Rikki and the Last Days of Earth exploded out of Britain's punk underground in mid-1977, one of the most audaciously forward-looking bands of the entire era, and one whose output screams louder for re-evaluation with every passing year. Four Minute Warning, the band's one and only album, remains one of the most exciting, eccentric, and effervescent LPs of 1978, especially if your musical tastes take the same turning away from primal Diamond Doggerel as fueled the Doctors of Madness and powered the original Ultravox -- the same turn, of course, that Gary Numan would develop into a minimalistic art form before the decade was over. In 1978, however, that was about as fashionable as the Twist. Like the Doctors and Ultravox, Rikki and the Last Days of Earth had caught a glimpse of the future. It wasn't their fault that nobody was ready for it.
The band was the brainchild of Rikki Sylvan (born Nick Condron), a tape operator at CBS Studios in London, and a graduate of the same Beckenham Arts Lab scene that spawned the pre-fame David Bowie. Armed with an early Moog synthesizer, Sylvan formed Rikki and the Last Days of Earth with guitarist Valac Van Der Veene in November 1976 and, over the next couple of months, music press adverts introduced bassist Andy Prince and keyboard player Nick Weiss. A drummer named Nigel played with them for a while, until May 1977 brought the impressively named Hugh Inge Innes Lillingstone into the group. Rikki and the Last Days of Earth made their official live debut at the Man in the Moon in Chelsea on May 28, 1977. Other early shows were at private parties, where you really needed to know the right people in order to land an invitation; indeed, you needed to know the right people even to get a copy of their first single! "City of the Damned" was recorded at the band's TPA Studios base and pressed up not for regular release, but as the price of admission to their next show, a private gathering at the exclusive and historic Oundle Public School near Peterborough, the day after the Man in the Moon show.
Further gigs followed at Gullivers on June 23 and at audition night at the Roxy on June 29 and, by late summer, the band was signing with DJM. A re-recorded "City of the Damned" became their first single, a neat summary of Sylvan's crippled vision of decadence, darkness, and destruction, and a bleak/oblique vision of a world without hope. A tour with labelmates Satan's Rats (whom Sylvan would also produce) followed and, in January, the band released its second single, "Loaded," chosen despite the wealth of obscenity buried in its verses, ensuring there would be no radio airplay. (The B-side offers a churning, apocalyptic non-album version of the Stones' "Street Fighting Man.") A third single, this time credited to the abbreviated Rikki and the Last Days, appeared in May, but "Twilight Jack" did no better than its predecessors and, when Four Minute Warning sadly followed suit, DJM began losing interest fast.
A second album, recorded at CBS Studios in London with producer John Timperley, was a magnificently overblown affair that bass player Prince described as comparable to "a jazzy, doom-laden Magazine." But the sessions went wildly over budget and DJM canned the album and dropped the band. Rikki and the Last Days of Earth broke up shortly thereafter; Sylvan went on to work with Gary Numan and the Room, among others; Prince moved on to stints with the Profile, Random Hold, Toyah, and Classix Nouveau, while reuniting with Sylvan and Lillingstone for the singer's The Silent Hours solo album in 1981. Van Der Veene moved into journalism, but when the history of the new wave finally started to get written, Rikki and the Last Days of Earth were conspicuous by their absence. No one remembered; nobody cared. Yet without them, a lot of what is now taken for granted about the early '80s might never have occurred.