tue 20/08/2019

Reissue CDs Weekly: 1977 The Year Punk Broke, Optimism / Reject | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: 1977 The Year Punk Broke, Optimism / Reject

Reissue CDs Weekly: 1977 The Year Punk Broke, Optimism / Reject

Box-set reportage on the malleable world of Brit-punk and what came next

Eater, unlikely creators of 'Optimism / Reject's' psychedelic short story 'Michael’s Monetary System'

Britain’s musical eruption of 1977 wasn’t just about the now. As the new box set 1977 – The Year Punk Broke amply demonstrates, the flux allowed more than first-timers through the door. Seasoned gig-circuit regulars Stranglers got a leg up. A band called The Rings, featuring former Pink Fairies, Pretty Things and Tomorrow member Twink, issued their one single in 1977. Andy Ellison, Radio Stars’ singer, had a similar pedigree – in the Sixties, he had been in John’s Children, alongside a short-stay Marc Bolan. Radio Stars bassist had been in Sparks, and most of the band were in Seventies almost-weres Jet.

In this reading, 1977 wasn’t just when punk broke but also the year for chancers to take a chance. A similarly minded lot were Manchester’s The Drones who, along with the previous three bands, also crop up on The Year Punk Broke. Three-quarters of them were previously in Rockslide, who in 1975 issued a single titled “Jump Bump Boogaloo”. Glam-tinged pop-rock, it was competently played and produced. For their recasting as The Drones, Rockslide borrowed Johnny Rotten's voice and, on their rough-sounding Paul Morley-produced debut EP, set aside their former musical proficiency. Not so far from Joe Strummer’s transition from pub rocker to truthful guttersnipe then.

Optimism / Reject – Punk & Post-Punk Meets DIY AestheticRight now, The Drones get a second shake of the rock history stick as “You’ll Lose”, from that July 1977 EP, is included on Optimism / Reject – Punk & Post-Punk Meets DIY Aesthetic, a four-disc casebound set exploring its amorphous, catch-all subtitle. The period covered is 1977 to 1981. Eater, seen in the header pic, also feature on both sets as do Alternative TV, John Cooper Clarke, The Outsiders and Swell Maps.

The Year Punk Broke, a clamshell three-disc set, is the first in a proposed run of year-by-year appraisals of punk and its aftermath while Optimism / Reject is the follow-up to the 2017 post-punk release To the Outside of Everything. It also shares an ethos with the previous year’s Action Time Vision independent punk box. Further evidence for the limits of the well drawn from comes after it’s realised that a different Swell Maps track appears on each of the four releases. The title Optimism / Reject is borrowed from a Patrik Fitzgerald track – he was also on Action Time Vision which, in turn, was named after an Alternative TV single.

Evidently, what’s thematically dealt with by all these releases has become as malleable as the identities of some of those who poked their heads above the punk parapet in 1977 and the immediately ensuing years. What counts now is how adroitly these archive collections achieve what they set out to do.

Norman and the Hooligans I'm A Punk1977 – The Year Punk Broke captures the year’s unfolding confusion by sequencing all but four its 87 tracks in order of release. All were released on singles except three of the final four which weren’t issued at the time. The set ends with the fatuous though funny cash-in single “I’m a Punk”, issued by Norman and the Hooligans in February 1977. And is it any less worthy of being in the punk pantheon than a record by a band who changed their spots and trousers, and cut their hair when 1977 rolled along?

This gem underlines that The Year Punk Broke eschews the canonical by favouring reportage to chronicle a scattershot year. The Damned’s “Neat Neat Neat” is followed by “Capaldi’s Café” by arch Liverpool art-rockers Deaf School – themselves relevant to the punk story as Clash man Mick Jones first met his future manager Bernard Rhodes at one of their shows in 1975. Elsewhere amongst this disorder: hits by The Boomtown Rats and Tom Robinson Band, and – a highlight – the original independent single version of Blitzkrieg Bop’s art brut masterpiece “Let’s Go”. The only missteps are including the album re-recordings of Generation X’s “Day by Day” and The Drones’ “Just Want to be Myself” rather than the single versions. Nonetheless, 1977 – The Year Punk Broke is a thrilling ride.

1977 The Year Punk BrokeThe 105-track Optimism / Reject – Punk & Post-Punk Meets DIY Aesthetic begins with Eater’s bizarre, psychedelic short story “Michael’s Monetary System” ( a May 1977 B-side) and ends with …And The Native Hipsters’ equally bizarre sonic collage “I Wanna be Around (Paul)”. In keeping with the set’s ambiguous subtitle, what’s collected is as varied stylistically as The Year Punk Broke but with oddballs and the genuinely forward looking replacing the reanimated pub rockers, reheated pre-punk also-rans and mainstream lunges at the zeitgeist.

Optimism / Reject is as unruly a listen as The Year Punk Broke and has a counter-intuitive flow where the ragged Raincoats come between the intense Pack and the hare-brained Tea Set. As a whole, this musical crazy quilt (punkier-than-punk punks Charge precede the stately Sisters of Mercy) shows almost anything was possible. The punk-jazz of Blurt’s “Get” is almost unlistenable but could not have been issued – and on an off-shoot label of Stiff – in any other era to credibly court a potential audience, however small. Previously, Blurt would have sat at the outer edges of the avant garde and had no chance of playing the standard gigging circuit.

Both collections feature rare tracks, which may be reason enough to pick them up. Though born from a fascination with and an in-depth knowledge of what they are looking into each, more importantly, is a hugely entertaining document of musical turmoil. Dig in, but don’t expect to find cohesion or shared outlooks.

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