I have to confess that up until four or five years ago, I thought that the Monks were the remnants of Hudson – Ford, who in turn were remnants of The Strawbs. I suspect many will recall the novelty hit Nice legs, shame about the face, from 1978 being performed rather energetically by some ageing ex prog rockers dressed in habits on Top of the Pops.
Well, this has nothing to do with that band.
The Monks from the 1960s are nowadays often credited with inventing Punk rock, even before the summer of love had happened and while John Lydon was still at primary school. Originally the band were called The Torquays and played in an early 60s surf style. How they metamorphosed to their unique garage meets punk on a bad hair day day, I suppose well never know. Their chaotic, frequently violent, beer soaked gigs in Germanys Bierkellers were seem to have a strong resemblance to some of reports of gigs from early Punk bands from 76 and 77. The really bizarre thing about this band is that despite all members being US citizens and ex-servicemen they only ever played live in Germany.
Visually, the Monks were rather alarming too, there tondeuse hair cuts cutting bald patches on to the crowns of their heads were never likely to catch on (which is rather a shame as my hair has a natural tendency to assume that style these days!). Dressed in black with short hair, they were an obvious contrast to the look of their era. Then there is the sound……..
From what I gather, they were dissatisfied with the limitation of the thrash sound that could be attained from the electric guitar, so they used an electric banjo instead. When mixed with the occasional piece of feedback (before The Velvet Underground and before The Jesus and Mary Chain had started school), the effect is… well……..unusual and way ahead of its time. This is mixed with a lot of fuzz effect guitar, so much so that guitarist and vocalist Gary Buerger, is said to have worn out sixteen fuzz pedals in the Monks two year life span. The vocal style is definitely not Punk, more of a prototype Bon Scott, but works well. The drums are just that…there are hardly any cymbals. Instead, a meaty steady rhythm is the backdrop for this unique band.
Judge for yourself if the lyrics are Punk. With song titles such as I hate you , Shut up and Drunken Maria, I think that they easily qualify. Though in my opinion, Higgledy Pigglydy is the best song that they recorded. This song is now covered by the The Fall.
Later in their brief career, they went completely off the wall with their single Cuckoo, and attempted pop success with the B side And went down to the sea.
Sadly, not all of the band members are with us today but they have reformed to play a few one off gigs. True to form, their first gig in 30 odd years on this side of the herring pond was bizarrely in Benidorm! Trust my luck to miss their only ever London gig through moving to Yorkshire. Ah well, theres always the grainy footage on You Tube……..