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’.

Poly Styrene

X-Ray Spex frontperson Poly Styrene would have been 60 years old today.

Germfree Adolescents. That was the one I loved: sweet, melodic, sardonic, wry. She was weird, sure of herself, unsure of herself. She was post-punk during punk. She was a hippy. Sort of. She was like a de-Gothed Siouxsie. Wild and sweet.  I didn’t fancy her. Not really. She couldn’t care less anyway. I just watched Oh Bondage Up Yours. It’s bloody good. Happy birthday Poly x

Jackson Paul

 

As you know, singer, artist, bricklayer, architect, chef, writer and producer Jackson Paul died yesterday, aged 73. 

 

The first time I heard anything by Jackson Paul was at a Gordon Road disco around 1978. I hated Gordon Road discos because of that whole ‘last dance’ thing. ‘Nights In White Satin’, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’, ‘Always And Forever’, Lionel Bloody Richie: some slick, slight, soft, saccharine piece of sticky crap that you were supposed to slow-dance to. With a girl. Except girls never asked me. And I could never risk the walk of shame back to my mates having asked one and been turned down. So, instead, I’d stand around desperately waiting for the bloody thing to end, glancing furtively at all the hands-on-her-arse, hard-on’d blokes who were good-looking enough/confident enough to be touching an actual girl.

This one night, though, this one night the last record was, for some reason, ‘In The Sky’, that masterful, wry, deceptive piece of slow-burn jazz-punk that so artfully combines Mahler’s 5th with Lonnie Donegan’s ‘My Old Man’s A Dustman’ and which Paul later claimed to have written in ten minutes in the back of a cab en route to his dealer in Notting Hill. Those first few iconic xylophone notes came in and, suddenly, all my shame, all my fear, all my desires dissolved. I stood, paralysed, in that Enfield scout hut: and my life changed. This thing was huge, magnificent, monumental. From Robert Wyatt’s jittering drums to Jah Wobble’s kick-in-the-balls bass, from Paul’s own slicing, Wilkoesque guitar to Les McKeown’s howling, diabolic backing vocals, every part of it formed a whole that was richly, savagely, exquisitely more: more than music, more than art, more than life itself… I never looked back.

Those next few years, as Jackson dominated both the charts and the tabloids, I was obsessed. I saw him at the infamous Clissold Park Rock Against The Running Dogs Of Imperialism (Sponsored By Strongbow) festival, at Ludlow Castle when he accidentally maimed a lone Scots piper, at the Red Lion in Woking, at the Queens in Crouch End. I saw him headlining the Way, Way Out Stage at Glastonbury twice, the second time the one in ’84 when he attacked Dr John with Joan Baez’s handbag. I bought every album, official and bootleg, he made. I once even chucked a girl because she said she hated his dub version of ‘Two Little Boys’ and preferred Level 42’s cover instead.

But nothing lasts forever. We all know what happened, of course: after the superstardom, the Oscars, the Nobel Prize, came the go-kart accident, the marriage to Chrissie Hynde, the tour with Nickleback, the declaration of support for the Lib Dems, the descent into 7-Up addiction, Strictly and the identity parade on Never Mind The Buzzcocks. He would never make anything as groundbreaking or passionate or vital as ‘In The Sky‘ again. But, for those few years in the ’70s and ’80s, Jackson Paul was music. Without him, our culture would have been a colder, harsher place. Without him, I know I’d be a totally different person. It’s so hard to imagine a world without Jackson Paul. So tonight I think we should all raise a small glass of his favourite Harvey’s Bristol Cream in his honour.

RIP mate.

 

 

Spiral Scratch at 40

If I seem a little jittery… it’s because, having sat down to write a piece on the 40th anniversary of the release of Buzzcocks’ Spiral Scratch, it’s occurred to me that that’s just a rather dull thing to do. Counter to the ethos. Sure, Spiral Scratch was a landmark in ‘indie’ history. 4 songs, 3 hours to record, £500 begged and borrowed for 1,000 initial pressings, 16-track this, 4-track that, Martin ‘Zero’ Hannett… But who wants just a list of old numbers?

Boredom. B’dum B’dum.

What’s far more fascinating is the story of the autodidactic John Maher (pronounced “Maaaaar” – like that other Mancunian Indie legend, Johnny).

In 1976, he decided he wanted to be a drummer. A few weeks later he taught himself to drum and he’s in Buzzcocks. He’s 16. A few months later he’s on the first British independently released ‘punk’ EP. And then the whole thing takes off rather spectacularly. European tour supporting Blondie, Top Of The Pops, a string of Top 40 singles. And then the scene became very humdrum and the individual ‘Cocks buzzed off into new musical “projects”. Devoto and Shelly went a little pretentious. Maher drummed for a while with Pauline Murray (Penetration) and Pete Wylie (Wah!) but must have grown tired of the same old music in the same old kitchen, and quit the music business. “Never mind the Buzzcocks”, he must have thought—before that phrase had even been invented—”I need a different kind of tension”.

He’d already bought a VW Beetle with a royalty cheque from the re-release of Spiral Scratch and that car became his obsession. When it had a breakdown (a breakdown, yeah), he fixed it himself. Soon after, without any formal engineering training (he’d dropped out of 6th Form to support the Clash on the White Riot tour—well, who wouldn’t?), Maher decided he’d like to start designing and building high performance engines for VW Beetles. And he was evidently good at it. And apparently still is. He later moved the business from Manchester to the Isle of Harris where, thanks to him, there is now a drag racing scene.

More recently, his thirst for knowledge has pulled him in yet another direction. Again self-taught, Maher moved to photography. And it’s quality stuff. Particularly impressive is his series of photos documenting derelict croft houses on the Isle of Harris. That was exhibited—as Nobody’s Home—around Scotland last year.

Never let it be said that he’s lived life in a straight, straight line.


UPDATE 5 February 2017: Very gratifying to see Spiral Scratch enter the singles chart at NUMBER ONE this week, almost certainly due to this Sad Paradise article.