“Punk Rock: An Oral History”

Oral Punk

John Robb – “Punk Rock: An Oral History” (Ebury Press)

“To see the Clash on the White Riot tour was like discovering how to be a rock star: you just did it yourself. You didn’t wait for someone to come & discover you. That was the most important thing to come out of Punk . . . We came home & we cut our hair & bought skinny trousers. It was year zero. That was the moment for me” –
Billy Bragg

John Robb’s Punk Rock apprenticeship began in 1977 in Blackpool with fanzines & The Membranes. In the ensuing years he’s rock & rolled all the way to Memphis where today he leads GOLD BLADE. On his merry way he’s earned his crust as music journalist, TV presenter, trakMARX contributor & acclaimed author (biographies of The Stone Roses, The Charlatans – & - “The 90s: What The Fuck Was All That About?”).

“Punk Rock: An Oral History” takes the “Please Kill Me” approach (which, let’s not forget, was merely an appropriation of Clinton Heylin’s seminal “From The Velvets To The Voidoids” template) & applies it to the UK scene. “Punk Rock: An Oral History” is exactly what its title infers it is: a collection of quotes strung together by a loose chronological narrative. Robb carried out over 100 interviews during his research, spiral scratching the memories of just about every major - & a fair few minor – movers & shakers in the process.

There’s no denying the effectiveness of the format with regard to its subject. The confessional nature of the quotes delivered today with little concern for the once watchful arbiters of cool, are relaxed, honest & probably far closer to the actual truth of the matter than anyone has gotten before: hardly anyone was listening exclusively to Nuggets, The MC5, The Stooges or The Dolls (except for the French, who have always been way hipper than us).

Opening at 1950 & moving onwards & upwards at pace, Robb trawls the personal mental annals of those touched by the hand of rock & roll, 60s counter-culture, proto-punk & Glam. The tastes & influences of many of the boys & girls (& kudos to Robb for acknowledging their roll expansively: Punk Rock was most definitely NOT exclusively a male preserve) involved in the first wave of Punk were steadfastly traditionalist: Elvis, The Beatles & The Stones, Pink Floyd, Can, 60s underground, hippie culture & pub rock. There was no ultimate truth or secret knowledge being handed down by the survivors of a great-lost civilisation. The contradictory nature of many of the testaments recorded here for posterity is worth the admission price alone. Punk Rock: a few people all got bored at once - & decided to do something about it - themselves.

The story develops through the words of members of the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Stranglers & many more, through the birth of ‘75, the vortex of ’76 to the explosion of ’77 & The Roxy. As the phenomenon breaks nationally Robb brings plenty of regional flavour to the table, including the often ignored but highly relevant Northern Ireland contingent: Brian Young (Rudi), Damian & John O’Neill (Undertones), Guy Trelford (“It Makes You Want To Spit”), Jake Burns (SLF) & Gavin Friday (Virgin Prunes).

As the dust settles the story continues via the birth of DIY culture, PiL, the second wave, Goth & post-punk – taking in Anarcho Punk syndicalism, the 2 Tone explosion & Oi into account along the way - & closing with reflections & the Outro.

In many ways, “Punk Rock: An Oral History” is the prefect mechanism to deliver the greatest story never told: the words of those who made it happen explaining how & why they did it.

Jean Encoule – tMx 24 – 04/06
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