Article By: Pat ‘Riot’ Whitaker, Senior Writer/Journalist ‡ Edited By: Leanne Ridgeway, Owner/Chief Editor
It is March 25th, 1988 and Night Flight, a weekend, late night, visual arts and variety show on television’s USA Network, is about to show viewers something entirely different… and they shall never be the same.
It is, of course, the age of the music video and this program is on the verge of airing one titled “Prime Mover” from the British sleaze rock act, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION. The “Prime Mover” number is musically inspired by the U.K. space rock collective Hawkwind’s 1977 track “Quark, Strangeness And Charm“, with its video directed by Adrian “Ade” Edmondson of “The Young Ones” fame. Ultimately, neither one of these facts will mean much of anything when people get an eyeful of this leather-clad band and then hear their music. Yes, it is the latter that they’re going to hopefully find most impressive… or altogether hate.
Mark Manning is a graphic artist at the time, and former art editor at the then-defunct Flexipop! Magazine, which folded in 1982. It was while working there that Manning was introduced to a frequently visiting flow of rock stars and their hedonistically decadent lifestyles… and he wants in. It would be a few years still, but soon enough Manning is working as a graphic designer at another publication, Metal Fury, when he begins to undergo a transformation.
The change is taking place during his off hours from work, with Manning experiencing an evolutionary-like leap (perhaps a devolution in some eyes) on the scale of characters from Robert Louis Stevenson’s literary work, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Much like that strange case, Mark assumes an alter ego persona, that of Zodiac Mindwarp – an anti-social looking sort, like a greasy biker from the cast of some forgotten 70’s exploitative B-movie. What he is and what he has become, is something that really surprises no one that has known Manning for any length of time and he soon aligns himself with similar like-minded outcasts.
ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION is officially given life in 1985, joining Zed (as he is known to his friends) in the band are guitarist Rockman Rock (aka Jimmy Cauty), bassist Kid Chaos (aka Stephen Harris), and drummer Boom Boom Kaboomski (real name unavailable). The latter part of the band’s name was culled from the most unlikeliest of sources, but there it was in the lyrics of the third verse of The Boss’ “Dancing In The Dark“.
Soon the band is signed to a Phonogram Records subsidiary the Food label and 1986 would be the year that ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION begin their campaign to dominate rock ‘n roll. It begins in May that year, with the “Wild Child” single, recorded with Zodiac on vocals and guitar, Kid Chaos on bass, and Jake Le Mesurier on drums. The band’s name has already become a thing of high praise and acclaim among the denizens of the “Grebo” movement (or “Grebo rock”), a British musical subgenre incorporating influences from punk rock, electronic dance music, hip hop, and psychedelia.
Though ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION look the part of the term’s earliest intended targets, as the word “grebo” was originally used as a slang term for bikers and rock music fans with long hair, but the word was being re-fashioned to a “cleaner” look by the group Pop Will Eat Itself in 1986. They use it in song titles and soon it becomes a thing unto itself, a music genre sublet that in time will include such acts as Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Wonder Stuff, Scum Pups, Jesus Jones, and Gaye Bykers On Acid. Before ’86 is over, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION release the ‘High Priest Of Love‘ EP, which soon lands in the #1 slot of the U.K. Indie Chart.
Truth is, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION are pretty much the antithesis of the new Grebo look, a polar opposite to its colorful shorts and clean shaves. Zed & Co. opt for a more psychedelic, drug addled, Mad Max-ian appearance, melded with the iron crosses, skulls, black leather, and sometimes even stormtrooper helmets.
By the end of 1986, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION play the U.K.’s packed Reading Festival before thousands of fans. Not bad for a band that had their first gig at the 500-capacity Dingwalls in London less than a year before. Yes, it is evident that the band’s misanthropic imagery is not having an anti-social effect whatsoever and even more intriguing, their music and its lyrical contents are finding an audience. Chock full of flamboyant, chest-thumping proclamations derived from a raging libido, Mindwarp’s tongue-in-cheek ravings are pure camp, despite their often lascivious and misogynist tone.
By the next year, the band has new blood in the form of lead guitarist Cobalt Stargazer (real name Geoff Bird), rhythm guitarist Flash Bastard (real name Jan Cyrka), and drummer Slam Thunderhide (real name Stephen Landrum). Also, bassist Kid Chaos has left to join another popular rising band, The Cult, so enter Trash D. Garbage (real name Paul Bailey). The band continues their ascension to sonic glory with more U.K. single releases in 1987, including “Prime Mover” and “Backseat Education“.
However, for any British band there is only one thing that seems to equate as having “made it” or being successful. That is acceptance across the pond, in the United States. In February of 1988, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION release their first full-length album, ‘Tattooed Beat Messiah‘, through the Vertigo label, another subsidiary of Phonogram. The album has remixed versions of the singles released the previous year, alongside several new songs, including a cover of the Steppenwolf classic, “Born To Be Wild“, in some markets.
The album explodes in a music scene being dominated by acts like Poison and Bon Jovi, but true anti-authoritarian types know the deal. ‘Tattooed Beat Messiah‘ is the dividing line where such horrid pop fluff shall not pass, and it spawns several subsequent video tie-ins to tracks like “Backseat Education“, “Planet Girl“, and of course, “Prime Mover“.
Ultimately, it has the desired outcome, as ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION are placed on a 1988 U.S. tour bill alongside Guns & Roses, supporting Alice Cooper. After just a few dates, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION are bumped up on the roster, now playing after Guns & Roses, before Alice Cooper. Several of the band members appear with Slash, Axl Rose, and Alice Cooper in a performance of Cooper’s “Under My Wheels” for the feature film music documentary, “The Decline Of Western Civilization: Part II“.
Tours with Motörhead and Iron Maiden only serve to increase the frenzy about the band, which grew like a raging wildfire. Soon, they’re designated part of the new rock royalty, placing them in the ranks of bands like Circus Of Power, Warrior Soul, and Monster Magnet.
Yet, for every high there is a low; for every climb, a descent; and somehow, some way, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION were about to experience theirs. At some point in all of this, the band is informed that ‘Tattooed Beat Messiah’ failed to sell well in the United States. This resulted in them being dropped by their record label, while burdened with large, outstanding debts. It doesn’t add up, literally, as the album had ignited like a fuse, spawning five official videos that received regular rotation airplay on MTV, and the channel’s “Headbangers Ball“. That show’s host, Ricki Rachtman, claims the band as one of his all time favorites and one of the most underrated bands of the era.
Not ready to give up the ghost yet, ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION release a sophomore album, ‘Hoodlum Thunder‘, through the only label that would seemingly sign them at this point, Musidisc. Despite critical acclaim for the album, there is no hysterical fanfare this time, no arenas to rock, yet it’s probably a safe bet that some groupies still thronged the band. The album spawns a handful of singles including “Elvis Died For You” and “Meanstreak“, with one of its cuts, “Feed My Frankenstein“, ending up being re-recorded by Alice Cooper, and released on his 1991 ‘Hey Stoopid’ album (and featured in the 1992 movie Wayne’s World).
Truth is, things will never quite be the same for ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION, as they increasingly cycle through a revolving door of musicians. This includes bassists Suzi X, Tex Diablo, and Kev Reverb, along with such drummers as Robbie Vom and The Apocalypse. They continue to release consistent output like ‘Live At Reading‘, ‘My Life Story‘, and ‘One More Knife’, but the band eventually goes on a hiatus, remaining inactive for a decade before resurfacing again around 2002.
‘I Am Rock‘ arrives that year, another live album, with ‘Weapons Of Mass Destruction‘ in 2004, ‘Rock Savage‘ in 2005, and the following year, 2006 brings ‘Pandora’s Grisly Handbag’, a 1986 live album and DVD pairing. Through all of this, the persona and over-the-top character that is Zodiac Mindwarp never dilutes nor seeks a PG rating. The dangerously deranged, gargantuan genius of Mark Manning continues to expand, authoring multiple books containing memoirs about his sordid sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll experiences simultaneously as the band issues albums.
In 1996, he pens Bad Wisdom (with Bill Drummond), while Crucify Me Again (2000), Get Your Cock Out (2000), Fucked By Rock: The Unspeakable Confessions Of Zodiac Mindwarp (2001), Collateral Damage, and The Wild Highway (2005, again with Drummond) all follow.
2010’s ‘We Are Volsung‘ album, featuring the cast of Zodiac Mindwarp with guitarist Cobalt Stargazer, bassist Jack Shitt, and drummer Bruno ‘The Cat’ Agua, is released via SPV/Steamhammer. Recently, the current edition of ZODIAC MINDWARP AND THE LOVE REACTION featuring Z and Cobalt, Beast Of Ante (bass), and the returned Robbie Vom (drums), have toured in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the ‘Tattooed Beat Messiah’ release.
When all is said and done, the larger than life cosmic rock deity that is Zodiac Mindwarp, as well as his more human alter ego, Mark Manning, will be a subject regaled across the infinite celestial. Tales, legends, and mythologies, if not entire theologies, will be devoted to the praise and edification of the Tattooed Beat Messiah. You know, the “Christ in shades“, the “napalm god“, the “Sex führer, baby”, the “love dictator… living detonator“- Mister Prime Mover himself.