PUNK. Where indeed to begin?
It was the period in the 1970’s that many say was one of the most aggressive, influential and historical changes in music, art and fashion. But does its spirit, anarchy and edge live on today still?
Late July. I’ve decided to take a break away from the camera and do something I detest doing – having a sit down and relax. My computer then makes that delightful BING noise, the kind of noise you expect to make when a life changing idea explodes into your head. I have an email pending. My hand trembles over the mouse. It’s a message from TV Smith, former front man of punk band The Adverts. He has agreed to help my out on my project with an email interview. I am feeling euphoric! It was Smith’s fast, intelligent and fierce poetry and lyrics that thrived in the Adverts and his solo work that encouraged and inspired me to experiment with writing during my student days (happy times), but enough is enough. It was time to begin. I was hungry and intensely intrigued to hear his thoughts on Punk today….
Having come from Devon before moving to London to form the Adverts, what was it like growing up there as a punk?
It was the ‘pre-punk’ era when I originally lived in Devon. There hadn’t been any Sex Pistols or Clash or Damned at that point. We had The New York Dolls and Iggy, The Velvet Underground and the MC5, but they weren’t considered to be any one particular genre and were only connected by the fact they all came from the US and were somehow different and more dangerous than the conventional rock and pop groups. Those of us who liked these sort of bands were just a small cult of enthusiasts but we didn’t have a name like ‘punk’ for ourselves.
What was the first punk rock group you ever saw live?
The Ramones at the Roundhouse in 1975. Even then it wasn’t really thought of as ‘punk’ music, it was just a genius gonzo take on a rock band. But they were trailblazers for the movement before it had a name – and they had the word ‘punk’ in one of their songs, so that clinches it!
How did the song Gary Gilmore’s Eyes come about?
There was a media furore at the start of 1977 about this small-time criminal in America called Gary Gilmore, who’d killed a couple of people in gas station hold-ups. The story was being particularly latched on to because Gilmore himself wanted his execution to be carried out, but liberal groups in the US were trying to get it stopped. It was a sad case really, blown up into exploitative headlines on all the front pages over here. After his execution his retinas were used for transplant, according to his wishes. He was a complex man who realised he’d led a bad life and was trying to do something good after his death, while all around him the media were trying to paint him as a black and white, cartoon-like character. That’s where the idea of the song came from.
Do you think that punk is sexy?
To be honest, I never really thought about it at the time. It certainly wasn’t glamorous, in fact we were reacting against mainstream ideas of glamour and sexiness, which seemed fake and elitist. In retrospect though, I think it was sexy because it was free. We were open and honest about what we were doing, who we were, and how we wanted to express ourselves. That’s genuinely sexy because it’s natural and comes from within, rather than being imposed from outside values and ideas.
What status do you believe punk to be in the present day? Is punk dead? Has punk matured, or did it never leave?
The idea of punk as a creative force will never go away, I think. It’s a state of mind and an attitude towards life. The terminology doesn’t really matter.
Does it have the same shock factor or rawness as it did then, or do you think with our generation that it’s got to the point now where it’s very difficult to shock now?
It’s a fact of life that once you’ve shocked society out of complacency once it’s difficult to do it in the same way again. There’s a danger it could become a cliché, exactly what punk tried not to be and criticised other sectors of society for being. No one cares about coloured hair or swearing or kids wearing strange clothing now. No one is shocked if a band plays loud and fast and aggressive. You have to adapt to the way society has changed and find new ways to expose what you think is wrong with it. It’s not about shocking people, it’s about spreading ideas.
Do you think men have a higher status than women in punk in terms of music?
I think it’s one of the few areas in society and culture where they don’t.
What is punk to you?
It’s the opportunity to say and do what I think is right, and to be myself.