Paisley Punk & Groucho Marxist Records

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by Mike Clarke

"Thrashings of Sour-faced Country Punks Stuck in 1977"

Paisley Punks in London

Punk, initially a London phenomenon, was by Summer 1977 filling the pages of the three main English weekly music papers, Sounds, Melody Maker, and NME. As the infection spread countrywide in successive waves through the late 70s, its provincial sproutings were often written off in dismissive terms within the review pages of these mags. Youthful gunslingers (Parsons/Burchill) and ex-fanzine scribes (Adrian Thrills, Johnny Waller, Danny Baker, Ronnie Gurr) apart, it’s safe to say that even the more proficient/professional dribblers (Nick Kent, Charles Shaar Murray, and Mick Farren to name but three) were at times an unholy combination of frustrated or part-time musos themselves, and when called upon to review DIY or punk vinyl from “the sticks” tended to be more than a little patronizing from their Safe European Home of IPC Towers. What said scribes missed (after all, they had already been a little too old for this punk lark but swam with the prevailing current until it was time to return to sickly reverence of all things Dylan/Stones/Beach Boys et al—y’know, real music) was the local aspect of these small, 1000-only 7” singles that were primitively recorded, eccentrically packaged, and barely distributed beyond local record stores and London’s obligatory Rough Trade. These provincial uprisings really began to get organized in 1978/79, ie, long after the London cognoscenti had written off punk and “moved on.” Since the 1960s most of the UK’s music industry had been centered on London, but punk opened up alternatives in what became an increasingly regional movement, with the DIY ideology inspiring bands to build their own local infrastructures, to set up gigs, and to release records themselves instead of heading wide-eyed and lemming-like toward London’s bright, and unforgiving, lights. Paisley, a large Scottish town 11 km west of Glasgow that owes its name to the Kashmiri pattern of curving shapes found on silk and cotton fabrics, is one such example. Initial punk stirrings in the major Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh made waves in Paisley, and the latter benefited instantly from an ill-judged “Punk Ban” imposed by Glasgow councillors, which shifted activity to more discerning locales.

The first punk activity in Paisley was probably provided by FIRE EXIT, who played at the Technical college, and local band the SNEEX, who enterprisingly hired their Renfrew school hall for regular Thursday night gigs. (SNEEX grew out of The PENCILS, who played an infamous gig at aforementioned Technical College with SHOCK and Rev Volting & The Backstabbers, which ended in a riot. PENCILS’ founder Gerry Rodden also led FIRE EXIT). At this point the local Socialist Workers’ Party, led by printer Tommy Kayes, began hiring the TUC Club in Orr Square, Paisley, which succeeded in drawing out nascent talent such as XS DISCHARGE, MOD CONS, and MENTOL ERRORS. XS DISCHARGE consisted of Paddy and Charles “Chik” Doherty, twin brother offspring of Irish immigrants who had settled in the Elderslie district of Paisley, on guitar/bass, plus various stand-in/pick-up drummers. The twins began playing music in the early 1970s, mainly old Irish rebel songs and then Bowie and Alex Harvey covers in various half-hearted outfits like Zenith, Phoenix, and Lonely Road. Chik: We had been true altarboys in thechapel so the priest let us rehearse there for £1 a week… little did he know we took it out of the collection plate. Tommy Kayes soon moved onto forming a Paisley chapter of Rock Against Racism (RAR) in 1978. Chik Doherty again, in response to a recent quote on an internet message board that recalled Paisley RAR and Groucho Marxist as basically “a culture clash between slightly older politicized hippy-remnant anarchists and local no-prospects punk kids who just wanted to make a record and wind up the police as a bonus”: Tommy is a voice forpeople who have something to say but haven’t got the bottle to say it…you can make a stand against anything and, as far as Paddy and I were concerned, perfect…underground anarchy. We printed it and flyposted, to raise people’s awareness in Paisley to what was going on in Brixton, Solidarity marches, miners etc…Tommy was grassroots Trotsky, still is…
Tommy Kayes himself (from It Ticked And Exploded fanzine): To me, RAR is doing something positive for Paisley. Alternative Paisley is just an idea rather than an organisation. It’sjust a concept of things happening underground.

Joe of DP/Fegs and Paddy of XS Discharge

The cash and ideas for RAR to move into record production came from Wullie Harris plus some technical know-how from Bob Last of Fast Product. The first record to appear under the Groucho Marxist banner was the Spectacular Commodity 7” compilation EP in 1979, featuring SNEEX, POEMS, XS DISCHARGE, MENTOL ERRORS, and MOD CONS. Recorded in 5 hours at the Mad Buyer studio in Glasgow’s East End, it sold quickly, despite reviews like this, from NME: “Recorded on what may be one of those old wax cylinder machines…the EP’s massive drawback is its absolute and total joylessness, although this may be seen as a plus by those who carry that crazed twist in their eye.” The first thing that strikes the listener, in modern times when many bands share the same homogenous digital production whatever their geographical location, is the youthful innocence and definite regional identity that shines through. Whilst Scottish bands had as distinct and unique an edge to their sound as those from Ireland, Liverpool, Manchester or, to a lesser extent, London, the Paisley groups here marked out a defiantly shambolic and irrepressible style that set them apart from even Glasgow or Edinburgh. XS DISCHARGE’s “Machete Shuffle” (with stand-in SNEEX sticksman) is a chaotic one-take and SNEEX, in “Radiomania,” bash out an almost 60s-garage-slash under a standard anti-Radio One/John Travolta teen-rant. (Gerry Rodden of FIRE EXIT claims this song as his own. SNEEX guitarist Graham Thompson is the guy with the pudding bowl haircut in the movie Gregory’s Girl, alongside Claire Grogan of Altered Images.) The POEMS “Posters On The Wall” is a gloriously inept dirge directed at advertising, ditching the ’77 blueprint for two-chord art-minimalism. The POEMS claimed origins in Glasgow and included Rose McDowall on drums, pre-Strawberry Switchblade (the latter name came from a fanzine edited by James Kirk of Orange Juice), whom Joe McGlynn of FEGS/DEFIANT POSE remembers pounding away on the skins while 8 months pregnant during an open air gig on the bandstand at Glasgow’s Broomielaw, on the river Clyde. Expanded to a trio, POEMS managed a more assured EP called “Achieving Unity” on their own Polka Records, but an earlier 1979 LP was shelved after the master tapes were lost prior to pressing. MENTOL ERRORS’ “Irrelevance,” a tight Roxy Club-era ramalama tirade about the vacuity of the wife/the 9–5 drudge/TV, has a recording quality that suggests it was done seperately from the rest of the EP. Lastly, MOD CONS “Buildings Of The 70s,” a paean to urban newtown (de)construction, is a youth club white-reggae limp. A five-piece formed in October 1978, an earlier incarnation (including a FIRE EXIT bassist) known as ANKA SVENSON made it to London in early 1978 for a demo recording and a Roxy Club gig with Billy Karloff, The Mistakes, The Plague, and Muvver’s Pride.

Inspired, other Paisley bands soon sprang from the woodwork, including URBAN ENEMIES, STILETTOES (with a male and a female vocalist), the FEGS, and DEFIANT POSE. The FEGS (shorthand for notorious council estate, Ferguslie Park) were a classic bedroom punk band consisting of brothers Kenny (vocals) and Joe McGlynn (guitar), Paul (aka Lamps; bass), and MENTOL ERRORS drummer Eddie Cochrane filling in on drums. Infamous for a gig in their back garden (rapidly terminated by the police), the FEGS enjoyed only a haphazard existence thanks to vocalist Kenny’s brushes with the law, continuing briefly after his incarceration as a trio, even managing to play in Whiting Bay on the Isle Of Arran shortly after The Lurkers had been the first punk band to play there. His brother Joe first got into punk via the inevitable glam rock route and remembers buying a £1 ticket to see the Jam at Glasgow’s Zhivagos Club from a local punk selling them from his ice cream van in Foxbar, Paisley The salesman was Johnny Grant, who moved down to London soon after with a pal who became a model for Kings Road punk boutique Boy; Grant formed the Straps. The FEGS were formed in 1979 when McGlynn began roadie-ing for the MENTOL ERRORS: who were one of the few local bands gigging regularly around the West Coast. They would play anywhere, to anyone, and in some very scary places, lyingabout the type of music they played. At this point, local fanzine Disease (originally Torn To Threads in November 1977, a 5 page/25 copy limited edition that morphed into A StagnantPoolOf Disease before shortening the moniker by issue 5) noted a preponderance of cover versions in the sets of most Paisley bands.

Along with Tommy Kayes’ gig-promoting, Paisley’s Listen record shop soon became a local hang-out. McGlynn again: It was apparently owned by two brothers whose rich parents bought them the shops [there were separate branches in Glasgow] to keep them off drugs, very hippie-type aura to begin with, then the punks invaded. Picture a rougher version of the shop in the movie ‘High Fidelity’. If you think the staff in that shop were musical snobs, it’s fuck all compared to Listen Records. Big John of The Exploited worked behind the counter, as didmy brother Kenny, although they weren’t the snobs I’m referring to. The FEGS lasted just long enough to contribute to the Ha! Ha! Funny Polis compilation EP before Joe McGlynn joined DEFIANT POSE, a five-piece punky-mod band doing mostly covers (Undertones, ATV, etc.) at the time. He remembers them rehearsing in an attic above the George Bar in Paisley town center, the flat squatted by an associate of Tommy Kaye from Northern Ireland known as “Big Mal” and allegedly on the run from paramilitaries there. Initially, McGlynn played in both THE FEGS and DEFIANT POSE, until the Ha! Ha! FunnyPolis EP, when his brother was jailed for attempted murder and the DP gig became full-time. Their manager, one Nicky Gentile (McGlynn: well-intentioned, but not clued-up enough for our chosen profession, but he did put some of his seemingly endless supply of money where his not-inconsiderable mouthwas, and bought the band some gear) promptly sacked the vocalist and both guitarists, the classic DEFIANT POSE line-up consequently solidifying around McGlynn (guitar/vox), Crawfy (bass) and Callum Reid (drums).

By this time (1980), Tommy Kayes’s efforts to liven up his locality resulted in the Ha! Ha! Funny Polis compilation EP, the second Groucho Marxist release and probably the best-known to this day, thanks to improved distribution and the national notoriety garnered by Kayes’s successful campaign aimed at winding up the local Plod. Subtitled “Four songs about the local polis and other forms of nastiness,” XS DISCHARGE, URBAN ENEMIES, DEFIANT POSE, and THE FEGS each contributed one raw, spirited three-chord rant about Paisley law and order, centered around the Mill Street cop shop and Chief Superintendant George Mutch, who spluttered indignantly to Sounds and the Paisley Daily Express, which helpfully ran a front-page article on the EP in January 1980: “If these people have any complaints regarding the conduct of any of the police, why don’t they let us know about it? I wonder if they’re really rebelling against anything or just publicity seeking.” Wullie Harris responded: “There’s a real antagonism between punks and the police, who are fuming incidentally…far from being ‘the final thrashings of sour-faced country punks stuck in 1977,’ this EP is a natural development of a strong local punk scene which started in 1976 and is still going strong.” Recorded at Sirocco Studios in Kilmarnock during an all-day session, the bands ran through their tracks a couple of times. Joe McGlynn remembers: As you can imagine with twenty or so young, restless musos hanging around all day, a few ended up pretty zonked waiting on their turn. The guys running the place must have been pretty demented with all of us, plus entourage, stuffed into one or two rooms, getting pissed. The Defiant Pose track also has a whopper of a mistake or two that were kept. Chad coming in at the wrong time on the second or third line and me whacking my knuckles on the edge of the guitar where a chord is supposed to be. There’s a big blank space somewhere if you listen. Urban Enemies came in and did things note-perfect and showed us all up on their turn. Basic engineering was provided by the resident Sirocco staff, with the bands plus Tommy Kayes and Wullie Harris adding their two-pennyworth. McGlynn again: The funniest part was watching XS Discharge recording ‘Lifted,’ as they were completely out of it and couldn’t stop laughing. Their run-through was the version used as it was the funniest take, albeit unintentionally. We were in the control room laughing at Paddy, who, in turn, was pissing himself at us laughing at him.

On the EP’s release, Paisley RAR wallpapered the streets with Ha! Ha! Funny Polis posters, which drove the local filth to distraction and, according to XS DISCHARGE’s Chik, desperation, paying stray punks £5 a head to join ID parades in a vain attempt to flush out the culprits while cautioning/harassing others for brandishing XS D tee-shirts and badges. Behind the scenes they were hunting for Tommy Kayes’s elusive and clandestine printing press, but, always one step ahead, he moved location constantly and the flyposting merely increased in quantity. Eventually the Chief Inspector held a press conference inviting the punks to go to the pig station and relate their grievances “in complete confidence”. Chik: Result? The flyposting increased! Kayes himself noted in It Ticked and Exploded that “If you’re laughing at the police, it really seems to be destroying their authority, it really disturbs them.”