London Zoo

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In April 1980, listeners to seminal British DJ John Peel were treated to the first airing of a new single by a band which had, a year before, been touted among the brightest hopes on the Scottish club…
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In April 1980, listeners to seminal British DJ John Peel were treated to the first airing of a new single by a band which had, a year before, been touted among the brightest hopes on the Scottish club scene. "Who's Driving This Car," by London Zoo, was a limited-edition (1,000 copies) 45 issued for sale on the band's forthcoming Scottish tour, a jagged shard of neurotic pop which shattered out of the speakers and impacted firmly wherever there were soft bits to sink into.

Certainly ears pricked up wherever the show was broadcast and, within the month, London Zoo were in London, recording a four-song session for another BBC DJ, Mike Read. Two weeks after that, they broke up, a sordid reward for a group which, over the course of three years, three records, and two different names, had set standards which didn't simply defy the dilettante nature of the post-punk pop scene, they ignored them completely. Maybe, in fact, that was their problem. They were simply too sharp, too edgy, and too creative to hook the big fish. But, at least they tried.

London Zoo formed, under the distinctly punk-era name of Blunt Instrument, in London in May 1977. Drummer David Sinclair had recently moved to London from Giffnock, Scotland, and was the only person who turned up to an audition conducted by guitarist/vocalist Robert Sandall and bassist Ed Shaw. Even the other guitarist, Bill Benfield, was absent.

The unnamed band rehearsed for a week, becoming Blunt Instrument on the eve of their first show, seven days after Sinclair joined. Equally rapid was the recording and release of their debut single, the thunderous "No Excuse," which soared to number two on the new wave chart published weekly in Sounds newspaper. Blunt Instrument had the world at their feet, but tragedy struck at a Kings Cross street party show in July 1978, when Sinclair was hit on the head by a flying cider bottle, fell off his drum stool, and fractured his wrist. Two months worth of shows were canceled and, as the momentum fell away, Benfield quit the band.

With Sinclair still in plaster, auditions for a replacement brought in Nick Aldridge, with the band taking the opportunity to change their name as well -- they chose London Zoo because everyone had heard of it.

Early in 1979, London Zoo signed to the Edinburgh-based Zoom Records, home to the infant Simple Minds and the Zones; their debut single, "Receiving End," followed, while the band itself embarked upon what Sinclair described as "an incredibly fertile period of songwriting." By the spring of 1980, London Zoo had a repertoire of 50-plus new songs. But that did not prevent them from being dropped when Arista swallowed up Zoom in late 1979, and the band's next single, "Who's Driving This Car," was self-released on the band's own (deliberately misspelled) Gramaphone label.

Then, with the applause from the two radio sessions still ringing in their ears, the band played its final show at the Swan pub in Hammersmith, then went their separate ways. "It had become increasingly difficult to ignore the sustained lack of reaction from the record companies," Sinclair mourned. "Despite the records, gigs, radio exposure, we were still playing the same sh*t gigs as we had for the past two years." The band simply wasn't making sufficient headway to make it worthwhile continuing.

Rob Sandall went on to join the Epsilons, an Edinburgh-based band formed from the wreckage of another turn-of-the-decade group, the Cheetahs; today, he is better known as a journalist. Sinclair, too, is a solidly established British writer; he also served time in a couple of other bands, though, including TV Smith's Explorers and R&B revival band Laughing Sam's Dice.