For the Summer of 79 I seemed to have three records on the go all the time. Music was still expensive I think two of the albums were my mate Phil’s and one was mine, but these were sharing times, the more friends you had the more music you could listen to.
All the artists on those three records had had some sort of previous life, not everyone was the Sex Pistols springing up perfectly formed. Punk had stirred things up a bit and given a chance to those who would have probably been lost in the mists of time had the musical climate not changed. Our short list also gives a little snapshot of the musical time, music was up for grabs again, you didn’t have to sing about dole queues anymore.
So, without further ado these were the three records of the summer of 79 and the direct influences (or steals) on the music of the Bank Clerks my summer band for 1979.
The Only Ones- Even Serpents Shine
I covered my Only Ones infatuation here
This was their second record, at the time I liked it a bit more than their first release, it’s a bit more coherent and despite being bolstered by backing vocals, keyboard and even a bit of saxophone it sounds like a group effort. On the down side heroin was becoming more important than music for mainmanPeter Perrett and there’s a couple of weak songs notably ‘out there in the night’ written for his cat no less; which was released as a single. CBS really didn’t understand the band but one gets the feeling the Only Ones more comfortable with rock epics like ‘In Betweens’ and ‘Miles from nowhere.
40 years on the record hold up quite well. The bands roots which led to them getting a lot of stick at the time means this is quite a classic rock album, more Quicksilver Messenger Service than the Ramones.
It does have a truly terrible sleeve though!
Stiff Little Fingers -Inflammable Material.
Over in Belfast a rock covers band Highway Star had head their head turned by punk and after recruiting a bass player who was the only one who genuinely looked like a punk they set about writing songs. The band’s next influential moment was when lead singer/guitarist Jake Burns stuck a relationship with journalist Gordon Oglivie who encouraged Burns to write about his of living with ‘the troubles’ before moving on to become a co writer and manager. On one hand this meant that the band wrote some good songs but the press was rather sniffy about one of their own being involved like it was cheating somehow. The band had a kind of Beatles/Stones relationship with the Undertones in which they come off worse because John Peel loved the Undertones (he liked the fingers but we chose to ignore this) Stuff Liddle Fungus, as they announced themselves in thick Belfast accents have remained a going concern with only Burns being the consistent member.
40 years on Inflammable Material could lay claim to being one of the great British punk albums . It’s dominated by Burn’s voice which is astounding if not always easy listening. There’s songs about discrimination and being bored as expected but a lot of anger about the situation in Northern Ireland (suspect device being the classic track) at a time and place when speaking out could lead to one parting company with their kneecaps, or worse. Musically there’s the occasional reminder that Burns once considered Ritchie Blackmore as a role model and often the music is a bit fast and a bit stiff. Like the Clash they made a reggae song a centrepiece of the Album. In retrospect ‘Johnny Was’, a Bob Marley song ,is probably the best track on the record.
Joe Jackson- Look Sharp
Jackson had had an inglorious former life as a proper musician. He had studied at college, played Jazz and, in order to fund his musical career had worked as musical director for cabaret duo Koffee n Krème (as bad as it sounds). Look Sharp owes an awful lot to Elvis Costello both musically and lyrically but for a couple of years Elvis was a hero to most. It was pretty clear that Jackson was using the new wave a s a flag of convenience but it was still a pretty good album. Jackson had recruited a band of good players who weren’t afraid to play music that didn’t obviously mark them out as good musicians (ie they didn’t show off). Gary Sanford, the guitarist was a huge influence on Phil’s sound with the Bank Clerks and generally pointed a way forward from Wilko Johnson towards post punk. Despite being a man who had studied timpani and oboe Jackson was now primarily the singer, his sickly stick frame towering over his diminutive guitarist and bass player in live gigs.
40 Years on, Look Sharp still holds up pretty well, the more minor songs where Jackson isn’t trying to hard sound the best (the title track being one such number). Like with the Police musically it points the way forward for a three piece band not to play guitar solos.
Unsurprisingly Jackson moved on to Jazz and classical as well as returning to pop, occasionally even revisiting his classic band. In a slightly bizzare footnote, despite being a lifetime asthma sufferer he became one of very few celebrities who were outspoken against the public smoking ban in Britain (David Hockney was the only other one who springs to mind). So angry was Jackson about not being able to light up next to a baby he was threatening to move to the USA. His dedication to smoking has left it’s mark, even in colour photographs he appears grey.
By coincidence a few years later Phil became very friendly with Joe Jackson’s cousin, his name was Michael (really)