Tuesday, April 04, 2006

30 Years Of Punk And A New Kind Of Music Journalism

Today, in a mini-celebration to the 30-year anniversary of the start of punk, I'm going to take a look at the role journalists in the UK had during the 70's punk explosion.

On March 30th 1976, the Sex Pistols played the 100 Club in London's Oxford Street. It is an event that 30 years on, is still celebrated as a watershed moment in British musical history. It heralded the start of the punk era, kicked off a revolution in swearing, spitting and self-mutilation, and changed forever the way the press wrote about British popular music.

Up until the face of Johnny Rotten became a household name, reporting on music was largely boring. Bands and artists were clean-cut, or as clean-cut as you could get if you forgot about Pink Floyd and the other 1960's believers. Flares and nostalgia were out; living for now was in.

Post-rotten and Britain found itself in the grip of a hysteria the like had never been seen since The Beatles. There were many similarities; "The Beatles are bad for our children,"; "Rock and roll is the music of the devil," and so on. When Rotten appeared on stage with his vile temperament and matching frown the older generations were disgusted, the youth lapped it up, and the press couldn't believe their luck.

Pretty soon punk bands were sprouting up everywhere. "The attitude was 'anybody can have a go at this' - it gave you the confidence to start a band," remembers Pauline Murray of Penetration. The Damned, The Vibrators, The Clash and The Stranglers all lined up for their piece of the action and pretty soon music magazines were exploding to life with a new kind of edgier reporting.

Stories of fights between the bands were common as the press vied for the best sales. "There was a face-off outside a gig," says Jean-Jacques Burnel of The Stranglers. "It was us against the Pistols, The Clash and Chrissie Hynde. From then on the press were on their side and we were ostracised. Then we started getting accused of misogyny because of the lyrics to Peaches. Misogyny means you hate women - I adore women! It was easy to shock people."

And for many that seemed to be all punk was about; shocking people in both the song lyrics and on stage behaviour. When the violence between the bands escalated outside into the streets, the Mary Whitehouse Brigade used the media to hit back at the roll of the punk rock idols.

"The mood in the country was restless," says Eddie from The Vibrators. "Everyone was fed up with the government interfering in their lives and they wanted a change.
Our first major gig was at the 100 Club in September 1976. Unfortunately it turned ugly when Sid Vicious started throwing glasses from the side of the stage during The Damned's set. One girl lost an eye and a bloke had 10 stitches in his head. I walked on stage and saw blood everywhere. I thought if this is people's idea of punk rock then they can shove it."

Eddie stuck with it but many didn't and slowly the punk era died away as quickly as Sid Vicious himself. The press got bored with it all as things seemed to spiral out of control. Punk eat itself and the media won few friends from either side with their reporting of the lower end of the musical spectrum.

And besides, 2-Tone was about to be launched, so who needed the Pistols? Right?


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