It sounds like a common cause of problems sticking peripherals onto a Raspberry Pi come from unsufficient power supply.
They have a USB port for feeding power in, and I think that encourages people (including myself) to use any old USB compatible supply (even though they explicitly tell you to not do that in the docs...). I tried mine first feeding from my laptop and then from my mifi power supply.
That mifi supply seems to work for regular usage but when I start plugging things into USB it gets all wanky. So I measured the voltage with my trusty old multimeter - it seems to be down around 4.6v, (varying by about 0.1v depending on what I have wired in). That's well below the 4.75v minimum that apparently I should be seeing.
Off the the RS online shop to buy a grown up power supply then...