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Music by VICE

Pissing In The Wind

Once upon a time, English punk meant violence, passion, political engagement and an old-fashioned approach to personal hygiene. It did not mean the guy from the Automatic, his iPhone app tie-in deal and the Krazy Tent Tour sponsored by Monster (or...

by James Knight
Feb 1 2010, 12:00am

Bad Beach, Brixton, 1984, by Paul May

Once upon a time, English punk meant violence, passion, political engagement and an old-fashioned approach to personal hygiene. It did not mean the guy from the Automatic, his iPhone app tie-in deal and the Krazy Tent Tour sponsored by Monster (or whatever it is this week). Friends, that time was the 1980s.

Thankfully, there was someone who kept away from the glue, speed and gallons of cider long enough to actually walk away from the decade with a coherent set of memories. Ian Glasper has chronicled the whole period in a trilogy of books that form a definitive document of punk in the UK during the 80s.

Glasper’s Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984, The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980-1984 and the recent Trapped In a Scene are essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in punk rock in the UK. Glasper paints a vivid picture of what life was like in that decade, which will appeal to anyone interested in the goings-on on the frayed edge of mainstream culture during the Thatcher years.

Ian not only answered all our nerdy questions, he also sent a bunch of photos that have never been published before, and are printed here for the first time.

Vice: Hello Ian. What is it about UK punk that made you want to write three books about it?
Ian Glasper:
The chirpy cockney accents, of course. Seriously though, once you boil punk down to its core components—guitars, shouting, energy and anger—there’s not a lot to choose between countries. I just happen to live in the UK.

You’ve split punk into three eras. Could you pick a favourite, or are they all like your little Mohawked kids?
Well, the anarcho-punk scene in the early 80s probably exerted the most influence over me personally, and I think those bands have perhaps stood the test of time a little better. That might be because so many of them broke up in their prime and refused to reform. The period covered by the last book, where I looked at the late 80s UKHC scene, was when I really started to get involved with bands myself. I was interacting with a lot of the bands in the book as a peer and not just as an avid spectator, so that era’s pretty special too.

Was it tough getting hold of the wealth of photos and ephemera that the books are filled with, or are you one of those guys with a huge collection of photos and flyers tucked away, alphabeticised and dated?
You have no idea how difficult it was. A lot of the flyers in the last book were from my own collection, but I only owned a camera now and again when I was younger, and when I did take it to gigs I usually lost it. I spent an awful lot of time chasing up pictures, or trying to find out who took a specific photograph so we could credit them properly. A lot of the photos came into my possession with no captions, so a lot of time was spent identifying people and places accurately. I’m a stickler for detail and I really wanted to get all that stuff right, so the books stand as factual historical documents.

Was there anything you stumbled across while putting the books together that you never imagined you’d find?
A few things. Usually unreleased demos that I never heard, or at least never owned, first time round. A lot of stuff has passed through my hands over the years as well, and it was great to revisit some of that music again and remind myself why I loved it in the first place. Stumbling across a truly awesome live photo of a band is always exciting, especially if it’s not been used before and it’s an exclusive for the book. I really try to compile stuff that even die-hard fans of those scenes won’t have seen before.

Was there anything you wanted that you couldn’t get hold of for the books?
There’s a couple of interviews I would have loved to have got to make the books truly definitive: Wattie from The Exploited for Burning Britain, Vi Subversa of Poison Girls for The Day the Country Died, and Shane Embury of Napalm Death for Trapped In a Scene. They were all basically too busy to reply at the time and I couldn’t wait any longer for them due to deadlines. Their respective bands were still very well represented, but it would have been nice to have had them included for the sake of completion.
 

Death Warmed Up, Mermaid, 1987, by Andy Giles

Trapped In a Scene deals with the most overlooked and probably the most interesting era of UK punk, the late 80s.
The late 80s just had a crazy energy and go-get-’em attitude. It really seemed like we could make a difference, when really we were just pissing in the wind.

You ended up playing with Flux Of Pink Indians. What was it like playing in a band you’d written books about?
Flux Of Pink Indians are dead, it’s official! Colsk isn’t interested in playing any more gigs, so it’s just fizzled out again, but I had a total blast doing the four gigs we played between 2007 and 2008. It was really surreal playing “Tube Disaster” with those guys. I learned to play bass plonking along to that tune over 25 years ago. I still rate Strive to Survive Causing the Least Suffering Possible as a truly magnificent anarcho-punk LP, so it was an honour to do it at all.

Was there a single story that stood out while you were researching the books?
Most people were gobsmacked by the revelation that Wizz, the ex-Generic singer, tried to kidnap a young girl, but my personal favourite involves the maniacs from Sons Of Bad Breath throwing a toilet full of shite out of the third-storey window of their Hackney squat. I still laugh my ass off every time I read it. Unfortunately, most of the incidents that stick out in my mind as far as my own bands go involved lots of skinheads and lashings of the old ultraviolence. When I was playing with Decadence Within we had one all-out riot at a gig that saw two people get stabbed, about 20 people get arrested, and we ended up being banned from every venue in the county for quite a while. It made the front pages of a few national papers at the time. We ended up on the front pages again when we played with a band who had delicately decided to call themselves SS Experiment Camp in a desperate bid to get a bit of attention. It worked, and they never got a gig anywhere as a result.

Anarcho bands loved a good rant. Do you feel that any of the ideals that bands like Crass fought for at the time have been successfully assimilated into society?
When I first went vegetarian in 1981, I was probably one of the first kids in my school to do so. I was nicknamed “Reg the Veg” and everyone would try to force-feed me ham sandwiches during break time. The veggie option was just whatever everyone else was having minus the meat. The whole culture of vegetarianism has come a long way since—we’re everywhere, like a bad rash. A lot of that was down to anarcho-punk, I’m sure. Let’s not forget that fox hunting’s banned—or meant to be—and we were saying how shit that was for years. I used to be out sabbing every weekend, getting kicked around muddy fields by terrier men. Those were the days.

Your first two books documented a similar period but dealt with different aspects of the punk scene. Was there any infighting between the crusties and the punks?
Not really. You had the Crass/Special Duties rivalry going on, and you had The Exploited slagging off Crass, and Conflict slagging off The Exploited. There were some die-hard anarchos who wouldn’t entertain listening to the Test Tube Babies or Anti-Nowhere League, but to most of us, I’m sure it was all just different aspects of punk rock. You couldn’t listen to The Mob all day—you’d end up topping yourself—so a bit of Partisans or Chron Gen was just the ticket.

Which band stood out live, from any period you covered?
Unfortunately, American bands usually trounce the UK acts when it comes to playing live. Some of my favourite live punk bands would have to be TSOL, Agent Orange and the Adolescents. The Damned—admittedly not covered in any of my books but covered to death in other people’s—are always stunning, and there’s not many bands that can come close to Killing Joke. Actually, they crush everyone, including those US bands. Amebix and Antisect were usually something verging on a religious experience back in the day, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Subhumans play a bad gig. And I’ve seen them a lot of times.

Were there any shows you missed back then that you kick yourself about now?
Several, but the one I really kick myself for missing wasn’t even a punk show, it was a thrash gig: Voivod, Possessed and English Dogs at the Electric Ballroom in 1986. It would have been nice to have caught Crucifix on their UK tour too.

What’s next? Let me guess: UK punk in the 90s?
Yes. How did you know? Have I been talking in my sleep again?

Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984, The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980-1984 and Trapped In a Scene are available from Cherry Red Books. Go buy them.
 

Subhumans, Bath, date unknown, by Jaz

Ripcord, Germany, 1988, by unknown

Chumbawumba, Bath, 1986, by Marc Freeman



Chaos UK, Newcastle, 1987, by Andrew Medcalf



Cowboy Killers, date and photographer unknow

Extreme Noise Terror, Ipswich, 1985, by unknown



Antisect, Leeds, 1984, by Andrew Medcalf



Depraved, date and location unknown, by Ian Murphy

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