The Art Of Punk by Russ Bestley & Alex Ogg – book review
Do we really need another âcoffee table bookâ on punk? Yes we do says Ged Babey. This one!
Firstly, despite its size; as heavy as a brick, the dimensions of a pile of 12inch singles; and despite the fact it has 900 illustrations, mostly in colour (except the black & white ones), this is most decidedly NOT a so-called âcoffee table bookâ. Thatâs an insult to the work thatâs gone into it (not just by the authors but by a cast of dozens of international punk collectors and experts in the field). Its got a lot of text; information, theory, analysis, humour and passion, which creates an âover-archingâ history and celebration of the graphic(s) side of punk, from pre-1977 up until the here and now. Thereâs a lifetimes devotion, insight, study, fascination and love, on the part of Ogg & Bestley to the cause of punk in this book.
They are âacademicsâ, nerds-with-attitude, but also proper die-hard music fans and nice geezers to boot. I remember Russ as skinhead bassist with Watch You Drown â a Pompey-area, Ruts influenced band in the mid 80âs. And I know Alex from online punk forums, the odd gig and the time he befriended me (a stranger) to help me out of a journalistic scrape (not of my own making). Despite a string of great books to his name, like No More Heroes , I still think of Alex as the mild-mannered journalist from Scunthorpe who a pissed Kirsty MacColl threatened to headbutt when she suspected he was from the eNeMEy.
Anyway, this book is a comprehensive study of punk graphics, artwork, lettering, fonts, design and images, the look of punk on posters, covers, flyers and fanzines. You know the stuff; the ransom-note-lettering of Jamie Reid, the logos and spray-paint-stencil style of Crass. Linder Sterlings classic image used by Malcolm Garrett on bright yellow backing for Orgasm Addict. Raymond Pettibons Black Flags bars … but it also covers the uncharted, maligned and the obscure, from all over the globe.
Set out chronologically and divided into seven chapters; Proto Punk, Punk Explosion, New Wave & Post-Punk, DIY, International, Anarcho, Oi! & Hardcore and Punkâs Not Dead.. The first six need no explanation but the final one is not to do with the Exploited but covers the legacy and brings it up to date.
This is not a book for casual punk-fans â itâs a full-on anorak, collector-scum bible! Its got everything from the pre-punk era âincluding a contribution from Hollywood Brats Andrew Matheson to European âpunksploitationâ sleeves. Forgotten but important figures in punk history like Skydog Records Marc Zermati have there say and equal space is given to each graphic artist and sub-genre irrespective of perceived importance.
Thereâs a hundred factoids that you never knew, like, the Subhumans asking a fan to do their sleeve art following a letter asking about upcoming gigs which happened to have lots of punk caricature doodles at the bottom.
You can just spend ages flicking thru the pictures, (Got that one, used to have thatâ¦) and while away a half an hour, but you can actually read this one as well. Alex Ogg is perhaps the Will Self of Rock Writing, with his formidable vocabulary and disorientating style tempered with a dry wit. I have learned at least how to use the word contemporaneously in the correct context.
Out of all the graphics in the book I gave the authors the impossible task of picking just one of their favourites and to tell us why… (Thatâs like asking for a favourite song â Iâll have a list of twenty and it would change daily…)
The cover of Killing Joke’s second single, Wardance/Pssyche. Not only was the music extraordinary on this record, Mike Coles’ cover image of Fred Astaire dancing across bodies in the trenches, set against an apocalyptic red sky, is a simple, literal, blunt but hugely effective summary of both the song title and the attitude of the group themselves.
I’ll go for the image on the rear cover of In God We Trust, the southern belles laughing as they pass a KKK crucifix burning. I always loved Winston Smith’s work because it’s soÂ relentlessly provocative, in keeping with theÂ canon of my favourite punk band, Dead Kennedys. It’sÂ both instantlyÂ hilarious andÂ incredibly dark, which is a neat trick.
To be honest Â£19.95 is a pretty fair price, postage adds another fiver, so get it from an old-fashioned high street shop. And, yes it would make an ideal Xmas gift for the punk fan in your life.
Amazing website by Russ featuring the sleeve art from every UK punk 7 inch of note can be found here.
All words by Ged Babey. More of Ged’s writing on Louder Than War can be found here.