‘CHAOS IN THE CITY/CIVIL WAR NOW/SKINHEADS KNOW WHAT TO DO/SKINHEADS TAKING OVER/CHAOS IS THE RULE/CHAOS!CHAOS!CHAOS!CHAOS! – DON’T GIVE A TOSS!’
GARY HODGES looks dead smart on stage, a walking epitome of skinhead sartorial elegance, but his face reads murder, twisted into expressions that’d put Jack Nicholson in The Shining to shame. Schizoid eyes stare demented and accusing, voice roars raw and abrasive, rasping like a power.drill smashing against solid concrete.
‘Come back of the SKINHEAD/Come back of the BOOT/People who we don’t beat up/We’re gonna FUCKIN’ SHOOT’
Johnny Rotten wanted to destroy the passer-by, Gary Hodges is putting Doctor Marten’s apocalypse into words.
Rotten wanted to be anarchy, Hodges is painting vivid visions of what that really means.
The scene is a Damned gig at the Bridge House last year but the 4-Skins are on stage now, a flaming molotov cocktail of sound, and the audience of cropped Michelin Men, belligerent bootboys and sweat-stained spikeys are going seriously barmy. “We are the ‘new breed and we will have our say, ” Gal hollers. “We are the NEW BREED and we are TODAYYYY!”
At the time it looked like the 4-Skins along with the Cockney Rejects and the Rubbles were in the forefront of a grass roots East End punk renewal, a New Punk upsurge that went partially off the boil with the Rejects’ overnight
ascension to Top Thirty status.
The 4-Skins performance that night won them pride of place on Sounds’ own ‘Oi-The Album’ but that’s not the reason I’m writing this. The reason is that the 4-Skins have seriously reformed and along with younger bands like Infa-Riot from North London, Criminal Class from Coventry, the Exploited from Edinburgh, Demob and Arson from Gloucester, the Blitz Boys from Manchester and a host of others, they now more than ever really do constitute the vanguard of an exciting and dynamic, but often disturbing new breed of punk bands.
SPRINGSTEEN SUSSED it with his vision of the hungry and the hunted EXPLODING in rock ‘n’ roll bands. Born from the Pistols via Menace, Sham and Skrewdriver, and in the pioneering wake of the Rejects and the Upstarts, this new breed are blowing up in your face. They’re bands for who punk ain’t dogma or religion but the fulfillment of a burning need for rock ‘n’ roll in its purest form, raw, aggressive and threatening.
We’re talking about music made by and for the hundreds of thousands of human hand grenades primed by this middle class and middle aged controlled society which has guaranteed them NO FUTURE and left them to fester in their frustrations. And this isn’t an attempt to glamourise that, it’s simply saying it’s happening. It’s here.
“We ‘re not advocating violence,” Gary Hodges says, “We’re just saying what’s happening. I don’t like it but it’s about time someone told the truth.
‘Down in East London/Trouble on the streets/On the street corners the gangs all meet/Talking ’bout the weekend/What we’re gunna do/If you ain’t careful/Gunna do you’ (‘Chaos’)
‘Going down the boozer on your own for a night/A gang of nutters try and pick a fight/You can try and plead for your life/They’ll still cut you with a fucking great
knife’ (‘Wonderful World’)
‘Had to go to court to plead my case/Jury didn’t like my face/Judge said he’s gonna put me away/Asked what I had to say/I said – ACAB/ACAB/ALL COPPERS ARE BASTARDS’ (‘ACAB’)
“In a way it don’t really matter what we think about it…” bassist H (Steve Harmer) is talking now. “It’s what’s going on. It’s the way things are in the East End. We ain’t against coppers cos you need good coppers but round here the coppers are cunts. ‘ACAB’ is a true story and a true observation of 70% of coppers in the East End.”
We’re sitting in a quiet pub two broken legs away from the Bridge House. Hodges, H, and guitarist and legend in his own beer gut Hoxton Tom McCourt whose extensive knowledge of soul music would put Dexys to shame. New drummer Gary Hitchcock couldn’t make it. Hodges is 21 and an unemployed brick layer. H is 21 and a building labourer. Hoxton’s 19 and an engineer. Gary. Hitchcock is 23 and a plasterer.
All four were skins since the summer of ’77 at the latest, following variously Sham and Menace. But they didn’t think Of becoming a band till ’79. “We formed after the first Rubbles gig at the Wellington last year”
Tom explains. “We wrote Chaos’ virtually on the spot and just leapt up and did it. Most Of the gigs we’ve done have been spontaneous, Playing with Untamed Youth and the Rubbles, just playing, with our mates. It’s always been a good atmosphere and that’s the way we wanna keep it.”
IN ALL they,ve played a few more gigs than Spandau Ballet, most of them informal in places like the Hartley, the Standard and the Crown in East and South East London. The only ‘proper’ gigs have been With the Damned and the Rejects. But ever Since I heard the tape of ‘Chaos’, I’ve been on at them ‘When are you gonna start Playing seriously?’
“Have YOU seen the gear we’ve got?” Hodges is indignant. “It’s crap. Would you ask a bricklayer to build a wall without a trowel and a level? We’ve gotta get the decent gear and to get that we’ve gotta have the money.”
Maybe not that much of a problem. ‘Chaos’, (produced by Micky Geggus on the album, incidentally) is already the subject Of negotiations regarding a possible appearance as the A-Side Of a new EP. A Couple Of majors are biting. With the money that Could bring the band Would be transformed over night but if they were they Could also find themselves UP against some serious problems.
What about the violence at gigs that’s marred the Rejects, career?
“The football is part of people’s lives. Our way of life does or did revolve around it,” H adds, “And we’ve got to associate with our mates. We’re still the same as them -‘cept When we get a 70,000 advance and go and live in America…”
What about politics?
H: “We’ve got nothing to do with it. No way. There’s. nothing worth voting for. They’re all the same.”
And the new punk?
Gary Hodges: “Y’got the new punk groups coming up and y’got critics saying they’re not advanced enough. They expect you to play ‘Bankrobber’ and shit like that. Two years ago they ware raving over raw thrash, now they expect you to ‘advance’ into pop pap. Well we’re about punk. Raw punk.”
H: “It’s great in Scotland, the movement’s still alive up there.” Hodges: “Yeah, we really wanna play up there.”
H: “Especially to the girls.”
ANOTHER LEADING new punk band are Infa-Riot. Whereas the 4-Skins cite Slade and Sham as influences, Infa-Riot acknowledge only the Angelic Upstarts – the sign of a five age gap. The Infa’s are vocalist Lee Wilson, 18 and a kitchen worker, bassist Floyd Wilson, 16 and still at school, drummer Gary McInerney, 8 and “sacked this morning”, and guitarist Barry Damery, 16, and “supposed to be at school”.
In their nine months of existence the Infas have built up a following of about 800 kids in North London. After Mensi’s review in Sounds I saw them at the Golden Lion Camberwell Green where they drew about 250 kids at two days notice.
H anything Mensi’s review erred on the side of understatement. It’s. easy to see why he was so impressed. The Infas sound and feel very much like the Upstarts, they’ve got the same drive and the same harshness. And they’ve also got a brilliant frontman in the shape of Lee who like Mensi, Turner and Hodges exudes an aura of commitment and stardom. He’s a natural.
Turns·out that the band’s first ever gig was supporting the Upstarts at the estimable Lordship drinkerie in Wood Green. Since then their progress has been encouraged and abetted by the ‘4be2s mafia’, and enterprising Jock McDonald recording their first single ‘Five Minute Fashions’l’Riot-Riot’ on his own McDonald-Lydon label for release next week.
‘Five Minute Fashions’ is their best live number, a slower than frantic treatise on fickle fad following, with verses akin to ‘Calling The Tune’ by the Skids interspersed with a titanic chorus of I A-A-A-A-AAAAA You was a punk too/A-A-A-A-AAAA You was a mod too/A-A-A-A-AAAAA But you’re a SKIN-HEAD NOWWW’ The final verse pleads: ‘Can you stay a skin for more than just a day?IEverybody says you look so good this way/At least you’re not a nothing in your boring life/So please don’t change your skinhead fashions over night’
“We don’t mind having a hard skin/punk audience, ” Lee explains in his Cockney-tinged Plymouth accent. “We won’t use ’em and ditch ’em. There’s skins all over the country and they ain’t got a band who they can say this is the skinhead/bootboy band. But our crowd are the same age as us. Pursey is nearly 30 – he’s got no relation with the crowd. Even Mensi’s 24 now. The time is right to kick out all the has beens. It’s time for a new generation of bands.
“Our name is an abbreviation of In For A Riot. We’re talking about skinheads not as fashion but as a way of life.”
High on anthem status is their song ‘Kids Of The Eighties’ -‘Come on boys let’s do a shop/There’s nothing else for us to do/There’s no youth clubslWe can’t get in pubs/Therel s no future/Nothing for us/So what do we do?/We turn to crime/There ain’t nobody who’s got time for us/WHO?/THE KIDS OF THE EIGHTIES/We don’t go to school/We’ve given up’.
ADD THIS to songs like “School’, ‘Bootboys’ and “In For A Riot’ and you get a clearer idea of what the band are about. But weren’t they just inciting kids to violence? “No, ” Lee is adamant, “We’re just facing facts. It’s what happens, we just sin’t scared to write about it. ” And like the 4-Skins they’re convinced their attitude won’t necessarily result in gig riots.
“We’re gonna keep football out of it. The Rejects have built themselves their own trap with the West Ham thing. Now people are just going along to have a go at them. They’re OK in the East End but outside it’s trouble. We all support teams but we’re not gonna broadcast them. Our songs are for all kids. “In our crowd we get Arsenal and West Ham all mixed in and there’s no trouble ‘cos we’re not inciting them. Football and music don’t mix. Nor does politics and music. We’re as much against politics as we are against disco. We’re making a stand but we’re all about enjoyment. ” And allover it seems that bands are springing up making the same stand. Most of them I’ve never heard the Exploited you know about, Criminal Class (who I hope to see very soon) are another heavily Upstarts influenced band. The rest are vaguer, voices on the phone, heartfelt letters, grubby tapes. Nonetheless it is possible to discern a genuine whole new wave of bands, young and aggressive and locked into that same skin/bootboy/hardcore punk mentality. The mentality is essentially male, though a lot of girls are involved. It’s basically a celebration of what John McVicar perpetually called machismo which means a lot more than its general insulting wet/liberal/middle class usage implies. Properly defined macho·is about honour, loyalty, courage, strength and endurance -the sort of Hollywood hero idea of manhood which strikes me as being an ideal far preferable to the introspective wimp advanced by the hipsters. Trouble is in reality the noble ideal goes out the window as skinhead mentality translates far too often into brutality, bullying and bigotry which is not glamorous or laudable in any way. There are idiots and psychos in any movement. But the real problem is that society in a/l its official forms chooses to ignore the powder keg it’s built, leaving the way open for less scrupulous crackpots, lunatics and demagogues to try and exploit it.
UNDERSTANDABLY THESE kids detest politics because politics has done nothing for them. Which is why extremist views that also despise conventional politics can find fertile breeding ground amongst the kids. And whereas Mensi tempers his anti-politics with a rich humanism and populism the more common reaction is a celebration of confusion, a dangerous and volatile violent nihilism.
Which is why if there is a new punk emerging it’s the responsibility of the participants not to play into the hands of the demagogues, but to keep their protest and righteous wrath untainted by power games. It’s a tall order because things are much worse than the media and society spokesmen would have us believe.
Smug politicians and greedy bosses have destroyed whole communities and thrown an entire generation on the scrapheap They have created or overseen the creation of the seeds of a Clockwork Orange future. which carries within it the threat of the destruction of much of what is still good about Britain.
The teenage warning is here for everyone to see. The scrap heap is starting to look suspiciously like a funeral pyre. Who lights the match and which way the wind blows the flames is still a matter of conjecture.
Either way the fury and resentment of an untamed youth, unwanted and rejected, could burn your temples down, Mr Complacent, Mr Bloated, Mr See-no-evil. Maybe it’s wort, chewing that over next time the unemployment figures shoot up.