Punk rock emerged in the mid-1970s and is now regarded as one of the most influential music genres ever. In the United Kingdom especially, punk became a huge cultural phenomenon which created a punk sub-culture in the country which still exists to this day. Side-Line has decided to take a look back at the British punk rock scene and the bands which played the largest role in creating punk rock.
Joe Strummer and The Clash
The Clash were instrumental in establishing the original wave of Punk Rock in the United Kingdom with their self-titled debut album, The Clash. Funnily enough, the punk scene initially regarded The Clash as having sold-out after signing a record deal worth £100,000 with CBS Records following their success in the UK. At this point, the band had only played a total of around 30 gigs and had never headlined either. Lead singer Joe Strummer would later claim that signing the contract did “bother him a lot but it provided the band and himself with two years of security.” Regardless, Strummer and The Clash would go on to release two more albums in quick succession, their second album Give ‘Em Enough Rope (1978) was a success but their third album, London Calling (1979) gave them the success they craved in the USA. London Calling is now regarded as one of the greatest rock albums of all time.
As for Joe Strummer (real name John Mellor), he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in January 2003, around a month after his death. Inspired by Little Richard, the Beach Boys and Woody Gutherie, Strummer initially played for the band 101ers before he opted to join Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, Terry Chimes and Keith Levene and form The Clash. Like many of the Punk Rock bands from the era, the road was not an easy one. Only Strummer himself and the bassist Paul Simonon remained constant members of the band.
The Clash are considered one of the most overtly political, explosive and exciting bands in rock and roll history according to the Rock Hall.
Johnny Rotten, Sid Vicious and The Sex Pistols
Johnny Rotten aka John Lydon is arguably the most famous British rock icon of all time. Due to Lydon’s outspoken personality, rebellious image and his bands controversial lyrics, the Sex Pistols are regarded as one of the most influential bands in the history of music. Despite the legacy of the Sex Pistols, the band only released on studio album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols in 1997.In fact, the Sex Pistols were only together for three years from 1975-78. The Sex Pistols manager, Malcolm McLaren had many disagreements with Lydon, one of the main reasons why the band collapsed in on itself. But the success of the Sex Pistols wasn’t only down to Lydon.
When bassist Glen Matlock quit the band due to disagreements with Lydon, Lydon recommended that his school friend John Simon Ritchie should join. Although Ritchie was not even close to having the same skills as Matlock, both Mclaren and Lydon agreed that he had the appearance which fitted the group perfectly. Ritchie used the name Sid Vicious with McLaren stating: “If Johnny Rotten is the voice of punk, then Vicious is the attitude.” Unfortunately, and despite the huge success of the Sex Pistols, the band were in constant disputes with one another which culminated in the band splitting up. Sid Vicious would go onto have a successful but short solo career. He died from a drug overdose when he was just 21 years old.
Lydon is now regarded as a national treasure in the UK and in 2002 was named among the 100 greatest Britons.
Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks
Hailing from Bolton, England, the punk rock band Buzzcocks was formed by the talented singer-songwriter-guitarist Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, in 1976. Unlike many of the top bands formed during the UK punk rock era, Buzzcocks are still active in 2021, despite the fact that Shelley died in 2018. Both Shelley and Devoto were inspired by watching the Sex Pistols perform live. The first appearance of Buzzcocks was in Manchester in 1976 where they opened for the Sex Pistols.
In 1977, Buzzcocks released Spiral Scratch which became one of the earliest releases by a British punk rock band. Interestingly enough, Shelley was unlike his punk contemporaries, stating in 1978 that he “won’t be nasty. We are just four nice lads, the kind of people you could take home to your parents.” This statement wasn’t in jest either.
In 1981, the group disbanded after Shelley took up a solo career. By 2002, Shelley and Devoto teamed up for a second time producing the album Buzzkunst which was a mix of electronic music and punk.
Dave Vanian and The Damned
Formed in London in 1976 by Dave Vanian, Brian James, Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies, The Damned were the first UK punk rock band to release a single, an album and tour the USA. The groups fast-driven punk rock has been credited for influencing the hardcore punk scene. The Damned went on to become a greater influencer of the Goth sub-culture partly thanks to Vanian’s vampire-themed costume, dark lyrics and baritone voice.
Unlike many of the other famous punk rockers of his era, Dave Vanian lived a remarkably private life. He did not offer any input into the Damned biography, preferring to stay completely out of the limelight.
Punk Rock Today
Punk Rock groups in the 1970s were some of the biggest influencers of British music ever. It was not long before the punk rock era found its way across the pond to the USA. Punk rock in the 21st century is still fondly remembered. The Sex Pistols and The Clash remain two of the most widely known and most highly regarded British music groups of all time. The Sex Pistols’ Sid Vicious’ romance with Nancy Spungen was even referenced in an episode of The Simpsons. Vicious was portrayed by the Simpsons character Nelson Muntz. Whilst developers No Limit City created the popular Punk Rocker slot game based on the British Punk Rock scene. John Lydon also appeared on the British television show I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here in 2004 before walking off the show unexpectedly, leaving the shows producers in a ‘crisis’.
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