I write about music. This is mainly because it has a profound impact on my life. It means more than just a good tune or something to dance to. I’m sure many whom I share the social networks with feel the same. Music can transport, convey, ignite, lift and move. I also write about my struggles with life. Life can be a struggle sometimes and not always through your own doing. I was born in the mid sixties and grew up into adolescence in the 1970’s. When punk hit the big time arguably in 1976, I was preoccupied with pneumonia and recovering from it. I was firmly wrapped in the music of Yes, Genesis, The Who & The Rolling Stones. I had a tape copy of Never Mind The Bollocks. For the next few years I watched The Clash, The Damned, The Stranglers and The Buzzcocks. I enjoyed some tracks particularly The Buzzcocks ‘Ever Fallen In Love With Someone’ and ‘I Don’t Mind’. I was very taken with The Stranglers as they seemed like a band who knew how to play. This was very important to me given my rock upbringing. I had a copy of ‘Rattus Norvegicus’ and played that almost to destruction. Two of my school friends were forever going to gigs in London at the Lyceum to see such acts as The Damned, The Sex Pistols and The Clash. I did wonder why they bothered. The tales of being gobbed on by the audience and band alike whilst being thrown about the floor of the theatre, filled me with bafflement. The energy of punk was lost on me for some reason. I had nothing to feel angry about. I had no reason to see the bloated complacency of the 70’s. The country was wrought with industrial unrest, weak politics and a shortage of hope. The silver jubilee of 1977 was seen by some as respite. For others it was an excuse to sweep the countries problems under the jingoistic carpet of red white and blue.
Punk was abused and exploited by those who promoted style over substance. The look was at times more important than any philosophy. The idea that the existing establishment of both politics/society and music were tired however was not an unreasonable assertion. Dressing up in bondage and spiking your hair made you look unusual but not much more. Anarchy was sung about by those who were propped up by an establishment. It’s interesting to note that nearly 40 years on John Lydon talked about his love of country and western songs of the 50’s and some nods to the very music he was castigating in 1976. He was told by Malcolm McLaren not to mention his diverse musical tastes as it might have ruined the image.
My good twitter friend and cultural guru, Beatnik Fuzzbomb, tells me that Joe Strummer was indeed a big Bob Dylan fan. When you analyse many of the punk and new wave acts of the 70’s, many made more than a nod to music of the sixties. The band sometimes credited with being the founding fathers of british punk were themselves steeped in rhythm and blues artists such as Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. Dr Feelgood emerged from the obscurity of Canvey Island and delivered music in a style so alien to the popular culture of 1975. It was high tempo, raw and exciting. It was exactly what the disaffected and bored youth were looking for. US bands like The New York Dolls,
The Ramones and Blondie had followed in the wake of artists such as Patti Smith. Some would indeed say punk started in the states and was merely adopted in the UK. Bands such as Ian Dury and the Blockheads, XTC and The Jam emerged into a music scene that embraced the new and avant garde. The irreverent and edgy was the way to be in the late 70’s. Popular chart and sales success was still enjoyed by the giants of rock and pop like Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, Elton John and Rod Stewart but the buzz was around the new acts. Many remember the presenters cheesy introductions on Top of the Pops to new groups performing highly charged performances to a sometimes bemused studio audience. The Damned and The Clash were certainly not Billy Joel or Leo Sayer. This music however continued to bemuse and baffle me despite me listening and absorbing some snippets. I still wanted to form the British Rush and not Buzzcocks or Pistols soundalikes. I lived a very middle class existence that did not challenge anything. The great iconic acts of the sixties came from backgrounds similar to that of the punk acts of the 1970’s. Pete Townsend , Keith Richards, Ray Davies and his brother Dave courted controversy and displayed anger in their stage performances. I am of the belief that Pete Townsend has spent his whole career being intensely pissed off with someone and often everyone. He is the angriest man in music by a country mile.
The punk and new wave legends of this era are now revered by many in the music industry. The likes of Paul Weller, John Lydon, Mick Jones, Pete Shelley, Hugh Cornwell and Wilko Johnson are the elder statesmen of popular music now.
I was privileged to see Wilko Johnson play in his farewell tour at Holmfirth recently. He was edgy, energetic and mesmerising. His bass player was the legendary Norman Watt Roy once of the Blockheads. Two guys in their sixties playing to an audience of a similar age. As I looked around the audience I saw many punks forty years on. They still had an edge to them. My dear twitter friend SKtheWombelle was very lucky to see Wilko Johnson and Lee Brilleaux in their prime. Ah if only……..
We live in difficult times. Our government is weak in many ways. It is intransigent, establishment and for the rich. They demonize those on benefits or the poor. People who cannot get work are work shy.They are insular and obsessed with appeasing the blue rinsed legions. The country is in many ways a harsh one that offers little to its youth. The country of 1975 in many ways was also one that offered little its youth. Music was a way out, an expression of disaffection to the older generation that had fucked it up for them. Punk was the mouthpiece of an anger in those young people. They used music, art and fashion to stick two fingers up at the bloated tired society they were being brought up in. This is not a new concept by any means. Our parents talked of the violent teddy boys in the 1950’s, the long haired Beatles and the ‘dangerous’ Rolling Stones of the mid sixties. Some argue that flower power and the anti Vietnam war protests were as much about youths disaffection with the government of the day.
Our society is in many ways the same today. Maybe just maybe a new punk revolution could be the catalyst to drag the youth out from underneath their greedy paymasters. The disaffected need to show some aggression and anger. They need to stick their fingers up at the government. The political opposition is frightened of anything too extreme. Politics is very congested in the centre ground. The right wing is occupied by UKIP and the BNP. Maybe what we need is a new left wing? We should re-discover socialism. The musical establishment is by its very nature right wing. It relies on retaining vast wealth, privilege and patronage. The underground, local and honest musicians should shout and get angry for the disaffected and forgotten in society. Moderation and cooperation will not save the youth.
The voters of the late 70’s however lurched to the right and elected the most ruinous Prime Minister of my generation. She ripped Britain apart, shattered communities and industries; all because of her political dogmatism. Being disaffected is not enough. Hope is more worth fighting for. If punk rock taught us anything it was that self belief, innovation and irreverence were the building blocks of a whole new generation. They spoke to young people and gave them an image their parents were alarmed by. This is good. The bad news was that Thatcher filled a void left by a spent Labour government. The danger could be that unless a credible opposition of the left is found, the void may be filled by blue rinsed, anti immigration little Englanders.
Most of those punks 35 years on would not want the young to settle for mediocrity because they still don’t. I don’t talk politics often as I give my allegiances away too easily. As I reach my fifties I feel more up for ‘anarchy’ and disaffection than in my teens. I think we have a lot to be angry about and cultural expression is a powerful tool. We have a government of the privileged rich for the privileged. They have no concept of the struggles we all face. Their solution is to make society and those least able to influence it, suffer. ‘There is no such thing as society’ I believe a certain Prime Minister once said. She tried her best to dismantle much of it. Do the young want to sit complacently by and watch it crumble in a climate of greed and forelock tugging? So let’s forge a new punk revolution. Lets get music to speak for the next generation. Lets be different and get angry.