Punk Britannia - Pre Punk 1972-1976
Some loose thoughts and Youtube surfing inspired by watching the first episode of BBC4's Punk Britannia. This is more a string of impressions and opinions than a review.
(Q!uotes are approXXXimate, OPinions are my own!! even if they are others also!!! RIGHT!!!!)
"People would ask me what does it mean? is it a love song? The best answer I have is that New Rose is about the punk scene.." - Brian James, The Damned
So right from the start punks were talking about themselves, about PUNK.
At the time, if you were two years too old you were TOO OLD. Now of course, if you were two years too YOUNG you are TOO YOUNG! Too young to have petals of the TRUE ROSE pressed in your scrapbook.
The tales of How punk? Why punk? What punk? are eternally revisited and excavated anew it seems. Here we have the tale of how the blackboard was wiped clean, how space was made for the "cultural REVolution'. It was, we are told, started by an American bar band, Eggs Over Easy, who introduced the revolutionary idea of bands playing in pubs to London.
This was embraced by, in particular, future Stiffies Nick Lowe, then of Brinsley Schwarz, Dave Robinson and Jake Riviera.
Some of the Pub Rock impetus was reactionary - you get the sense that bands like Ducks Delux were as much threatened by the sexual ambivalence of glam as the eternally dullness of prog. The comment that only "a few extra pounds and facial hair" kept them from being "punk rock legend" misses some of the point.
Its most important contribution might have been the venues. Dave Robinson (Hendrix roadie, Brinsley Schwarz manager) and Jake Riviera (Bowie Tour Manager) set out nightly on an almost Homeric search to find Pubs that might have big room where gigs could be promoted. "We literally used to drive around London in my old Morris 1000 traveller. Every time we passed a big pub we'd go in and ask the landlord if he had a big room he wanted to rent out. It was .. a bit of a crusade."(Jake Riviera) Not all were open to music: "nothing had happened in pubs for thirty years". But a circuit gradually evolved and around the circuit, a scene.
Stars of recent pre punk excavation Oil City Revolution, Dr Feelgood and pre-Blockheads Ian Dury in Kilburn & the High Roads had more of an edge than other pub rockers. As Wilco Johnston noted after a trip in to check out the 'opposition', "if this is the best band in London we've got it made!" The Feelgoods came from the backwater of Canvey Island where the Delta sound could be believably retooled, as Canvey had it's own DELTA!
Wilco Johnston's guitar sound was the telecaster that machine gunned the stodgier rhythm and booze guitar shapings of others into the shards that would fuel punk. Paul Weller says Wilco was his first guitar hero. (Which kinda shows Paul wasn't a punk at heart, punks don't have guitar heroes) The Feelgood's schtick would be even further adrenalised by fellow Canvey Islanders Eddie and The Hot Rods.
Elsewhere Ian Dury's combination of Max Wall and Dickens was to provide a way for some young Londoners to find a new VOICE, their own. The local is the universal, the universal is the banal. Art school with a flicknife, Dury would not be derailed by Punk.
A young Adam Ant is seen grooving to the Kilburns and his current incarnation calls their Rough Kids the first punk song. Dury had some of that "thing" that Rotten had, being the worm in the heart of the cabbage.
And then inject some GLAMour. Distrusted, so we are told, by many pub rockers, Adam Ant (still dressed like a teenager today) tells us there would have been "no punk without glam". His future at the sexually deviant margins of punk would clearly borrow and intensify these elements of glam. As would his career as a pop pirate.
The way that this documentary focuses on the pub rock movement means that some key musical influences are missed. Although we see Don Letts we are not introduced to his crucial record collection which meant that dub and reggae were injected directly into PUNK's bloodstream. Lydon didn't need this introduction, he was a long time convert. Also the sound of The Faces and Mott the Hoople didn't really get a look in but they were also central. The Velvets & The Stooges...
There was also the story of Malcolm McLaren, the move from Let it Rock to SEX, the boutique that birthed its own Pistols, where Glen Matlock worked trying to stop Cook and Jones half-inching clobber. Where Lydon mugged to Alice Cooper's Eighteen and impressed with something less than and more than his singing.
McLaren wanted his own New York Dolls, his stint as their manager coming to a fairly quick and none too successful end. Mark Stewart (The Pop Group) POPped up here to mention how he was blown away by seeing the Dolls on the Whistle Test, when they were famously 'dissed' by the world's politest man Whispering Bob Harris.
Another of the interviewees is Richard Strange of The Doctors of Madness, who joins the chorus of those remembering their first view of the Pistols live. They were support act to his band and he says he knew immediately that he was left behind, two years too old.
Another main act who were dismantled by the support of the Pistols was Joe Strummers 101'ers. Friend and bandmate Tymon Dogg remembers walking into the room and putting his hand up to feel the change. It was the last gig Strummer would play with squat/pub rockers The 101'ers. Off he went to form The Clash.
"GETTING" punk of course means KNOWING that the world is a shithole. "Punk reflected the ugliness of Britain back at itself". Most of punk occurred in the shadow of this knowledge but one man, in particular WAS this shadow. Enter Johnny.
You can make all the archaeological journeys into the events of the time, the music, the venues, the social issues, the desire for something to get excited about but it is clear that much of what gave punk its iconic, mythical status was what was latent in the head and attitude of one John Lydon.
Lydon would take the disgust in and defiance of hurt that Iggy encapsulated and metastasize it from the private into the public sphere.
His voice was like that of the underclass awakening, taking the journey from the self-destruction of No Fun to the revolutionary question/statement NO FUTURE, changing I Wanna Be Your Dog to I Wanna Be ANARCHY.
And for the week that's in it - JUBIGLEE
As ADam Ant says - it's the hate in his eyes....
This doc is well worth watching if bringing nothing new to the table. Everything's been said before. You can find Punk Britannia on Youtube. If you want to dig deeper read Jon Savage's magisterial England's Dreaming.
BBC followed it with a sparkling doc on John Cooper Clarke, poet, wit and haircut extraordinaire. Here we see The Ramones, strangely absent from the first Punk Britannia but sure to play a part in the second episode. Clarke noted their proud claim that their set got shorter as they got better, and that this inspired him to speed up his own delivery.
There was also a doc about TV Smith,who, it appears, has Henry Rollins and Ian McKaye among his acolytes. His ADVERTS were responsible for some great singles and two cracking albums but I know little of his still ongoing career beyond that point. The documentary didn't really get under his skin, just told us how great he was/is and how unlucky he was not to be more successful. Greil Marcus appears and makes a great point about guitarists like Eddie Van Halen with technical proficiency playing music with no emotional resonance while The Adverts, even straining to play their one chord on their great first single, have it in bucket loads. (Marcus' Lipstick Traces is another essential book about pUNK for those who like sniffing connections.)