Barrie Masters obituary

<span>Photograph: Ray Stevenson/Rex/Shutterstock</span>
Photograph: Ray Stevenson/Rex/Shutterstock

Barrie Masters, who has died suddenly aged 63, remained the singer and frontman of Eddie and the Hot Rods, the group that he co-founded more than 40 years ago, until his death. But whatever else the Hot Rods achieved over four decades, they will always be remembered for their 1970s hits, and in particular the single Do Anything You Wanna Do.

An exhilarating rush of clanging guitar chords with a stirring you-can-change-your-life-if-you-want-to lyric urgently belted out by Masters, it vaulted into the British charts in August 1977 and peaked at No 9, the biggest hit of the band’s career. It was the kind of record that listeners would recall years later as a formative moment in their lives.

The Southend-based Hot Rods had emerged from the pub rock scene alongside bands including Dr Feelgood, Kilburn and the High Roads and Joe Strummer’s group The 101’ers. They began playing their first London gigs at the Kensington and the Nashville Rooms in 1975, and steadily built up an enthusiastic following in the capital. The music press started describing their brand of raw rock’n’roll and R&B, sometimes reminiscent of the early Rolling Stones, as punk rock.

Barrie Masters at the Great British Rock & Blues festival, Skegness, Lincolnshire, in 2014.
Barrie Masters at the Great British Rock & Blues festival, Skegness, Lincolnshire, in 2014. Photograph: Kevin Nixon/Future/Rex/Shutterstock

In November 1975 they were approached by Howard Thompson, the artist and repertoire man at Island Records, who wanted to give them a deal, having been impressed by the way “they’d play everything as if they were being chased by the cops”. At this point the band realised they needed a manager, and recruited Ed Hollis, a DJ and music fanatic from Canvey Island (he was the older brother of Mark Hollis, who later formed Talk Talk). Their Island deal gave the members a princely stipend of £20 each a week.

Their first couple of singles, Writing on the Wall and a cover version of the 60s tune Wooly Bully, flopped, but things looked up with the Live at the Marquee EP in August 1976. This included covers of the garage-band classic 96 Tears and Bob Seger’s Get Out of Denver and charted at No 43. In late 1976 they scored their first Top 40 hit with Teenage Depression, a rapid-fire rocker with suitably punk-like disaffected lyrics (“got the teenage depression, it’s becoming an obsession”). Their album of the same name reached 43 on the UK chart.

Yet as the “official” punk movement lifted off that same year, with the Sex Pistols and the Damned, the Hot Rods suddenly began to seem outmoded, despite having been an inspiration to many of the new groups.

Masters was exasperated. “When it started happening we were classed as the No 1 punk band – because we were first,” he told the music writer and blogger Devorah Ostrov. “They found a tag, a name, a label, a pigeonhole and put us in there… But then this fashion thing jumped into it … I mean, it was a poxy fashion show!”

The two worlds collided in February 1976 when the Sex Pistols opened for the Hot Rods at the Marquee Club in London. The Pistols’ singer Johnny Rotten inflicted some minor vandalism on the Hot Rods’ PA system, then picked a fight with Masters, who, as he put it, “gave him a slap”.

The Hot Rods had their own Svengali figure in Hollis, who wrote lyrics for many of their songs (including Do Anything You Wanna Do), but he was keen to model the group on American bands the MC5 and the Stooges, which was not what British audiences were looking for.

The Hot Rods’ album Life on the Line (1977) took them into the Top 30 and they notched another Top 40 hit single with Quit This Town, but thenceforth their trajectory trended downwards. Their third album, Thriller (1979), made it to No 50, but marked the end of their relationship with Island Records and was their last chart appearance.

Masters was born just outside Southend in Rochford, Essex, the younger son of Barrington Masters and his wife, Margaret (nee Turnbull). He attended Rochford’s King Edmund school and described his home town as “boring as Belgium … When you were a young kid you either got into boxing like I did, or you got arrested for hanging about on the streets. We started a group at school because we wanted something to do. It was just through boredom.”

The foundations for the Hot Rods were laid in 1973 when Masters joined up with the drummer Steve Nicol and the guitarist Pete Ward, originally calling themselves Buckshee. Within a few months Ward was replaced by Dave Higgs, who had been in the Fix alongside future Dr Feelgood singer Lee Brilleaux, while the original bassman, Rob Steel, was replaced by Paul Gray. Lew Lewis joined on harmonica, but quit after the band had recorded their first two singles.

In early 1977 they added the guitarist Graeme Douglas, from the Southend band the Kursaal Flyers. This was a fortuitous move since he wrote the music for Anything You Wanna Do and Quit This Town. There was never a member called Eddie, though at some early gigs the band took a mannequin by that name onstage with them (“we sold him to Iron Maiden,” Masters claimed).

The band’s post-Island career saw them moving to EMI to release the unsuccessful Fish ‘N’ Chips album (1981), and the band disintegrated that same year. Masters stood in as vocalist for the Inmates when their regular singer Bill Hurley fell ill. In 1984 Masters and Nicol reformed the Hot Rods with new members and managed to record the single Fought for You and the mini-album One Story Town before splitting again. The Masters, Nicol, Higgs and Gray lineup reunited in 1992, and amid assorted personnel changes recorded the album Gasoline Days (1996).

They advanced into the new millennium with Masters fronting a completely new squad, and made the albums Better Late Than Never (2005) and Been There, Done That (2006). The album 35 Years of Teenage Depression (2011) was a reworking of their debut original with three new songs. In April 2019, band members past and present, plus assorted musician friends, gathered for a one-off Done Everything We Wanna Do show at the O2 Academy in Islington, north London.

• Barrie Masters, musician, born 4 May 1956; died 2 October 2019