One of the things that comes up time and time again when researching the early days of punk is the resourceful nature of virtually all of the protagonists. Whether it was Steve Jones nicking enough equipment to equip the Sex Pistols, or Shelley and Devoto of Buzzcocks driving down to London on the off chance of meeting Malcolm Mclaren, there was an energy drive and determination about the main protagonists which in a different setting would have marked them out as captains of industry.
Despite being anti-establishment many of the early punks were effectively entrepreneurs selling their music or their clothing or occasionally themselves with a single minded determination that would have made Sir Alan Sugar proud.
For those not fortunate enough to live in the big city the work was ten times harder, there was no social media the only way a band or artist could make an impact was to work really hard and eventually make their way to London.
Ferryhill is a case in point. An ex mining town in County Durham, it wasn’t until I looked at a map that I realised just how isolated it was. Located just off the A1 the nearest town is either Middlesbrough which is basically a chemical factory or Hartlepool. I have always been intrigued by the latter as apparently the locals were so backward that when a monkey was washed ashore following a shipwreck in the Napoleonic wars they assumed it was a Frenchman and hanged it.
Ferryhill had its usual quota of youths listening to Roxy Music and the Velvet underground and forming bands of little importance. It was pretty clear that no bands of any significance were going to tour Ferryhill so one of the musician pool, Gary Chaplin, decided, despite being underage, that he would hire a bus to take the Ferryhill crowd to Newcastle anytime a band of note was playing there. Again, this was no small achievement, Newcastle is miles away to the North up the AI, Chaplin’s venture would involve going to Newcastle to get tickets and hiring a coach to do the two way journey and this would be funded by collecting money from assorted locals in order to fund the trip.
On these long night journeys he befriended fellow traveller Pauline Murray who he eventually asked to sing in his band and so Penetration was formed. Penetration had already been influenced by the first stirrings of punk, notably the Sex Pistols who they had seen during one of the Pistols scary out of town gigs up North. Equally influential was Patti Smith, Murray providing Smith influenced vocals as well as a cover of ‘Free Money’ on their first album.
Unsurprisingly the band started off with an amazing work ethic, driving down to London was just part of the job and they hit punk club The Roxy just at the right time, if you played the Roxy in the first couple of months of it opening there was a good chance you would be seen by about 50% of the people who mattered on the punk scene. They became friends with the Adverts which led to plenty of support gigs and within six months were major layers in the second division.
And in many respects that is the most interesting part of the Penetration story. Ideally it would end with the release of their first single ‘Don’t Dictate’ which was fairly raw and angry with Murray sounding not unlike Polystyrene from X Ray Specs.
If you take the trouble to watch this please note obligatory bottle spraying idiot and hippie road crew member
Founder member Chaplin had become disillusioned with the music business almost as soon as he entered into it and had decided to leave although a period of tendonitis hastened his departure. He was replaced by Neil Floyd but also significantly another guitarist Fred Purser was also added. Purser was a proper guitarist who could play all the widdly bits that punk had dispensed with. Significantly after the demise of the band he joined local heavy metal heroes the Tygers of Pan Tang.
On record Penetration tend to sound like a punk version of Rush to my ears.It was a polished sound and they had soon been gobbled up by record company Virgin, you could see their appeal, a bunch of people who can play their instruments fronted by a real ‘punkette’. The label thought they were on to a money spinner and invested in some proper studio time and proper record producers. For some reason that didn’t really capture the public’s imagination. There’s nothing really wrong with their debut ‘Moving Targets’ or even their so called ‘disappointing’ follow up ‘Coming up for Air’ but neither is there anything partially inspiring about their music, not that that has ever deterred the record buying public but Penetration’s career failed to really take off.
For some reason I bought their single ‘Come into the Open’ and I still have a soft spot for this particular track.
If the band had toughed it out I suspect they would have had a breakthrough but it was not to be. After the band ended Murray recorded Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls with legendary producer Martin Hannett. Free from the tyranny of the guitar riff this was more to my taste but the band (and Hannett) didn’t last that much longer.
But as we know almost every band has to reform at some point but Penetration put it off for as long as possible. In the meantime Murray has been busy as anticipated building a studio, forming a community choir, studying reflexology, writing songs, managing bands and raising two children. Their latest record from 2015 isn’t the real band of course just Murray and her husband/bass player Robert Blamire remain from the original band, presumably Blamire is only allowed out now the kids don’t need a babysitter.
In fact ‘Resolution’ may even be the best extended piece of work the band have ever made, free from the constraints of big name producers and big budgets the music sounds less forced. The band are now playing live again but one can’t help but suspect that the entire audience is just waiting for a middle aged pogo to ‘Don’t Dictate’