December 28, 2006


I usually don't care much for anniversaries, but this week I'd like to celebrate the fact that on December 28, 1976, one of my all-time favourite bands the Buzzcocks recorded one of my all-time favourite records, the Spiral Scratch EP. That's 30 years ago today!! (O.K., yesterday.) The third or fourth UK punk record ever, and the first real Do-It-Yourself record at that, it still sounds as witty, spiky and exciting today as it did when I first heard it, and when I say "it", I actually mean just the EP's most famous track, Boredom (opening track of the great Burning Ambitions comp which I bought around 1982).
While Anarchy In The UK, New Rose and White Riot were flag-waving celebrations of a new dawn, Boredom was already one step ahead by being... well, bored. Actually it was a song about boredom and a send-up of songs about boredom at the same time; not bad with the only notable predecessor being the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band's "I'm Bored"! Another contradiction lied in the fact that the music itself was actually very exciting; John Maher's stuttering drums, Howard Devoto's pre-Rotten sneer, Pete Shelley's sawn-off guitar (sounding more like the saw than the guitar) and of course, the Legendary Guitar Solo! Two notes, repeated in exactly the same way throughout the instrumental break with no regard for the underlying chords, creating a beautiful (well, that's what I think) jarring effect, it's probably the single most famous punk solo ever. The nearest comparison I can come up with are the out-of-sync guitars in Captain Beefheart's "Pachuco Cadaver"; Pete Shelley himself claimed, on two separate occasions, to be either influenced by the clarinet solo in (again!) the Bonzo Dog Band's Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold or John Lennon's atonal slide guitar in Yoko Ono's 1970 track Why (I've posted that one in its entirety, because it's a brilliant - and very irritating! - piece of protopunk; John Lennon's playing sounds slightly Boredom-ish around 4:30).
Not being part of London's fashion incrowd, the Buzzcocks were a big influence on punks from the more remote parts of the UK, like Edwyn Collins from Scotland who name-checked his "favourite song" in Orange Juice's 1982 hit Rip It Up (even reprising the guitar solo, although they're playing it wrong using octaves instead of fifths!). I always thought the guitar solo in Elvis Costello's 1986 I Want You is way too similar to be coincidence, so another tribute? Upon hearing Slaughter and the Dogs' Cranked Up Really High (the second Manc punk record, hot on the heels of Spiral Scratch), I immediately noticed Wayne Barret's singing the Boredom solo during the ride-out part (around 2:00)!
By the time their EP was released Howard Devoto'd already quit the Buzzcocks, to return to the limelight a year later with the sophisticated art-punk of Magazine. Buzzcocks, of course, continued and sandblasted their scruffy noise into the powerful pop punk that became the template for every Green Day on this planet. Both bands would keep playing the song, Magazine turning it into a widescreen Rock experience almost a la the E Street Band on this 1978 Peel Session, while on this Buzzcocks live recording from 1979 they're getting the job done as fast as they can, presumably because they've gotten a bit (insert Beavis and Butthead-type chuckle here) bored with it... Well, even after thirty years (or 24 in my case), "Boredom" still doesn't bore me!

December 22, 2006


"Are you a Wormerpunk or something?", Benno of local punk band Antidote asked me sometime around 1982. I knew "Wormerpunk" was a particular strand of music, but I didn't know it could also be a type of person. Maybe it was because I didn't have a leather jacket, the de rigueur punk item back then; it might also have been the Svatsox/ Ex/ Hangdogs/ GRRR badges I wore, not as a conscious stylistic statement but because those were the only badges I could get from the fledgling Konkurrent mailorder (whose complete catalog fit on half an A4 sheet back then!). Apart from the fact I liked the Wormer bands, they were pretty hard to avoid as they seemed to put out more records (and badges) than all the other Dutch bands combined. Maybe it had something to do with Wormer being part of the Zaan area, one of the world's oldest industrial areas and a long-time hotbed for socialist/anarchist activities. Or maybe they had lots of rich uncles and aunties that would lend them the money. After the Ex/Svatsox/De Groeten Villa Zuid flexi (which was distributed around every household in the Wormer village!) and the Oorwormer LP, it seemed like every band started releasing their own LP's. This wasn't always a good move; Zowiso turned into a great band later on but their first LP, 1982's At A Jogtrot To Death, was a mess. I liked GRRR's 2 tracks on Oorwormer but didn't buy their 1983 LP from over-saturation with the Wormer thing. Just recently, I got a chance to hear what I've been missing: it's a bunch of great, blaring industrial/punk/noise that doesn't sound like any other Wormer bands of the time. In fact, it sounds like The Ex would sound 4 or 5 years later, in their noisy "Aural Guerrilla" days. Any hardcore punker that called these bands "softies" would have run back to their mommy as fast as they could if they'd heard this. The Ex must have felt some kind of debt because in the early/mid 90's they played a song that featured the distinctive riff from GRRR's "Fools Talk". I did a quick scan on Soulseek, but couldn't find it on one of their LP's. Maybe they covered the whole song? If anyone knows, please drop me a line! The song is posted below (even though it's overlong). GRRR's bass player Jacco was later in the first lineup of Wormer "supergroup" De Kift (the one with Maarten ex-Pistache BV singing, on the IJverzucht LP).

He Soldier
Navo Strategie
Holland Gifland
No More Riots
Fools Talk

December 14, 2006


I was never a big fan of what's now usually called "UK82", those English studs-and-spikes bands on labels like No Future, Riot City and Secret that put out an endless row of similar-looking EP's in the early 80's. I mean, I tried to like them, didn't have much of a choice because these records where often all I could find in my hometown, as there wasn't any distribution network for Dutch DIY punk yet, and American hardcore was just around the corner. Some of those records were alright; Vice Squad, Blitz, Partisans had a couple of decent tunes, and I had a weak spot for Chaos UK/ Disorder for being really noisy, but mostly it was just this tiresome churning out of sloppy, unimaginative noise with interchangable song titles ("Fallen Hero", "It's Corruption", "Vicious Circle") by interchangable bands (most of them named Anti-this, Anti-that, prize winner for most original name being Anti-Pasti!) with interchangable "leaning-against-a-wall-in-full-punk-regalia" cover photos. People talked about U.S. hardcore being "generic" but this stuff was much worse. Although these records were on independent labels, I think there was a very cynical "low cost - maximum profit" marketing scheme going on here. These labels would press up some demo recordings paid for by the band, quickly slap together a black/white sleeve, and without much promotion easily sell between 10,000 and 50,000 each. At least the major labels had hopes for their punk signings to "make it big"; independents like No Future and Secret only seemed to be interested in a status quo in which every record would look and sound the same.
(Here I gotta make an exception for Mike Stone's Clay label, who only signed a couple of bands - Discharge, GBH - and took care in putting out great, and great-sounding, records.)
Later I found out I dismissed some great bands before I had the chance to hear them, because I figured they'd be just like all the rest of them. UK Decay was one; generic name, great band (as I found out 20 years later!). So were Charge; I mean, with Discharge, who in hell would call themselves Charge? Actually, Charge were already around before Discharge, and made some great, imaginative records during 1981-82. When a friend of mine played this to me years ago, I mistook the band name to be "Charts", that's how out of step with "UK82" this sounds. "King's Cross" on the same-titled EP sounds like a faster Stiff Little Fingers with Dick Subhumans singing. Rhythmically, it's closer to the syncopation of Americans like Jeff Nelson/Minor Threat and Grant Hart/Husker Du than to standard-fare Britpunk. "Brave New World" sounds even more like SLF, but a great tune nonetheless, and once again all over by 1 minute 20 (always the hallmark of a great band!). Their 1982 Destroy the youth EP is a mixed bag; the title track is remarkable for being extremely fast for its day (for the UK), and "No One Knows" is slower and has some beautiful intricate chord changes going on. Oh yeah, the sleeve is an early work by famous designer Neville Brody. I've heard Charge got more into a glam/wave thing later on. I've also heard they did another EP before these two, does anyone out there have it??

King's Cross
Brave New World (From King's Cross EP, 1981)
Destroy The Youth
No One Knows (from Destroy the youth EP, 1982)

December 07, 2006


Funny how it works... I saw the Flyin' Spiderz on TV once, when I was about 10 years old, and I remember it was a load of tuneless noise. It was on a very popular daytime show where little kids would compete playing xylophone, juggling, talking backwards, etc., interspersed with some real "grown-up" acts. At the time I didn't catch their name, but I did get the announcement that this was a Real Punk band. All I knew about punk was that it was disgusting and a bunch of noise; that's what I'd read anyway. So I guess that's why the Flyin' Spiderz sounded like a disgusting bunch of noise to me. Years later when I (a seasoned punk aficionado by then) found their 2 LPs secondhand, it sounded much too slick and poppy for my liking! Nowadays, another 20 years later, my taste has stalled somewhere inbetween those two extremes and I've ended up really liking them. Their second LP Let It Crawl (1978) is the only early Dutch punk record that's sorta semi-easy to find. It's even slicker than their debut LP, but it's still got a lot of energy. This LP is right from that ultra-short period when musicians had grown bored with yer standard punk rock, but weren't sure what to do next. After punk, but before postpunk, if you wish... This period gave us Alternative TV, the Saints' Prehistoric Sounds, the Damned featuring free-jazzer Lol Coxhill, loads more very interesting (but not always necessarily great) stuff. On Let It Crawl the Flying Spiderz are trying to stretch out as well, which sometimes works (the 60's-pop of "Paper Girl" - I'm sure the Rousers must have heard this song) and sometimes doesn't (plodding rock songs with brass sections). But at least they were trying! Singer Guus Boers mixed the usual lyrical fare with some more socially relevant stuff: "They are killin' the city" is a pretty prophetic song for 1978. (He also co-wrote Nasmaak's "Hondepoep" which tackled the problem of dogshit on the sidewalks!)
By 1979 the (shortened) Spiderz, like a lot of ex-punk rockers, had finally found their new style: robotic electro-wave. They released 2 more LPs (which you don't want to hear) before splitting.

Killin' The City
Paper Girl

December 01, 2006


Does humour belong in punk? Hell yeah! For all the sloganeering and cool posturing by bands like the Clash etc., there was a lot of healthy, self-effacing sillyness going on right from the start; think of the Ramones singing "Third verse/ Different from the first", or the ridiculous two-note guitar solo in the Buzzcocks' "Boredom" (inspired by a Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band clarinet solo). Some of the best early punk singles were actually comedy one-offs (Jilted John, Alberto Y Lost Trios, The Valves' "Tarzan of the King's Road" etc.), and one of the Big 3 UK bands, the Damned, were as silly as they came (a nice counterbalance to Clash & Pistols). Then, at a certain moment, it became a separate category, so on one side you had your Crass/Discharge, and on the "funnypunk" (awful word but they actually used it!) side there were the likes of Splodgenessabounds. I still really like those early Splodge records, even though the "critics" usually dismiss them these days. Come on, "The Malcolm Opera" on their first LP is brilliant, who can keep their eyes dry during the deeply moving "Blocked-up Noses Aren't Much Fun"? The Toy Dolls lost me though, as did most of the "laugh-or-I'll-shoot" stuff that came after that. But the Notsensibles, man, they were an obsession to me and my friends back in the mid-80s. We knew the skits on their 1980 classic Instant er, Classic by heart, a favourite being the "Star Spotting" monologue ("another easy to spot constellation is the Big Willie"). Some quotes ("You cheeky bitch!") are still part of our day-to-day conversation. And apart from that, they played some kick-ass pop punk as well. The weird thing is that there were two versions of the LP, with some songs on one version but not on the other. For instance, "King Arthur" is only on the second pressing. They also redid a skit (The Linton Kwesi Johnson-parody "Ploppy"...Now who in hell bothers to rerecord a skit?) (the first - messy - one was better, anyway). In those pre-Internet days, we couldn't find any info about them, didn't know where they were from (the opening monologue on the LP didn't help: "from Brighton, or Rhodesia or somewhere...") or if they were still around. Now, through the wonders of the Web and Myspace, I can tell you they're back together again! (And they're from Lancashire.)
First EP Death To Disco is kinda rare, but their retake of that song on the LP is a thousand times better. The I Thought You Were Dead EP is actually still available from the band (at a steep 8 GBP though). And I won't say anything about "I'm In Love With Margaret Thatcher" (let alone post it) because you should own it already (at least on a compilation)!
Here goes, you might like it, you might not, but give it a spin anyway.

Instant Classic
King Arthur
Death To Disco (from Instant Classic LP, 1980)
Coronation Street Shuffle (from Death To Disco EP, 1979)
Teenage Revolution (from I Thought You Were Dead EP, 1980)