Tuesday, August 22, 2006

No More Time For Spectating (DIY Pioneers The Desperate Bicycles)

One of the many things associated with the early UK punk scene was the rise of the independent label. While there had always been small labels and private pressings of garage and folk etc, it was the rise of punk rock in the UK that popularized the idea of starting a label to release your friends band or scraping together enough money to make your own record.

While some of the early punk indies may have had grand ideas about challenging the dominance of the major labels, for the most part, the bands they signed saw the chance of releasing an independent single as the first step on the ladder of following the Clash and Pistols to a major label deal and everything they assumed that would bring with it. Throughout 1977 there was a label feeding frenzy with both the majors and new indies trying to sign anything ‘punk’ that moved. In effect, majors, indies and bands were all part of the same old rock ‘n’ roll game, the indies being de facto talent scouts for the majors.

The first punk band to challenge what ‘independent’ really meant was The Desperate Bicycles. Between 1977 and 1980, the band released a number of self financed singles and EP’s as well as an album ‘Remorse Code’, on their own Refill Records and right from the off they made it implicit that the reason they were putting out their own records was not because they saw it as a stepping stone to signing to a bigger label but because that was the way they wanted to work. The band was choosing to do things on their own away from the mainstream. Other self released and independent singles may predate the Bicycles first 7’’ from 1977, ‘Smokescreen/Handlebars’, but the true DIY ethic starts here. On the sleeve of the 7’’ the band even detailed the costs of producing the single (£153.00 all in!) in an obvious attempt at demystifying the whole process of making and releasing your own music. As the band sang: “It was easy, it was cheap; go and do it!”

Musically, while occasionally playing ‘punk rock’, the Bicycles were not your average punk band. Starting off sounding like some sort of amateurish (in the best way) low-fi garage band, their sound eventually developed, taking in elements of psyche, folk and what was to become post punk. It stands up incredibly well. Despite their pioneering efforts though, the band never achieved the popularity even in limited cult terms of other DIY bands such as the Television Personalities and Swell Maps and while they have received due credit in various articles on the UK indie scene for their ethics, the music has often been overlooked and they remain something of an enigma.

It’s impossible to quantify the effect a band like the Desperate Bicycles had on what was to follow. When I first became aware through the likes of Crass and Rough Trade Records of bands releasing their own records through choice rather than ‘not being good enough’ to be on EMI/A&M, I was completely unaware of the Desperate Bicycles and remained so as I discovered more and more great bands on indie labels. Everything has to start somewhere though and the Desperate Bicycles saw something in the then new punk scene that most others up until that point hadn’t; the inspiration to truly ‘do it yourself’, and made it a central part of what they subsequently did. That DIY ethic is now taken as a given but it’s roots can be traced back to the first single by this great, unheralded band.

Over the years the band members have apparently refused various offers to reissue their back catalogue. Luckily though, just about everything they recorded can be found via artist Derek Erdman’s website:

Desperate Bicycles singles, LP and more

A good article on the seventies/early eighties UK indie/DIY scene is here. More Bicycles info can be found here and here.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Air In Here...(Frankie Stubbs & Jesse)

Frankie Stubbs is best known as the main man behind the UK punk institution that is Leatherface. It’s in his work outside of that band though that for me at least, his reputation as one of the best song writers to come out of the UK punk scene can be best heard.

Through the early 90’s Leatherface were one of a small group of home grown bands that the UK music press deemed fit to cover alongside the grunge bands flooding in from the States. This was in no small part down to the bands second album ‘Mush’ from 1991, which is regarded by many as a classic and the benchmark that all subsequent melodic/abrasive UK punk bands (someone please make up a genre name for this strand of UK punk rock!) releases should be judged against.

After Leatherface split, Frankie moved on to two new bands, Jesse and Pope and it’s Jesse’s material that really highlights how good a song writer Frankie is for me. The songs are more measured and melancholic than Leatherface; emotive is the description I would use if it didn’t conjure up the dreaded ‘emo’ word. During Jesse’s lifespan the band released three singles and one self titled album between 1995 and ‘98, all of which are currently out of print and ridiculously under rated.

At some point Frankie also began performing solo and in that guise has released one single in 1995 and a 10’’ EP in 2001. Again, both of these releases are out of print and much sought after amongst Leatherface fans. I love acoustic and folk music and I’ve heard a lot of performers attempt to strip their sound back to basics thinking that just bashing out a song on an acoustic guitar is enough. It’s not. Performing like this highlights everything about a song both good and bad, thankfully, Frankie’s songs are easily strong enough to stand up to such intimate treatment and he also has a knack of choosing a good tune to cover.

As far as I’m concerned, both Jesse and Frankie’s solo material rate as some of the best music to come out of the UK punk scene. Until someone has the good sense to reissue it, the Jesse and solo singles can be found under MP3s at the unofficial Leatherface site:

Jesse and Frankie Stubbs singles and more

In the late 90’s Leatherface reformed. Their website is here. Leatherface releases can be found via BYO Records.

(Thanks to John at x1984x for posting the MP3s to his site)

Monday, August 07, 2006

KBD (Killed By Das Schnitz)

Reading about obscure early punk bands who made one small run 7’’ before fading into obscurity is often a lot more fun than actually hearing the music itself. Occasionally though the music lives up to the collectors hype. Case in point being the 4 a.m 7’’ by Das Schnitz.

From Torquay, the bands one and only single from 1979 is a classic of it’s kind. It reminds me a lot of early Generation X/Jam and is a great punk rock blast. I like it so much that I was going to post this way back when I set this blog up. Since then though the good people at kbdrecords have beaten me to the punch but it’s the music that matters so thanks to them, here it is:

Das Schnitz-4 a.m 7’’

I wrote the following article on the band for Punk77. It hasn’t been published yet so here it is in all it’s glory...

While compiling the Year Zero Exeter punk CD for Hometown Atrocities, I was introduced to a band that had been due to play the Exeter Rougemont festival in the late seventies but had split up when a band member failed to show for the gig. The band in question was Torquay's Das Schnitz and their legacy was one sole 1979 three track single that the band financed themselves while still at school. The single is a great mix of early Jam and Clash which still sounds fresh today. With thanks to band members Nadi Jahangiri and original bassist Stu Gordon, here is the bands story...

Das Schnitz:
Tim Dodge - vocals/guitar, Nadi Jahangiri- guitar/vocals, Kevin Perry -
Drums, Tony Morrell - bass. Original bassist: Stewart Gordon.

Das Schnitz formed in Torquay, Devon in April 1978 and became part of a small local punk scene that included the likes of Critical Press, Systum and Glass Points.

All of the members were sixth form pupils at Torquay Grammar School and were aged 16 - 17. The bands first gig was infront of hundreds of screaming girls at Torquay Girls Grammar School. The bands major influences were The Clash and The Jam and during the bands short life span they played support shows in Torquay to The Vibrators, The Lurkers and London.

The band financed their own 7``, originally approaching Raw Records to release it. When that deal didn't work out they instead approached Ellie Jay Records with the single being released mid 1979. The band paid for both the recording and pressing of the single, finding enough money to finance a pressing of 500 singles although not the production of a picture sleeve. Instead, the band purchased a number of cheap second hand singles from a record stall in Torquay Market and customized the sleeves. The sleeves included the band name and a personalised message or slogan written over existing record sleeves by artists such as David Soul and Tavares, making each sleeve unique. Soon after the singles release, Torquay's local newspaper The Herald Express printed a story stating that a major record label were looking at the possibility of taking legal action against the band for infringing the labels copyright by customising one of their artists sleeves. A quote was printed in the article from Raw Records Lee Woods despite Raw having no connection with the singles release. The majority of the singles came in one of these picture sleeves although a few copies came out without the sleeve.

Das Schnitz finally split up in September 1979 after bass played Tony Morrell failed to show up for an appearance at Exeter's annual Rougemont outdoor festival. Tim Dodge, Kevin Perry and the bands original bass player Stewart Gordon went on to form the mod revival influenced Rhythm On 2, recording one studio session which was never released before splitting up.
The three songs recorded by Das Schnitz for their 7`` were the bands only studio recordings.

Original bassist Stewart Gordon writes more on the band…

During the Summer of 1977 punk was at it's height and most of the original members of Das Schnitz had been involved in bands in some capacity even before the punk explosion. However with the arrival of the new scene it became apparent that our limited talent needn't be the handicap that we had at first thought.

Pretty soon all the musical purists had disassociated themselves with the movement but the hardcore remained. The nucleus of what was to become Das Schnitz was in place; Kevin Perry/drums, Nadi Jahangiri/guitar and vocals and Stu Gordon/bass. The band needed a singer so school friend Tim Dodge joined the crew.

Rehearsals weren't going anywhere and we needed something to give us a kick up the arse! We only had a couple of cover songs and one of our own, so to move things along we arranged a gig at the Torquay Girls Grammar School lunchtime charity Disco. We weren't going to fill the twenty minute slot with the songs we had so I started writing stuff and within four weeks we had four new songs; "Frozen zone", "Young Socialist", "Reflections" and the set opener
”You Used To Be My Girlfriend". That particular song makes me cringe now when I think of the daft schoolboy lyrics. We padded the set out with a cover of "Pretty Vacant".

The debut performance went well, we played to about three hundred girls some even screamed, probably to get out ! Pretty much a dream start! After that we gigged around Torquay, Paignton, Brixham and Newton Abbot areas, mainly at youth clubs like Dyrons in Newton Abbot, a Teddy Boy/ Biker stronghold, quite hostile an invironment at times but with a handful of travelling fans/mates and some local punks it went OK. My most memorable gigs were supporting The Vibrators at Torquay Town Hall which was great and also supporting the band Tonight, (who had a hit called "The Drummer Man") at Seale Hayne College. That gig was not so great, the audience of agricultural students didn't really appreciate a support band that interfered with their drinking, and the gig was memorable for our unsolicited encore, an accapella version of the "Orbit Sugar Free Gum" commercial. Not long after that I left Das Schnitz as I thought some of the original energy was missing and I think the rest of the lads were heading in a slightly different direction. My replacement was Tony Morrell, a really nice bloke. He slotted straight in and almost instantly the Das Schnitz sound changed. It would I think at the time have been described as "powerpop". Soon they cut the single and continued until departures for college/university forced them to call it a day.

Typical set list for Das Schnitz circa May 1978:
1. You used to be my girlfriend (Stu Gordon/Das Schnitz)
2 .Cheat (The Clash)
3. Reflections (Stu Gordon/Das Schnitz)
4. Young Socialist (Stu Gordon/Das Schnitz)
5. Frozen Zone (Stu Gordon/Das Schnitz)
6. You Really Got Me (The Kinks)
7. Pretty Vacant (Sex Pistols)
8. Divided Community (Stu Gordon//Das Schnitz)
9. No Time (London)

(If anyone out their want to reprint any of this article feel free but please credit the author /source and let me know-thanks!)

Find more shit on the Schnitz here and here.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

1-2-3-4! (The Ramones)

It's been six months since I set this blog up and in that time I’ve posted a grand total of …nothing! When I decided to do this I was hooked on the excellent Something I Learned Today and
Strange Reaction MP3 blogs and since then there’s been many more punk MP3 blogs that have appeared so it’s about time I joined in with the fun so (Hey Ho!) lets go...

Firstly, I’m not going to be posting new stuff every day (or even week or month). As I’ve found with my own musical activities, life has a way of interfering with even punk rock so I’ll be posting as and when I have something good to share. Secondly, as I said earlier, there’s a lot of punk blogs out there now. I’ll be posting some great punk & hardcore but also other stuff I like. If I manage to keep this going you’ll get the picture. Now for some music:

The Ramones. How many people have they turned onto new music over the years? They’re still one of the few blasts from my past that can turn me into a gibbering mess. All it takes is Dee Dee or C.J shouting “1-2-3-4” and I’m off! Here’s some cool Ramones related music that I’ve not seen mentioned anywhere else. Three full albums of Ramones and Ramones solo material (including some rare stuff), Ramones covers and songs inspired by The Ramones, all mixed together as one track.

I found these on a dance/mash up site (don’t worry-they don’t have beats added and they’re not dance mixes!) and whoever put these together obviously loves these songs. It’s kind of like three Ramones party mix CDs. I guarantee if you like this band you’ll be jumping around like a maniac to these. Go get them while you can here:

Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio volumes 1-3 (Ramones mix CDs)

Been living in a cave and want some history on the band? Find the true uncensored story here. Mark Prindle’s excellent Ramones album reviews (even if he does get it wrong, wrong, wrong on C.J!) are here.