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‘The Story of Skinhead’ is must-see TV
04:14 pm


Don Letts

My personal experience with skinheads—a “run in” you might call it—was brief, lasting mere minutes, but it was a memorable occasion…

The year was 1983 and I was a 17-year-old lovesick dickhead living in a south London squat who wanted to impress this super gorgeous goth chick I knew. My choice of attire has always been more to the preppy side, but I realized that if I was to have any chance with this beautifully morbid creature, I needed to switch up my look from Brooks Brothers to something a lil’ more Peter Murphy. So I hennaed my hair black and spiked it up with hairspray, wore eyeliner and makeup and donned a black trenchcoat. The object of my affections was not in the least impressed with my new look, but that’s beside the point.

Later that night, right after the pubs had shut, I was going home, alone, rejected and dejected, on the London subway, and feeling like an idiot. The goth look I’d worn for all of maybe five hours just wasn’t me. When the train stopped at Leicester Square, a massive rush of people crushed into the train, including a gang of eight very large, very fearsome, very mean and very fucking drunk skinheads. They were with their girlfriends, who were also wearing boots and braces. All had the “Chelsea cut” that female skins wore. The girls seemed even harder than their boyfriends, and just as ugly.

One of the female skins noticed me and pointed out the “goth poofter,” suggesting that her boyfriend and his pals should kick my faggoty ass. They jeered at me, brandished their fists at me and let me—and every other passenger in that subway car—know that they were going to beat me within an inch of my life. If I was lucky. Suffice to say that my life might’ve changed course dramatically that night had things turned out differently.

My first instinct was to piss in my pants or start crying like a baby begging them for mercy, but I decided that hoping for some cops to magically appear and save my quivering hide was probably a better strategy. Then the train conductor announced over the intercom system that we’d be stopping at the next station, and that the train we were on was being taken out of commission so all the passengers needed to exit and wait on the platform for the next train to arrive.

This was not necessarily good news, I thought.

I mentioned how crowded the train was. When this positively bursting-at-the-seams car cleared out a bit, I made to exit in the opposite direction from where the skinheads had been taunting me when the biggest and meanest one of them stomped right over and drew his arm back to wallop me with a haymaker. Had his punch connected, I’ve no doubt that he would have knocked me unconscious and probably broken several bones in my face. But he didn’t connect. He barely grazed my forehead and I felt his fist rush by me like a gust of wind as it just barely missed cracking my skull into several pieces.

The platform at the station was even more densely packed than the train had been. I needed to find some cops—and was frantically trying to push my way through the sardines, followed closely behind by this drunken, bloodthirsty skinhead wolfpack—but there were no London bobbies anywhere to be found. I kept moving, hoping something would happen when the train turned up. Standing still and waiting for them to catch up to me wasn’t an option, and there were several yards between us. I plowed onwards.

Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Never before seen live footage of the Pop Group in 1980
08:57 am


Don Letts
The Pop Group

In the wake of significantly renewed activity from the politically-charged post-punk funk agitators The Pop Group, it seems like recordings of their early years, many once considered “lost,” are finding their way out of the woodwork with increasing frequency. Only a few months ago, DM shared the video for the band’s signature single, “We Are All Prostitutes,” which had been missing for decades, and which turned up in an amazingly timely manner—just before the song was released as an add-on to the reissued LP For How Much Longer do we Tolerate Mass Murder? (We expressed some cynicism about the timing of that coincidence when we posted the video, but we’ve been assured that its discovery at that time was a genuine fortuity.)

Given the increased interest in the reactivated band, the worthy material culled from all those basement tapes has naturally been compiled for releases—in 2014, Cabinet of Curiosities assembled unreleased live tracks, Peel sessions and alternate takes. This year, The Boys Whose Head Exploded will feature live tracks, mostly from 1980, recorded in Cologne, Milan, Sheffield, and Helsinki, with a video adjunct—footage shot by no less a notable punk archivist than filmmaker Don Letts of The Punk Rock Movie and Big Audio Dynamite fame. Letts shot segments of the band in performance at the Beat the Blues Festival, held on June 15, 1980 at London’s Alexandra Palace. A sound recording of that performance was released as part of the Japan-only live 2xCD comp Idealists In Distress From Bristol, but the video has never been seen before.
Keep reading after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
The Slits, Clash, Sex Pistols, Siouxsie, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag in ‘Punk Attitude’

Okay it’s been nearly 40 years since I heard The Ramones debut album for the first time and that means I’m fucking old. But I ain’t dead. In fact, I’m feeling pretty damned good. And part of the reason I feel so damned good is I’ve been on a steady diet of rock and roll since I was a itty bitty boy. Rock and roll has been the one constant in my life that has given me something that others might call a religion. From the moment I first heard “Alley Oop” by The Hollywood Argyles when I was nine years old (sitting in a tree with a radio in my lap), I was hooked.

I’ve always been a seeker, looking for meaning in life, searching for answers to the essential questions of what are we doing here and where are we going? I’ve read everything from Jung to Chogyam Trungpa to Kerouac and Crowley in my yearning for clarity and spiritual fulfillment. Aside from a few reveries and insights fueled by psychotropics or the momentary flash of cosmic consciousness you get in those special moments when something suddenly opens up your brain - maybe it’s the way a shard of prismatic light bounces off your rear view mirror or a fleet of perfectly white clouds rolling above New Mexico - my “religious” experiences have been seldom and unpredictable. But one thing, other than fucking, that consistently pulls me into the moment where bliss and contentment co-mingle is listening to rock and roll music. It’s the closest thing I have to an artistic calling or spiritual practice and when the music hits me in the right place at the right time it can be divine. And it seems that loud, fast, and hook-filled works best. The music doesn’t need to be about anything spiritual, lofty or significant. It just needs to grab me by the balls and heart, rattle my cage, and move me.

There was a barren period in my rock and roll life in the early ‘70s. Not much I wanted to listen to. I mostly bought blues and jazz albums and later reggae. Then in 1976 I heard The Damned’s “New Rose” and shortly after that I got my hands on The Ramones’ self-titled first album. These were momentous events in my life that drove me back into arms of rock and roll. Talking Heads, Blondie, Mink DeVille, Pere Ubu, Patti Smith, The Clash and Television were the second wave of musical salvation to land on my turntable that changed my life.  Punk, or whatever you want to call it, defibrillated my rock and roll heart and inspired me to start my own band. And I wasn’t alone.

In this fine documentary directed by Don Letts (who knows a thing or two about punk rock) a bunch of aging punkers talk about the roots of the punk scene and their love of the music they make. There’s not much new here but it’s good to see Steve Jones, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Siouxsie Sioux, Captain Sensible, Mick Jones Jones,David Johansen, Jello Biafra, Wayne Kramer, Thurston Moore, Legs McNeil and Tommy Ramone, among many others, wax poetic about the music explosion that was detonated in the mid-70s. It’s amazing how many survived. And deeply saddening that since this film was made in 2005 we’re down to zero original Ramones.

“Punk is not mohawks and safety pins. It’s an attitude and a spirit, with a lineage and tradition.” Don Letts.

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
PiL rarity ‘Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread’ is the missing link between ‘First Issue’ & ‘Metal Box

The folks at Light in the Attic Records were kind enough to send me their nicely packaged recent reissue of PiL’s landmark First Issue album—the record that was thee line of demarcation between punk rock and post punk music—and I’ve been listening to it a lot lately. It also caused me to go dig up some PiL stuff I haven’t listened to in a while.

When I was a kid, PiL were probably my main group (tied with Throbbing Gristle) and I even ran away from home, in part, so I could see them play in New York (it’s a long story). Along the way, I have collected a lot of PiL bootlegs and I still have every one of them, despite getting rid of 99% of my vinyl many moons ago. One of my favorite PiL rarities, though, isn’t a bootleg at all, it’s the one-off 12” EP that was released by Virgin in 1978 under the title Steel Leg Vs. The Electric Dread.

The EP was recorded at Gooseberry Sound Studios (the same cheap reggae studio where PiL finished off their debut album after spending all the money) by Jah Wobble, “Stratetime Keith” (Keith Levene), Don Letts and Don’s pal Vince Bracken, called here “Steel Leg.” The hooded figure on the cover was long rumored to be John Lydon but he had no involvement with this record whatsoever according to the PiL fansite Fodderstompf.

Nothing earth-shatteringly brilliant here—it’s damned good, though, I’ll go that far—but Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread‘s four free-form, anarchic numbers most certainly point the way for what was to come next with the deliriously dumbfounding dub-heavy genius of 1979’s enigmatic Metal Box.

“Haile Unlikely by The Electric Dread”

“Unlikely Pub”

“Steel Leg”

“Stratetime And The Wide Man”

Here’s what Seth The Man wrote in his inimitable way on Julian Cope’s Head Heritage website. Pure rock snob poetry, I love this guy:

It goes beyond mere punky reggae partying—it’s a PiL t-shirt worn by Syd “Family Man” Barrett with the words “D-U-B” replacing “P-i-L,” as the Finsbury Park crew’s ancestral memories of multiple Hawkwind records works its way through the mix with electronics like Dik Mik meets The Aggrovators.

Although long an impossibly rare item to find, the Steel Leg vs. The Electric Dread EP was released on CD in 2005 along with two PiL-related tracks by Vivien Goldman (see below) and (not PiL-related) tracks by Glaxo Babies, Les Vampyrettes (a Holgar Czukay and Conny Plank team-up) and This Heat’s 15-minite-long epic “Graphic Varispeed” as The Post Punk Singles Volume One.

And speaking of the new Light in the Attic release of First Issue, it is incidentally, the first US release of the album. (First Issue was so heavily imported at the time of its original 1978 release that Warner Bros. Records opted not to even bother releasing it here because they thought the market had already been tapped out for an album deemed far too uncommercial for most Americans). The packaging is quite nice and stays true to the original release. “The Cowboy Song,” the B-side to the “Public Image” single is included on a second CD along with an extended 1978 interview with Lydon conducted by Vivien Goldman that’s quite fascinating [In it, Lydon makes an obviously knowing aside about the horrific BBC sex predator Jimmy Savile.]

I compared the new CD to the older UK Virgin disc that’s been on the market for ages and found that they sound noticeably different, although it would be a matter of taste to say which is better. The older disc has more raw THUMP to it, especially in the drums, and there is slightly more distortion present than on the newly mastered version. The new CD, well, here the drums CRACK across your eardrums more, and the bass is tighter. Usually when I A/B CDs, there’s a clear winner, but I can’t say that in the case of the older 80s CD versus the newly minted First Issue package from Light in the Attic (which comes with PiL decals, too), because I like them both. If I had to pick one, it would be the new one, just for the attention to detail in the packaging and the extras.

“Death Disco” on TOTP, 1980

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘The Punk Rock Movie’: The Clash, The Pistols, The Banshees and more in Don Letts’ classic film

Filmmaker and musician, Don Letts was working as a DJ at the Roxy club in London in 1977 when he filmed most of the punk bands that appeared there with his Super 8 camera. Letts captured a glorious moment of musical history and its ensuing social, political and cultural revolution.

Letts decided he was going to make a film with his footage, and had sold his belongings to ensure he had enough film stock to record the bands that appeared night-after-night over a 3 month period. Eventually, he collated all of the footage into The Punk Rock Movie, which contained performances by the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. There was also backstage footage of certain bands, and Sid Vicious’ first appearance with the Sex Pistols, at The Screen On The Green cinema, April 3rd, 1977.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The Clash on Broadway

In May/June of 1981, The Clash were booked to play at the curiously named “Bond’s International Casino” (it was a former low-rent clothing store) in New York City in support of the sprawling 3-record Sandinista! album. They were meant to play just eight gigs in the smallish Times Square space, but the performances were dangerously oversold by greedy promoters. Fire marshals and the NY Building Department closed down both of the May 30th concerts, but the band vowed to honor every last ticket and the number of shows was extended to seventeen, with matinee and evening performances added.

The Clash’s Bond’s Casino shows became a part of the rebel band’s legend and featured opening acts like The Fall, The Dead Kennedys, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, The Treacherous Three, KRAUT, Funkapolitan (who opened for The Clash when I saw them the following year), The Slits, ESG, Bad Brains, The Bloods, The Sugerhill Gang, their pal from Texas, Joe Ely and others.

One of the shows, on June 9th, was professionally recorded for an FM radio broadcast and widely bootlegged. You can easily find it and other Bond’s shows on audio blogs.

Not a lot of footage exists from the Clash’s legendary Bond’s Casino residency, apparently not even one complete show was shot, but there were some tantalizing clips in Don Letts’ Grammy-winning Westway to the World rock doc (released in 2000), as well as in the abandoned short “The Clash on Broadway” (on Westway as a DVD extra). Sadly the sound quality is not great, so the performances lacked the hinted at oomph they should have had. Letts’ Bonds footage was apparently shot on the same day as the FM recording was made.  Luckily an enterprising Clash fan has restriped the stereo audio from that source and synced up some other angles found in various places. The results are probably the best glimpse we have at what went on at these shows. Ain’t the Internet great?

If you were at the Bond’s shows, there is a Facebook group called “I Saw the Clash at Bonds” (which I notice that our Marc Campbell is a part of, along with DM pals Douglas Hovey and Mirgun Akyavas). Dozens of personal accounts of the shows can be found in several places, just Google it.

First up, a blistering “Safe European Home.” I love how “the only band that matters” walk onstage like a street gang to the spaghetti-western sounds of Ennio Morricone’s “6 Seconds To Watch” (from the soundtrack to For A Few Dollars More). What band today could pull off swagger like that and not look like complete dickheads? None of them, that’s who…

An absolutely scorching “This is Radio Clash” (probably—no definitely—my #1 favorite Clash number). Turn it up!

“London Calling” after the jump!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
John Lydon’s top of the pops roots Reggae picks
01:58 pm


John Lydon
Don Letts
Big Youth
U Roy

Johnny Lydon meets Big Youth, photo by Dennis Morris
It’s well-known that John Lydon has been a lifelong and very knowledgeable fan of reggae music and dub. In 1978, after the demise of the Sex Pistols, Lydon traveled to Jamaica with filmmaker/DJ Don Letts, photographer Dennis Morris (who designed the PiL logo and Metal Box) and journalist Vivien Goldman on the dime of Richard Branson’s Virgin Records to scout and sign reggae talent.

From an interview at Punk77 with Don Letts:

Some have conjectured that Lydon formed the embryo of the idea of the bass heavy structures in PIL from his trip to Jamaica, and the sound system dances they attended together there. Don is not so convinced that the trip to JA was as formative an influence on Public Image as some have presumed.

Don Letts: No, John already had that spaciousness, that blueprint in his mind long before we went to Jamaica. As long as I knew John, he had always listened to sparse avant-garde music, stuff like Can , and he really knew his reggae, I have to emphasise that, him and Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, Jah Wobble, they understood dub, deeply, they had a lot of music I didn’t have you know. Lydon, Wobble and the others, they were turning me on to tunes I never had, it wasn’t always the other way round. We went to a lot of sound system sessions here in London too, people like Jah Shaka, Coxsonne, Moa Ambessa, so really, his experiences in Jamaica were an extension of what had already been in his mind for years, back in North London. Isn’t that just so obvious when you listen to those early PiL tunes, the stuff he was making with Wobble and Keith just after he left the Pistols.

Branson had financed the whole journey, as a chance for Lydon to “cool off”, and at the same time he was to act as a talent scout, signing up emerging reggae stars for the new Frontline roots label. Whilst in Jamaica, Letts and Lydon had met all their “heroes” on the roots and culture scene of that time: rebels, visionaries, chanters and mavericks, microphone chanters like Prince Far I, Big Youth and I Roy and deeply spiritual singers like The Congos, musicians who had produced some of the greatest spiritual masterpieces of their time.

Don Letts: You know, sometimes me and John just had to pinch ourselves to remind ourselves that we weren’t dreaming all this! It was great for us to be meeting and working with these guys, guys whose music we really admired and loved!

What did the Rastas make of Johnny Rotten? I had heard numerous stories and reports of John Rotten, dressed entirely in black from head to toe, clad in heavy black motorbike boots, black hat and heavy black woollen overcoat, walking through fruit markets in the heat of a full Jamaican summer! So was this fanciful rumour?

Don Letts: Yeah, it’s not rumour, that’s true! You know why he did that? John didn’t want to go back to London with a tan! Respect to you John!

So what did the Rasta’s make of John then?

Don Letts: The Rastas loved John! To them he was “THE punk rock Don from London” they were aware of all the trouble he had stirred up in London, and yeah, they were into what he stood for and his stance, and they dug it… We smoked a chalice together with U Roy for breakfast, and then went out to one of his dances, miles out in the countryside, quite a long journey by car. I remember the dreads stringing up this sound, and kicking off with some earthquake dubs. Now let me tell you this sound system was LOUD, and me and John both of us, literally passed out! I remember hours later some dreads shaking us awake, it was like, “Wake up man, dance done, dance finish now man!” Yeah, it was pretty wild for me and John out in Jamaica. We loved it. John just had a vibe you know, people were drawn to him. It was the same in London; it was the same in Kingston. John is Irish, and there is a definite affinity between Jamaicans and Irish! We’ve all heard the saying “no Irish , no blacks, no dogs”, which used to appear in pub and lodging windows and well, there must have been a reason for that, that ethnic grouping together, that ethnic rejection ! Jamaicans and Irish people have always got on together in England, though I can’t say for sure why. A similar attitude to life perhaps? Who knows why they should tune in to each others psyches so well…Is it that both are oppressed peoples, or that both have a natural rebelliousness of spirit? Someone should do a study of it!

Although there have been several interviews where Lydon has spoken about what Jamaican sounds he was listening to and radio shows where he’d play some of his favorite reggae tracks, an undated letter that Lydon sent a PiL fan (on embossed PiL stationary, to boot!) who asked where to start with the genre is the most complete listing of the reggae that Lydon was skankin to in the 1970s. What a list it is! Still great advice!
British punk and reggae examined:

Via Fodderstompf, Vicious Riff and Punk77

Previously on Dangerous Minds
Johnny Rotten plays his own records on Capital Radio 1977

Big Youth:Natty Universal Dread

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Brother From Another Planet: Sun Ra documentary
08:29 pm


Sun Ra
Don Letts

Don Letts made a documentary about the great Sun Ra? Yup, apparently so. I know what we’ll be watching tonight! How did this one slip past me???

Born in perhaps the most segregated place on Earth – early 20th-century Alabama – Herman Poole Blount rejected his name, his origins and the conventions of the time (or any other, for that matter), re-creating himself as Sun Ra, emissary from Saturn (“planet of discipline”) and musical genius. Blending Egyptology and Space Age imagery, he projected a philosophy of radical empowerment for the entire cosmos; keeping a big band on the road for decades through independence and communal living, he became a patriarch of jazz and an avatar of freewheeling space music. Turning from the punk and reggae with which he’s most closely associated to one of the key figures in 20th-century sound, famed DJ/filmmaker Letts presents the Sun Ra story in all its glory, combining powerful footage of Ra and his legendary Arkestra, interviews with band members shot at their famous group house in Philadelphia and testimonies from sax great Archie Shepp, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore and other admirers.

-Keith Jones/musicfilmweb

Via Pathway To Unknown Worlds. Note that there is a download link.

Thanks William Meehan!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment