Up Against The Wall

I like to think I have pretty wide-ranging taste in music and the older I get the less I care if something is “cool” or not. But I don’t think I’ll ever get old enough to completely lose the feeling there’s something wrong with liking anything that’s Hippie, Proggy, Folky, Soft-Rocky, or just generally made by people with beards and long hair. It’s like my teenage self is still lurking in my brain telling me I that didn’t live through the Punk wars to grow up with an appreciation of Fleetwood Mac.

This is partly due to reading the 1978 book The Boy Looked At Johnny by rock-journalism enfant terribles Julie Burchill and Tony Parsons at an impressionable age. Subtitled The Obituary of Rock and Roll, it had the same scorched-earth approach to Rock history they were famous for in the NME every week: demolishing it’s legends as self-indulgent wankers and posers, with particular ire directed at American bands and the Woodstock generation. In their world, almost everything that wasn’t Motown or the first two Sex Pistols singles was worthless. If Punk was a revolution, Burchill and Parsons were the loyal soldiers putting people up against the wall.

Written at the height of Punk and with the righteousness of young people (Burchill was only 19), the book opens with the line “Bob Dylan broke his neck — close, but no cigar” and goes on from there in an amphetamine-fueled rush of bile. The 1960s were “a decade of iron-lung dinosaurs washing their hands in the blood of teen idealism”, Jimi Hendrix was the hippies’ “Token Tom”, Lou Reed and Iggy Pop “closet cases fronting amateur-hour wimp bands”, Elton John a “fat old Tin Pan Alley tunesmith” — you get the drift.

But it wasn’t just the old guard that got knifed, the new bands they called the “pretenders to The Pistols inviolate throne” fared no better. Siouxsie Sioux was a “white girl high on fascist flirtation”, The Damned “a shoddy mob of burlesque queens”, Paul Weller “the Barry McGuire of Punk”, The Clash “pious mannequins”, and like all good British radicals at the time they really, really, really hated America, declaring “English Punk bands want to be the best — American punk bands want to be the richest”.

They also spent a whole chapter extolling the superiority of amphetamines over heroin, marijuana, and cocaine, because it is “the only drug that makes you sit up and ask questions rather than lie down and lap up answers”.

These days we’re used to this kind of provocative attitude-striking on the Internet. Some kid will proudly declare he thinks The Beatles are overrated — always ending with the smug flourish “There. I said it” — as if he’s committing a revolutionary act. But that kind of rhetoric bomb-throwing was fairly new back then, and matched the passions the music stirred up. It might seem very childish and reductive now, but was thrilling stuff when you’re 16 and I ate it up. They gave me the language to take the piss out of my Dad for liking The Eagles, and the attitude to sneer at the kids at school who were into Genesis and Led Zep. Most importantly, they gave me a finely-tuned bullshit detector when it comes to rock stars, and I still believe it’s the duty of the young to be skeptical about the idols of the previous generation, not revere them.

One of the few people to come out of the book with any praise is Poly Styrene who they say “was blessed with the finest imagination of her generation” — an opinion that is still true today.

Download: Oh Bondage Up Yours! – X-Ray Spex (mp3)

New Monday

Very happy to welcome back Scottish indie-rock duo Honeyblood whose debut album was one of my favourites of 2014.

This new track is from their second album Babes Never Die (out late October) and is another terrific burst of big punky guitar riffing and spiky pop hooks.

Something for the Weekend

One of several songs that came to mind while watching the Republican convention this week.

Something for The Weekend

With Britain being wrecked by two old Etonians this song is now more documentary than allegory.

Haven’t watched any live Jam videos for a long time and it was a pleasure to be reminded how bloody great they were. I made the right choice of favourite band when I was a teenager.

Something for The Weekend

Blisteringly good this. One of my favourite singles of the Punk/New Wave era (though Graham Parker was neither of those things really) and probably doesn’t get the notice it deserves.


The leading songwriters of Punk were considered the voices of their generation but there were times you couldn’t figure out what they were singing because the records didn’t come with lyrics and the production values weren’t exactly models of pristine clarity. You would think that if you wanted to start a revolution it would help if the kids could understand the manifesto, right?

This was especially vexing with The Clash because of Joe Strummer’s phlegmy, mouthful-of-marbles delivery. I don’t know if The Westway Wonders considered lyric sheets to be bourgeois indulgences or CBS wouldn’t shell out for inner sleeves, but they didn’t include one with an album until London Calling which made the publication of The Clash Songbook in 1978 such a big deal — we could finally understand what Joe was barking about on “White Riot” and “Complete Control”.

It included the words and chords of every song on their debut album plus all the singles and b-sides to date, and we studied it like it was the Bible or Rosetta Stone. To us, Strummer/Jones were way better than some poncey “poet” like Bob Dylan and I remember loving how snappy, sharp, and even jokey a lot of the lyrics were.

In retrospect it might not seem very fan-friendly to make them shell out £3.50 (in 1978 money) for a book of lyrics they could have got free with the records — especially for a value-for-money band like The Clash — but it was a nicely-done project and worth buying. According to the book’s designer Pearce Marchbank (best known for his design of Time Out) the band supplied all the images and even created the type which makes me imagine Mick and Joe staying up all night with a stencil kit and a Dymo Labelmaker.

Nowadays you could just look the words up online but that’s kind of boring when you can get this terrific print artifact for a reasonable price at the usual places since it was reissued a few years ago. Volume Two designed by artist Derek Boshier is excellent too.

Here’s a couple of those b-sides in the book.

Download: Jail Guitar Doors – The Clash (mp3)
Download: City of The Dead – The Clash (mp3)

Just Like Honey

The career of Punk ingenue Honey Bane reads like the script of a torrid teen exploitation movie. Growing up as a “problem child” with an unstable home life, she formed her first band Fatal Microbes in 1978 when she was only 14. They broke up after making just the one single (the minor Post-Punk classic “Violence Grows”) and after that Honey was put in a juvenile treatment centre for alcohol and behavioral problems. She ran away from there and spent a year as a fugitive from Social Services during which she fell in with anarcho-punk collective Crass and recorded an EP with them. Now the ripe old age of 16, Honey released her terrific first solo single “Guilty” on her own label, and then came under the managerial wing of Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey who got her signed to EMI and attempted to turn her into a pop star.

Sporting a Toyah Wilcox-ish look and a more bouncy, New-Wave sound, her first Pursey-produced single “Turn Me On, Turn Me Off” was a hit in 1981 — I bought it and had a crush on her — but none of the follow-ups did well. Annoyed by EMI’s attempts to push her in an even more pop direction, she quit her contract with them and went into acting. But despite a part in the 1982 film Scrubbers (sort of a female version of Scum) and a Trebor Mints commercial (!), that career fizzled and a few years later she was posing nude in girlie mags to make a living.

If this story was a movie, the final scene would be a desperate suicide by drug overdose, her music dreams crushed and reduced to the sleazy business of taking her clothes off for money. But Holly is still around, back to making music, and last year she released a compilation of singles and b-sides going back to her Fatal Microbes days called It’s A Baneful Life which is mostly excellent stuff, especially when you consider she wrote and recorded a lot of it at an age when the rest of us were only worrying about homework and school discos.

Download: Guilty – Honey Bane (mp3)
Download: Turn Me On, Turn Me Off – Honey Bane (mp3)

The Filth and The Fury

These days the look and sound of Punk is so unthreatening it’s used in television commercials and kids with blue hair don’t even turn heads, but it was once considered a serious threat to the morals of England’s youth. Of course that’s why we liked it, anything that could get up the noses of grown ups had to be a good thing.

This 1977 episode of the BBC current affairs program Brass Tacks is a wonderful time capsule of that era. I remember seeing this at the time it was broadcast as we’d watch anything about Punk. It features some great footage of Punk kids in Manchester, a very young Pete Shelley, John Peel, and an hysterical parade of uptight councilors and clergy. Not surprisingly, Peel (who starts talking around the 34-minute mark) is about the only adult in the room who knows anything about it and doesn’t come across as a reactionary twerp.

Let’s have some of that nasty Punk Rock stuff. 

Download: Neat Neat Neat – The Damned (mp3)

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com





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