The Lurkers - The Lurkers

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2017-07-28
The Lurkers Box Set

Seminal indie label Beggars Banquet commemorate their 40th anniversary with this budget-priced (£16 GBP) 5xCD set from the band that started it all, Fulham’s Lurkers. The label emerged from  the basement of the local record shop where early punk bands like Generation X and The Lurkers hung out and rehearsed. Following on shortly after Stiff’s Nick Lowe debut 7” and Chiswick’s Count Bishops "Speedball" 7” EP, Beggars Banquet’s discography began with the first two Lurkers’ singles, “Shadow” (BEG 1, released 40 years ago this month) and “Freak Show” (BEG 2), both included on Disc 3’s collection of all their singles (A and B sides, previously released 20 years ago on Anagram). The box also includes their first two albums, Fullham Fallout (the first Beggars Banquet album released by a band; Beggars’ first album was a compilation of mostly unknown punk acts from various indie labels with a surprising number of Manchester acts, including Slaughter & The Dogs, The Nosebleeds, John Cooper Clarke, and The Drones) and God’s Lonely Men, the aforementioned third disc of singles and demos, a fourth disc of their Peel Sessions, and the final disc of their collaboration with like-minded power-punkers The Boys, New Guitar In Town (officially credited to the bands’ guitarists Boy “Honest” John Plain and Lurker Pete Stride, although most of both bands participate).

I can still remember rushing home from the record shop to play Fullham Fallout and the original vinyl is still one of my proudest pieces of punk memorabilia. Somewhat put off by The Clash’s politics and The Sex Pistols hype and shenanigans, I gravitated toward the leaner, cleaner sounding power pop end of the punk spectrum, with The Boys and The Lurkers never leaving my turntable throughout the late ‘70s, as punk softened its bite and morphed into Power Pop and New Wave. Along with Buzzcocks and Vibrators, these were the bands that consolidated the British punk scene into the most exciting collection of albums that still grace my personal record collection. The Lurkers had some success, with five Top 75 singles and their debut album, which peaked at #57 in July 1978. And while the band has toured and released albums on and off over the past 40 years (including their latest, last year’s The Future’s Calling, featuring the original line-up of guitarist Pete Stride, bassist Nigel Moore and drummer Pete “Manic Esso” Haynes, it’s these first two that have cemented their reputation as one of Britain’s finest punk bands.

Their shattering debut kicks off with one of British punk’s freshest blasts of fresh air, the statement of purpose, ‘Ain’t Got A Clue’. It’s simplicity at its finest, fully indebted to the Ramones, as is ‘I Don’t Need To Tell Her’, which could’ve fallen off a Ramones B-side, complete with a lyric copped straight off ‘Gimme Shock Treatment’. There’s a tad of The Damned, er, overshadowing their debut ‘Shadow’, a ramshackled mess of fun and frivolity, and the mutilation of The Crystals ‘Then He Kissed Me’ [‘The I Kicked Her’] will not be the first time the punks bastardised cherished nuggets they grew up, twisting them wrong way round to suit their macho sensibilities. The wild instro ‘Go, Go, Go’ even includes an honest to god guitar solo, with Stride doing his best Hendrix impersonation that probably warranted a few gobsmackers back in the day. Howard Wall emotes threateningly throughout, cursing on queue (and key), the rhythm section is tight as a monkey’s bum, and not a track overstays its welcome (only four top three minutes).

Fourteen classics straight out of the gate, setting the bar for themselves and other punk comrades to top. Not many could, not even the lads themselves. God’s Lonely Men begins promisingly enough with the catchy poppy punk of ‘She Knows’, featuring another blistering Stride solo, and ‘Cyanide’ retains their Ramonesy bite, but the remainder is pretty flat, bland hard pop. The lack of potential hits is also illustrated by the fact that, as opposed to the debut’s three singles, only the ‘Out In The Dark’ EP was “singled” out for attention here, and it’s pretty formulaic. [More on that below on Disc 3.] The title track, the aforementioned album opener, or the punchy pogo blast of ‘Whatever Happened To Mary?’ might have been better choices. And ‘Non-Contender’ is embarrassingly awful. Not surprisingly, the album was a critical and commercial failure and the band split…for the first of many times. Luckily, Stride had befriended Boys guitarist “Honest” John Plain, and good times were just around the corner in the guise of The Boys/Lurkers party album….

New Guitars In Town, released in January 1980 by Beggars Banquet, is a curiosity. An enigma wrapped inside a conundrum, but a curiosity nonetheless. The Boys had just released their third Safari album, the career-highlight To Hell With…, when drummer Jack Black and guitarist “Honest” John Plain hooked up with Lurkers guitarist Pete Stride and vocalist(s) Howard Wall and “Plug” Edwards, and brought in Merton Parka/Dexy’s Midnight Runners keyboard player Mick Talbot (soon to join Paul Weller in his sheet-shitting Style Council – “he broke up The Jam for this?”), and they recorded an album released under Stride and Plain’s names as New Guitars In Town. It’s a rousing, drunken collection of originals, enjoyable, punked-up covers (Sonny Bono’s ‘Laugh At Me’, Jim Reeves’ ‘He’ll Have To Go’, and Arthur Alexander’s ‘You Better Move On’), and tunes Plain co-wrote with his old band mates. The fact that two singles were released under the former band names (the title track EP, featuring the drunken singalong ‘Pick Me Up’ and non-LP ‘Little Ole Wine Drinker Me’ by The Lurkers and ‘You Better Move On’ c/w ‘Schoolgirls’ by The Boys) suggests that the album may actually have been cobbled together from extra tracks lying around by the respective bands, but as I said, it’s a curiosity!

So, on to the album, which can hold its head up high as among the best either band has recorded. By now, any vestiges of their “punk” sound, such as it was, have yielded to a rollicking lads’ night out atmosphere. A straightforward power punk reading of Bono’s chestnut is followed by The Boys’ single, highlighting their slightly more melodic, poppier sound, illustrating that short transitional musical period when punk was morphing into power pop and New Wave. Talbot’s barrelhouse piano tinkling rattles around ‘Cold Old Night’, with Stride and Plain’s dual guitar soloing recalling Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash’s similar sonic assault. Their arrangement of ‘He’ll Have To Go’ retains Reeves’ pitiless sorrow, but adds a garagey crunch that’s closer to The Boys albums and probably should have been the single. The tender(!) ballad (!) ‘Half The Time’ is atypical in both bands’ oeuvre, a tears in your beer weeper as “Time, gentlemen” echoes around the nearly empty pub at closing time.

The Lurkers’ credited title track (on the aforementioned single) is a career highlight, a stomping, storming power punk classic sporting stinging guitars and a shoutalong chorus, and ‘Restless Kind’ harkens back to their punk pedigree, the hardest rocker in the set. The album ends with two of my favourites: singalong lads rock renditions of ‘You Better Move On’ and the drunken party anthem (Talbot’s barrelhouse piano is in fine form here), ‘Pick Me Up’. Two of the best things they’ve ever done (the latter particularly points the way to The Boys inebriated Christmas album the following year, released as The Yobs), and a perfect way to end this box set tribute to their illustrious initial phase, arguably their best.

The other two discs gather demos, singles and BBC sessions and, while mostly attractive to completists (and previously released by Captain Oi!), they are not without the odd hidden treasure. For starters, the single version of ‘Shadow’ is sloppier, muddier, and more unruly than the re-recorded album version – garage punk at its finest. Similarly, the original version of ‘Be My Prisoner’ from the Streets compilation is rawer and more unrestrained than the longer version on their debut album. Then there’s that dodgy gold flexi that was tucked inside the ‘Ain’t Got A Clue’ 45 (same as album version). While it’s a nice novelty item, as most of them couldn’t play worth a shit and got crumbled and tossed in the trash, it is a fly on the wall (no pun intended, Howard!) listening experience, as we hear Stride teaching the chords of an unnamed track (listed as ‘We Are The Chaos Brothers’) to the rest of the band. But mostly, it’s five minutes of rambling studio chatter, goofy mouth noises, and feigned insanity. It sounds more like The Plasmatics woeful attempt at synchronicity (cf. “Meet The Plasmatics” EP).

We also get a rough and tumble trawl through Bo Diddley’s essential proto-punk ‘Pills’ which manages to out-trash the New York Dolls’ slopfest; the pogo-tastic classic ‘Just Thirteen’, and the aforementioned “Out In The Dark” EP, featuring a gassed-up ‘Suzie Is A Floozie’ and the longer “Pub Version” (actually, a slowed-down, ‘luded-up dub remix) of ‘Cyanide’, which shows their reggae chops weren’t quite up to The Ruts, but could’ve used further exploration. Both tracks outshine the A-sides taken off God’s Lonely Men.

As mentioned earlier, the title track form the Stride-Plain collaboration New Guitars In Town was issued as a single under The Lurkers moniker and this fresh recording with Plain listed as a guest “new guitar in town” features several countrified twangy guitar solos (presumable Plain) that makes this one Nick Lowe would kill for – surprised he hasn’t stolen, er, recorded it yet! The flip, a frolicking ‘Little Ole Wine Drinker Me’ again features a blistering solo and together this may be the best single Rockpile never recorded.

Punk demos are an odd egg. A case could be made that the fresh, rambunctious, no-holds-barred practice run throughs were “good enough” for the album and the “finished, polished” versions dilute the band’s attack. If you’re on that side of the fence, then you may enjoy the rest of Disc 3 better than the actual albums. One of the biggest disappointments with the box set is the lack of live material – these demos are the nearest (and next best) thing to being there. ‘Then I Kicked Her’ is particularly Dickies-inspired – 90 seconds of speed metal before the genre was invented! You also get the Fullham Fallout demo ‘I Love The Dark’, which was ultimately left off the album and the ‘Pick Me Up’ demo is also more straightforward punk, jettisoning Talbot’s honkytonk piano for a full 6-string assault. I also enjoyed the demo for ‘Mary’s Coming Home’, a sequel of sorts to God’s Lonely’s Men’s ‘Whatever Happened To Mary’ that also never made it to album status. It also features the weirdest guitar effects Stride ever committed to vinyl!

Finally, those BBC sessions. The Lurkers recorded four sessions for John Peel, who was a huge supporter and chose both sides of their debut single for his Festive Fifty in 1977 (although, surprisingly, neither track was performed for a Peel Session). The first session, just before Halloween, 1977) buzzsaws through then-current single ‘Freak Show’ and four teasers from the as-yet unreleased debut album. The second session (24/4/78) previews both sides of the forthcoming single, ‘I Don’t Need To Tell Her’ c/w ‘Pills’ and adds two more tracks off the debut. All are enthusiastic power-driven pop/punk, but are pretty indistinguishable from the studio recordings. Highlights of the third session include vocalist Howard Wall’s ‘Here Come The Bad Times’, a powerful stomper whose title was shortened for official release on God’s Lonely Men (‘Bad Times’), and drummer Esso’s B-side ‘Countdown’, which gets a fresh coat of paint, although the pseudo speed metal adrenaline rush is still only about 90 seconds long! Sometimes, that’s all you need! The final (documented) session (30/1/79) finds God’s lonely men putting the final touches on four tracks they will commit to vinyl in two months – in fact, their embryonic state is exemplified by the fact that ‘I’ll Be With You’ is here titled ‘See The World’.

A fifth session is cloaked in mystery. There is no record of a session in the BBC archives (under The Lurkers, Boys, Pete Stride or Honest John Plain) which featured tracks later (or recently) released on New Guitar In Town. Mimicking the original Captain OI! release in 2000 (The BBC Punk Sessions), they are merely labeled as sourced from an “unknown program”. But fans of The Lurkers/Boys confab will enjoy these crisper, tighter renditions. Again, it’s a crime that accurate (or any) documentation is not supplied. Perhaps the BBC studios and / or producers were able to coax better, more focused performances out of the lads than original producer Pat Moran was able to capture on tape?

So despite an atrocious lack of annotations (read: none), no live cuts (BBC sessions don’t count), and an unnecessary duplication of tracks (several appear as many as three times – single, LP, BBC and/or demo version – with little discernable difference), and considering the whole kit and caboodle was already issued (individually) on Captain Oi!, the only advantage to the set at hand is to consolidate everything under one roof for under 20 quid. Punk prices, to be sure, and worth it to own the cream of The Lurkers career if you don’t already have the Captain Oi! releases.

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