Carol Clerk
not 'alf
Carol Clerk.

Carol Clerk’s recent “Generation Terrorists” feature in Classic Rock Magazine (Feb 2003) was one of the finest pieces written on its subject in recent times.
There is no substitute for being there at the time (as said feature duly highlights): Carol Clerk saw active service back in the day with The Melody Maker (amongst others) & has continued making a living writing about rock n roll ever since.

They say that if you can remember the 60s then you probably weren’t there – when it comes to 70s Punk Rock, if you were there - it is highly unlikely you’re ever going to be able to forget.

Jean Encoule was so impressed he set about extracting further words from the Clerk pen (which may or may not be viewed as an addendum to the original piece) in support. Encoule thought long & hard about his questions - hoping against hope for lengthy, studied replies. He did not bank on 5000+ words, however, and is eternally thankful to Carol Clerk for her time, consideration & efforts (but not as thankful as you will be once you’ve reached the end of this page).

Miles of absolute shite has been written large in the name of Punk Rock over the last 25 years – much of it more about the writer than the subject (the singer or the song?). It is therefore as welcoming as it is informative to usher Carol Clerk onto the pages of – a place (we think) Punk Rock likes to call home:

trakMARX - Greil Marcus has stated that 'Atlantic Ping Pong Affect' has been crucial to the development of Punk Rock as a genre. What are your thoughts on this theory?

I'd go along with it. I'd imagine that quite a few of the pioneering bands congregating in New York between 1973 and 1975 would have existed quite happily without any British influence. Talking Heads, Patti Smith and Television, for instance, were interested in change - a musical and/or cultural revolution - and they were taking inspiration from art, from French poetry, and from predominantly American trailblazers such as the Velvet Underground, the MC5 and the Stooges, and the New York Dolls.

However, the coming-together and the growth of 'the genre' depended on a great deal of cross-pollination, as well as timing and coincidence. The Ramones - whose first album and 1976 London shows made such an enormous impact on the fledgling punk scene in England - were as much informed by The Beatles, early Seventies UK glam-rock , the Bay City Rollers and some frankly questionable artists like Petula Clark as they were by surf, Spector, Detroit garage, Warhol and the Dolls.

Equally, the British took much from America. Malcolm McLaren's muddled dreams of confrontation through art, sex and shit-stirring came vividly into focus when he saw the Dolls, and realised that one band could do it all. Noting Richard Hell's spiky hair, ripped T-shirt and leather jacket, he was ideally placed to launch the Pistols according to his own new visions.

The Pistols' music was a real hotch-potch of influences - everything from British pop to European electronica and Abba - but American music was in there too: Motown, Captain Beefheart, Iggy and, inevitably, the Dolls, particularly Thunders, and Richard Hell. Sid Vicious was a Barbie-doll Richard Hell: he looked the part, he shot the smack, but sadly he had none of Hell's brains, talent or eventual instinct for self-preservation.

London SS started off by advertising for musicians into Iggy and the MC5. They were interested in attitude and musical chaos, and when Rat Scabies, Brian James, Mick Jones and Tony James branched off to form The Damned, The Clash and Generation X, they retained these qualities as a backbone, while establishing their various varieties of Englishness.

When the Ramones came to the UK, it was an affirming experience, almost a rallying call, for all of these young London bands who simply wanted to 'kick out the jams'. That was at the root of it.

And so it went on, to and fro, to and fro. On both sides of the Atlantic, the bands with any real sense of purpose kept a close eye on what their opposite numbers were doing, and chose to respond or not. Obviously, there were a lot of musical and political differences between English and American punk, but that's a whole other discussion.

trakMARX - In true 'chicken and egg' fashion, which came first: Sixties US Garage Punk or the British Invasion?

As I understand it, they were both brewing and then happening at the same time. To take just one example, The Kingsmen's garage classic 'Louie Louie' charted in 1964 - the year of the British Invasion of America. It was a cover. The original emerged in the Fifties, just at the time the soon-to-be -Beatles and their ilk were listening to their American import records, brought in via the docks at Liverpool. US Garage Punk and the British Invaders don't seem, retrospectively, to have been too important to each other - the American boys were roughing up their black influences, whereas their English counterparts were polishing theirs, turning them into hit pop songs. What they had in common, apart from their R&B and soul sources, was that they both exerted an influence on punk music. Garage originally received all the credits for this - it was cooler! - but we now know just how much the punk musicians had been listening to and receiving wisdom from The Beatles, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks and co.

trakMARX - You point out that many of the US 1st-wavers approached Punk from a higher philosophical viewpoint. Why did so little of this culture (Symbolism, the Beat Movement) fail to cross the Atlantic with Richard Hell's haircut and Johnny Thunders' guitar sound?

The most important factor is that the New York scene grew from an arty, literary culture flourishing in underground venues. There was a crucial meeting of minds in addition to a musical ambition. The British contingent was, for the most part, earthier. They wanted to make a loud noise, blast progressive rock to smithereens, and have fun. Captain Sensible wanted to be Marc Bolan and get off with girls. Steve Jones wanted to play fantastic Thunders guitar riffs and get off with girls. I'm sure Steve would be the first person to admit that he was not an avid reader of Rimbaud or Kerouac, or a regular visitor to the National Gallery. There were also big ideological differences. The American punks, with some exceptions, were not generally interested in the nasty details of real life, in documenting the social or political injustices of their day. They were on an artistic and philosophical mission (with honourable exceptions like the MC5 earlier and the Dead Kennedies later). The English groups were more down to earth. They reported on what they saw around them, in all of its mundane and depressing reality. Some, like The Clash, became more highly politicised and driven to agitate than others. The UK and US punk musicians - and this is a huge generalisation - were very different types of people, but what they had in common was a desire to bring music back to its basics or to make something new of it, and to challenge the old order and the establishment. I should mention here that class didn't come into any of this, although some of the English bands liked to suggest that it did.

trakMARX - You mention boring heroin's devastating effect on many major punk players on both sides of the Atlantic. Do you subscribe to the myth that the Heartbreakers and an end of Anarchy tour Xmas dinner were at all responsible for the subsequent glorification of smack on the UK scene?

No. There has not been any 'glorification' of smack for a long time, just a demystification. Even in the mid Seventies, too many stars had died undignified heroin deaths for any sane person to reason that this was something they simply had to try. And anybody who has had the misfortune to try to have a conversation with a smackhead nodding out over the table will have been unimpressed. However, what there was and is - and this is different from glorification - is the idea of heroin as the ultimate act of rock'n'roll bravado. It's dangerous and partly glamorous, like an extreme sport, or an action movie. Most people watch to see who falls, and they applaud the survivor, although they wouldn't take the risk themselves. They are spectators, fantasising about being Keith Richards and not Johnny Thunders and definitely not Sid Vicious. This is as is should be. Rock stars take the risks for us! Anyone who does decide to do smack has their own, deep-rooted reasons - and needs - for making that decision. I can't believe that any normal person back then would have seriously wanted to become a Johnny or a Sid.

traxMARX - Punk seems to have a habit of not fully rewarding its instigators. Has Richard Hell ever got the props he so rightfully deserves?

Maybe not in terms of record sales, but his contribution has rightfully been recorded in any decent history of punk.

trakMARX - US Garage Punk established a lineage that was appreciated by the Velvet Underground, the MC5 and the Stooges, and without which both US and UK punk may never have happened. Do you subscribe to this view?

I think there's some merit to the argument that without Garage and its inspiration to those groups you've named, whose influence was central to so many others in America and Britain, punk rock in the form we know it may not have happened. But because of the tedious musical landscape in both America and Britain at the time, and the urgent desires of young people to challenge that mediocrity, I like to believe that some wonderful, loud and messy explosion would have happened anyway.

trakMARX - The MC5 are often cited as the template for politically motivated rock'n'roll at the expense of possibly more dangerous entities such as The Fugs or David Peel & the Lower East Side. Why are both these challenging artists so often written out of the equation?

It's unfair, I know. Writing a recent article for a UK magazine, I looked up several thick reference books for information on The Fugs, only to find them unlisted. The same, I imagine, is true for David Peel and co. There are several answers to your question, and they're all linked. Firstly, many journalists are not too genned up about these historic bands. Secondly, features editors insist that the copy should be addressed to 'general readers' rather than 'experts' - usually for space reasons - and will discourage or delete 'unfamiliar' references or paragraphs so as to devote more space to the tried and tested. Thirdly, it is easy and incredibly dramatic to source and quote the exploits of the MC5, especially since they are widely viewed as godfathers of Punk Rock rebellion. Sorry, folks, I have to apologise here for my entire profession!

trakMARX - Many US 1st wavers in NYC circa 74-75 cited Dr Feelgood as a catalyst in their development. Are we guilty of underestimating the influence of Pub Rock/R&B on the UK scene?

Yes, we are. Remember, Joe Strummer went to The Clash from The 101ers, an unapologetic pub rock band, and his audiences in those days included Tony James and Mick Jones. In the couple of years before punk happened, you could either pay a lot of money to see the day's huge bands at the Hammersmith Odeon or you could go to gigs in pubs. Most pub bands played straight R&B, blues and rock'n'roll covers, and their sets were almost interchangeable. You saw one, you saw them all. After a while, a 'hierarchy' emerged, with a plethora of uneventful groups like Bees Make Honey touring the university circuit. But if you got lucky, you could still have a pint and watch a band who were actually doing something different. Dr Feelgood were playing an amphetamine brand of R&B that was absolutely hair-raising. Ian Dury & The Blockheads also emerged from this same 'toilet circuit' via Kilburn & The High Roads. Neither the Feelgoods nor the Blockheads were punk bands as such, but they were welcomed into the 'new wave' by virtue of their energy and individuality, and they were both immensely influential in different ways. Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe and Joe Jackson owe their careers to pub rock also. On a harder level, the UK Subs, The Vibrators and the Stranglers - all in the first wave of punk - had been playing the pub circuit for ages before they were swept up into the new 'movement'. They had got bored with knocking out middle-aged versions of 'Johnny B Goode' and had upped their pace to a frantic clip, which began attracting new, young audiences at exactly the time that England was ready for Punk Rock. Most people look back on Pub Rock as a yawn; it was actually a really fertile breeding ground.

trakMARX - As probably the most influential US group (soundwise) on the UK scene, The Ramones had some surprisingly un-punk influences, as well as some fairly dodgy political beliefs. Why was the UK so taken aback by the Brudders?

They released the first punk album ever. I remember playing it for the first time in a squat in Acton in 1976, and I could not believe what I was hearing. There had been NOTHING like this before, not ever, and there never will be again. Johnny's frantic chording, Joey's vocal eccentricities, the unrelenting charge of it, and the sickest, funniest lyrics I'd ever heard. It was just brilliant, one of those moments like, 'Where were you when Lennon/Elvis/Sid/Diana died'? I was in a squat in Acton when I first heard the Ramones, and life would be never be the same again.

All of the up-and-coming punk bands in London listened to this album in awe, and when the Ramones came over shortly afterwards to play in Dingwalls and the Roundhouse, the circle of life was complete. Suddenly everybody realised that there was something happening, that they were thinking along the same lines. They could do it, and they did do it, in their different ways. It was a moment of synchronicity, the moment that lit the fuse. The Ramones were the first and the best.

They loved pop and they loved rock, and the fact that their influences were so diverse and unusual and sometimes downright crap was the key to their unique and very eccentric musical character.

The 'dodgy' politics were not shared by the whole band. As I understand it, Johnny was on the right wing, Joey was on the left, Dee Dee was on a planet of his own, and the drummers who came in after Tommy simply shut up and put up. The anti-Semitic references in some lyrics might have been considered offensive had it not been for the fact that Joey, of Jewish origin himself, was singing them. It was all part and parcel of their admitted 'dark humour'. And when Joey and Johnny did stop speaking to each other, spending years on the road without exchanging a word, it was all over Johnny stealing Joey's girlfriend, not about their political differences.

traxMARX - No CBGBs - no Punk Rock?

Again, it's one of those 'what if?' questions. No one knows what would have happened to the bands that existed in New York between 1973 to 1976 had it not been for CBGBs. With the closure of Max's, the city's other main venue for 'alternative' artists, CBGBs became the major gathering place and a galvanising force for Punk Rock. Owner Hilly Kristal's festival for unsigned bands was the pivotal event in American punk history, leading to massive interest and press exposure for many hitherto unknown groups, and record deals for the lucky few. CBGBs was a big launch pad. It started the ball rolling. And because of the interdependence of UK and American punk, there's a fair chance that things might have taken a different turn had it not been for Kristal's foresight. Having said that, change was in the air on both sides of the Atlantic, and it's difficult to tell how that might have materialised without the chain of events triggered in CBGBs. I still do believe that something big would have happened. How it would have happened, and what it would have been, I just can't say.

trakMARX - Situationism and Paris 69 aside, without The Dolls, wasn't Malcolm a little light on the ideas front in reality?

I don't believe Malcolm was short of ideas, but they were rattling around in his head individually. He hadn't thought them through to the logical conclusion, that he could present these ideas together, not separately, for maximum impact. He may not even have realised originally that he needed other people to bring his fantasies to life. The Dolls were already on the road to oblivion at the time Malcolm became involved with them, but they personified absolutely everything that interested him - sexual ambiguity, outrage and a swashbuckling lawlessness - and they showed him, crucially, that you don't have to be good musicians to create a great band. When he met the Dolls, he made all the connections.

Many people think of Malcolm as an 'ideas man', but he wasn't really. He was a brilliant magpie, thieving other people's ideas and talents, including Vivienne Westwood's clothes and subversiveness. He thought visually, which is why he could put these elements together so unforgettably. And, most of all, he was a intuitive and mischievous PR man - something he mastered almost despite himself (he was initially horrified at the reaction to the legendary Bill Grundy show until he realised the positive power of really terrible press).

trakMARX - Was the race between Malcolm & Bernie to establish 'their' idea before the other really the catalyst that kick-started the UK scene?

Certainly, it contributed to the speed with which events progressed, but since their respective bands were pretty chummy in the early days, there was no cut-throat rivalry between the musicians. That came later. There was a sense of being 'all in it together', of being involved in something really ground-breaking, and there was a great, shared excitement that was irresistible and probably more of a catalyst than the antics of the managers. The catalyst that kick-started the London scene was probably the Ramones. They brought everything into focus, and they set a precedent. Tony James recalls that when that vital first album was released, everyone responded immediately by playing ten times faster. And the catalyst that kick-started the UK scene was the great triumvirate - the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, the band who actually did everything first in this country (first single etc). So it follows that everything goes back to the Ramones. I might be biased!

trakMARX - 'Please Kill Me' seems a much more honest account of US Punk than 'England's Dreaming' is of its UK counterpart. Why, as a nation, are we so concerned with myth-building & the 'that was my idea, that was,' school of biography than actually telling the truth?

This is partly illustrated by the fact that we have daily tabloid newspapers and the News of the World, and the Americans don't, and on a slightly different level, we consider Fawlty Towers and The Office to be works of comedic genius whereas many Americans find such humour perplexing. America tends not to seek out the truly extraordinary or the eccentric; here in Britain, we love it. This is the set-up in England; something vivid or larger than life or scandalous will be awarded column inches. Of course, this gives rise to misrepresentation, exaggeration and downright lies, with stunts and rumours presented as fact. For better or for worse, we are a nation of gossip-lovers and melodramatists. The American press and public, on the other hand, are prepared to applaud accomplishment for its own sake and on its own terms, which is often dull. There are pros and cons on both sides, but characters like McLaren came to understand the value of playing to the gallery. And many of the British musicians, let's face it, were happy to go along with the stunts. They wanted press because they wanted their bands to have careers, understandably. Add to this the fact that the individuals were more naturally given to displays of extrovert behaviour than their more serious American cousins. The Pistols and The Damned - just as personalities - make for much more interesting reading than, say, the Ramones or Talking Heads. Of course, there are honorable American exceptions, people like Debbie Harry and Stiv Bators, the grand master of scamming.

trakMARX - The initial camaraderie on the UK scene was all but destroyed by the Anarchy tour. Were you surprised by the speed with which the managers took over?

Not at all. We have learnt a lot more about McLaren, Rhodes and co in retrospect than we actually knew at the time, and in those days, managers - with the particular exception of the naive Brian Epstein - were traditionally seen as 'bad guys'. What did surprise and disappoint me greatly was the speed with which the musicians allowed the unity of the movement to be ripped apart, and personally contributed to this. The Pistols, for instance, were quick to gang up on Glen Matlock during the Anarchy tour, making his life such a misery that he left the band. Lydon, Cook and Jones have all since publicly expressed their regret over this, explaining that the situation was surreptitiously engineered by McLaren. Yet, they were prepared to hound out a member of their own band without any apparent effort to get to the bottom of the problems.

The Pistols were at the centre of most of the trouble on the Anarchy tour. They were now deliberately keeping their distance from The Clash, and their attitude to The Damned was dreadfully high-handed. The Damned had blotted their copy book by saying that they would go ahead and appear at venues which had banned the Pistols. As usual, the Pistols set up immediate hostilities without making any attempt to find out if The Damned had any circumstances or credible reasons contributing to this decision - which they did.

trakMARX - Other groups were rocking a proto-punk vibe across the globe in isolation in the mid-Seventies - groups like Australia's Radio Birdman, as well as plenty of Boston bands (the Modern Lovers, Mirrors, Rocket From the Tombs, The Electric Eels). Why don't they get their props?

The Modern Lovers, I'm sure, have received due credit for their place in the scheme of things. As for the other bands - it's the same old problem. They didn't break through themselves in any significant way, through record sales or profile, and although their names do still crop up occasionally in interviews with musicians who found them inspiring, not enough people are interested enough to write or read about them, and publishers couldn't give a shit. Books are a different area - authors should know better, or at least find out. Interestingly, I have heard The Electric Eels mentioned several times recently. Seems there are people out there trying to get their hands on old recordings.

trakMARX - In a parallel to the NYC scene, UK Punk was pretty much over by 1978. Having kicked down the doors to the industry so effectively, why did the record companies find it so easy to re-establish control?

Cash! Also, the record companies didn't have to divide to conquer. The bands had already done all the dividing for them. And so there was no united front, no mutually agreed ethical stance. It could be argued that even if there had been, ethics don't count for a lot when you're starving. None of the early bands had made a lot of money, and record company contracts gave them the opportunity to carry on making music when many would have had to quit otherwise. There comes a point when everyone needs to be paid for the job they do, no matter how creative or vocational that job. At the same time, the independent label network had been established, although eventually it couldn't compete. Most groups, faced with a choice between a good-hearted, enthusiastic but poor indie label and a wealthy multi-national went for the wealthy multi-national. Obviously, as anarcho-punks like Crass came into the picture, the finer principles of punk were revived and upheld in some small measure. But even among those who elected to run their own careers and labels with equality and integrity, there was always the danger of human weakness entering the picture. You would have been sure you could trust the Dead Kennedies for moral fibre, but a few years back, they made the archetypal, bloated, rock-star dash to the courtroom, squabbling over money in a particularly unseemly welter of accusations. And Jello lost.

It wasn't the UK punk scene that was over by 1978, it was the dream; the whole youthful, optimistic, crusading tilt at the establishment. It worked for a while because it took the industry by surprise, but it was doomed to failure because this was, after all, the real world, a place where power and wealth win out over idealism in the long run, and where threats are either absorbed or annihilated. Things have of course become more ruthlessly corporate since then. Someone like Malcolm McLaren would just not be tolerated these days; he would be sent packing with a smacked bottom in five minutes. The indie labels have been squeezed out of the picture almost completely, and where they do exist, it's usually because they have become 'major' labels in their own right, or survive within the corporations. Ironically, the 'indie' spirit is more visible in America, with punk labels like Drive-Thru functioning as organisations run by fans who champion new music and support the musicians in a kind of community set-up - although they too are forced into regular combat with the ever-extending tentacles of the corporations.

Punk - as a musical style, as an attitude and, less impressively, as a 'fashion' look, has survived well beyond 1978, right up to today. There have been waves and waves of new, excited and exciting punk bands since then. Who could forget the glorious Anti-Nowhere League? Or the effervescent animal-rights campaigner Beki Bondage? Some of the original bands made arguably their best albums after 1978 - for instance, The Damned with 'Machine Gun Etiquette', Siouxsie & the Banshees with 'Join Hands' and Chelsea with 'Evacuate'. And there can be no greater tribute to the enduring qualities of punk than that from Stiff Little Fingers' Jake Burns who says that for him, punk was a 'lifestyle choice', and one he still adheres to today.

trakMARX - Was the commercial potential of the 'new wave' at all to blame?

It did contribute to the hijacking of punk, but it was a two-way thing. Record companies were obviously going to sign acts who were clearly bound for the charts and therefore likely to generate money. Those acts were not about to turn down the chance of making a stash either. I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with musicians wanting to make money; what you agree to do on your way to making it is the more significant factor. Again, though, that's a different debate. I can think of few 'new wave' acts who were immorally trying to cash in. They were just writing good songs from a punk or punkish perspective, and thousands of other people liked them too. Remember that the Pistols, The Clash and The Damned all wrote great pop songs. Nothing wrong with that.

trakMARX - UK Punk has often had a split personality when it comes to identity. Some swear it was a working class youth movement for change that was abused by the very system it set out to destroy, whilst others maintain that it was an art statement. Does the truth lie somewhere in between?

It was both of those things but many more. My take on punk was that it stood for individuality and personal freedom. You were encouraged to express whatever you wanted however you wanted, and it didn't matter whether you could play an instrument or paint like Turner. It was all about having a go, about equal opportunities. A fanzine was as good as a column in a weekly music paper. It was never a class movement. Punk, perfectly, was a welcoming place for people of every class and every race and every age and either sex. It was not judgmental or exclusive. It wasn't an 'ist' place. It wasn't particularly sexy or sexual. It was about music and art and politics and protest and photography and writing and campaigning and reality and fantasy and just about anything else that the individual wanted to contribute - combinations of some or all of these things. It was about the joy and the confidence of giving something a shot within a supportive community. At its best, it was about the journey rather than the destination, although inevitably, that would have to change. Another important point is that the fans were made to feel part of everything; they were not kept at arm's length by arrogant, all-conquering 'heroes'.

trakMARX - Siouxsie's comments that she 'couldn't afford to buy anything from Sex' seem somewhat at odds with other reports from the time. Is she guilty of playing down her affluent background or is it irrelevant?

She may well have bought the odd outfit from Sex, and she may have come from an affluent background (which doesn't necessarily mean that she had huge amounts of her own money to splash around as a teenager). It's impossible to tell exactly what she meant, since the interview I did with her was conducted by email and there were no voice-clues. However, I read it as a comment on how punk was, to some people, an expensive fashion statement - the equivalent to today's 'designer' syndrome. In other words, there were those who missed the point. Whatever, it's irrelevant, because Siouxsie was a great role model and the quality of the music she made for years afterwards is her legacy, not the peep-hole dresses, the dramatic eye make-up and the other visual devices with which she challenged 'the normal'. As she said, she wore her clothes, they didn't wear her. She was dressing to confront, not to titillate.

trakMARX - Was Punk Rock always more likely to make its mark in a small country like the UK as opposed to a massive nation such as the USA?

Oh, yes. In the Seventies, without the promotional services of MTV and the Internet, alternative groups would have had to tour for years on end or else be on the receiving end of a massive record-company budget to make any dents outside of the hip, major cities.

trakMARX - Why do you think Punk has remained such a productive and explosive genre 25 years (or 40 odd years if you're reading this in the US) after its inception?

People still want to make a loud and exhilarating noise, and punk was the best noise ever. It's easy to play, it sounds and feels fantastic, it still accommodates all-comers, it can be hard-core or melodic, it can be avant garde or basic, just however you want it, you can yell your protest with punk or you can rant about nothing at all and it will still sound great, and the things that it stood for are just as attractive now as they were then, including the fact that you felt free to be proud of yourself no matter who you were or what you looked like. You didn't have to take shit from anyone, and you didn't have to be 'cool' or good-looking to be accepted into punk circles, although some were and just as many weren't. That sort of thing just wasn't an issue. Punk was by, for and about ordinary people. If anything, it stuck up for the underdog. This was another of its 'arms'. And so for many insecure or angst-ridden youngsters, this was a wonderfully supportive, enlightening and encouraging environment. People who were angry at the Government, at their life in a tower block, at unemployment, at their family, at their spots and dandruff, at the unfairness of things in general, were able to identify with punk and find in it a release. Adolescence probably hasn't changed much since the world began, and punk is therefore a timeless attraction, as proved by the recent popularity of bands such as Good Charlotte. They're not sex gods and they don't try to be. The twins - Benji and Joel - have had a genuinely lousy childhood, and they sing about it. The more contented fans of 25 years ago might have been thinking about relationships and listening to Generation X or The Boys, or maybe The Yobs' Christmas album for a laugh. Today, they have Blink 182 (although having said that, this particular group must be dipping further and further back into their high-school memories. I'm sure it's many years since any one of them went to the prom or fell in love with a girl at the rock show).

trakMARX - Does it disappoint you that whilst the evolution of Punk Rock commercially has made plenty of money for its respective artists in many cases, the original protagonists often wallow in poverty to this day?

It upsets and infuriates rather than disappoints me. I have all the time in the world for groups like the UK Subs who are still trekking round the country, gigging wherever they can, because they simply love it and can imagine no other way of life. I remember Charlie Harper once telling me that, 'I really wanna go with my boots on,' meaning die onstage. It's outrageous that John Lydon, figurehead for the whole movement, has had to go into property-dealing in America to make a buck. All power to him that he has carried it off. But the people I feel most for are those one-time pioneers who have tried to carry on in the real spirit of punk, pushing the boundaries, trying new things, going where their instincts take them, flying in the face of every consecutive hype and getting nowhere. I won't name names, but there are certain characters who deserve our every respect, and a decent living, and they are not getting it.

trakMARX - Punk is still very much a relevant concept amongst media types today - from the hairstyles and clothes of punk to the sounds and attitudes of rebellion. We are currently being sold Punk Disco, Punk Boy Bands, Techno Punk and rehashed punk as Metal Lite (to name but 4). Why have subsequent generations found it so hard to come up with a viable substitute of their own?

I suppose there are only so many chords, so many notes, and so many ways to play aggressively. Punk was the simplest and most effective way of doing that. It's never been bettered. Perhaps there's nothing left to invent. The last, authentic, do-it-yourself movement was the warehouse dance scene. It picked up on punk's example of resourcefulness and independence without seeking to replicate the music. I must admit, I did enjoy the later incorporation of punk into dance music, especially with The Prodigy (natural successors to the League, with 'Smack My Bitch Up') and the obvious punk influences upon heavy metal, and rap, and their various crossovers. Eminem is the purest and finest punk star ever - according to some definitions of punk, including my own. He saw it through and never lost his bottle once.

Punk and boy bands I know little about, thankfully. But I'd like to mention Shane, ex Boyzone, and Robbie Williams, who do manage to fly the flag for attitude. They are not afraid to make tits of themselves by exposing their human selves from time to time; they do what they feel rather than what's expected, quite often. And that guy from Westlife who drunkenly challenged the whole of So Solid Crew at The Brits - I am filled with admiration for him. He is certainly an inspiration and an honorary punk rocker. As for Gareth Gates, I wouldn't like to say what someone should do with that bar of soap he so obviously spikes his hair with.

trakMARX - Do you think we'll ever see the likes of Punk Rock again?

No. It was a real one-off, it was the freak result of boredom and planning and resolve and timing and coincidence, and I'm privileged to have been around when it started.

trakMARX - And finally, when it comes to definitions on Punk - I'd go with John Holstrom's 'Fuck you!' What's your definition?

'Fuck 'em all! Let's go!'

Jean Encoule – 24/04/03 –


contact - the needle & the damage done