Post punk is one of the most understood music genres there is, not least because if it existed at all, it was more a period in time than a bonafide genre. From 1978 to 1982, there was an astonishing number of genre explosions; dub, disco, new wave, ska, industrial, electro pop, new pop, hardcore, rap, goth, indie and dancehall all cross pollinating, so the idea of a post punk canon is ridiculous. Those of us who lived through those years know that it was about far more than just PiL, The Banshees, Wire, Joy Division, Gang Of Four or Magazine.
Sadly, history has chosen to write out a multitude of underrated, lesser knowns who were often so far ahead of their time, the echo of their ghosts can still be found in the more adventurous music of today. In such a brave new world of innovation, where unattainable dreams could easily become attainable reality, there was a proliferation of groups of every kind; from avant-garde experimentalists to born again funksters. Most were lucky to get beyond a self-financed single and the occasional ‘showcase’ gig in one of our esteemed Capital’s many cesspits. A Peel session was the Holy Grail, guaranteeing a few more record sales, an indie chart entry and a few precious column inches in the weekly music press.
The groups here all followed a vaguely similar trajectory, a couple even reaching the dubious heights of a major label deal. Yet they remain relatively obscure, rarely getting a mention in the mountain of post punk articles, books and documentaries. Hoping to redress the balance slightly, the records here are simply those that managed to stick in my memory. Of course, I’ve merely scratched the surface. There were literally hundreds more that were equally as good.
01. KLEENEX ‘Ain’t You’ (Kleenex EP November 1978)
Punk or not punk? As far as Kleenex were concerned, that was the question music critics and theorists were grappling with as 1978 drew to a close. Not that anyone else cared. The fact that punk could capture the imaginations of a group of young women from Switzerland was awe inspiring enough, but empowering them to take a chance on releasing their own EP was even more so. And given how Kleenex’s oddball guitar, playground singing and chants were so crazily catchy and charming, it didn’t matter what they were called.
02. GLAXO BABIES ‘Who Killed Bruce Lee?’ (This Is Your Life EP March 1979)
In the final year of the seventies, I listened religiously to John Peel; 10 till midnight, Monday to Thursday. Lost in the squalor of bedsitland with no cash for records, I would sit night after night, my finger poised over the pause button of my cassette player recording box’s full of C90’s; a post punk education on ferric oxide. The Glaxo Babies greatest moment came from those tapes, a cracking track that has been erased from history.
03. DALEK I LOVE YOU ‘Freedom Fighters’ (Single A Side May 1979)
One of the few Liverpool groups who failed to become a household name, Dalek I Love You were a bit of light relief amongst post punk’s early stabs at death disco, mutant funk and discordant noise. Best of all was ‘Freedom Fighters’, its deceptively simple, play by numbers, synth pop a welcome ray of sunshine in the pervading gloom.
04. MANICURED NOISE ‘Metronome’ (Single A Side February 1980)
Based in Manchester, Manicured Noise’s sloganeering lyrics, rhythmic spine, jagged guitars and sax were making the right kind of noise in the right place at the right time, yet they remain anonymous. Hard to believe when the eminently danceable, joyfully exuberant, tightly coiled funk of ‘Metronome’ is so impossible to ignore.
05. THE PREFECTS ‘Going Through The Motions’ (Single A Side May 1980)
Recorded as part of a 1979 Peel session, The Prefects ‘Going Through The Motions’ was five minutes of sarky, irreverent, post punk sludge questioning the authenticity of the punk mileau, which of course they had every right to do having been active participants almost from the start. Playing bottom of the bill on the White Riot tour, they became the regular support act for punks main players, only giving up the ghost three years later. Strangely, for a group with such good connections, this was their only vinyl release.
06. THE LINES ‘Over The Brow’ (Single B Side October 1980)
Perhaps it was the huge volume of post punk groups springing up in the early eighties that relegated The Lines to the margins. To be fair they weren’t exactly revolutionary, yet to me, a 20 year old innocent desperately trying to gain a foothold in the DIY underground, they were the first group I befriended who graciously indulged my naïve enthusiasm. They even provided an exclusive track for one of my cassette label compilations. Shut out of post punk’s retro mania, their fifteen minutes is long overdue.
07. MEDIUM MEDIUM ‘Hungry So Angry’ (Single A Side February 1981)
For some reason, with the exception of the Gang Of Four and The Pop Group, the post punk element who embraced the funk have largely been written off. And that’s a shame, because to ignore white boy funkateer’s like Nottingham’s Medium Medium and their sweaty, supercharged ‘Hungry So Angry’ would be to miss out on a real treat.
08. CRISPY AMBULANCE ‘Deaf’ (Unsightly And Serene 10” Single June 1981)
Even with their Factory Records connection, it’s easy to hear why the ill named Crispy Ambulance remained stuck in the lower leagues. Frequently dismissed as Joy Division copyists (the singer once stood in for Ian Curtis), they honed a style of murky, bleak soundscapes that sounded disconcertingly like early seventies prog. Thankfully, the atypical, fantastically frantic ‘Deaf’ doesn’t.
09. COMSAT ANGELS ‘Gone’ (Sleep No More LP August 1981)
I’d forgotten how much I loved the Comsat Angels early records, even the ones nobody else liked. I loved the massive sound they made and their ability to turn a collection of sparse, individual fragments into something so special. The relentless gloom of Sleep No More was their best work, sitting comfortably alongside Closer, Secondhand Daylight or any other album you care to mention in my pantheon of art punk masterpieces.
10. ARTERY ‘Into The Garden’ (Single B Side November 1981)
Artery were typical of so many post punk groups who struggled to get any recognition beyond their hometown. Existing in their own, hermetically sealed capsule, they moved from nerve shredding minimalism to Brechtian theatrics to the avant-garde, loved and hated in equal measure. Of course, what they and hundreds of others like them were really doing was pushing their music as far as it could go, free of pretension, influence or fashion, whilst assuming the quality of their art alone would gain them the recognition they deserved. It was not to be. Like everyone else here, if they’re remembered at all it’s merely as a hastily scribbled footnote like this.