What does it sound like?:
By 1980, Punk was pretty much dead – it had splintered into many genres and sounds.
All the bands that would have a future career had been signed up by the major labels (or were enjoying major label-type exposure and success on the bigger indies). Or the major labels had just chucked money at whatever guitar wielding angry bands they could find (not always with guaranteed success).
One of the splinters was the Oi movement, heavily supported (invented?) by Garry Bushell. Like a lot of media-supported genres, Oi was pretty much London-centric. As a response, and to prove there was life outside that London, the genre of “Streetpunk” (latterly hailed as UK82) took shape.
Both suffered a backlash of overt violence and believed right-wing tendencies – whilst there may be a modicum of truth in the “violence” bit, the nazi sympathies and racist accusations were, in 99.9% of cases, complete bunk.
To paraphrase Jimmy Pursey: For once in their life they had something to say …
And a couple of guitars, a drum kit, a microphone gave them a chance – and many of them took that chance, even if it only meant once before “normal life” took over.
Without wanting to come over like some pseudo-psychologist, Oi and Streetpunk were very much Working Class based, offering a way out of dead-end live and even deader-end jobs (or no jobs (it was the early 80s)) beyond the usual escape routes of Boxing, Football or Crime.
The similarities of Oi and Streetpunk are striking – simple song structures, rarely more than 3 chords, pounding drums, to-the-point lyrics (no arty turns of phrase for these boys and girls).
Whilst Oi may have started as a second wave skinhead music with punk inflections, streetpunk offered a home to the Second Wave of Punk (studded leather and fluorescent mohicans very much on show), and the two genres merged into one.
This was music played by bored kids with not much else to do. There is a streak of aggression to both the playing and the lyrics – sometimes delivered with a shout, a sneer, and a generally “p*ssed off the world” tone. Other times there’s a dollop of humour, and a feeling “I can’t believe my luck I’m doing this” about it. And (this may surprise some readers) there is sometimes a touch of melody and tune underneath it all.
The major cities or suburbs were no longer the stronghold areas (although the bands still came from there) – previously sleepy towns with no scene other than a train ride away (or at least had never made it outside the couple of clubs in the areas) were spawning new bands.
Northampton, Derby, Stoke-On-Trent, Chesterfield and Sunderland are just some of the home-towns represented.
The most popular seemed to be Bristol – home to Riot City Records, and perhaps the progenitors/enablers of the movement.
OK, as the players aren’t studied musos, there is a bit of sameiness running through the tracks, but then there will be something which sounds different from the last, and the journey begins again.
Unlike the previous Cherry Red sets, there is probably not as many undiscovered/long-forgotten gems as previously sets have thrown up, but still moments of interest.
All the expected names are here: Cockney Rejects, The Business, The Exploited and The Anti-Nowhere League (plus a host of other mohawk sporting, leather clad groups). Rudi , Outcasts, The Defects, and Ruefrex represent the Northern Ireland chapter, and even The Damned who’d split up, reformed, re-configured, and were now knocking about on Chiswick, Big Beat and/or Bronze (indies certainly, but possibly with a little more reach perhaps), put in an appearance.
There are further “big name” links with appearances UK Subs, The Vibrators, The Adicts, The Lurkers and Chelsea, standing shoulder to shoulder with Newtown Neurotics, Lunatic Fringe, Subculture, The Skeptix and plenty of other “never to be massive” names)
Damn near everything of importance from Bristol’s Riot City label is here, and a host of other releases from the indie labels: No Future, Clay, Anagram, Secret, GBH and more.
Be honest, most box sets are played through once, and then stuck on the shelf as a sort of time capsule.
Whilst this may not get regular plays, there was enough tracks to make me go and listen to a couple again (and again) – how many people in 21st Century Britain have spent the weekend listening to Vice Squad, Chaotic Discord, GBH the Toy Dolls and Peter & The Test Tube Babies?
What does it all *mean*?
They played fast, they played and sang sometimes out of tune (or at least right on the edge of tune), and they found an audience willingly following. Popularity or marketing – even The Exploited made it onto Top Of The Pops with Dead Cities.
The bands and tracks here may never trouble the compilers of “The Best Punk Album In The World … Ever”, and are unlikely to get (even minimal) airplay on any mainstream radio station.
But there continues to be enough support for them to make a (sort of) career out of it and continue touring and (in many cases) still recording.
Ongoing influence? Probably not, and will forever be considered as “of it’s time”
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Those who want to listen to a blast of energy and passion, with no concern for classic chord progressions or chromatic scales.