THE STORY OF UK INDEPENDENT PUNK 1980-1983
White-knuckle set brings together the noisy, thrilling world of early-’80s UK punk.
If you think punk died with Sid Vicious, this compilation has some very loud news.
VARIOUS ARTISTS BURNING BRITAIN: A STORY OF INDEPENDENT UK PUNK 1980-1983 CHERRY RED, OUT 27 APRIL
The Sex Pistols had been defunct for well over three years by the time The Exploited appeared on Top Of The Pops in October 1981. In the same month, punk’s other truly definitive band The Clash embarked upon their classic lineup’s final album, Combat Rock, wherein they dallied with funk, dub and hip-hop. None of that fancy stuff for The Exploited: a crazy-colour mohawk’d quartet from the bleak housing schemes of Edinburgh, they blitzed through Dead Cities’ aggro-happy thrash (“Snarling and gobbing and falling around”) in 90 seconds. “Well!” presenter David “Kid” Jensen spluttered afterwards. “Whoever said punk was dead?!” Jensen’s question felt rhetorical: as far as mainstream culture was concerned, punk died with Sid Vicious. The Exploited’s brief prime-time crossover represented a freak incursion from the independent sector, where punk now resided, willingly ghettoised by its own practitioners. “Here’s a chord; here’s another; here’s a third – now form a band”: the irony of the legendary 1977 fanzine edict was that most of the original punk bands had previous lives in glam rock, pub rock, even progressive rock, and were actually capable of far greater proficiency. Subsequent generations,
IT’S AN EPIC HAUL THROUGH GRUEL BRITANNIA: AN UNDERCLASS SOUNDTRACK HAUNTED BY THATCHER AND NUCLEAR PARANOIA.
however, really were starting from Ground Zero. To provincial late-adopters such as The Insane from Wigan, or Septic Psychos from Chesterfield, three chords seemed a bit of a stretch, a pointless grasp at musicality in a harsh new social and economic landscape. Freed from the illusory promise of fame, however, punk’s egalitarian ethos meant it not only survived, but thrived – as this mammoth document proves. Any collection which opens with the siren yobbery of the Cockney Rejects isn’t pulling any punches. Compared to most of the 113 tracks which follow, however, the Jimmy Purseyproduced Bad Man resembles a pinnacle of evolution. The Rejects’ presence on Burning Britain is somewhat anomalous – they were one of the last punk bands signed to a major label – but the song’s thrilling attack is a gentle appetiser for embarking upon this epic haul through gruel Britannia: a 4CD underclass soundtrack haunted by the demon Thatcher and nuclear paranoia. The real stars here are leather jacket legends Discharge (their pivotal early single Decontrol) or Subhumans (whose astonishing Reason For Existence is a postArmageddon Play For Today), or myriad one-off spasms of frustration from bands whose stories barely registered beyond the Sounds gig guide: the uncontainable force of They’ve Got It All Wrong by Gravesend’s Anthrax, or 17 Years Of Hell by The Partisans, an Oi! Band from Bridgend, or The Sears, a onerecord wonder from the Black Country whose demo track Not Prepared, preserved here in its warped tape glory, sees singer Clare Taylor evidently marching in step with Penis Envy-era Crass. The Epping Forest anarchists are glaringly absent, but their spirit is felt here via legions of imitators and the predominant libertine narrative. The compilers lighten a sometimes forbidding journey with the occasional burst of big-name sophistication (The Damned’s Wait For The Blackout) or humour, often gallows, as from the excellent Action Pact’s London Bouncers. Credit also to writer and former punk label-owner Ian Glasper’s sleevenotes for providing context to the inchoate noise. Tellingly, many of these bands have re-formed in recent years, a testimony to the music’s resilience. The Exploited, meanwhile, never stopped. Their contribution is titled Alternative – but for these punk lifers, there was no such thing. ★★★★ KEITH CAMERON Listen To: Subhumans – Reason For Existence | Anthrax – They’ve Got It All Wrong
Rebel with a cause: Cockney Rejects’ Jeff “Stinky” Turner in 1980.