‘77 SULPHATE STRIP - Barry Cain (400 pages)
Let’s be honest, of all the music press doing the rounds in 1977, the Record Mirror was never one to remember. NME, Sounds, Melody Maker for sure, but wasn’t Record Mirror all about ‘pop music’? With that in mind, it seems anomalous that one of its writers, Barry Cain, should pen a book that looks, month-by-month, at that year of massive cultural, musical and social revolution. Cain hit his mid-20s in ‘77, sported a beard and longish hair but grasped the urgency and sense of change that Punk offered in ‘77. He wrote about it with a verve and depth of understanding that few of his contemporaries at the more credible broadsheets could only hope to grasp.
The book is split into two main sections. The first section delves into the archives of what Cain wrote in ‘77 as Punk exploded and dragged him in. The year is documented monthly with the ‘hit parade’ of each month opening each chapter. Cain’s writing was insightful; he didn’t shy away from asking hard questions. His descriptive work, which channeled his sense of euphoria as he witnessed SEX PISTOLS, HEARTBREAKERS and THE JAM at their peak, is exceptional. He was often in the right place at the right time - like the Mont De Marsan Punk Festival and being the only journalist at the one-off secret SEX PISTOLS show at Leicester Square. He wasn’t always spot on though - his belief that SHAM 69 was some kinda saviour fell way short and he is dismissive of EATER and, incredibly, THE ADVERTS.
The second part of the book contains new interviews, conducted in 2007, with some of the main players: Hugh Cornwall, Rat Scabies, Alan Edwards and, most significantly, John(ny) Lydon/ Rotten. Cain throws comments they made in ‘77 back in their faces and, in general, they still stand true except for possibly Hugh Cornwall who was seemingly tripping when Cain interviewed him in ‘77! Scabies comes across as the coolest, most down-to-earth of them all and provides the book’s main highlight - not least for bizarre karma as, during the interview, DAMNED guitarist (and, arguably, Jonah) on the ‘Music For Pleasure’ album, Lu Edmonds, walks past the pub the interview is being conducted in. As for Rotten, well, all he seemed to rave on about was fucking Arsenal!! I don’t recall his autobiography being full of allusions to his loyalty to Arsenal (not on the scale they are here at least). Some of his lines came over as well-rehearsed spiel (like stating Arsenal, "ran ‘em all and as a mixed breed. Are we dogs? No, we’re the future - your future.") while other parts came across as genuine Rotten-isms. His talk of class division and love of being British (while living it up in LA) read slightly sanctimonious.
The book is rounded out with some oft-seen photos. Other bands that get favourable reviews from ‘77 are THE BOYS, BUZZCOCKS, THE DAMNED and THE CLASH of course and, most surprisingly, Demis Roussos.
As a history lesson, this is an original read from someone who was there as it happened but who possessed enough world experience to observe each scenario with eyes that could see behind the sensationalism yet still laud this most mutinous and apocalyptic period of cultural change Britain had seen in living memory; a change that is still being felt. (30.03.09)
924 GILMAN - compiled by Brian Edge
Bloody hell - this is definitely a case where less would have been a whole heap more.
924 Gilman, for those who do not know, is a club in Berkeley, America. It’s run strictly on a volunteer basis and has stringent rules dictating no drinking on the premises, no violence, no sexism etc etc. It is a club that only allows bands to play that have no major label connections and play predominantly original songs. It was founded by Tim Yohanan, founder of Maximum Rocknroll and has faced adversity on adversity, but has continually come through it all and usually stronger than before. It’s the club that saw founding shows of OPERATION IVY, GREEN DAY, RANCID, JAWBREAKER, NOFX, AFI... The list is a virtual who’s who of Punk and Hardcore since 1986 when the club opened.
The book compiles essays from just about everyone who has ever been involved in the club since its inception. Some are genuinely entertaining reads (notably Jesse Luscious, Ken. S, John. H, Jane. G and a few others). Unfortunately, too many offer the same story of Gilman ‘changing their life’ and the importance of such a club. That’s all interesting enough, but after reading about 200 pages of similar stories, it gets a bit tiresome. The most interesting pieces were from those who had something objective to say; the people who could observe the club’s negatives as well as its positives and even ridicule some of the more conservative issues discussed at various 'meetings'.
Of individual stories, there are the infamous - Frank Discussion of THE FEEDERZ bring dead animals to a show, Jello Biafra’s beating, YEASTIE GIRLS simulated sex show - and the not so infamous including personal stories of discovery, after show basketball matches, trash parties and more. As stated above, those with an individual story are well worth a read.
Of all the bands frequently mentioned, I was surprised at the lack of discussion about JAWBREAKER, MTX & early AFI - bands that I have always considered an intrinsic part of Gilman. ISOCRACY and OP IVY are, as expected, both mentioned frequently as are specific events - the DIY Festival, No More Censorship benefit, Gilman benefits etc.
Among all the written pieces are a profusion of photos. Fantastic - but rather than captions about who took them, the subject matter IN the fucking photo would have been waaaaaaaaaay more interesting. As it is, the opportunity to put faces to the names of various Gilman workers is missed; as is the identity of some truly interesting looking bands.
A neat positive of the book is some of the reprinted artifacts of the club’s past. There are reprints of flyers, Gilman Newsletters, various legal documents relating to a veritable encyclopedia of issues, various MRR columns, the best bits of the special Gilman issue of Cometbus zine and a great listing of every single Gilman show.
Incidentally, dunno if I have a crap copy, but the binding is shit! About 30 pages fell out almost as soon as it was opened and the spine is coming away from the book toward the latter third.
The whole book could have benefited from some selective choosing and concise editing of just who to include and indentification of the photographs. As it is, it’s the proverbial over-weight - if entertaining - tome that will appeal only to all those directly involved in Gilman instead of an incisive, riveting, confrontational slice of inclusive Punk journalism that would appeal to all.