By Laura Turnbull
“It’s completely nuclear-proof,” Clay Allison’s drummer Hugh tells me as he unfastens the bolts on the rattling, iron-clad entrance to the band’s studio space. Reassuring. Built in the late 1940s in that gloomy stretch of time when the Cold War’s grip of paranoia was just beginning to tighten, this concrete hideout was, for now, Clay Allison band-headquarters. When the apocalypse comes we’ll be listening to punk. And cultivating our own weird strains of fungi too, if the black mould creeping over the far wall is anything to go by. If it means chatting music and UFOs with this trio though, I’m happy to allow my lungs to grow a little bit furry.
“We were doing some recording with another band in here one night and the singer, he went outside for a wee,” Hugh begins when I ask about an alleged extraterrestrial encounter. Classic weak-bladdered rookie error, and it paid off that evening. The singer came back terrified, the band all rushed outside, things got spooky (hooray). “We saw light appear from the sky going downwards onto the field, like a spotlight,” Hugh explains as band members Wylde and Tom Tom nod: it’s no joke. Stationed on a desolate outpost between a military airbase and an off-limits enclosure of satellite dishes operated from the nearby Earth Station, it’s no surprise that the humble Bunker has witnessed more goosebumps than the camera crew of Paranormal Activity. This place is pure alien bait and someone really needs to tell Louis Theroux about it.
UFOs and dawning apocalypse aside, though, Clay Allison have a setlist to practice. The room is a maze of music equipment. Decades of hoarding have amounted to dusty stacks of amps and old radios which the band manoeuvre around. As Tom Tom and Wylde construct a teetering PA system in one corner, Hugh builds a drum fort in the tiny space between two ancient Hammond organs – “I’m not going to be able to get out once I get in!” Somehow they manage to set up all their gear, at which point I’m assured I’ll need earplugs for what follows. Named after notorious outlaw Clay Allison of the Wild West, the punk-rock trio’s sound is just as unruly. Launching straight into a round of frenzied snare cracks, thundering chords and grizzly bass riffs, these guys waste no time on gentle introductions. Bad-mannered in the best possible way and nothing short of riot-worthy.
Apparently it’s not quite loud enough, though – in the breather between one onslaught of noise and the next Hugh decides the volume needs turning up a notch. Then a tad more…than just a tiny bit more. “You are a nutcase,” Wylde concludes. I take this opportunity to make my exit from The Bunker, much as I’m like to stay and see how many more decibels this trio can shatter. As the metal door clashes behind me I find myself back in the outside world and an empty car park. No tumbleweed across this vista, just the faint growl of feedback. Even nuclear-grade soundproofing doesn’t quite match up to Clay Allison, it seems.