Nigel Tufnel and David St. Hubbins grew up in the same city block in London’s Squatney District, knowing each other only slightly.
David played guitar in a skiffle band, The Creatures; Nigel did the same for the Lovely Lads. The two began jamming together outside tube stations, and eventually, formed their first legitimate band, The Originals, later changed to The New Originals when the East End Originals (now The Regulars) threatened suit.
The New Originals collapsed in 1964 without record company support, but David and Nigel were hired by the legendary Johnny Goodshow Revue and played the Seaside Circuit, gigging after hours at local pubs — and it was in a Southampton tavern, The Bucket (now the Bucket and Pail), that they met and jammed with John “Stumpy” Pepys, then drummer for Leslie Cheswick Soul Explosion (now Les & Mary Cheswick).
A Debut Single
When the weather turned cold, the three hooked up with bassist Ronnie Pudding from the Cheap Dates (now Cheapdate) and began working in London as the Thamesmen. They released their debut single on Abbey, Gimme Some Money b/w Cups and Cakes, in late spring 1965. It did not hit the charts immediately. Meanwhile, the band played extensively in the Benelux nations, particularly Amsterdam’s Long-Hair Club, where they met sixteen-year-old keyboard prodigy Jan Van Der Kvelk, who did musical charts for the band and used his Dutch music-biz connections to get them work. Leaving Amsterdam and Van Der Kvelk behind, the band returned to Britain as The Dutchmen and found Gimme Some Money climbing the charts. The band quickly changed their name back to The Thamesmen but the single had peaked and vanished from sight.
During the next eighteen months the group performed under the following names: Rave Breakers, Hellcats, Flamin’ Daemons, Shiners, Mondos, The Doppel Gang, The Peoples, Loose Lips, Waffles, Hot Waffles, Silver Service, The Mud Below, and The Tufnel-St. Hubbins Group; personnel included: Nick Wax, Tony Brixton, Dicky Laine, and Denny Upham (keyboards); Jimmy Adams, Geoff Clovington (horns); Julie Scrubbs-Martin, Lhasa Apso (backing vocals); and briefly Little Danny Schindler (vocals, harmonica), later with Shvegman-Hayman-Kvelkman Blues Band featuring Little Danny Schindler (Shvegman, Hayman and Kvelkman signed with CPR Records as Talmud).
SPINAL TAP Is Born
Tufnel, St. Hubbins, Pudding, Upham and Stumpy played their first gig as SPINAL TAP at the Music Membrane in December 1966. Tap’s debut hit single, released in July 1967, on Megaphone, was Listen To The Flower People b/w Rainy Day Sun. The A-side was penned by Ronnie Pudding, who left the band when Flower People became a hit, to form Pudding People. Subsequent Pudding product on Megaphone (single I Am The Music and album I Am More Music) went nowhere.
Derek Smalls Joins Spinal Tap
Ronnie was replaced on bass by Derek Smalls, formerly with England’s pioneer all-white Jamaican showband, Skaface. When Skaface broke up following the 1965 Boxing Day riots, Smalls “gave up rock n’ roll” and enrolled in London School of Design as a design major. He re-emerged with Milage for their only album, Milage I, then gigged semi-extensively around London until SPINAL TAP beckoned. With a hit single under their belts, the band recorded their first album, Spinal Tap (released in the States as Spinal Tap Sings Listen To The Flower People and other Favorites). The LP was produced by Glyn Hampton-Cross who has guided much of Tap’s subsequent output. The album went gold, but the follow-up LP, We Are All Flower People, sales, when they occurred, were disappointing. The band panicked, fired keyboardist Upham, and toured as a four-piece band, supporting the then-hot Matchstick Men. Under the headliners’ tutelage, Tap developed the heavier, acid-based, twin guitar attack which earmarks SPINAL TAP product to this day.
Success Beckons but Tragedy Bedevils Band Members
SPINAL TAP made their biggest splash at the now-legendary Electric Zoo concerts in Wimpton, culminating in the then-legendary two-horn St. Hubbins/Tufnel guitar solo on Short and Sweet. Their live recordings of the Zoo shows yielded the third Tap album, Silent But Deadly, which established them as a top draw.
The tragic death of “Stumpy” Pepys in a bizarre gardening accident left the band stunned, saddened and holding auditions for a new drummer. They settled on Eric “Stumpy Joe” Childs (from Wool Cave) and this line-up recorded LPs: Brainhammer, Blood To Let, Nerve Damage, Intravenous DeMilo, and the “concept” album The Sun Never Sweats. For Sweats they hired keyboard player Ross MacLochness (ex-Kilt Kids) and brought in session drummer Peter “James” Bond to replace Stumpy Joe, dead of a melanin overdose.
In 1975, SPINAL TAP toured the Far East and released their second live set, Jap Habit — three discs and two pounds of gimmick packaging. Ross MacLochness left to do missionary work in Namibia, later releasing one solo LP, Doesn’t Anybody Here Speak English? He was replaced by Viv Savage (of Aftertaste) for the poor-selling Bent For The Rent. The band sued Megaphone for withholding royalties; the label threatened a precedent-setting countersuit charging “lack of talent.” By way of settlement the band agreed to make no further records for Megaphone and, in the words of their solicitor, to “stay the fuck out of the studio.”
The group retreated to Nigel’s castle in Lichtenstein to ponder their future and pursue solo projects. Only one of these saw the light of day: Nigel Tufnel’s Clam Caravan; Derek Smalls’ projected solo album, It’s A Smalls World, exists only as an eight-track “super demo.” Peter “James” Bond split and toured with Buddahead until the memorable Isle of Lucy Jazz Festival appearance where Bond mysteriously exploded onstage.
In the late spring of 1977, Nice ‘n’ Stinky, a live cut from the two-year-old Jap Habit, became a huge surprise hit in America. Capitalizing on this momentum, SPINAL TAP regrouped with drummer Mick Shrimpton (once drummer with the Eurovision Song Contest house band) and toured the States for the first time since the late sixties. They also released new product on Polymer Records, Shark Sandwich. This album, produced by the band, yielded some “airplay hits,” and re-established Tap as a contender.
SPINAL TAP’s twelfth album, Smell the Glove, was the center of controversy due to its allegedly sexist cover art.