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British PUNK ROCK 1978 to 1980

Britain in 1977 provided the spatial location for a crucial turning point in the existence of ideological Punk Rock. There is no real sense of 'ideological' development (or degeneration if you conceptualise change as being essentially negative) between the rhetoric used by Punk Rock bands such as the Fugs in the mid-sixties, and later examples of the genre, for example the Deviants or the MC5. It was only with the new wave explosion of 1977 that it became possible to transform quantity into quality. However, before dealing with the four stage unfolding of Punk Rock between 1977 and the mid-nineties, I wish to look at some dead ends as far as this particular genre is concerned, while simultaneously stressing that this does not necessarily imply that they were unproductive in terms of new, or at any rate other, cultural discourses.

Various stabs have been made at parodying ideological Punk Rock but without doubt the Snuff Rock EP by Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias, released on Stiff Records in September 1977, was simultaneously one of the best and most ill-judged homages to the subgenre. The record was such a perfect imitation of its intended target that it failed to work as parody and became instead a great Punk Rock novelty item. Punk Rock ideology isn't coherent in its rhetorical posturing and so the lyrics to Kill simply blend into the discourse: 'I don't give a damn / I don't fuckin' care / Gonna kill me mum and dada / And pull out me hair / I'm fed up with the dole and the human race / I'm gonna cut me liver out and shove it in your face / Kill, yeah kill!' These and the words to the other three tracks moronically reiterate Punk Rock platitudes, which were never intended as anything other than rhetoric in the first place. For example, Gobbing On Life, which is every bit as good as Kill, includes lines such as 'Living isn't easy when you're young and broke and on the dole' and 'Living is a cliché it's all been done before / Death is the only thing we've got left to live for.'

A less self-conscious exploration of the entangled subgenres of punk rock and Punk Rock can be found on the Depressions' eponymous first album released by Barn Records in 1978. The platter opens with the classic Screw Ya:

"There's a certain little number gonna make it with / And she's standing at the back of the hall / I know she's a raver all my mates have laid her behind the classroom wall / I can't wait for the bell to ring to show her how I use my tool / Tonight I'm gonna screw ya... Let's go down to the woods where I can feel your goods / I want to know where my mates have been / Better be no lies about you parting your thighs because I've heard you can be quite obscene / Slip you hand down there let me undo you jeans / Let me give it to you really mean / Tonight I'm gonna screw ya... gonna give it to you so hard that you won't forget / Bring tears to your eyes and cream to your thighs / I'm the best thing that you've had so far yet..."

If this sounds like 'socialism of the trenches' and to a certain degree it does, then the sheer incoherence of the 'messages' given off by the entire album demonstrate that such rhetoric shouldn't be taken too seriously; in the end it is simply brilliantly empty 'teenage' posturing. In Chains And Leather, the singer howls that his girlfriend treats him 'like a dog', while Career Girl unintentionally demonstrates the complexity of social stratification. Without wishing to deny the existence of patriarchy, it should be obvious that class is an equally important factor mediating the distribution of social power, as is evident from the sorry saga narrated by the Depressions:

"She's studying her books / She's left me in the cold / She's gonna be a teacher just you wait and see / And now I'm on the dole queue she's got no time for me / There's nothing really like her on this side of town / I won't see my career girl / She's just not around..."

The Depressions are what the Stranglers would have been if they'd belonged on the PUNK ROCK scene, instead of being a bunch of bores. The consciously adopted and very coherent ideology of misogyny spouted by the Stranglers is utterly tedious. For examples of this see the chapter on the band in Caroline Coon's 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion (Second edition, Omnibus Press, London 1982). While one can argue the toss about whether or not the Depressions were 'sexist' and to be honest I don't really care, there can be no doubt that the Stranglers were self-professed male supremacists. Apart from ideological coherence, the other important difference between the two groups is that of sound; while keyboard playing is an important feature of the Stranglers music, the Depressions were a guitar based band. Even on their second album, If You Know What I Mean, when the Depressions were evolving away from PUNK ROCK towards a more 'mainstream' rock sound (and had shortened their name to the DPs as a way of signifying this), their music was infinitely superior to that of the Stranglers. Although by 1979 the Depressions had disappeared without trace, having spent their record company advances on drugs and a huge truck, they remain one of the best bands to have come out of Brighton, beating the Levellers hands down any day!

Another PUNK ROCK band who disappeared, albeit in a far more spectacular way, were Adam And The Ants. Although the group later split asunder, creating two of the great pop groups of the nineteen-eighties (Bow Wow Wow and a combo who retained the original name), from 1977 through to the following year, the Ants attempted to push ideological Punk Rock in one very particular direction. The slogan 'Ant Music For Sex People' summarises this highly entertaining evolutionary dead end for the Punk Rock subgenre. In their early days, the band kicked off their set with Plastic Surgery, a hilarious song which included these lines of advice to a car crash victim whose face has been 'restored': 'Don't go sitting in the sun / Your new face might start to run / Just forget your make-up scheme / Clean your face with Mr Sheen.'

The Ants had a twisted sense of humour, hence their black leather stage wear and songs about perversion. Typical of their 'high' kitsch stance was Whip In My Valise, with its chorus of 'Your sadistic suits my masochistic / There's a whip in my valise / Who taught you to torture'. Even better is Beat My Guest, which wasn't issued on vinyl until 1981, when it was placed on the B-side of kiddie pop hit Stand And Deliver. Who knows what ten year old Adam Ant fans made of the lyrics:

"Tie me up and hit me with a stick / Beat me, beat me / Use a truncheon or a household brick / Beat me, beat me / Black and blue, baby I love you... Hit me please make me bleed... There's so much happiness behind my tears / Beat me, beat me / I pray you beat me for ten thousand years / Beat me, beat me..."

Unfortunately, very few of the songs the Ants played live prior to their vinyl debut have been officially released and even those that made it onto the B-sides of their early eighties pop hits featured fresh arrangements that lost in impact what they'd gained in sophistication. Numbers such as Fat Fun, which are only available on bootlegs (a version was officially released as part of the Ants Box after this book was published), provide a fine metaphorical account of the twisted love-hate relationship that exists between Punk Rock idols and their audience:

"Baby you're so overweight / Baby you're no one / Baby you're an ugly date / Looking for someone / So crave on fat fun, yeah / Fat fun / You look like a fucking walrus / Laying on the beach / You're too fat to see yourself / You're just my porky peach / So crave on fat fun, yeah / Fat fun / One day girl I'm gonna take you out / I'm gonna stop your meals / Baby I'll sew up your mouth / Till your stomach squeals / So crave on fat fun, yeah / Fat fun!"

What makes the Ants in particular, and PUNK ROCK in general, so appealing is that it doesn't care if it offends. Take, for example, the words to It Doesn't Matter: 'I'd love to kiss you baby / Fall for your charms / But that's all over when you lift up your arms / It doesn't matter / It doesn't matter / I'll get by with another, baby you smell.' Given that during the late seventies the Ants had a mixed race drummer, kids at their gigs were unlikely to miss the point that the song Puerto-Rican was intended as an attack on racism. As a result, Adam Ant's lyrical approach to this subject was typically taboo breaking, he simply confronted his audience with bigotry and hate:

"A chick like you is oh so rare / You get off on his greasy hair / You've got a smart apartment / You've got central heating / Why go and waste it on a Puerto-Rican / I'm gonna light up a beacon on a Puerto-Rican / Strike a matchstick on his head / Light up a beacon on a Puerto-Rican / Watch me smile as he drops down dead."

Unfortunately, with the passing years the irony in these words is much less apparent than it would have been in 1978. Although the Ants used Dirk Wears White Sox as the title of their first album, they never officially issued the song of the same name. This is a shame because it gave Mel Brooks circa The Producers a run for his money:

"If you have a social problem / Prospects of success are slim / We just hope that you will telephone / Say 'Hello is Heinrich in?' / We will send our representatives / Don't be frightened when they call around / For they are all men of action / They will kick your front door down / You've got to concentrate on kicks / In a concentration camp / Off with their bloody dicks / In a concentration camp / We get rid of foolish people / Brothers, sisters, cousins on... Come along we'll be delighted / You can get a uniform for free / Shiny boots of soft black leather / Oh how proud your mum would be / You've got to concentrate on kicks / In a concentration camp / Off with their bloody dicks / In a concentration camp / Do what you wanna do / See what you wanna see / Lock them up in a prison / Throw the key away / Now the ones who laugh at you / Thought you were a clown / Gamble fate against your hate / Falling on the ground / We'll go to a Berlin nightclub / All the acts are so risqué / Many people have a motto / Boy tomorrow, girl today / Now's the time to leave you wardrobe / Just forget your social bent / Bring it all out in the open / We can use your decadence..."

While these words are anything but profound, it's worth quoting them at length because they are both very funny and typical of taboo breaking Punk Rock lyrics during the late seventies. They also illustrate that rather than being socially progressive, Punk Rock contained a provocative ambiguity.

After dealing with PUNK music in the first chapter, I have subsequently concentrated on lyrics because these have provided a focus in the work of 'contemporary cultural critics' and other cretins who are idiotic enough to look for 'the meaning of life' in plastic platters. However, the music should not be overlooked since it is as much a vehicle for the 'nuances' of the genre as the words. Likewise, the 'beat' is a means of whipping the listener into a state of excitement, which in its turn makes them more receptive to the lyrics, regardless of their content. To a large extent PUNK ROCK depends on volume for its impact, and the thumping great rhythm literally affects the muscular structure of the body.

As a genre, PUNK ROCK is to a large degree shaped by the response of an international audience to what, perhaps, appears to be an unending stream of records. Nevertheless, live performance occupies a peculiarly important position among exponents of this style of music. Although in my teenage years I attended concerts by a good many of the bands who have been cited on previous pages, this is not of sufficient interest to warrant detailed description. Instead, I will restrict myself to a series of anecdotes concerning one particular group, in the hope that this will give a flavour of what it was like to follow any number of bands.

Although I'd run into Frazer Towman, the first Crisis singer, at various PUNK ROCK gigs in 1977, I missed the band's first few public appearances out of sheer laziness. I finally caught them live at their fifth gig in January 1978. I can remember walking into Woking town centre and a couple of kids of fifteen, my age at the time, trying to pick a fight. The lippier of the two bastards attempted to come on all theatrical, slowly removing his leather gloves. He didn't like Punks, although seeing as I was dressed in a sixties tonic jacket, shirt, Levis and boots, with very short hair, I'd located myself somewhere between Punk and the re-emerging Mod and Skinhead subcultures. Anyway, when I gave the more aggressive bozo a hard shove into the on-coming traffic, these two idiots realised that despite being alone, I wasn't going to be pushed around, so they pissed off. In 1977, and at the beginning of '78, most 'PUNK violence' occurred outside concert halls, but over the next couple of years things started getting a lot more fraught at 'new wave' gigs.

I got down to the Centre Halls and there was a real buzz because Menace and Sham 69 were top of the bill. I hadn't been inside long when Crisis came on. I wasn't too impressed by the drummer, Insect Robin Ledger aka the Cleaner, who looked like a twat thanks to his beard. However, once the band struck up, Frazer leapt on stage dressed in rubber trousers and a rapist's mask and I was well impressed. The songs were basic PUNK ROCK thrash with polemical lyrics: 'I am a militant / I am a picket / I fought at Lewisham / I fought at Grunwick / See, see the lies / See the lies civilise me / See, see the lies / See the lies can't you see?' or 'Search and destroy / Search and destroy the Nazis / The National Front / Smash the National Front / Annihilate, annihilate, annihilate, annihilate, annihilate'. Of course, it turned out that the words were written by rhythm guitarist Doug Pearce (who was in the International Marxist Group) and bassist Tony Wakeford (who was a member of the Socialist Workers Party). The cream on the cake was lead guitarist Lester Jones, aka Lester Picket, who could not only play very well, he also did an excellent impression of Mick Jones taking off Keith Richards.

It didn't take a 'genius' to work out Crisis had been inspired by the Clash, but what was interesting was that songwriters Doug and Tony took Strummer's revolutionary rhetoric seriously. Although the dialectical evolution of Punk Rock was to progress in a diametrically opposed direction from that in which Crisis were attempting to push it, the group nevertheless had an intuitive grasp of what the genre was about. Before playing a key role in the promotion of the Oi! movement, future Sun hack Gary Bushell hyped Crisis as reminding him 'of Sham a couple of months back, musically simple and muscular' (Sounds 16 September 1978) and 'a clenched fist rammed hard into the flabby belly of the just-for-fun music punk has become' ('Music To March To', Sounds 18 November 1978). Bushell understood that the way forward for ideological Punk Rock was to rhetorically take to the streets. Crisis appeared to be doing just that, although the fact that at least some of the band took their 'revolutionary communist' image seriously prevented them emulating Sham 69's chart success.

When I think of Crisis all sorts of images flash through my mind. I can remember a whole bunch of the band's friends stealing crates of lager from behind the bar when the group played South Bank Polytechnic. Then there was the time in Brixton when Ken, the skinhead junkie, jumped on stage to wave a knife about and threaten to cut up the bastard who'd punched out his girlfriend. She'd actually passed out from alcoholic excess. Another time, Rockin' Pete, a Teddy Boy, turned up at a Hackney gig to announce that he'd finally joined the Socialist Workers Party as though this was an act of some great significance! Then there was the performance on a side-stage at the second Anti-Nazi League Carnival when guitarist Doug P. was carted off to hospital after being electrocuted. But what I remember mainly were punch-ups, towards the end of the band's brief life it seemed as though there were always fights at Crisis gigs.

The most famous Crisis ruck was rather inaccurately reported under the headline 'Rudies Don't Care' (Sounds 7 July 1979). An equally distorted account of the night can be found in the pro-situ pamphlet Like A Summer With A Thousand Julys by ex-King Mob members Dave and Stuart Wise, whose even sillier text The End Of Music did a great deal to help promote the ludicrous notion that PUNK ROCK was somehow 'musical Situationism'. The actual cause of this particular 'punk riot' was not, as the 'Wise' brothers falsely claim, various boot boys being refused entry to the Acklam Hall in Notting Hill, but a Ladbroke Grove Skin who'd been granted admission, attempting to feel up a girl who followed Crisis. Taking exception to this, the chick booted the bastard in the bollocks, severely crippling the cunt. The slime-bag was too embarrassed to admit to his mates that he'd been beaten up by a bird and so he pointed me out as the person who'd given him the kicking.

I was standing in front of the stage as Crisis played, surrounded by mates, but the Ladbroke Grove Skins wrongly assumed I was on my own. When four of these twats attempted to kick my head in, they quickly found the odds turning against them as not only the audience but also the band, who'd leapt off-stage, waded in on my side. The Ladbroke Grove Skins were lucky to escape from the hall without any particularly grievous injuries. Crisis finished their set and a reggae band was playing when the skins returned mob handed, they'd rounded up sixty mates who were tooled up with hammers and pick-axe handles. This crew attempted to charge the security on the door but quick thinking Crisis fans formed a defensive line and beat them back. Meanwhile, the reggae band had locked themselves and their gear in a back room. Simultaneously, the Crisis crew threw a barricade of tables and chairs against the door while piping was ripped from the walls for use as offensive weapons.

Never inclined to stick to defensive tactics and having secured the hall. assorted members of Crisis and their hardcore following stormed out into the street to lay into the mob besieging the venue. Among the more memorable of improvised weapons were motorcycle helmets that were brought cracking down onto cropped scalps. With numerous injuries on both sides, the Ladbroke Grove Skins were eventually beaten off by the superior fighting skills of Crisis and their friends. Although the band's transit had been trashed, with all windows smashed, the motor started and the crew loaded up the gear before piling in. Everyone thought the first stop was going to be Brixton but just down the road we spotted two of the boot boys who'd started the trouble in the hall. The driver pulled up and a score of skinheads and punks leapt from the van.

The two Ladbroke Grove Skins ran into the very hospital where those injured during the ruck had been taken for treatment. One was caught and given a kicking in front of a night nurse; the bozo had landed in the right place to have his wounds stitched up, perhaps he knew that he'd never evade his pursuers as he legged it into casualty. The other skin disappeared down a maze of corridors and, as far as I'm concerned, has never been heard of again. It should be made clear that this wasn't punk versus skinhead violence, which was very common at the time. Although the majority of people associated with Crisis could be loosely described as 'punks', bassist Tony Wakeford had adopted the skinhead look before this incident, as had some of those who followed the band. Likewise, a segment of the audience attending Crisis gigs were by this time geared up in rockabilly threads. The ability of this subculturally mixed crew to see off the Ladbroke Grove Skins contrasts very favourably with the next occasion on which these boot boys besieged the Acklam Hall. Incapable of fighting their way out, Oi! band the Last Resort and their fans, who at the time were being portrayed by the media as the ultimate violent hooligans, had to be rescued by the police!

Other incidents I can relate about Crisis are much funnier. For example, having gone through a succession of stickmen, Crisis recruited Luke Rendall as their new drummer. Rendall was very nervous about his debut with the band, needlessly so because he was a great musician, as he demonstrated both that night and on many other occasions with Crisis and Theatre Of Hate. To psyche himself up, Luke gulped down a handful of blues and because he was speeding he played the songs far faster than usual. Two numbers into the set, rhythm guitarist Doug Pearce turned around and asked Rendall if he could slow down. The drummer shock his head and spat 'no, mate, no,' before launching into the next song at double speed.

One gig in Reading ran so late that after staying for the encores, the hardcore following missed the last train home. Crisis got about in a small bakery van but nevertheless felt obliged to provide transport for their mates. That night there were four people crammed onto a front seat that was designed for two passengers. So that everyone else could fit in the back, kids had to lie on top of both the equipment and each other. Coming out of Reading, the transit was stopped by some cops who'd observed that the vehicle was severely overloaded. The filth told everyone to get out and couldn't believe their eyes when fifteen youths emerged from the rear of the van. 'Jesus!' a boneheaded constable exclaimed, 'we've enough of 'em 'ere for an identification parade!'

A more typical anecdote about Crisis concerns their reputation as violent nutters. Certain members of the group and some of their followers liked fighting. Whenever the opportunity arose, they'd beat up neo-fascists, and if there weren't any Nazis about to give a kicking, they'd pick on anyone, including each other. The group's last gig was as support act to Magazine at Surrey University in May 1980. While the gear was being set up, a friend of the band called Aggy threw food over Dexter No-Name, who at that time handled vocals for Crisis. Dexter was less than pleased and proceeded to hospitalise his mate. The Student Entertainment Officer was totally freaked out, and ran off screaming: 'the gig hasn't even started and already you're beating each other up!'

Crisis are at once typical and atypical of late seventies ideological Punk Rock at the cross-roads of dialectical change. The revolutionary commitment of Doug and Tony was at odds with the attitude of the rest of the band and their fans, most of whom weren't interested in taking politics very seriously. The band issued two singles and a mini-album during their brief career, while one single appeared posthumously. They played something approaching a hundred gigs in Britain, mainly political benefits, and did a Rock Against Racism tour of Norway. While I went to a lot of gigs in the late seventies, I saw Crisis more times than any other band and so it is only natural for me to use them as a means of illustrating the type of activity that will reinforce the image of any given group as an ideological Punk Rock combo. Obviously, image cannot be reduced to behaviour but, alongside clothes and record sleeves, it plays a major role in how any given group is perceived by the public.

Crisis adopted a modus operandi that could be characterised as underground, after unfortunate experiences with a couple of independent labels they proceeded to put out their own product. This is a mark of their deviation from the rhetoric of Punk Rock and the beginnings of a tentative engagement with other forms of activity in which such ideals move out of the symbolic realm and take on a material reality. Some of these proclivities found a more conscious articulation in Death In June, the band founded by Doug Pearce and Tony Wakeford after Crisis split. However, this is not the place to deal with such issues. In all probability, theoretical work in this area will be left to less capable hands because I have no plans to compose a text about those tendencies whose activities were simultaneously related and opposed to the rhetoric of 'ideological' Punk Rock. The point to remember here is that Crisis were considerably more successful than the average band issuing their own records in 1979/80. If Crisis had been a typical Punk Rock band, they would have signed to an independent label who would have provided them with greater sales and a smaller percentage of revenue from their record releases.

In fact, most bands assumed that their career trajectory would take a sudden leap once they'd signed a deal with a major label. However, the corporate music industry is just as likely to be a highway to oblivion as a ticket to success. A typical example of this process is provided by Masterswitch, who I saw on the bill alongside Sham, Menace, Speedometers and Crisis at Woking Centre Halls in January 1978. Masterswitch were a bunch of poseurs and to wind them up, I leapt on stage with two other punks, before proceeding to scream into a microphone set up for backing vocals. The group were well pissed off and stormed off stage, where they called upon Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 to restore order. Masterswitch then played a few more numbers after which the singer shouted 'see you at Wembley' before disappearing into a dressing room. A few months later their only single, Action Replay, came out on the CBS subsidiary Epic. Instead of becoming a stadium act, the group sank so completely without trace there aren't many record dealers specialising in late seventies new wave and PUNK ROCK who have heard of them, let alone are capable of naming this release.

Another PUNK ROCK group who signed to a major label and yet failed to make much of an impact were London. Their MCA long player, Animal Games, is much better than the more collectable Suburban Studs album Slam, on the independent Pogo label. Nevertheless, it's Slam that's been reissued on CD in the Anagram Punk Collectors Series (after this book was published Animal Games was also reissued on CD). No doubt this is partly because it's generally easier to licence product that was independently released, although it also reflects the way in which a certain type of record collector has bought into a highly nebulous notion of 'independence'. Of course, it is only fair to admit that London didn't impress me when I caught them live in May 1977, but then it may have been a duff gig. In retrospect, drummer John Moss is both an asset and a liability. I was impressed by Moss when I caught him beating time with the Damned in December 1977, in what turned out to be a very temporary replacement of Rat Scabies. However, many PUNK ROCK record collectors will be put off London by the fact that Moss went on to achieve fame as the drummer with chart topping Culture Club.

Northerners Cyanide also signed to a major label, but went nowhere fast despite making all the noises Pye Records expected from a PUNK ROCK band. Hate The State and Mac The Flash on the group's self-titled debut album feature plenty of rhetorical transgression. The group's third and last single recently turned up on Back To Front Volume 5 and this will no doubt lead to a revival of interest in the band. While Cyanide went nowhere, Dead Fingers Talk were going backwards, since they sounded like an English version of Television on their Pye long player Storm The Reality Studios. Only We Got The Message came anywhere close to the PUNK ROCK genre and songs like Nobody Loves You When You're Old And Gay showed that their interests really lay elsewhere. Polydor did much better with the Jam but failed to capitalise on their Glasgow based 'mod' signing the Jolt, whose songs epitomised the late seventies punk rock lyrical approach with titles such as I Can't Wait and No Excuses.

In terms of kitsch, Raped, who recorded on the independent Parole label, took Punk Rock to a logical dead end. Their brand of Glam Punk tended towards transvestism and the band demonstrated that nothing was beneath them by calling their first EP Pretty Paedophiles. In dealing with this group, whose image was a good deal more significant than their music, I can best illustrate their impact by relating an anecdote about purchasing their product. There is a record dealer in Worthing who is notorious for his right-wing views and the fact that he was once a member of the National Front, as I discovered from several South Coast acquaintances after relating how excited he'd become when I'd purchased secondhand Skrewdriver platters from his shop. Since this creature had provided replacement copies of numerous PUNK records I'd long ago lost, I went back a month or so later, where among other things I picked up the Raped single Cheap Night Out. The best thing about this record is its tacky picture sleeve, and it was worth a lot more than the pound I paid to see the look on the right-armed record dealer's face when he rung up the item and it dawned on him that rather than being a 'patriot', I was actually some kind of 'pervert'. The bozo was seriously distressed! This is, of course, what PUNK ROCK is all about. As well as creating an imagined community, it brings into being enemies who are disgusted by everything the genre represents.

Previous: Chapter V: We Need Another Vietnam

Next: Chapter VII: Back Street Kids

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