The Membranes

The Membranes
The Membranes
Origin Blackpool, England
Genres punk rock, post punk, art punk
Years active 1977–1990
Labels Creation Records, Vinyl Drip Records, Criminal Damage, Rondelet, In-tape, Constrictor, Glass Records, Clawfist
John Robb (1977-1990)
Mark Tilton (1977-1985)
Coofy Sid (197?-1990)
Martin Critchley (1977)
Martin Kelly (1977-1982)
Steve Farmery (1982)
Stan Batcow (1985-1986)
Wallas Terror (1986-1988)
Nick Brown (1982-1990)
Keith Curtis (1986-1990)
Paul Morley (1989-1990)

The Membranes were a post-punk band formed in Blackpool, Lancashire in 1977, the initial line-up being John Robb (bass guitar), Mark Tilton (guitar), Martin Critchley (vocals) and Martin Kelly (drums).[1] Critchley soon left, with Robb and Tilton taking on vocals, and Kelly moving to keyboards, with "Coofy Sid" (Coulthart) taking over on drums.[1] Their first release was the "Flexible Membrane" flexi-disc in 1980, and over the next 11 years they would go on to release six studio albums. Their first single proper, "Muscles", was a single of the week in the UK music press[1] and a big club hit in New York being played in the Danceteria by the likes of the Beastie Boys eventual DJ Mojo and other cutting edge New York DJs. Kelly left after "Muscles", to be replaced by Steve Farmery on guitar for the follow-up Pin Stripe Hype EP. The band pioneered the avant noise scene of Big Black and Sonic Youth for several years with their critically acclaimed "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" single and Death To Trad Rock EP and their debut Gift Of Life album. They were the first band to be signed to Alan McGee's Creation label but the deal fell though when McGee could not afford to pay their studio bill for the "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" single.[1] The band relocated to Manchester in 1983, and "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" was issued on the Criminal Damage label, which met with a positive critical response but distribution problems limited its impact.[1]

After The Membranes, Robb went on to form Sensurround and later Goldblade.


Early years

In 1977 John Robb and Mark Tilton formed the band at Blackpool Sixth Form College. Inspired by punk rock and the DIY ethic of punk, they started a fanzine, Rox and The Membranes at the same time. Tilton, who lived a few doors down the road from Robb, bought a 'Woolworth's special' guitar from a junk shop, while Robb built his own bass out of spare parts and a slab of wood from a local DIY store (along with dustbin lids, the band having no drummer at this stage). They then enlisted a singer Martin Critchley and Martin Kelly joined on drums. Critchley subsequently left, with Robb and Tilton taking over to share the vocals, Martin Kelly moving to keyboards with a WASP synthesiser and a 13 year old kid called Coofy Sid joining on drums. Their first recording was "Ice Age", which appeared on the Blackpool Rox EP featuring Section 25, Syntax and The Kenneth Turner Set on Robb's Vinyl Drip label,[2]

After a flexi-disc debut, the Flexible Membrane EP in 1980, they released the debut single proper "Muscles" in 1982, which was raved over by both the music press and John Peel.[2] That record's success saw the band sign a deal with Rondolet Records who issues a follow-up, the Pin Stripe Hype EP (the only Membranes record to feature guitarist Steve Farmery). Rondolet folded and the band signed to Criminal Damage Records.

After Steve Farmery left, the band went deeper into their new direction. Coofy Sid's drumming became more tribal and the guitars wilder and heavier.

They would have been the first band to sign to Creation Records, and the label's first release would have been "Spike Milligan’s Tape Recorder", but Alan McGee had no money for the studio so the band stayed with Criminal Damage and released this seven inch single, described in ZigZag (magazine) as "not only have The Membranes wiped the floor with the opposition, they redesigned the tiles". They were awarded single of the week in all four music papers,[citation needed] and "Spike Milligan" reached number six in the John Peel Festive 50.[3]

In January 1985 The Membranes appeared on The Tube and released the Death To Trad Rock EP which went to number 8 in the UK Indie Chart and saw the band on the front cover of Sounds. At this point Mark Tilton left the band: he was replaced shortly after by Stan Batcow, who came in on bass with Robb moving to guitar.

The new line-up recorded the album but without the studio engineer John Brierley who had worked on their last two releases. With a rookie engineer on board, the band's resulting debut album didn't capture their massive sound but still came out to rave reviews and went to number one in the indie chart.

After a gig in London, a Creation Records night, the band left/were sacked from the label after an argument. The gig was booked as The Membranes headlining with The Pastels and Slaughter Joe on the bill. It was decided by someone, not the promoter, to draw lots for the billing and the lots surprisingly came out with The Membranes going on first and Slaughter Joe headlining. This meant that the bulk of the audience who had come to see The Membranes missed the band, and let their feelings be heard during Slaughter Joe's set and because Joe was Alan McGee's best friend The Membranes were off the label. The Pastels walked out in support of The Membranes.[citation needed]

The band then signed to In Tape, the label run by Marc Riley and released their critically acclaimed 'Songs Of Love And Fury' album which was their breakthrough album in the USA>

Sharing a house in West Didsbury (in the garden of which Dinosaur Jr recorded their "Freak Scene" video), The Membranes created a scene and got themselves back to their leanest and meanest since Mark Tilton left. The resulting Kiss Ass Godhead was far better for the constant touring. It was also one of the first records that Steve Albini recorded and the band spent time in his cellar in Chicago recording some of the tracks. They were surprised to find that Albini had all their records as well as several early copies of the Rox fanzine.

Kiss Ass Godhead was licensed all over the world and the band toured worldwide and made quite an impact in countries like Germany, Greece and the USA where they were released by Homestead records along with contemporary bands like Big Black and Sonic Youth. The band's next album was their last, 'To Slay the Rock Pig'.

In 2009 the band were asked to reform for the All Tomorrows Parties music festival, curated by My Bloody Valentine. This successful show was followed up by a gig in Istanbul, supported by Sean Parker Band, and a sold out 2010 gig in London. The Membranes current situation is ongoing.


UK Independent Chart positions in brackets.[4]


  • Crack House (1983, Criminal Damage)
  • The Gift of Life (1985, Creation) (#15)
  • Giant (1986, Constrictor) (Germany only)
  • Songs Of Love And Fury (1986, In Tape) (4)
  • Kiss Ass Godhead! (1988, Glass) (8)
  • To Slay The Rock Pig (1989, Vinyl Drip)
  • Pulp Beating and All That (1986, Criminal Damage) (compilation)
  • The Virgin Mary Versus Peter Sellers (1987, Vinyl Drip) (compilation)
  • Wrong Place at the Wrong Time (1993, Constrictor) (compilation)
  • The Best Of The Membranes (1997, Anagram) (compilation)


  • Flexible Membrane (1980, Vinyl Drip) (7-inch flexi-disc)
  • "Muscles" (1982, Vinyl Drip/Rondelet)
  • Pin Stripe Hype (1982, Rondelet)
  • "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" (1984, Criminal Damage) (#12)
  • Death To Trad Rock (1985, Criminal Damage) (12-inch) (#8)
  • "Everything's Brilliant" (1986, In Tape) (#11)
  • "Groovy F---ers" (1987, Constrictor)
  • "Time Warp 1991" (1987, Glass)
  • Euro Pig Vs Auto Flesh EP (1989, Vinyl Drip)
  • "Big Decision (Slight Return)" (1991, Clawfist) (split 7-inch with That Petrol Emotion)


  • Tatty Seaside Town (2005) 'The Ugly Truth About Blackpool' (CD by Just Say No To Government Music)


  1. ^ a b c d e Larkin, Colin: "The Guinness Who's Who of Indie and New Wave Music", 1992, Guinness Publishing, ISBN 0-85112-579-4
  2. ^ a b Strong, Martin C.:"The Great Alternative & Indie Discography", 1999, Canongate, ISBN 0-86241-913-1
  3. ^ 1984 Festive Fifty, BBC
  4. ^ Lazell, Barry (1997) Indie Hits 1980-1989, Cherry Red Books, ISBN 0-95172-069-4

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