Spinal Who?! How Bad News became the original spoof metal band

Bad News
(Image credit: Press)

By 1983, metal was taking itself a bit too seriously. The New Wave Of British Heavy Metal had spawned a handful of stars, such as Iron Maiden, Saxon and Def Leppard, but formula and cliché were setting in as thousands jumped on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, trad Brit-metal was looking shabby beside the US rock giants of MTV. The NWOBHM had boomed in 1980/81 just as a new wave of British alternative comedy was flourishing in parallel, often in the same venues. Two anarchic double acts stood out as leading lights: Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, and Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson, regulars at London’s Comic Strip night. Approached by Channel 4 in 1982 to spearhead the new network’s comedy output, the foursome pitched a series of short films under the umbrella title The Comic Strip Presents…, and one of the first ideas was a spoof documentary following a terrible metal band on the road.

Written and directed by Ade Edmondson, Bad News Tour was broadcast in January 1983. It introduced audiences to narcissistic, control-freak frontman Vim Fuego (Ade); posh poser bassist Colin Grigson (Rik); aggressive halfwit guitarist Den Dennis (Nigel); and chirpy, drug-addled drummer Spider Webb (Peter). The script was inspired by Ade’s teenage band experiences, but Peter and Nigel also had firm grounding in the rock circuit.

“Nigel and I toured the country as a band in 1976, doing Zappa and Beefheart-style rock with comedy,” Peter explains. “It was an uneasy mix, but everybody in the 70s wanted to be in a rock band. Weirdly, everyone wants to be comedians now!”

Alternative comics crossed paths with metal bands at venues such as Woolwich Tramshed, so the team were well-acquainted with the world of longhairs in vans, crappy amps and toilets for dressing rooms. With the creation of Bad News, they perfectly nailed a quartet of metalhead archetypes that still feel authentic 36 years later.

“I met many drummers when we were working in the early days at venues like the Roundhouse [in London], and they were always very jolly, simple folk,” Peter recalls fondly. “Not angst-ridden big-egos like the guitarists. When Nige and I did our first show we had a band exactly like that. The bassist was just like Den, and there was always the person who owns the PA who has to be in the band! So there was a lot of truth in those things. Chrissie Hynde said, ‘All my drummers have been just like Spider – that’s why I love them!’”

With Bad News Tour, Ade effectively created the ‘mock-rockumentary’ a year before This Is Spinal Tap. “It was an absolute coincidence,” notes Peter of the better-known American phenomenon. “It was a very different film; Spinal Tap was big bands on tour, we were a grubby little band trying to get going. People like Ozzy, who’ve seen both films, have said, ‘Your film is the real deal, that’s exactly what it’s like!’”

The ‘rockumentary’ format had been spearheaded in Britain by Mark Kidel’s 1976 film, So You Wanna Be A Rock ’n’ Roll Star? It followed pub rock hopefuls the Kursaal Flyers around the UK, and Bad News Tour owes much of its detail and atmosphere to that pioneering broadcast.

“I think all the characters struck a chord because they were all based in reality,” Peter affirms. “We’d all been close to it, so it was an observed thing; we knew the vibe. People like Ozzy and Lemmy really got it, because there were so many things they recognised. People like what they know, and they love seeing things they know ridiculed.”

Bad News

(Image credit: Press)

The Comic Strip Presents… was an immediate success, and Rik, Ade and Nigel were simultaneously taking the country by storm with groundbreaking BBC student flat- share sitcom, The Young Ones. Ade was determined to use their newfound clout to take Bad News to its (il)logical extreme, and conceived a feature-length sequel, More Bad News, to culminate in an ambitious finale: taking the stage at the 1986 Monsters Of Rock, Castle Donington. Peter remains blown away by the experience of entertaining the crowds with songs such as Vampire Spunk Merchants From Hell. “Get this – the first gig we ever did as Bad News was Monsters Of Rock. The first time! Can you imagine?” he enthuses. “It was quite daring really. Stupid, but daring!”

Donington’s booker in the 80s, Tim Parsons, remembers how these bewigged comedians came to gatecrash metal’s most prestigious festival: “The Young Ones was incredibly successful – everyone was mimicking them,” he recalls. “It was cutting-edge comedy, so to my mind they were pushing an open door. None of the agents came up with other artists that suited that slot, so it seemed the strongest option. We were twisted about whether it was or wasn’t taking the piss, but Ade came to us and explained exactly what they were trying to do, what they meant by it, and nothing seemed disrespectful or likely to be an issue. They did OK, it wasn’t a big deal, they didn’t disrupt the day – they added to it. You’ll find that people looking back on it will think a lot more favourably about it than they did at the time!”

For Nigel, the reality of walking out to 70,000 ravenous headbangers proved literally petrifying. “I was so scared,” he says. “You can see it in the film; before we went on, I scratched my head, and when I saw all those people I couldn’t actually get my hand down again to carry the guitar! It was so scary. And then we got those bottles of piss thrown at us. What’s it called, the Donington Kiss?”

“It used to happen for lots of other groups,” adds Tim. “The Battle Of The Piss Bottles was almost a rite of passage at Donington!”

Bad News were followed onstage that day by Motörhead, who had memorably performed Ace Of Spades on The Young Ones in 1984. The team renewed their friendship with Lemmy, who shared his wisdom with the nervous comedians. “Lemmy was a gentleman,” remembers Nigel. “He told us that if people are throwing hard objects at you, it’s best to avoid them. Unfortunately, I didn’t take his advice when we played the Marquee [in London]. We got stuff chucked at us, but it was a smaller venue, and I got a beer glass in my face. There are shots of me from that night with blood all down me!”

Peter picks up the story: “Nigel went down, crunch, beside me – it was like being in a warzone. There was a guy who kept spitting at Adrian, and Ade got it in the mouth. He was so angry, he kicked this guy in the face. Next day there’s a letter from his mum, saying, ‘My son is a BBC war reporter and Vim kicked him in the face!’ We couldn’t believe it!”

Observing this madness were the evening’s surprise guest musicians, guitar legends Jeff Beck and Brian May (Jimmy Page guested at an earlier date). “They were watching from a VIP booth, thinking, ‘Shit we’ve got to go down and join that mob!’” laughs Peter.

After Donington, with such high-profile musicians lending their approval, a buzz was growing around Bad News. “That brought us in a record deal, stupidly, and Brian May said, ‘I’ll produce the album’!” laughs Peter. “Recording the music was serious, because it had to be good-funny and bad-serious; enjoyably bad, as opposed to ear-splittingly horrible. There was a very thin line between the two! Brian loved everything, he laughed too much. He’s a lovely man, but very easily pleased! We were like, ‘It’s not that funny…’ But it’s all subjective, comedy.”

Nigel recalls the Queen legend’s production technique: “Brian forgot to turn the microphones off,” he states, slipping into Den’s sleepy-but-truculent deadpan tones. “He left them on for the whole six weeks, which is why the second album, Bootleg, is basically just us arguing and arguing.”

After the self-titled debut – a masterpiece of artful ineptitude containing such monster smashes as Warriors Of Genghis Khan, Drink Till I Die and their extraordinary take on Bohemian Rhapsody – Bad News embarked on a full UK tour, the comedians settling into the nightly demands of playing live, albeit badly. “I quite enjoyed it, although it was really weird,” ponders Peter. “We would have arguments – we were like a proper band suddenly! And because there was always so much noise and travel, we would just sit in silence after the gig just staring at the wall for an hour. It was quite an amazing experience. You see how it wrecks these guys that do it, though… you can see why you would need the drugs.”

Bad News were last seen in public on Comic Relief in 1991 (although Colin refused to turn up as he was sick of working for free), and the tragic sudden death of Rik Mayall in 2014 dashed all hopes for a reunion of the Four Horsemen of the Rock Apocalypse. There is currently a crowdfunding campaign for a special ‘32nd anniversary’ box set, celebrating the band’s career.

Asked if there was ever any impulse to get Bad News back together again, Peter provides the band with a perfect epitaph. “We did the tour and that was it, we’d done the joke and we moved on to other things, but it was a great project and a great time. I think people really got into it, I think they did actually love Bad News. It was Rik, Ade, me and Nige being really stupid, and you don’t get to see bands being really stupid very often. Not deliberately, anyway!”

Chris Chantler

Chris has been writing about heavy metal since 2000, specialising in true/cult/epic/power/trad/NWOBHM and doom metal at now-defunct extreme music magazine Terrorizer. Since joining the Metal Hammer famileh in 2010 he developed a parallel career in kids' TV, winning a Writer's Guild of Great Britain Award for BBC1 series Little Howard's Big Question as well as writing episodes of Danger Mouse, Horrible Histories, Dennis & Gnasher Unleashed and The Furchester Hotel. His hobbies include drumming (slowly), exploring ancient woodland and watching ancient sitcoms.