“TURN THAT BLOODY RACKET DOWN!! HOW CAN YOU CALL THAT MUSIC??!”
Perhaps not the best psychological approach to curb a teenager’s new-found calling, but it also signalled a sense that I was in the right ballpark.
My father was the most vociferous about it. Dad’s tastes in music had extended only so far as South American pan-pipe music and Mariachi which he had heard during his travels in that continent during the early 1960’s; my elder brother Kim was then an Elvis Presley devotee and scorned such boisterous musical chaos. My mother was the only one to partially understand where I was going with this. She had studied piano as a teenager, and her collection of 78rpm records included such ivory-tickling delights from Pee Wee Herman, Albert Ammons & His Rhythm Kings, Charlie Kunz and Winifred Atwell. While she could appreciate the toe-tapping musical merits of The Ramones and The Dickies, full frontal assaults like “Nazi Punks Fuck Off!” was well off her radar.
Having been only eleven when British punk exploded nationally, I was well aware of the highly publicised furore at the time on the telly, but far too young to get involved. I remember going into my home-town of Cardiff in Wales and seeing a large pasted up fluorescent orange poster that had a raffle ticket with the numbers 999 on it performing at the large ‘Top Rank Ballroom’, and also A4 flyers in dark narrow alleyways for the local acts with funny names like Moira & the Mice, Victimize, or the raucous Young Marble Giants to be seen later that week at the less salubrious ‘Grassroots Community Club’.
I also recall the oversized badge I saw in a grubby shop window with the image of a little girl looking up at the shadow of a man with what I thought was a gun, asking “Daddy, what is a Sex Pistol?” I’m sure Mr. Rotten would have had forty fits if he had seen that. I also kept my eyeballs screwed upon BBC’s ‘Top of the Pops’ programmes, beamed down pre-recorded onto our black and white television set. As a family we witnessed the Glam Era entirely in monochrome, and we later saw the emergence of punk on the screen, but quite frankly, the record player was on more than the telly.
After playing my mum’s 78’s and a flirtation with Rick Wakeman… I needed to find my own noise that reflected the energy I felt racing around as a young teenager. I kinda found it through Darren Brewer, my best mate who had got into the punk lark early on. We had known each other all the way during our school years, but we ended up in the same class three years in, and I soon went round his house after school where he showed me some of the vinyl records of the bands I had heard of, but not heard. He also surprised me with an early christening to Crass, experiencing ‘Shaved Women’ and the deeply sinister ‘Reality Asylum’ which gave me a right case of the willies when I was thirteen. I had never heard anything like that before and today it remains a dance floor classic at all social soirees at No.13.
On my next trips out, I caught the bus alone into town and saved up some school lunch money to have a sniff around in the shops. Cardiff was treated to a good many record outlets, both chain and independent, as well as second-hand dealers selling last years’ records absolutely dirt cheap. We can even claim to have the oldest record shop in the world, Spillers Records, still trading since 1894, and who always kept a finger on the pulse of current and breaking new independent music.
We could also boast a large Virgin store which seemed to begrudgingly make a concession to such music by hiding it in the darkest recess of the store; Buffalo Records, Carousel, Sound Advice, which was a classical music shop on the ground floor, but with an excellent punk selection down in the basement; later a HMV (opened officially by Bananarama!), together with well over a dozen second-hand shops and market stalls in the satellite towns and villages, all within easy walking distance. I bought some Dickies, Devo and Spizzenergi records that day, and I then remembered this lad in school showing off his copy of a ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ record, so in Spillers I saw the name Dead Kennedys, and they stocked the pricier import copy with a different sleeve and a lyric insert for £1.50! I think this was when I became anal about such matters. I picked up The Cramps Gravest Hits 12” too because they looked well demented and could be good, and they were fucking amazing! This record hunting was for me!
Darren then later indulged himself on the dubious ploddings of The Exploited, Anti Pasti, GBH, Blitz and Vice Squad, and I simply couldn’t abide too much of that landfill. OI! had also reared its ugly head here and it was really turgid, unedifying and aimed at the lowest common denominator, what I saw as almost patronising to the working classes. Things got a bit nasty there for a while too as whilst the leather jacket ‘n’ studs Punks and the DM-booted ‘n’ bleached jeans Skins were easily identifiable in their regulation uniforms and looking to pummel those not of their own kind, I was strutting about the place in stripey red and black trousers, beaten-up tennis shoes, and a band-daubed lab coat with plastic sunglasses. But additionally, I didn’t want to buy into the same stuff Darren was snaffling up. I wanted something a bit more racy, more bitterly political and ‘exotic’. I decided to look overseas.
I devoured Jello Biafra’s lyrics and followed the Dead Kennedys strand to soon see they were on the ‘Let Them Eat Jellybeans’ LP, a record that was pivotal. Honestly, compilation albums do not get the credit they deserve. For people living in provincial backwaters, just the one various artists record could send you off into all unknown territories of music. Half of the album was ‘hardcore punk’, and the second more arty-offbeat material. I dug both sides. Another bonus was a list of American bands with daft names that tempted you into hearing some of their music.
On top of that I was scanning the national music weeklies for any West Coast punk news morsels inked by Tim Sommer or Sylvie Simmons; occasional record fairs where a few traders would be selling moderately underpriced American and European punk, largely on the basis that precious few others were picking this kind of stuff up; and then finding a copy of the telephone directory-proportioned ‘International Discography of New Wave’ reference book, that attempted to exhaustively list every band with a record or cassette tape out globally! It was like reading a fucking shopping list.
So too were issues of the American fanzines slowly trickling in. Maximum Rock ‘n’ Roll, Flipside and Ink Disease really pushed the floodgates wide open. Among the scenes reports of Peru and Poland, Californian gossip and extensive record reviews, there were classified ads placed by others looking to write, trade records and tapes (when the postage rates across the pond were not so damned extortionate), and they would regale me with stories of gigs at the Cathay De Grande and Goldenvoice shows, featuring Angry Samoans, The Dickies, The Vandals, Bad Religion, Social Unrest, Adolescents, Devo, X, Red Scare, Social Unrest, etc. All the bands that I longed to see were playing every other week, and here I was stuck over 5,000 miles away in rain-sodden Wales. Even though the Dead Kennedys would visit the British Isles each year during the early 1980’s, they ventured nowhere near my home town, and at fifteen, I was neither able nor brave enough to go and visit them. But this valuable correspondence brought me closer to the heart of the punk rock action, and yet more importantly, it established firm friendships that last to this very day.
A little while later I expanded on this principle when my band The Heretics released our first demo tape, and not only did I offer it up for sale for $1 in the US classified ads – not realising that it cost me $5 just to mail the bloody thing – I used this as a bargaining chip to swap demos with bands Stateside, and my network delved deeper into more underground territory by establishing contacts with other formative bands in all corners of the continent. Letters arrived on a regular basis from Stukas Over Bedrock and Ash Tradition in California; Stevie Stiletto & the Switchblades, Maggot Sandwich and the Pink Lincolns from Florida, Horror Planet and Natalie Wood’s Pool Party in New York, The Larries from Virginia, The Lab Rats and Chronic Disorder from Connecticut, Screeching Weasel from Chicago, Roadside Petz from Maryland, and so many others. And all this was simply achieved with a biro, a stamped envelope and an air mail sticker.
So it really irks me to hear people extol the limitless wonders of the internet and the communication it provides by bringing people closer together. That is indeed true, but nonetheless the perception is that this had never happened before. And what has made communication easier has also made people lazier. Too much of a good thing has perhaps been its downfall. People are swamped by a motherlode of media interaction and distractions that the focus on anything has become increasingly scattershot. To bring a cultural movement together, we all had to work for that, and to my knowledge, this networking wasn’t happening on this scale with any other genre of music. Certainly not in the way the cold non-entity of today’s surfeit of .com bands all jostle in competition with each other for your attention.
And for the future? Well, I hope that swivel-eyed, multi-headed music historians several lustrums from now will consult those who participated in this practice to learn the real story behind the true underground punk music scene.
Some additional information about me – My first punk rock show was Albertos y Lost Trios Paranoias c.1981. I produced my own fanzine, ‘The Missing Link’, but that was devoted to pre-1950 horror films! I’ve contributed to many ‘zines, particularly my friend Welly’s fanzine ‘Artcore’ since the mid 1980’s. While I haven’t promoted gigs I have occasionally been involved to organise gigs in tandem with promoters, simply to help them out. My old band Cowboy Killers featured heavily in a movie called ‘Soap the Stamps’ c.2014. I was part of the punk rock pen pal scene in a BIG way! I was a drummer for a multitude of punk bands in South Wales and the South West from 1983-2016 (The Heretics, Cowboy Killers, Four Letter Word, In the Shit, No Such Thing, Da Capo, Fat Boy Fury & the Devastators, Deadbeat Deluxe, Bad Sam, ad nauseum!!)
(8″x10″, cold press paper, gouache, acrylic gouache, acrylic, and watercolor paint. – SS 10/11/2021)