Various Artists - Burning Britain: The Story of Independent UK Punk 1980-1983 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Various Artists - Burning Britain: The Story of Independent UK Punk 1980-1983

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:2018-04-27
Various Artists - Burning Britain: The Story of Independent UK Punk 1980-1983
Various Artists - Burning Britain: The Story of Independent UK Punk 1980-1983

For starters, there are over five hours and more than 100 artists spread across these four discs. And while I pride myself on the rather extensive collection of punk albums on my shelves, I think I recognize about a dozen of them. So we’re really scraping the lower echelons of UK punk here and this is nothing if not directed towards a niche audience who refused to patch up their ripped T-shirts, shave their mohawks and sew up their faces after ripping out the razor blades and safety pins. The majority of the punters had moved on to the safer, saner, and more melodic “new wave” and power pop pastures, realizing their political grandstanding pissed off a lot of people, but didn’t win over any hearts or minds.

So, yes, vitriolic anger and political diatribes permeate this story, and most of it is not very pretty. But the true spirit of punk swings from the rafters like a gob-infested ceiling in one of dozens of dingy bars where this music formed the lifeblood of kids with nothing else to do. Three chords, sore throats screaming inane “lyrics” that fit the melody more than anything else, and a rudimentary knowledge of how to play their instruments were what brought most of these kids together. That, and a desire to have fun and get blathered on a Saturday night with the mates. If it induces a pounding headache, more the better!

Everybody’s favourite losers, Cockney Rejects scream through ‘Bad Man!’ in true anthemic fashion, hoisting two-fingered salutes right between your eyes and we’re off and running. Poison Girls proved that the punk scene remained gender agnostic – girls could play rock and roll, and if they missed a few chords, fuck it, nobody’s perfect. And this egalitarian philosophy remains one of punk’s enduring legacies. Many of the female-fronted bands on display (Action Pact, Vice Squad, Expelled, A-Heads, Icon A.D., Violators, Sears) also provide some of the box set’s most enduring tracks, so there! (Granted, they all sound like they took singing lessons from Siouxsie, but that’s not a bad thing ‘t’all!)

Anti-Pasti are one of the most violently anarchic acts to grace vinyl and ‘No Government’ is one of many love songs to the Iron Lady, although I do wish the compilers saw fit to unearth Notsensibles’ ‘I’m In Love With Margaret Thatcher’ to balance the scales! [‘I thought You Were Dead’ is a nice substitute, though.] Hardcore/thrash metal fanatics will also gob themselves silly over Disorder’s ‘Rampton Song’, which even annotator Ian Glasper confesses is “atonal noise that helped nail shut the coffin on any delusions that hardcore punk could ever cross over into the mainstream”. Not for the fainthearted.

The legendary Discharge spout venom, blood, and other bodily fluids while tearing through ‘Decontrol’, two-and-a-half minutes of amphetamine-fueled freakout that proves John Lydon’s mantra that “Anger is an energy”. Vice Squad were one of my favourite acts from punk’s Second Wave, and Beki Bondage’s Siouxsie-isms are still a joy to behold, witness ‘Last Rockers’, the first track released on Riot City Records in 1981.

Disc Two starts to unravel the loud/fast/rules directive, when anger, speed, and politics took over the lyrics and music, witness Blitzkrieg’s ‘Abuse of Power’, Subhumans’ ‘Reason For Existence’, The Insane’s ‘Nuclear War’, 70 seconds of Special Duties’ ‘Police State’, T.D.A.’s eponymous rant, and the Dead Kennedys-styled System’s (‘Dogs of War’), which may be the only punk single to top five minutes. Chaotic Dischord’s ‘Fuck The World’ is still atrocious garbage, no matter how much annotator Ian Glasper apologizes for its deplorable existence.

Disc Three kicks off encouragingly with Blitz’s anthemic bootstomper ‘Warriørs’, The Ejected’s Ramonesy comic-book punk (‘Have You Got 10p?’), and later efforts from the legendary Angelic Upstarts, Vibrators, and The Anti-Nowhere League, all of whom can still bust balls and spin a great tune at the same time! But again the relatively shortlived Crash, Crux, and deliver the goods that make us overlook the occasional dross that seeps into all-inclusive box sets like this. Violators’ ‘Summer of ‘81’ is a nice time capsule of the inner city riots, another strong point of the punk ethos – corralling their anger and frustration inside three chords and three minutes.

The final disk starts out, surprisingly, in a religious vein, with cartoonish punk buffoonery like The Blood, whose vocalist (The Cardinal) donned priestly garb and looked like Michael Palin’s bishop character from Monty Python, and Ruefrex’s ‘Capital Letters’, which namechecks the big guys, God and Christ. The Sears‘ Clare Taylor’s strident, Poly Styrene-ish shrieking grounded their racket with attention-grabbing energy as evidenced on the early demo version of ‘Not Prepared’. Sadly, their drummer succumbed to leukemia in 1986, aged only 19, while guitarist Dave Nicholls passed away last year. Ultra-Violent are perfectly named and ‘Crime For Revenge’ illustrates the move towards thrash and hardcore that more and more bands were adopting. Either the compilers are major hardcore fans or are simply reflecting the sign of the times, but Disc Four features more of this anarcho noise than previously encountered earlier in the box. It’s also the only disc with no familiar names, suggesting that the post-punk punk movement had worn out its welcome by 1983.

But a few winners are tucked away inside, namely the melodic aggression of Last Rites’ Clashy ‘Stepdown’, the Underdogs tightknit, energetic yet melodic ‘East of Dachau’ with its marshall beat and Ruts-like enthusiasm, and Rose of Victory (ex-Blitz members) do a fun, faithful version of ‘Suffragette City’. Unfortunately, their label’s demise meant it was a one-off and they split shortly thereafter. The Enemy’s ‘Last Rites’ (not to be confused with the aforementioned band (!)) and Red London’s ‘Revolution Times’ had me reaching for me ol’ leathers and looking for the nearest slam dance. The latter is the best of the unknown bands to leave a lasting impression and will have me seeking out their half-dozen (!) albums.

All well and good, except listening to five hours of angry, screaming lunatics sets one’s own blood a-boiling and head a-throbbing. And all the Thatcher bashing and anarcho rants get real old, real fast. I can’t imagine many of these 50-somethings still squeezing into the leathers and reliving past glories, although the liners do suggest quite a few reunions over the years, with quite a few bands still gigging and releasing new product!

Sure, a lot of this whizzes by (I use the verb advisedly!) at 100 mph, and most of the lyrics are unintelligible grunts, with three syllables (“Oi! Oi! Oi!) matching their three chords, but these acts took the Adverts at their word (three-chord wonders, indeed), and much of the U.S. West Coast hardcore scene can trace its roots back to these hardworking, but sadly anonymous acts.

Legends like 4 Skins, [Charged] G.B.H., a mellowed, but no less vital Damned, Chron Gen, The Lurkers, Vibrators, Chelsea, the Anti-Nowhere League, the U.K. Subs (with over two dozen albums under their leather-studded belts, perhaps the most prolific punk band of all time), Angelic Upstarts, and are prominently featured, but it’s the little guys that bring the brightest smiles, be it the Business’ yobbo anthem ‘Harry May’, Rudi’s Joe Jackson-meets-The Jam beat surrender ‘Bewerewolf!’ (recorded for Paul Weller’s Jamming! Imprint), or Demob’s gloriously nostalgic slice of animosity, ‘No Room For You’.

The Dark managed to survive their tightrope act bridging punk and goth (‘The Masque’ still chills), Erazerhead successfully marry Ramones and Dickies for ‘Shell Shock’, Icon A.D.’s tuneful ‘Face The Facts’ combines duel female vocals with buzzsaw guitar for a wonderful change of pace from the surrounding mayhem; Emergency’s ‘Points of View’ is melodic punk of the highest order, and the supergroup Urban Dogs (featuring members of UK Subs and Vibrators) justify their existence with the stomping shoutalong, ‘Limo Life’. Screaming Dead were just one of a number of bands who morphed in a more Gothic direction, and their atmospheric ‘Angel of Death’ captures that punky side of Goth that Siouxsie and The Cure began with.

And after you put the box back on the shelf, you’ll want to head out and pick up Glasper’s book (Burning Britain) that tells the complete stories of all the band’s included herein, and a whole lot more. (For example, it’s sad to read in his liner notes that so many band members have passed away in the intervening years.) The enclosed 64-page booklet is also a treasure trove of iconic punk graphics, record sleeves, gig flyers, etc. and is a fine companion to Glasper’s “bible”. Oi!

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

Great review Jeff, but I have to say, Cherry Red is getting into territory which is purely British nostalgia here. Nothing wrong with that per se, but the marketplace is narrowing.

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Thanks, and I agree with you Rob. I have to believe these are limited runs to meet the niche market. That upcoming 5-CD box of UK Thrash Metal seems even narrower

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