Derek Smalls, the bass force formerly of the fabled heavy metal band formerly known as SPINAL TAP, is back with a vengeance — this time with his sights firmly set on the movie phenomenon of 2023, that advocate of everything pink and fluffy, “Barbie”. The self-described embodiment of lukewarm water reaches boiling point with Smalls‘s first track in five years, “Must Crush Barbie”, an excoriating attack on the pink sensation available everywhere now via Bottomland Productions / Immortal Records.
“Must Crush Barbie” possesses the trademark qualities that Smalls and SPINAL TAP are known for — raw, bass-heavy, and most importantly, LOUD, offering a much-needed antidote to the ubiquitous pinkness that has spilled out of movie theatres this summer and onto the high streets with wall-to-wall media coverage. With “Barbie”‘s forthcoming streaming premiere promising no let-up on the horizon, the furious salvo that is “Must Crush Barbie” offers some kind of relief.
“Been spending the last year or so as Brand Ambassador for BruegelCoin, the Dutch cryptocurrency,” says Smalls. “Since it was cratering this past spring, I was following the news more than usual, which is where I got bombarded by all the ‘Barbie’ B.S. I don’t know which angered me more, but it’s really hard to write a song about crypto. But the overwhelming shroud of pinkness definitely deserved a major pricking. And that’s where I came in.”
The road of rock is a rocky road, and no one’s life exemplifies that more thoroughly than that of Derek Albion Smalls.
Derek was born 1 April “hundreds of years before the dawn of history,” having to endure growing up as an “April Fool’s Baby.” His father, Donald “Duff” Smalls, raised Derek after his mother, Dorothy, left home to join a traveling all-girls jazz band, THE HOTTEN TOTTIES.
While Derek had a quiet school career in his hometown of Nilford, on the River Null in the West Midlands, Duff carried on his work as a telephone handset sanitizer, working for the pioneering firm in the trade, Sani-Phone, until it was absorbed by the former British Telecom, primarily, according to reports at the time, for its “robust bill-collecting operation.”
At age 17, Derek enrolled in the London School of Design, primarily, as he later explained it, “because of the initials.” Like many art-school students of the period, he was more interested in music and soon found himself a member of the all-white Jamaican band SKAFACE. “I never even tried to play the guitar, because it had too many strings and they were too small. Bass felt just right,” he told Ska News.
Walking one day in 1967 through the then-tatty Soho district of London, Derek spotted a “Bass Player Wanted” notice on one of the neighborhood’s lampposts. It turns out Ronnie Pudding had just left the band SPINAL TAP for a solo career after their first single, “Gimme Some Money”, had failed to chart. Derek fit right in and made a notable contribution to the band’s jump on the Flower Power bandwagon, mouthing a silent “We love you” at the end of its performance of “(Listen To) The Flower People” on the short-lived TV music show “Bob’s Your Uncle”.
TAP then went on to carve a reputation as one of England’s loudest bands. Its series of mishaps — breakups and reunions, drummers perishing in bizarre ways — was chronicled in a 1984 film. “A hatchet job,” Derek calls it dismissively. “There were plenty of nights when we found our way to the stage, but of course, they didn’t show you that.”
In the late 1980s, as TAP‘s fortunes waned, Derek joined a Christian heavy-metal band, LAMBSBLOOD. Their best-known song, “Whole Lotta Lord”, made a respectable showing on the Christian charts. To cement his relationship with the band members, all of whom were Americans, Smalls got a Christian “fish tattoo.” As luck would have it, TAP soon reunited for 1992’s “Break Like The Wind” album and toured across America. Concerned that he would have to cover up the tattoo, Derek hired an artist to fix it, and the piece now featured a devil eating the fish.
Following that tour, TAP broke up and reunited twice more, once in 2000 for an American tour that included a historic New York venue that Derek described onstage as “Carnegie Fuckin’ Hall,” and in 2009 for appearances at the Glastonbury Festival and Wembley Arena. In between, Derek cultivated a near-thriving career on camera, building upon his cameo role in the 1979 Spaghetti Eastern “Roma ’79”. He appeared in TV commercials for the Belgian snack food Floop and served for a time as a judge (alongside the lead singer for the Europunk band HOT GARAGE) on the Dutch reality competition show “RokStarz” before the show was rebooted as “Tomorrow’s HipHop Hero”. Derek stepped forward as a composer during this time; his jingle for Floop, “I’m In The Floop Group”, was a regular earworm on European television until the publisher of “The In Crowd” threatened a plagiarism lawsuit.
Derek‘s fortunes have fluctuated with his romantic entanglements. His long-time girlfriend Cindy Stang went through a good share of his back royalties to launch her ill-fated tech start-up, macrame.com. Of that project, Smalls now says ruefully, “It was ahead of its time. Or behind the curve. Or both.” He’s also had his share of personal struggles, having twice sought treatment for Internet addiction.
In 2019, Smalls parlayed his celebrity in the Low Countries of Europe in a position as Brand Ambassador for BruegelCoin, a Dutch-based crypto coin. He made personal appearances outside branches of traditional banks and did TV and press interviews promoting the cryptocurrency. In 2022, BruegelCoin collapsed in a wave of lawsuits. Derek, who had been paid in the novel currency, was out of luck…
“Must Crush Barbie” credits:
Lyrics: Harry Shearer
Music: CJ Vanston
Lead Vocal: Derek Smalls
Drums: Wade Murff
Bass: Derek Smalls
All Other Instruments: CJ Vanston
Backing Vocals: CJ Vanston, Derek Smalls
Barbie SFX: Crystal Springs Water Bottle
Recorded at The Treehouse, N. Hollywood
Produced and mixed by CJ Vanston
Mastered by Lurssen Mastering
Photo credit: Rob Shanahan