Sunday, 20 July 2014
Sniffin' Glue - The Essential Punk Accessory - Mark Perry, Danny Baker et al
"Now I wanna sniff some glue"
It feels ironic to be reading something as essentially ephemeral as Sniffin' Glue almost forty years after its xeroxed DIY appearance as the throwaway taste setter of the punk vanguard. However, it does provide a vibrant glimpse of the time, with humour and openness and enthusiasm making up for the occasional crudity of the opinions expressed. That's crude as in roughly sketched rather than crude as in rude, by the way. I don't mind a bit of fuckin' rudity.
In the introduction Mark Perry talks about looking for a magazine about punk at the Rock On record stall at the Soho market and being told he should do it himself. When he did a movement was born, even if the appearance of Blue Oyster Cult on the cover of Issue 1 isn't quite punk kosher.
The appetite for punk translated into an appetite for Sniffin' Glue and over the twelve months of the 'zine's existence it increased it's circulation from 100 to 20,000. And it did the punk thing, self destructing before it became a tired old mouthpiece for the new establishment, the usual run of events for many a inkfant terriblé. (Yes I know it's an awful forced pun that doesn't work but it's mine, and I don't have to please anyone)
The call to arms on the first page of the first issue is only intermittently punk. Here are the bands that Mark P was hoping to cover: "Flamin'Groovies, MC5, Nazz/Runt, Runaways, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Lenny Bruce, Roogalator, Dr. Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods, Earthquake, New York Dolls, Johnathan Richman/,Modern Lovers, Mothers of Invention, '66/68, Count Bishops, Sex Pistols, 101'ers, Stranglers, Raspberries, Television plus any other punks who make and do things we like."
On the final page, alongside yet further Ramones coverage the nascent London punk scene is bigged up - "No body can define punk-rock, it's all about the streets. Kids jamming together in the dad's garage, poor equipment, tight clothes, empty heads(nothing to do now you've left school)and model-shops.Punk-rocks all those things.Shit, there's something happening in London now.We've had some incredible gigs and great scenes.London's got a scene join',we don't need New York we've got it Here.The Sex Pistols, Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Damned, Violent Luck(Now called-Sister Ray),the Stranglers, the Vibrators, and the tasty Roogalator to name a few." Sniffin' Glue is finding its feet as the punk scene is taking it's first steps.
In Issue One (July 76) there is a review of the 101'ers single Keys To Your Heart (with Joe Strummer)- "a really good song done really well by a great band." By Issue 3 (Sept '76) The Clash are mentioned in the same breath as The Sex Pistols and The Stranglers and by Issue 3¹/₂ they are on the cover and on issue 4 thy are the cover band. There is an immediacy to the magazine which can still be sensed all these years later. Ideas and responses get inked up without being considered for long (or at all). The judgements might be simple and often little more than enthusiasm but they are being made on the run and are often astute.
It's fun to read with Youtube as it leads down all sorts of odd alleyways. The above single from the Poli Styrene Jass Band (who went on to be The Styrenes) is an oddity I was totally unaware of from the Cleveland scene that also gave rise to Pere Ubu. It was also possibly an influence on Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex in more ways than her name. It also shows punk and Pink Floyd are not as mutually exclusive as one might think.
Sniffin' Glue is a burst of snot nosed adolescent enthusiasm. This collection is not really something you read from cover to cover. However it's a great book to have in the bathroom. There is an energy both in the magazine and in the scene that it covers that has rarely been replicated. The parallels between fanzines and blogs are also there for the blogging community. Vapour Trails is clearly the work of an old fart. Sniffin' Glue wouldn't have covered thirty year old magazines! ("old issues are a load of crap, forget 'em!") Indeed it was filled with a sense that the scene that it covered was only going to have a limited lifespan and, although led by a love of music heard on vinyl, there is a desire that the scene could stay in the womb and not emerge onto vinyl as that will bring in the record labels "to make more money on the 'new, young bands'" and may mean that people stay at home and listen to records rather than come out en masse week after week to see any punk gigs that are held.
TV Smith of The Adverts hopes that "nobody defines it (pUNK) cause then people won't think about it anymore. " The freedom to define how you are a punks also a challenge, but soon there are definitions and post the infamous Bill Grundy / Pistols / The Filth and the Fury incident and headlines the media starts to define punk and all of a sudden there are punks whose idea of punk was created by people who hated punk and only provided a crude, tawdry caricature of what the scene meant initially. This attracts a crowd that includes, in Don Letts' words "latent skinheads" or as Mark P. puts it "We're now getting cunts who rip their jackets, shove a few safety-pins through their cheeks and make out that they're doing something creative. This scene, if there is a "scene" anymore, is about movement.It's about constant change, creative change,not fashion changes,no-ones done anything by worrying about clothes."
The last issue came with a free flexidisc of Love Lies Limp from Mark Perry's band Alternative TV, flagged on the cover as "SG's profit blowing teaser." This is a neat riposte to the hoary old chestnut "those who can do, those who can't teach and those who can't do either criticise" He was also involved in A&R and can be forgiven almost anything for being involved in the release of much early Fall vinyl! There's lots more in these pages, not least unguarded interviews with bands like "The Damned, The Clash, the Jam", as in Bob Marley's punk defining list but also with The Subway Sect, The Adverts, The Saints and many more...