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Books - P

PUNK: AN AESTHETIC - Edited by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage {360 pages, Rizzoli}
This voluptuous tome is a dazzling visual narrative charting the development of Punk graphics. Unlike so many other books that have attempted to document the artistic roots and progression of what is considered Punk Art, this doesn’t focus purely on ‘77 PISTOLian graphics nor the USHC flyer.
The first part of the book examines what came before Punk yet had a direct but tangible influence on what we consider Punk Art. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is documented, along with various gig flyers of the late 60s/70s, subversive political art and Anarchist literature. Some of the influences may not be instantly apparent, but the book’s narrative provides an intelligent synopsis on just how a Parisian student poster from May 1968 has a direct linage to the PISTOLS ‘God Save The Queen’ cover, and how soft porn also had stylistic traits that Punk incorporated. For any Punk historian, it’s interesting stuff, but the real treasures lie in the main chapter of the book.
With the dawning of 1976, so the book arrives at its heart - the UK Punk explosion of that era. It’s filled with record and zine sleeves and photos, many of them not seen before, of the main UK and US bands of the era. Many of the graphics are PISTOLS related, but they are not the usual fair of Sid gobbing or Rotten sneering. The graphics here bring in promotional material, shop displays, press cuttings and literature that for many today remains but something that is talked about rather than seen. There is also a good array of material from CRASS thanks to Gee Vaucher’s contributions.
What I found most fascinating though were the Punks of the era - not those in bands or the Bromley Contingent or any other notable hanger-on, but just the ‘Kings Road Punks’. Some look magnificent while others seriously strange but, what unites them all is a sense of vitality, of creation. Just about every youth cult goes through a stage of its own identity and setting itself apart; Punk was the only one that purposely alienated itself from society via a confrontational, original appearance not in a bid to necessarily say, "fuck you," but more in an attempt to say, "why fucking not?"
The final chapter nose-dives into American Hardcore flyers and zines, before looking at where the Punk Aesthetic has progressed to - including ‘...Bollocks’ baby-grows and the appropriation of Punk iconography in mainstream society.
Each chapter is punctuated with an essay from the likes of Jon Savage (particularly good), Gee Vaucher, William Gibson and a long, waffling piece by Johan Kugelberg. Finally, there is a great conversation/ interview between Gibson, Savage and Kugelberg that rounds the book out nicely.
It’s all wrapped in a fully printed hardcover with a wraparound that features the iconic SCREAMERS screaming head and yet another, smaller wraparound at the base with the book’s titled boldly printed in red.
An absolutely stunning book that is essential for anyone with a love of ‘77 Punk in particular, but Punk in its entirety especially. It’s equally as easy to pick up for five minutes and have a smile at its contents or to absorb for a few hours smiling, wondering and learning or remembering from the same contents.
Highly recommended. (04.03.13)

PUNK+ - Sheila Rock {280 pages, First Third}
There has been a lot of these highly stylised, high quality coffee-table style books spring up of late that look at the the original wave of UK Punk. These books have had a greater eye for the aesthetics of the page, the quality of the image and, best of all, don’t rely on hack-kneed old PISTOLS photos and Filth and The Fury newspaper headline repeats. This sumptuous slab of visuals, featuring the photography of Sheila Rock and pressed in a strictly limited run of 2,000, has just pushed the bar higher than ever before.
For starters, you don’t actually know what you are looking at with the book. It comes in hardback format with a bright red fabric covering and a deeper maroon spine. It’s only on close inspection that you can see Punk+ embossed on both front cover and spine. It gives the book a rather secretive, seductive and elegant veneer.
Once you get ‘inside’, you get a foreword by former NME Editor, Nick Logan followed by a ‘conversation’ with the likes of Rock herself and Jah Wobble, Paul Simonon, Don Letts, Jon Savage, Chrissie Hynde, Andy Blade, Jeannette Lee, John Krivine and more. As a conversation, it’s oddly fragmented but retains some element of continuity that suggests more than mere random quotes. Again, it seems esoteric and enigmatic.
Then we are into the photography. It’s split into chapters, with direct, minimalist titles (Fashion, Music, Crowd, Scene and just +) and a brief introductory to what lays ahead. More than any other book so far, this focuses on and highlights the sense of fashion. The shops - Sex, Acme Attractions and in particular, Boy, are heavily featured along with Johnson The Modern Outfitters and World’s End in the + chapter.
The photos themselves are presented on quality, gloss paper and are reprinted in sharp detail and in a size large enough for the observer to see each minute details and nuance of the photo. The bands featured are the obvious targets - PISTOLS, CLASH, BUZZCOCKS, SIOUXSIE, EATER, GENERATION X, SUBWAY SECT and DAMNED. None of the American invasion of Ramones, Thunders and co. Many of these pictures are possibly previously unprinted - there are certainly photos of THE DAMNED I have never seen before.
The final chapter, the mysterious ‘+’ delves into those things that came post-first wave. The aforementioned Johnsons stocked a great deal of what became the 2-Tone fashion but unfortunately there are no rare pics of THE SPECIALS. There are plenty of early pics of THE CURE and Lydon post-PISTOLS - one of the pictures has a ‘Metal Box’ poster, so that definitely dates the era.
I used a word before that really does define this book - sumptuous. My only complaint is the lack of text; while each picture does have a caption, it is brief and sparse. Maybe the idea is to let the photos do the talking - certainly seems to be the case with the 20 pages or so devoted to the shop, Boy. Where the strength of the book really lies however is in that it is not sensationalist. It’s riveting, absorbing and to a degree, idyllic in the way it presents the last truly revolutionary and iconic youth movement. What I am trying to say is, and this is something that many books fail to transmit, that this is honest. Honest wish a capital H.
Honesty, integrity, sincerity and presented in sumptuous decadence! Well worth any 77-ophile’s time!! (09.03.14)

PUNK PRESS: Rebel Rock In The Underground Press 1968 - 1980 - Vincent Bernière and Mariel Primois {240 pages, Abrams}
France is an often over-looked country in the history of Punk, but it should not be forgotten that the country produced a number of bands and zines that, while not reaching the heights of their UK or US counterparts, were worthy of attention. The zines in particular were imbibed with that quintessential graphic chic the French seem to do naturally. This book was originally published in France in 2012 and is a large, graphic-laden look at Punk imagery as laid out primarily in zines but also records and press of a more mainstream nature.
The book has three geographical-based chapters starting with USA before changing continents to the UK and finally landing in France. It mixes frequently seen images from such notable Punk staples as Flipside, Sniffin’ Glue, Search & Destroy, Ripped & Torn and Punk! with others from Bomp, NME and New York Rocker along with a myriad of other, less notable zines. Promotional posters, flyers and incidental photography pad the remainder of the first two chapters out.
It’s the French chapter where a lot of the more unseen images are. These are also taken from publications with the material from Elles Sont De Sortie and Libèration in particular being graphically stunning. Of course, to get the maximum out of the French publications, a good understanding of the language would be beneficial, but as with the previous two chapters, this is more about the artistic aesthetic than the narrative verbosity.
It’s not all about the image though. There is a foreword by Jon Savage and an afterword by French music critic, Patrick Eudeline. Also at the back is what binds the book together to really work as a whole: an in-depth narrative about the images contained in the book. These mix historical, factual and opinionated pieces lending substance to the less well-known images and make great, insightful reading when it comes to the chapter on France. We know that the images from this era of music were confrontational, engaging and refreshing and the descriptive narrative, in most cases, match the graphics.
This is a big book - bigger than A4 in size and the chapters are boldly printed on a kind of grainy, recycled like paper. It lends them a very genuine, zine-like feel while the narrative at the rear is printed in high quality gloss pages. The combination of the two emphasises the zine-like nature of the chapters.
I have read that the images in the book are not reproduced very well - this is obviously written by someone who would say CRASS suffered as they didn’t sound as polished as SEX PISTOLS. The very nature of the original source material was high-contrast, photocopied and produced cheaply on typewriters in many cases. The reproduction of a full-colour BUZZCOCKS promo poster for ‘Orgasm Addict’ is great - which nullifies any ‘music journo’s’ opinion about this being badly produced. Other images are in full-colour where needed to be and, to my eye, everything looks perfectly toned and authentic.
There has been a few of these coffee-table sized, Punk graphic books of late - some have been rather cliched, others so lovingly done that not only are they essential reading but also inspiring. Punk Press, in many ways due to the excellent historical account at the rear of the book, just about makes it into the latter. (29.09.13)

PUNK ROCK: An Oral History - John Robb {582 pages, PM Press}
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. (27.02.14)

PUNK ROCK WARLORD: The Life And Work Of Joe Strummer - Multiple authors {216 pages, Ashgate Publishing}
When a book about the iconic frontman of THE CLASH, Joe Strummer, is aimed at not just CLASH fans and those interested in Punk culture, but also at ‘scholars’ and is written by a number of professors and lecturers, then it’s clear that whatever your opinion on the many idiosyncratic sides of Strummer, he somehow made a difference and actually mattered on a social, musical and political level.
There are 11 contributions to this book and most have a clear understanding of 70s Punk and an in-depth knowledge of Strummer and his work. There is the odd error (one of the writers states that when Joe’s pre-Clash band, THE 101’ERS, supported the SEX PISTOLS, he saw the future in Johnny, Sid and the boys... Sid? He was still throwing bottles in the crowd at that time!), but generally the writers are spot-on with their history and can back up their opinions of Strummer the man, the Punk, the socio-politician or whatever other mask he was wearing at the time.
Highlights include the opening chapter from Edward Shannon that parallels the life and work of Strummer with Woody Guthrie. The pair shared a lot of similarities and Shannon makes the claim that Strummer may just be the truest inheritor of Guthrie’s tradition - even transcending that of Dylan. The always readable Alex Ogg injects a piece that, while not anti-Strummer, debunks the theory that Strummer was a ‘Punk Rock Hero’ and suggests he failed to live up to his own ideals. Ogg’s piece is made even more powerful as it follows a piece proclaiming Strummer as the real deal. Other notable chapters include Jeremy Tranmer’s which examines Strummer’s involvement in Rock Against Racism, Brian Cogan assesses Strummer’s transformation and continual reinvention and suggests it could be an issue of identity crisis while Justin S. Wadlow observes Strummer’s obsession with the USA.
The remaining chapters are all interesting, be it about THE CLASH and their absorption of Hip Hop, Strummer’s roll in feminism (which is actually more about THE SLITS than Strummer it seems) and, of course, politics.
It’s notable that no one really gets to grips with Strummer’s dismissal of Mick Jones and the absolute abortion that was THE CLASH on ‘Cut The Crap’. It’s mentioned, I think, twice but not analysed. Nothing is mentioned of Strummer’s tenure in THE POGUES either. Another notable aspect of the book is that the most analysed albums are the debut (understandably) and, more surprisingly, ‘Sandinista’. Although impossible to combat, there is also the occasional piece of repetition - be it in the form of quotes from Strummer or anecdotal comments on his history.
Given the book is written by and, to a degree, aimed at Scholars, I found this incredibly accessible and informative. Each writer has his or her ideal of who and what Joe Strummer was, be it the pre-CLASH folk artist, the militant Punk or the more mature man of the MESCALEROS. Most importantly, each writer has the aptitude to back up his/her argument.
If the premise of this book is to challenge the reader’s concepts of Joe Strummer, to analyse the man’s psyche, artistic and political achievements and their corresponding failures and do it all with a sense of intelligence and sincerity, then the book has achieved its aim on every level. (30.09.14)

PUNK! THE CULTURE IN PICTURES (302 pages, Ammonite)
Does the world really need another photo book filled with pics of the SEX PISTOLS and mohicans? Probably not to be honest, but this 6"x6" book does offer several pics that I have not seen before and approaches the subject matter from a slightly different perspective.
For starters, while the SEX PISTOLS is the most photographed band in the book, the pics do not rely completely on those from the band’s ‘77 era. We also get a number of pics from the band’s reunion including a particularly alarming shot of Rotten shirtless all pale and a tad bloated on a boat. Other bands featured include all the prime suspects - THE CLASH, THE DAMNED, THE STRANGLERS, THE RAMONES, SIOUXSIE etc. Other notables include ADAM ANT, TOYAH, IAN DURY and IGGY.
While the bands are naturally included, approximately 50% of the 300+ photos are given over to Punks on the streets. There are several photos from the London march to commemorate the first anniversary of Sid Vicious’ death, a few pics from the Stop The City protest and a wealth of random photos of Punks with all varying styles of hair and dress. The ‘fashion’ is also featured heavily, be it several photos of Jordan wearing Sex items or, rather more crassly, models like Matt Belgrano or a couple of very clean cut kids who are posing for a calendar for Prince Andrew of all people!
Where the book earns a massive negative is by the inclusion of a supposed ‘Pop-Punk’ band on page 292. I’m not talking about a legitimate Pop-Punk band like GREEN DAY or even Blink 182. I’m talking about a pic of Busted!! That really does prove the fella who compiled this really has no idea what our Punk subculture is all about. The dude in Busted may have spiked hair, but in no shape or form can the band ever be associated with Punk Rock - and I mean both aurally and ideologically - even in the most broadest of senses. The fact a band like CRASS is omitted entirely while Busted (and Human League) are included screams out this has been slapped together by a Punk philistine.
The page layouts are artistic, mixing colour and monochrome images, differing sizes, minimal but informative text and the odd splash of bold, day-glo colour. It seems the pics are all culled from MirrorPix too - I assume that means the Daily Mirror archives and goes some way to explaining the inclusion of models and embarrassing attempts at Punk imagery by lame fashion editors. As a bonus, the retail cost is quite low, making this a more desirable purchase.
Generally, as with most books of this persuasion, there is enough imagery that is genuinely captivating to indulge the reader for a good few hours. The book is also a good presentation of how Punk ‘fashion’ has mutated through time; originally it shocked before becoming something rather kitsch and amusing (as evidenced by Grandma Lil Bone in 1980) and ultimately crossed over into the mainstream via bellends like Belgrano and Busted leaving any subversive and threatening sense far behind.
Thankfully those of us active in this Punk Rock world know that that subversive nature is still alive and kicking. (27.08.12)