The Business: 1980 – 88
Released 30 November 2018
Boxset encompassing everything Oi! legends the Business recorded between the years 1980 and 1988, including the albums Suburban Rebels, Saturday’s Heroes, Loud Proud And Punk Live and Welcome To The Real World…..Ian Canty talks about classic debut singles, record company skulduggery and Harry, Harry, Harry May………
There’s a great photo of the second line up of the Business in the booklet of this boxset. Sat in a pub, only bassist Mark Brennan is giving the camera a hard stare, but the other three have broad grins, looking incredibly young (“Have any proof you’re 18 son?”) and positively impish. The world is theirs, in that moment. Taking centre stage and sporting a trademark gap toothed smile, was the one and only Micky Fitz.
I remember quite recently one of Sleaford Mods chose Suburban Rebels on a playlist they put together in Mojo magazine. A rather backhanded compliment, though as he said words to the effect that Micky’s voice was horrible. As Alan Partridge might say, he was bang wrong. Mick’s voice was one part Pursey to two of Noddy Holder – a classic “street” holler and he could more than hold down a tune as well when required. What stopped the Business from being merely (Lewi) Sham 69 was his down to earth attitude, he obviously never saw himself as a youth leader or any of that rubbish. Musically the band had the happy knack of being able to knock out great tunes with big shoutalong choruses seemingly at will.
The Business had formed in the latter months of 1979 in Lewisham, South London and at the time of the above photograph Micky was the only one left from the original band. The rest of that first line up numbered guitarist Steve Kent, drummer Nick Cunningham and Martin Smith on bass. This version of the band have their recorded output brought together in disc one of this box, basically the tracks on the CD version of The Official Bootleg LP (minus the live stuff and Gonads songs), the Harry May single, their contributions to the Carry On Oi! album and a cover of Elton John’s Step Into Christmas (from the Bollocks To Christmas EP). These first batch of recordings found the band playing energetic New Wave/Pop Rock, not particularly Punky, but irrepressibly sparky and tuneful. They certainly could play and Micky was a confident presence out front, even at this stage.
Out In The Cold, which kicks off this collection, is extraordinary in its lyric which addresses a tragic tale of rape and murder. But it is not told in a salacious or insensitive manner and is some way off what would become to be seen as the “boots and braces on our feet” sort of cliché that became standard Oi! song words. This track was recut for the Sudden Surge Of Sound compilation album later in 1980, marking the first material released by the Business. Sound-wise here they weren’t unlike Eddie And The Hot Rods, anthemic but energetic Street Rock more than anything else. Streets Where You Live is typical of this stage if the Business’ development: an emotional and tuneful look at the things that beset ordinary folk on a day to day basis.
Things began to change when the band started to get some press in Sounds magazine and soon they were invited to contribute to the third Oi! LP, Carry On Oi!. The two tracks recorded for that comp represent a concise summary of where they came from and where they were heading, with Product having some of their original Pop/Rock sound and Suburban Rebels (penned by Steve Kent and Oi poet Garry Johnson) being much more in the classic Oi! mode.
Next came the Business’ debut recording in their own right, the Harry May/National Insurance Blacklist single for Secret, which was straight out of the top drawer. Hugely catchy with a mighty refrain, the guitar overload from Steve Kent verges on Heavy Metal, but nothing gets in the way of the song’s freewheeling power. I’ve always rather liked the quite funky bass line, which you when the guitar and vocals drop out midway through (actually often you couldn’t decipher the bass on a lot of early 80s UK Punk, so this made for a refreshing change).
The flipside was a goodie as well, again the Business looked to speak about things that few other Punk bands did, this time about union members being effectively blacklisted in the building trade. This big Indie chart hit initially worked to the detriment of the band, with only Micky willing to put in the touring required at this stage. So Kent, Smith and Cunningham dropped out and with 3 former members of the band the Blackout in Guitarist Steve Whale, Mark Brennan on bass and drummer Kevin Boyce (John Fisher and Graham Ball briefly figured in a 5 piece line up, before Boyce joined) roped in, the Business Mark 2 were all ready to go by early 1982.
The Smash The Discos single was the first recording by this new line up. You may not agree with its anti-dance message, but it came complete with a seriously Funky bass line yet again! Disco Girls, a continuation of the theme of the A side, was on the flip. This song’s odd structure makes it sound more like a Post Punk track from this distance. They also contributed the anthemic Loud, Proud And Punk to the Total Noise EP, which also featured Blitz, the Gonads (actually the Business backing Garry Bushell) and the Cockney Rejects under the pseudonym Dead Generation. Both waxings were pretty successful in the Indie charts and life on the face of it looked good for the newly reconstructed Business.
The momentum that had built up since the Harry May single should have led to an all-conquering debut LP, but a bitty recording process, coupled with the trials and tribulations that beset on the band through no fault of their own, meant that Suburban Rebels was seriously flawed. The original album tapes “disappeared”, seemingly because Secret hadn’t paid the studio, leaving the band to hurriedly re-record most of the LP (the original recordings make up the Smash The Discos LP, the first part of disc 3 here). Unbeknownst to the band, the record company was very close to going under and because of this rushed the Business to get something out to generate some cashflow. This all led to the record sounding nothing like as good as it should have. It goes without saying that having to re-cut most of the LP in a very short space of time didn’t help and even then the mix that Cockney Reject Mickey Geggus put together was eventually not used for some reason.
Suburban Rebels isn’t a bad album by any means, there’s some very good songs on it. Micky Fitz was in good voice as always and the band play well, but the overall sound does lack a bit of clout. A better production job would have surely brought the necessary thump to the dance. In the general rush to get the LP out the original recordings of Suburban Rebels and Harry May were pressed into service and very good they are too and a recording of Drinking And Driving somehow survived the tape kidnapping. Real Enemy, a powerful number and a much needed cry for unity on the splintering Punk scene of the time, also featured on Oi! Oi! That’s Yer Lot, so also sounded good.
On the whole though, the songs are much better heard on the Smash The Discos LP. They’re just more punchy and the ultra-basic Last Train To Clapham Junction, which didn’t make Suburban Rebels, is a noisy treat. They attempted to breach the chasm that had developed between Anarcho and Oi! on their version of Crass’ Do They Owe Use A Living. It was a nice try but didn’t really work, however this showed the Business were more about building bridges than putting up walls. Both songs were due to appear on the Out Of Business EP, which was withdrawn as the label went under. After long-term backer Garry Bushell slated Suburban Rebels in Sounds and with Secret’s headfirst tumble into bankruptcy, the Business quietly stopped trading in 1983, but not for too long.
In 1984 the good sales of the Official Bootleg LP prompted Syndicate label boss and ex-Business manager Lol Pryor to ask the band if they would be interested in recording a “Live In The Studio” album (something Syndicate did quite a lot). This was issued as Loud, Proud And Punk Live and forms the latter part of disc three here. It’s a good approximation of what the Business sounded like live, if not quite the real thing. Along with their LP and single material this features their version of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant.
Following on from the success of the “live” record and taking the reasonable view that what wasn’t broken had no need of any repairing action, the Business returned in 1985 with the Saturday’s Heroes album. This LP represented a big improvement on the production front from their debut and proved the band had not lost their flair for a good tune. The title track was classic Business and Spanish Jails also a good effort, this one the story of a Business fan who fell foul of the Spanish legal system. They recut Drinking And Driving from Suburban Rebels and the bonuses include goodies Outlaw (the sequel to Richard Lewis, both of which were about another one of the band’s early fans) and Coventry, a top tune which somehow missed the LP proper. Also we get their versions on Sham’s Hurry Up Harry and Hustler’s Get Out Of My House, which was released as a single.
After another period inactivity the Welcome To The Real World album appeared towards the end of the 80s. To be honest it didn’t really connect with me at the time and even on the 21st century reissue 16 years back I never paid it much heed. I was wrong. Although there are a few ropey tracks, it also has some really strong songs, like Ten Years (“We’re the Business, from Lewisham” is in my top 10 of shouty choruses of all-time), Do A Runner, Look At Him Now and the sarky title track. Overall it was a more than respectable showing. This portion of the box set has added to it two songs from the Main Event gig (Saturday’s Heroes and Harry May), plus different takes of Coventry, No Emotions and the EP version of Welcome To The Real World.
Though possibly not having much that the average Business fan won’t already own (perhaps their version of Step Into Christmas and the Main Event tracks?), nevertheless The Business 1980-88 is a fine one-stop shop for the early years of the band. Of course after this activity the Business went onto success in the US in the 90s, where they influenced such outfits as Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys. They also turned out some very good efforts like The Truth, The Whole Truth and Keep The Faith, but these are the tunes that really made their name.
When Micky succumbed to cancer on 1st December 2016 we lost one of Rock’s good guys. A tribute is planned at Berlin Punk And Disorderly festive in 2019, with the Business (including Steve Kent and Steve Whale) fronted by guest vocalists including Jeff Turner of the Cockney Rejects (details here). I’m sure it will be a great night and many will raise a glass to a true Punk Rock working class hero.
The Business are on Facebook here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here