Singles & EPs
About The Flys
The Flys enjoyed their day in the sun during the first wave of British punk, but like more than a few bands on the scene, they had been incubating for quite some time before the Sex Pistols changed the game in the U.K. music scene. The Flys were less interested in the fast and loud template that would soon become de rigueur among the new groups; instead, their music was moody but melodic with a faint dash of psychedelia and a touch of glam, while owing no small influence to the Mod sounds of the '60s. If they sounded smarter and more polished than their peers in the punk community, their swagger and willingness to play with an impact that hit harder than an ordinary pop band gave them their bona fides as part of the New Wave. A lack of chart success kept the Flys from making a major impact during their four-year lifespan, but the singles "Love and a Molotov Cocktail," "Fun City," and "Today Belongs to Me" would belatedly be regarded as lost classics of early U.K. punk, and their sophomore album, 1979's Own, is often cited by fans and critics as their finest work.
Hailing from Coventry in the West Midlands of England, the Flys evolved from a band called Midnight Circus, who specialized in a blend of hard rock and prog. The group was founded by guitarist Neil O'Connor, who wanted to start a band after returning from several months of exploring Europe. O'Connor was studying yoga when his instructor introduced him to her son, David Freeman, who was eager to learn the guitar. Freeman brought along his friend Joe Hughes, and with O'Connor's tutoring, Freeman became proficient on guitar, while Hughes found his niche playing bass. After going through a number of part-time drummers, Midnight Circus found the percussionist they needed when Paul Angelopoulos, originally from Florida, joined the group. Angelopoulos developed a drug habit, however, and a few months after he left the band he died of a drug overdose. Midnight Circus was pondering their next move when O'Connor saw the Clash and was inspired to take their music in a different direction. With Pete King (the brother of the band's manager, Chris King) behind the drums, the band changed their name to the Flys and stripped down their melodies while boosting their on-stage energy. While trying to drum up record company interest, the group booked time at London's Pathway Studios, an affordable eight-track studio where the Damned and Elvis Costello had cut their debut albums. After committing 14 originals to tape, they cherrypicked the best tunes and brought out their debut EP, A Bunch of Fives, that was issued by Chris King on his independent Zama Records label in late 1977.
A Bunch of Fives attracted the attention of EMI Records (one of many labels that had passed on Midnight Circus' demos), and in January 1978, the label signed the Flys, and a track from the EP, "Love and a Molotov Cocktail," was chosen to be their first major-label single. After touring with the Buzzcocks, the Rich Kids, and John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, and recording a BBC radio session for John Peel's influential radio show, the Flys set out to make their first album. With Mike Finesilver as producer, Waikiki Beach Refugees was released in October 1978; while the production muffled some of the band's energy, reviews were positive, but "Fun City" and the title track failed to make an impression as singles, and their failure to crack the charts, coupled with extensive touring, led to frequent quarreling between O'Connor and Freeman.
EMI opted to let the Flys cut a second album, but sessions began after Pete King left the group (his brother would also part company with the Flys as their manager). Graham Deakin, who had previously played in John Entwistle's side project Ox and Frankie Miller's Full House, took over on drums, and this time O'Connor and Freeman produced under the collective handle Two Boys Talking. Sounding brighter and more adventurous than the debut, Own, which came out in October 1979, was more to the Flys' liking, but while they hit the road in support, EMI chose not to release any singles from the LP, though an odds-and-ends EP, Four from the Square, was released the following February to little notice. Like the debut, EMI opted not to release Own in the United States, though the Canadian branch of EMI imprint Harvest Records did release a 1980 compilation called The Flys that featured highlights from both albums. With EMI losing interest in the group and no commercial breakthrough in sight, the Flys disbanded in mid-1980.
Neil O'Connor would go on to play guitar for his sister Hazel O'Connor, who enjoyed chart success in the '80s and starred in the film Breaking Glass; Neil would later shift into production work and relocate to Canada. David Freeman and Joe Hughes would team up in the combo the Lover Speaks, and their 1986 single "No More 'I Love You's'" would later be covered by Annie Lennox. Pete King's career was cut short by cancer; he died when he was only 26. With the passage of time, a cult following rose around the Flys' small but impressive body of work; German funny-punks Die Toten Hosen covered "Love and a Molotov Cocktail" on their 1992 album Learning English: Lesson One (with a guest appearance from Neil O'Connor), and Superchunk recorded a version of "Night Creatures" that appeared on the B-side of their "Slack Motherfucker" single, as well as the compilation set Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91). In 2019, Cherry Red Records released Today Belongs to Me: The Complete Recordings 1977-1980, a definitive collection of their recorded repertoire. ~ Mark Deming