I first met Steve Lamacq at an Action Pact gig in the early eighties. We’d been exchanging our respective fanzines (A Pack of Lies and So What) for a while beforehand, both of them championing the emerging ‘new punk’ scene of that time and featuring the likes of Chron Gen, Newtown Neurotics, the Partisans and the aforementioned Action Pact. It was a time when once every other week you could stroll into your local record shop, pick up 5 new punk singles and at least 4 of them would be as good as Sounds had told you they were. Yet its a time which is often underrated for UK Punk, especially with regard to some of the smaller bands, despite Ian Glasper’s attempts to redress the balance with his excellent ‘Burning Britain’ book.
Lamacq of course went on to be a well respected NME journalist and then Radio One DJ, co-hosting the extremely influential Evening Session from 1993 to 1997 with Jo Whiley and then presenting the show on his own up until 2002. Nowadays he hosts a three hour late afternoon spot on 6Music five days a week, which features a fair smattering of punk records, and a new music show on Radio 2 every Wednesday night. However, nearly thirty years on Lamacq’s heart remains unashamedly immersed in Punk Rock and especially that early eighties period when we both hit the age of 16 and looked to bands, and punk, to help us change the world.
"I think the lead in for that period was definitely the Cockney Rejects" he states in a central London boozer between radio shows "Some forms of Punk were evolving into a more new wave type sound but the Rejects were about as raw as you could get and were the inspiration for a lot of groups from that time. I remember going on holiday with my family up north and my first holiday treat was a copy of Sounds which had Stinky Turner on the cover. They did a Peel session which included ‘East End’ and I think that session saved me from having a heavy metal phase!"
Lamacq started his fanzine in 1981, inspired by legendary Ipswich zine ‘Harsh Reality’, just as punk was fracturing into a number of interesting pieces. But it was the rapidly expanding new punk scene which caught his eye, and ears, with its voices of a generation slightly too young to have experienced punk in 1976 but wanting to play their part in it as they came of age.
So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are Steve Lamacq’s top 10 UK punk singles from 1981 to 1984.
SPECIAL DUTIES – COLCHESTER COUNCIL/VIOLENT SOCIETY
"I grew up near Colchester and it was great to have a band nearby writing about how they couldn’t play anywhere locally. They tried to do a launch gig for this single in a multi story car park to prove the point and it was shut down by the police. There was a re-issue as well as the original, both of which are good, but the original is better because it was produced by Howard Wall from the Lurkers, who nobody has seen since!"
"The controversy which surrounded singer Steve Arrogant (note Specials Duties released the ‘Bullshit Crass’ single which sparked a lot of hostile debate in the punk world) sometimes overshadowed some of the songs but they polarised opinion which is one of the things that punk should do. If you listen to their early stuff its very much in the vein of Stiff Little Fingers and Steve Arrogant was so well versed in early punk. This single is a great, gritty piece of punk pop."
THE SAMPLES – DEAD HERO
"One of the reasons you start a fanzine is that you’re desperate to make friends. Another reason is that its like Christmas every day when the postman delivers and the Samples were one of the first bands to send me a demo, of this single. It had that really guttural voice, the way he growls ‘Dead Hero’, it was so passionate. Brilliant. I think they only ever released one single. There were so many singles coming out on No Future and Riot City that quality control wasn’t always the best, if you could stand up on a stage in Bristol they’d release a single, but within that context singles like this stood out."
THE PARTISANS – BLIND AMBITION
"All three tracks on this single are great. I interviewed the singer at the 100 Club and saw them live quite a few times. Instead of being angry, which the Partisans were when they started and recorded their first album, Blind Ambition expressed an insecurity which for me as a teenage boy away from home for the first time at college resonated quite a lot. The studio side of their second album is fantastic. One of them went on to be in Transvision Vamp."
ICON AD – LET THE VULTURES FLY EP
"I wanted to have a least one single in the ten that had pay no more than 99p on the cover and this did. I know nothing about them except that they must have come from Yorkshire because at the end the singer speaks in a Yorkshire accent the line "So we say let the vultures fly cos we’re not ready yet to die" which is the worst sentence construction in the world but a great record, with an iconic black and white sleeve. It was between them and the Lost Cherrees but the best of the Lost Cherrees came later on. I followed the Lost Cherrees around quite a lot, so much so that I once saw them in a pub in Gravesend on a Tuesday night which looked like it was in an oil refinery!"
GBH – NO SURVIVORS
"There are certain records which start scenes and I think this single was really important. You can trace huge wadges of punk back to that record, everyone goes back to that record. Its only a couple of minutes or so long. Like a lot of those singles on Clay Records you put it on and its gone and you have to put it on again. There’s no let up from the start to the finish. I didn’t really get into a lot of GBH, though Snuff did a great cover of ‘City Baby Attacked By Rats’, but that one single is a perfect piece of punk music."
ACTION PACT – SUICIDE BAG
"You forget how much of a problem glue sniffing was at that time. If great pop songs give you an idea of what was happening in the landscape around them then Suicide Bag was a very necessary single. I remember hearing Peel play Action Pact a lot but it wasn’t until I saw them live that they really made sense. They wrote some really good songs, particularly on their second album. By this point punk was splintering all over the place. There were the anarcho factions, what was going to become hardcore and the slightly more cerebral punk which was being championed by Zigzag Magazine and Mick Mercer in his Panache fanzine with bands like Action Pact and Dead’s Mans Shadow and of course….."
NEWTOWN NEUROTICS- KICK OUT THE TORIES/MINDLESS VIOLENCE
"A number of bands were doing things in a similar vein but around the time of this single the Neurotics started to really make sense. I don’t think their singles represent their best material by any stretch of the imagination. And its weird to pick a single which is almost a slogan when Steve Drewett was very good as a lyric writer but this was such a bold statement. The Neurotics were more like the Beatles, with their harmonies, but sometimes you do have to hit people over the head with a hammer and this was the most elequant anti Tory punk song. Mindless Violence was also a brilliant depiction of things which were going on. It was ridiculous going to a gig where everyone had gone to see the same band and people would end up kicking shit out of each other. "
RED LONDON – STEN GUNS IN SUNDERLAND EP
"One of the things I love about this record is its really trebly. It was mixed by Attila the Stockbroker, who’s lost a lot of the top end of his hearing, so the first thing he does is turn up the treble. I’m the same. ‘This is England’, from the EP, is an incredibly eloquent soulful song. Its very patriotic but not in a right wing way. Its saying I’m really proud of where I live but I’m very disappointed how it is, almost in a pre-Billy Bragg way. An ambitious lyrical topic. One of the interesting things from that period was that there were a lot of people in the punk scene who seemed to like old school northern school whereas these days the ska influence is very big. The whole idea of sten guns in sunderland was very exciting."
THE UNDERDOGS – EAST OF DACHAU
"Having had something on No Future I wanted to put in something on Riot City and this is the record. I think this was amongst the first bundle of records I ever received free when I was doing the fanzine. I got home from a geography field trip and they were waiting for me. I put this on and again it was ambitious lyrically, he was questioning what was happening in Russia. It was their only single, its got a real force about it, very convincing vocals and again a touch of early SLF. Looking at the sleeve it gave you the impression they were partly a Riot City punk band, part anarcho punk and partly a straight down the line punk band which Garry Bushell would have liked. Great record."
PETER AND THE TEST TUBE BABIES – THE JINX
"I could have picked some of their earlier stuff but The Jinx is better. The amount of nights I used to go and see Peter and the Test Tube Babies and they were possibly the scariest gigs I’ve been to because of the presence of racist skinheads at some of them. I used to go with my mate Maggot who loved the Test Tubes even more than I did. They were musically ambitious and also entertaining. Its hard doing humour in punk rock but they were one of the bands who got closest to pulling it off. Maggot tells this brilliant story of going to see them in Norwich where the bouncers made everyone take their laces out of their DMs on the way in to try and prevent violence and it worked perfectly in the gig. But the bouncers just put the laces in a big box outside so when everyone came out there was a big fight over who got the right laces!"
ANDY PEART’S TOP 10
Newtown Neurotics – Kick out the Tories
The Violators – Gangland
Action Pact – Suicide Bag
Chron Gen – Outlaw
Animal Farm – Model Soldier
Nuclear Socketts – Play Loud
The Samples – Dead Hero
The Partisans – Blind Ambition
The Dark – The Masque
The Outcasts – Magnum Force