Monday, 11 May 2020
REFLECTIONS OF A TEENAGE PUNK
As a teenager I was seriously into music. In fact, I was into music throughout the whole of my youth. My dad had ties with the entertainment industry, and when I was young he used to bring huge boxes of CD's back from work, several hundred of them in fact, which he still keeps in his study. My first gig with my dad was Oasis at Earl's Court when I was about ten, closely followed by the slightly less cool Lighthouse Family at the same venue. I remember listening to Simon and Garfunkel in the car on the way to school, and being intrigued when my mum told me how special their lyrics were, and how much more meaningful than the anodyne trivialities churned out by the current pop stars. Music was a regular feature of my childhood.
It was towards the beginning of my teenage years when music became deeply fused with my sense of identity. When I was in Year 8, nu-metal was becoming big, and lots of my friends got into bands like Slipknot. However hard I tried I couldn't really get into it. It was too noisy, growly and, well, unlistenable. Luckily a ready alternative was available: bands like Green Day and Blink 182 that were satisfyingly heavy yet tuneful and catchy at the same time. When I was fourteen and fifteen most weekends would be spent trawling the markets of Camden Town, looking for band t-shirts that we could display in order to tell the world who we were and what we stood for. And what I stood for, for a time, was punk music.
Of course I was never a punk, in the Sid Vicious, mohawk, safety-pin-through-the earlobe sense. I was a little, middle-class Jewish boy. But between the ages of fifteen and eighteen almost every Saturday night would be spent in the mosh pit at a punk gig. Places like The Underworld in Camden and The Garage in Islington were where we would get our doses of loud, fast, shouty guitar music. Of particular interest to me at the time - we're talking early to mid-2000's here - was the Household Name record label, which spawned bands such as Capdown, Lightyear and the phenomenal Ye Wiles (a kind of violin-led ska/folk hybrid that, I am firmly convinced, could have gone on to become absolutely massive under different circumstances). One of my proudest moments as a callow teenager was managing to blag a toke on Capdown's bassist's joint, on a balmy summer night outside a venue in Kingston (London, not Jamaica). Ska punk was my favoured genre, and for me the leading light was the American band Less Than Jake, whom I have very fond memories of skanking along to at The Forum in Kentish Town.
At around this time, myself and a couple of friends formed a band, which we called Communication Problem. I played bass and attempted to sing, and my best mate Adam played guitar and really did sing. We were both passably decent at our instruments (Adam more so than me), but the truly good musician was the drummer, who was classically trained and who, weirdly enough, went on to become a religious fanatic and now lives in Israel. We probably amassed a repertoire of around twenty songs, recorded a demo, and performed around six live gigs. A couple of them were at the school Battle of the Bands contest, but we did manage to get a gig at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town. We were second on a bill of three bands, and the place was entirely packed out with our friends, who promptly left after our set, leaving the headliners performing to an empty room. Good times. Here is a song from the demo we recorded. The song is called 'Every Day's The Same', a title that is particularly apt given the current situation. I am playing bass and singing:
Slowly, however, punk music started to become less cool among my peer group. For one thing, we were in the Sixth Form and looking to apply to university, so had less time to go to gigs or write songs. Another thing was that bands like The Libertines were in the ascendancy, and the associated indie image was what all the cool cats and kittens were lapping up. My school consisted of a couple of members of a band called Les Incompetents, who had a few minor hits, and whose lead singer, Fred Macpherson, was in my RE class. For my part, I just kind of drifted away from my interest in music full stop. Sure, I went to a couple of gigs, every now and again, but the indie scene was not grabbing me in the way the punk scene had, and I had no one who was willing to go with me to punk gigs any longer and, well, other things in life just sort of took over. I still listened, every now and again, to perennial favourites like The Clash and Dead Kennedys, but I no longer traipsed around the dens of London on the coat tails of the lesser known bands.
And so a couple of decades intervened, in which I paid no attention whatsoever to anything that happened in punk rock post 1970's. Until now, that is. For in the lockdown I have found myself trawling YouTube for punk music, and have unearthed some amazing music in the process, which I would like to use this opportunity to mention. One of my favourite individual songs that I've discovered recently comes from Screeching Weasel, a band that have been going since the 80's and that I've always been dimly aware of, but never paid much attention to. The song is called 'Dingbat', and is insanely catchy. I've even learnt to play it - all four chords of it - on the guitar, but I will not subject you to that, don't worry:
In terms of full albums, there are many gems that I've unearthed. Honourable mentions go to 'Death By Television' by The Lillingtons, in which every song is an absolute banger, and 'Dork Rock Cork Rod' by The Ergs, which is likewise brilliant, and all the more impressive for the fact that the drummer is also the main vocalist. The album that I'd really like to use this opportunity to mention, however, is 'Metropole' by The Lawrence Arms, a Chicago-based band. This album really blew me away when I heard it, and I think it could aptly be described as a kind of punk rock Springsteen, with amazing lyrics that tell gritty stories. Here is the album; I hope you enjoy it is as much as I do: