Formed in 1977, this UK punk group was based in the seaside town of Blackpool – later immortalised as Tatty Seaside Town. Founder and bassist John Robb was initially joined by Martyn Critchley (vocals), Mark Tilton (guitar) and Martin Kelly (drums) but Critchley soon departed with Kelly moving to keyboards and ‘Coofy Sid’ Coulthart taking over on drums.
Robb was to prove himself a trier, organising compilation appearances and inaugurating the near-legendary, near indecipherable Blackpool Rox fanzine.
Their first single was the 3-track Muscles in 1981, which gained them Single of the Week awards for its defiant, brash optimism, and gained a place on the turntables of Radio 1 DJ John Peel. It remains one of the more memorable DIY efforts of the early 80s.
Steve Farmery joined on guitar after the single release, with Martin Kelly leaving the keyboard position vacant.
The band joined Rondelet Records for Pin Stripe Hype, but the label closed down shortly afterwards. This also saw off Farmery, leaving the band as a three-piece for much of the rest of their productive career.
Missing out on the opportunity to be Creation Records first artist (because of finance issues) sent them down-market to Criminal Damage. This too proved to be an unsatisfactory home and ultimately saw The Membranes relocate to Manchester in 1983 in a typically eternally optimistic mood.
The single which should have broken them was the acclaimed Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder, which pre-dated the guitar barrage of Big Black and Sonic Youth. But distribution problems killed off the enthusiasm demonstrated by the media. The same problem impacted the Death to Trad Rock 12″, after which Tilton left to be replaced by bass player Stan.
Although they finally made their delayed mark on Creation with the disappointing Gift of Life, the band’s fortunes were now in decline, and Wallas replaced Stan as the band concentrated on the European circuit.
Nick Brown was added on second guitar in 1987, followed shortly thereafter by Keith Curtis. Meanwhile, Robb was becoming increasingly active as a freelance journalist for Sounds and eventually Melody Maker and a host of other magazines.
Despite the production services of Steve Albini from Big Black on Kiss Ass Godhead (1988), Wallas was the next departure, to be replaced by Paul Morley. But total disintegration was imminent as Robb concentrated on his writing career, and launched a new dance project called Sensurround.
The Membranes reformed in 2010 and recorded the critically-acclaimed Dark Matter/Dark Energy album. They have continued to perform live across Europe.
‘Coofy Sid’ Coulthart