God save the scene: The 40th anniversary of punk
Punk turns 40 this year, so Fiona Shepherd examines the genre's Scottish history
The very idea of celebrating the 40th anniversary of punk would probably be anathema to the coterie of dead end kids who first ripped up the rockist rule book and puked all over it back in 1976. Nostalgia – as well as musos, flares, exclusivity and the establishment – was the enemy.
Back then, they were not to know – or care – that that initial short, sharp, seemingly incontinent explosion of rage and disgust would produce a music, style and ethos as durable as it was potent. Some of those dead end kids built careers and even fortunes on the notion of ‘no future’. Some of them grew up to play the annual Scotland Calling festival of punk nostalgia.
London, the ground zero for the UK iteration of punk, is well stuck into its year-long punk birthday party. The 100 Club has already marked the occasion, the British Library archive turned out its pockets in May and the Museum of London will shortly unveil its punk display, while the Rough Trade record shop will celebrate its own 40th birthday and role as chief disseminator of dissent and dissonance later in the year.
In Scotland, specific celebrations are less conspicuous, unless you count the latest welcome visits from PIL and Television, and annual forays from The Buzzcocks and The Damned in the autumn. But you could argue that the flourishing independent music scenes in Glasgow and Edinburgh are an ongoing celebration of the DIY ethos which took hold forty years ago and has yet to loose its grip.
And for that, we can probably credit The Clash’s White Riot tour date at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 7 May 1977, where callow punk fans Edwyn Collins, James Kirk and Alan Horne, among other future luminaries of Scottish pop, were in thrall to bottom-of-the-bill Subway Sect and The Slits, the former for their music and style, the latter for their attitude. Orange Juice and Postcard Records were duly born – with no thanks to Glasgow City Council who had taken the decision to ban punk music from the city’s pubs and clubs following a rowdy Stranglers gig at the City Halls.
A few brave outposts – the Mars Bar, the Doune Castle in Shawlands – flouted the ban but punk’s growth in Glasgow was stunted by the move, forcing fans to head beyond the city limits to such iniquitous dens as Paisley’s Bungalow Bar and Silver Thread Hotel.
As a result, Glasgow failed to produce any punk bands of note – although Johnny & the Self-Abusers did not too badly once they regrouped as Simple Minds. The east coast punk acts fared better, welcomed into the bosom of Nicky Tams on Victoria Street. The Rezillos, The Exploited and The Skids each fashioned their own spin on punk, and all made it on to Top Of The Pops, rebelling against the “no-sellout” strictures of the more fundamentalist punks. All three bands have since reformed – or never split up in the first place. Because punx not dead, right?