mon 15/07/2024

Music Reissues Weekly: Angelic Upstarts - Teenage Warning | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: Angelic Upstarts - Teenage Warning

Music Reissues Weekly: Angelic Upstarts - Teenage Warning

Punk landmark remains as abrasive as it was in 1979

Angelic Upstarts at the time of 'Teenage Warning's' release. Second left: Mensi

NME’s Paul Morley reviewed Angelic Upstarts’ debut album, the newly reissued Teenage Warning, in August 1979. He pointed out that they were “seen as the successors to Sham 69.”

The assessment made sense. Their encore song was a version of Sham's “Borstal Breakout.” Both bands played a reductive punk which was long on musical attack and lyrical howls, and low on finesse. Around the time of Teenage Warning's 1979 release Sham's front-man Jimmy Pursey was busy with J. P. Productions, a concern where he picked up bands, became their producer and placed them with major labels. He took on futuristic new wavers The Invaders, mod types Long Tall Shorty and Low Numbers, mod-punks Kidz Next Door and sort-of powerpoppers Jimmy Edwards & The Profile. He also found time to produce London punks Cockney Rejects. South Shields’ Angelic Upstarts also came into Pursey's orbit. He was behind their signing to the Warner Bros. label.

Angelic Upstarts – Teenage WarningAll this as Sham 69 imploded. They played what were billed as their farewell shows in June and July 1979. Supposedly Pursey was going to form The Sham Pistols with former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, who appeared live with him. The intended final Sham 69 single was July’s “Hersham Boys.”

When “Hersham Boys” peaked at six on the singles chart, the Upstarts were on Top Of The Pops the same week promoting “Teenage Warning,” their second single for Warners and third overall. It reached 29 in the Top 40. A handing-over of the punk chalice from Sham 69 to Angelic Upstarts? Maybe, but “Teenage Warning” was their second and final brush with the singles chart. By summer 1980, Angelic Upstarts were gone from Warners and Pursey, and with EMI’s Zonophone imprint. If they were the successors to Sham 69, it hadn't gone smoothly.

Angelic Upstarts formed on 21 May 1977, the day after Thomas Mensforth saw The Clash's White Riot tour in Newcastle. He thought he could do better than support bands The Slits and Subway Sect. At the time “Mensi,” as the magnetic Mensforth was known (1956-2021: killed by Covid-19), was an apprentice coal miner. He formed the band with his school friend, shipyard electrician and guitarist Raymond “Mond” Cowie.

Angelic Upstarts – Liddle TowersIn May 1978, they self-issued the extraordinary debut single “The Murder of Liddle Towers,” inspired by the February 1976 police killing of County Durham’s Liddle Towers. A court returned a disgusting, negligent verdict of “justifiable homicide.” The case was also the subject of songs by The Jam, Sex Pistols associate Dave Goodman and The Tom Robinson Band.

“The Murder of Liddle Towers” was angry, visceral, musically crude. “Simple yet stunningly effective” said Jon Savage in Sounds. John Peel played it regularly, and booked the band for a session in October 1978. The self-issued single sold out, so it was reissued that September by a joint venture of Rough Trade and Small Wonder. Pursey quickly pounced and, initially, it seemed as if the Upstarts would sign to Sham’s label, Polydor. In the end, they were contracted to Warners who also picked up Pursey charges Jimmy Edwards & The Profile, Kidz Next Door, Long Tall Shorty and Low Numbers. Angelic Upstarts were the one which hit home.

Two singles – April 1979’s “I’m An Upstart" and July's "Teenage Warning" – followed, as did August’s Teenage Warning LP. All three charted. The new reissue of the album is a straightforward, no-frills package which adds the "Murder of Liddle Towers" / "Police Oppression" single – a re-recording of the A-side, as "Liddle Towers," was on the album.

Angelic Upstarts – I'm An UpstartHeard now, Angelic Upstarts’ abrasive long-playing debut is – unsurprisingly – still a challenging listen. Pursey's production is crisp but the inclusion of the three single A-sides to date and Warners B-sides "Leave me Alone" and "The Young Ones" meant it wasn’t totally fresh. Only seven of the 12 tracks hadn’t been out before. And punk/powerpop versions of Cliff’s "The Young Ones" had already been done by Lockjaw, The Secret and Spys. No need for yet another go at it. Menace had also given it a bash in 1977, which was issued in 1980.

Really, though, it's a tough to embrace because it doesn’t present a fully formed band. At this point, Angelic Upstarts were not yet ready to make an album. The crude playing doesn’t matter, it’s the sameness and the lack of leavening of the overall harshness which make it a slog. 1981's follow-up 2,000,000 Voices (on Zonophone) was more confident. Nonetheless, if approached on a track-by-track basis Teenage Warning makes the case that Angelic Upstarts were to be reckoned with: the metal-edged “Never Again” is great, as is the proto-hardcore smasher “Small Town Small Mind.”

A core significance of Teenage Warning is not that it posited Angelic Upstarts as apparent recipients of a baton passed to them by Sham 69, but that they were prime amongst those showing that punk was not dead, that it could not be wished away in a world which had moved on to the mod revival, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, what was later bracketed as post punk and 2 Tone. This was of no concern to Angelic Upstarts, who themselves pushed on, always admirably bold in their anti-fascist declarations – endangering their own safety in so doing – and their ever-present need to call out injustice and repression.


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