Question - What is PUNK?
It’s a question that I have been asking myself for some time, I have done a little research and have unearthed the following;
The punk subculture, which centres on punk rock music, includes a diverse array of ideologies, fashions and forms of expression, including visual art, dance, literature and film. The subculture is largely characterized by anti-establishment views and the promotion of individual freedom. The punk subculture is centered on a loud, aggressive genre of rock music called punk rock.
So let’s do a little digging into the roots of punk rock….
Punk rock (or simply punk) is a rock music genre that developed between 1974 and 1976 in the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia. Rooted in garage rock and other forms of what is now known as protopunk music, punk bands typically use short or fast-paced songs, with hard-edged melodies and singing styles, stripped-down instrumentation, and often political, anti-establishment lyrics. Punk embraces a DIY ethic; many bands self-produced recordings and distributed them through informal channels.
There you go folks, I think that sums it up nicely!
So, when you get an invite to attend a show in Exeter, on a very cold Sunday evening to see one the original UK punk acts that helped form the original punk movement, you’re going to do everything you can to be there.
The band formed in 1976, the founder, Charlie Harper originally selecting guitarist Nicky Garratt, bassist Paul Slack, and various drummers (eventually Pete Davis became fairly stable) under the initial name "U.K. Subversives”. The London-based band's early line-up changed frequently and since 1976, many musicians have come and gone, injecting their own feelings and emotions into the music that has appeared on their 20 studio albums produced to date. The current lineup consists of Charlie Harper on vocals, Jet on guitar, Jamie Oliver on drums and Alvin Gibbs on bass.
Arriving at the venue just after opening time, it wasn't a surprise to see that the queue had spilled out onto Queen Street, it was gonna be a hot and sweaty evening in The Cavern and there’s me with about 3 layers of clothing on to keep that pesky cold air out of my system (thank the lord for cloakrooms!). Once inside the venue, it was great to see a mix of fans from the original day to present, whilst most of the more mature (my way of saying ‘older’ without saying ‘older’) audience members had lost their piercings, tartan bum flaps, spiked hair and snarling expressions, you knew that they still had a certain edge about them, my hat goes off to them knowing that they were a part of the punk subculture whilst I was running around in short trousers playing with my Action Man.
Back in the late 70's there would have been a medley of body odour, patchouli oil or amphetamine hanging thick in the air, thankfully with the plentiful supplies of deodorant, fabric conditioner and a zero tolerance policy to drugs at the club, none of these were present some 40 years on....
The evening started with a local mohawked punk called HENA playing a bunch of anarchic acoustic songs, singing about anything from hating the Tories, David Cameron being a pig fucker and Tony Blair being a multi-millionaire war-mongerer. His set was well received by the local rockers, it was also great to see so many youngsters in the crowd with their spiked hair, soiled leather jackets covered in patches and studs, clearly demonstrating that the punk spirit is alive and kicking in the Exeter area.
Up next were a Bristol based band called UK'S LOWEST, these guys kicked straight into their set with a melee of energy that got the room rucking and moshing in next to no time, great to see from the sidelines, not so good for me who was pushed up against a speaker, trying my utmost to capture some photos whilst avoiding size 9 DM’s and flying punches, great fun though. Their music generated a great deal of interest from the lively pit and with a bunch of songs requiring audience participation, this crowd were soon won over with the quality tune age and vocals on offer from the Bristolian trio. I am going to get in touch with these guys really soon to see if we can sort out an interview as I really would like to hear more about them.
Up next was an Exeter based 4 piece called The Junkies, headed up by singer/rhythm guitarist ‘Captain Bollocks’ (probably not his real name), they took to the stage and kept the crowd on their toes with their infectious, fast paced, incendiary like attacks on the senses. I’m sure I heard them introduce a new song into their set, I am struggling to find any mention of it on their Facebook page. They played a blinding version of The Clash’s ‘White Riot’ in memory of the late great Joe Strummer who passed away 13 years ago this December.
After a short break and equipment being carted off the stage, the audience packed into the main hall awaiting the arrival of Charlie and co and for the main event to kick off. As Charlie arrived on stage wearing a blue tie-dyed Ramones T-Shirt and baby blue sunglasses looking every part the original punk rocker vs a typical gentleman his age who wouldn’t look out of place wearing a 'Danimac' in a certain shade of beige! I took up residence right at the front of the stage, crammed in against a large speaker which, I had hoped would afford me a little shelter from the now inebriated and lively pit dwellers that had launched into life during the opening chords of their first track. I think I managed a couple of songs before I dashed out of my bunker, leaving the kids to lay into one another and wake up to the consequences the next day. There was a time, some 20 or so years ago that I was just like them, sink 8 pints, get in the pit, wake up the next day and drag my ass off to work, no more folks, I’m over 40 now and even a sniff of shandy gives me a raging hangover!
I took in the rest of the gig from my vantage point at the back of the room, affording me a view of the audience, god only knows how I managed to get ANY shots as it looked pretty raucous from back there! They played a mixture of newer material from their 2015 release ‘Yellow Leader’ which were all well received along with the classics which would even go down well at a wake, the set peppered with hits such as the anthemic ’Stranglehold’, the punk splutterings of ‘I Live in a Car’ and the audience sing-a-long favourite that is ‘Warhead’. Charlie looked like a man half his age, bouncing on the stage, wrestling with the microphone stand, flanked by Jet on guitar and Alvin on bass, they did a sterling job of providing Charlie with a great layer of original punk rock for him to perform over, Jamie at the back provided his metronomic beats to keep it all together.
Sunday night gigs are normally reserved affairs, people not wanting to let their hair down too much as work was on the agenda early the next day, this thought process had clearly bypassed The Cavern as the place was ROCKING in a big way, why stay in or go to church on a Sunday night, come down and take communion from the very Reverend Charlie Harper and his alter boys where the holy wine is replaced with cheap tinned lager, but it tasted SO good!
They left the stage after playing for over an hour, Charlie thanking the audience for keeping punk alive and loitered by the entrance to the toilets, that’s the funny thing about The Cavern, there isn’t really anywhere to go and escape during the expected, ‘leave the stage and wait a moment prior to running back on to huge cheers’ moment. After a moment or two, they took to the stage once again to play an encore which was kicked off with ‘Party in Paris’ which Charlie dedicated to all the people who died in the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, especially the 80+ who passed at the Eagles of Death Metal show.
After a good 20 minutes, they once again left the stage, this time for good, joining Charlie’s wife on the merch table to sign CD’s and chat to anyone who wanted to meet them at the bar. We grabbed Charlie and he sat with us for a good 10 minutes, shooting the shit about London in the ‘good old days’, how music had changed over the years and how punk music was still very much alive and kicking, some 40 years after it was born. We also discussed the merits of hair straighteners, lager and heart conditions, I guess you could say that we got our monies worth!
We let Charlie go after we had gotten our fill, thanked him for playing once again in our capital and wished him all the best. I think the last time I saw them in Exeter was in 2010, I don’t really want to have to wait another 5 years to see them again!
Words and Photography by Steve Muscutt