Debut album by ‘man in the street’ punks from Southampton The Reaktors, featuring their football anthem “Rickie Lambert”. Ged Babey has a kick about.
“I’ve met the man in the street and he’s a cunt.” – Sid Vicious, 1977 Judy Vermorel interview
“This is Joe Public speaking!” – Complete Control, The Clash
In the beginning (1976), punk was not something the general public embraced. It was the battleground for rebels, art-students, politicos, freaks and weirdos who questioned everything. Rules are for fules. Over the decades though, and thirty six years on, the smarter element of Joe Public has come around to the same way of thinking. Sod the monarchy, eat-the-rich, protest-to-survive… A good percentage of the men on the street have a bit of ingrained punk atitude. They may be an almost invisible subsection of society; taxi drivers, postmen, plumbers… Practically indistinguishable from the bigots, Sun readers and UKIP voters, but they are there, ‘The Man In the Street’ punks.
Like The Reaktors, for example. Ordinary looking geezers in t-shirts, denims and trainers. They look like they should be behind the wheel of a white van, or fixing your stopcock, or propping up the bar with the footy on a widescreen… They don’t necessarily look like a killer rock ‘n’ roll machine. They are the ‘Men In the Street’….. Pretty early on in the day, as it happens, as a couple are postmen.
Brian Rowlings didn’t know he was a punk rock vocalist until later in life. He was over 45 when he was persuaded to join a mate’s band because they knew he was a Clash, Stiff Little Fingers and Ruts fan, and an opinionated bloke, so he was bound to be able to sing in a punk rock fashion right? Right. He’s no Pavarotti but he gives it a go and sounds like a young(er) Charlie Harper if he was from Hampshire.
At first glance, The Reaktors are just another provincial, old-school, Clash-inspired punk band who’d rather wear their favourite band names on their chests than wear their hearts on their sleeves (the obligatory figure-hugging black band t-shirt – Brian is modelling his Ruts T in the band’s video and wore a fetching pink on black Buzzcocks one at the album launch)… The highlights on their CV are positive attention from Strummerville and playing support to perennial favourites The UK Subs and 999.
But there is a bit of local history in Reaktors in the form of guitarist Rowley. He was in a Southampton band in the early 90’s called Evol. The name won’t mean anything to people outside Hampshire, perhaps, but they were managed by the late Mint Burston and highly rated, sounding not dissimilar to, but pre-dating Oasis, with a Sonic Youth influence instead of a Beatles fixation. Rowley has lost none of his fire and skill. His musicianship brings this album up to a standard much higher than yer average ‘punk debut’, even though a couple of hooks and riffs are nicked/adapted from “Babylon’s Burning” and The Pixies‘ “Wave of Mutilation”, as well as some recycled Evol riffs. The sound is made even heavier by the recent addition of 17-year old rhythm guitarist Elanis, who thankfully brings a bit of youth and glamour to an otherwise ugly bunch of grizzled veterans.
The ten track album is a solid, well-produced labour of love that took three years to come to fruition (and then they give it away for free!). In true punk rock ‘we’ve got sumfink to say’ tradition, every song is about matters close to The Reaktors’ (and therefore The Man in the Streets’) hearts; unemployment, politics, birds and football!
Their determination for every song to say something about real life means there is an overall pissed-off feel and a lack of humour, maybe. The album needs a lighter moment. Something like the classic Sham b-side “Sunday Morning Nightmare” or the Upstarts cover of “The Young Ones”, that kinda thing. That said, their football song about “Southampton goal-machine” Rickie Lambert is the the most immediate, a singalong number, made up as it is of various football chants. It’s a terrace anthem with Pistols power chords and the same spirit as the Cockney Rejects‘ ‘Forever Blowing Bubbles’.
“Dole Queue” and “Tories Out” are self explanatory rockers. “Love Or Hate” and “Guilty Heart” are concerned with abusive relationships and adultery. “Left On the Shelf” sounds like a cross between Buzzcocks and Neil Young‘s Crazy Horse.
“You Are My Enemy” is reminiscent of guitar gangsters The Godfathers and has a hint of Goldblade style rabble-rousing. Similarly, the title track seems to be about reclaiming the streets of a housing estate from dealers and gangs, and is musically the toughest and fastest of the songs.
The opening and closing tracks are two of the best; “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” is a plea to bring our troops back from war zones, with some top notch drumming from Scots ex-pat Steve Hogg, and the moody “You Don’t Know what it’s Like”, with its stolen riff given a re-spray.
Hardcore punk fans might find the pace a bit ‘plodding’ at times, but this is traditional style punk with tunes and melody as well as some sharp riffs ‘n’ hooks.
They would probably be the first to admit that they aren’t the most original band in the world, and super stardom isn’t their aim. The Reaktors definitely ‘mean it maan’, and have released the very best album they are capable of and a piece of work to be proud of, one that old skool punks and Vive Le Rock readers alike can blast out in the van on the way to work…and get pissed and sing along to at home instead of reading The Sun.
Not all ‘Men in the Street’ are cunts, Sid.
All words by Ged Babey. More writing by him on LTW can be found here.