Desperate attempt to inject some life into MeFiMu #54319

August 23, 2012 3:06 PM

In terms of the origins of punk rock, people always bang on about the pub-rock scene in the UK of the 1970's - bands like Dr Feelgood, Eddie and the Hot Rods etc. Or else the New York Dolls and antecedents like the VU or Stooges are cited. But......... I came across this the other day. It dates from the mid-70's I think. Apart from being one of my die-in-a-ditch all-time-faves, I think this performance shows how Glasgow's very, very finest The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (and, fuck my old boots, they really were sensational - trust me on this one) was actually one of the first UK punk rock outfits. It's just that no-one was using that term to describe non-conformist attitudes back then. This band kicked serious ass (or "arse" if you prefer the correct term) - they had attitude and musicianship to spare. And I'm going to namecheck the lot: Mr Alex Harvey - vocals, charisma, even more charisma, guitar. Mr Alastair "Zal" Cleminson, shit-hot P90-fuelled guitar bezalzlement; Mr Chris Glen - bass and insouciant grinning; Mr Ted McKenna - best rock drummer in the business - bar none; and Mr Hugh McKenna - brother of Ted and the soulful heart of SAHB. Discuss......please...
posted by MajorDundee (34 comments total)

I have been aware of the existence of SAHB since the 70s, but I only heard anything by them last year. Delilah, specifically. I knew of Zal from his stint with Nazareth.

If you want proto-punk, I would say the earliest is the Who and the Kinks. Also, although I have never heard any tapes, I recall an interview with Paul McCartney where he stated that in their formative years, the Beatles would strip songs down to their barest rhythms on nights when the band were particularly well intoxicated.
posted by Ardiril at 12:10 AM on August 24, 2012

Slight shamefaced apology for this one - drunk again....! But quite interesting nonetheless.
posted by MajorDundee at 1:36 AM on August 24, 2012

Ardiril has a good point about the early Kinks and the Who. They shared a producer in Shel Talmy and the Davies brothers have accused Talmy and the Who of stealing their sound. There's an anecdote in "X-Ray" about Dave Davies discovering the distortion guitar sound in the family living room.
posted by chrchr at 4:47 PM on August 24, 2012

Great video Major, some solid rock and those guys have a ton of attitude. I'd wear that jumpsuit of Zal's onstage in an instant if it wasn't for the ol' belly.

There's lots of overlooked rock bands in that mid 70's timeframe, post glam but too early for punk. This vid made me think of the Rubber City Rebels, another batch of great rockers who got passed by.

And if you want to talk 60's proto punk, put on the Stone's Got Live If You Want It. Those guys were tearing it up!
posted by InfidelZombie at 7:54 PM on August 24, 2012


the trashmen (1963)

and link wray finds dave davies to be a young upstart

and jerry lee lewis thinks punk is tame
posted by pyramid termite at 8:05 PM on August 24, 2012

Ha. I do love me some Alex Harvey.

But proto-punk? Let's hear it for the Sonics.

Have Love Will Travel
Psycho-a-Go-Go (the BEST GoGo dancing ever)
Boss Hoss
The Witch
Do You Love Me
posted by unSane at 8:28 PM on August 24, 2012

Also... the trillions of garage punk songs out there... the obvious ones, but there are an infinity of them.

13th Floor Elevators - You're Gonna Miss me
Easybeats - Friday on my Mind
The Seeds - Pushin' too Hard
The Count Five - Psychotic Reaction
posted by unSane at 8:46 PM on August 24, 2012

Hhhmmmm. A lot of these certainly sound like punk (and various others could be added - compare this with this for instance), but punk was as much an attitude as anything else. And I suppose what distinguished it from garage perhaps was a kind of confrontational aggression -confronting the audience I mean - with a strong admixture of subversion. I think it's that element that comes through in this SAHB clip - the sound isn't characteristically punk, but the performance sure as hell is.

I think too that SAHB inspired a whole branch of punk that had a kind of crazy piss-taking glee to it. Very British, and perhaps something that didn't translate across the pond all that well. The music-hall influence in other words. Ian Dury, The Damned, Madness et al all owe something to SAHB. Look at this and this from about 2.17 for instance. Utterly loopy and beyond priceless.
posted by MajorDundee at 11:28 AM on August 25, 2012

The interesting thing about punk is that it's a bit of a rorschach test. I look at it and see a faster louder version of pop with some pub rock thrown in... and the theatric side of it never really interested me that much, or the straight-out aggression which I always found a bit tiring. I couldn't stand the Pistols or White Man era Clash, sacrilege as it is to say it.

I think that you're right though that the venom and aggression was the real innovation as musically you can find most of the bits and pieces lying around earlier.

I think the one musical innovation that did really come with punk was Steve Jones' tactic of just taking a fistful of distorted barre chord and moving it wherever the fuck he felt like it around the neck (even though he knew better). That was harmonically incredibly liberating and you still hear bands doing it today.
posted by unSane at 4:39 AM on August 26, 2012

something that didn't translate across the pond all that well

On the other hand, here in Cleveland, Ohio and surrounding environs, the SAHB are virtually worshipped by pretty much anybody who was a musician/stagehand/roadie etc etc in the 70's & early 80's. Which has somewhat trickled down to the younger generations - there are at least two bands in the last 10 years from the general area that have been named "Vambo Marble Eye." And there's actually a SAHB tribute band here.

I dunno, maybe it's just my perception, but I haven't really seen that level of enthusiasm for SAHB in other cities.

Like, even though I grew up in the cultural wasteland of suburban South Florida, I'd at least heard of (if not actually heard) all the other bands mentioned so far. No idea that Alex Harvey existed, though.

But once I came up to Cleveland, it seemed like it would take about 30 seconds from the time a slightly older musician/tech guy would realize I was a musician/tech guy for them to go, "Alex Harvey, amirite? Whaddaya mean, you've never heard of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band ??!!!??!! Holy shit, you've gotta get right on that !!!!!"

They must've done some AMAAAAAZING live shows here back in the day.
posted by soundguy99 at 9:02 AM on August 26, 2012

Now, that's very interesting about Cleveland given that this album features two shows, one of which I believe was recorded at........The Agora Ballroom, Cleveland in 1974...

And, unSane, I agree about the attitude thing. Also about the stuff that put aggression before anything else. I can vividly remember reading about this band called The Clash in NME and buying a copy of White Riot/1977 in a WH Smith's bargain bin for 20p or something. And getting it home and feeling hugely disappointed because no matter how hard I tried I really didn't like it at all (and actually thought it was total crap). In fact, I always thought The Clash were overrated (gasp!). That's definitely sacrilege...and, to paraphrase Mr Rotten, I don't caaaarre.

The punk bands I tended to gravitate towards were more inherently musical - The Ruts being a prime example (they could actually play pretty well, but kept that hidden). RIP Malcolm Owen and Dave Ruffy. Having said that, if it wasn't for the likes of The Clash I suppose The Ruts and their ilk (e.g. early Psychedelic Furs up to and including Forever Now - my favourite band of all of that generation) wouldn't have got a look-in. Reading that back, I guess what I'm admitting is that I didn't really like the first wave of punk bands all that much - generally I liked the attitude but not the music - it was the New Wave that connected with me (were the Saints first wave? - if so, they were about the only real punk band I genuinely liked). I liked the excitement of the Pistols, but musically it was pretty derivative heavy metal minus the widdly widdly bits (cue more gasps..).
posted by MajorDundee at 11:25 AM on August 26, 2012

I was going to say the exact same thing about new wave, Major. Also, I think it's a matter of age. turned 12 in the summer of '76 so I was a bit young for the first wave. I had a Ruts cassette that I wore out and my wife still listens to them in the car...

AlsoThis seemed relevant somehow, with reference to Alex Harvey...
posted by unSane at 11:31 AM on August 26, 2012

oh, and also meant to ask soundguy99 whether there might be some parallels between Cleveland and Glasgow (where SAHB were from). I've only been to New York, but from what I've read Cleveland is (or was) a heavy industry city? Makes me wonder whether SAHB resonated culturally because back then Glasgow was characterised by heavy industry (shipbuilding being a prime example - when I was at school our careers advice was twofold: go into the yards or the IBM at Inverkip). Maybe not...
posted by MajorDundee at 11:34 AM on August 26, 2012

unSane - re Sparks - yup, I get that. Russ Mael even looks like Alex Harvey's younger brother. SAHB obviously weren't as camp as Sparks, but there is definitely a link there: a certain off-centredness. Also now beginning to wonder about this as well.... But neither of these bands had the kind of breadth of SAHB - I mean Jacquest Brel covers etc.

I'll be back on this later - promised the missus I'd watch "We Have To Talk About Kevin" with her - I've said to her that "We Have To Talk About Alex First"...but that resulted in a basilisk stare...ulp....
posted by MajorDundee at 11:45 AM on August 26, 2012

This discussion can't be complete without a discussion of the (arguably) greatest band of all time.

The 'all' link - holy shit.

Has anyone ever done an FPP about them? Tim's stroke was a catastrophe.
posted by unSane at 1:33 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

might be some parallels between Cleveland and Glasgow

Mmmmm . . . . could be, could be.

We're definitely "was" heavy industry more than "is" heavy industry - see Rust Belt - and I think Cleveland's industrial prime was actually more like 1920's to 1950's, so mostly pre-rock'n'roll, really.

But, yeah, Cleveland's position at the junction of Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River means we're still an important transportation & shipping hub, and steel and its' auxiliary industries (like all sorts of automotive manufacturing) were important for a long while. Plus there's huge salt deposit (for industrial purposes, rather than table salt, I believe) right on the edge of the lake. Link with some interesting facts about the salt mines.

I dunno how many parallels we can really draw between "blue-collar working class" cultures from two different countries. But there could be something like that at work here.
posted by soundguy99 at 1:35 PM on August 26, 2012

I think one of the things is that BCWC cultures tend not to tolerate art school types unless they also have the ability to fight their way out of a club using their guitars as weapons. So you get this great combination of pretentions and street toughness. You can see it in The Fall, and even a band like (God help me) Slade, who fought their way out of a number of clubs after their manager persuaded them to cut their hair and pretend to be skinheads (even though they had a violinist).

English culture has a huge tradition of this, dating back to the threepenny opera and well before.

On the Cardiacs, I didn't really mean they were the greatest band in the world, but they're one of the few bands that I listen to and think 'there is no way in a million years that I could possibly come up with anything like that, or even figure out how to play it'. And I love the way that it steers a course between pop, punk, metal, prog and psychedelia without ever really being any of them. Just when you think it's too poppy, they throw in some ridiculous change of metre, and just when you think it's got too clever, they hit you with a singalong chorus.
posted by unSane at 2:40 PM on August 26, 2012

Really impressed by The Cardiacs!! That first track is quite unbelievable conceptually - like a kind of musical Alice In Wonderland as envisaged by a Scandinavian arthouse director on acid. Never heard of them - thanks unS for turning me onto this!! Only immediate associations that came to mind were........and you're going to hate this.......King Crimson, Gentle Giant and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Obviously because of the sort of "cut-up collage" kind of thing going on here. It's almost like they've recorded a bunch of stuff and then, in the studio, edited it together and only then actually learned the track and played it, and then re-recorded it. Or something.

So far as Cleveland/Glasgow parallels - that was just an idle thought. Fascinating how a band can be mega in one city and nothing in another. I guess if anyone could work out why that is, they'd be onto a cash cow.... Not sure whether that situation operates so much in the UK - a band being really big in, say, Liverpool but a total stiff in Bristol - perhaps because the UK is such a comparatively small place spatially. Word gets around quick here.
posted by MajorDundee at 3:42 PM on August 26, 2012

Yeah, yeah, King Crimson, totally.

They were criminally neglected in their time but have become a bit of a cult thing latterly -- Faith No More and Battles have both cited them. They were an unbelievably intense band live -- I used to make pilgrimages down to London to see them in the mid 80s.

In terms of albums, The Seaside and A Little Man and a House are the places to start. The great thing about them is that they reward repeated plays so much. Just bursting with ideas.
posted by unSane at 3:47 PM on August 26, 2012

It's great when you stumble across something you've never heard before that's a total blast - the older I get the rarer (and all the sweeter) that experience is. When I was a kid, finding new stuff that really resonated was an almost religious experience..... thanks again, and I'll check out those albums. Just been on their website - looks like nothing much has been happening for the last 3 or 4 years. But they look about my age......and I see there's been some maybe time is beginning to catch up with them a bit.

And apropos of nothing, I've just noticed that for the first time since I've been a member of Metafucker there are no tracks playlisted in the last 7 days. Dear oh dear. Still think there's too much old stuff gumming up the works here, but we've been round the houses on that one and Big Brother clearly isn't all that arsed about this part of the site. Shame.
posted by MajorDundee at 4:06 PM on August 26, 2012

Tim Smith, who's really behind it all, had a combined heart attack/stroke about four years ago, which put the Cardiacs on hiatus. They've just been doing benefits for him ever since. I don't really know what the state of play is now, although I have friends who are more plugged in and I hear there are rumours of things starting to happen again.
posted by unSane at 4:13 PM on August 26, 2012

I think one of the things is that BCWC cultures tend not to tolerate art school types

Mostly, yeah, but my take on it is that a lot of the early/proto punk acts from the early 70's thru the early 80's (like SAHB) were people from BCWC backgrounds who were, well, smarter & more creative than their surroundings or opportunities. So maybe not so much "pretensions" as much as groups who just couldn't play "straight" rock'n'roll without being bored, so they threw various other elements into the mix. Like Zal Cleminson's makeup and the choreography. But since they weren't "art school" kids, they didn't really have any "art" training or education, so the "other elements" are often this sort of bizarre combination of very amateurish (because no-one ever told them how to do things properly) and wildly creative (because no-one ever told them Don't Do This, so they just did whatever-the-fuck they thought of.)

It seems like the Cardiacs (thanks, unSane) could fit into this scenario. The "Jibber and Twitch" video made me think, "Shit, yeah, math-rock!" but several of the other videos on the U-tube made me think, "DEVO!" Or maybe Devo's less-well-known Akron contemporaries, Tin Huey.

So I think there might be something to the idea of a commonality across BCWC cultures that can result in different cities coming up with some similar off-the-wall musical ideas more-or-less simultaneously.

Also, obligatory Slade video. I think my favorite thing about the video is how the singer is just kind of strumming cheerfully away on a big ol' acoustic guitar - like if you saw certain portions of the video with the sound off, you would think they were playing "Ferry Cross The Mersey" or something,
posted by soundguy99 at 9:45 PM on August 26, 2012

I'm betraying my youth here but my first exposure to "punk" was from bands like No Religion, Pennywise, NOFX, and [shudder] Blink 182. It wasn't until much later that I found out how far off I was from the original stuff.

That being said, what do you folks think of The Young Knives?
posted by Doleful Creature at 4:01 PM on August 27, 2012

Ha, seems like direct descendant of this, with a side of the Arctic Monkeys...
posted by unSane at 10:35 PM on August 27, 2012 did I never hear of the Cardiacs before now? There are so many bands I will never be able to listen to now without hearing the Cardiacs in my head.
posted by davejay at 10:52 PM on August 27, 2012

The Young Knives - not bad at all.

Checking out some of their other YouTube vids, I'm hearing a lot of Gang of Four, Mission of Burma & Wire in there.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:51 AM on August 28, 2012

just wanted to say that i dug the cardiacs, too - cheerful insanity ...
posted by pyramid termite at 6:29 PM on August 28, 2012

Pissed (for the US contingent: drunk - John Jameson to blame tonight) again, so I thought I'd try to blow some life into the bloated corpse of this thread....

I suppose no discussion of Brit proto-punk would be complete without reference to Dr Feelgood and Eddie & The Hot Rods. Takes me right back to the sixth form common room - singles respectively on UA and Island if memory serves, with picture sleeves (gasp!!) ahhh marvellous... You have to contextualise the impact of this stuff cos it probably sounds really tame now - we'd been fed a diet of Peter Frampton, Genesis, Pilot and similar insipid crap and then.......seeping out of nowhere...this visceral stuff started to emerge. It was sooooo exciting, particularly if you harboured secret desires to be in a band, so you could get some interest from those chicks at Ribston Hall Girls School down the road..... The alternate Feelgoods perfomance here is, in my view, a fab job by the post-Wilco band that I've proselytised before. It features Gypie Mayo on a rather shaggable early 60's Fiesta Red Strat fuelled by a classic Marshall 4 x 12 set-up. Mr Mayo lives in Bath (one of my erstwhile places of employment as a medic) and I bumped into him in the street one day - no kidding - I'll never forget the way he said "get out of my fucking way, mate".
posted by MajorDundee at 2:20 PM on August 30, 2012

Wilko Johnson talking about Dr Feelgood in July, great stuff. More here.
posted by unSane at 12:57 AM on August 31, 2012

Just wanted to drop a little more passionate devotion to Cardiacs into the thread - I was lucky enough to see them a few times in their latter incarnation, playing at the appropriately strange Astoria in Charing Cross Road. Magnificent gigs - the one where Cardiacs abruptly walked off stage right, while the support (Oceansize) strode on stage left, picked up their instruments and immediately went into Eat It Up Worms Hero (a Cardiacs tune from Sing to God, probably the greatest album no one's ever heard of) - then the instruments were exchanged back again and the gig continued as if nothing ever happened. The same night, Tim sat at the back of the stage, played the whole of The Duck and Roger the Horse more or less to himself, before the whole band played it through again at a more appropriate volume; Sharon Fortnam's* traditional and unannounced appearance to sing that bit in Will Bleed Amen; coward that I am, I was usually in the balcony, looking down on The Pond frothing away through Is This the Life and The Big Ship and the always utterly magnificent Dirty Boy. Now, not only will I never see the band again, but the venue itself and the entire neighbourhood has been completely obliterated. They say it's something to do with the Crossrail construction project, but I have my suspicions.

*The choir contains no less than three Cardiacs members of various vintages, and the video was directed by Tim.
posted by Grangousier at 4:11 PM on September 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Christ, the Astoria -- THAT's what they knocked down. I was just in London and could not for the life of me remember what used to occupy that space. Like you say, it was an odd but cool place. I can still remember the huge lines of heavy metal kids and goths that used to appear every Friday and Saturday night.
posted by unSane at 4:36 PM on September 2, 2012

Oh, and I guess that funny little Italian cafe next to it where we used to retire to contemplate our impending purchases from Denmark Street or Macaris.
posted by unSane at 4:52 PM on September 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

to contemplate our impending purchases from Denmark Street or Macaris
That made me go all misty-eyed......I remember doing that. Going up there with the band. An air of suppressed excitement in the cigarette and fart-filled band van - a clapped out Bedford with air-brakes that were a little temperamental if memory serves. Drummer drove it, rolling ciggies while steering with his knees. Bought my first SG there....ahh, those were the days. Now I just buy stuff off the net - not the same....

I'm sometimes quite amazed unS that you and me never bumped into each other back in the day - we seem to have a lot of shared experiences somehow...
posted by MajorDundee at 11:14 AM on September 5, 2012

I was in the UK last week, and my plane got in at 7am but the room wasn't ready until noon (GRRR) so I dumped my bags and went for a walk in the West End... ended up on Denmark Street... lo and behold Wunjo's was open early... in I went like a lamb to the slaughter.

Came out with one of these. Rather splendid it is too! Like old times.
posted by unSane at 11:44 AM on September 5, 2012

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