For all the influence the Sex Pistols had, there were very few other punk bands that actually sounded like them. The lean, proletarian early Clash - whose first LP, in true Socialist fashion, was produced by the guy who did their live sound - seemed to have been the sonic template for most '77 bands instead. Not that those bands had much of a choice; the Pistols' Big Sound was the result of hiring top producer Chris Thomas, who'd worked with Roxy Music and the Beatles (!) among others. Apart from that, they played a little slower than most bands, giving all 22 overdubbed guitars room to roar. During their lifetime this trademark sound, combined with their Public Enemy no. 1-status, would have had any soundalike band slagged off as copyists right away; but as soon as the Pistols quit one band took their sonic cloak, adorned it with football-chant choruses and ran with it: I'm talking about Sham 69, of course. I really like their hit singles (apart from Hurry Up Harry), but I still feel slightly embarrassed every time old clips of them appear on TV programs like TOTP2. I mean, Jimmy Pursey looks like the Fast Show's Paul Whitehouse impersonating a punk singer. Still, he must have been much smarter than he appeared to be; on the height of Sham's fame he took up record producing and turned out a couple of the greatest-sounding punk productions of the era. The Cockney Rejects and the Angelic Upstarts both played a stripped-down, workingman's version of punk, and both bands had Mr. Pursey weave his magic on their sophomore singles.
The Rejects' "I'm Not A Fool" has one of the all-time greatest intros in rock music. Building slowly from muted guitar to melodic bass-line and then suddenly exploding, the instruments all sound as if you're inside them, an incredibly powerful (almost violent) sound, all the more so because they take it at a pretty slow speed. Jimmy Pursey is trying to make them sound like Sham, who were trying to sound like the Pistols, but something entirely new emerges: a sound soon to be known as Oi!
The Angelic Upstarts were sort of a punk version of Brassed Off; their self-produced "Liddle Towers" single was their ticket out of the coal mines, but their greatest moment came with their Pursey-fied second single "I'm An Upstart", another Oi landmark. The Upstarts sometimes got dangerously close to 70's metal, but "Upstart" (as well as the ever so slightly Motown-ish B-side "Leave Me Alone") had just the right amount of primitivity, anger and loudness-bordering-on-violence to've become their defining record.
As far as I know, Jimmy Pursey's career as a producer ended as abruptly as it started; Sham had split and he was going through a confused period (check out Henry Rollins's recollections on Black Flag meeting up with him in his "Get In The Van" book); too bad, he might have turned into the Punk Phil Spector. Come to think of it, maybe it's a good thing he didn't...
Cockney Rejects - I'm Not A FoolCockney Rejects - East EndAngelic Upstarts - I'm An UpstartAngelic Upstarts - Leave Me Alone
(All tracks 1979)