A year after the infamous Bill Grundy incident the media frenzy had just about died down. Punk, by its very nature was not going to last that long, it had built in obsolescence. In a few months the Dammed and the Pistols would be no more, the Clash and Buzzcocks had already experienced line up changes.1977 was over.
In many respects its easy to downplay the influence of Punk. 40 years on just about everything that Punk was going to destroy is doing very well thank you very much. TV shows like the X factor and the Voice represent the ultimate shallow nature of pop, producers are everywhere trying to polish a turd, music has lost it’s value, most of it is free to listen to after all.
Ultimately, the argument goes, all punk was was speeded up badly played heavy metal, it conned us for a while and then the Pink Floyds Phil Collins and Dire Straits move in and cleaned up with real music.
So what did the punks do for us, I humbly put it to dear reader that there’s a legacy we ought to be grateful for….
Music became accessible to fans.
Read any interview with almost any new band in 1977 and there would be a party line spouted about success not going to change them. Go back a couple of years and one of the main reasons for involvement in the world of rock and roll would be that the potential exponent would be wanting to change big time. The house in the country and the white Rolls Royce were clichés to be aspired to. A lot of the punk musicians had been music fans themselves who had got fed up with funding stupid pop stars bad behaviours with their hard earned money. A load of punk musicians really did care about their fans, someone like Joe Strummer would agonise over the potential fate of the rock star who ‘sold out’. The gap between performer and fan has never been less divided than for a couple of years during punk, and for a while that was pretty refreshing.
Musicians became accountable
Following on from the above the new wave of musicians were interested in social change. The Rock Against Racism movement came about because of this social consciousness. Plenty of the new wave were lined up to play RAR gigs. It was good publicity of course but the rise of the National Front was very very real. On more mundane levels ticket prices were kept low, the Clash wouldn’t charge full price for Sandanista, they put their money where their mouths were. For a while principals became more important than money.
Political debate became fashionable
There was a lot of posturing to be sure but surely that’s better that a twitter storm over the latest iPhone
Punk was inclusive to women
To be a topic in the new year, stay tuned folks. Women actually on a stage became a reality and the world’s a better place because of it.
Racism and Homophobia were passe
In a time when we thought Elton John and Freddie Mercury were heterosexual. Tom Robinson strode across the musical landscape like a big gay colossus, this was to come in handy when the 80’s arrived. Racism was officially bad, that much was clear, it hasn’t stopped Keith Richards or referring to ‘spades’ in every interview but miracles take longer.
The energy bar was raised
Look at most Top of the Pops clips of bands from 1975 and you well see a bunch of young men looking at their feet or grinning inanely as they chug their way through some masterpiece. ( Glamrock is immediately excused from these accusations).
By 1979 it’s head banging and mugging to the camera, even pop music is a bit angry now. The Dammed smashed up their instruments on The Old Grey Whistle Test, Poco never did that!
Yes opened their post punk album ‘Going for the One’ with some angry guitar from Steve Howe, it wasn’t their finest moment but it showed that they were paying attention.
More people became involved in producing music
The musical bar had been lowered but creativity hadn’t. Never since skiffle had so many people decided to ‘have a go’ at making music, it didn’t have to be punk take The Fall, Wire, The Rezillos,The Mekons or Echo and the Bunnymen, all bands that benefited from a relaxation of standards and a supportive audience.
Hair Products Improved rapidly
Sid Vicious apparently had to hang upside down with sugar in his hair to achieve the punk look. Within a couple of years there was hair gel and then the deluge of products that the young people of today just take for granted.
Lots of great music was produced.
I’ll accept that a lot of punk records were fairly dire but once you cast your net a bit wider there are treasures a plenty. John Peel’s favourite track Teenage Kick by the Undertones only happened because of many of the above factors. The Undertones weren’t really punk but it was punk that made them. Dragged along in the slipstream were the likes of Elvis Costello who wrote proper songs and the Slits who didn’t. For a couple of years a great single would be released literally every week and they were all different.
If your idea of a great night out is to go to a stadium and see Phil Collins or Bryan Adams or Dave Gilmour I suspect you wont be swayed by any of my arguments. The big stars were wounded but not fatally they came back bigger and stronger and it was as if nothing ever happened in arenaland.
But I wont be there with you, I’ll be watching Wreckless Eric play in a room above a pub, or James McMurty playing a room behind a pub, or at a festival checking out who is on on the smallest stage or going to a folk club, or a jazz club or taking part in a session or just playing with friends. And that’s because of punk my friends, I want to see people who give a shit, who didn’t have the option of selling out, people that you can buy a pint for afterwards and will sell you their CD which they glued the sleeves together for the previous night.*
And that’s because of punk 40 years ago!
*Obviously I won’t buy a pint and a CD, I’m not made of money!