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Books - S

SOUNDS OF GLORY: Confessions From The Glory Days Of Sounds Volume Two - Garry Bushell {200 pages, Newhaven Publishing)
I imagine many reading this will remember the days when the music press actually meant something. Back in the 70s through to 90s, there were the three big publications: Melody Maker (the least readable, rather tame in its preferences and writing), New Music Express (aka NME which was a bit more cutting edge than MM but still pandered to an elitist student readership) and Sounds. It was Sounds that I was an ardent reader of. It was witty, spearheaded both Punk and Metal without ever actually defining itself as either and generally featured better bands, better writing and was more down to earth. It also had one Garry Bushell writing for it from 1978 through to about 1984. He championed the Oi! movement (for better or worse) and was always a contestable character.
This book collects about 25 interviews, most of which appeared in Sounds. The bands include SPECIALS, MADNESS, ANGELIC UPSTARTS, COCKNEY REJECTS, SELECTER, RUTS, BLONDIE, JAM, CRISIS, CRASS, SEX PISTOLS and RANCID among others. Oh - and Engelbert Humperdinck! Most are entertaining reads it has to be said, with highlights being SPECIALS taking of Manhattan, SELECTER nearly getting lynched by Texas rednecks, accompanying the MO-DETTES to a gig at the infamous Cuckoo’s Nest in Orange County and, on finding the venue closed, going to Zubies to pass some time before realising the bitter and bloody disgust Zubies regulars had for all things Cuckoo’s Nest, THE BLOOD being entertained at the Sounds conference room and totally trashing it and a truly alarming tale of RUTS vocalist Malcolm Owen splitting his head open on cymbals during a gig with the DAMNED and being hospitalized. There’s also a genuinely hilarious review of Festival Of The 60s held at Butlins in Barry Island. Could’ve done without the innuendo laden piece on Judge Dread though. Nearly all of Bushell’s on-road experiences with these bands come with details of considerable alcohol in-take also.
The odd thing about some of these interviews however is that they take place long after Sounds had ceased publication. The RANCID and CRASS pieces (the latter being with Steve Ignorant who eulogises the greatness of COCKNEY REJECTS) were both conducted in the last couple of years while the SQUEEZE piece is from 2010.
The book also fails to make it clear whether these pieces are word-for-word replicas of what appeared in Sounds, editted or written with the benefit of hindsight. A number of them include postscripts, suggesting one of the former two options. There are no graphics either - a printed insert showing the original interviews’ layouts would’ve been nice - as it is we’re left to Bushell’s interviewing skills and analogy laden narrative.
The book is rounded out with an introduction by Bushell on how he managed to blag his way into a job at Sounds and a self-congratulatory synopsis on Bushell and his media career.
Love him or loathe him, it’s impossible to deny that his time at Sounds wasn’t interesting. While these interviews aren’t exactly the most probing or insightful exposes to ever be penned by a music journalist, they do offer humour and a working class sensibility that the likes of NME could but dream of. Well worth checking out for a taste of 70s/80s Punk hedonism but certainly room for improvement. (28.05.17)

THE SPITBOY RULE: Tales Of A Xicana In A Female Punk Band - Michelle Cruz Gonzales {162 pages, PM Press}
If ya didn’t know, SPITBOY was an all-female Punk band active in the early 90s and based in San Francisco. Gonzales was the drummer of that band, known at that time simply as Todd. This is an engaging read that documents her memories, ideals and personal identity with intelligence, wit and wry hindsight.
The narrative goes back to when Gonzales was in her school band, playing flute and discovering the GO-GO’S. It’s a familiar story, that of where a single band not only sends one off in a new direction but completely changes life’s path and future decisions, but it’s always an interesting story to see what band was the catalyst for the author to become who she is today. From there, we get to read about Gonzales first Punk band, BITCH FIGHT, moving from small-town Tuolumne to the San Franciscan metropolis, SPITBOY forming, recording and touring and the band’s ultimate demise. It could be viewed as standard band biography stuff, but Gonzales makes the narrative much more personal and intimate than many other such books.
For starters, SPITBOY was not a band of hard-out party animals, so there’s no tales of drunken debauchery (seems the band preferred the challenge of Travel Scrabble). Instead, we get an on-going, first-person account of Gonzales understanding her own Chicana heritage within the confines of an all-white, all-female band. Her observations about her background when compared with the rest of the band are insightful, thoughtful and to-the-point without being remotely jealous or chastising. The issue of sexism also rears its ugly head with several small-minded creeps who seem to think it’s OK to not just be suggestive but totally abusive. Fortunately, SPITBOY was a band that could confront such bigotry and come out victorious.
Elsewhere in the book we read of the friction caused by the band not aligning itself with the then-popular Riot Grrrl movement, the culture shock of touring Japan, getting pulled over in New Orleans by cops with guns at the ready and the drug squad ready arrest, the band’s alliance with LOS CRUDOS and of the actual SPITBOY rule.
Gonzales’ narrative is direct, pointed and without too much halcyon reflection. By the end of the book, the reader certainly feels that they understand and relate to the traits of Gonzales as well as the rest of the band, and that is in no small part due to the conversational tone with which Gonzales writes.
This is a brief read though; of the 162 pages, 20 are filled with some excellent photos while each chapter also starts with a photo. There is a preface by former Maximum Rocknroll and Punk Planet columnist Mimi Thi Nguyen and a foreword by Martin Sorrondeguy of LOS CRUDOS/ LIMP WRIST fame.
Without a doubt, this is much more than just a band biography. It is as much a book about self-discovery, female camaraderie and personal politics as it is about a female Hardcore Punk band doing things their own way and succeeding at it. I am sure plenty of people could find both inspiration and confidence after reading this book - and that extends beyond people of colour and females to encompass any and all who feel marginalised by society or intimidated by their local Punk scene. If that’s not the mark of success for a book, I’m not sure what is. (23.09.16)

SPOKE: Images And Stories From The 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene - Scott Crawford {130 pages, Akashic Books}
With all that has already been written about the 1980s DC Punk Scene, it’s hard to imagine anything new on the subject could be published. However, this book, which is beautifully packaged within a hard back sleeve, approximately the size of a 10"EP and laden with photographs and interviews, certainly offers plenty for the hardened DCophile to enjoy along with a few images previously unpublished.
This book has been published to accompany the recent (and rather excellent) documentary Salad Days, which was directed by this book’s creator, Scott Crawford. The core of the book features over 200 high quality photos from the likes of Jim Saah, Cynthia Connolly and Bert Queiroz. Most of these are monochrome (some with a sepia tone, a few others in full colour), several never published before and all strikingly clear and evoking the era perfectly. These images alone captivate, bringing this most influential and politically progressive Punk scene to life. They’re energetic, intimate and passionate, with Akashic not cutting any corners on printing or photo reproduction as the pages are gloss paper, the photos perfectly toned, sharp and of a size that allows the viewer to almost fall into the page. It’s unjust to single out individual photos for attention, but those of RITES OF SPRING, IGNITION (some of which are magnificently moody), EMBRACE, MARGINAL MAN, VOID, SCREAM and, of course, MINOR THREAT all have a dynamic that has the mystical special factor.
There is also plenty of text. Rather than a generic and sprawling scene overview, Spoke presents each band chronologically, dating back to 1977 with BAD BRAINS and culminating in 1989 with the formation of JAWBOX. After a brief intro on each band, the remaining text is in the oral history format, featuring those in the bands and those who made the scene that the bands performed in. The narrative can be candid, frequently amusing, occasionally volatile, constantly revealing, brutally honest, refreshingly insightful and sometimes bewildering - obviously depending on the band. I’m not going to regale you with the best stories the book has, but I will tell you that the chapters on RITES OF SPRING, FUGAZI, IGNITION, GOVERNMENT ISSUE, THE FAITH and GRAY MATTER all stood out for me.
The book is filled out with an introduction from Crawford himself and brief biographies of all those who are quoted in the book.
This is actually a very brave publication from both Crawford and Akashic as it is no doubt going to get compared with both Cynthia Connolly’s Banned In DC and Mark Anderson’s Dance Of Days (both of whom contribute to Spoke) - books about the same subject matter, that are predominantly photo documents and both of which should be on any self-respecting Punk’s book shelf already as they are defining tomes on this iconoclastic scene.
However, the chronological and band focused direction this book takes, coupled with the oral narrative, striking imagery and sublime layout does make it a worthy companion piece to those two books - and one that is not necessarily the weakest of the three by any stretch of the imagination. (03.06.17)