I was lucky enough to be fifteen in 1976. This was the year whey-faced loons marooned in the suburbs or, in my case, deeply rural Suffolk got our hands on the records that would kick it all off. The Ramones life-saving first album came out in April. ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was released in November.
The p…p…power of punk
Punk London '40 years of subversive subculture’ has apparently been endorsed by the Queen and London’s grotesque mayor Boris Johnson. Which, unless you’re an, ahem, edgy place marketer, is pretty funny. (Incidentally, when I tried to click on ‘GOB’, one of the site’s, ahem, edgily titled menu headings, it messed up my Mozilla, man. Something about a script needing to be debugged – very punk.) It’s also provoked Malcolm Mclaren and Vivienne Westwood’s son, the fatuous Joe Corre, to announce that he’s going to burn his punk memorabilia, worth £5 million he says.
I bought one of the original Seditionaries t-shirts first time round and it cost £15 in 1977 (about £100 today) . It also got me almost killed at dart nights in various low-ceilinged Suffolk pubs. Today, that t-shirt is worth $1,500.
Despite ridiculous prices for memorabilia, and crap like Punk London - let’s not forget there were Mohicans on postcards by about 1979 - punk really does retain its power to provoke.
Reading an article about the two beardy herberts who started, ahem, edgy Scottish brewery BrewDog this morning, I discovered their most popular beer is Punk IPA. You and I might say what a load of bollocks. But the herberts in question do obviously believe there is something called the punk spirit and we have to salute them for this. (I sincerely hope they’re not the official beer of Punk London.)
Of course, there’s still a punk spirit. Pussy Riot, for example, were filled with it. Even though their music was unlistenable and the punk I fell in love with was really just joyfully snotty pop in disguise.
Punk really isn’t dead
One of my best mates back in 1976 bought into punk all the way. He became one of the guitarists in Chelsea. I remember seeing him play on a bill with The Anti-Nowhere League and Chron-Gen at Newcastle Mayfair in 1982. I was a rockabilly by then. Oh those tribes! He swaggered out onto the stage, walloped his guitar and then spent the next twenty minutes swopping spit with horrible little bullet-headed Newcastle punks. Fearing for the crease on my peg pants, I made a run for the bands’ dressing room, which was filled with cases of Coca-Cola and punk groupies with enormous pinky-white thighs.
Thirty-four years later, my mate is still playing in Chelsea and has his own band Church of Eon. He plays to the faithful at punk weekenders, ‘dragging his aching bones around the stage while he still can’.
Punk changed my mate’s life for sure. I’m not sure if it did mine but it certainly changed my attitude. Forever. It may look like I’m smiling, OMing and agreeing but inside there’s still a snotty adolescent sticking up two fingers and screaming ‘F*ck you!’
But I have to say it’s punk’s ‘include me out’ sensibility that stops people like me being part of the solution, to quote the mighty MC5. Today, the punk spirit still has the power to do far more than simply sell beer, nostalgia or that old whore London. We just have to include ourselves back in to protest.