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Buster Bloodvessel Interview: Bad Manners Frontman Takes a Trip Down Memory Lane

Bad Manners larger-than-life frontman Buster Bloodvessel takes V13 on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing on their nearly 50 years on the road.



Buster Bloodvessel Press Photo
Buster Bloodvessel, press photo

Currently in Mexico, before embarking on a UK tour of “exciting” Christmas shows, British Ska legend Buster Bloodvessel takes time out to revisit the old days with V13.

Earlier this year, BFI launched the re-release (read our review) of Dance Craze, the 1981 concert movie that pulled together a brace of performances from the Two-Tone era, featuring the likes of The Specials, Madness, Selector and The Bodysnatchers. In the mix was also Bad Manners, a Ska band that in some ways felt like they stood on the outside of the fold, their performances being slightly less serious than those of their contemporaries but no less enjoyable or loyal to the genre of Ska.

The Two-Tone legend has continued, with most of the bands of that era still performing in some form or other. Whilst never actually on that wonderful label, Bad Manners will be forever associated with it, and their shows still manage to pack sweaty concert rooms worldwide to this day. November 2023 alone has seen them performing in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and Ireland; their appeal stretches far and wide.

I caught up with the iconic frontman, Buster Bloodvessel, before their UK leg of the world tour to reminisce a little about the old days and find out what keeps them going after almost 50 years on the road.

Buster Bloodvessel: “Just playing crazy music, and being lucky enough to be in Bad Manners. We’ve always been a fun band, never anything serious.”

I ask Buster about the balance of being seen as something of a novelty band (often playing on the image of the singer as a vastly overweight skinhead), and being considered serious musicians.

“The fact that we used to always make people smile gave us the position of being a novelty band, but we’ve never been a novelty band, we’re very serious with our music but not very serious with out attitude.” Buster adds “I would rather be me than a lot of these serious bands that have done so well.”

Going back to Dance Craze, I ask Buster what memories he has of that era.

“It was a fantastic time. The fact that all the young kids would come along to all the shows, and it was a riot most nights, I don’t mean in a nasty way but in a good way, the atmosphere was electric. I don’t think there’s been anything like the Two-Tone era for live music, it really was quite amazing”

The film puts that electric atmosphere at the fore and proves Buster’s point well as a unique moment in British music history. It also highlights the audiences at the time, and as highlighted even further in the Madness biopic Take it or Leave it, crowds did vary greatly, and not always for the best.

“Of course, it had its elements of not very nice political stuff going on, which was terrible, but we survived that and came out the other end so to speak.” We talk about how Buster’s skinhead appearance was a magnet for such unsavoury crowds and he states “There were Fascists and anti-fascists, the fascists tended to stay with the OI music and the anti-fascists came with the Ska music. Anti-racist we were”

“The fact that we used always to make people smile gave us the position of being a novelty band, but we’ve never been a novelty band, we’re very serious with our music but not very serious with out attitude.”

Going back to the film, Buster tells me that he went to the opening screening of the re-release, “I went with all the people that are left, there’s not so many left, unfortunately. It was really enjoyable and they called me out from the crowd, and they were telling us how big we were, which surprised me. I always thought The Specials were the big boys, Madness second… we could have been third? Definitely, in size of people who came to see us, we could have been third.”

I ask about the sort of people who come to the gigs?

“The fact that we are going round the world, going to places that we’ve never played before, large crowds, that’s amazed me, We’re very big in the Philippines and Indonesia, very big in Mexico, countries where we never thought we’d sell anything, we’re selling big time at the moment. And a lot of the bands that have supported us have gone on to do very well in their own countries.”

I bring up that first run of albums that led to The Height of Bad Manners, an album that today still stands as a classic singles compilation, and how it was the soundtrack to many a house party in the early 80s.

“I loved making that” sighs Buster “It’s a strong body of work, and of course we had loads of hits. I’m really proud of it.”

I point out that they were never off Top of the Pops (The BBC flagship chart show) during that time.

“They really took to us at Top of the Pops, and they made all our videos as well.”

I asked about the incident were Buster had his whole head painted red for a performance of “Just a Feeling” on the show.

Buster laughs “Well, I just decided I wanted to look like a Swan Vesta (matches) by painting my head red, a very silly thing to do but we were very silly in them days. But because I didn’t do it in rehearsals, and did it on the live thing, it made my head disappear, so I looked like somebody without a head, and they went mad because of it. We had to do it again, and the make-up lady got sacked. It was my idea; it wasn’t her idea.”

I ask Buster what his favourite song is from that time, “The most popular song and still is, is Lip Up Fatty, no doubt about that.” But he goes on to state that you can’t beat Can Can live which is why they always end their gigs with it. “We didn’t write it but got writers credit for it”.

I tell Buster that one of my favourite hits was “Walking in the Sunshine” which in some ways was a departure from the straight Ska sound, “A great song, that was one of our best-written songs, and the best thing there was our brass lines.” This allows Buster to tell me that he still works with brass and that they will be doing a new album next year.

I broach the subject of Buster’s physical size, something he has never shied from, from song titles to his Fatty Towers restaurant, and I ask how he feels now, in an age when the word fat has become taboo, is he proud that he was a role model for larger kids in the day?

“I’m not ashamed of it, I went through a period where I did lose a lot of weight, but unfortunately, I’ve put it all back on now. They still sing “You Fat Bastard” at me even though it’s politically incorrect and not a thing to say to people. I liked it because it meant I stood out from the crowd and could be identified very easily, I play it to my advantage.”

“They still sing “You Fat Bastard” at me even though it’s politically incorrect and not a thing to say to people. I liked it because it meant I stood out from the crowd and could be identified very easily, I play it to my advantage.”

I bring up the fact that the size of the band has always been big too, averaging about nine members at any time and how does this work, financially in particular.

“I just like the big sound of Bad Manners” he replies. “Even if we lost a harmonica player we replaced him with another brass player, or a session player who did a similar sort of thing. We had a violin player at one point, but it all works, we can change the lines, they’re so strong you can throw in other instruments and it just works”

On the subject of sharing the money out after gigs, Buster explains “To start with, I didn’t think we would last at all, a lot of people left because they weren’t getting enough money, but I couldn’t do that, I would do it for nothing, but you do have to get paid.”

We finish by chatting about the upcoming December dates, “Well, it’s a Christmas tour, which means it will be a bit more exciting than normal, we will virtually be doing our greatest hits, We’ll play all of our hits, obviously not every song we’ve ever written, but it will be a good hour and fifteen minutes of intense Ska music, which usually makes everybody dance.”

Despite his fierce appearance, Buster is a charming man who loves his job. The upcoming tour sounds like a classic Christmas night out and tickets are still available.

Tour Dates

12/15 – Chinnerys – Southend
12/21 – Arts Club – Liverpool
12/22 – Rock City – Nottingham
12/30 – Academy 2 – Manchester

For more information or to pick up tickets for the shows, click right here.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.