Let’s Pretend It’s 1977 Again

February 28, 2014 at 4:01 pm (Uncategorized)

I missed the initial blast of fresh air that was punk through accidents of age and geography. 

I was 12 years old in 1976 which meant I was starting to take music seriously, but was not quite aware: I hadn’t discovered John Peel and the New Musical Express were still two years away. I also lived in Grove, a town near Wantage, itself thirty minutes outside of Oxford. In any event, Oxford was not London or Manchester or any of the hubs of punk. The town I lived in much less so.

So, I read about punk before I heard it, and I heard it long before I saw it live. The first band I saw was the Stranglers in 1979 when the toured with the Raven (their fourth album!). I did see Stiff Little Fingers and Adam and the Ants the following, but it when they were already established. 1977 was something I experienced thought newspaper headlines, Top of the Pops and the occasional song on the radio. But I was almost there.

By the time I moved to Canada in 1981, I’d seen a few bands, but I was reading the music press and my singles collection was growing. (My dad helped me stencil the Crass logo onto my jacket – funnily enough, the only other band kids at my school had on their backs was Rush).  

And so it goes.

Thirty years on and though many of those punk bands imploded within a year or two or moved onto another form, others still play. Lee Brilleaux of Dr. Feelgood once asked his critics why don’t people get on at classical musicians, how come you’re still playing Beethoven? Why don’t you play some new stuff? Of course, Brilleaux was playing new stuff, just like the Strypes today (who are themselves heavily influenced by the Feelgoods)

Still, that’s a little different to go and see people who are still performing their own songs, and particularly in a medium like punk. In general there are two reasons why people still go to see bands now into their third decade of performing, in most cases long past their prime.

1. It’s the first time. I saw Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, the Avengers, Steve Ignorant, the Rezillos and probably a few others after they had broken up and reformed to tour the hits. I really wanted to hear those songs. They were great shows, but I also have nothing to compare them to.

2. Nostalgia. My twenties were great. I was at university. The musci i listened to was fantastic etc. etc. But it’s an illusion. First of all , you can never go home. Those moments are products of specific time and selective memory (how many of us have dug out a movei or a record and realized, it wasn’t anywhere near as good as we remembered – you can’t stand in the same river twice). Chasing nostalgia is like the junkie seeking that proverbial first high. You’ll never find it.

Which, after a long preamble, brings me to the subject of this post: Last Friday, I went to see the Forgotten Rebels at Lee’s Palace.

 I must have first seen the Forgotten Rebels in late 1983 or early 1984. I saw them open for the Cramps at the Concert Hall in 1984, but I remember that wasn’t the first time to see them. Wow. That’s thirty years ago. After that, I must have seen them at least a dozen time,. but probably the last was at a New Year’s show at the El Mo circa 1990. (Johnny Thunders was playing upstairs, and he died in 1993 – I saw him a year of so before he died, and there was another legend whose past was dishonoured by his present). I’d seen the Dik van Dykes (another band from my youth) just before New Year’s, so I thought why not?

Missed the Cola Heads and the Noble Savages were just finishing their set as I arrived. A band to check out further, although it struck me as strange as all four band members were shirtless (was that a theme?)

The Forgotten Rebels came on stage a little after midnight. The band have been for many years Mickey DeSadist, and whomever he has playing with him. And Mickey, no longer rail thin, but with as much personality as ever.

Yes, it was great to hear all the hits again, including my favourite Rebels song “I think of her.” The set list drew heavily from the early records, National Unity, In Love with the System and This Ain’t Hollywood, but so what, that’s what people want isn’t it? In the same way, and this is not a comparrison, when Mick Jagger announces, “This is our new single,” no one really gets too excited – they’re there to hear “Satisfaction.”

But I’ll confess to feeling a little hollow. Maybe it was me. Certainly the audience enjoyed the show. Although the demographic was odd – lots of old guys with beer guts and bald spots, along with kids who seemed barely old enough to get into the show, and who were born long after the Rebels formed. 

I suppose it might be the difficulty of reconciling the rebellion of punk, the smash-the-system, fuck-the-old ways with becoming established, but it seemed I had gone to the show with the wrong mindset. I left before what I’m sure was the last song, “Surfin on Heroin.”

Should bands like the Rebels go gently into that good night like the Stones or the Who? It’s not a question I can answer. If people still get a kick out of it, if the band still like doing it, who am I to say no? But, it should be recognized for what it is. In “My Generation” Daltrey sang, “Hope I die before I get old.” The better formulation though is “Hope I live before I get old.”

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1 Comment

  1. Music Notes July 2014 | Notes from Underground said,

    […] you go home? I wrote earlier about going to see the Forgotten Rebels this year. I probably saw that local band more than any other when I was in university, but I was […]

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