The original U.K. Punk scene, from 1976 to 1978, made up of acts from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, was more than just “us against the man”, but a whole culture that rejected the status quo in ways that one single idea could not encapsulate.
WARNING: There are no ballads in this program. Repeat, no ballads.
There’s a line in a hit song by 60’s band The Loving Spoonful’s “Do You Believe In Magic” that says “it’s like trying to tell a stranger ’bout Rock and Roll.” Nowhere may this line be more appropriate than attempting to describe the original U.K. Punk scene from 1976 to 1978.
Punk Rock, just like Rock and Roll twenty years prior, started in America. Bands such as The MC5 and The Stooges, both out of Michigan in the late 1960’s, were the first acts the press used the term Punk in order to try and describe this new type of loud, fast, speeded-up Garage Rock. From a historical standpoint, however, the true first wave of Punk started in the mid-1970’s in and around New York City with the so-called CBGB’s bands, a local club that booked acts that were far from mainstream tastes at the time, such as Blondie, The Talking Heads, Television, Patti Smith and most importantly, The Ramones.
It was the Ramones visit to England in 1976, during the U.S. Bicentennial, opening for The Flamin’ Groovies, that helped kick start the U.K. Punk movement. Here were four bruddahs, with cheap guitars and a no-nonsense style/attitude playing exciting new music. Stylistically, they were wearing ripped jeans, leather jackets and T-shirts. Lyrically, The Ramones were also singing about real issues and real people, often times comically.
At the time, this was also of the era of the last big British heavy rock acts like Led Zeppelin and progressive rock acts like Yes, both playing massive arenas or stadiums on stages far from the fans, with music that was often about fantasy life and 10 minute or longer songs that were built upon technical virtuosity.
The U.K. in the 1970’s was rife with massive unemployment, high inflation, riots, union strikes and in Northern Ireland, a violent and deadly period of civil unrest called The Troubles that started in 1969 and would last until 1998.
By and large, the kids stopped caring if a bustle in your hedgerow was just a spring clean for the May Queen. Most of them had little reason to even celebrate being young with so much economic strife, much like many young people today with COVID-19: unable to even travel, much less find employment. It’s kinda hard to think about being a musician when you can’t even afford guitar strings, much less a guitar.
Many in the audience for that Ramones show also ended being immediately taken with the band, and the press went ape over the new act. Members of the Sex Pistols and The Clash were in the audience, and it seemed that almost overnight, anyone with any guts was forming a band and playing. Every Punk Rock show, much like the Pistols’ own concerts in 1976, sometimes with The Damned opening for them, seemed to have the same effect on literally everyone in attendance: WE can do this.
The kids finally had something that was truly their own: new, frenzied, raw, rude, fun and most importantly, a DIY (do-it-yourself) aesthetic that has come to define Punk Rock of the 1970’s. Lyrical themes went beyond boy-meets-girl tracks to protest songs, anarchy and even dismantling the entire system. The attitude of the bands and fans also was a huge thumb-nosing to the rest of the U.K. that they were sick and tired of the bull, and they would not be silenced.
Notably, just like in the 50’s, young people were often seen wearing outrageous new fashions and hairstyles, with even the lowly safety pin becoming a fashion touchstone when embraced by fans of Punk Rock. It was anti-art and anti-fashion that ironically became art and fashion.
Of course your parents hated it. Of course politicians hated it. Of course the police hated it. And in the U.K., a bonus, because even the monarchy hated it. Print media lapped it up, and the British Broadcasting Corporation (the BBC) attempted to ban it from existence. In the words of my late mother, Mrs. Anna Brown: “I don’t know why anyone has to spin those records backwards to do crazy things. Every time my son puts on that Sex Pistols record, I wanna go out and kill somebody.”
She also said the same thing about British metal band Iron Maiden, but hey.
Just like the first Rock and Roll movement, the original great songs were derived primarily not from albums, but 7″ 45 RPM singles, which were cheap to buy, inexpensive and easy to produce and mail, stock in shops or sell at venues due to their size. Many of the acts in the initial scene also didn’t have formal training or played few, if any, live gigs whatsoever. But that was the most attractive and electric part of it all; anyone could get up there and do their thing after being told they didn’t have a future, talent or class. It was real, it was immediate, it was abrasive and it was LOUD.
Regardless of the tags they held then or would hold now, being shocking was an important part of it all. Uptight adults hating Punk because they didn’t understand why it was happening was a YOU problem, so to speak.
An interesting development were women in Punk groups, an anomaly in mainstream Rock and Roll, as well as gays and people of color, the latter which by and large had disappeared from the landscape to R&B, Soul, Disco and Funk. But in spite of this newfound rainbow coalition, parts of the scene were also embraced by the far-right and neo-Nazi groups.
Just like every new musical trend during the Rock era, it had a short shelf life before splintering into what seems like an endless string of marketing catchphrases or hyphenated sub-genres, like Post-Punk, Horror-Punk, New Wave, Goth, Hardcore, Oi!, etc. But for a time, it was all just Rock and Roll, and anyone could join the party.
- One Hundred Punks Rule, 1978, Generation X, Generation X LP (London, England)
- Gary Gilmore’s Eyes, 1977, The Adverts, single A-side (London, England)
- Age, 1978, X-Ray Spex, B-side to “Germfree Adolescents” single (London, England)
- Pump It Up, 1978, Elvis Costello, This Year’s Model LP (London, England)
- 12XU, 1977, Wire, Pink Flag LP (London, England)
- Top of The Pops (album version), 1978, The Rezillos, Can’t Stand The Rezillos LP(Edinburgh, Scotland)
- Anarchy In The U.K. (original version), 1976, The Sex Pistols, single A-side
- Suspect Device, 1978, Stiff Little Fingers, single A-side (Belfast, Northern Ireland)
- Teenage Kicks, 1978, The Undertones, single A-side (Derry, Northern Ireland)
- Borstal Breakout, 1978, Sham 69, Tell Us The Truth LP (Surrey, England)
- Boredom, 1977, The Buzzcocks, Spiral Scratch EP (Bolton, Greater Manchester, England)
- Shot By Both Sides, 1978, Magazine, Real Life LP (Manchester, England)
- In The City, 1977, The Jam, In The City LP (Woking, England)
- Peaches (original version), 1977, The Stranglers, Rattus Norvegicus LP (Gilford, England)
- Complete Control, 1977, The Clash, U.K. single A-side and U.S. LP The Clash (London, England)
- New Rose (original version), 1976, The Damned, single A-side (London, England)
- Jigsaw Feeling, 1978, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Scream LP (London, England)
Love to you all.
Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr.
Host, Show Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher, Videographer and Writer
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