The Albums 1977 – 1980
Released 25 May 2018
Boxset containing the first three albums by the Nick Cash-led Punk band, with an extra disc full of single cuts, rare tracks and compilation appearances….LTW’s Ian Canty hears something nasty nasty rumbling out from Pub Rock into ’77 Punk…..
When Keith Lucas left Kilburn And The High Roads, after the Handsome album was left almost bereft of his guitar interjections, he took a while out taking stock. But at the end of 1976 he launched a new band, originally bearing the moniker 48 Hours. Very taken with the energy of the emerging Punk scene in London, he changed his name to Nick Cash and recruited Jon Watson on bass and guitarist Guy Days (Cash’s brother), with one time Clash drummer and Joe Strummer school pal Pablo Labritain completing the line up. Tony James and Chrissie Hynde were among those who auditioned for the band, but ultimately didn’t make the cut. Soon switching the band’s name to 999, they set about carving out a reputation as an explosive live band in the metropolis and surrounding areas.
Cash’s past alongside Ian Dury and the rather stylised and very bright visual image of the band led some to dismiss them as a “phoney” outfit, a cash-in Punk band if you would pardon the pun. Not something I would necessarily agree with, but they were different times, where the façade of impeccable street cred ruled the roost. This led to 999 perhaps not being viewed as genuine contenders and the eternally cool Seditionaries-clad purists gave them a wide berth. It was very much their loss.
What could not be denied was the power of 999 and their song crafting abilities – all four were talented musicians and the band possessed nifty songwriting skills, reeling off catchy and mighty three minute Pop rockers seemingly at will. The band took the step of putting out their first single on their drummer’s Labritain imprint, one of the first independent recordings of the New Wave. A fine record it was too, I’m Alive capturing that initial queasy thrill and energy-filled blur of 1977. Soon snapped up by United Artists, they followed that up with the fast and furious Nasty Nasty/No Pity towards the end of 1977 and busily got to work recorded their first LP.
Though it has come to be regarded as not as good as their second album Separates, there is nothing at all wrong with their self-titled debut album. In fact it contains some very good music, including what might have been their best single moment, the Emergency single. There’s also a recut of the first 7″, I’m Alive, killer “track one, side one” Me And My Desire and the headlong rush of Hit Me. Crazy is a great silly bit of Rock & Roll and Titanic (My Over) Reaction another goodie, tensely building to each chorus’ blast of exultant noise. Listening to this record for the first time in a while, I noticed that Direct Action Briefing seems to have a little of T-Rex’s Solid Gone Easy Action in it, only a sliver but to these ears it is there. They had a bit of Glam in there among their tough Rockin’ roots. With a couple more songs of similar stature to Emergency it could have been a classic, but as it stood this was still a pretty good effort in anyone’s book.
Like Buzzcocks in the same year, Nine Nine Nine turned things around quickly and the second LP Separates was on shelves by autumn 1978. The Homicide single was really unfortunate in not pushing the band to a breakthrough, stopping at number 40 in the UK national charts. A real shame as the record was a peach and a hit would have been just reward for Cash and the boys (in the gang!). This single was more of a road-tested piece of sturdy modern Rock & Roll than anything else, but the memorable hook-line and chant-along chorus made it ideal for the changing Post Punk times of 1978.
It also set the tone for the album. Feelin’ Alright With The Crew cemented itself in the band’s live set, a Ska/Reggae guitar competes with a burbling bass part, topped off with an assertive strident rhythm and Cash’s vocal yelps. The two-parter Crime works despite being a bit hammy in the second section, the strength of the original tune compensating. If High Energy Plan harks back to the early, rough and tumble days (plus some odd “pinball” effect), Wolf and Brightest View are skilfully endowed with great tunes and assured playing. This disc features the bonus 7″ originally given away with the album and the two tracks included, Waiting and Action, were a pair of Power Pop belters. A nice way to round off a great album.
Between the second and third LPs 999 began to make a mark in American – almost a first for British Punk bands. As a result of spending a lot of time touring the States to cement their reputation there, the sole recorded artefact of 1979 was the Found Out Too Late single on Radar (this record included as an extra, a Country Punk oddity that just about reached the UK Top 75), after the band left United Artists.
They moved on again, this time to Polydor, for third album The Biggest Prize In Sport. On this record they veered far closer to New Wave Pop/Rock than their early, more raucous recordings, but this was still a pretty enjoyable platter. Inside Out is a great slice of New Wave Pop, with an insidious melody that quickly lodges itself in one’s memory banks. Both Boys In The Gang and English Wipeout rowdy and rock-solid street Rock and Rollers and Stranger is just a great bit of Glammy Pop Rock. The title track being a typical piece of anthemic and noisy Pop, with slyly humourous lyrics. Trouble, with a gentle Blue Beat core, is a nice contrast. It’s very well done and restrained, a world away from the squeals and fury of I’m Alive. This showed they could stretch out in other areas with ease and Stop! Stop! even goes back to the birth of Rock in the 50s for its inspiration.
The bonus disc ties up all the non-album tracks recorded during the three years. We get both sides of early singles I’m Alive and Nasty Nasty, with quality flipsides Quite Disappointing and No Pity. They still sound rough and ready, but charming with it. The proof of their abilities is that eminently singalong-able efforts like those two, Lie Lie Lie and the Rockabilly-infused You Can’t Buy Me were hidden away on b-sides. It is great to have their contributions to the Hope And Anchor Front Row Festival Comp (now that is something that needs a reissue of its own!), hectic but fun live outings for Quite Disappointing and Crazy. The final section is The Biggest Tour In Sport mini-LP, which would have made more sense being attached to its parent album, but it does show the band on good form.
After The Biggest Prize in Sport they recorded another good album in Concrete, which also made the lower reaches of Billboard chart in the US. Then came a disastrous dalliance with electropop on 13th Floor Madness, which set the band back a pace. They did rally with a sixth album in 1985 called Face To Face. Despite it being somewhat of a return to form, with their US success just a distant memory they folded in 1987. However they returned soon after and most recently turned in the pretty decent Death In Soho LP a few years ago. They remain a great live band, with still 3 original members!
Putting aside any age-old bandwagon accusations (which deserve to be long forgotten by now), 999 were a remarkably consistent outfit during the timespan this boxset documents, releasing some very good albums and plenty of excellent singles too. Included here are some prime examples of 70s Punk Rock and The Albums 1977-80 is still a great to listen to. Yes they weren’t the Clash or the Pistols, they didn’t have the socio-political edge, but they were an unpretentious, hardworking outfit that had an innate skill to spin out some noisy and tuneful fun.
If there is a 999-shaped hole in your collection this box is the perfect fit, though fans will probably already own most of what is here. For those new to the band, this is the ideal primer. In their first three years Nine Nine Nine seldom put a foot wrong, being one of the most consistently enjoyable acts of their type and recording the three albums here, which stand up well all these years on.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here