When talking about the original late ‘70s UK Punk scene, 999 seem to be one of the most overlooked bands of the era. Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Jam, and The Stranglers are usually the bands that many folks think of first when praising the virtues of Punk and how it levelled and changed the musical landscape. While those bands grabbed the headlines, there were plenty of equally-worthy bands that deserved fame and fortune. As you would probably guess, 999 was one of those bands. 999 made music fueled by Punk yet firmly rooted in classic Rock ‘n’ Roll. The music they recorded may have been born during the Punk era but 40 years later, it remains timeless and essential. If you need proof of that statement, Captain Oi/Cherry Red’s four CD box set THE ALBUMS 1977-80 is exactly what you need to make you believe. Again.
Somebody once told me that I should stop writing about Punk Rock. He said that I don’t ‘understand’ Punk and I should stick to writing about New Wave and other genres of music.
I beg to differ.
While I may not know enough about the politics that inspired the lyrics of various bands I listen to, I certainly understand my connection to the energy, the songwriting and the performances. In the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, I devoured as much British and American Punk as I could. While The Clash, The Jam, 999, Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, The Undertones, Sex Pistols and others had songs that were instantly melodic and catchy, there were certain bands that took a few extra spins to connect with. Angelic Upstarts were one of those bands.
L7: PRETEND WE’RE DEAD
STEPHEN SPAZ SCHNEE: L7: PRETEND WE’RE DEAD is finally available. How are you feeling about the project and the reaction to it so far?
DONITA SPARKS: Well, I’m relieved it’s going out into the world because a lot of work went into it, especially from the producers Blue Hats Creative: getting the footage and photos together, interviews with the band members and guest stars, music clearances, etc. This has been years in the making. I’m touched by the reaction to the film by those you have seen it. It hits home with a lot of different people. In the screenings that I’ve attended there’s laughter where there should be, and complete silence during the heavier stuff. Musicians in particular relate to the ride.
The Doctors Of Madness Will See You Now:
Always the bridesmaids…
Like any genre, Punk was never about just one ‘thing’ – it was a movement made up of many moving parts. Behind the torn jeans, mohawks, leather jackets and missing teeth (thanks, mosh pits), Punk was first and foremost about the music. Initially, a reaction against the overblown pomp of Progressive Rock and Disco (and any other musical movement that the Punk kids deemed pretentious and worthy of a kick in the gonads), Punk became the most influential movement in Rock history since Elvis had his crown stolen by The Beatles in 1964. In 1976, Punk Rock scared people. However, it wasn’t meant to destroy and move on – Punk was about taking Rock back to ground zero and rebuilding it from the ground up. Punk stole the blueprint from Chuck Berry’s safe and brought Rock ‘n’ Roll back to its basic foundation. Sex Pistols was the first band to gain international notoriety, but the whole of England was soon swarming with equally important bands like The Clash, Buzzcocks, The Jam, The Damned, et al. It was a beautiful thing. These bands knew how to write a cracking tune and that is why they are still remembered 40 years after Punk broke wide open.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST(WORLD):
As the leader of British outfit The Pack, singer, songwriter and guitarist Kirk Brandon’s unique musical vision was far too adventurous to be constrained by the limits of Punk Rock so he folded that band and moved forward with new ideas. By 1980, he had formed Theatre Of Hate, which included bassist Stan Stammers, saxophonist John Lennard, guitarist Steve Guthrie and drummer Luke Rendle. During their first two years of existence, the band released a few studio singles as well as a live album, HE WHO DARES WINS. By the time the band entered the studio to work on their debut full length, Guthrie had departed and Brandon took over all guitar duties. With The Clash’s Mick Jones in the producer’s chair, TOH began work on what would become a milestone in Post Punk history – WESTWORLD! With a mix of tribal rhythms, Spaghetti Western riffs, Post Punk guitar slashing and Brandon’s passionate wailing, Theatre Of Hate was a band unlike any other. While the band was known for their live performances, they took on a different form in the studio. Pre-dating his Big Audio Dynamite recordings, Mick Jones brought a lot of his experimental ideas to the sessions, which worked extremely well with Brandon’s vision. The end result is still being talked about today…
While TOH folded in 1983 – making way for Kirk’s next project, Spear Of Destiny – their musical legacy lives on. The band has reformed with various line-ups over the years and are now making waves again with both a new album (KINSHI) and a deluxe three CD edition of WESTWORLD. This excellent reissue on Cherry Red includes a remastered version of the album alongside non-album singles, Peel Sessions, alternate mixes and a live concert taped during the WESTWORLD tour. Still sounding fresh and invigorating, this expanded edition is the definitive version of an album that helped pioneer Post Punk in the UK.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee sent off a few questions to Kirk Brandon, who was gracious enough to take the time to respond…
ALICE IN HOLLYWOODLAND:
Although she is forever associated with the late ‘70s Los Angeles Punk scene, Alice Bag’s journey over the last forty years has taken her everywhere from East L.A. to Nicaragua and back again. To some, she remains the lead vocalist of The Bags, but there is far more to Alice Bag than a rare Punk single and an appearance in the documentary The Decline Of Western Civilization (as The Alice Bag Band). Her status as a legendary Punk pioneer led to a career as a highly respected educator, feminist activist, and author. Her critically acclaimed books Violence Girl (2011) and Pipe Bomb For The Soul (2015) have been warmly embraced by her longtime fans and those who were previously unfamiliar with her musical career. She has inspired generations of young girls and women with her outspoken and thoughtful views on feminism. While largely absent from the music scene over the years, Alice has taken the Punk esthetic and made a real difference in the lives of those she has inspired. She may not have sold millions of records over the years, but she has remained true to her cause, and in turn, made an impact that is still being felt.
Surprisingly, nearly forty years after she started her musical career, Alice Bag is finally releasing her very first full-length album. Anyone expecting Alice to dip back into the past and relive her glory days with The Bags will be sorely disappointed. Instead, Alice incorporates many of her musical influences into a cohesive collection of songs that range from edgy Garage/Punk nuggets to instantly hummable ‘60s pop gems. The raw, straightforward production adds a tense atmosphere to the recordings, allowing Alice’s emotions to run free. There is some darkness in her lyrics although they are far from hopeless – she allows the listener to fill in some of the blanks and react accordingly. However, the album is filled with wonderful melodies and inventive arrangements. At its core it is Punk, but only in spirit. Musically, it is a potpourri of influences reaching back to the ‘60s. Like any good album, Punk or not, it turns expectations into revelations. The album Alice Bag is a superb look at the modern world by someone who has seen it all. It is intelligent without being preachy and raw without losing its playful charm – a simple, heartfelt triumph that sounds better with each spin.
Stephen SPAZ Schnee was able to chat with Alice Bag about her album and her music career…