazine as well. What was the one with the little green creature?” 

Err… 

“Come on, you’re not trying hard enough! There was ‘The Tomorrow People’ too. I was so jealous of the kids that became Tomorrow People. Why couldn’t I have been tapped on the shoulder and told I was a Tomorrow Person? It was on at teatime and you’d come home from school and watch it with a lemon curd sandwich and a cup of tea. Or maybe a banana sandwich. Or a peanut butter sandwich. They were my staple after-school sarnies when I was growing up. White bread, of course.”

So who was your favourite Doctor Who?

“William Hartnell was very good and Patrick Troughton was great, but I suppose it got more interesting when Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker turned up. The exaggerated portrayal of Baker was amazing. I think I’ve probably appreciated Baker even more as I’ve got older. And then it all went downhill after that, especially when it got to Sylvester McCoy. That wasn’t right, was it? I went to see Frankie Howerd at the Hackney Empire on his final tour, so not long before he died, and Sylvester McCoy was sitting in my seat. I wasn’t impressed with that either.”


Photo: Flore Diamant

‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’ remained in the Independent Top 30 for the whole of 1980. Spizz enjoyed a second indie chart-topping single that year too – ‘No Room’ backed with ‘Spock’s Missing’ – although by now the band had ditched the name Spizzenergi and were calling themselves Athletico Spizz 80. An album followed very soon after, largely to good reviews, but the hot news about ‘Do A Runner’ wasn’t that Spizz had finally released a full-length studio set, it was the fact that it appeared on A&M Records. The crown princes of the Independent Chart had been and gone and signed to a major label. Gulp. 

“We did get some stick from the music papers for that,” says Spizz. “But we had to do it. We had to get money. We’d earned a bit from Rough Trade, but our deal with them was literally a handshake and then a series of envelopes – ‘This is how much you’re getting, this is how much we’re getting’ – and that has its limitations. We needed new instruments, we needed to fund tours, we owed money to our manager… so it was just the economic reality of where we were. Five people had to eat and pay their rent.” 

With the weight of A&M behind them, Athletico Spizz 80’s future initially looked peachy. They were able to work with a producer for the first time, pulling in Mike Howlett (OMD, Martha & The Muffins, Blancmange). They were booked as one of the headlining acts of the legendary Futurama 2 Festival in Leeds (higher up the bill than U2). And perhaps most impressively, Athletico Spizz 80 became the only band to ever sell out five consecutive nights at The Marquee in London. 

“The Marquee gigs were in August and one of the nights was stupidly hot. I squeezed nearly a pint of sweat out of my shirt after that show. No wonder I got down to eight-and-a-half stone. There was no meat on me. None at all. I couldn’t sit on a wooden bench because it would hurt my skinny bum. We were up to 200 gigs a year then. There was no point having a flat because we were living out of suitcases. Studio, tour, studio, tour, studio, tour…”

In the event, Spizz’s spell with A&M was brief (“I think we were lost,” he sighs. “We went from indie champions to, well, I don’t know what”) and far from happy. After one more album as The Spizzles (minus Mark Coalfield but plus Lu Edmonds from The Damned), the band landed back on Rough Trade in 1982. With, of course, another name change. Enter Spizzenergi 2. For a short while anyway. 

Spizz was far too much of a maverick to be comfortable at a major record label and the switch to A&M ended up knocking him completely off course. He faded out of the public eye in the second half of the 1980s, spending the next period of his life focusing on family life. His grown-up daughter Molly is also a musician, playing bass and singing/screaming with the Crack Foxes, who describe themselves as “what would happen if all the socially awkward girls in the kitchen at a party got drunk and started singing The Runaways”. 

Since 2007, however, Spizz has been back gigging with a new band and he seems to have finally settled on the name Spizzenergi. He’s also put out a couple of Spizzenergi singles in recent times, ‘City Of Eyes’ in 2014 and ‘Here Come The Machines’ in 2017, two fine examples of 21st century punk rock.  

“‘City Of Eyes’ is about the creeping espionage we’re experiencing – CCTV and smartphones and the internet, the spies in our hands and in our homes – and ‘Here Come The Machines’ is on a similar theme,” explains Spizz. “I grew up loving the idea of robots, but now I’m a luddite, now I want to break the machines. I’m starting to genuinely fear for the future. Have you heard what’s happening in China with facial recognition? It’s terrifying. But then I did warn everybody about it in ‘6000 Crazy’ – ‘We will take control of you / We will help you see the light / If you are incapable / You will have no right to life’. That was 1978, mate.”


What’s perhaps most striking about Spizz is his unbridled enthusiasm for pretty much everything he’s ever done. It’s matched only by his unbridled enthusiasm for everything he’s going to do next. As well as his music, he spends a lot of his time these days drawing and painting. He points out that, with one or two exceptions, he designed all the Spizz record sleeves, including ‘Where’s Captain Kirk?’. For the last two years, he’s also hosted a weekly radio show, “an audio autobiography” as he calls it, on London’s Resonance FM. He might not still have the energy levels he had in 1980, but he’s not admitting to that. And he’s not going to let an eyeball injection trouble him too much, just like he didn’t let a broken leg slow him down last year.   

“I was glad I had the radio show when I broke my leg. I live on the fourth floor and there’s no lift. So I had to hop down 72 steps, jump on my bike, which I used because cycling was easier than walking, cycle with my crutches strapped to my back like some sort of mutant samurai warrior, do the radio show, go to the pub, cycle home again, and then hop back up the 72 steps, which was more difficult than going down because I’d usually have four cans of beer added to my bag. I think I’d have gone mad if I hadn’t been doing that.” 

Which makes perfect sense to me, but then that might be because I think I’ve spent too long in Spizz’s company. I have one last question before we go our separate ways. Does 1980 seem like 40 years ago? 

“No, not at all, but that’s because I’ve never grown up,” he says, shooting me a broad grin. “I’m a 17-year-old that’s suddenly found out they’ve been put in the wrong body.” 

You probably couldn’t get that half price ticket on the tube now, though. 

“That’s true. The wrinkles might give the game away. Then again, I’ve just turned 60 so I can get free travel in London now because I’m really old! Swings and roundabouts, innit?” 

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