Gary Crowley’s Punk and New Wave Box Set

Released Tomorrow – a selection of 77 Punk gems and New Wave nuggets.

Coming from the Soho Radio show of the same name and compiled by Gary Crowley and Jim Lahat, this compilation is a bit of fresh air where Punk and New Wave compilations are concerned.

I’m sure somewhere in your collection you’ll have one of those flaccid compilations like “The Sound of the Suburbs” or “Teenage Kicks” or “Greatest Ever Punk and New Wave, The Definitive Collection”; they all contain great tracks, the problem is, they all contain the same great tracks. The Sex Pistols Marketing Team would have been proud…Flogging a Dead Horse anyone? (The Sex Pistols do not appear on this compilation).

So, what makes this compilation worth 20 of your hard-earned pound notes? Well, first off, you get 77 tracks, no more than one track per band – that’s 77 bands. You can argue all you like whether all the bands are punk or new wave – there’s certainly a smattering of mod stuff and post-punk and power-pop here, but it’s the attitude, the DIY ethos, the spirit and youthful bravado that powers through the whole compilation like the breath of fresh air that punk was back in the mid to late 70s. As Captain Sensible said: “…punk rock, like most intangibles, can mean whatever you want it to” and who am I to argue with the Captain (The Damned do not appear on this compilation).

These bands were the life-blood of Punk, these were the kids living their idols words, inspired by The Pistols and The Clash (The Clash do not appear on this compilation). This was real street punk, before street punk became a thing. There are bands included here who really did release only 500 copies of just 1 single; singles for which they lovingly glued the sleeves together in bedrooms and garages across the UK.  You could become quite misty eyed.

Alex Ogg covered 341 such bands in his definitive book “No More Heroes, A Complete History of UK Punk from 1976 to 1980” (No More Heroes does not appear on this compilation) so you are getting an excellent sample size of the sound of that period here. Of course, this compilation contains tracks from overseas as well as the UK, but you get the idea.

“Is the music any good though?” I hear you ask, well, of course it is, Crowley and Lahat have done a fine job of finding the great sounds from the period and including them here. Standouts include The Doubt (from Northern Ireland) with Time Out, The Automatics, When The Tanks Roll (Over Poland Again), The Suburban Studs with I Hate School and New Hearts’ Just Another Teenage Anthem to highlight  just 4 of the great tracks available here.

If you want something a bit more familiar to hang your hat on, then there is the excellent debut single Charles from The Skids; Spizzenergi appear with Soldier Soldier; there’s The Vibrators, The Saints, 999, The Boys and Generation X; along with bands that would subsequently move into other areas of music (and fame) like Ultravox, The Fall, The Nips and Altered Images.

The CDs come with a 40 page book including an introduction and track by track notes by Gary Crowley and Jim Lahat, plus punk memories from Richard Jobson (The Skids), Clare Grogan (Altered Images), Duncan Reid (The Boys), Jane Perry Woodgate (The Mo-Dettes) and Spizz.

If you want to step back and hear how ‘alternative’ music in the late 70s really sounded, this is the compilation for you. More The Roxy and The Vortex than the Hammersmith Palais (White Man in Hammersmith Palais does not appear on this compilation), in many respects more real and visceral than all those major label ‘sell outs’.

About The Young Idea

The Jam’s In The City was released 40 years ago today

Once upon a long ago, I regularly played squash with The Jam’s first manager. Some even longer ago before that, I went to see The Jam in Port Talbot, South Wales, and caught only the encores, having tarried a while too long in the pub. Sometime after that missed gig, and certainly during the time I was playing squash with the ex-manager, I helped a friend move in to his new house in Woking. The second bedroom had a wall covered in graffiti and various mod references, including a beautifully realised ‘The Who’ logo, complete with RAF roundel and the arrow on the ‘o’. It turned out that this was Rick Buckler’s (drummer with The Jam) parent’s house, and this had been Rick’s bedroom. Oh yes – and I bought the novelty single Henry The Wasp by The Highliners because I thought it was drolly amusing. Rick Buckler plays drums with them.

The above is not, you may be forgiven for thinking, my attempt at combining ‘Would I Lie To You?’ with ‘The Unbelievable Truth’, because the truth is… it’s all true. Yeah, yeah, you’re thinking, but so what?

But soft, the 29th of April 1977 marks the day on which The Jam’s first single, In The City was released. It shot to number 40 in the, um, top 40, bouncing back off it like a gymnast on a trampoline… Not the greatest of (up)starts, but it did herald a string of eighteen top 40 hits, including this first one, over the next 5 years, with four reaching Number 1 at a time when such positions (and charts for that matter) mattered.

For me, In The City bears the hallmarks of everything I loved about The Jam: crisp, loud, driving, urgent. Bruce Foxton’s bass is right out front in the mix, the drums trampling over everything like a herd of organised wildebeest, and Paul Weller’s spitting his angry young man vocals. It was a formula that more or less sustained their recorded output – at least as far as the singles went – over their chart career, only the final two (The Bitterest Pill and Beat Surrender) beginning to hint at the direction Weller was to go in, influences of jazz and soul penetrating the hitherto solid punk-filtered mod-era sound that was the signature of The Jam.

I like In The City. A lot. Unlike many debut singles, it has the full and fulsome sound that would define the band. It hit the ground running, stating from the off that this was the sound and attitude to expect. So many debut singles sound weak, thin and under-produced. Not In The City, which comes at you like a train out of a tunnel and leaves you breathless in its slipstream.

From here, single after single did the same, whilst their albums grew more complex and technically accomplished without ever losing their power. Calling it a day at Weller’s behest and to the chagrin of Foxton and Buckler, they left at the top, their last album The Gift being an enormous commercial and critical hit and their last single another Number 1.

Few bands have so obviously left a hole that will never be filled; Weller has stated he would only reform The Jam if his children were destitute, so there’s more chance of finding rocking horse manure on the moon. Other bands, even The Beatles before the death of John Lennon, leave the faint whiff of hope, like the scent of perfume lingering in a recently vacated dressing-room. Even The Police and The Sex Pistols reformed for goodness sake! Not The Jam though, not The Jam.

Ah, but what if they did? Take a look at all those top 40 hits and you know that they could destroy us by just playing them from first to last. What a gig it would be: and I’d be bloody certain to get out of the pub and in to the venue in time to hear those first crashing guitar chords of In The City.

From our guest writer, Danny JonesDanny entered the world at the start of the 1960s. They say if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there. Despite being there, he has only the vaguest memories. He certainly didn’t experience the much talked about sexual freedom (his junior school was rather forbidding in that regard) and wasn’t even one of the twenty or so ‘5th Beatles’. Now retired from the rat race, since the rats began to overtake him, he spends his time attempting to look busy for his still rat-racing wife. She’s not fooled. Danny’s blog is currently moving and can be found somewhere between here and here.

Less Than Zero Means Everything

Elvis Costello’s début single, Less Than Zero, was released 40 years ago today

The chief weapon of punk rock was abrasive rebellion: that and political sensibility… Its two weapons were… Amongst punk’s weaponry were such diverse elements as….

Sorry…. Monty Python’s lawyers have been on to me and unless I cease and desist this they will despatch the Piranha Brothers to nail my head to a coffee table….

If you canvassed a dozen people of a certain age, those in their mid to late teens in 1977 say, and asked them what punk meant, you’d get a range of answers and have no clearer idea than you had before you asked. Abrasive rebellion, political sensibility and a bonded affinity with reggae might be some of the themes commonly mentioned. They’d be mine anyway.

It’s far too easy and glib to think that punk was the crashing wave that swept aside bloated and pompous rock music. It didn’t. It isn’t true with the benefit of historical perspective, nor was it true then. Take a look at the top 40 for the beginning of 1977 and you’ll find no evidence of this brash new uprising. Instead you’ll find the likes of David Soul, 10cc, Showaddywaddy, Leo Sayer, Abba, Bread and Chicago. Skip to the final chart of the year and you’ll find Wings at number one with (the bloated and pompous) Mull of Kintyre, The Floral Dance at number 2 and the Bee Gees at 3. Further down you’ll find, oh, wait, look… David Soul, Showaddywaddy and Abba.

There is very little presence of what you might call ‘punk’, aside from John Otway and Wild Willy Barrett with Really Free at number 29, The Boomtown Rats at 16 and, right above them, a callow young chap called Elvis Costello. 1977 was, of course, the year Elvis Presley died; Elvis is dead, long live Elvis.

Purists will argue to the point of exhaustion about who were the ‘proper’ punks, and it is, in my view, reasonable to argue that many of the artists who were thus labelled were actually just budding bands or singers trying to break through, who were young and fresh and whose sartorial and coiffure aberrations, eschewing flared trousers and having short hair, placed them in this new category in the eye of the media, and thus the public, regardless of having a punk soul. The Boomtown Rats? Wannabe pop stars whose lead singer was already 26. John Otway? He was aged 25 and having difficulty troubling the charts since 1972. Not exactly the rampaging youth associated with generational warfare.

Elvis Costello though, was only 22 when he released his first single and 23 when he enjoyed his first success with Watching the Detectives. A suit- and tie-wearing bespectacled singer is perhaps more reminiscent of ’50s rock and roll (Buddy Holly) than ’70s punk, but Costello was in fact trading on some the hallmarks of the ‘weapons’ mentioned above: he was a spiky and uncompromising character, he adopted and adapted reggae music to underpin his own and, perhaps most significantly, he had something – a lot – to say. Watching the Detectives was described by Rolling Stone as “a clever but furious burst of cynicism”. Those elements of ‘abrasive rebellion, political sensibility and a bonded affinity with reggae’ are there to be seen. True, nobody did these better than The Clash, but the early Elvis Costello sends its blood roaring through similar veins.

His first single, Less Than Zero, is 40 years old on March 25th. Sinking from view with barely a trace it was as good a single as any to come out of the early days of punk rock. In 1977 there was much to be rebellious about if you were a teenager. Firstly, there was fashion, which had become even more exaggerated than music, with collars and ties wider than the English Channel, and flared trousers and jeans ridiculously, well, flared. Then there was the hair… The once wild long hair of the hippies had morphed into beautifully blow dried tresses (see Justin Hayward or any of the blokes out of Guys and Dolls). A young man with a skinny suit and tie and short hair was actually much more of rebellion than the photographs of Elvis Costello appear to us now.

And of course, there was political unrest: “Labour Isn’t Working”. There was the growing belief that foreigners were taking ‘our’ jobs, scrounging benefits, occupying homes that the ‘British’ couldn’t get. The National Front, fronted in the main by scary-looking skinheads (terribly British) was gaining a following and there was an ugly backlash at the black and Asian communities.

A week before Elvis Costello’s debut single, The Clash released theirs – White Riot. In suggesting that ‘black’ people already had cause enough to be angry, they advocated ‘white’ people also finding a worthy cause to get up and shout about. There was plenty for both it seemed at the time, and the song seemed to reflect the disaffection felt by a generation who wanted change, who didn’t like the direction society was headed in, and wanted to say something about it.

Less Than Zero isn’t remembered in the way that White Riot is, but it too was an angry riposte to the growing trend to the political right, a response, in fact, to seeing Oswald Moseley, leader in the 1930s of the British Fascist movement being interviewed on television. It may not be the finest song to come from the punk canon, probably not even from Costello’s. It is though, hugely significant. Look at those chart entries mentioned above. Then look at what this young man was saying, or trying to say.

Where today, as once again the political right gains ground, ‘foreigners’ are scapegoated and provincialism is on the rise, are the angry young voices rebelling through music? I would argue these are even more scary times than 1977: at least then we didn’t have world leaders being the ones so blatantly openly driving the unrest. Nobody is stepping forward to use music as the tool of opposition, of rebellion, of rage.

Punk didn’t change the world, it probably didn’t even really change music, but, for one brief, shining moment it did hold up a flaming mirror and say ‘No! We’re not having this!’ Elvis Costello and Less Than Zero deserve to be recognised and remembered for not merely following a trend, but kick starting it.

From our guest writer, Danny JonesDanny entered the world at the start of the 60s. They say if you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there. Despite being there, he has only the vaguest memories so it must be true. He certainly didn’t experience the much talked about sexual freedom (his junior school was rather forbidding in that regard) and wasn’t even one of the 20 or so ‘5th Beatles’. Now retired from the rat race, since the rats began to overtake him, he spends his time attempting to look busy for his still rat racing wife. She’s not fooled. Danny’s blog is currently moving and can be found somewhere between here and here.