The Prefects - by John Savage
550 copies of a live show from ‘back in the day’ performed by Birmingham’s finest, The Prefects, have been 'pressed up' and are now available from:
To wet your whistle & generally get you stoked up to purchase a copy of this veritable historical document, don’t just take our word on how magnificent The Prefects actually were, here are a few hundred from Mr Jon Savage, author of the definitive history of the Sex Pistols & UK Punk: “England’s Dreaming”
Jon Savage's Ralph Gleason Award-winning “England's Dreaming” is the ultimate book on punk, its progenitors, the Sex Pistols, and their time: the late 1970s. Full of anedcote, insight, and exclusive interviews, it tells the sensational story of the meteoric rise and rapid decline of the last great rock'n'roll band and the cultural moment they came to define. The critical reputation of “England's Dreaming” has grown over the past decade and a half. This updated edition includes an introduction focusing on the legacy of punk twenty-five years on, an account of the Sex Pistols 1996 reunion, and a comprehensively updated discography.
Buy it now:
The young man with the microphone paces the stage. Behind him, a tribal drummer and a bassist keep time: not metronomic, but soulful. They’re playing what’s in their hearts. To one side, another young man with the fuzzed out hair suggested by his nickname, Roots fills the large space with distorted guitar electronics. This beautiful, high Victorian hall is a strange setting for such a drama.
All eyes are on the young man, who does not care. Shan’t won’t can’t has become a pose ever since the Sex Pistols and the Ramones separately wrote ‘Pretty Vacant’ and ‘I Don’t Care’, but Robert Lloyd genuinely does not care. Punk Rock groups are supposed to thrive on confrontation, but by 1978, most of them only want to be loved. They do care: about their career, about groupies, drugs, very humdrum.
The Prefex aren’t industry Punk Rock, but they would not have existed without 1976 and all that. What they are playing is the kind of total experimentation that Punk’s original demands for TOTAL NEWNESS has made possible, but which very few people have the guts to do. In the years to come, it will become known as Post Punk, and will spawn an industry from which the Prefex will conspicuously fail to benefit.
However what Robert Lloyd is doing is pure Punk rock. The Prefex are on the bill with Slits and Buzzcocks: premier division Punk groups with impeccable pedigrees. They will play their sets to an appreciative, if not enthusiastic reception. The Prefex begin by making some abrasive noise, at once punk and psychedelic, and then their singer insists on making everyone in the hall share in his vision of a theatre with no boundaries, no expectations, and no certainties.
Robert Lloyd faces the audience, who shout at him. This is meat to his murder: already intent on antagonising his captives, he proceeds to antagonise them in every way that he can. He prowls around, turning his back on the hall, and then turns again to issue a series of sarcastic rejoinders to the waves of heckling. No matter that some of the songs are fabulous – witty, heigtened sarcastic slices of everyday life – the audience do not like him, at all.
Over about thirty minutes, the tension grows and grows. Provocation has become a theatre over the last eighteen months, but I have rarely seen anything as raw as this. The usual sense of camaraderie at Punk events has completely evaporated as Lloyd sucks up all the hostility and throws it back in a spiral of hostility that threatens to break out into actual violence. Which would not be the point. After the group leaves the stage, the booing takes a while to subside.
Afterwards, I introduce myself and try to make preparations for doing a “Sounds” interview. Lloyd is not impressed. ‘You don’t need to talk to me because you know it all already’, he informs me; ‘you’re always telling people what to think’. Well! It’s quite true of course. I am temporarily put out, but I accept the group’s determination to do things their own way. Anyway, I like the noise, so they can do what they want.
And I will always remember that show: it’s as Punk Rock as Nirvana at New York’s Roseland ballroom in July 1993, when Kurt Cobain refused to play “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and, to the roars of a hostile crowd, brought on a cello player and played Leadbelly songs. Like that night in the Victoria Hall in Hanley, the crowd noise got louder and louder until it threatened to drown out the musicians on stage. You don’t see that everyday.
Well, the Prefex remained a dusty legend, accessible on one obscure 7” and one Peel Session 12”, until last year when Acute released “Are Amateur Wankers”. The ten tracks were as good as I remembered them, passed around on poor quality Memorex tapes in 1979. In fact, they were even better, because the passage of time meant that I could hear the pathos that lay beneath the provocation: the empathetic sadness of great songs like “Escort Girls” and “Agony Column”.
Twenty-seven years later, the time machine has made another trip and this Prefex live show has come to light. It comes from almost exactly the mid point between their two Peel sessions, and captures the group in such a good mood that they actually win over the audience and get an encore: a one off version of Hamilton Bohannon’s “Disco Stomp” - such good taste. (I thought they should have got an encore in Hanley but I was in a distinct minority on that score).
It also contains hot versions of all the Prefex classics, plus a long forgotten, swampy blues rant called “Background Music”. It captures the flavour of the time -- that period when young musicians and writers could go direct to their audience, experiment in public and turn everyday life into art – but it sounds very NOW. Who’d have guessed that, in the 21st century, the Prefex would find their time.
Jon Savage – tMx 23 – 02/06