My life in punk!

Okay, so I know that Prog rocks, that no one plays the blues like Led Zeppelin, and that “heavy metal is the law”, but I often wonder what fellow rock fans make of the so-called punk revolution. For what it’s worth, here’s my own take on it.

With apologies to readers who like the Sex Pistols, I’ve always thought that their output is overrated and their influence on music exaggerated. I did, however, like the spikiness/edginess that punk gave a lot of late 70s/early 80s pop. I liked the early Police stuff, for example, and the pop-punk of the Buzzcocks (“ever fallen in love with someone?”) and I always found The Stranglers intriguing (and a bit ‘Doorsy’ in places). Despite their popularity and standing, I was never too taken with The Clash – except “I Fought the Law” – despite numerous attempts to ‘give them another go’.

Of course, there was a need to break the profit-driven grip that the music industry had on emerging talent, and maybe it was true that a lot of rock music had become bloated, self-indulgent and pretentious. But the Pistols themselves turned out, in modern parlance, to be “product” and it didn’t take the industry long to catch-on and start peddling the new music for its own commercial gain. And, it seems to me, a lot of bands did rather jump on the punk bandwagon.

Nevertheless, the simpler, more urgent and more aggressive approach of punk did have its place, and there were many who took the punk ethic very seriously.

In that respect, I had a bit more time for some anarcho-punk bands – aided and abetted by my mate Marv who was always playing me stuff and showing me lyrics. I thought that local band Icons of Filth had great artwork and the best name ever. I enjoyed meeting vocalist Stig (who once had a girlfriend “nicked” by Ian Astbury) and remember guitarist Simon from school. I enjoyed listening to Chumbawamba – in particular their ‘Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records’ album and the brilliantly named ‘Never Mind the Ballots’, and I liked the sound of an American band called MDC. I also got into a bit of Psychobilly, especially some stuff by King Kurt, and an album called ‘In Sickness and in Health’ by (another local band) Demented Are Go. Marv gave me an album about walls by a band called Gold, Frankincense and Diskdrive which reminded me a bit of Twelfth Night. I also enjoyed, with friends Brendan and Ed, an album called ‘Bullshit Detector’ which featured a track by Andy T called ‘Jazz on a Summers Day.’ (You won’t find that in many record shops!)

I liked Conflict’s ‘Only stupid bastards …’ t-shirts. I had the odd Anthrax single and loved the way some of the sleeves opened out into wall posters (the kind you couldn’t buy in Athena). I had the odd Crass single too, including ‘Sheepfarming in the Falklands’ – though the best thing I’ve got by Crass is a compilation tape I made for myself of interviews and some of their more quirky musical moments. (“Do they owe us a living? Of course they fucking do!”)

And this, I guess, was the problem. I liked the thought-provoking polemic and political nature of the anarcho-punk bands, but as stimulating as I found the lyrics, I struggled to find value in a lot of the music. The swing from bloated and complacent dinosaur rock to ‘anything goes’ was just too extreme for my taste. I like to think that the post-punk emergence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal in some way reflected the need at the time for some middle ground – with many new rock bands adopting the aggression and ‘anyone can have a go’ approach of punk, but retaining the musical values of their classic rock predecessors.

For me, anarcho-punk added biting analysis to the mix, delivering much for those with an interest in social change and politics, but producing very few bands of enduring musical value. What I did take from the anarcho-punk movement, however, was the idea that music (of whatever kind) is an important form of expression that can influence the way people think and behave. I still think this is important, and if artists can get the words and music working together, then so much the better!

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3 Comments

  1. Phil Morris

     /  April 30, 2012

    Ah, but even The Clash released a triple album.

    Reply
  2. bolingbrokus

     /  April 30, 2012

    You raise some interesting points, but calling them “THE Chumbawamba” makes you sound like a grandfather.

    In many ways, I always thought Billy Joel’s music, especially the 1980’s stuff, had a punk element. Perhaps not in the easy listening,upbeat musicality of “Uptown Girl” but Innocent Man certainly carries a distinctly rebellious punk message – “not guilty”. How many of our safety-pinned brethren have declared their innocence when stood before the beak? The answer is many, if not most. I never really took to Billy Joel, but Ed did so he may be better placed to discuss the Joel – Conflict dynamic.

    Reply
  3. “THE Chumbawamba” … sorry, a typo now removed … though admittedly it’s hard to stay down with the Chumbas. (Ooops, there I go again.) Mercurial is not the word.

    Billy Joel?! I don’t think there’s a lot of mileage in your hypothesis!

    Seducer, Mick Robertson, Marjoe Gortner … Now That’s What I Call Punk 85. (It was bad AND evil!)

    Reply

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