Interview with Steve Low Down Kids
Reviews of select LDK LP releases
The Galactic Symposium “John Peel Presents…YMCA” is a hilarious slice of prime UK DIYsterism. Culled from an extremely rare cassette, twelve inept cover versions of classic rock tunes (and “YMCA” by the Village People) embody the DIY aesthetic. The one official release by the band, a 45 with “YMCA,” was reputedly one of Peel’s favorite records, which he kept in his special box of 142 singles, alongside “Teenage Kicks,” Mary Monday and the Bitches, Antisocial “Traffic Lights, among other far less tasty numbers. Galactic Symposium satirized the seriousness of professional music. Rather than poor musicianship (the members were able to play instruments—just not the ones they played on this recording), what caused the uproarious versions contained on the record was a genuine distaste for the notion that music should be anything but unpredictable fun experienced collectively. The singer(s) can barely keep from cracking up throughout the songs, and this laugher is infectious. Rather than with ponderous polemics, which I probably dig more than the average listener, with glee and recklessness Galactic Symposium expressed revulsion at the older forms of commercial music (classic rock and disco). I had no idea what to expect with this one, and I found it to be a great surprise.
Y Trwynau Coch elicit a similar feeling as some early Finnish melodic punk; when sung, Welsh is reminiscent of Finnish. Melody is clearly primary for this band, but the poppiness is understated, not flashy. It’s hard to associate the phrase easy-listening with anything other than dreck, but whereas some of the punkier powerpop bands made their hooks aggressive, Y Trwynau Coch did not. They’re smooth. I just wish I could understand the lyrics. One hopes they’re about miners organizing against the man, but that seems unlikely.
Ail Symudiad strike me as slightly more punky than Y Trwynau Coch, though both are primarily poppy. Ail Symudiad seem a little more depressed about their lot in life. I imagine them coming home from the mines, downing a few lagers, heading to the practice space, and trying to write up-beat punky powerpop tunes but being unable to let go of the image of returning to the damp, dark, deadly mines the next morning. But maybe I’m wrong—after all, I can’t read the lyrics.
V/A “LDK Companion Vol. 1” is superior to the follow-up volume. Both installments include a fine mix of punky powerpop, punk/hard rock/NWOBHM crossover, and powerpop. On the first, punk is more prevalent, and all the tracks are good. Highlights are the punky Out of Order, The Vektors, whose constipated b-beat is scientifically proven to be the perfect punky pop backbone, Gyppo’s professional and, I’ll grudgingly admit, excellent, take on thuggy punk rock, and The other Squad’s infectious “24 Hours.”
The second “Companion” is more pop-oriented, which is not necessarilly bad, especially because the bands included here definitely never “made it.” Several of the songs include unexpected instrumentation such as harmonica, telephone ringer, and kazoo, which might explain the obscurity of these records. Also, the impeccably named melancholic rockers Herod’s Race were certainly destined for fame—among the members of the Oxford Classics Club. Still, some other should-be-classics appear here: the Record Collector–vexing Zoot Alors, The (not so) Wild Boys, the dramatic alliterative rock of Jabberwock, and Aston Hall, who remind me of “Runnin Riot in ‘84”-era CockSparrer. I do wish there were information about the bands included, but considering that you must purchase these records directly from LDK, because you’re already corresponding with him, I’m sure Steve would be happy to answer any questions about specific records.
S-F What is the history of Low Down Kids? What is your personal punk rock history?
LDK In 1978, at age 17, I joined my first real band. It was a go-nowhere school-punk operation called The Disco Love Bites. Somehow, this perfectly reasonable (in rose-tinted retrospect) name was soon changed to What To Wear (the band’s leading lights were school-jumper-wearing Vic Godard fans who thought that the new name was more suitable for the gritty confrontational pre-“post-punk” they had in mind). We made a record, the “Casual But Smart” EP, in 1979; it was recorded in a terraced house in Resolven, just outside Neath, which is just outside Swansea, which is in Wales just outside England. The guitars were played in the living room, the drums in the coal-shed. The whole thing was cabled-up to a “control room” in a caravan parked in the front garden, with studio owner John Daniels and engineer Bubbles (still recounting the past glories they’d shared on the road with Jim Hendrix, amongst others) “bending the sound" for us and doing us a “special rate cos I know Steve, like.” Obviously, you combine this nonsense with the fact that we ourselves didn’t have a clue either and the end result was pretty poor.
S-F What To Wear’s record was included on Johan Kugelberg’s list of the Top 100 DIY 7"s. How did you feel about that inclusion and was the description accurate?
LDK It’s great to be in the list. Realistically, the record’s appeal is pretty limited, I think, so it’s nice that someone who gets to write about such things (and isn’t restricted—for his own safety—to using crayons) likes it enough to give it a mention. I’d have wanted the record to be a little more poppy (and a little less off-center and warped: it’s a terrible pressing), but as it turned out, I suppose Johan’s description is close enough! As it happens, one of my other early catastophes, the single by The Crash Action Winners, is included on the list too. The first time I met Johan was not long after he’d compiled that list and he happened to bring up the unsolved mystery of the Crash Action Winners. When I told him it was me, he was like a little kid who’d just seen the Christmas tree lights switched on. If I can bring a little happiness, etc, job done.
Anyway, I was working in the local Virgin shop Saturdays and holidays. Much of my time was spent either selling yet another copy of the Banshees LP or avoiding all the violence that was a staple of the punks-versus-everybody-else scene in town. We were the only shop in town with a direct-wired panic-button to the local police station. (Not that it ever made any difference: by the time the local constabulary wandered along we’d normally had time to bucket-out the blood and pack the injured off to casualty.) Local new wave bands were split into various factions: the “punk” ones (Next Step, The Noise), the “powerpop” ones (The Nu-Forms, The Standards) and the “old” ones (Sleever, Dyfatty Flats). My band existed in a universally despised sixth-form “art” faction all to itself.
In 1980, I invented a label called Sonic International (grand enough?) and pressed up some 7"s for local sale. The band ended when the Vic-Godard ones went to Oxbridge. I got myself a proper job while retaining a weekly “alternative” show on the local radio station. By 1983, after all that fourth-division studs-and-mohicans stuff had made my toes curl for a couple of years, I’d pretty much had it with punk and, after some time spent in a TG/Skidoo wilderness and running a small-time semi-cult label called Fierce Recordings, only a brief C86-ish flirtation with post-Mary Chain “noise-pop” got me back on stage with any kind of chorus to speak of. But by the end of 1987 I realized my time as an aspiring popstar was gone, at which point I invented The Pooh Sticks, whose NME-inches and couple of major-label contracts veered off in a direction far from anything punk rock (Pooh Sticks’ frame of reference was strictly no later than 1975). After six years, I finally concluded I’d mined-to-death that seam of songs about girls listening to the AM-radio under the blankets, stopped the Pooh Sticks, and moved to Holland, out of the way.
I completely missed the early years of Killed by Death mania. Wasn’t interested. The record shop round the corner from my house in Holland had boxes and boxes of old punky singles for a dollar each, including multiple copies of “Nobody Loves Me” by The Letters. Wasn’t interested. I’d go to record fairs and buy only 60s psychedelia or, preferably, another slightly different copy of the first Velvets album for my first-Velvets-album shelf. Eventually I was turned on to the “Raw And Rare” comps, and then the “England Belongs To Me” series, by my Welsh mate Russ who’d travel round Europe in a van, selling these things alongside the Britpop that was actually paying the bills.
I knew I needed the Revenge singles in my collection, but I realized that I wouldn’t for long be able to take the weekly food-shop money and squander it on old punk, and that somehow my new-found jones had to pay for itself. Once I discovered that I could track down bands and their “leftovers” using a couple of CD-Rom tools bought from a bloke with an ever-changing email address, Low Down Kids was off-and-running (although quite why I chose to name it after a German record I’m not too sure).
In 1998, I made one printed catalog, but more because I just wanted to see sleeve scans of some of my obscure records in actual print, like in the Detour auctions, rather than just as pixels on a screen. LDK has always been a strictly website-and-e-mail operation. I’ve never “done” a fair or anything, as the idea of standing behind a stall watching to ensure little sticky fingers don’t purloin the merchandise has never seemed as much fun as crawling under tables and looking in the back of boxes marked “unsorted disco” hunting for a misfiled Clive Culbertson single. The glory years of turning the computer on in the morning to queues of people ordering a $100 single are gone (I blame eBay, of course) but it’s still possible to have a handful of diehards get excited about whatever giga-rare “would fit on Powerpearls” unknown I can dig up. Can’t complain.
S-F You were one of the first people in the KBD(ish) world to utilize the Internet to circulate rare punk songs with the “virtual bootlegs” and now you are doing a popular MP3 blog. What was your motivation or inspiration to use this technology early on? Do you have any particular beliefs about the nobility of making hopelessly rare punk available for free to the masses or is it just a catalyst for selling records?
LDK When I was on the radio I’d like nothing more than to drag in the odd obscurity to add to that week’s new indie releases—The Sonics, The Monks (this was in the early 80s, before they got hiply re-validated), Monkees album tracks, etc. And with the Pooh Sticks, the album liner notes would always roadmap all the influences (Tommy James & The Shondells, The Raspberries, etc.). I would get so excited about the records that I would want other people to hear them too, and that’s part of the reason for the LDK “virtual bootlegs.” Add to that the undeniable showing-off element, of course. And, like Chuck Warner’s old buying-aid cassettes, they obviously worked as advertisements for those records I might have had for sale but which were roundly unknown everywhere else on the planet: realistically, very few people are going to spend sometimes hundreds of dollars on something they’ve never heard.
I liked the “six-songs-a-side” concept of the LDK virtual boots, but in the end it became impossible to keep up a constant turnover of high-quality (or at least interesting in some way) material that might’ve been new to people, or that hadn’t been covered elsewhere. In the early days it was even nice enough to have the LDK virtual boot illustrate in color something that might’ve been already widely known but only pictured in black and white on “England Belongs To Me” (or red and white on the “Bloodstains” comps). So I stopped about a year ago; there didn’t seem much point in rehashing tracks that had been proper-comp’d and were already illustrated and discussed on other websites.
I have never had a problem with the copyright implications of my virtual bootlegs, or now with my blog. There’s always been cassette trading, and my virtual boots and blog have always used RealAudio or .mp3 in a quality that couldn’t match even a cassette. And, anyway, I figure they’re a tool to hear what’s out there; they’re not a replacement for having the actual record. Plus, in commercial terms, very few people can justify the kind of spend that’s mostly (unless you’re lucky) necessary to buy the Revenge singles, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t significantly more people who’d enjoy being able to listen to them.
One thing I do have against the availability of MP3s: it’s all but killed off the classic vinyl bootleg. These days there are very few new boots, and I for one would like more, please.
S-F At the same time you've been making rarities available digitally for free, LDK has released compilations and single-band LPs on vinyl, and more recently, you’ve done lathe-cut custom pressings of rarities. What motivated these releases? And how did the lathe-cut singles idea come about? Has the digital medium replaced the analog one for LDK for the foreseeable future?
LDK Contacting The Toys and finding that they had an album’s worth of stuff was pretty exciting, and knowing that I could press up a couple of hundred copies and there’d be enough people to buy them so I wouldn’t have to pull extra shifts down the pit to pay for adding a Toys LP to my own collection made me extremely happy. And the Ail Symudiad boom of 2000, or whenever it was, was the first time that a Welsh-language punky-type LP had made any kind of ripples on the international scene, and I was pleased to be involved in that. Basically, I’d mostly ask bands if they had more recorded material, just in case, but, unfortunately, very few of them actually recorded more than whatever one-off single they’d manage to finance from milk-rounds at the time. The bands who’ve been LDK’d were more than happy to receive a little bit of recognition all these many years since they split up and took jobs in the civil service, as gas fitters or whatever. Almost always they were completely unaware that anyone they hadn’t personally shared a transit with was in the slightest interested. The two compilations—the “LDK Companion” albums—were mostly made up of tracks by bands who just didn’t have any more stuff but whose records I especially liked. One thing I’ve liked about my LDK releases is that they kind of look like bootlegs—ie, hardly any information. It can be great when someone does super-nice color packaging for a definitive reissue, but LDK records don’t perform that function: for one thing, they’re far too limited. They’re still “underground” (as opposed to Overground, and their punk CDs, for instance). They connect only with people who already know about the band; to stretch further than that would mean at least a nod in the direction of marketing and distribution, and the headaches that go with that, and I’ve been-there-done-that and didn’t particularly think it was much fun.
The lathe-cut series struck me as a good idea on the most important and basic level: I wanted those tracks on a 7" in my collection. Making “normal” singles, especially when the number pressed would’ve been the usual LDK super-limited numbers, would simply not have been feasible financially, and I was lucky that enough of my loyal LDK buyers also fancied collecting these things. Most copies sold to people who bought them all, collecting the full set of 12 records. The place that made them was super-reliable and dealing with it couldn’t have been easier: I’d just FTP a .wav file to their website, and I’d have the finished articles in my hands within the week. (The rubber-stamps on the normal LDK releases, by the way, were more trouble: they had to be made in the States because, for some reason, making a rubber-stamp in Holland necessitates a second mortgage.) Quantities made varied, but each single was giga-limited and I know where every individual copy went.
I don’t think there'll be more vinyl LDK releases in the immediately foreseeable future. Although there are a handful of bands I’m in touch with who have (or might have) enough gear for an LP, it could be that they’re too marginal, even in LDK-terms, to not see me out of pocket. But we’ll see.
S-F You have been the biggest proponent of old Welsh punk in recent years, especially of previously uknown Welsh bands that sang in Welsh. What was the dynamic that inspired these punks to sing in Welsh (or not to sing in Welsh) as far as you can tell?
LDK Most Welsh-language bands chose to sing in Welsh for some political reason, or just because they were from the dark side of the valleys, or deepest mid-Wales, and wouldn’t actually “do” English on anything like a daily basis anyway. But a commercial by-product of this was a ready-made audience. There was even a Welsh-language music show on TV, “Twindish,” which featured bands like Y Trwynau Coch, whereas Welsh English-speaking bands were totally stranded without any media support. The two scenes absolutely didn’t mix, and I didn’t know anyone who went to see Y Trwynau Coch when they played Swansea’s Top Rank to a sold-out (and presumably bussed-in) 2000 people. You could split the two camps like this: the English-speaking bands wanted to be in the NME, the Welsh-language bands wanted to be on “Twndish.”
S-F We’ve discussed Wales, but are there other regions of the UK that produced unique punk rock enabled or inspired by the distance between them and London?
LDK Ninety-nine percent of all regional bands everywhere coveted being London’d—a transit to do a Roxy show to three members of Handbag (the other band on the bill, more often than not) and their dog, would’ve been looked forward to and talked up in the local fanzine for weeks beforehand. (The other 1% were those bands self-sufficient enough to not have to deal with the “inevitable” rejection by London, such as the Welsh-language bands.) There were certainly vibrant scenes—of a fashion—in other parts of the country. Somehow The Isle Of Lewis in Scotland, where every man knows the name of every sheep in the fields, managed to come up with enough local bands to fill a whole local comp LP. But these scenes were mostly regarded by the bands themselves as second-division stepping-stones or as self-contained big-fish-in-a-small-pond parallel universes. If any band tells you “London could go fuck itself,” they’re lying.
Local scenes that produced noteworthy chunks of punk: Yorkshire (comps include “Logical Steps,” “New Wave From The Heart,” “Bouquet Of Steel”), the North-East (“Compilation NE1,” plus some of the rarest private UK punk singles by Amazing Space Frogs, No Way, Terry Tranz & The Vestites, The Wretched, etc.), Bristol (“The Avon Compilation”), Brighton (the Attrix label), Manchester (the Object, Rabid, and TJM labels for a start!).
S-F So why does LDK focus exclusively on the British Isles?
LDK When I hear a UK punk rock record I know that those kids were skulking around the same streets, to the same soundtrack of The Sweeney and half-ten closing as I was. In my imagination, I could’ve been in The Blitz Boys—or at least played snooker with one of them in whatever equivalent of The White Swan they had in Gloucester. I don’t get that with “foreign junk.” It’s only those US records I bought at the time that connect directly with my youth (both Crime singles, for instance, were favorites; I have their third too, but I’m trying to blank it out). There’s a barrier there (and don’t get me started on Finnish records). That’s not to say that I don’t recognize many non-UK punkers as being great records, because I do, even some of the Australian ones, but the way I relate to old punk rock records is very much tied up with my own history.
As far as the website goes, LDK focuses on UK stuff because, not only is it the stuff I personally like best, but also because I want people to know that information from LDK is reliable in the way that only something as limitedly specialist as LDK can be. Once I start spouting about Hammer Damage then you know it’s secondhand info, and probably garbled to boot—what do I know about Ohio punk rock? There are better places for that kind of information. But if someone asks about Straightshooter then, at least until the fast-moving web-world comes up with something better next week, I can be confident that I’m not giving them a bum steer.
S-F I find it quite interesting that you say, “The way I relate to old punk rock records is very much tied up with my own history.” What is most compelling about LDK to me, in a way that other blogs or compilations are not, is that there is a palpable unified vision behind what you present, even if the music runs the gamut from Phones Sportsman Band to Venom (the skins not the metallers). So a few questions on this front: do you believe your own experience with producers who didn’t know or care how to make a punk record, combined with your own youthful exuberant ignorance, was common? Did great punk recordings, in your view, happen more often by accident or by intention? Is this perhaps a way to separate punk from powerpop, as both terms, as LDK demonstrates, have clearly been quite enlarged over the years of vigorous digging by collectors seeking the next great obscurity?
LDK There’s a line in the movie Performance, spoken by Jagger’s character Turner, that goes “The only performance that makes it, that makes it all the way, is the one that achieves madness.” The whole has to be so much more than the sum of its parts. This is true about all art. Even Bacharach and David’s pop perfection couldn’t continue when the magic deserted them, no matter how adept at their craft they might’ve been. But in terms of an art form that is based on rebelliousness, even if that rebelliousness is just to “do something new,” you can’t expect to achieve the “madness” without the magic, and the magic is, by definition, something you can’t control and can’t even understand. Today’s guitar bands—I deliberately exclude techno/dance/r&b/whatever, about which I know nothing (except that “Fuck It” by Eamon was handed down by God himself, who cried when he created it and every time he’s heard it since)—are unable to create the madness because they have no access to the magic. It’s not something I can even blame them for: fifty years of rocknroll blueprints and 24-hour MTV instruction manuals have seen to that. The last great period during which the magic was allowed to possibly outweigh the method was back-in-the-punk-day.
Accident, rather than intention, is always going to more likely to lead to the madness. Things need to be out of control. “Our Generation” by The Revenge is the quintessential punk rock record because it is the most out of control. Naysayers might claim that the band were simply connecting the dots drawn for them by The Sex Pistols and gang, but this is completely missing the point: though the Pistols chose to adapt those elements of pop/rock they enjoyed the most—those records they’d grown up with and could relate to—The Revenge had no “choice” to make. They had to make a punk rock record, loud and clumsy: no arguments, no plan, no thought. (Of course there were other bands, in other garages and sheds up and down the country, equally clueless and equally inspired but, well, the magic can’t be everywhere all at once.) Even in the more considered sub-world of powerpop, where some kind of knowledge (one member of the band, at least, had to have the odd pre-Yoko Beatles record) the stuff that floats the LDK boat is almost exclusively of UK origin. In the US, punk-period powerpop bands were influenced by The Raspberries or Big Star or Badfinger—all well and good, but, from a “Please Please Me” starting-point, that’s already one considered-step up the “craft” ladder. Punk-period powerpoppers in the UK just added merseybeat to punk, with no “education” getting in the way and diluting the message. (Not that there’s anything wrong with “Shake Some Action,” or even “September Gurls,” but they themselves were made in the kind of vacuum of non-interest that can only help discourage “method”: no ongoing career equals nothing to lose.) When Silent Noise came up with “I’ve Been Hurt,” they were at the same time both lovable moptops and scowling punks, and it was the kind of pop record that could only have been made through the punk excitement, unlike many of the US powerpop records, which might well have been faster than they’d have been in 1975, but which otherwise were too well-informed—not out of control enough—to achieve the madness.
S-F It seems that if the magic you describe happened by accident for a band like The Revenge, there still must have been some intentionality in the decision to release the record.
LDK In the same way that The Revenge had no choice in the music they made that day, it’s probably true that they also did not consider making the record an option : it was essential to fully join in the Peel and NME fun. Other bands might’ve not believed enough to spend the money to make the single, but the release of “Our Generation” demonstrates how much The Revenge were a punk rock equivalent of The Lovin’ Spoonful (“Do You Believe In Magic?”) or Pilot (“Magic”).
S-F Many of LDK’s choice cuts seem to be releases forgotten or ignored by labels almost immediately or even jokes done by studio engineers, journalists, or label employees, in addition to the good, old-fashioned self-released, unsupported total flop by wide-eyed punkers. What, in your estimation, was special about the punk and just-after-punk periods that led to prolific record-making and just as prolific record-binning, if anything?
LDK Back in the punk-day, when a Spizz Energi single could sell 80,000 copies in the UK, the market for “new wave” was concentrated and accessible. Compared to today, there were far fewer records being released and far fewer publicity outlets: everyone who was interested read the NME and listened to John Peel. And compared to the “real” records being made in the late 70s, with bands spending months in the studio finetuning the coke spoons, new wave records were cheap: major labels could have realistic expectations of knocking out a new-waver for next to no money, and, if it was picked up by one of the three main inkies or Peel, seeing tens of thousands of sales. That is the economics behind the “involvement” of labels like the dreaded Logo (Tinopeners, Cole Younger, a Wild Willy Barrett single even Wild Willy didn’t know had been released until I told him recently) or Decca (Zoot Alors, The Covers, The Jets). Factor in the resentment felt by old musos that these talentless louts were on the front page of Melody Maker without having first properly put in the hours and the result is Gyppo (Gerry Rafferty’s backing band, on United Artists) or Airship (Eurovision pro troopers, on Decca). There was no fragmented support system for also-rans in those days (a local fanzine in Swansea covering the latest London-ignored Swansea release would typically have a circulation far smaller than the number of punks in the band’s circle of friends, and so, if a release “failed,” it often failed spectacularly. In the case of major-label releases, many of which had no picture sleeve to demonstrate their “punkness,” these failures would’ve been pulped. With the band probably having been given (at best) a box, it’s no surprise that such a high percentage of the rarest singles from the period are not those designed-to-be-limited private jobbies like the Grout (OK, maybe there were only 100 pressed, but they all found homes—either with mates or still under the bass player’s bed) but those major-label failures, which sold zero in the shops, and which the band never had boxes of, and which no one at the label thought twice about before consigning the unwanted stock to recycling.
S-F What about the Ellie Jay label? What’s the explanation for all the rarities they released?
LDK Ellie Jay wasn’t a label as such; it was a one-stop for independent manufacturing. Bands could send a tape to Ellie Jay and pay a package-price for a bunch of records. Sometimes bands would have Ellie Jay print a different label design with the band’s own label name. You’ll find many records with two catalogue numbers: one supposedly for the band’s ‘label’ and one—EJSP….—indicating the Ellie Jay origin. Another company that provided a similar service was SRT, though almost all SRT pressings bore the band’s own ‘label.’
S-F You have pointed to the influence of glam on punk rock as one often ignored by the “official” historians but that is still important. I find this assertion believable, but can you explain it more fully?
LDK Jam a room full of 1977 punk rockers and ask them about the Situationists: the vacant stares you’d get as a result would be good enough to be paraded in the pages of the Daily Mirror as a symbol of the blank generation. Punks didn’t know about, and wouldn’t have cared about, sociopolitical theorizing. They knew about glam, the Stooges/Dolls/Velvets, elements of 60s mod culture including The Small Faces (even The Faces, before it all went “Atlantic Crossing”-shaped), and they knew they wanted to make some of that energetic and glamorous music in the best way they knew how. Yes, glamorous, even in toilet gigs. Don’t let anyone tell you it wasn’t exciting to take the step from audience to stage. I mean, what are you supposed to do in the couple of years between Bowie tours otherwise, what with Roxy being MIA, and Slade having retreated behind a wall of “grown-up” rock and everything? I guarantee that I never once saw a punk rocker reading Guy Debord (thanks, Jon Savage), but I saw plenty of kids getting dressed up and having fun. Malcolm McLaren described his vision for the Sex Pistols as “a raunchier Bay City Rollers,” and at least that's something the band would’ve understood (even if, apart from Matlock, they’d all have probably hated the idea). They covered “Stepping Stone” (The Monkees were the quintessential pre-glam teen group), for fuck’s sake. They could equally have had a go at the Rollers’ “Saturday Night” if Matlock had timed the suggestion right.
S-F LDK seems to show that divides between “scenes,” and even “scenes” themselves, are a recent construction. Was there something we can speak of anthropologically, in your estimation, that caused a young kid with a guitar to be a punk or a powerpopper or a NWOBHMetaller? LDK points to many records that fall between the cracks and are examples of crossovers. What was at work with the in-between bands? What are some of the best in-between bands, especially between punk and NWOBHM?
LDK “Powerpop,” which was a term used for about a week and a half to describe The Pleasers and Tonight, was a very specific suits ‘n’ ties 60s-influenced thing. Bands that these days we’d refer to as “powerpop” would’ve been just “punk” or maybe “new wave.” (Note to Americans: A Flock of Seagulls were not “new wave”; Men Without Hats were not “new wave.”) Today we differentiate between punk/powerpop/DIY/new wave in descriptions of records from the period because there’s so much of it to take in all at once, and we need pointers (preferably not eBay-related, where anything that’s not Peaches And Herb might be tagged “powerpop”). In 1980, when The Phones Sportsman Band EP was released, it was possible to hear it on Peel or read a review in the NME and you could make up your own mind if it was up your street or not: there was no reason to characterize it as either DIY or punk (or even a combination of the two). Essentially, it was all just “new” short-hair music, as opposed to the long-hair music loved by diehard Zep/Quo/Sabbath types who couldn’t quite understand why the ‘Heap weren’t on the cover of Sounds this week.
Punk/NWOBHM crossover bands were almost invariably long-hairs unable to resist the momentum of “the new music,” rather than short-hairs unable to abandon a long-hair past. Some of the best examples of punk/NWOBHM crossover records were made by Straightshooter, The X-Dreamysts (until they totally lost all direction, one way or the other, completely), Johnny DuCann, Jakpak, Baseline... not to mention Motorhead!
Perhaps those punkers who gravitated to the more melodic (“powerpoppy”) stuff were living more comfortable lives (“melody” = beauty) than those who preferred punk-with-a-capital-P (“anger” = ?). I don’t know. And your average bedroom-DIY-er was probably killing time while applying for a physics course at Keele University.
Best example of punk/powerpop crossover: Buzzcocks!
S-F What were some of the errors of the Top 100 punk rarities article in Record Collector ?
LDK I thought the article was so worthless I didn’t even keep the magazine “for reference.” It was amusing to read that “top 100” listing, but it would’ve been more use as tomorrow’s chip-wrapper. So I can’t remember much about it, to be honest. It was ill-informed and ill-advised: the thing I mostly got out of it was the realization, once and for all, that Record Collector can’t be trusted to actually know what it’s talking about, and that whenever I read an article on Northern Soul or rare prog, which might seem perfectly reasonable to me, it’s probably seen to be a load of crock by those who actually know the subject. These days, now that their classified sections have been Internet-decimated, you would’ve thought that RC would make an effort to ensure their articles were good enough to validate the magazine and see it survive, but obviously not.
S-F Does that article represent some sort of mainstream recognition of punk’s worth?
LDK No. It shows only that RC needs something to fill the magazine every month. Punk’s worth is recognized everywhere, in everyday life, all the time: for instance, the headline in The Sun, after Zinédine Zidane headbutted an opponent in the World Cup final, was “Zid Vicious.”
S-F Getting into some specific ultra-rarities now. Can you recap the story behind the Porno Cassettes and Clifford Evans Band? Did writing about these totally unknown (nonexistent?) records on the LDK blog unearth any new information?
LDK Both of these appeared on eBay a couple of years ago. An American collector has subsequently emailed me a high-resolution scan of the front of the Porno Cassettes sleeve and claims to have one. He even gave me all the info on the band members, but I’ve not been able to get anywhere with it. I’ve not found anyone in the UK who claims to have a copy—am I just asking the wrong people? The Clifford Evans Band record, which I seem to remember from the eBay listing was an acetate LP, sold (I think) to a Japanese collector. Foolishly, I didn’t pursue it at the time, now the trail is stone-cold, and I can’t even confirm who bought it (I think I know, but he doesn’t answer my e-mails anymore).
S-F So which is rarer: Great British Heroes or Stereotypes? Better still, which is the better record? And what the heck is East Coast Angels?
LDK Great British Heroes (GBH) is rarer than Stereotypes—at the moment, at least. There is only one known copy of the GBH single (none of the band members has a copy; they didn’t even know it had been pressed) and the Lightning label seems to have no documentation about it at all, let alone “file” copies. The label staff doesn’t even remember the name. The Stereotypes single is only half as rare: there are two known copies! Also, the band has not yet been located, so the chances are that at some point (like with The Grout, for instance) copies will emerge from under someone’s bed. Musically, the GBH edges it too, in my opinion, with bits of the Stereotypes record displaying the first twinklings of the try-hard elements of some post-punk. East Coast Angels is essentially a rock/punk hybrid, not one of the all-time greats as a record per se but, with reputedly only 100 copies pressed (on a “major,” so there’s no chance of an under-the-bed “find”), easily one of the very rarest LDK-type records. I’ve spoken to the band members, management, mates—nothing.
S-F Although LDK focuses on the poppier side of the spectrum, even within it, there must be quite a few bands that tried to play powerpop but their tin ears or lack of rhythm resulted in out-of-tune and tuneless songs. (These might be called punk rock.) Any good examples of shit-fi powerpop that you know of?
LDK Bands that wanted to try to play powerpop mostly at least made an effort to record their stuff vaguely OK, so I don’t think there are many shit-fi powerpop records from the UK. One that might qualify, which springs to mind, is the “Coming Home” EP by The Switch, a private jobby released in 1978 (in a ludicrously expensive super-thick PVC sleeve that has “clouded” most copies of the record over the years). The band was still in school and were so disorganized that one member didn’t even show up for the recording session (held in some bloke’s house, of course). They sound like they would’ve liked to have been The Beatles or The Stones but weren’t quite “there” yet! Another example might be The Broadside Outcasts, whose drummer quit on the way to the studio, resulting in a much more lo-fi stripped-down thing than the band had originally intended: “The Pop Starz” on the EP could possibly have been a reasonable powerpopper if it hadn't all gone pear-shaped at the last minute. Bands that could’ve been more “pop,” but came out quite punky, might be typified by Silent Noise.
S-F Ever heard the Pete Fender 7”?
LDK Yes, good record! He was only 15 when he made that. He’d been in the Fatal Microbes when he was 13!
S-F More generally then, what are your favorite primitive records and why?
LDK “Our Generation” by The Revenge is un-betterable, for reasons that I’ve blah’d about already. In more strictly “DIY” terms I do love The Toys “Still Dancing” EP, quite a bit of the “Ready In The Rhythm Section” LP by The Impossible Dreamers and The Syndromes, especially “Esther’s Not On The Phone.” The Desperate Bicycles first couple (but not the LP) were obviously great. The good thing about so many of the LDK-type records ‘76–‘82 is that they were often primitive, in their way (even if they were made by pros, like The Blue Meanies, or something). It was such an exciting period that records were often made in a blur. You can’t beat records made in a blur!