This is a transcript of the fourth show in the six-part documentary series Peeling Back The Years, in which Peel was interviewed by his long-time producer John Walters about the development of JP's musical tastes down the years. The fourth programme is about punk.
- Ray Martin & His Concert Orchestra: Blue Tango
John Walters: Blue Tango by Ray Martin & His Concert Orchestra, a big enough hit in 1952 to persuade the boy John Peel to part with his pocket money. And since then, he’s had quite a lot more vinyl and we’ve traced his listening career through to 1976. In early 1976, I must say that if we look back now it seems fairly obvious that quite a lot of the likeable cheeky chappies seemed to have moved to Los Angeles and the pub rock bands were all playing in stadiums, and a great deal of success seemed to be equated with dry ice and so on. I wonder is that because we are looking back now? When you think of early ’76, did you feel it was a little bit dispiriting at the time?
John Peel: Well, probably not. I think it’s the old banging your head against the wall principle. You know, you don’t realize whatever it is until you stop doing it - I forget the exact expression, but you know what I mean anyway. And I think I was probably relatively satisfied with the first part of 1976, until we got into the second part. The problem was of course was that the only records you had to look forward to were records were you said, well, there’s going to be a new Led Zeppelin LP in March, that kind of stuff, and there’ll be a new Roxy Music LP some time in the autumn, and then that was about it. So there was very little unexpected.
JW: Yeah, it did seem, looking back at the old scripts – as I of course was here – you know, a lot of it was treading water. You know, Phil Collins popped up with Brand X, doing his bit of jazz, Elkie Brookes was hot, and all sorts of unlikely people today. But it seemed as if nothing was going anywhere.
JP: Well, I think the thing is too is that most of the bands, if we had any new bands in for sessions or we played any records by new bands, they were bands that contained at least one member of a previously successful group, because they were the only people who were likely to get recording contracts. Because you have to remember that then there were no independent record labels worthy of the name, and people like Island and Virgin were seen as being pretty radical and out on a limb.
JW: In that case, what was the first hint that something different was at last coming over the horizon, as far as your ears were concerned?
JP: Well, having mentioned Island Records, it was one of their acts, I think. It was Eddie & The Hot Rods I think were the first people to give me an indication that there was change in the air. And that is because they were doing that kind of is it Canvey Island or something like that, I don’t know – always a romance about Essex, which has never seemed to me to be a romantic place at all. But that kind of Essex R&B thing - just very, very fast. And I went to see them play in London, at the Speakeasy actually of all places, and thoroughly enjoyed them, and came back and told you about it – and you as I remember weren’t entirely convinced by Eddie & The Hot Rods. But they did seem to indicate that there was something afoot.
- Eddie & The Hot Rods: Do Anything You Want To Do
JW: I remember going to see them, because they were one of those names around, and standing with Muff Winwood, who was sort of looking at them for a record company, about whether to sign them I think. And both of us had played in bands in the sixties, but our attitude was, “We’ve done all this before. They’re just doing all the old stuff.” You know, it seemed to be a lot of energy and banging – but was that what excited you? That it was the lack of sophistication? That you thought, “Thank goodness we’re getting back to roots again”?
JP: I suppose it must have been that initially, because I was genuinely very excited about them and couldn’t wait to get back and tell you about them as far as I recall. And then of course that was followed shortly afterwards – there were people like Graham Parker & The Rumour, and although they don’t sound all that radical now, at the same time there was something going on. You felt there was something happening there too that indicated that change was going to come – quotes Sam Cooke, or misquotes Sam Cooke, actually. Wish I hadn’t bothered with that actually. And then of course the next thing that happened of importance – every week, sometimes a couple of times a week, I used to go down to Virgin Records at Marble Arch, and the chap who was the manager of the place at the time used to, I’m sure without the approval of head office, allow me to take records out on approval. And the ones I didn’t want I would return. Obviously, the ones I wanted and played on the radio I would have to pay for. And I took out about ten or twelve records, one of which was the first LP by the Ramones. Now I liked several things about it. One, I liked the simplicity of the name really and the fact that it had an implication of that Spanish New York thing, which seemed quite romantic, and also because it was a monochrome sleeve as well. So I took all of these things back and I put the record on. And initially, because of all the kind of aggression and the brevity of the numbers, I was slightly taken aback by it, but sufficiently excited I always think anyway that I in that particular programme I put some five or six tracks into that night’s programme and rewrote the running order and everything.
JW: And did the audience like them?
JP: Not a great deal. The initial reaction was one of not hostility exactly but people, rather as they had done when we first played reggae, you know, almost a decade previously, people had written in and said, “Come on, old fellow, pull yourself together.” As they do now with hip hop, you know – rather regretfully more than anything else: “Come on, get this nonsense out of your system, old boy, and get back to” - whatever it was, you know.
JW: It was just a phase, like your parents used to say.
JP: That’s right. You’ll grow out of it in no time at all. And that sort of reaction has always excited me anyway, because whenever people start writing in in large numbers to complain, you always feel that there must be a good reason for it. And I tend to have exactly the opposite reaction to that my letter writers, my correspondents, expect me to have. And I then started – well, we did, didn’t we – I seem to remember that we did a kind of special punk programme.
JW: Wait a minute. You’re going ahead of things a little bit now. Let’s first, because some of our younger listeners won’t have actually heard the Ramones in all possibility – so let’s hear something from that first Ramones album.
- Ramones: Blitzkreig Bop (LP – The Ramones)
JW: The Ramones, not sounding quite as shocking as perhaps they did ten years ago. But I wonder if some things you said just now is a bit of a clue to your ears and your listening. Because what you said rather attracted you to the Ramones was really a kind of minimalist approach, getting it down to the basics, sort of one easy name – I’m not quite sure about that – even the cover, just black and white, short numbers, no nonsense. I wonder if we are perhaps getting onto what you’re about, which perhaps has not come through as obviously in the first three programmes that we’ve done. Is it really about very just the very basic simple things in rock and roll that you’re about? Really, the more sophisticated things become, the less you like it. Is that right?
JP: Yes, that is true. To a certain degree that is true. Even things like the Pink Floyd’s more complex numbers were still at the same time actually rather simple. You know, they were basically just the same tune played over and over and over again over the whole side of an LP in essence. So simplicity was the rule there as well. And I do seem to remember – there may be historical evidence of this – but I do seem to remember myself saying in the mid-70s prior to punk that I would like to see some sort of return to the discipline that was imposed by the two and a quarter minute long single thing, like Jerry Lee Lewis was the example I think I seem to remember using at the time. Was that when you went into the studio, you’d got 2 minutes and 15 seconds, 2.30 at the outside, in which to say everything you’d got to say, possibly in your life if the record didn’t sell well enough. And that seemed to me to concentrate the mind wonderfully and to produce quite extraordinarily passionate records.
JW: There weren’t any British punk records at the start, in the period you’ve been talking about. When it was first getting the publicity there just weren’t any records. Do you remember the first group that we had on live, the first punk band?
JP: That would have been the Vibrators of course, who were very much looked down on, because they were seen - as they may well have been, I don’t know – but they were seen as opportunists by the true punks. But they did get the first record out that could identifiably be described as a punk record.
- Vibrators: We Vibrate (single) RAK
JW: October 1976 when we took that first step, but then the Dammed did come in in November and did more of a straight punk session, and were jolly friendly pleasant boys when they came in. I was a bit apprehensive. But the session that they did for us then, which is available as a Peel Session – let’s mention that – one of our radio sessions that is commercially available – was short, sharp numbers, very short and sharp. And yet they afterwards went almost to be like a psychedelic band. I mean, they changed completely. But I mean, did you feel that those very early sessions were perhaps nearer to what punk was about?
JP: Well, I liked the fact that some of the bands after they recorded the sessions – and of course it’s easy for me to say this, because quite clearly I’m not involved and as it were my career isn’t anything to do with this – but I mean what happened was that bands would come along, record a session, and then break up, feeling that having recorded a Peel session was as far as they wanted to go. Or sometimes they would just make a record and once the record would have been played on the radio, again they would break up, feeling that was enough. And I quite like the idea of that, because for something like six or seven years prior to the advent of punk we had rather suffered from the fact that we were caught up with a number of bands who quite clearly saw what they were doing as being part of a life-long career structure that was going to take them into old age still churning out the hits in big stadiums and so forth in America.
JW: And some of them still are.
JP: Some of the brutes are out there at this moment doing it, I’m appalled to say. So the punk attitude seemed to be entirely appropriate, where being in a band and making records was only a part of an entire lifestyle rather than just being an end in itself. It was something that people wanted to, but having done would then discard, and I like that idea.
JW: Well, let’s listen to one of those items – Neat Neat Neat, I think, from the Dammed’s first session – that tentative first step we were making into punk history.
- Damned: Neat Neat Neat (session)
JW: Neat Neat Neat from the Damned, a radio session for the John Peel programme, now available on vinyl. But the first important punk record I think available on vinyl came a month after that. That would be December 1976, the famous Anarchy In The UK - the Sex Pistols finally brought something out. Did you think – we did play it certainly, we were about the only people who did – but did you think at the time, “I’ve got to play this, this is a symbol of what the kids are now doing, I don’t actually like it”? I mean, did you like the record?
JP: It’s difficult to remember to be perfectly honest with you. I’m pretty sure that I did, although I seem to remember a slight disappointment with it in that it seemed vaguely reminiscent of that kind of New York Dolls area, you know. In a sense, it was a bit too long, for a start. I don’t know exactly how long it is, but it was longer than I’d imagined it was going to be, and was slightly disappointed - but nevertheless knew it was a record that was considerably better than any of the other things that were being offered to play at the time.
- Sex Pistols: Anarchy In The UK
JW: Anarchy In The UK, of course. But during that period I notice you were still playing things like – well, the Eagles of all people, ZZ Top, Bob Seger, a lot of the old folk musicians and so on. But eventually a lot of the little independent companies and the major companies all started to bring out sort of punk material, and gradually the punk thing started to dominate the show. Was this a deliberate move on your part?
JP: It wasn’t a period that I particularly enjoyed in a way, as far as the radio went anyway, because the programme became given over almost entirely to punk records and punk-related stuff, with reggae included as well, but actually nothing else. And I think in retrospect that that was probably a mistake, because the programmes that we do now are much more broad – they cover a much wider range of stuff – and I think that is really the way it should be. But what happened, I suppose, to be perfectly honest, was that the programme became - as it has from time to time over the years – it became fleetingly fashionable. And it became almost obligatory, for example, to put on the back of your single, “Thanks to John Peel and John Walters”. And this didn’t guarantee plays, because it usually came in the wake of a session or something like that.
JP: But so in a way I understood in a small way what it must be like to be in a very, very successful group and the extent to which the requirements of your audience rather take over from what it is you actually would rather be doing. I mean, to the point where you perhaps don’t even realize it yourself until later, as I didn’t. But it was so exciting to be a vaguely fashionable figure at my advanced and in the state of disrepair that I was in that I think I probably went along with it a bit too enthusiastically and thereby missed out on a lot of other stuff which perhaps I should have been playing and which I might even have been listening to at home.
JW: Well, those who were still listening and staying – clinging onto your ears, as you might say - as you rushed onwards during 1977 must have realized that your hearing-buds were changed at that time, because I’ve just looked at some of the groups we were having. I notice our live sessions at the start of ’77, Stranglers did their first session; in May, the Jam did their first session, and I think Caravan probably did their last one the same week actually. So for anyone who was capable of change, they needed to be available to change there. And Generation X, they seemed to be around a lot. Let’s just listen to something, an early example of the work of Generation X.
- Generation X: Your Generation (single) Chrysalis
JW: Early Generation X as heard on the John Peel programme in 1977, featuring of course Billy Idol, who is the finest example surely of somebody who has totally sold the whole thing out in a sense philosophically and given up being a punk entirely and becoming a star in America.
JP: Of course, in America I think he is still probably perceived as a bit of a rebel, you know, because they like their rebels to in their early 30s and so on, you know, (???), and he certainly seems to be. Good luck to him, you know.
JW: But looking back to, we all know what happened since, but what was happening then, it did seem, gosh, there’s a revolution taking place here – in the way that music was being made and the way pop music was being perceived and so on and rock music. I wonder what was important to you. Was it the act of being like a do-it-yourself style music? You know, having a do it yourself style music so that people could say, “I don’t need a smoke machine and all the clever electronic devices”. Bang, bang, bang, you know – just bang it out, sort of thing, you know. Or was it more the politics, their attitude – politics with a small P – their attitude of how you didn’t need to go and live in Los Angeles, you know, and their attitude to life, a simple sort of simple revolutionary, anarchy in the UK, kicking over the traces? What was it that appealed to you at your age and experience?
JP: Well, I think both of those things really. And I suppose there was an element in it where I thought to myself, “Well, if I was still at that age myself, I could actually have done this myself,” which I would have rather enjoyed doing. But I liked the chaos of it all really.
JW: Well, that rather implies the politics in a sense.
JP: Yes … yeah.
JW: The breaking the order.
JP: And I’ve always said subsequently, you know, the most important thing that came out of it was the demystification of the whole process of making records. Where people didn’t have to come down to London and didn’t have to sign up with some highly exploitative agency and make records by that means – they could just actually do it themselves. So they could knock over a few phoneboxes and sell the bass player’s motorbike and have enough money to go into a studio somewhere and make their own single and press up 500 or 750 copies of it - and I liked that. But more important of course now was the fact that of these records an extraordinary percentage of them were really very good indeed. And very funny - that is one of the things people overlook when they think back to punk. They think of it as a rather serious kind of scoio-political movement, but there was a lot of merriment in it as well. And of the demo tapes we were getting at the time – I mean, contrasting it with the way it is now, where a couple of weekends ago I say down and listened to over 200 demo tapes, and an exceptionally melancholy task it was too, because although there were none of them that were perfectly ghastly, there were none of them that were worth hearing again. Whereas in those days you’d listen to ten demo tapes and five or six of them would be bands that you actually wanted to book and by and large did – and there would be a couple of them that would be wonderful. And I’ve got a lot of them at home still. Things like the first Undertones demo tape – wonderful. I mean, the sound quality was monstrous, but the atmosphere of it and the energy that was generated was matchless.
JW: What you were saying just now about people forget it wasn’t all gloomy sort of boys spitting on. I mean, some of them were, but there was humor and quite a lot of wit out there. Punk wasn’t just one thing. People forget that. It wasn’t the way it’s become now when punks can line up to be photographed with Japanese tourists as if they were the yeoman warders – they know what their hair should be like. It’s become a new formal approach, it’s become a new tradition. But in those days it could be almost anything. And there were so many bands that weren’t just going 1-2-3-4 and then banging very fast, which was the punk style as we think of it now. A lot of different things were happening. I mean, for instance, how did you feel when – well, we both went down to see them – the Slits, for instance, were a good example of something that didn’t just sound like everything else.
JP: Well, obviously both of us adored the Slits. Because they could barely play.
JW: Got their autographs, actually.
JP: Have you, have you? Very collectible, of course, Sotheby’s – well, perhaps not Sotheby’s just yet; none of them are dead as far as I know. But no, none of them quite clearly could play their instruments at all - or I mean with any real skill – but at the same time there was something quite clearly remarkable about them. And I think, oddly enough, that the first Peel Session to be issued, the first session they recorded for the programme, was like – I still think that is the best record that has come out on Strange Fruit, is that Slits session. Because it just still sounds wonderful. And to me, rather more than the straight-ahead punk things, the Dammed stuff and those sort of records, it does sum up the spirit of the era.
- Slits: Love And Romance (session)
JW: Love And Romance by the Slits from their very first John Peel session, available on record as a Peel Session. And of course the interesting thing was, though, that what they heard was quite artistically shocking to us – what we heard when they played – but in fact they’d already been polished up when they got to that session. Our engineers gave them a lot of time and retakes and they did little bits separately and they sounded – I was amazed - how melodic.
JP: Yes. How they pulled together.
JP: That’s certainly true.
JW: And then they went on to get more and more polished and disappeared.
JP: That’s right, yes they did. And on the first LP, although it’s an LP which I can still listen to with a lot of pleasure, but it sounded like a different band – so those sessions… And at the time, it was very important. I mean, those sessions really caught things just from the moment that they appeared above the ground really, before the record industry got hold of them, or before the band themselves were able to afford to get into a studio and make their own record, and just to work with other producers and so on, who would by definition would distort what it was they were doing.
JW: Well, it was one of the values of radio at least – at least radio in the sense of the John Peel programme at the time – that it was easy for a group that we saw in a pub to just step in and do almost what it was they thought they were doing in their heads.
JP: Purely and simply because there wasn’t the time really for them to try and refine it.
JW: And here’s another good example – the first recording, as far as I know, by Siouxsie & The Banshees.
- Siouxsie & The Banshees: Love In A Void (session)
JW: Love In A Void from Siouxsie & The Banshees, who I think I’d seen a couple of times and we got in. But what do you feel about Siouxsie now? Because there’s a good example of someone who is not just sort of sold out and gone commercial but has continued with a career for, well, ten years.
JP: Yes. Well, you’d never have imagined it was possible at the time. Although the stuff the Banshees do now doesn’t please me as much as the first things they did for us, at the same time it would be wrong for me to condemn a band for surviving for ten years, because quite clearly the Fall have done exactly that, and I exalt in everything the Fall do. I mean, I don’t think I have ever failed to play a Fall record on the radio. So continuing for a long time is not of itself bad, I think, as long as what you do continues to be interesting and amusing, and in a sense kind of irritating as well. I think the Banshees things have become not exactly predictable, but at the same time you’ve got a pretty good idea what it’s going to sound like.
JW: Yeah. But of course some of the punks – to move on a little bit – did take that revolt and that spirit of revolt and certainly make it into style, there’s no question of that, and also found that it was going to be marketable, it wasn’t just a temporary kick over the traces.
JP: Well, I think it became marketable almost from the very start. Like all of these things, the process of corruption begins from the moment things start, you know, and that is always a distressing thing to watch. And it is something that is always difficult to do when you are putting programs together and so forth, and you are trying to keep abreast of the interesting and exciting and energy-filled areas of music, because you can see this process of corruption spreading very, very quickly, and it’s very pervasive. And when you are aware of this yourself, it is not easy to explain to other people really, because you can’t actually say where it is. It’s not something that you can quantify in any way at all. And this has led over the years to the accusation that once things become popular then we abandon them – as thought this was like a policy decision, but it really isn’t like that. In a way, I mean, I wish that there were – sometimes I go too far I think in wanting to cling onto things for as long as I possibly can to demonstrate that there is no truth to this accusation. But at the same time the very process of being successful is terribly corrupting. And I don’t criticise the people that are successful for this, and I don’t really criticise the record companies – because I always thought it preposterous that the Clash, for example, to sing that thing Remote Control or whatever it was, Complete Control, against CBS Records. I mean, either they were being deceitful or quite astonishingly stupid. If you sign to a large record company, quite clearly they are long-term investment organisations, you know. They are not charitable trusts or even in any particular way artistic organizations. So pretend to assume that when you got involved with a large record company you were surprised to find they were thinking in terms of a long career and so forth is just complete nonsense I think, and as I say, deceitful. I think the main restrictions on bands continuing creativity, and therefore their continuing ability to be of interest to us, does come from the audience and the requirements of the audience. And as band, as their reputation spreads outwards to Europe – if we are talking about British bands, say – to Europe and then out to Japan and America and beyond even. With the Cure and Siouxsie & The Banshees now, Latin America, they’ve opened up that area, and so on. Quite clearly those audiences expect them to make the noise that they’ve always made. And this must make it very, very difficult for them to actually try anything really different. And it would be arrogant I think of us too at the same time to expect them to remain in poverty and suffering because of some sort of obscure artistic yearning of ours.
JW: That sounds like a cue for Adam Ant.
JP: Why not?
- Adam & The Ants: Deutscher Girls (single)
JW: When he moved onto the pirate makeup and filling very large halls with screaming girls and all that diddlee-qua-qua stuff…
JP: I liked the diddlee-qua-qua. I was always very keen on that.
JW: Well, I mean, he became a number one selling artist. Did you feel any resentment? Did you feel, “There’s another chap who has cashed in on being on this programme”?
JP: Really not at all, no. I mean, it’s one of those things that people always assume you do feel. But in a way, as with someone like Feargal Sharkey, who seems to have stopped making records, which is a pity – but I mean, you know, people seem to expect, I was asked so many times by people who were interviewing me for fanzines and things, with something approaching relish, because they expected there would be a great tornado of abuse, did I regret the fact that Feargal Sharkey was having hit singles. Not at all, I was really pleased that he was. Because I mean, you know, he came from Derry, obviously, and a place were there is not a lot of opportunity for people to do particularly well unfortunately, and had done extremely well, certainly financially and so on, and I was pleased to see that. And I saw it really almost as you might, although in a way this sounds slightly patronizing – I’ve only just thought of it, so it’s not something that occupies my thoughts a lot – but rather like a sort of headmaster of a school who sees ex-pupils of the school going on to do quite good things and having exhibitions of their paintings in reputable galleries, you know, or having their plays performed, you know, by (???), something like that. Do you know what I mean? It’s that sort of feeling, really, so there is that element of, as I said before, of that sort of patron of the arts, in a way, but not in a kind of 17th/178h century kind of way where you have to invest your own money and time. But just that you were in a position to give people who were doing work that you felt…
JW: Just give them some exposure.
JP: Yeah, give them…
JW: Now it is up to them. I think people do assume that you have some sort of spiritual stake in the group, whereas it is up to them to carry on with it.
JW: In Adam’s case he chose to go on and make money. Good luck to him. But starting off, as we said right at the start of the show, with the Ramones giving a hint of what might be done, other things were happening in the States, often of a far more extreme nature, weren’t they, that I seem to remember that we were using at that time.
JP: Well, of course, yes. There was that whole New York – what do they call it? – no … No Wave, wasn’t it?
JW: Oh yes.
JP: And it was all people like Mars and James Chance and so on and the Contortions and DNA. There were numerous bands called DNA, but one of them. But the people that I liked best were Teenage Jesus – which of course was Lydia Lunch - Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, because their records seemed to be – I mean, No Wave seemed to pretty much accurately describe it. They seemed to be kind of anti-everything, you know, confrontational records - and I’ve always rather enjoyed those.
JP: Well, the spirit of this particular program I suppose, and the spirit of punk, has been getting back to your roots of what you wanted. I mean, you’ve said in the very first programme that you were attracted by the unhinged voice. Well, there were no voices came more unhinged than Lydia Lunch.
- Teenage Jesus & The Jerks: Orphans (single) Lust/Unlust
JW: Teenage Jesus & The Jerks. I suppose the band that started not being punks but being in the punk period moving on doing something a little bit different, who are still significant today – we were talking the other day about rebooking them yet again, 10 years on – the Fall. Why do you think there has been that extended love affair between you and the Fall? It’s not as if it’s been a social thing. I don’t think you’ve hardly met them.
JP: I’ve met them.
JW: But every record that comes out isn’t a disappointment to you.
JP: No, never is. They’ve never disappointed me yet, and I suspect won’t. And this is becoming a unique experience. I mean, there have been people I’ve been able to cite from the past who have gone on making records – people like Neil Young and so on – but their more recent work really hasn’t been up to scratch, I don’t think, or at least hasn’t had what I was looking for in it. But the Fall have not yet disappointed me, and I can’t think f any other artists who have managed to do that for ten years. And as with all of the things I like best, I simply don’t know what it is I like about the Fall. One of the things I like about Mark Smith as a human being – as I say, I’ve only met him twice, the first time I was scared stiff, rather like I was with the Damned when I first did a gig with them that he was in some way attack me - but it is the fact that he never takes the prevailing trendy attitude. I mean, some of the things he says, if he means them, I would very violently disagree with, but at the same time I’m really pleased that he actually does say what he thinks, even if he only thinks it at that particular moment, but he does come out and say it, however unfashionable it may be. So I like him, at one remove, for that reason. But just the fact that the Fall are always identifiably the Fall but they do seem to evolve. Obviously the fact that there have been so many different musicians in and out of the band over the years has contributed to that, but as you say, they’ve never let me down yet.
JW: Well, let’s go back to the point where they began to evolve, right at the star, Bingo-Master’s Break-Out.
- Fall: Bingo-Master’s Break-Out (single) Step Forward
JW: Bingo-Master’s Break-Out by the Fall, a group that is still relevant to you of course and the programme. Looking back, though, round about the same time as that record was made, I see July 1978, Dire Straits had got to number five with their first album, Dire Straits. So you look back and think, hello, the warning signs were already there that what we thought was going to be a revolution turned out to be a passing revolt. Or I wonder if it did. I wonder how you see it now. You know, because Dire Straits still, if they brought out an album now, that CD, that album, would still sell more than the whole real punk movement did put together, and many homes would love to own it and have it. So was punk a bit of a flop really?
JP: Well, not at all, for the very reason I gave earlier on, the fact that it did open the door to all of this genuinely innovative, and I suppose experimental sounds a bit pompous, but just whole areas of music which otherwise people wouldn’t even have considered, as it would have been worth... I mean, previously, prior to punk, when people formed bands, they formed them with the idea of sounding pretty much like something that was already successful, because that was the only way in which they were ever going to attract any attention at all. I mean, they might take something that already existed and make it more extreme, like somebody like Hendrix would have done, but at the same time there was no opportunity at all for bands to go away and do something that had simply not been done before. And those are the records I’ve always appreciated most, and what I look for in demo tapes and things – when I put a record on the turntable and I can’t immediately say, “Well, these people have been listening to Velvet Underground or the Cure or whoever it happens to be.” That’s what I really like more than anything else, the element of surprise. And if it hadn’t been for punk, we certainly wouldn’t have had that. And the fact that I think we were right when we didn’t have Dire Straits and we only barely had the Police – after I’d seen them playing in a concert in Holland and they’d played particularly well, and they I think would still argue that it was perhaps their best ever gig, so I was rather carried away with that. But those bands actually, although they may have gone on to vast success subsequently, people say, “You must have been mad not to have had them on the programme at the time.” But we were absolutely right not to put them on the programme.
JW: Would you say, I don’t want to totally put words into your mouth, to sum that up, that those sport of bands – Dire Straits, the Police, and many bands of that type – really sum up conformity? And the spirit of punk, whatever it was, was not conformity.
JP: Yes, I mean, certainly initially. But then of course that kind of mass nonconformity is obviously conformity, so you can’t escape from that, in the same way if you try to be a DJ without an image, the fact that there is no image, you hope that there is no image, itself immediately becomes an image. So you can’t escape from that at all. But punk at least, as I say, it’s those periods of chaos and confusion, you know, that the record industry is occasionally thrown into – as it was really I suppose with the onset of Merseybeat. You know, the idea that record companies sent people trawling up to Liverpool for almost anybody who could hold a guitar the right way round. And it is during those periods of confusion that the really exciting things happen. But as I say, the thing about punk was although it itself, as you say, ended up with people with mohicans being photographed with Japanese tourists, but the effects of it are still being felt. And that is something that cannot now be, you know, can’t be corralled again, that whole area of what people think of as like independent music, but it is something that never can be contained again, because it will always exist in some form, and that’s wonderful.
JW: Can we finish this programme with an example, not necessarily of pure punk, but something that probably couldn’t have happened without the spirit of punk, from that area.
JP: Well, I always, every time I do one of my terrible gigs, whatever records I play in the course of it, which tend to be not the ones people request – people come up and say, “Can you play something by the Sisters Of Mercy.” I say, “Under no circumstances am I ever going to play anything by the Sisters Of Mercy.” But they always come up to me at some stage, a lot of people come, and they say, “When are you going to play Teenage Kicks?” I say to them I shall play Teenage Kicks, as I have done for ten years, at the end of the event. And I always sing off with some false modest observation and then finish with Teenage Kicks, which I still maintain is the best record ever made.
- Undertones: Teenage Kicks
JW: The Undertones playing Teenage Kicks. And next week we examine the age-old problem - Is there life after punk?