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The True Story Of British Punk (1971-1979)
Publisher: New Haven

Quite a brave move to bring out a book on the history of British punk, it’s not as if it's not been done many times before. Neil Saint’s offering is never going to replace England’s Dreaming, but thankfully it’s not trying to.

The author has interviewed an impressive list of punk personalities, both on stage and off, and it’s through their recollections that the story is told. Key events - gigs, record releases, controversies - are referenced, and it’s around these that the anecdotes sit. There is no editorial angle aiming to put a different spin on the past, instead what we have here is a heap of fresh personal recollections from those caught up in the emerging scene and the subsequent punk explosion. Every perspective and memory captured is equally valid. It may sound depressing, but with the passing of time this is even more crucial, none of us are going to be around forever. The long list of witnesses makes up for the sparsity of punk A-Listers (although Hugh Cornwell, J J Burnel, Rick Buckler, John Maher and Marky Ramone aren’t exactly low rent). Special mention to Rat Scabies for plenty of bullshit free observations, such as The Damned playing New York's CBGB's in 1977; "I was quite outraged as it was supposed to be this happening punk club. Instead it was an old shit hole..." Yes, decades later the UK v US debate is still alive and well with Legs McNeil from NYC's Punk magazine claiming White Riot was a Ramones rip off.

As for the Sex Pistols, they naturally feature throughout, with first hand accounts via Pistols and Clash roadie ‘Roadent’ and personal testimony from those who bore witness to the gigs.

In setting the book’s parameters to the entire 1970s we get a reminder of the importance of glam and pub rock, thanks to Wilko Johnson and others. You can feel the phenomenon gather pace as the decade reaches its conclusion, with Nicky Tesco, Charlie Harper, Dave Ruffy, Vic Godard, Richard Jobson, John Perry, Fay Fife, Kenny Morris, and Gaye Black (Advert) among those moving the story along, encompassing the movement's UK wide impact.

Different aspects will strike different chords with readers; I recalled the terror and fear, not caused by the bands' threatening the establishment, but by the intimidation and ridicule directed towards young punk rockers. To publicly display your allegiance was a brave thing to do. Damian O'Neill from The Undertones “..we did get a lot of abuse, a lot of cat calls, a lot of threats and a lot of kickings…” The anti-punk violence must never be forgotten.

Spitting and Screaming won’t replace any books already on your shelf, but it will provide an enthralling and entertaining supplement, one that's peppered throughout with nuggets of info you won’t have heard. Sitting nicely alongside the aforementioned Jon Savage tome and George Gimarc’s Punk Diary: 1970-1979, it’s well worthy of your attention.

Review by Phil Singleton (March 2021)

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©Phil Singleton / 2021
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God Save the Sex Pistols

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