The initial British punk rock boom caught both the music industry and younger, more conventional rock bands by surprise. Many realized they needed to rebrand and readjust their sound and style to fit in with the new trend. Yet some bands gained record deals only to find their new label wanted to make them more commercial sounding. Coventry-based The Flys found themselves not being well represented by their own releases, yet new compilation Today Belongs To Me makes a case for them producing some of the finer music of the era, irrespective of the trends of the day.
Beginning life in 1974, they developed a following on the local circuit. But when the first sounds of punk filtered their way, they felt a calling that would soon prove promising. A name change to The Flys and a newfound friendship with The Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelly inspired them to self-release their debut EP, Bunch Of Five. As part of the Class of 77, they sound perfectly in tune with the scene; “Can I Crash Here?” and “Love And A Molotov Cocktail” are snotty blasts of anthemic punk that definitely stand out from much of the dross of the era. Unsurprisingly, they soon garnered a deal with EMI, who took three tracks from their EP for their debut release in January 1978. Their next single, “Fun City,” appeared that May; with its catchy melody, it felt like a perfect summer anthem. These releases bode well for the young band.
Which is what makes their debut album, Waikiki Beach Refugees, such a shock. Aside from the songs previously released as singles, the album tracks are almost unrecognizable as the same band. They’re bland, forgettable generic-sounding mainstream rock with a hint of glam that sound nothing like the crunchy one-two punk-rock punch. The two singles taken from the album, “Waikiki Beach Refugees” and “Beverley” were the best of the lot, but lacked the quality of the previous releases. Was it major-label meddling? Was it the band trying too hard? Had the singles simply been the best of the lot? Did their producer not understand them? Any of those explanations could and are probably partially correct.
Whatever the case may have been, it seems as if all parties involved realized the misstep and worked quickly to rectify it. “Name Dropping” appeared in April 1979, a more sophisticated number reminiscent of The Only Ones. The next single, “We Are The Lucky Ones” took their sound into a satisfyingly weird and unique direction. It’s slower, darker, heavier; neither punk nor post-punk, but instead something quite new and exciting. Flipside “Living In The Sticks” is equally satisfying, a song of all nervous energy and paranoia. These singles bode well for the band, showing that they were back on track, and bode well for their next album.
Own, released in October, lived up to expectations, and more. In the intervening years since its release, it’s been hailed as a lost classic. Energetic, confident, and aggressive, Own is a compelling album. For the most part, the songs offer powerful, crunchy punk/pop arrangements just edgy enough to not fit either category. (For years the band’s been described as Power Pop, but that tag doesn’t really feel right, either.) “Energy Boy,” “Undercover Agent Zero,” and “Cheap Days” bring the catchy rock, while “Fascinate Me,” “Talking To The Wall,” and “Through The Windscreen” aren’t afraid to get a little New Wave weird. Interestingly, much of Own feels like an alternate history wherein Pete Shelly left the Buzzcocks and Howard Devoto took the reins. Not a bad thing in our book!
Unfortunately, Own was too little, too late. The disappointment around the album’s lack of success, tempered with founding member Neil O’Connor’s newfound commitments to his sister Hazel’s pop career, soon brought the band to an end. Though the demise silenced the band too soon, Own proved a vindication of the band’s true talent. Today Belongs To Me only proves that their obscurity was not a reflection of the high quality of The Flys.
Purchase: The Flys Today Belongs To Me: The Complete Recordings 1977-1980: Cherry Red / Amazon