The underground hardcore scene of the mid-late Eighties was UK punk rock's last significant creative gasp. Emerging from the wreckage of the anarcho punk scene spawned by the likes of Crass and Conflict, it took its influences from the studs 'n' leather punk bands of the early Eighties such as Discharge and GBH, and also the nascent American hardcore movement and the emerging metal/punk crossover scene. Filter all of this through some through fiercely DIY aesthetics and you had a potent movement that spawned such seminal acts as Napalm Death, ENT, The Stupids and Heresy. With the backing of John Peel and an unwavering work ethic, these bands, and the labels that launched them (including Earache and Peaceville - both now widely regarded as having some of the finest metal rosters in the world), pushed musical boundaries into new and previously unexplored avenues of extremity, helping to shape the alternative music scene we know and love today. Ian Glasper is the critically acclaimed author of two previous books for Cherry Red, 2004's 'Burning Britain' and 2006's 'The Day The Country Died', and 'Trapped In A Scene is the long-awaited closing volume of his celebrated trilogy on the UK punk scene of the Eighties. As per those first two books, it digs deeper than anyone has previously dared into a subculture that was as manic, exciting, innovative and defiant as anything before or since, if not more so. Constructed upon meticulously gathered first-hand accounts and heaving with exclusive never-seen-before photographs, 'Trapped In A Scene' is the definitive document on UKHC and essential reading for anyone with a passing interest in the convoluted evolution of genuinely challenging punk music.
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About the Author
Ian Glasper is the author of Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980–1984 and The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980 to 1984.
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Trapped in a Scene UK Hardcore 1985-1989
By Ian Glasper
Cherry Red BooksCopyright © 2012 Ian Glasper
All rights reserved.
If you ask anybody – even your average man in the street – to name just one UKHC band, the chances are they would nominate Napalm Death. The unassuming Birmingham band not only outsold everybody else ten times over, but influenced hundreds – probably thousands – of bands around the world, helping spawn the international grindcore scene in the process, and also changed the course of extreme metal by pioneering the 'blast beat'. Of course, Napalm Death are still very active, and thoroughly relevant to this day, but they sound almost nothing like the earliest incarnation of the band dating back to 1981; in fact, most people aren't even aware that by the time Napalm released the hyper-speed 'Scum' LP in 1986, they had existed in one form or another for five years, even contributing a track to the third of the 'Bullshit Detector' compilation albums released by the anarcho punk band Crass.
'I started listening to punk in 1978, when I was ten,' explains vocalist (and bassist) Nik Bullen, 'Before that I wasn't really interested in any kind of music, I was more into films. Punk was really popular about then – it was on the television, and you couldn't really avoid it – and I remember seeing a few bands like Buzzcocks and Stranglers and thinking, "This is for me!" And from that point on, I kind of ditched everything else, and music became my focus. Very quickly I started listening to the smaller punk bands, like the Pack, and eventually I graduated to Crass. Once I'd found Crass, all the other 'big' bands seemed a bit ... well, shallow really.
'I was living in this tiny village about eight miles outside Brum called Meriden. Actually, I didn't even live in the village, I lived a bit out; my mum and dad were doing up this house, so we were living up this dirt track in a caravan for years, with loads of horses and goats and chickens everywhere! The first gig I went to was in Birmingham, and that was the Damned on the "Machine Gun Etiquette" tour – at the Odeon, when I was still ten! We were lucky because a lot of bands would play the Digbeth Civic Hall, which would allow in underage people. I first saw Crass there in 1980 ...'
Miraculously finding a likeminded musical conspirator, Miles 'Rat' Ratledge, living next door to him in sleepy Meriden, the pair began their own fanzine, Anti-Social, and started making some primitive punk music together, with Nik on guitar and Rat on drums. They made their live debut, still as a two-piece, during April 1981, opening for the Human Cabbages as Civil Defences, but by the following month had changed their name to Napalm Death and recruited a new guitarist, Simon Ockenheinem (aka Si O).
'I moved to bass and did the vocals as well, and that was the first proper line-up of Napalm Death,' reckons Nik. 'It was very rudimentary back then, quite amateurish; we had a lot of songs that were just one riff all the way through – the chorus was the same as the verse ... which I still quite like even now, to be honest, there's a lot of great records like that! We were really focused on the Crass/anarcho bands – we weren't interested in the Riot City and No Future bands, it was all about Poison Girls and Flux! And then we were really into all the smaller bands we were reading about in fanzines as well: the Mob, the Sinyx, the Snails ... we really liked the DIY aspect, and the political aspect – that probably appealed to us more than the actual punk aspect, to be honest.
'And although me and Rat were really obsessed with the Crass thing, we still kept checking out all the other sorts of punk. When GBH came along, I really loved – and still do – "Leather, Bristles, Studs And Acne" ... it's a great record, and what makes it so great is that you can't tell what influenced it. You know, even the Damned sounded like the MC5 ... but GBH and Discharge, who we loved straight away as well, didn't really sound like anything before them.'
A gig was played in Atherstone with Coventry's Bible of Sins ('They were like Discharge,' says Nik, 'And always really good to us ...') that saw Robbo joining on bass, leaving Nik to just handle the vocals, before Si O was replaced on guitar by Darryl Padeski (now a cameraman at the BBC) and some formative recordings were made on an obligatory shoestring.
'We had glasses thrown at us, and the drummer from one of the other bands offered us all out,' smiles Nik, of the Haverston gig. 'We had this song called "Punk Is A Rotten Corpse", and of course, the punks didn't like that much, and I used to play up to it, wearing this cardboard mohican I'd made, stood there doing macho poses and everything ... 'cos we were viewing that whole brick wall punk thing as kind of conformist and lacking in depth ...
'Then the demo was recorded live in the guitarist's front room to a two-track and had nine songs on it. The main reason we got Darryl in was 'cos he had "The Damned" painted really well on his leather jacket ... and he also had a distortion box for his guitar! We only played the one gig with him though, again with Bible of Sins, and recorded another demo, this time with fifteen songs, which was released as a tape by Mick Slaughter, who did Obituary fanzine ... we were writing to a lot of bands and fanzines at the time, and had our own tape label, Contamination, so we were trading tapes with everyone ... Miles was doing Twisted Tapes as well, named after his new fanzine, Twisted Nerve ... so there was a lot of communicating going on with likeminded folk.'
At the tail end of 1982, Robbo moved to guitar and a new bassist, Finn, joined just in time to record another demo, on 1st April, 1983, with the track, 'The Crucifixion Of Possessions', appearing on the aforementioned 'Bullshit Detector, Volume 3' compilation.
'It was all very anarcho, with very political lyrics,' recalls Nik. 'We were very into the Ex, or the Rondos as they were then; we did poems and used tapes and stuff. We did a few gigs with that line-up, one of them in Nottingham with Subhumans, Chaos UK, Disorder, Antisect, Amebix, which was a great gig – but I got pissed, predictably enough. I actually get really nervous about playing live and always get very tense, so I used to get really drunk and would become a lot more exhibitionist to mask the fact that I was so nervous ... it doesn't work, but you think it does 'cos you're so pissed! Anyway, at that gig, people were trying to drag me offstage and beat the shit out of me, and afterwards, I got beaten up and thrown in the River Trent! And this was when I was, like, thirteen ...
'But there were lots of people in Nottingham that we wrote to, like Dig and Kalv ... and it was around that time that thrash from abroad was starting to percolate through the tape world – we were reading early issues of Flipside with reports from Finland and places like that, all these bands like Kaos and Rattus ... and American thrash bands like MDC ...
'I was getting more and more interested in that, because I hadn't really engaged that well with the third generation of UK anarcho bands like Conflict and Dirt – I wanted to like them all, but just couldn't – and I found all this foreign thrash much more exciting. Late '82 or early '83 was when I got the Asylum demo as well, this insane noise band from Stoke-On-Trent [the drummer of whom would go on to join Broken Bones], and that's still one of my favourite thrash recordings ever ...'
However, after a gig in London at the Recession Club with the Apostles (Miles even ended up drumming for them for three songs), Napalm Death ground to a temporary halt. Inspired by the likes of Asylum and United Mutation, Nik kept his hand in playing with, among others, the Useless Eaters and the brilliantly-named Thatcher's Guts.
'We'd all left school that year,' recalls Nik with regard to the cessation in Napalm's activities. 'I'd started hanging about with Justin Broadrick, who I'd met in Birmingham city centre at a stall that sold bootleg punk tapes by bands like Birthday Party and Killing Joke ...the other guy on this stall sold a lot of power electronics music, like Throbbing Gristle and Whitehouse. Anyway, we both realised we liked similar stuff – everything from Crass to Discharge – and we started doing industrial music together, this really intense, noisy power electronics ...we recorded hours and hours of it!
'I kinda drifted away a bit as well, although I still went to see Crass whenever they played – but I was sixteen, and I was listening to anything that had spirit ... not just punk and thrash but reggae and psychedelia, garage, rock'n'roll, early hip hop ... anything that had that rebellious spirit seemed to be part of a continuum really. We'd go to parties where we'd play Disorder, followed by the Pink Fairies, followed by some reggae, followed by Hawkwind ...
'It was a weird time – we were going to all these free festivals and crossing over with the hippies a bit, going to Stonehenge and things like that. Rat had bought a skateboard half-pipe in bits, and put it together in the middle of nowhere, and it was a strange summer – there'd be fifty people hanging out there, listening to thrash, smoking dope and drinking cider!'
By late 1984, Daz Russell had started booking hardcore punk shows at the Mermaid pub in Sparkhill where Nik, Justin and Miles all drank, a venue whose reputation grew until it became an essential date on any self-respecting punk band's UK tour and was regularly attracting punters from all over the country. And after regrouping to support Justin's band Final there, their last gig as it transpired, Napalm Death lurched back into active service. With Justin joining on guitar in July 1985, they played their first shows with the new line-up the following month.
'We actually did two gigs in one day! We went up to Telford and played this outdoor amphitheatre with Chumbawamba, Blyth Power and Flowers in the Dustbin. We took all these kids with us, like Pete who went on to be in Doom and ENT – he was only thirteen then. We did about seven songs, and I managed to snap all the strings on my bass after two numbers, so I borrowed Chumbawamba's bass and snapped one of theirs, and blew a cone in their bass cab ...
'By this point, we were wrapped up in various chemicals and hallucinogens, so we got the train back to Brum quite spaced out, and then played with We've Got A Fuzzbox And We're Going To Use It, just as they were starting out, at Peacocks in the middle of town. And we smashed all our equipment up when we played, kicked all the drums everywhere ... and realised we were quite excited about the band again!'
Napalm Death soon became virtually the house band at the Mermaid, an informal arrangement that suited both them and Daz, the promoter, as their local popularity helped ensure good crowds and guaranteed pay-offs for the travelling foreign bands.
'We played there with Rubella Ballet and the Sears at the start of September, then a week later we played there with Indecent Assault and Fall of Because, and then the week after that we played with Icons of Filth, Anti-System, Sacrilege and Contempt!'
Pete 'Peanut' Shaw (now a lecturer in music at a Birmingham city college) joined on bass at the end of September, and the 'Hatred Surge' demo was recorded at the eight-track Flick Studio in Birmingham, a recording that really marked the band's move towards an out-and-out thrash style, although there were still some strong Killing Joke and Amebix influences apparent, especially in Rat's thumping rhythms. It was, however, the final recording he would make with Napalm Death as Nik and Justin decided they needed someone decidedly quicker behind the kit if they were to truly fulfil their rapidly emerging vision of the band.
'Just after we did "Hatred Surge", we played with the Depraved and DOA,' recalls Nik, 'And then with Heresy, Concrete Sox and Varukers at the Mermaid, which was another nice gig. At the end of November, Peanut left – he just wasn't so into the band when we started speeding up – so I went back onto bass, but only for about a month, and during that month we went up to Nottingham and that was the first time we saw Extreme Noise Terror, at a Dig-organised thrash festival. For me and Justin, that really formalised it, and then we came back to Coventry and saw Disorder and Dirge play, so we had a full day of some of the best thrash in Britain and we were like, "It's gotta be done!"
'We did one of those really horrible, snide things that you do when you're young, where we basically kicked Rat out by telling him we were splitting up, and then reformed without him. It was really horrible, and it's something I regret – we could've done it so much better, or even had the two bands going, but we were so focused on what we wanted to sound like. There was no real animosity about it, though, we just sort of glossed over it all really. In fact, for the next two-and-a-half years, until he went off travelling around the world, I would still have classed Miles as my best friend! He was annoyed at first, but then accepted it and moved on ... he joined Anorexia briefly, and then started Aberration with Andy Nunn, who did a fanzine called Total Cannibalism and did the poetry on the first Doom album. They petered out by the end of '87, and he actually got back together with Finn and Graham from very early Napalm Death, and they did a band called Witch Hunt, who sounded exactly like the Mob. They did a demo that unfortunately got lost in the mists of time – but believe me, it was as close to sounding like a second album from the Mob as anyone could've got!'
Rat's replacement was Mick Harris, who had cut his teeth in the psychobilly band Martian Brain Squeeze (named after the Neos EP) and was then killing time with local punk act Anorexia (who also featured guitarist Dave Cochrane, who would go on to play bass with Head Of David), a raw, instinctive player of such speed and intensity it verged on the hysterical (and earned him such nicknames as 'the Human Tornado' and 'Mickey Whirlwind'). For several months gob-smacked audiences weren't sure whether Napalm Death were actually a serious band any longer, such was the undeniable novelty of their hyper-speed new drummer.
'I'd discovered Napalm around August or September of '85, and they were like an instant magnet for me,' reckons Mick. 'I think it was that whole "Napalm sound" that did it – Killing Joke mixed with Disorder and Chaos UK ... and there was some Amebix in there too, without a doubt. Me and Justin became good friends – he turned me on to loads of underground thrash and death metal and I started travelling off to a few gigs with them and their crew. One of the more memorable was an all-dayer at the Queen's Walk Community Centre in Nottingham, and just about everyone was playing – Chaos UK ...all the locals, like Concrete Sox and Heresy ... It was the first time I saw Extreme Noise Terror as well ...a great day out, we all went down on the coach and had a right laugh.
'About November '85, Justin told me that Rat wasn't really into the direction they were going with Napalm. He came along to an Anorexia rehearsal and at the end of it he just asked me to play as fast as I could. So I gave it my all, and he then asked me to join Napalm Death. I just wanted to play faster than fast ... faster than Siege, faster than Deep Wound ... Heresy had already taken it to the next level, and I just wanted to go even faster than that really. I wasn't a great drummer, but I could do this fast thing, and I put everything into it, and that was what Justin and Nik wanted.
'We had several rehearsals at my mum and dad's house; Justin didn't even have an amp, so we rigged him up through the hi-fi system! I can remember my mum saying, "As long as you're finished by two o'clock when I get back from work, I don't care!" And we got eleven or twelve songs together, had two rehearsals with Nik in a city centre rehearsal room, and did our first gig with Instigators and Amebix in the middle of January 1986 ... It was fantastic – it really came together well, and there was a definite energy there immediately, although a lot of people didn't know how the hell to react to what we were doing ...'
'It was a weird time for us really,' admits Nik. 'We were simultaneously disliked and a laughing stock, and it was frustrating for me 'cos I was young, and almost every band I really liked didn't like our band at all! But 'cos everyone thought we were crap, that partly spurred us on to keep doing what we were doing ...
'I never wanted to be in a band to be famous or make money; I just wanted to be in a band where I could express myself ... that was the key objective – to be me! So initially I didn't care about being drunk onstage, or taking all my clothes off and sticking drumsticks up my arse, or setting fire to my hair ... All those things seemed like good ideas at the time!
Excerpted from Trapped in a Scene UK Hardcore 1985-1989 by Ian Glasper. Copyright © 2012 Ian Glasper. Excerpted by permission of Cherry Red Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 WEST MIDLANDS,
The Depraved/Visions Of Change,
Joyce McKinney Experience,
CHAPTER 2 EAST MIDLANDS,
Filler/Eyes On You,
CHAPTER 3 THE NORTHWEST,
Doctor And The Crippens,
Mere Dead Men,
Feed Your Head,
CHAPTER 4 THE NORTHEAST,
Pleasant Valley Children,
CHAPTER 5 THE EAST,
Extreme Noise Terror,
CHAPTER 6 THE SOUTHEAST,
Long Cold Stare,
Bad Dress Sense,
Sons Of Bad Breath/Eat Shit,
Pro Patria Mori,
CHAPTER 7 THE SOUTH,
Salad From Atlantis,
Hate That Smile,
CHAPTER 8 THE SOUTHWEST,
Mad At The Sun,
Prophecy Of Doom,
CHAPTER 9 WALES,
CHAPTER 10 IRELAND,
Pink Turds In Space,
CHAPTER 11 SCOTLAND,
APPENDIX ONE LABELS,
APPENDIX TWO DISCOGRAPHIES,