With the release of the Sex Pistols ‘Anarchy in the UK’ the nation was able to increase its portfolio of punk products to ….two.Things were soon going to change, there would be an explosion in the next twelve months but even in the hothouse environment that was punk these things would take time. In the meantime two more records slipped out before 1976 had come to an end.
The first was ‘I’m Stranded’ by The Saints, a record that as far as I can make out was about being stranded (far from home). The Saints were Australian, from the hot humid and repressive city of Brisbane no less but they had, by sheer coincidence managed to record a record that had all the hallmarks of punk, snotty vocals, buzzsaw guitars, a snappy tempo and refreshingly brief duration.
The Saints had, in fact been doing the punk thing for the best part of the decade.They had plenty to rebel against under the state government of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the Premier of Queensland from 1968 to 1987. Bjelke- Petersen did pretty much what he wanted while in power and any lifestyle that didn’t include the staples of beach and barbeque was likely to be repressed. The Saints had to put on their own gigs often in houses and garages rather than public venues and Police clampdowns on any such gatherings were always a possibility. The band’s record found its way to the UK music magazine Sounds on its release in September 1976 and received such a rave review that people actually bought it in significant numbers
‘There’s a tendency to blabber mindlessly about this single, it’s so bloody incredible […] for some reason Australian record companies think the band lack commercial potential. What a bunch of idiots. You like Quo or The Ramones? This pounds them into the dirt. Hear it once and you’ll never forget it. The singing’s flat and disinterested, the guitars are on full stun. There’s no such thing as a middle eight. It’s fabulous’
On the back of that one single the band made their way to Britain where they merged uneasily with the punk scene. Being Australian we were prepared to give them a bit of leeway on their long hair but it was an uneasy alliance not least because the band themselves had been doing their thing since 1975 and weren’t going to start wearing dog collars or safety pins for anyone. They had a small ‘hit’ with ‘This Perfect Day’ and made interesting music which became increasingly only loosely punk orientated. Being in a country which welcomed them with open arms rather than wanting to put them in prison didn’t really help the band’s sense of unity and by 1979 the original band had unravelled and disbanded.
Like The Saints The Vibrators had had a couple of years to get it together, in fact lead singer Knox had a pedigree going back to the early 60’s. The Vibrators were pretty much a pub rock band playing their own songs and covers which were starting to speed up as punk progressed. They played the punk festival at the 100 club in September, both as themselves and as backing band for Chris ‘Motorbiking’ Spedding. Spedding had some credibility, enough to have him working with The Pistols in their early days but he was no punk although he did attempt a cash in single ‘Pogo Dancing’ which didn’t do anyone’s credibility or bank balances any favours. The Vibrators soon got a record deal although it was with RAK, a label dominated my impresario Micky Most who had produced hits for The Animals, Donovan and Lulu in the 60’s and Mud and Racey in the 70’s. For those of us glued to our TV sets in the mid 70’s he was also a proto Simon Cowell on proto X Factor show ‘New Faces’. By aligning themselves with what was essentially a teeny bop label the band were haemorrhaging credibility but they were occupying a similar role to The Stranglers, older proper musicians without any discernible previous history who were hanging around the punk movement and getting a bit of greatness by association.
The Vibrators recorded a John Peel session in October 1976 which was almost as effective as releasing a record (which most of us would have listened to on JP anyway) and finally got a single out on RAK ‘We Vibrate’ before the year was out so along with the Pistols and The Dammed were the third UK punk single of the year.
Listening now it’s clear why The Vibrators were not a huge punk success, musically they were speeded up pub rock and lyrically they seemed over obsessed by cheating women and usual rock and roll concerns rather than police oppression and high rise flats. The fact that they were proper old school musicians meant that bassist Pat Collier went on to be a record producer and guitarist John Ellis went on to work with The Stranglers and Peter Gabriel. The band are still going today although its only drummer Eddie bereft of significant royalties or transferable skills who is willing to suffer the gig circuit.
There’s still a lot to enjoy about the band albeit in small doses though for a couple of months it was quite exhilarating to hear their punky rock and the B side of ‘We Vibrate’ ‘Whips and Furs’ remains one of my favourite punk singles.
So here it is