Thursday, November 08, 2007

Punk's still alive and kicking

By Chris Charles
BBC News

Sex Pistols
The Sex Pistols formed in 1976

There is an infamous piece of graffiti that has adorned toilet walls since the 1960s: "Nostalgia - it ain't what it used to be".

Try telling that to the legions of Sex Pistols fans clamouring to see the ageing punks perform a series of sell-out concerts over the next few days.

The Pistols play the first of five nights at London's Brixton Academy on Thursday, while last weekend The Stranglers performed at the legendary Roundhouse - 30 years to the day since they last graced the venue.

The gig saw the band replicate the set-list from 1977 and, despite the absence of founder-member Hugh Cornwell, the material sounded as fresh as ever.

The BBC caught up with four original punks still snarling their way through songs first aired in the days when Chopper bikes and space hoppers were all the rage.

JJ BURNEL, THE STRANGLERS

It was great to play The Roundhouse again. There was a few songs we hadn't played for 20-odd years but it was fun rediscovering them.

Jean-Jacques Burnel
Burnel is also a martial arts instructor

I won't be going to see the Pistols, though. They're old men who get together every few years to top up their pension fund.

And now they can actually play their instruments, it's boring. Mind you, they've had 30 years to learn how to play one album.

Music has not moved on much. Mainstream pop and rock doesn't seem to have shaken off that punk thing. If we'd been playing music from 30 years before in 1977, we'd have been doing Glenn Miller or something.

You hear all the bands now and they're all thrashing chords. They're not smart and they're not trying to be intelligent, so basically they make us look better. It means that we don't sound dated and it shouldn't be that way.

We've still got that competitive edge and we all get on well - I think the only thing that's going to stop The Stranglers is an act of God.

STEVE DIGGLE, BUZZCOCKS

I'll probably go to see the Pistols. We put them on in Manchester in 1976 and opened up for them. That was where the punk rock atom was really split - that was when the explosion started.

There's still nobody to touch what we all did. There's been nothing as powerful as that since - it changed people's lives.

Steve Diggle
Steve Diggle is working on his second solo album

Our motivation to keep going is the music. The Pistols, the Buzzcocks and The Clash are just as relevant as they have ever been.

Most of the music today is rubbish. It's just a generation of Blue Peter presenters with guitars.

Lots of young people come to our gigs. About two thirds of the audience are kids - amazing as that seems - but then they haven't seen anything like we do. We're the definite article.

JAKE BURNS, STIFF LITTLE FINGERS

There's been nothing like punk since. I remember when I first heard it, it felt like how it must have done when rock 'n' roll first started.

We swept away the dinosaur bands and gave rock 'n' roll back to the kids. People realised you didn't need a grade eight music education to play in a band.

Jake Burns: Credit www.slf.com
SLF are touring the UK in March

Some of the bands today are obviously influenced by the whole punk thing, which is fine - if they're creating their own sound.

But if it's just rehashes of what The Damned and The Ramones did, then I'm sorry, but I saw The Damned back then and you're not going to top that.

I've always written songs about things that offend my sense of justice - protest songs. I never bought into the whole anarchistic, nihilistic stuff and up until recently the songs we wrote about Northern Ireland were still very pertinent.

We always said if it stopped becoming fun or people stopped coming to see us, we'd quit. Fortunately that's not the case.

CHARLIE HARPER, UK SUBS

I never thought we'd still be playing 30 years later. Up until quite recently I kept thinking I'll just give it another couple of years before I pack it in. But people still want us to play, so I'm going to carry on until I can't anymore.

Charlie Harper: Credit www.uksubs.com
The UK Subs had six top 40 hits

Punk was basically music stripped down to the bare bones and built up again.

All the stuff these days sounds the same, but back then Siouxsie sounded different to The Jam, The Jam sounded different to the Buzzcocks, and The Buzzcocks sounded different to the Pistols.

Everyone is still so into it. I believe punk is more relevant than it was in the 70s because all of our predictions are coming true. Songs we do, like Warhead, are more poignant than ever.

Punk rock was the early warning system - the wake-up call to society, but back then most of the people didn't want to listen.


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