In the late 1970s John Robb and Mark Tilton decided to form a punk rock band right out of sixth form college, starting off with a homemade bass guitar and some dustbin lids for that classic, DIY Punk feel.
The Membranes were a post-punk band formed in Blackpool, Lancashire in 1977, the initial line-up being John Robb (bass guitar), Mark Tilton (guitar), Martin Critchley (vocals) and Martin Kelly (drums). Critchley soon left, with Robb and Tilton taking on vocals, and Kelly moving to keyboards, with "Coofy Sid" (Coulthart) taking over on drums. Their first release was the "Flexible Membrane" flexi-disc in 1980, and over the next 11 years they would go on to release 6 studio albums. Their first single proper, "Muscles", was a single of the week in the UK music press and a big club hit in New York being played in the Danceteria by the likes of The Beastie Boys eventual DJ Mojo and other cutting edge New York DJs. Kelly left after "Muscles", to be replaced by Steve Farmery on guitar for the follow-up Pin Stripe Hype EP. The band pioneered the avant noise scene of Big Black and Sonic Youth for several years with their critically acclaimed "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" single and Death To Trad Rock EP (which were indie chart top 5 records in the UK) and their debut Gift Of Life album. They were the first band to be signed to Alan McGee's Creation label but the deal fell though when McGee could not afford to pay their studio bill for the "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" single. The band relocated to Manchester in 1983, and "Spike Milligan's Tape Recorder" was issued on the Criminal Damage label, which met with a positive critical response but distribution problems limited its impact. In 1984/85 The Membranes had a ferocious live reputation with the loudest gigs in the UK and their anti rock attitude. Mark Tilton's quiff and John Robb's exploding hair and wild clothes gave them an instantly recognizable and uncategorizable image. Musically they were beyond punk as well with their dedication to noise but always with songs buried in the power. Tilton's slide guitar and frenetic rhythm guitar combined with Robb's outrageously heavy bass and heartfelt vocals as well as Coofy Sid's pounding drumming created an instantly original sound. After The Membranes, Robb went on to form Sensurround and later Goldblade.