Punk Book - spitting and screaming

Punk Book - spitting and screamingNeil Saint “Spitting and Screaming: The True Story of British Punk (1971-1979); New Haven Publishing 2021

New author Neil Saint – of Retropopic Radio fame – takes a look at some of the many strands that helped shape the punk scene of the ’70s. It’s been done before, by writers like Jon Savage, John Robb and Clinton Heylin among others, but there’s always something new to be found. So did Punk burst out fully formed in the ’76 London heatwave, birthed by the entrepreneurial genius of Malcolm Maclaren, or had the Yanks had it all along? Or maybe that’s too simplistic?

The book’s structure is straightforward, working as a kind of potted history of punk stepping back from the break-out years of 76 & 77 to examine some of the roots and forerunners of punk. The first chapter introduces the main players – or those willing to talk and still alive – before taking a look at the London pub rock scene of 1971-75, before moving to the key years of 76-78, and rounding up with the “afterburn of punk” in 1979, before rounding things off with an epilogue and a very brief tribute to Malcolm Maclaren.

The chapters are made up of interview quotes edited together. After a while the book settles into a pattern, springing into life whenever Vic Godard, John Perry, Gaye Advert and Wilko Johnson are talking with their experience, insight and humour. There are some intriguing contributions from UA records’ Andrew Lauder and Charlie Harper – I was always a bit dismissive of the second wave of UK punk groups, but he comes across as committed to the cause as anyone in the book.

There are a few rather random US contributors, along with a couple of non-musical folks who don’t add a lot to the narrative. A few pages listing the interviewees with a bit of background and info on what they’re doing now would’ve been helpful.

For the most part, the book adheres to the Sex Pistols/Clash/Damned holy trinity as the embodiment of punk. There’s some examination of the US punk scene (and a bit of padding about the history of the word), but very much based around the now famous New York punk clubs. There’s always been debate about Who Came First or was it more a case of the UK and US scenes evolving separately at the same time, but I’m not sure it’s resolved here.

The earlier part of the book succeeds in capturing and describing the grimy grey London of the early and mid-70s. Everything was pretty ramshackle but compared to now, life was relatively cheap, there were lots of pubs and clubs for live music, and – pre-gentrification – no shortage of affordable flats or squats. It’d become evident that there was a growing vacuum with big name groups playing less & less often, and the presence of a younger audience who wanted to move on from their big brothers’ 60’s heroes. Again, this didn’t happen by accident, and some of the book’s best material concerns pioneers like Dave “Stiff Records” Robinson who’d cut their teeth in the heyday of the US rock scene, as tour manager for no less than Jimi Hendrix. Initially, there was a strong US/Little Feat-wannabe feel about the pub bands like Brinsley Schwarz, Eggs over Easy & Bees Make Honey, but Ducks Deluxe brought in a tougher edge and from there it was only a short hop to link up with the sounds coming from the city’s eastern outskirts in the form of Dr Feelgood & Eddie and the Hot Rods.

Stiff Records showed that the major labels didn’t have a divine right to monopolise what people heard or could buy, and paved the way for the explosion of DIY labels that followed, especially after the Buzzcocks groundbreaking Spiral Scratch ep. John Perry is particularly informative on the ins and outs of a vibrant and accelerating gig scene, and the significance of groups like the Heartbreakers, older and with a background in R’n’B that didn’t exclude anything done the day before yesterday. Whereas the “year zero” outlook of many UK punks quickly lead to a dead end, the Heartbreakers – for all their sloppy junky ways – knew how to put a song together and pace a live set, though it’s a pity their more professional approach didn’t extend to the production of the “LAMF” album.

It’ll be interesting to see where Neil Saint goes next with his writing. He’s clearly passionate about music and communicating that love, which is always a good starting point. Maybe one day there’ll be a multi-volume definitive history of punk rock in all its different times and places, but for now, this is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in hearing what some of the major players – and some footnote and fringe figures – have to say a generation or so later.

You can purchase the book here:

All words by Den Browne, you can read more on his author profile here:

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I’m 69 years old and have been passionate about music since the mid-60’s when my Dansette and pirate radio saved me from a life of light entertainment boredom. My Dad warned me that it wouldn’t be too long till I grew out of “all this pop nonsense”. It hasn’t happened yet though. LTW reviews editor Melanie Smith and I met via a review I’d done of Nina Antonia’s Peter Perrett biography, “The One and Only” many years ago. (still possibly my favourite music book). I worked with Mel on the Mudkiss online ‘zine for several years, providing some great opportunities, meeting legends like Vic Godard and JC Carroll. I’ve also read some of my stories on Resonancefm and Radio Joy, and plan a radio/slight return in the near future. I’m involved in doing Deviation Street ‘zine/project with Brian Robert Gibson (www.deviationstreetmagazine.com). My main areas of interest are punk/post-punk and “outsider art” in general. It’d take too long to list all the music I love, and anyway it changes along the way, but I’d own up to a definite late 60s/70’s bias, whether we’re talking roots reggae, “conscious” soul, punk, post punk, “Nuggets” era garage, Steely Dan, Bowie, Velvet Underground, Dylan, classic Stax/Tamla/Atlantic soul - and the odd random obsession like the Triffids. As a reviewer, I much prefer to emphasize the positive rather than put the boot in – though sometimes the temptation’s too much – if one person discovers something they love that way, it’s “job done” for me.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Mr Browne, I really enjoyed reading your intelligent review of me book :)

    I didn’t really set out to come down on one side of the other in the ‘did it start in the US’ or ‘did it start in the UK’ debate but I did put my cards on the table in my intro about the individual that made British punk what it became in 76/77. Where punk started depends on the perspective you have and will never be written in stone for an Indiana Jones to find somewhere.

    Fair comment about the short piece on McLaren at the end. It really wasn’t intentional and sprang out of the visceral affection Roadent, Legs McNeil & Vic Godard expressed towards him. I guess that suggested to me this notorious reputation he has might be unfair.

    In terms of the unknowns, I think Robert Moe was actually quite a well known supporter of the scene at CBGB’s and still lives in NYC supporting what scene there is there still. Surely you can’t mean Bob of The Shirts though? The Shirts played so much at CBGB’s they were often wrongly regarded as the house band there. In terms of Ronny Dap from Oz well I would say he’s someone to research….

    Writing about punk has indeed been done before but I completely agree with the main theme of your review ‘there’s always something new to be found’.

    Fair, honest and intelligent Den Browne is the man to have review your book!

  2. Hello Den Browne,

    My name is Patrick Higgins, I’m a French photographer.

    Thank you for your very fair review of Neil Saint’s book ‘Spitting and Screaming’.

    I took part (back cover picture) by giving him one of my photographs of Wilko Johnson, taken in London in 1990.

    Regards from France.

    Patrick

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