End of an era: Swindon's legendary punk duo call it a day with charity gig

By Claire Dukes - 13 December 2018

Arts and CultureOpinion and Features
  • Pete Butler and Fred Cooper

    Pete Butler and Fred Cooper

Chance is a funny thing. It has a glorious way of catapulting us into situations we’d never dreamt of, and this could not be truer for Swindon punksters 2 Sick Monkeys.

What was supposed to be nothing more than a “jam session” saw Pete Butler, 51, and Fred Cooper, 49, start a band 19 years ago. Fast forward 1065 gigs later and they’re preparing to call it a day at Level III, Sunday 16 December. As well as one last show 2 Sick Monkeys are also saying their farewells with the release of their second album ‘Into Oblivion’.

Speaking of the album Fred says, “I’m proud of the songs Pete and I have written. It’s been a challenge to come up with different dynamics within a song as there are only bass, drums and vocals to work with. Ideas such as vocal melodies, different rhythms and tempo within a song. I’m really chuffed with the new album. It was a challenge for me to come up with the drum parts as there are so many different styles on the album. The experience really pushed me as a musician. We recorded it with Matt, who runs M.O.A. Mixing and Mastering. We’ve recorded with Matt a few times and have also worked with another great friend, Bo, at Pumpkin Records.”

Originating from Wootton Bassett the duo has toured across the UK, Germany, Bosnia, Lithuania, France, Latvia and Japan – and for two guys who, essentially, accidentally started a band that’s pretty impressive. I’d argue what is even more impressive is the amount of noise they’ve made as a punk band made up of no more than vocals, bass and drums.

I’m chatting with Pete (bass and vocals) over coffee. It’s his birthday. But like many things he’s not precious about it – his experiences from 2 Sick Monkeys have very much shaped Pete’s outlook on life. Would it have been great to be a bit more well-known? “A thing like a band is not meant to be a permanent thing, it’s a transient thing – in our case it’s nearly a lifetime. I’ll be sad to stop but I’ll be able to remember so many happy memories like the time a geezer in Germany left us in his house and went to work and we couldn’t find the key, so us and the other band had to climb out of his living room window. All of his neighbours must have been thinking ‘this is the most unsubtle burglary in the world!’ as we were climbing out with all our bags and guitars.”

Pete’s become rich in other ways, and I admire him for that. It’s a funny thing as we discuss some people’s misconceptions about punk bands, because Pete’s a really chill guy and actually a little shy.

“When I was growing up, the minute you mention ‘punk’ everyone assumes you’re just going to start spitting everywhere, you’ll always be swearing – which is probably quite true – and doing drinks and drugs. They assume you’re going to be a negative person in terms of how you treat other people, but it’s not really like that.

“Some people are real c**ts, and to those people you don’t have to be nice, but you don’t have to be horrible either. All we’ve ever done is try and be nice to people, and if somebody’s kind and helpful to us we try and reciprocate in any way that we can – it’s just courtesy.”

Despite all the “racket” their songs have never been lacking in sentiment – they’re almost an offering to people who might be having a bad time. “We write a lot of very dark songs,” he tells me. “We’ve had people come up and talk about how songs have made them feel and some people have said they’ve got quite emotional once they understand what’s being said. 

“We’ve done one bizarre song where essentially a suicide note is put to music, but the music’s really cheerful – the song’s called ‘Happy Days’. It’s essentially a list of things about wanting to end it all with that juxtaposition of happy and sad. There’s no point in being precious about a song, because it might mean fuck all to someone else – but smiling means the same to everybody. I’d just like to think that we made people feel good – if making a horrible racket makes somebody smile then that’s a beautiful thing.”

For their last gig 2 Sick Monkeys are bringing friends and bands together for one last hurrah in aid of two charities – Oak and Furrows, and SCWAD (Swindon Children Without A Diagnosis). For two guys who never intended to start a band, they’ve had an impressive career. There’s a sadness about the impending finale, but Pete says it’s a natural end and something he looks back on with “no regrets”.

When I ask how he’s feeling about the final show he says, “I’m in two minds! I’m really excited, – I love all the bands playing – and to think people are travelling to come see us in itself is mind-blowing, but at the same time it’s like ‘how are we going to play knowing it’s our last one? We’ll approach this gig like any gig: play like it’s the gig of our lives.

“I’d like to think people thought we were a good band, and I’d like to think our music just made people smile.”

Fred adds, “You could write a whole book on the crazy antics, people and places. Seeing a family of wild boar run across the road at sunrise after we have driven through the night from Latvia to Poland. How does that compare with anything we saw on the Japan tour? How do you fit that into a short piece for The Ocelot, and why do these stories merit higher than any of the other thousands of experiences we’ve had?

“In short, it’s been great to have played so many gigs over the years, in the U.K., mainland Europe and Japan. I can’t choose a particular highlight as we’ve been to so many great places. We’ve met some great people whilst on our travels, some have become close friends. The fact that we are a D.I.Y. band means that when we have had to stay overnight after gigs it’s usually been with the promoters, friends and even random strangers. The generosity and kindness we’ve experienced from these people over the years has been special.”

For further information about 2 Sick Monkeys FINAL GIG click here.

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