A Story of UK Independent Punk 1976-1979 (4 CD Set)
Diamond blades and abrasive discs?
Whether taking issue with every conceivable aspect of their upbringing, proposing radical political solutions, or just raising merry hell in their local scout hut, punk cannot be relegated to the side-lines of the musical past. This comprehensive collection over four CDs, taking in famous and not so famous names alike, and with lavish sleeve notes, is a must-have for anyone with a serious interest in early British punk.
Crashing through the door, the first UK punk single, The Damned’s ‘New Rose’, a growling, leader-straining Rottweiler of a tune that set the standard for sheer, unbridled power. Eater’s ‘Outside View’ has all the shouty, snotty vocals, nodding dog basslines and sheet-metal guitars that were the signature style of most punk bands, but with the surprising addition of phasing on the guitars. It is surely Eater’s finest hour. The Radiators from Space’s ‘Television Screen’ weathers well; a great, classic rock and roll riff with cheery, slightly comic lyrics on the inevitabilities of life. The Cortinas’ punk-by-numbers ‘Fascist Dictator’ still has plenty of punch and some nifty guitar work, but it’s The Drones who get the prize for ‘Lookalikes’, a hard, driving rejection of the idiot conformity within-and without-the punk movement. The Lurkers’ ‘Shadow’, a lo-fi chugger with a fear-response guitar shriek is a solid piece of stalking punk, nicely balanced by The Rezillos spinning, riffing ‘I Can’t Stand My Baby’; Fay Fife’s parodic 60’s trash pop vocals shrieking brilliantly over it all.
999’s ‘I’m Alive’ has enough crotch level guitar and snot-nosed vocal to make it a punk classic, and the sheer excitement of the riff makes it one of the finest on offer here. Johnny Moped’s barking cockney voice injects an element of humour into ‘No-One’, it’s hard, churning riff delivered stony-faced by his capable band. Sham 69’s ‘I Don’t Wanna’ has a thundering riff, but only hints at the greatness that would invade the cosy family friendly culture on BBC’s Top of the Pops. Puncture’s ‘Mucky Pup’ will be recalled with affection by those who felt that punk was way too serious in its early days, as will The Snivelling Shits ‘Terminal Stupid’, a slack, neo-psychedelic confection with Teen/B-Movie imagery. Say what you like, punks could write great titles.
The Vacants’ ‘Worthless Trash’ may be identikit punk, but that echoing, barking vocal and buzzsaw guitar perfectly encapsulates the sound of the period. The Zeros ‘Hungry’ shows a Stooges-infused, more positive side to punk. Maniacs’ joyous racket, Chelsea 77, could have been released in the post punk days, and would probably have got more attention, then. The ringing guitars and full throated, gutter vocal, enriched with stuttering, is an absolute classic. The Outsiders ‘One to Infinity’ has more going on than is immediately apparent and repays repeated listening.
The Killjoys’ ‘Johnny Won’t Get To Heaven’ is a slice of pure, angry confrontation, with Kevin Rowland in his first band, delivering a hoarse, aggressive vocal that is perfect for the style. The magnificently named Johnny and the Self Abusers throw a mean left hook in ‘Saints and Sinners’, while The Unwanted’s ‘Withdrawal’ and The Pigs ‘Youthanasia’ feel more like the speedy, stereotypical punk of the time. The Wasps’ ‘Teenage Treats’ leans towards the power pop that would follow punk later in the decade, and Lockjaw’s ‘Radio Call Sign’ hints at jerky post punk a little before the style was ready.
Neon Hearts squall-like ‘Venus Eccentric’ brings in that rarely used instrument in punk bands, the saxophone, but to little memorable effect. Further proof that punks had a sense of humour, is the Jerks’ ‘Get Your Woofing Dog off me’, but The Panik’s shouty, disgruntled vocals of ‘Modern Politics’ takes us back to punk-a-like territory. Some Chicken’s ‘New Religion’ has all the muddy guitar riffing and complaint rock vocals you would expect, but does little to light the fires at this distance in time.
The Carpettes ‘Radio Wunderbar’ is a pleasing, power pop racket; with The Flys’ singalong ‘Love and a Molotov Cocktail’ may be the best chorus, here. Only the meanest, most curmudgeonly critic would grumble about the inclusion of the Albertos Y Los Trios Paranoias’ gloriously funny ‘Gobbing on Life’. Our first CD closes on a high, with The Only Ones off-kilter, yet beautifully melodic ‘Lovers of Today’ and Suspects’ screaming guitar-infused ‘Nothing to Declare’, playing live at The Vortex.
CD2 opens with the fondly remembered, cross-riff laden Swell Maps’ ‘Read about Seymour’, and passes on to original punk poet Patrik Fitzgerald’s whimsical ‘Safety Pin Stuck In My Heart’. A cracking demo of the Boys’ ‘No Leaders’ opens with harmonics you don’t expect and the great fuzzy guitars you do. The Stoats’ irresistibly cute ‘Office Girl’ proved even punks could be sweet, followed closely by Acme Sewage Co’s riffy but stereotypical ‘I Don’t Need You’. V2’s ‘Speed Freak’, opening with the ever popular air raid siren, launches itself headlong into an insistent guitar hook and stentorian vocal, without distinguishing itself much. Bazoomis’ ‘Give It All to Me’ has more going for it than the average effort, and with a chorus they did well not to put into the title. Raped’s ‘Moving Target’ is more of the same grumble-heavy rock, as is Big G’s ‘I Hate The Whole Human Race’, albeit with a killer guitar churn and a great, music hall chorus.
The thundering battery that opens Subs ‘Gimme Your Heart’ promises and delivers much, and Tubeway Army’s ‘That’s Too Bad’ has none of the icy electronica of their more famous incarnation, but nevertheless a nimble bassline and some neat guitar wash to complement Gary Numan’s signature whine. It’s up to Xtraverts’ ‘Blank Generation’ to inject some bile into the proceedings, but is neutralised by the power pop music hall humour of Fruit Eating Bears’ ‘Door in My Face’. Front’s ‘System’ offers up some excellent twangy guitar and vocals more reminiscent of the early 70’s than the year it’s credited to.
The brilliantly named Satan’s Rats’ ‘You Make Me Sick’ is a standard workout peppered with a clanging guitar solo, but it’s the mighty Stiff Little Fingers who shine here, with the barnstorming ‘Suspect Device’. Menace’s ‘GLC’ takes us back to standard punk shout-a-long, enriched with a chorus that would win them no airplay. The Dyaks’ ‘Gutter Kids’ chiming guitars and homeboy charm has a lot going for it, and Skids obviously hit upon their signature sound early with ‘Reasons’. It has another fine guitar solo in a musical style often blamed wrongly for being totally unmusical. Rudi’s hard to resist ‘Big Time’ fires on all four cylinders from the start, a totally satisfying single.
If your bag happens to be crazed, shouty nonsense, then The Art Attacks ‘I Am A Dalek’ will do for you, Bears’ ‘On Me’ offers a winding bass riff and shouted, soaring vocal that lingers in the mind long after even one listen. O Level‘s ‘Pseudo Punk’ is a standard punker-than-thou slanging match, contrasting with The Members’ ode to the loneliness that characterises many big cities, ‘Solitary Confinement’, because hey, punks can be sensitive too. Nipple Erectors ‘King of the Bop’ is a shambling, bragging rock ‘n’ roll affair, and all the better for it. The Angelic Upstarts ‘The Murder of Liddle Towers’ is perhaps the angriest of all punk singles, the incendiary vocal shredding the air over wild backing, with a truly nerve-jangling interlude. Our second CD closes with Mean Streets’ music hall bop, ‘Bunch of Stiffs’, an indication that, for all the supposed antagonism between punk and rock ‘n’ roll, the two cults remained close cousins.
ATV open the third CD with ‘Action Time Vision’, after which this compilation is named, an elevating song with an insistent repeat riff and Mark Perry’s strangely affecting voice making it a stand out track. Social Security’s ‘I Don’t Want My Heart To Rule My Head’ has more a classic 60’s punk feel to it, all descending chords and yelping vocals. The Tights’ ‘Bad Hearts’ has the feel of a well-produced routine workout, as does Riff Raff’s ‘Cosmonaut’. The Dole’s ‘New Wave Love’ is a breath of fresh air, a little bit of jaunty keyboard in with the buzzing guitars, and with a cheeky lyric. The raw, unprocessed Joy Division perform a V-U inspired ‘Failures’, as muddy and lo-fi as they wanted to be, and as if by way of complete contrast, Leyton Buzzards slap down a punk by numbers ’19 and Mad’. These men would, within a couple of years, be singing ‘Ay y Ay Ay Moosey’ in shiny suits. Demon Preacher lay aside the black Eucharist to treat us to an uninspired girl-baiting ‘Little Miss Perfect’, followed by the much more listener friendly ‘Just another Teenage Rebel’, a danceable slice of near-surf by The Outcasts.
In amongst all this dumb furore, there were some well-read souls who would wield a scalpel to the zeitgeist. By the pricking of my thumbs, it’s The Fall, and their full frontal attack on abusive mental hospital staff, ‘Pyscho Mafia’. This song sounds as powerful, as uncompromising and as far-removed from the general run of pop music as it did then. Chelsea’s ‘Urban Kids’ is one of their less distinguished sides, but no matter, Protex’s ‘Don’t Ring Me Up’ has plenty of classic punk riffs and a tune that would cheer up a manic depressive. The Cravats’ shambling ‘Gordon’ has a neo-psychedelic charm not lost on this reviewer, with the punk by numbers football chant ‘England 77’ by Horrorcomic in hot pursuit.
UK Subs do what they do best with ‘C.I.D.’, a hard, driving warning to those in search of vicarious thrills. Spizzoil’s ‘6000 Crazy’ sets the tone for veteran punk Spizz’s many incarnations, an avant-garde guitar-pounder strangely reminiscent of ‘Do The Strand’. Brighton’s The Dodgems ‘I Don’t Care’ (full version, as threatened) has all the humour that some folk felt punk lacked. The Users can’t resist a good driving riff, with ‘Kicks in Style’, with Peter and the Test Tube Babies helpfully keeping us up to date with the news in ‘Elvis Is Dead’. The Ruts’ magnificent ‘In a Rut’ takes pride of place on this third CD, its tough love message particularly poignant considering the tragic fate of singer Malcolm Owen.
The amusingly named Disco Zombies’ ‘Drums over London’ is a good example of why only some bands can get away with titles like this. The quirky Nicky & The Dots ‘Never Been So Stuck’ reminds us why punk was a broader church than it was ever given credit for. The Shapes childish chugger ‘Wot’s For Lunch Mum?’ (Not B***s Again) perhaps beggars the reply ‘Sh*t With Sugar On’. No Way’s hard, shrieking, grinding ‘Breaking Point’ is a standout, followed by a cheeky Joy Division-like secret track. The Wall’s reggae tinged ‘New Way’ has a lot going for it, and our third CD closes with The Hollywood Brats’ guitar-mangling, shouty madness, ‘Sick on You’, taking punk to its inevitable conclusion.
With our hearts in our mouths, we pass on to CD4, opening with the mighty Adam and the Ants, swaggering their way to fame and fortune with ‘Zerox’, albeit in different directions. If anyone out there can tell whether Notsensibles’ ‘Death to Disco’ is for or against that popular style of music, please let me know. The Vice Creems’ rough-as-robbery ‘Danger Love’ is a delight to the ears, and at least primes you for the macabre horror comic strip of Murder the Disturbed’s ‘DNA’. Speaking of comics, The Cockney Rejects’ ‘Flares and Slippers’ would bring a smile to the face of the worst type of misery guts. Psykik Volts’ knew more about music than they’re letting on, in their classically-inspired march, ‘Totally Useless’.
The Molesters get five points for the band name and a three for effort with their ‘The End of Civilization’, a capable dirge that bears up to repeated listening. The Newtown Neurotics take us back to basic, snotty punk with ‘Hypocrite’, and nothing wrong with that. Pure Hell’s unnecessary cover of ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ adds little more than a speed riff to the old 60’s chestnut. Fire Exit’s ‘Timewall’ shows us a richer colour palette than the standard punk thrash of the period, and a flashy guitar solo to boot. The Pack’s ‘King of Kings’ shows the fury and promise which would later transform into Theatre of Hate. Steroid Kiddies’ ‘Dumb Dumb’ has welcome elements of 60’s punk buoying it up, and English Subtitles ‘Time Tunnel’ takes us in a definite post punk direction with its melancholic guitar and military beat.
The Proles’ ‘Soft Ground’ also leans toward a neo-psychedelia, underpinned by standard punk guitar, and The Adicts urgent, slicing guitar figure and shocked vocal on ‘Easy Way Out’ once again elicits the fear response, to great effect. The Dark’s ‘My Friends’ has no such sepulchral corners, a fun love song to that drug of the nation, television. The magnificently named Woody & The Splinters’ rather ruin it by making a record, in this case, the busy but ultimately uninteresting ‘I Must Be Mad’. A similar fate awaits Victim’s childhood joke, ‘Why Are Fire Engines Red’. The X-Certs’ ‘Anthem’ approaches country picking but loses itself in its desire to go somewhere fast. F-X’s ‘Slag’ is more fun than you might expect, and the sound effects and stage cockney voices propel punk into the music hall it surely had some vestigial roots in.
The Rivals’ ‘Future Rights’ moody Who-like opening pays dividends, a great marching beat that raises itself head and shoulders above the usual output of the times. Silent Noise’s ‘I’ve Been Hurt (So Many Times Before) can’t quite decide whether to sound like the Mancunian love-lorn band of legend, or the West London spikies, but I’ll not hold it against them. Vice Squad’s screaming tirade, ‘Nothing’ is a fair example of the ‘Don’t Mend What Isn’t Broken’ school of thought, and The Prefects ‘Things in General’ takes the prize for the most disinterested title, and song, in the whole collection. The Licks’ ‘1970’s Have Been Made in Hong Kong’ couldn’t possibly live up to its eloquent title, as its staccato punk stodge proves.
It’s left up to Fatal Microbes to deliver the chilling parable ‘Violence Grows’ and Poison Girls’ searing attack on Big Pharma and its handmaiden, psychiatry, in ‘Under The Doctor’, to close this eclectic, varied and above all, honest collection of sounds from the first punk era. From a snotty, teenage craze to viable all-ages lifestyle in just a few years, punk regularly thumps its sweaty fist on the table, to remind us that not only is it still very much alive, but it’s got no time for the likes of you. BUY HERE!