January 23, 2008


A pre-skin Skrewdriver in front of Blackpool Tower, 1977.

By now, everybody knows the Skrewdriver story: early punk band with no political inclinations adopt skinhead look, as a result attract violent skinhead following, are dropped from label and can't get gigs; band implodes. Years later, singer starts new band using old name, adding ultra-right wing "White Power" agenda, thereby forever tarnishing their name. If this was just any run-of-the-mill band it would be merely pathetic; what makes it sad is the fact that first-incarnation Skrewdriver were one of the best bands around. One of the very first punk records (spring '77) from the north of England, debut platter You're So Dumb is a sizzling scorcher with vocals that make your hairs stand on end. All Skrewed Up (the first 45 RPM LP ever?) from later that year was very good too, and shows they could do more than just bash it out; on the mostly acoustic "Where's It Gonna End" the singing is more melodic, in fact it reminds me of Scream's Peter Stahl (!) every time I hear it. For a while, Skrewdriver were loved and respected by music press and fellow musicians alike, rubbing shoulders with the likes of the Damned, the Jam (whose notoriously fussy Paul Weller even lent them some of his gear after their van got stolen) and Motorhead. In fact, their equal parts 60's R&B/ heavy rock sound occupied a sort of middle ground between both aforementioned (and soon to become huge) bands. For a band always branded as godfathers of Oi!, the music has actually very little to do with it; there's no football-chant type chorus in sight, the playing is tight rather than sloppy (in that light, the Faces are far more proto-Oi) and Ian Stuart sounds more Transatlantic than Cockney. Alas, one ill-judged style change and it all went down the drain.
Those great early Skrewdriver sides were never reissued by Chiswick/Ace, who understandably didn't want anything to do with what they had become. Try to find an original copy on eBay and you won't find a thing: the very word "Skrewdriver" is forbidden on that oh-so humanitarian auction site! So you try Soulseek; next thing you know you get a deluge of Skrewdriver mp3s, both "old" and "new", thousands of them, from users with scary names like i-kill-commies and skullsplitter. Well, I guess that unavailibility really worked! It's like Mein Kampf: why not just make it freely available, so everyone can find out for themselves it's a load of crap? I remember in the 80's there were quite a few PC-baiting fanzine types who thought it was really smart to insist those later Skrewdriver records were really great, all in the spirit of "it's like Celine, ya know, judge it by art, not politics!" Well, I've listened to some of it, and I can tell you it sucks. But don't take my word for it, go find it out for yourselves. I guess that's one of the good things to come out of the mystique-busting mp3/P2P-era...
Anyway, I'll leave you with three blazing tracks from their 1977 Peel Session, so you can reminisce about what could have been.

The Only One