April 26, 2007


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 Fool
Cockney Rejects - East End
Angelic Upstarts - I'm An Upstart
Angelic Upstarts - Leave Me Alone

(All tracks 1979)

April 20, 2007


The Germs' Pat Smear, 1977. Picture by... oh, you already know?

The recent news of former Germs drummer Don Bolles' incarceration for possession of soap (a punk crime if ever there was one) added another bizarre chapter to the already highly surrealistic Germs saga. A bunch of Queen fans team up to form California's most primitive, peanut-butter-smearing punk band; two years later - with the help of Joan Jett - they turn out the tightest and fastest record of its era. Singer has a Charlie Manson-style following, seems barely able to talk most of the time, but produces some of the greatest, most poetic (or incomprehensible?) lyrics ever heard in punk. In his quest to become a legend he kills himself... a day before John Lennon gets killed (in Holland they call this "doing a Gerrie Knetemann"). I'm looking forward to seeing the movie!
Although the Hardcore years seemed like one big NOW, with new bands and records popping up almost weekly, there was one old band always lurking in the background, the band that had already been there years before...you guessed it. Hell, there were even pictures of Darby Crash holding a "Germs"-emblazoned skateboard! I first heard the Germs on the Tooth And Nail comp which I bought secondhand around this time; I still remember how s-l-o-w the Controllers tracks sounded to my HC-brainwashed 16-year old ears. (Hmm, brainwashed ears?) But the Germs (as well as the Flesh Eaters and Middle Class, also on the LP) more than made up for it. Apart from playing fast they had a wild jumpin-at-ya sound, with Pat Smear's trebly Hagstrom guitar and Darby's "caged panther" growl way high in the mix. Although tracks like Strange Notes were pretty intricate, the band constantly sounded as if they were almost descending into chaos. A little later I scooped up their posthumous What We Do Is Secret mini-LP, which was even better! Their 1977 cover of Chuck Berry's Round and Round (recorded with future X drummer D.J. Bonebrake) has the longest false start ever, the tracks off their Lexicondevil EP are pure genius, and the live stuff's great and very funny, too. I think I prefer this shambolic version of the Germs to the tightened-up warhorse Germs you hear on the famous (GI) LP. I won't deny (GI)'s greatness, but it kinda sounds too good, too tight and streamlined; it sounds like a very well-produced mid-80's HC record instead of a 1979 punk record. Well, check it out for yourself:

Round And Round (1977, What Records session)
Circle One (1978, from What We Do Is Secret)
Strange Notes (1978, from Tooth And Nail)
P.S.: These Lexicondevil and Circle One mixes sound very different to the versions I've heard on any reissues; I prefer these mixes, but that might be out of familiarity. The CD (and 7 inch?)-versions have some very irritating clean guitar overdubs. Also, I think on all reissues they've left off Round and Round's false start.

April 13, 2007


(BVD, picture scanned out of "Het Gejuich Was Massaal")

So what will we do when every single early Dutch punk record has been posted on blogs like these? Look for old radio broadcasts! There must be lots of live-in-the-studio stuff out there on rusty, dusty tapes; VPRO, the Netherlands' most progressive broadcasting corporation, took to punk in a big way in those years. Ketchup, Mollesters, the Christmas '79 Rock Against Religion festival featuring the Squats, Tandstickorshocks, Gospelfuckers, etc. etc., all slowly oxydating on shitty BASF cassettes at this very moment. As a relative latecomer, I could catch up by finding those old records, but I missed out on those early radio programmes. Here's a live session by The Hague's great BVD about which I have no info at all; it's from around 1979/80. The woman introducing them sounds like Marjoke Roorda, which means this was probably the Oorkussen radio show. I was once being interviewed by her (years later); she was from Delft (like De Straks!) near The Hague; I wonder if that's why so many bands from The Hague got on the radio...?
You've probably heard BVD's great Country Of Liberty EP; this is just as good, but a little more trebly-sounding. They were one of the few bands at the time who rocked as well as punked; some of their best songs are really slow and still packing a punk punch (sorry, I couldn't put it any other way!). I guessed some of the titles to the "unknown" tracks, but I'm open to other suggestions!
O.K. guys and gals, I wanna hear more Radio Rock like this! If anybody likes to help me out (I'd especially like to post some of the Rock Against Religion stuff, of which I only have a very bad quality rip), I'd be eternally grateful.

White Power
Fong Leng
Take It By Force
We Ain't Sophisticated

April 02, 2007


These days all towns look the same wherever you go; same houses, same shops, same bunker-like concert halls (that want the live music to end as early as possible so they can let another paying crowd in for the night disco). Guess you can't blame today's bands for sounding the same. About 20-25 years ago this was still very different; most of today's clubs started out as squats back then, run by people who actually liked music. Small record shops would often have their own "flavour", reflecting the tastes of the people running them. Likewise, bands from different towns would sound different. For instance, Venlo in the south had a distinctive sound of its own. (O.K., that was because the same people played in every band!) And Wormer of course. Alerta were from Deventer, a town in the east famed for its Deventer Koek, and though they forged a friendship with such "Wormer" bands as The Ex and Zowiso, they were pretty much on an island stylistically. I didn't know a lot about them, though I remember reading a Koekrand interview where they named their main influences; "The Damned and Zowiso". At a time when it was de rigueur to name about 300 ultra-obscure Latvian bands as your influences, this sounded pretty refreshing. It took a couple of years before I scooped up their 1983 In A Land Of A Thousand Pretty Dreams LP; guess the hippy dippy cover (and title) put me off. There was no need to fear; from the first booming bass notes of "Jill, Jack and John" you get immersed in that great typical early 80's Koeienverhuur sound; loud, metallic, grating and reverby (it's funny to think all these "doomy" Svatsox/ Ex/ GRRR/ Funeral Oration LPs were recorded in the middle of the countryside, overlooking green fields of grass, grazing cows, etc.). The songs are great too, definitely on the "softie", post-punk side of the fence but with just the right amount of anger and punk sneer. At times they even remind me of Funeral Oration, maybe it's the singer's diction...
Despite also putting out a split-EP with The Ex, Alerta remained pretty obscure, this being the time of the great Hardcore/Softie schism; they broke up pretty soon after releasing their one-and-a-half record. I had no idea if any former members had done anything music-wise since, but Steve of Low Down Kids (also from Deventer) informed me that guitarist Harry Otten later played in the Nightblooms, who were pretty famous (outside of the Netherlands) during the "shoegazer" days. Actually the Nightblooms' way of combining noise and melody wasn't that far removed to what Alerta were doing; I guess Alerta did so in less receptive times.

Jill, Jack and John
An Accidental Man
Living Circus