The last time New Jersey got a good look at first-wave British punk band The Vibrators was in September 2019, when they played the alternative music club QXT’s in Newark as part of their annual American tour.
A lot has happened since then, not the least of which is a global pandemic that shut down live music cold — everywhere.
Six months after that Newark gig, the group was winding up some European dates, heading for the last two shows in Germany, when suddenly they were cancelled because of COVID.
“That’s when we knew things were serious,” said lead guitarist Nigel Bennett. “So we rushed home and managed to get back to England as the borders were literally shutting down behind us. ”
And then the real worry began.
“It was frightening, and lonely, and there was no work” said Bennett. So the band used its downtime to record an album, Fall into the Sky. It would be their last. By the time the pandemic restrictions lifted, The Vibrators ceased to exist.
But Bennett decided that even though he was tired of “the scene” in England and finished with the nostalgia for better days, he wasn’t even close to being done with music. So he secured the rights to the Vibrators name and material and decided to reboot the band, not from London, where he had spent his entire life, but from quiet, quaint and Quaker Haddonfield, New Jersey, where he had a new life and new love waiting (more on that later).
Bennett rebranded the band as The Vibrators V2, with Dave Janney of Vineland on bass, and Rick Eddy of Mount Laurel on drums. He calls it a power trio.
“I love power trios. That’s all you need. Everyone fills a certain area of the sonic range,” he said. “When I’m onstage, I feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’ve spent a lifetime learning guitar and when I look out and see people smiling, see that I’m making them happy, that makes me realize I’m doing something right.”
It really has been a lifetime since Bennett got his first big break. At just 22 years old, he answered an ad for a guitar player in the weekly music newspaper Melody Maker and quickly earned a place in The Members, one of the top British punk bands of the late ‘70s.
During his long career, Bennett also has worked as a session musician, playing with artists such as Hugh Cornwell and Joan Armatrading. And he played bass and toured with Julian Lennon in the ‘80s to promote the musician’s Valotte album. He still considers Lennon a good friend.
But it’s 2023 now, and you can’t keep an old rocker from strapping on an axe and heading out into the dark, cramped sweat dens, for better or worse. It’s what they do. And they’ll keep doing it until someone drives a stake into their heart.
“Musicians don’t retire like you do at other jobs,” said Bennett, who is a shade over Medicare eligibility at age 66. “I’ve been doing this since I was a boy. It’s in the blood, so I’ll do it until I drop because I enjoy it so much.”
V2 played its first U.S. gig in July at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia. The sold-out show included some of the best Members and Vibrators songs, such as “The Sound of the Suburbs” and “London Girls,” as well as some new material.
Resuming live performance makes Bennett yearn to elevate V2’s national profile and recapture the group’s pre-pandemic vibe. “I’d like to have my band well-known, be touring America on a regular basis and have records played on the radio,” he said.
Jim McGuinn, program director and host at WXPN, a public radio alternative music station at the University of Pennsylvania, said he was impressed with what he saw at Kung Fu Necktie.
“The show was a blast, with the band ripping through Nigel’s catalog of early punk anthems,” he said. “We play The Vibrators and The Members a bit on WXPN.
“Having met Nigel a few times now, he’s a blast to be around. With the enthusiasm he has for his new project and his wonderful wife Cheryl, and how their union brought him to southern Jersey, the scene is better for welcoming in someone like him.”
Which brings us to the story of how a lifelong Londoner wound up trading in the Union Jack for the Stars and Stripes.
Actually, it’s pretty simple. He fell in love with a Jersey girl.
Last December, Bennett married Cheryl Squadrito, of Haddonfield, executive director of Media Friendly Public Relations.
It was the capstone of a friendship that began in New York in 1983, when Bennett was a 27-year-old guitarist for The Members and Squadrito was a 15-year-old music fanatic just looking to write about the band for her school paper.
“I saved up all my money working at Baskin-Robbins and babysitting,” said Squadrito. “The deal was, if I paid for the hotel room, my brother Richie and his wife Carole would take me to see The Members at the Ritz (rock club) in New York. I still can’t believe my mother let me go.”
So off they went to the Iroquois Hotel, where young Cheryl positioned herself in the elevator hoping to capture a few minutes with the band’s lead singer, Nicky Tesco. But when the elevator door opened, it was Bennett who walked in.
“Oh, you’re Nigel Bennett,“ she said, surprising the guitarist that she knew his name even though he wasn’t the band’s frontman. Quickly, her brother Richie snapped a photo. And that was it, until 2011, when Squadrito posted some old photos of The Members on social media and the two became Facebook friends. From there, it was a slow and occasionally bumpy road that eventually led to happily ever after.
“I absolutely love it here (in Haddonfield),” said Bennett. “I’ve always loved America. That hasn’t changed. I love the American ethic, that you can work hard and make it happen, and the fact that Americans are so welcoming to British people, too.”
The first time Bennett toured America was with The Members in 1979. “Our first gig was at the Palladium in New York, and as we left the city and drove into Jersey, one thing that made us laugh was that all the license plates said ‘Garden State’ on them. And here we were passing all these huge factories the size of which we’d never seen before, belching out soot and smoke everywhere you looked. And we thought, ‘That’s a bit odd.’ But then we learned that New Jersey is huge and there are lovely parts of it. Like where I am right now.”
Bennett adds that where he is right now — this good place he’s found in his life, personally and professionally — is something he doesn’t take for granted.
“You can never become complacent, because you’re only as good as your last gig or last record. You want people to leave your gig thinking, ‘Wow, that was great. I can’t wait to see them the next time.’ ”
So, in case you’re interested, the next time will be on Sept. 23, when The Vibrators V2 headlines at Tierney’s Tavern in Montclair. It’s another in what Bennett hopes will soon become a robust schedule of shows across the country.
“I’m an eternal optimist. I couldn’t have gotten through life without that.”
For more on the band, visit vibratorsv2.com.
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