Co-edited and -written by Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix
The punk movement has, as this book readily acknowledges, been more closely analysed and chewed over more thoroughly than any other moment in pop history. While it’s true that it meant and continues to mean very different things to different people, it’s also true that in recent years the potted history version, shorn of its more interesting edges and lesser characters, is the one that’s prevailed in the age of post-pub BBC4 viewing.
While this book is more of a collection of everything from academic essays and lists to personal recollections than anything claiming to be a definitive history, its chorus of different voices and agendas ultimately creates a more accurate narrative. The opening piece sees Snatch’s Judy Nylon – that’s her referred to in Brian Eno’s 1974 song ‘Back In Judy’s Jungle’- reminiscing on her time in London, hooking up with Chrissie Hynde and partying with Nureyev and Keith Moon. It sets the tone well, emphasising that punk had a past as well as a future, the role of women and the American contingent in the capital’s scene, and the fact that it didn’t all revolve around McClaren and the Pistols.
Elsewhere there are several big name contributions, including an essay that Simon Reynolds wrote in 1986 arguing that, on its tenth anniversary, modern music needed to escape its punk-ness to show any hope of progress. ‘England’s Dreaming’ author Jon Savage provides a fascinating history, in list form, tracking the use of the word ‘punk’ from 1946 onwards in 123 different entries. Crass figurehead Penny Rimbaud, meanwhile, shares the experience of the band’s third ever gig in ‘Banned From The Roxy’, originally penned in 1977 but now viewed with the benefit of hindsight and some honest self criticism.
The most interesting bits here are the descriptions of the cast of thousands that populated and/or surrounded the scene at the time. People who weren’t in the bands that made it, those that were just there, feeding off the energy and the anarchy and reacting to it in a million different ways. The inhabitants of North London described in ‘Camden’s Dreaming’ by Richard Cabut, for instance, or the more impressionistic ‘Camera Squat Art Smiler’ by Neal Brown. They both stand up as vivid snapshots of the time as seen through their own eyes rather than any all seeing overview.
This is definitely a book for those who’ve read and digested all the starter level punk literature and are seeking something a little more. They’ll find it here for sure - a generous hit of the hard stuff.
Text by Ben Willmott 2017