Hitsville UK (Punk Powerpop)

I was looking around the Y-tube, excavating for 3 examples of British Powerpop from the 1970s. I have always found this label a little nebulous, pub-rock/punk/New Wave/post-punk…it’s such a fine line & ┬áit’s not always worth putting good music under such scrutiny… so much of the pop music that I grew up with was powerful. It needed to be because there was a lot of competition. I do like to exercise some degree of quality control around here so I consulted a man with whom I have shared many musical adventures over many years. I put him on to “Starry Eyes” by the Records, a tune regarded as a Britrock classic in the USA but overlooked over here. The counsel I received was that the cream will rise to the top, that I would find the best songs on “Top of the Pops” not some barely remembered tune that I heard once & immediately forgot. He is Master Po & I am Caine, I’m sure he called me Grasshopper !

In the mid-70s, following the example of Dr Feelgood, bands from Southend found they could pile into a van for a run down the A127/A12 into London to play the pub circuit. R&B vet Lew Lewis & the eclectic Kursaal Flyers were joined by young guns Eddie & the Hot Rods. The boys brought their high energy to some American classics, “96 Tears”, “Get Out of Denver”, “Hard Driving Man”. As punk rock replaced pub-rock the band were well placed. They shared a residency with the 101’ers, they were the headliners at the Marquee when the support band’s set descended into chaos & the Sex Pistols made a name for themselves. Then, in 1977, they had a Top 10 single.

It is a fine one too. “Do Anything You Wanna To Do” is a rousing teenage call to action which sits between Thin Lizzy & the Clash, a pretty good place to be I think. It was written by the band’s Graeme Douglas (like Will Birch of the Records, a former Kursaal Flyer) & the manager Ed Hollis (father of Talk Talk’s Mark). It’s undoubtedly the group’s finest hour & the follow up was a collaboration with Rob Tyner & however great the MC5 are they are hardly mass market. The proper next 45, a re-write, “Quit This Town” was a bit lame. So it’s the live EPs of covers & this fine single for the Rods before they were swept away by the short, sharp shock of the Clash’s first LP after which all the young dudes wanted to be 3 minute heroes.

“Top of the Pops”, July 1979, tucked between Dollar & Supertramp (probably), the Ruts caught that punk wave into the Top 10 with “Babylon’s Burning” their second single. I was soaking up the rays on a Greek beach for 3 months of that Summer & missed Rut-mania. I dismissed the band as punk-by-numbers rabble rousers & I think that I was a little hasty about this. Subsequent 45s “Jah Wars” & “Staring At the Rude Boys” still sound good but it is the first single “In A Rut” (“gotta get out of it, out of it”) which can make a person pogo after a beer too many. A great energetic shout of a song.

This clip from 1980 shows the band to be a fine live act. Singer Malcolm Owen, a strong front man in his Fred Perry, braces & Doc Martens, can only be British. When he pinches Paul Fox’s guitar & carries on with the tune it’s a fine bit of business. Unfortunately Malcolm was troubled by throat problems & a heroin addiction. In July of that year he was found dead & though the band continued, as Ruts DC, a great deal was lost.

Meanwhile up in West Yorkshire, in Leeds, there was a music scene which was producing some fine bands. The Gang of Four (I got a F-book “like” from drummer Hugo Burnham the other week…nice), the Delta 5 & this lot all made a good punky noise.

Now we are talking…The Mekons “Where Were You”, released on Fast Records in 1978 & a brilliant raucous row. From the very start of this you know you are in for a treat. There were 2 LPs of Mekonic clatter with political lyrics. Jon Langford formed The 3 Johns & I spent a very enjoyable evening in a London pub being entertained by this band. The Mekons reformed to play benefits during the 1984 miners’ strike & continued on a cowpunk, even alt-country tip. “Where Were You” was vited the 28th best single of 1978 by the New Musical Express, 29th was “Hard Working Man” by Captain Beefheart. Now that must have been some year for music ! This 7″ single got played a lot round our yard, it stirred us then & it still does so.