SOUNDS January 2 1982
Unleash The Hell Hounds
Christmas On Earth Festival
Leeds, Queens Hall December 20th 1981
If you were not around in 1977, don’t believe one safe, plastic, pathetic word of it. 1977 was a disgrace, a sham, a lie. A year when the nation’s youth walked into a false rebellion, 1977 punk, nothing but a whirling mass of nightclubbing, prancing and posing with camera-flashing photographers and music journalists waltzing around and adding fuel to an explosion of elitism and egotism. Everyone on the make.
Those feeble Mickey Mouse politics vanished so quickly, wiped clean by every band lucky enough to place signatures on record
company paper. The Roxy Club, the meeting place for the new star children, was a clique and an unpleasant experience for any
unrecognisable face. Likewise, the Electric Circus or Eric’s. Oh, and the heroes. . . The Clash, nice lads, sweet lads, told us what to say, how to say it, when to say it and how to wear it. Naive and brainless, they are not to blame. They believed their own image and their own press handouts. The Sex Pistols, believe me, were just a mediocre heavy metal band fumbling around, and amazingly lucky to find themselves behind the finest rock’n’roll singer since Gene Vincent. Bungler McLaren slipped and fell onto the correct button and stood back in amazement as his band exploded. Visually, the new punk is scruffier, uglier and angrier than in ’77. The stares are mean, but not intense and cause no concern. There was no danger. The atmosphere was electric but nicely so, and alive. An obvious comparison with the Bingley Futurama passed in focus. At Bingley, a general tiredness overpowered and destroyed a possible creative atmosphere and most attempts at band/audience communication were crushed beneath this damp blanket. Now, Leeds was sharp and vibrant. A general excitement defeated the strain of physically enduring the 12 hours.
1977 punk was a fashion fad which developed (taking me along for the ride) through Joy Division and Teardrops and more nightclubs and then through a cleansing process leaving only Spandau Ballet and new funk and haircuts and forties suits. A much simplified line obviously, but the point is, the new punk has little in common with 1977. The new punk cannot be a simple fashion because it has no direction. The new punk is locked within reality, whereas 1977 punk created an escapist vision of anarchic reality. The new punk is not a lie, the new punk is unhip, beautifully unhip and solid and unrelenting and unpretentious. There aren’t many buyers so the new punk cannot sell out. So, I ploughed through the white snow and the red tape, meaning, I spent two infuriating hours battling for a press card which just wasn’t forthcoming, completely destroying my Yuletide jollity and suspending the proposed GBH interview until further notice. And, finally, I strolled nervously into the expected squalor. I wandered around through masses of black leather with studs and dayglo hair and white hair and mohican hair.
Leeds was alive and nobody needed to create mystique. It was fun and fire and protest. A wonderful, goodhearted if slightly dangerous charge stagewards greeted every band and every band responded with equal vigour. Enthusiasm and passion – I’d forgotten things like these. Charlie Harper wandered through unhindered, getting admiring glances and “Hi, Charlie”. He seemed happy, free and easy and later performed an amazing set which recharged faded passions everywhere and the hall, with all its grotesque, peasant imagery, reinstated my membership into rock ‘n’ roll fun and frolics. I glanced around the tee-shirt stalls, bought a hamburger and generally did everything that is traditional and, for the first time in years, actually enjoyed it.
The Anti-Nowhere League became instant heroes of mine, degenerates in motion. A filthy snarl, a sneer, a leer and all with a sense of humour. Their ‘Streets Of London’s a revelation, the singer epitomising a sixties rock/punk crossover. Another comparison – in ’77, we were mostly punk mods but today the Motorhead myth replaces the Who myth and grease replaces vaseline. I sank back alone. I had to travel alone and I wondered why. Had this been a jazz festival I would have been surrounded by eager, scrounging, hip friends. Funny thing, hipness, as it controls your taste, your ideals and even your politics. It can turn you about face to such an extent that you violently detest your last year’s persona.
So, the new punk continues throughout, with old values? Or perhaps it continues as a viable megaphone to youth problems and anxieties. These bands, Anti-Pasti, GBH, Vice Squad, Exploited, are all so free and diamond hard, all relying on the flow of inner passions and direct working class language and statements. A certain purity is evident, the music remaining unmuddled by the lack of desire to stay in vogue, the lack of desire to bend belief to achieve certain levels of commerciality. Only the older bands fall headfirst into the trappings of cliches and self-parody, like Chelsea, and especially the Damned whose off-stage antics have long since switched from impulsive fun to forced keeping up their reputation. As this is the case, the Damned's music switched from glorious, anarchic, almost absurd humour to an obsolete, undignified mess some three years ago. The Damned are just light relief. The new punk cannot change anything and it knows this. It can, however, inject a sense of belonging, a sense of family to a youth which is not truly outlawed. As the unemployment situation worsens, all the youth can possibly do is scream, and the scream is stronger now than it ever was five years ago.