Saturday, February 11, 2017

Is she really going out with him?

In the summer of 1977 BBC Radio One broadcast a series of programmes called ' Happenings ten years time ago', the series was presented by Pete Drummond, using The Yardbirds first single as its theme, comparing the musical changes that were taking place during 1977 with those of 1967.

Not sure if the choice of record was ironic, simply because the single featuring Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and John Paul Jones (a sort of Fantasy Band line-up if ever there was one) had actually been released in October 1966. There's no doubt that the song, often cited as one of the first precursors of 'heavy metal' sounded different to  its fellow chartmates: Ken Dodd, Cilla Black and The Seekers although to be fair while the Yardbirds languished near the mid-forties of the Top 50  the top selling single was 'Good Vibrations' which is probably a musical genre all of its own.

Whilst those born in 1950 might consider themselves to have been born at the perfect moment to witness rock's golden years, the coming of age party being held in 1971, those of us born between 1958 and 1961 didn't do too badly either. I was too young to fully appreciate the 'summer of love' first hand but I was the right age (11), to enjoy the first fruits of Glam in 1971 with the release of 'Jeepster', 'Hot Love' and 'Get It On' by T.Rex, the right age when Big Star released their seminal album #1 Record in 1972 and puberty had just set in as 'Krautrock' replaced 'Prog' in 1974 as the choice of music for teenage boys who struggled to make eye contact with members of the opposite sex.

And so when Punk broke in 1976 I was off an age when I could compare and contrast the old guard of the sixties (most of whom were only in their late thirties by this point) with bands who seem to consist of members whose age was a rough approximation to mine, there were of course exceptions to the rule, The Stranglers seemed to be a group of dirty old men who simply encouraged anti-social activity (wanking on the beach anybody) whilst playing tunes that seemed to have been 'borrowed' from the sixties with too much in the way of disguise. Paul, Mick and Topper of The Clash were all five years older than me, John Lydon (Rotten at the time) was four years older than me and the most musically talented of that initial break through, The Buzzcocks, were five years older than I was.  Johnny, Dee Dee, Tommy and Joey Ramone were all a further five years older, in fact the gap in days between Johnny Ramone and George Harrison was far less than any gap between any of the members of the first flush of punk and myself.

The band that led the way, at least in terms of being the first band to release a UK punk single and album, were The Damned. 'New Rose' was released on 22 October 1976, the b-side was a cover of the Fabulous Fours 'Help!' which at 1:43 managed to convey the new urgency that was supposed to replace the plodding old guard. 'New Rose' was written by Brian James, a man far too good looking to be in a punk band, his look however was offset by the gurning Captain Sensible, the scary Rat Scabies and Dave Vanian, a much underrated singer whose range could vary between pop perfection, pathos and humour.

And so, in the spirit of Pete Drummond in 1977, let's go back just over forty years to where it all began for one of the most important musical years of my life.

The single was produced by Nick Lowe, at the time Lowe was well known in musical circles for being the guitarist in Brinsley Schwarz, a band I saw twice in concert, including their support for an up and coming artist from Liverpool called Paul McCartney and his band Wings. Not only did Lowe produce 'New Rose' and the album it would subsequently appear on 'Damned Damned Damned' he would also produce Elvis Costello's first five albums (from 'My Aim Is True' through to 'Trust') and then a variety of bands from Dr. Feelgood to the Pretenders and John Hiatt, another, in my humble opinion, criminally overlooked artist.

From Dave Vanian's  opening spoken line, 'Is she really going out with him?' the first UK punk single is two minutes and forty one seconds of pure excitement. Vanian's quote from the Shangri-La's 'Leader of the pack' was apparently to test mic. levels and yet forty odd years on its impossible to imagine the song without it, the final ten second are dominated by Scabies furious drumming, and two iconic moments of British rock music bookend its most iconic.

Of course just as The Yardbirds hadn't removed Ken Dodd, Cilla Black and Lethal Humperdink from the pop charts so The Damned wouldn't rid us of Abba, Pussycat and Dr Hook but at least, just as The Yardbirds had done ten years previously it would open the ears of a generation who were getting restless with the music that was being presented on daytime radio and television as supposedly representing them.


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