Action Time Vision: A Story of Independent UK Punk 1976-1979
There are 111 tracks here (four CDs, beautiful package, pithy liner notes) all dedicated to creating a definitive lie – the story of independent UK punk between 1976 and 1979. This is one person’s reading (or perhaps a consortium of people, who knows?) and their sole criteria for inclusion seems to be “pub rock thrash, only with skinny ties and a bit of spittle added”. There is a sound here, defined after the event, that certainly was not evident at the time – or at least if it was, that was entirely down to how myopic your tunnel vision was. The stuff that stands out (the very occasional female-fronted band, the occasional foray into actual emotion and rudimentary DIY experimentation) feels like it’s been included by mistake…or at least because Cherry Red, the company behind this wonderful piece of packaging (if nothing else), had easy access to the track.
The title is misleading. There is little independent thought here evident, the overwhelming majority of the tracks are indistinguishable badly formed rants against… what? Male and macho and jostling for position at the front of the bogs. It is also misleading because punk was an attitude not a musical style back then, but listen to this and you will believe otherwise, that 95 per cent of music released on independent labels back then was sub-sub-sub-Lurkers thrash (and not even that good) (and the Lurkers really don’t stand the test of time, either).
Action Time Vision? That is so fucking misleading. One of the few intelligent, articulate, inventive, independent, resolutely punk singles of the day giving its title to this squalid bandwagon jump? Outrageous.
So the compilation goes like this. CD1:
- The Damned – ‘New Rose’ (whelp, yeah! Those drums, that ‘ugh’!)
- The Lurkers – ‘Shadow’ (crap actually, but the recognition factor almost saves it, but fails because of the volume of crap either side of it turning it into more crap)
- The Rezillos – ‘Can’t Stand My Baby’ (see comment about Lurkers above; always their weakest song too)
- Utter crap
- Sham 69 – ‘I Don’t Wanna’ (I love the second Sham album, but this is crap)
- Crap crap crap crap crap crap
- The next track features Kevin Rowland but remains crap
- Crap crap crap crap crap jazzy crap crap crap crap crap crap
- Albertos Y Lost Trios Paranoias – ‘Gobbing On Life’ (funny crap, but this was a parody band whose nearest equivalent was Barren Knights or Jasper Carrot so I’m not sure why they’re here)
- The Only Ones – ‘Lovers Of Today’ (genius of course, but sounds nothing like the other 30 tracks on this opening CD and hence feels more than tokenistic)
Punk was male, crushingly boringly so. A male construct. Defined along male lines for a male audience, the handful of females included on this compilation all the more startling because of their gender. A male vision, boys gobbing and pushing and shoving, fighting to get into the record industry any which way. Male rebellion, or a scant illusion of same. Most these leather jackets were indistinguishable from the ones you saw down the pub, any day. The attitude was ‘I’m a white young male and so I deserve to be heard’. It was a class thing, sure. The same class thing that excluded other genders and races.
I am not enjoying listening to this compilation. It has its place. I guess. Although this material has been “unearthed” so often and in so many myriad forms, it makes you wonder who the target audience is. The Damned, The Lurkers, Alternative TV, Chelsea, Stiff Little Fingers, Sham 69, The Ruts… Is it the sixty-somethings reliving that brief burst of passion in their teenage years, enticed in by the packaging (lovely packaging)? A new generation, fooled once more by marketing slogans and rusty nostalgia into thinking there was something extraordinary about the time of punk, some explosion of attitude and inspiration that has never occurred before or since (a lie, if you’re looking one way: the truth, if you’re looking another). I liked a lot of these records as seven’s, first time and even seventh time round. ‘New Rose’, tick. ‘Shadow’, tick. ‘Lovers Of Today’ (strange inclusion), tick. ‘Read About Seymour’, of course fucking tick. The problem is, this compilation is so all-inclusive that perhaps it does capture the sound of 1976 to 1979, spittle, pushing and one long tedious guttural shout of (what?) after another…
So that’s CD1. Three decent tracks out of 31. Bunch of male spittle and flotsam that doubtless is special to those who experienced it but has always said absolutely fuck all to me about my life, all this braggadocio and pushing in the queue for the toilets.
CD2 is more interesting – not least because it begins with songs from two of the least macho artists represented here (Patrik Fitzgerald and Swell Maps) (the ones who go against the grain) but if you dig this shit and want to hear it in actual context of similar but different representative bands (and by necessity many of those will be female) then I can point you in the direction of about 300 other compilations, none of which feature fucking Eater or Johnny fucking Moped.
These are followed by seven tracks of beige crap, before The Subs throw up an unexpected delight in the form of the drum-led ‘Gimme Your Heart’, and Tubeway Army join the miniature mountain of crap with an entirely forgettable (punk) demo. The Xtraverts’ ‘Blank Generation’ is not the Richard Hell song. It’s fucking terrible.
And then it’s
- Whoa! Fuck to God Stiff Little Fingers’ turbulent politically charged ‘Suspect Device’. Probably would have been best to leave this one out, as it merely shows up the rest for the PILE OF STEAMING SPITTLE FLECKED CRAP THEY ARE. Menace’s ‘G.L.C.’ is ok as well (although that might be familiarity and an understanding of the attraction of a three-letter chorus).
- Crap crap… but I always had a soft spot for the power-punk of Rudi’s ‘Big Time’. Sounds out of place here, needless to say. THERE IS NO DIVERSITY just a load of pushing shoving in the queue for the lads’ bogs. Crap followed by more crap (that was doubtless very fun at the time). But then it gets a little interesting…
- The caustic O Level and their ‘Pseudo Punk’!
- The bedsit sat Members and their ‘Solitary Confinement’!
- The swinging Nipple Erectors and their ridiculously over-reverbed ‘King Of The Bop’!
- The raspy Angelic Upstarts and their anguished ‘The Murder Of Liddle Towers’!
And so it goes. There was a great late 1970s compilation of independent music released by Cherry Red called Business Unusual that skipped most the crap and cut straight to the chase. I believe you can still find it on Discogs. Less is often more, although nice packaging.
Here are the highlights from the remainder.
- Alternative TV – ‘Action Time Vision’
- The Billy Bragg Riff Raff track has the virtue of being short
- Joy Division – ‘Failures’ (not their greatest moment by any stretch)
- The Fall – ‘Psycho Mafia’ (one of the two or three best tracks here)
- Protex is OK.
- The Cravats – ‘Gordon’ (not their finest)
- If I say UK Subs – ‘C.I.D.’ is a standout then I guess that’s fairly damning.
- Spizzoil was fun at the time, unlistenable now.
- The Ruts – ‘In A Rut’ of course
- Lovely to hear Disco Zombies (‘Drums Over London’) but have no idea why they’re featured here and 100s of others aren’t.
- Adam & The Ants – ‘Zerox’ (just a bit crap)
- The wonderful ‘Hypocrite’ by The Newtown Neurotics
- Pure Hell weren’t actually British, were they?
- The Prefects – ‘Things In General’/Fatal Microbes – ‘Violence Grows’/Poison Girls – ‘Under The Doctor’ OF COURSE. Shame it’s taken over 100 tracks to get here.
I have nothing to add. These final tracks I mention can all be found elsewhere not surrounded by a landfill of crap (nice packaging though – have I mentioned that yet?).
Another anomaly in the title, that Hollywood Brats track was recorded in 1973.
For the record, I love I’m Alive by 999, even if it was their only good 45, think Johnny Moped a true one off,(see the film basically Johnny Moped, it makes Spinal Tap look like one of those earnest and dreary BBC4 documentaries), adored Notsensibles, but this was their worst 45, like The Snivelling Sits, but Isgodaman would’ve been a better choice, think Teenage Treats by The Wasps has a shit lyric but musically is a great bit of power pop, as is Love & Molotov Cocktail by The Flys, consider New Religion by Some Chicken a classic, have a bit of a soft spot for Satan’s Rats and think I Can’t Stand My Baby not only The Rezillos finest moment but one of the best 45s ever! Give me Shadow by The Lurkers over anything by The Clash, Pistols, Damned, Siouxsie & The Banshees et al. Also Johnny Won’t Get To Heaven by The Killjoys and it’s B-side Naive are the only two decent records Kevin Rowland ever made!