Punk's Not Dead: Ian Glasper interviewed
Trapped In A Scene is the third - and final - volume in Ian Glasper's comprehensive history of British punk rock during the 1980s, the period when most critics wrote the entire genre off as simply flogging an increasingly knackered old horse. Over the course of 1400 pages (!) Glasper has sought to counter that notion, proving that in the provincial towns and cities, punk remained a vibrant and active scene that provided a home for tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of young people at a time of economic uncertainty and political unrest - experiences which continue to colour many participants' lives to this day.
At this distance, and at a time when mixing music and politics is about as fashionable as a pair of bondage trousers, all three books are fascinating insights into a much-neglected period in British youth culture and a music that continues to inspire new generations right around the globe.
The period covered in TIAS is really when punk went back underground - you couldn't necessarily point to many people and say they were a punk anymore. It was also the period when metal influences really began to change the way many punk bands sounded. What was the perception of 'punk rock' from within the scene at that time?
I think a lot of the UKHC bands associated 'punk' with gumbie studs and leather bands, which is why they distanced themselves from the whole concept by referring to themselves as 'hardcore'. Punk did get kinda stale and thankfully all those USHC bands like Bad Brains and DRI tore it a new asshole - which is why a lot of the UK bands started looking thataways for fresh inspiration. Those US bands were touring here at the time too and making the UK bands feel a bit redundant. Hindsight of course has reminded us that it was all punk rock at the end of the day and we were splitting hairs anyway!
The promo for 'Trapped In A Scene ...' describes the period as 'the last creative gasp' for UK punk. To what extent do you think that's true and, if so, what are the reasons behind the failure of British bands to keep taking things forward?
I think that was mainly me with my soundbite head on, haha! But yeah, to some extent it's true. The underground punk scene here hasn't really turned out anything totally new since those days, has it? But then neither have any of the other scenes around the world... it's not exactly about keeping taking things forward though, more like developing variations on a theme. Even totally killer bands like Behind Enemy Lines or Cross Stitched Eyes can have their sonic roots easily traced back to Icons Of Filth and Rudimentary Peni respectively.
Over the course of your three books you must've asked hundreds of band members about their first introduction to punk, so what was yours?
I was very aware of punk rock from the newspapers and Top Of The Pops and stuff, and I was loving the Antz and Killing Joke by about 1980, but the first time I REALLY felt a connection was when my cousin Mobs blasted me the 'Decontrol' single by Discharge. I'd never heard anything like it and it still gets me in the gut when I hear it today! Discharge channelled something totally primal, and it both fascinated and terrified me... and those are the two stimuli that teenagers respond best to!
In the earlier volumes, one of the most striking things is just how much violence there was, especially in the early 80s - between bands and audience, different scenes, even punks from different towns. It was a scary time, something that seems to be forgotten when the news is reporting the latest youth crime panic ...
Personally speaking, that violence carried on into the late Eighties for the band I was in, Decadence Within - we were having gigs trashed as late as '87 and '88 - and it was some scary shit, with people getting stabbed, glassed, and even twatted with baseball bats. Don't get me wrong, it was thankfully an infrequent occurence, but when it kicked off, it really kicked off! Having said that, I saw a gun being brandished at a gig in Europe once, so maybe it wasn't so bad over here!
One other aspect that sticks out is the poverty. So many bands were having to borrow gear all the time, travel to gigs on buses. It was hard work being a band then! Bands have it too easy these days, don't you think?
At risk of sounding like an old-timer, damn right! We used to have to con church halls into letting us practise there, then beg and borrow gear from wherever we could find it, and then take it there in shopping trolleys - even if it was pissing down with rain! All of my gear was second-hand for at least the first ten years of my being in bands and it was predominantly SHITE! I was still at school when we started out, of course, and whilst my upbringing was comfortable there was no spare money for a Marshall stack for Xmas or anything! Then I was living in a bedsit and bringing in just less than what I needed to pay my rent and grocery and utility bills, so investing in musical equipment couldn't have been further from my mind!
Perhaps the most inspiring thing about the anarcho-punk volume is how much people's lives continue to be coloured by their time in punk. Even if they're not still playing music, they're still vegetarian, still involved in politics or have followed careers that, on some level, look to make the world a better place. Is that one of the lasting legacies of the period?
Yeah, definitely. You carry that attitude with you forever, I'm sure. You can almost spot an ex-punk by their cynical response to government spin stories etc... and most of the veggies I knew back then (myself included) are still meat-free. We might not all be in enlightened jobs, but most of us try to bring our own integrity to the roles we play.
Was there anyone you spoke to in the course of your research who changed the way you thought about punk or had a perspective on the whole period that made you re-assess things?
Hmmm, as much as I'd like to answer YES to the first part of this question, not really! Although many of them happily reaffirmed my perception that they were intelligent caring people, you know what I mean? Their lyrics suggested they were clever folk and it was great when that turned out to be the case!
Was there anyone you'd've liked to have spoken to but were unable to track down?
As regards people I really wanted to interview, but couldn't get a-hold of: for book 1, Wattie from The Exploited, book 2, Vi Subversa from Poison Girls, and book 3, Shane Embury from Napalm Death.
Of course, punk has never completely gone away. Given the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, record levels of youth unemployment, etc. is it strange not to see that reflected more in new music? Even if it wasn't in the 'punk rock' format, you'd think music would be angrier.
Well, there's still a lot of angry punk music out there and some of the more metal bands have made some pretty right-on statements in recent years.
If you were to pick out three albums from each of the three scenes you've covered, what would they be?
Damn, this is a hard question! There's so much to choose from, but I'll do my best for you!
From the 'Burning Britain' genre: Discharge 'Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing', The Exploited 'Troops Of Tomorrow' and Anti Pasti 'Last Call'. From 'The Day The Country Died': Flux Of Pink Indians 'Strive To Survive...', Rudimentary Peni 'Death Church', and Icons Of Filth 'Onward Christian Soldiers'. From 'Trapped In A Scene': Napalm Death 'Scum', Bad Beach 'Cornucopia' and The Depraved 'Come On Down'.
Trapped In A Scene is available now via Cherry Red Books.