February 27th, 2014
It takes a brave man. In fact, it takes a very fucking brave man to attempt what John Robb has done here and, furthermore, it takes a very sussed man to have done it as well as this. You see, this is an oral history about the original wave of Punk Rock in the UK. A million books have already eulogised, dramatised, dogmatised and decried the era with varying degrees of quality. Obviously Jon Savage’s England’s Dreaming has been the go-to book, along with Paul Marko’s book about The Roxy and Alex Ogg’s encyclopedic No More Heroes filling in vital gaps. So, does Robb’s book cut the flares outta the pseudo ‘rock journalism’ and give us the real deal?
I have to say I think it does. Robb has interviewed over 110 personalities who were there at the time in a myriad of capacities. We have ‘the performers’ including Penny Rimbaud, John Lydon, Siouxsie, Knox, TV Smith and more. Then there are those who made their impact in different ways be it journalists, photographers, film makers and promoters right through to fans who were there at the time and tell it from an audience perspective. Each offers facts, gossip and, most importantly, a genuine sense of energy; no matter how the individual was involved or what they have gone onto become (Mick Hucknall included), each talks with an undiluted fervour that matched the music of the day. Yes there are contradictions and less than charitable comments but these observations are taken 30 years on from what was the last and most exciting music revolution the UK witnessed – it was also a time of bad drugs, cheap booze and rampant egos so if there were no disputes or hypocrisy something would be wrong. Thankfully, Robb has left the contradictions in place but edited the answers into a readable and energised manner.
As is the norm, the first chapters of the book document what came before, and directly influenced Punk and those involved. Here, we go back to 1959 with likes of Rimbaud and Hugh Cornwall. It’s interesting to read a lot of the original wave’s influences – Charlie Harper’s first album was by Cliff Richard and a passion for Status Quo featured in many people’s collections! Glam Rock follows and then it’s onto the familiar 1975 tales of King’s Road, PISTOLS, LONDON SS etc – but even these well worn stories are presented with an energy that few have matched.
As said, this is very much a document of 70s UK Punk. The 1980 – 84, the dawning of the Anarcho scene, is summarised in one chapter which includes the early Goth movement, Oi! and more. As a summary of what Punk became in the 80s, it’s adequate but in many ways deserves an equally energetic and in-depth book. A foreword by Henry Rollins and a few pics fill the book out.
As oral histories go, this is one of the most readable; given its era, even more so. And yes, it does hold its own against the standards set by Please Kill Me and Gimme Something Better. That alone should be a glowing reference, but after reading many of the ‘million’ books mentioned in the first paragraph, this stands alone as the pick the bunch. If you only ever read two books about the original UK Punk movement, make it this FIRST, England’s Dreaming second.