Looking back from a distance, the hacks and historians have sorted and sieved all the mayhem (dare I say anarchy?) into neat compartments, serving it up in byte-size chunks of trivia. There’s nothing new about this, of course. The liberal, post-war, post-colonial liberation, coupled with pre-packed consumerism, positively encouraged the passion for the parcelling of micro-culture.
As the Millennium Joyride hurtled towards its predictable conclusion, the flotsam and Uncle-Sam of Western Ephemera became increasingly fragmented.
Punk occupied an infinitesimally small space in this universe, but if it was in your space, it was in your face. A full-on freak-out of fans and fanzines, a riot of ripped T-shirts and ripped-off bands. Opinion is divided as to who started the party. Certainly the American strand, The Ramones/Patti Smith/Television/Talking Heads gang (via Iggy & The Dolls) had time on their side, but it’s the UK crowd who offered the complete package. It was the political angle, the class & snobbery debate, that was the (not so) secret ingredients in the final mix.
Although the enduring image of UK punks, both groups and groupies alike (male and female) were of working class wastrels, many were middle class, adopting a pose of poverty. Students and Social Secretaries were in on the act too – the booking of The Doctors Of Madness one week and The Damned the next didn’t faze them. It was just music after all, wasn’t it?
The problem with history, of course, is that there’s always a pre-history. A picture of Mick Jones in the early 70’s with hair down his back speaks a thousand (swear) words. The barbers were working overtime in 1976 as thousands of likely lads lopped off their locks and re-vamped their record collections. Most punk bands cited the same bands at the forefront of the Influence Invasion; Roxy Music, Iggy, Sparks, Bowie, Alex Harvey, The Dolls, The Velvets, Bolan, Slade. The list almost writes itself.
But those who lived through the mid-70’s know better. The local Record Vaults were suddenly filled to bursting with never-ending ELP LP’s, gatefold Genesis, racks of Rod…this was the ultimate Vinyl Solution.
The saddest (but most predictable) thing about Punk was that it was so short lived. Although the Pistols first gig was in November 1975, the UK as a whole didn’t really catch on until the Autumn of 1976, and by the end of 1978 it really was All Over. There were very few bands that succeeded in lasting the pace. The Clash were undoubtedly the jewel in the crown. Some suggest The Jam and The Stranglers, but many argue (rightly) that they would have shone in any era. My favourites were The Damned, once they had disposed of the witless Brian James and moved Captain “Guitar Hero” Sensible to the six strings. The Etiquette/Black Album/Strawberries LP’s were infinitely more interesting than the one-dimensional thrash of their first two albums.
The Pistols were the leaders, despite producing just one gem (Bollocks!) before imploding. But in the end, it didn’t matter. It’s what they said, what they looked like, their attitude, that mattered.
What Punk gave to hundreds of bands was a belief in their (in)ability, a hope that, against all odds, they would Make It. Behind all the Anti-Star bullshit was the usual dream of fame, a natural impulse to be the cream of the crop.
Bio: John Hodgson (aka Blank Frank): Paid dues from 1966-76 with various bands including Purity, Adamanta Chubb and Erection before making a small but perfectly-formed impact with punk band Blitzkrieg Bop, inspired initially by The Ramones. (www.blitzkriegbop.info)
Also started a record label (Teesbeat), and several fanzines (Gabba Gabba Hey etc), as well as side-projects (The Gyneacologists) and producing (Tick Tick, The Sines, The Commercial Acrobats).
Went on to tickle the ivories with post-punk pioneers Basczax (www.basczax.com) before forming Makaton Chat with Anthony Lindo, and releasing an album with them (Strange Beach) in 1983.
Family life intervened and by 1986 the band fizzled out, with John operating part-time between bands (The Skydaddies, Viva La Diva) and more production duties, eventually setting up a studio (Imperial Digital) in 2005. Currently working with founder members of Basczax on new material (Basczax 2.0), and solo material under the “Fast Cakes” moniker (CD: Livefastdieyoung – Opportunes 2007)
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