Vice Squad

Foremans Bar

Sept 8th  2013

Modern re-appraisals of punk all to often treat the UK as one cohesive state in which the genre manifested in one form. The truth is, of course, very different and I can’t help but feel that one of the most interesting and varied cities was Bristol in terms of what it did with the word “punk” – contrast the pop sensibility of The Letters with the jazz-inspired innovation of The Pop Group, for example.

One such band to emerge from Bristol in the punk years were Vice Squad, fronted by the strident then-teenager Beki Bondage, an incredibly friendly, frank and warm individual. I use this as my starting point in my interview with her and longstanding guitarist Paul Rooney…

Bristol was one of the most interesting and varied scenes in terms of what it did with “punk”….was there a cohesive scene?

Beki Bondage: During the second wave, we saw lots of bands at The Granary and the Lacarno, so yes…although one of the best places was The Crown… a room split into two that was half a punk bar and half an Irish pub!

What kind of relationship did you have with the media?

Beki: Well the first wave of punk seemed to be looking down on the second wave, but we were the ones they had influenced, that we looked up to! Some of the problems that set in with the second wave was that you had to look a certain way; a very rigid idea of how you should look, with the Mohicans and everything, set in, whereas to me punk had meant bin liners and do-it-yourself. It was supposed to be about going against the grain.

We financed our first single and put it out on our own label – Riot City  Records, it just sort of trips off the tongue. We were more about innovation than making money. Smaller labels were good at turning buying records into an actual event; like the Damned releasing “Smash It Up” with four different picture sleeves…

What sort of audiences do you get and what does that say about the state of punk?

Beki: We get a broad age range, mainly punks but it varies. There was one incredibly looking straight lady at our gig last night – she said “I don’t really like punk, my husbands dragged me here, but this is brilliant!”

Subcultures have learnt that they all need to band together against the mainstream. But then again a lot of bands mixing genres together helped that.

I suppose that’s the beauty of post-punk…

Beki: Oh, absolutely, and I loved a lot of that…(laughing)I listened to Joy Division because I embraced my teenage angst! Then you get out into the real world and realise it really is like that. Multiculturalism was very positively used in this musical respect as well. That’s not to say the wider world wasn’t still racist, and sexist….

Did you not find that industry sexism was less of a problem, being on your own label?

Beki: Oh no, there was still plenty of sexism! I was outspoken anyway and being a young girl got me a lot of attention…I sometimes tried to behave how the men did; using them sexually, but it wasn’t me, being that cold and aggressive. Its just not nice, is it?

You’ve said you were never comfortable with being a pin-up…

Well its just that I was in a band; that’s the only reason I was a pin-up. Rock ‘n’roll is sexy…

(I point out that I doubt that was the ONLY reason Beki was a pin –up, being as she is very attractive)

I was never attractive, its just the way rock’n’roll sexualises people instantly, makes them attractive.

You were influenced by anarcho-punk when that appeared, was that a long-standing thing?

Oh yes, the vegetarian and feminist opinions of people like Crass simply reinforced what I already believed in. And it was a widespread influence on people…the same people who had taken the piss out of me for being veggie were now going veggie themselves!

People eat meat because its legal. But there was a time when the rich would’ve shot peasants…the people who eat meat now would have been those people. We think we are still caring, but we are not, there’s a me, me, me attitude in this country…

Is that the legacy of Thatcherism?

That woman ruined the country! Everything about us that had proved good after the War, pulling together, she ruined, made us all about ourselves…there is such a lot of cruelty about. Real cruelty…surely we can find some sort of Nazism in reverse system, were we kill the cruel…

Well Adorno managed to identify the traits that make up the Authoritarian Personality, so we could single those people out…

Well there you go then!

~

I let Beki go at this point when her attention is required elsewhere, but I could quite happily have spoken to her all evening. She’s exactly how you want your female punk singers to be; funny, feisty, outspoken. Tonights set proves her singing voice is in just as fine form. Opening with “Defiant” and running into a few technical hitches, Vice Squad soldier on with admirable professionalism.

Beki claims more than once to hate acoustic guitars because of such problems, but Vice Squad actually lend themselves incredibly well to the acoustic format. With their driving rock sound stripped back to something more minimal, the throaty strength of Beki’s voice really comes through – she almost sounds like a punk Maggie Bell.

The relationship between band and venue works well as well – once again I’m at the 45-capacity Foremans, and such an intimate environment demands charisma. Vice Squad have this in spades, with banter to rival the Damned and an unpretentious sense of humour, bass player Wayne Wrexham plays the entire set dressed in nothing but a leopard print codpiece, and frequently performs a comedy impression of drummer Violet Cannibal, who watches most of the set with the rest of the crowd. At once incredibly good-humoured but also deadly serious when it matters, Vice Squad have got entertaining down to a fine art in every respect.

~

Vice Squad’s website is here. They also have a Facebook page.

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