Before punk rock, there was nothing.
Not true of course- but it felt (feels!) like that sometimes. There's a bit in the excellent Clash documentary 'Westway to the World' where Strummer refers to an 'almost Stalinist' situation where the band members even disowned friends in their attempts to embrace the future, such was the speed at which things were moving for them. But there was plenty of good music around before The Damned released 'New Rose' (generally acknowledged to be the first 'punk' single this side of the Atlantic), it just wasn't very easy to find sometimes...
Last night myself and Big Andy- still reeling from being told to remove his chewing gum by a security man at Friday's Pistols gig!- journeyed to Brighton for an evening that featured 3 acts often linked to punk without actually being punk acts themselves. Joan Jett was of course part of The Runaways who are, shall we say, fondly remembered by many men of a certain age (i.e. mine and Andy's!) for reasons not entirely musical, though I always though 'Cherry Bomb' was something of a minor classic (honest!). It sounded something of a minor classic last night too, the second number in a set of woefully under-amplified Noo Yawk rawk'n'rawl which was notable for the fact that Ms. Jett can still wear a pair of leather trousers better than you or I ever will (well, better than I ever will anyway!), and the discernible rise in tension when the audience realised that they were going to play a Gary Glitter song- they all sound rather different now don't they? And, yes, they played 'I Love Rock'n'Roll' though I can't help thinking that they should have finished with it- they played it 2 or 3 numbers from the end of their set which meant most of the audience went to the bar once they'd heard it.
Hawkwind were not necessarily a name to drop in 1977- or were they? Johnny Rotten made no secret of his admiration for them (I remember revues of the 'Anarchy in the U.K' single making comparisons between the 2 bands) and he wasn't alone, especially of course when Lemmy emerged in Motorhead who were generally seen as the heavy rock band that it was 'OK' for punkier people to like. I always thought that there was rather more to them than a lot of people gave them credit for- Eddie Clarke's guitar playing was always excellent and Phil Taylor virtually invented thrash metal drumming. But in the end of course it would all rise and fall with Lemmy- and, all these years later it still does.
A typical Lemmy/audience exchange:-
Lemmy - 'This is a rock'n'roll song. You like rock'n'roll don't you?' (millisecond pause, then shouts) 'SAY YES!'
Audience - (cowering and fearing for it's collective life) 'Yes'
I ranted and raved about Motorhead about a year ago in these very pages- suffice to say it's still all true, only louder. Even louder. We managed a few songs quite near the front (the word 'quite' is of course very important here) but had retreated long before the encore of 'Ace Of Spades' and 'Overkill'- which was just as well as it was probably the loudest thing I've ever heard. You know the bit in 'Jurassic Park' where the water in the glass starts moving in time with the sound of the footsteps as the monster approaches? That's what my beer was doing when they were playing. Really. Incredible- but true.
So- how does Alice Cooper (or indeed anybody) follow that? Rather well, as it happens...
Time for another 'I first saw them on 'Top of the Pops' story then- the unforgettable sight of 'School's Out' on said programme will stay with me forever (which, since I've just said that I consider it to be unforgettable, is fairly obvious I suppose.) The band looked like the maddest bunch to ever be allowed out of America, and the guy at the front had truly scary eye make-up and, of all things, a sword. He also pulled the hair of a girl in the audience (probably a set-up, but I wasn't to know that was I?) and drove my Dad to previously unimaginable levels of distraction. I loved it immediately. Stories circulated among my school mates- their older brothers had seen this bunch live and bought back tales of onstage death and debauchery. What could be better than that? Several classic singles followed- 'Elected', 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' etc (remember, singles were the thing for us kids in those far-off days; albums were expensive and went on a bit too long!) before it all seemed to go a bit 'nice'. Still, nothing good lasts forever does it? And when it was revealed that Mr. Rotten had auditioned for The Sex Pistols by miming to 'I'm Eighteen' on Malcolm McLaren's shop juke box the circle was complete- Alice really was a bad guy after all.
30-something years later he's still not someone to meet on a dark night. Before the first song he'd had a fight with himself (Alice in black beating Alice in white by running a sword through him then singing 'No More Mr. Nice Guy'); he then amused himself by dragging a young blonde lady (played by, of all people, his daughter!) around the stage by her hair before hammering a stake through a baby's heart (the 'dead' baby had the same eye make-up as Alice) then ending up in a straitjacket before being hanged. He came back to life to witness George Bush and Hilary Clinton brawling with each other. It doesn't look anywhere near as mad written down here as it looked on the night- if he didn't exist I'd have to make him up, except of course even I couldn't make it up. He remains one of the greatest iconic rock acts of them all, and 'School's Out' is still one of the best records of all time. Magnificent.
What a superb evening- 3 acts, all very different from one another but with enough common ground to make it all work together. It would be great to see this sort of thing happening more often wouldn't it?