London Zoo – London Zoo

11th October 2023 · 1970s, 1979, Music, Postpunk, Punk

Here’s an oddity from the depths of my punk-era singles collection. It was only decades later that a friend picked this obscurity out and recognised two of the names on the sleeve – not as musicians, but as music journalists.

Both guitarists – David Sinclair and Robert Sandall – ended up writing about music rather than playing it, lending weight to the oft-heard theory that music journos are all frustrated musicians.

Not me though: I’ve always been terrified of the thought of standing up in front of an audience and can barely address a gathering at a wedding or funeral without palpitations.

This is from their first single as London Zoo, released in 1979 on Scotland’s Zoom label – home to Simple Minds and The Zones – though they had already put out a single under their punkier previous name of Blunt Instrument.

They formed in the summer of 1977 when drummer Sinclair, who had recently moved to London from Scotland, was the only person to turn up to an audition held by guitarist/vocalist Sandall and bass guitarist Ed Shaw.

Even the other guitarist, Bill Benfield, was absent and after only a week of rehearsals they released their first single, the distinctly punkish No Excuses, with Sandall adopting a sneering estuarine whine that was a far cry from his gentle, well enunciated speaking voice.

Things looked bright until Sinclair was hit by a flying beer bottle at a gig in Kings Cross, knocked off his drum stool and broke his wrist, causing two months of gigs to be cancelled and Benfield to leave the band during the hiatus.

By the time the drummer recovered Benfield had been replaced by Nick Aldridge and the band had changed their name to London Zoo. This was the B-side of Receiving End, their first single under the new name, and in my view a better song.

Further misfortune followed when Arista bought Zoom and dropped the band, forcing them to self-release their next single, Who’s Driving This Car, before recording radio sessions for John Peel and Mike Read and promptly breaking up.

Sandall went on to become The Sunday Times rock critic, a TV presenter on Late Junction, and (poacher turning gamekeeper) head of press for Virgin Records.

Sinclair, meanwhile, served time in TV Smith’s Explorers and was for many years The Times rock critic by day, playing in his own R&B-oriented band by night.

A year ago he still was, the David Sinclair Trio having expanded into the David Sinclair Four.