In a week’s time I’m seeing Johnny Rotten in a small club in Reading, then two days later I’m seeing Steven Wilson at the Albert Hall. Who won the punk wars again?
Every time I see someone use “Punk” as a metaphor for something that has nothing to with music, I always hear the sound of a middle-aged music bore looking back at their their adolescence through rose-tinted spectacles.
Since it’s Jubilee year again, people of a certain age are getting nostalgic about punk.
To hear some of them it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that a couple of years in the late 70s must have been their one moment of excitement in what subsequently became drab and unfulfilled lives.
Yes, punk produced some great rock’n'roll records, and that ought to be it’s legacy. Not the pseudo-intellectual hogwash from certain sections of the music press that went along with it. All those usual tired clichés are being trotted out yet again, and some of the historical revisionism approaches David Irving levels. The idea that punk completely invalidated prog-rock ignores inconvenient facts like Johnny Rotten being a big fan of Van der Graaf Generator, or some of The Damned liking Pink Floyd. Isn’t there something inherently fascistic about anything that tries to define itself purely by what it hates?
I’ve heard one person on Twitter respond to the question of why you can’t listen to both prog and punk with the patronising “If it has to be explained, you just don’t get it”. These people give every impression that they, like the revisionist punk-era music journalists, don’t actually like music for music’s sake. It’s all about socio-political posturing, tribal identity, image and attitude.
If punk was a reaction to anything, surely it was the parlous state top-40 pop in the second half of the 70s after glam-rock had run out of steam. Unlike Pink Floyd or King Crimson, whose music remains influential to this day, enjoyed by people who weren’t even born in the 1970s, the dross that filled the charts back then hasn’t stood the test of time, full of names nobody can remember thirty years later.
So, can we put the oft-repeated lie that “Punk was necessary to save the world from prog-rock” into the dustbin of history where it belongs, and just appreciate the music itself for what it is?
The advantage of living in Reading is that I have a rock venue, Sub89, right on my doorstep. In recent weeks I’ve seen ex-Deep Purple man Glenn Hughes and blues legend Walter Trout tread the boards, a couple of excellent gigs. On Sunday it was the turn of Ade Edmondson and The Bad Shepherds.
The Bad Shepherds were formed by Ade Edmondson, once the frontman of NWOBHM legends Bad News using the name Vim Fuego. But this band play celtic folk arrangements of classic punk and new wave songs, with Ade’s “thrash mandolin” accompanied by Troy Donockley on Uilleann pipes, whistles and cittern, and Andy Dinan on violin.
I saw them a year ago in Manchester, playing as a four piece. Now reduced to a trio, they’ve not really lost anything from their sound. Given the similar concept, comparisons with Bluegrass cover band Hayseed Dixie are inevitable, but The Bad Shepherds are more that just a British take on the same idea. Many of the songs are radically reconstructed, with lengthy instrumental intros and outtros of weaving pipes and violin lines. You frequently don’t recognise the song at all until the vocals start, and sometimes not even then. The set includes songs like “Anarchy in the UK”, “London Calling”, and their version of Kraftwerk’s “The Model” played on pipes simply has to be heard to be believed. The whole thing is immensely enjoyable even if you don’t particularly like the original songs; Troy and Andy superb instrumental playing providing the melodic element many of the original songs lacked,
While Ade Edmondson is better known as a comedian than as a musician, the show is all about the music rather than comedy; and while Edmondson may front the band, it’s as much about Troy and Andy, both very talented folk musicians, as it is about him. And like every great live band, they fact that they’re clearly enjoying their time on stage shines though.