When I Done Them Things I Done Them Just For You

 There’s gonna be a borstal breakout
There’s gonna be a borstal breakout
There’s gonna be a borstal breakout
There’s gonna be a borstal breakout

Genius.  In my view genius* doesn’t come timidly tapping at your door and waits until you’re fully dressed, it kicks it off the hinges bursting in with a forward roll under cover of a shower of plaster and wooden splinters and surprises you watching quiz shows on TV in yesterdays’ Y-fronts and eating the remains of last night’s Chinese takeaway.  Meet Sham 69 The First, The Best & The Last, their greatest hits LP, banged out straight after they split in 1980.

Sham 69 01

Punk is a pretty unhelpful term in a lot of ways, we all know what we mean by it but it covers such a necessarily huge area it ends up meaning very little indeed if you scrutinise it.  Of course we use it to mean a certain type of attitude, or look,  but musically it can run the gamut from clever clogs like Wire and the Fall, through to the big-hitters like the Pistols, the Clash and the Buzzcocks, through to proto-hardcore monsters like Discharge and Subhumans and that’s just the English stuff.  Whilst I love all the irreverence, politics/sexual-politics and invention of a lot of these bands, I just can’t deny the full-on wallop of Sham 69, maybe because I was always a metaller before a punk.

The likes of ‘Borstal Breakout’, ‘If The Kids Are United’ and ‘Sunday Morning Nightmare’ just get me somewhere – fast.  They bypass all critical sensibilities and register somewhere in my brainstem – I’m a psychology graduate, I could probably draw you an annotated diagram if need be.  Basically their anger and their rhythm resonate with me**.  What I love about Sham 69 is the way that they hitch a full-on melodic sensibility to that Ramones beat and that football ground chanting.  The choruses of these tunes are ASTONISHING – on ‘If the Kids Are United’ you can actually hear the song waiting and moving out-of-the-way of the chorus, it’s so vast.

Sham 69 02

In 1978 Sham 69 released both their debut LP, Tell Us The Truth (which I don’t own) and the unintentionally funniest concept LP ever, That’s Life (which I do) and included within them is a clutch of singles which are every bit as good as anything else going on at the time.  Victims of a ridiculous amount of snobbery, because of their avowedly working-class roots and council estate sensibilities, Sham 69 from what I can tell as a 21st century music archaeologist seemed to spend all their time denying accusations of right-wing thuggery and denying those amongst their followers who leant that way.  This wasn’t any art school nonsense, this was fresh from the school of hard knocks.

The First, The Best & The Last is worth the price of admission for the manic laugh, gurgling and piggy noises that precede ‘Borstal Breakout’ and it gets even better when they actually play, because they could play; Dave Parsons really knew how to hammer a riff and the rhythm section of Dave Treganna (didn’t he play with Lords of the New Church later?) and Mark Cain were dead solid.  The first side is all damn good, the second side has ‘Hurry Up Harry’,

Come on, come on
Hurry up Harry come on
Come on, come on
Hurry up Harry come on
We’re going down the pub
We’re going down the pub

Brilliant stuff in its own right but hear it in the context of That’s Life and its’ genius is plain – sort of like hearing ‘Another Brick In The Wall Part 2’ on the radio, you don’t get the full dramascapeologyism of it all.  With the exception of the thugtastic ‘Hersham Boys’ which is a great track^, the whole rest of the second side is uninspired and straining for meaning.  unfortunately, Sham 69 hit that barrier between ability and intent pretty damn early, earlier than most in fact.  They were left with tuneless Who-influenced rock and sloganeering, not good and I’d imagine hence the break up in 1980.

Sham 69 03

But spin the first side of this LP, clear your brain of all cleverness or intricacy and just wallow in the Hersham boys with dirty faces uniting to break out of Borstal. Now all sing along and just rejoice!

For once in my life I’ve got something to say
I wanna say it now for now is today
A love has been given so why not enjoy
So let’s all grab and let’s all enjoy

If the kids are united then we’ll never be divided
If the kids are united then we’ll never be divided

273 Down.

P.S – Cultural Note: a Borstal was a young person’s prison , notorious for violence and brutal regimes, they were abolished in 1982.  There’s a TV play called Scum about them, not for the faint-hearted (like me). Also Brendan Behan’s brilliant autobiographical Borstal Boy – in fact read it, whether you care about Borstal’s, music, this blog, or anything else, just read it.

*like love, or more prosaically, the police.

**soft-living rural hippy boy that I am/was.

^although the 12″ version is stinky shit. Sorry, but its true have a listen on Spotify.

10 thoughts on “When I Done Them Things I Done Them Just For You

  1. I admit I love that punk music, but, for that period/location, I’ve never dug deeper than the big 3: Sex Pistols, Wire, and the Damned (the Clash felt like something else). Time to remedy that!

    Like

  2. I saw Sham in ’78. In Margate. Mr Pursey pulled this little punk up on stage to sing Borstal Breakout with him and all the skins. It was a magic moment.

    Like

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