Tag Archives: Sham 69

That’s Life

The Sham album reviewed in Canadian anarchist paper Vacant Lot, number 1, Jan-Feb 1979.

That’s Life – Sham 69
If you enjoyed their first album you’ll probably like this one as well. Over all, it’s quite good, except two songs. The worst one, Everybody’s Right Everybody’s Wrong, is really hokey, and sounds like a shitty folk song. Is This Me Or Is This You – I found to be slightly repetitious. The two best songs are Who Gives A Damn which has, amongst other things, excellent vocals, and Sunday Morning Nightmare, is very powerful, and right on tune. As well as good music, throughout the album there are also bits of dialogue which serve as platforms for each song and are generally humorous.
All things considered, it’s probably worth buying, definitely worth stealing and available at the usual places.

– Gerry Useless


Stalwarts of UK reggae get a feature in Ital Rockers, issue 4, Winter 78-9. The zine was edited by Dougie Thomson from Edinburgh.

So far in “IR1-4” we’ve featured most of Britain’s most popular and established bands (the ones who actually play in Scotland), and obviously we couldn’t leave out the Cimarons who are still going strong after fourteen years.
The Cimarons were Britain’s first ever home grown JA band and formed around 1965, and it is a tribute to their resilience and conviction that they are still together today, and, they will tell you, still in the front line for reggae. The history of the group is pretty well known – session band backing all Trojan’s JA stars on their British tours in the sixties, recording occasionally and touring often in their own right (remember the reggae evening at the Empire Ballroom back in 1973 filmed by “OGWT” with the Cims, Nicky Thomas, Judge Dread and Dennis Alcapone?), cutting two LPs, “In Time” for Trojan and “On The Rock” for the now defunct Vulcan label in ’73 and ’75, but above all staying on the road, spreading the reggae message, from the cabaret stage to black and white audiences, and to listeners all over the world, playing in Spain, Ireland, Thailand and Japan over the years.
Nowadays they’re with Polydor, and still touring as much as ever – in the last year they played Edinburgh three times, a superb set at the Astoria in April, a delayed but worth the wait Freshers’ Ball at the Assembly rooms, and most recently as support to the appalling Sham 69 at the Odeon in November. There have also been two more albums – “Live At The Roundhouse”, and an exciting set dating from 1977, released last year and reviewed in “IR3”, and the interesting, worthwhile “Maka” studio set, that is listenable, if somewhat flawed. The record (pressed on green vinyl!) is divided into two concepts, the first dealing in broader, more African cultural terms, with Earth, while the second side is more loose yet narrow, a celebration of reggae. It’s not an album that I play very often, but it has good moments., such as the single “Mother earth” or “Civilisation” on the first side, “Willin’ (Rock Against Racism)”, another single on the second side, and numbers such as “Truly” and “Give Thanks And Praise”. For all they have done for UK reggae over the years I am very grateful to carl Levy, Franklyn Dunn, Locksley Gichie, Maurice Ellis and Winston Reid. The Cimarons – harder than the rock.

The Joy Of Spex

X-Ray Spex in ZigZag, No. 86, August, 1978.

The Joy of Spex

My mind is like a plastic bag
That corresponds to all those ads

It sucks up all the rubbish
That is fed in through by ear
I eat kleenex for breakfast
And I use soft hygienic Weetabix
To dry my tears

My mind is like a switchboard
With crossed and tangled lines
Contented with confusion

That is plugged into my head
I don’t know what’s going on
It’s the operators job,
Not mine I said

(Lyrics by Poly Styrene)

THE lyrics above came from My mind is like a plastic bag, one of the best songs that X Ray Spex have in their strong set. The words are a good example of the kind of hatred that Poly Styrene holds against the plastic society we live in. On paper you can see the serious aspect of Poly’s writing, yet when you witness Spex on stage, Poly treats these lyrics to her own brand of fun. As Poly says herself, her lyrics are “Serious, ‘n’yet not serious”.
All Spex songs are like statements about the synthetic world we live in. Poly doesn’t tell us to tear down society. In fact if there is a message in her lyrics, it is to sit back and have a good laugh at ourselves.

I clambered over mounds and mounds
Of polystyrene foam
Then fell into a swimming pool

Filled with fairy snow
And watched the world turn day-glo, you know
I drove my polypropylene car
On wheels of sponge

Then pulled into a wimpy bar
To have a rubber bun
The X-rays were penetrating
Through the latex breeze
Synthetic fibre see-thru leaves
Fell from the rayon trees

(Lyrics by Poly Styrene)

It’s taken “Zigzag” a long time to write about X Ray Spex, but believe me it was never intentional to miss out on them. Spex have been one of my favourite live bands since their early days when they could barely fill the small Man in the Moon pub in Kings Road, Chelsea. Since then, they’ve headlined at the Roundhouse a couple of times, been over to New York to play a residency at CBGB’s, been involved with two record companies, played with The Clash and TRB for RAR and been on Top of the Pops singing “Dayglo”.
The nucleus of the line up has always been Poly Styrene (vocals), Paul Dean (bass) and Jak Airport (lead guitar) but the positions of saxophonist and drummer haven’t really been very stable until recent months. In fact there have been three drummers and three saxophonists in the short (so far) life span of the Spex. Holding down the posts at the moment are Steve Rudi (sax) and B. P. Harding on drums. Former (and original) sax player Laura Logic has recently cut a single of her own, using ex-Spex-drummer Richard Tees. Laura left the Spex because of her schooling, but is now, it seems, trying to get back into the music scene.

X Ray Spex started, naturally enough, with Poly Styrene. She had written a lot of songs and wanted to form a band so she could get out on the road and perform them. She advertised for musicians and the first two to arrive on her doorstep were Paul and Jak. They soon got themselves a drummer and it wasn’t until Laura Logic rang Poly to ask if she could be in the band that the sax entered the scene. Since that day, of course, the sax, coupled with Poly’s flamboyant characteristic voice, has become a trade mark of the Spex.
The band kicked off their musical career down the Roxy in March ’77. It was when the Roxy was still buzzing with talent and Spex proved to be no exception. It was shortly after this that the band grabbed themselves a residency every Sunday at the “Man in the Moon”. The dive bar was very tiny, without a stage, and the equipment was so shabby that it suited the surroundings. All the same, the place had a certain kind of atmosphere all of its own. The gigs were advertised by way of photocopied ads left lying around in “specialist” shops such as Rough Trade or by word of mouth. The regular support acts for Spex at this time were The Unwanted and Adam and the Ants. This was where X Ray Spex gained their regular following and when they stopped playing there, the place never really caught that atmosphere again (though small bands like Defiant and Local Operator did attempt to recreate it – but to no avail).

Poly Styrene has always been the centre of attraction in X-Ray Spex though bassist Paul Dean is quick to point out that the rest of the band are quite happy with the current situation. Paul is the oldest member, though to look at him you’d imagine he was the youngest.
Paul informed me that it was always Poly who would bring in a set of lyrics and hum a tune for him and Jak Airport to work into a new song. Paul has writtn songs, but they are used solely for his own purpose of singing them to his friends. He has no immediate ambitions to use any of his material within X Ray Spex. As he says, this is Poly’s band and it always has been.
Whether the rest of the band’s laid back attitude of allowing Poly to be the sole centre of X ray Spex is wise or not, only time will tell. Personally I believe that Poly is going slowly under with all the pressure she is getting. Oh sure, she may seem very calm in her interviews but I have read between the lines. She is constantly being bombarded with questions about racism, how she feels about RAR and how serious people should take her lyrics. Well, in regard to Poly’s lyrics, I find it obvious that if she sits down and writes such thought provoking words as those in “Plastic Bag”, “Germ Free Adolescence” and “Genetic Engineering”, then she must want them to be taken seriously, But at the same time Poly strives hard to remain her fun-loving self and adds this all-important ingredient to the whole plastic artificial language soup that she is cooking up for her public. Of course the lyrics are important. Spex are a very important band.

Genetic engineering
Could create the perfect race
Could create an unkown life force
That could us exterminate

Introducing worker clone
As our subordinated slave
His expertise proficiency
Will surely dig our grave

It’s so tempting
Will biologists resist?
When he becomes the creator
Will he let us exist

Bionic man is jumping
Through the television set
He’s about to materialise
And guess who’s coming next

(“Genetic Engineering” –
lyrics by Poly Styrene)

Poly knows we all live in a celophane wrapped-up world and she not only sings about it in her songs, but she tries to combat it in real life. She wears outrageously coloured plastic clothes and sings songs like “Iama Poseur ” and “I am a cliche” as a kind of reassurance to herself as to what she is totally against. She is forever struggling to remain plain ol’ Poly Styrene from Brixton. In a way, it’s the same as Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69. Jimmy is another who is forever being quoted in the press as being like a kid off the street. I believe you, Jim, I also believe Poly. They only repeat it so much so that they can remind themselves, not others.
Poly really was shocked when she realised that her over-exaggerated plastic look was “For Real” in New York. She was treated as a fellow poseur, when the whole idea was to send up these poseurs. To use an old hippy sayin, it must have been “mindblowing” for Poly to see what could happen here in down to earth UK.

When I spoke to Paul, I aske him about the fun-kind of image that Spex tend to put across. He assured me that this was never contrived and that the band really are all great friends and they love playing on stage. They just can’t wait to get out there and, of course, Poly is a gem once she’s onstage. X Ray Spex records may be good, but when you get right down to it, they’re no substitute for seeing the group perform live. Poly, like all great live performers (Rotten, Pursey, Jagger, etc.), is compulsive to watch. She has outstanding originality on her side.
I asked Paul how he felt about bands like Subway Sect or the Buzzcocks, who tend to take a more serious attitude to their music. He sensibly replied that there was room for both attitudes and gave a preference for liking the Buzzcocks. I then asked him if he was happy with the way that the new wave had developed. He said he thought that the media were hyping the more psychedelic bands (Devo, Pere Ubu) and that it was going the same way as the ‘sixties. He was also a little sad that a lot of bands had split up. He said that he could never see the Spex having to split up, because everyone was happy in his or her role in the band at present.
Spex have made two singles and both have been successful. The latest, “The day the world turned dayglo” taking them into the national charts. Another single should already be out by the time you read this article. In fact they should soon complete their first album. It should be a classic.
They left Virgin after releasing “Oh bondage, up yours” because of the contract they were offereed. Not for them a long term contract to produce albums like Heinz produce cans of beans. They chose to work with EMI International, who agreed to them signing a short contract at a time and also having an “X Ray Spex” label just for their own records. This is obviously a very happy arrangement for the Spex as well as EMI, who surely can’t fail to make money, with such a great band.

RAR has had an unusual side effect after the large open air gig in Hackney and Paul and the band have noticed it. It’s a funny ol’ subject called “Politics”.
Paul explains: “I really believe in RAR and I know that the rest of the band do as well. We did the gig at Hackney because we are all totally against racism of any kind, but a lot of Socialists used that event for their own political reasons. I am not a socialist and I just want to say that I was not there for that reason. It’s like we get a lot of Sham 69 fans at our gigs and they say it’s ‘cos we’re a street band, whatever that is. I live in St. Albans, so I wouldn’t know.”
The rest of the band live together with their manager, Falcon Stewart in his house. They are a very close unit and that is why they should stay together for some time. I haven’t interviewed Poly for this article as I thought it would make a change to read the views of another member of the band – Paul Dean. However, I will end with some of the very clever lyrics she has written for her band.
I know the pressure is on you, Poly and a popular saying is “It’s tough at the top” but I’m sure you’ll survive when you remember a quote from Lemmy of Motorhead – “It’s tougher at the bottom”. Stay on top, Poly.
Here are the lyrics from what will probably be the new single by X ray Spex. It’s called “Identity”.

Identity is the crisis
Can’t you see
Identity, identity

When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself
Do you see yourself
On the TV screen
Do you see yourself
In the magazines
When you see yourself
Does it make you scream.

When you look in the mirror
Do you smash it quick
Do you take the glass
And slash your wrists
Did you do it in a fit
Did you do it before
You read about it.

Alan Anger

Reading 78

Poem from Guttersnipe zine, number 2, 1978. There’s no name as to the author.


Friday morning, just got my cheque,
Had to see my solicitor to keep me outta nick.
Only four of us going down,
Rode in an M.G. breaking the limit in every town.
Arrived in Reading around about four,
Got in by paying a quid on the door.

So onto the stage to sing with the band,
Backstage had some beers with the lads outta Sham,
Then we seen Paul Weller of the Jam.
Don’t remember where I slept
But she shouldn’t worry her secrets kept.

Quadrophenia Is Rotten

Johnny Rotten and Jimmy Pursey considered for lead roles in Quadrophenia, from the NME, 12 August, 1978.

Pursey, Rotten In Line For Who Film Role

Johnny Rotten and Sham 69’s Jimmy Pursey are being considered for the leading role in the movie Quadrophenia.
Based on The Who’s album and using Pete Townshend’s original music, production starts next month. Both vocalists are candidates to play the central character, Jimmy.
It’s a dramtic role and a script has just been written by Dave Humphries.
Rotten is reportedly dubious about appearing in the movie, but on Thursday discussed the project with Townshend.
“He asked to talk to me about it,” Townshend said before their meeting. “But I don’t see how it’ll change anything.
“I don’t think he’ll do it. In fact I’m 100 per cent certain he won’t.”
Pursey, whom Townshend saw on TV and thought looked right for Jimmy, is enthusiastic about the role. He says he has already met with the film’s production team.
“I think Quadrophenia would suit me,” said Pursey, “cos I know the album, and I can understand the kid involved. Having been through the same sort of set up I know I’d really get into it.
“But I’d be a bit wary of how they (the makers) saw it, ‘cos I don’t think I could handle something potty like the way Tommy went.”
Director Frank Rhoddam declined to confirm that Rotten and Pursey had been approached. he said it was a very complicated role and other people were also in line for the part.

Skinhead Wankers

An upset punk writes to the NME, 18 February, 1978. The letters page was edited by Les Miserables of the Snivelling Shits.

I’m just writing to say I think Skins are the biggest wankers out. On the 28th of Jan ’78 I went up to the LSE to see Sham 69. When I arrived at Holborn tube station The Skins were hassling all the ol’ ladies and unsuspecting beings into corners and ‘phone boxes.
When (evenyually) everyone got in, everyone was fairly well behaved. Then downstairs, about 400 people broke down the doors and came charging up the stairs throwing bottles and cutting into people’s flesh with kitchen knives etc. – so eventually I left (without seeing the band).
I’d just like to say I think it’s a shame ‘cos Sham are a good band but I won’t go to see them again ‘cos I refuse to go through another charade with the Skins. I also heard a bunch of Skins saying if any of the Clash came to see Sham they’d give ’em a rough time ‘cos they thought “The Clash should have supported Sham, not the other way round” quoted an extremely large looking Skin, playing with a knife carelessly near my jugular vein.
I know you won’t print this letter ‘cos you never print anyone’s letter unless they mention the boring, beautiful, blonde Debbie Harry at least twice, but it really pisses me off when you can’t see a band ‘cos you’re not a Punk/Skin/Ted/Rasta.
London N10

We had the same trouble when they wouldn’t let in a guy ‘cos he had on a Beatle jacket. The management didn’t know we’d given up punk. Dunno why Jimmy Sham puts up with them skins, they should stick to Skrewdriver. – Les

What Have We Got?

The Adverts and Sham 69 at the Roundhouse reviewed in the NME, 18 February, 1978.

Sham 69


Ugly scenes are nothing new to the hoards in their Number One crops who make it their business to check out Sham 69.
And once the “gig sold out” whispers began to travel through the crowd outside the Roundhouse last Sunday, a heavy night was in store.
First signs of trouble came with the sight of skinhead groups charging down Chalk Farm Road to roll some poor kid for his ticket. Another bunch tried – unsuccessfully – to ram their way in through the back door.
With the commotion outside and the Roundhouse door policy of letting people in one by one, the smiling, suited Boyfriends are already into their set by the time I’m in.
Maybe, like Roogalator for instance, they’re a band who will sound a lot better on record than they do live, but tonight it’s a struggle in the face of Nil Audience Reaction.
One or two things reminded me vaguely of Elvis Costello, but then little of real substance, and consequently nothing to write about them.
They weren’t even booed offstage or heckled.
In the meantime, between 50 and 100 of the “Skeenhead/We hate Punks” brigade pogo gleefully to some reggae in front of the stage.
It’s only when the Shams come on that things start to get reallt vicious, and the cowardly thugs start laying into individual innocents.
“Just enjoy it right. Otherwise you won’t get another chance to see us,” shouts singer Jimmy Pursey.
Naturally he freaks as the West Ham Northbank crew go totally crazy.
“For fuck’s sake, pack it in and just enjoy yourselves.”
But as the Upton Park beret boys merely move to the back of the hall to wreak further havoc it’s obvious that even Pursey can’t control them, and a lot of people leave.
“I’m sick of making speeces,” declares Pursey, now stripped down to the waist and looking more than ever like young Iggy.
“I don’t want to have to keep on saying stop fighting! If you don’t just enjoy the next song, then we’re fucking off.”
The threat seems to bring some semblance of order, but no doubt the GLC officials in the audience already have their minds made up. The merits of Sham 69’s music I’ve discussed elsewhere in this paper. Suffice to say here that they were easily the best band of the evening – a fact which makes some of these audience scenes all the more souring.
A mindless chant of “Sham – Sham – Sham” brings them back for encores of “George davis Is Innocent” and the inevitable “What Have We Got?”
An exceptionally long break ensures that everything has cooled down sufficiently for the bill-toppers The Adverts to play what turns out to be a lifeless, messy set to rapturous applause.
“Safety In Numbers” was all too appropriate a song for the evening, but The Adverts left me cold. Oh-so-bored Gaye Advert drags most songs down to a dirge with her plodding bass lines, while there’s too much of a tendancy to, er, intellectualize in the dull lyrics.
I leave before the encores, convinced of a growing Fascism in certain secors of the Great British Rock Audience. (The earlier violence seemed so pre-meditated that it beat the Dunstable riot of two weeks back).
On the whole, not a great night.

Adrian Thrills