Following Mary’s premature death, and lost amongst 1980’s plethora of posthumous tribute magazines, flexi-discs (featuring “Mary’s last message”) and the cinema release of pseudo-biopic Mary Millington’s True Blue Confessions, there was one truly heartfelt, and unofficial, eulogy to Britain’s best-loved pin-up. Formed in November 1977, The Disco Zombies were a five-piece punk band from Leicester who garnered a loyal following from playing gigs at their local Polytechnic. In the spring of 1978 they recorded a four-track EP, entitled ‘The Invisibles’, but distribution problems blighted its release and feeling disillusioned, and ignored by the mainstream music press, the band relocated to Forest Hill, in south east London in 1979.
The group’s rough and ready DIY punk sound endeared them to many, none more so than BBC Radio DJ John Peel who championed their next 7” release – a satirical anti-National Front anthem called ‘Drums Over London’, recorded in the capital in February 1979. The song’s lyrics were misunderstood by several reviewers, but it provided the band with much-needed publicity. Like many other young guys of that era, the musicians were left shocked by Mary’s suicide in August 1979 and decided to compose a song in her memory. Now slimmed-down to four members, the group recorded their last commercial material at Alvic Studios in Barons Court on 22 February 1980; the resulting release was a double-A-side single entitled ‘Here Come the Buts’ and ‘Mary Millington’. The latter track spoke vividly about the spell Mary cast over working class men. Lead vocalist David Henderson, who was also a journalist for the now-defunct Sounds magazine, opined:
‘Mary Millington, Mary Millington, you made me fall in love with you.
You made me fall in love with you.
Millions of men, see you and then,
There’s millions more in love with you; millions who will pay to view.
I went to see Come Play with Me,
I wish you would, I think I’d be quite good. Oh, so good.
Parted lips, a goodnight kiss,
My lips moisten at the very thought.
Pouring over literature I bought.’
The song’s hypnotic melody and affectionate lyrics provide an authentic counterpoint to most of the tacky John East-produced ‘tributes’ of the early eighties. However, the song was not big enough to propel the Disco Zombies to Top of the Pops. After a series of well-received London gigs, including several at the legendary Scala Cinema, by the autumn of 1980 the group had disbanded. The punk era was dead.
Quite what Mary would have thought of her eponymous song is anybody’s guess. No doubt she’d have been quite flattered, but punk rock really wasn’t her bag. Her own musical tastes favoured the Bee Gees, Glenn Campbell and, most significantly, Labi Siffre. The latter singer-songwriter’s 1972 album Crying Loving Laughing Lying was Mary’s favourite LP of all time and she played the record endlessly. Curiously then, Mary was once again to renew her punk credentials after her death. Her final film, Julien Temple’s The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle teamed Britain’s most infamous glamour girl with Britain’s most notorious rock band, the Sex Pistols, and was released theatrically in May 1980. The story goes that during production Mary didn’t even know who the Pistols were; she’d have much preferred a cameo in Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
For more information about The Disco Zombies and their terrific 2011 compilation album, ‘Drums Over London’, check out Acute Records.