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Steve Scanner

Total C-O-N Control

"Punk Rocker in suspected terrorist swoop!" read the headline. Wow - Punk is still a threat in the UK! Who is this insurgent of the State? Has CRASS, with its principles of Anarchy, Veganism and Pacifism, reformed to plant Cannabis in the crypts of Whitehall? Or maybe a mohawked strain of Al-Qaeda has infected a militant branch of Ska-Punk, creating THE TRUMPET TERRORISTS, whose piercing cacophony of brass blowing - coupled with the irritating inability to strum a guitar - mysteriously implants tumours into the brains of the evil capitalists of ‘The West’?

Well, neither of those. It’s a guy named Mike Devine from Bristol, bassist in something as innocuous as a risible tribute band named LONDON CALLING. Jeez - that’s inspired, I would never have guessed that’s a CLASH tribute! It seems Mr Devine became worthy of a Special Branch investigation (with Avon and Somerset and Norfolk police forces in auxiliary roles) on the grounds of terrorism due to a text message he sent to the wrong number. It was the content of this text that could have landed him behind the proverbial ‘Jail Guitar Doors’.

It seems this CLASH tribute struggles with lyrics. Not lyrics of an obscure B-side, or an ultra-rare studio out-take, or even a muffled vocal line from one of the dub tracks on ‘Sandinista!’. No - the lyrics were from one of the CLASH’s most famous songs, ‘Tommy Gun’. Devine sent the text to singer, Reg Shaw, which read: "How about this for Tommy Gun? OK - so let's agree about the price and make it one jet airliner for 10 prisoners." Snag was, he sent it to some paranoia casualty in Norfolk who contacted the local cops, which deemed it to be of such importance to national security that they contacted the Special Branch. It was the Special Branch which then traced the message to Bristol and confronted Devine in his office who, in his Burton suit, ha, probably thought it was funny.

What does this say for the state of defence and intelligence in the UK? No wonder Blair waged his illegal war on Iraq in the belief that Saddam had the fabled ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ - Bush probably played him the footage of Rumsfeld selling them to him decades ago. As it was probably sandwiched between showings of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in Georgie’s own private cinema (usually reserved for Disney cartoons) down in Camp David, Blair went with it, unquestioningly - as usual.

Is Britain - and the West as a whole - in a state of such heightened paranoia that a text message containing a set of famous Punk lyrics can create a nation-wide investigation? Type ‘Tommy Gun? OK - so let's agree about the price and make it one jet airliner for 10 prisoners’ into Google. The first match is a page of CLASH lyrics. This simple, basic intelligence seems obvious to me, yet it’s beyond two police constabularies and the entire Special Branch.

What is scarier is that this text was sent on April 30 and took over a month to trace. Remember that this was nothing more than ‘Joe Public speaking’. Had this been a genuine terrorist then you can be assured that the mobile number would have been much harder to track. How long would that have taken? Six weeks? Six months? I guess post-attack is the conceivable answer. Maybe the Special Branch should consider another portion of lyrics from the same song, they could offer some clarity on motive and just what to look for: "Ain't gonna shoot the place up just for fun, maybe he wants to die for the money, maybe he wants to kill for his country, whatever he wants, he's gonna get it!"

Those lyrics may serve Devine and Shaw too, just in case they still struggle with Strummer’s idiom. Man, hasn’t it come to something when inspirational and sincere Punk bands are vilified by that cancerous breed of collective musos, ‘The Tribute Band’. None of these offer anything unique, they’re just taking the punters on a phlegmatic ride into the world of nostalgia and literally turning rebellion into money.

Can tribute bands, in any shape or form, align themselves with Punk? Punk should be about creating, instigating and antagonising. It surely should not be about playing the obsequious lap dog, placating or seeking a few hallowed minutes, fighting for a good place under the lighting. There has been a surge of these bands of late: Sus-Sex Pistols, (Not) The Jam, No More Heroes (STRANGLERS tribute – wow!), Near-Vana and most recently that lot that went out pretending to be the DEAD KENNEDYS… Oh, wait - they actually WERE the KENNEDYS - minus Biafra. Would those same Punk Rockers in the UK, who didn’t seem to notice anyway, accept a RAMONES reformation with, say, Ben Weasel on vocals? Unfortunately, too many probably would.

Joe Strummer must be turning in his grave at the concept of some faceless, failed, parasitic muso taking the languid, submissive option of, not just plagiarism, but banal imitation as opposed to any form of inspiration. Especially when said copyist falters on lyrics readily available and known to every sincere fan.

Don't use the rules
They're not for you, they're for the fools
And you're a fool if you don't know that
So use the rule you stupid fool

June 2004