Punk Rock happened in the late seventies and lasted for about two years. The whole premise of punk rock was anti-establishment, anarchy, give the kids what they want. It was a more aggressive version of the summer of love in 1967 – just ten years earlier, when young people wanted peace not war, they wanted to express themselves through growing their hair or taking drugs and having lots of ‘free love’. This was all pre- AIDS of course.
As was Punk, but Punk wasn’t the liberated coming together of the genders, it was an androgynous expression of disapproval of all things establishment, including established record companies, and even some of the music. The established bands of the early seventies and before were considered ‘dinosaurs’ and were very uncool indeed.
Many think that Punk was a result of Thatcherism, the austere and radically right wing authoritarian government of Margaret Thatcher. She didn’t come to power until May 1979 and indeed for many she was a godsend for creative types, musicians, writers, comedians all had this pantomime villain to protest against.
But punk began in the late stages of 1976 and although considered a British phenomenon, it was an American band The Ramones who had been around for a couple of years already that influenced the early British punk bands.
The punk rock formula was for short, hi-energy songs, about real life, unemployment, hating school and authority in general. Musical ability was optional, this was the radical game changer which was the appeal for so many young people wanting to be in a band.
Not only was punk despised by the establishment, it was not played on radio, many venues in the early days refused to book punk gigs and even the dinosaur bands and their followers dismissed it with criticism of its lack of musical talent. They all started to sound like my Dad.
This of course empowered the bands and their loyal fans even more. Despite its aggressive exterior, punk was paradoxically a peaceful movement, although a neo nazi faction tried to embrace it, organisations like ‘Rock Against Racism kept the fascists on the fringes.
Culturally, organisations like The National Front had infiltrated the armies of football hooligans that had such a negativity impact on British football in the seventies.
I remember after a high profile ‘punk’ gig in Ipswich featuring the Stanglers, we were warned over the PA that when we left that there was hostile mob of football fans outside the venue waiting for us. There was bit of a standoff, a lot swearing and a couple bottles thrown but it was all just posturing and we all got home safely.
There were other occasions similar to this, but as I said punks were rowdy, scary looking but a peaceful bunch. A curious bedfellow of punk was reggae, which was really kicking off in the UK about the same time as punk: checkout Bob Marley’s ‘Punky reggae Party’.
It was inevitable though that as Punk became more commercially successful, that major record companies would start signing up these acts, and the bands themselves would start enjoying the fruits of their labours, enjoy the fame and the inevitable fortune. Thus it didn’t take long before punk became almost a parody of itself as bands attempted to be angry and anti-establishment in order to become part of the musical establishment they were pretending to despise.
There were lots of bands who appeared to have no ‘punk’ credentials whatsoever but marketed themselves in order to cash in on this particular vogue.
However, Punk was important, punk was great fun and punk produced some great records and great bands, but in its true sense didn’t last as long as some commentators would have you believe.
I mentioned it was not heard on the radio much. The one exception was John Peel, more of him later.