I met her last Friday
At the local dance
She was across the room
I caught her glance
We started dancing
And before you know
I took her to my place
Where we were alone and she said..
Some used punk as a weapon to destroy, confront and affront, others used it to make a grand statement about society/music/economics and whilst I can dig all that I’ve always had a sizable soft spot for those scruffy little tykes who used it simply to jump nine years worth of dues paying and make the sort of pop music they wanted to hear, melodic, urgent, febrile and noisy.
Once when I was about 21 I went to visit my metal uncle there was a great big trunk in his spare room, a mate of his was moving house and had asked him to look after his record collection, I think I was already sorting them alphabetically by the time he got to the second ‘L’ in collection. It was a complete and utter treasure trove of punk LPs and singles, mostly glorious, wonderful singles. This was obviously a man who just kept his ear to the ground and bought anything he liked the sound of each week. All the singles by all the big guys and gals, lots of scary looking stuff by Crass and their ilk, but as I spent a deliriously happy afternoon with my uncle what really caught my ear was a track from 1977 called ‘The First Time’ by The Boys*.
I’d never heard of them before, basically as I found out later because they had been a pretty second division band and once I spotted another track by them called ‘Soda pressing’** the deal was sealed and I was a fan. Back to ‘The First Time’, a tale of sweet, consummated, teen lust/romance/lust. I know it’s a word I overuse but it is just perfect, fast guitar pop hastened along by the urgency of the times. It literally rang through my head incessantly for days after I first heard it, which is surely the whole point of good music.
But in those heady pre-internet days how did you find out about stuff like this? Jon Savage gave them a two-line mention in England’s Dreaming and that was that. I came across their second album Alternative Chartbusters a year and a bit later and snapped it up. The cover of the LP showed a bit more female flesh than was strictly allowed in 1978 by those of a serious punk disposition, although all the other English punk trappings are in full effect – skinny ties, vomiting and silly behaviour.
The LP itself is a bit of a mixed bag, the great slow-burning opener ‘Brickfield Nights’ is a cool evocation of being urban and young^, the boredom and the excitement,
On summer nights like a sauna
We always met by the corner light… (Brickfield Nights)
Then the girls came with their long hair
High heels and the make up never quite right
Then we hit some filler before they catch fire again with a quite faithful, if sped-up, cover of ‘Sway (Quien Sera)’, although I don’t remember Dean Martin shouting ‘Blow, you greasy wops!’ just before the horn solo. Next best is ‘Backstage pass’ a wry ode to a groupie with a beat filched from Phil Spector, (‘When Johnny Rotten / Has been forgotten / I will still be loving you’). Problem is though that elsewhere it ain’t great, you get samey punkoid blasts, mostly veering towards a very British rude magazine kinkiness, ‘Clasified Susie’, it’s not bad but it’s a way from being any good.
It took me another year again until I finally ran a pristine copy of The Boys to ground at a record fair in Leeds. It’s a lot of fun and a stronger set than Alternative Chartbusters. Opening with ‘Sick On You’, (All down your face, your dress, your legs and your shoes… Sick on you!), it never really looks back / gets much more tasteful from there on. They make us wait until the 8th track for ‘The First Time’, but that just makes it even better. The Boys offer us a good energetic cover of the Beatles ‘I Call Your Name’ (from the Long Tall Sally EP, fellow trainspotters). They nick the piano intro from the Stones’ ‘We Love You’ and speed it up for ‘Tumble With Me’ and the opening of ‘No Money’ sounds like a Motorhead track i can’t quite remember the name of right here and now.
It is funny though that despite all their modish references to being skint, cop cars and tenement kids, The Boys were clearly a bunch of imposters. You get a real sense that basically they just wanted to play loud, pull hot chicks, have a fight, drink beer and kick a football around; to enjoy being young and stupid for a while. Which is all absolutely fine, but wouldn’t have got you cleared for take off in 1977, so they had to add in a load of NME-appropved rhetoric. Hell, they have been second division punk, but they were gleefully so.
And that shot of joy is all you need sometimes.
Oh… oh oh oh… it`s my first time
Oh… oh oh oh… please be kind
Oh… oh oh oh… don`t hurt me
Oh… oh oh oh…
*that and a single by the Cortinas Fascist Dictator, pure unalloyed spur-of-the-moment genius.
**Unce Alastair had to explain the joke to me twice though.
^I’d imagine; growing up on a farm, I had make do with hanging around fields trying to feel alienated from the cows. Oh how I sometimes yearned to be growing up on a rough dead-end estate, as long as I could come safely back to the farm of an evening.