Music Week, June 4, 1977

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Music Week

UK & Ireland magazines

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Punk: a definite 'yes' to the industry's questions


John Hayward

Nearly six months ago in a Music Week News Analysis, Polydor's a&r chief, Chris Parry, posed four questions about the then embryo new wave scene that would have to be answered in the affirmative before it could be said that the music was really the spearhead of a whole new substantial movement.

He asked: Will punk's popularity ever be translated into record sales? Will the music ever be granted daytime airplay? Have the punk bands got a following anywhere north of Watford? And finally, are the current bands the ones to sign or will a second wave of new young bands playing a more direct form of pop music with airplay and general acceptability to their advantage be the ones to go with?"

At that time Polydor had not yet signed a new wave act, and it seemed as if the company, along with many another majors, was sitting on the fence awaiting the appearance of a firm trend.

As the end of May nears, it can be seen that the resounding answer to Parry's first two questions has been YES and the required firm trend has definitely emerged.

Every major company that has released new wave product has been rewarded with a degree of chart action, and a fortnight ago Polydor's own The Jam appeared on Top Of The Pops (surely the ultimate sign of mass acceptance?) with its new single "In The City."

The new wave market is now a national phenomenon, and although airplay is hard to come by, the continuing support of the consumer rock weeklies and brave efforts of disc jockeys like John Peel and Dave Lee Travis have brought the music as much exposure as it needs. It cannot now be ignored as a fad that will go away.

Jake Riviera of Stiff Records makes a cogent point, harking back to the late Sixties when artists like Cream and Hendrix were denied access to the airwaves but still managed to become worldwide superstars.

A glance through the list of acts just beginning to make public waves in December now reads like a roll call of success. Debut albums by Eddie and the Hot Rods, the Damned, the Clash, the Stranglers and the Jam have all hit the Music Week chart, and fears that their sojourn in the Top 60 would be short and sweet have been dispelled by the six-week stays already achieved by the Stranglers and the Clash, high in the top 20.

Both acts have shipped the sort of figures with first attempts that are the envy of many an established second division heavy rock band.

By definition, a chart entry means widespread national sales, so the new wave market is definitely not restricted to the south-east. "We have researched the demographics of our market," said Jake Riviera, "And our investigations show that where people bolt things together, the Damned sell records. Where they grow things, the band don't sell."

But it is true that London is the centre of the whole movement — a strange fact, since the music is inspired by an original New York rock style formulated by Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, among others.

The bands are leaving New York in droves to make their name over here. This month alone, outfits including the Ramones, the Talking Heads, Blondie, Johnny Thunders' Heartbreakers, Television and even the offbeat Wayne County are in London, contributing to the lively atmosphere.

Just back from a busman's holiday in the Big Apple is Island's a&r manager Howard Thompson and he has this to say of his visit: "Most of what I saw in New York was horrendous garbage. The bands had no street sense or imagination and it was just depressing. I saw 13 groups there and only one of them was any good.

"But the London scene is carrying on in a very healthy way and it is very exciting to see groups from the provinces getting involved and making good music. Manchester seems to be a breeding ground for new wave bands and Swindon has produced an astonishingly good act called XTC.

"In the marketplace, chart success already achieved by the new wave has meant that its attitudes are beginning to filter into mainstream pop. It is very pleasing to see some real, committed rock and roll in the charts for a change." For new wave to really gain credibility, the style has got to make some impression in America, but so far reaction from New York industry figures has been bemused and somewhere around six months behind what is going on here.

The new wave is still covered with the "shock, horror, outrage" attitude which is seen in the British national daily press. A fine example of this was the recent tactic of the London Evening News running a feature on the rise of National Front popularity among young people, using a picture of the Sex Pistols as illustration. The Sex Pistols have worn Nazi regalia but the fascist philosophy runs directly against their beliefs by linking the swastika with punk rock, the mass media have smeared the music to the older generation very effectively.

New wave is now something parents love to hate — Johnny Rotten is the newspapers' new "Wild man of Pop" — and this has served to make the new wave fans close ranks and become even more fanatical than before. To create a youth cult it is very useful to have adults dislike it.

Said Howard Thompson: "A lot of people in New York were interested in what the Damned were doing and the whole scene is being talked about a lot.

"I think bands like the Stranglers and Eddie and the Hot Rods, with no real political stance and much more accessible style than the Clash or Sex Pistols type of band, will have a strong chance of breaking through in the United States, however.

"The left-wing politics and the very idea of dole-queue rock will make few inroads into the market there, because the country is so rich. There is no working class there to relate to the 'no future' message."

At one stage it was felt that lack of live gigging opportunities for the punk bands was going to be a big drawback in their campaign for mass acceptance in the UK. The Sex Pistols TV furore effectively knocked out every local authority hall from the usual concert circuit, while few college audiences seemed broad-minded enough to turn the music into a campus cult in the way that progressive rock was taken to the students hearts back in the late sixties.

But the initial lack of venues has actually started to work in the new wave's favour. The club circuit is beginning to perk up again after years in the doldrums, with places like the Affair in Swindon and the Rock Garden in Middlesbrough putting on regular new wave nights.

The music is ideally suited to the sweaty club atmosphere. Putting punk into concert halls means that the audience is on its feet from the first chord, with seats becoming early casualties from the onslaught of the fans.

A good example of what is happening in the provinces at the moment is highlighted by Jake Riviera. He tells of a recent Damned gig booked for a Southampton local authority hall. At four hours notice the council banned the concert and hasty arrangements were made to stage it at the local polytechnic.

When the bar staff and porters there found out, they immediately called a lightening strike, so the college was dry for the night, but the gig was a sell-out, seemingly made all the more attractive to the young fans by the difficulties put in its way by authority.

"They can't stop it," said Riviera. "The kids were really grooving on the gig still going ahead despite opposition. These people are just building a wall for the fans to kick against, and in a way, helping to promote the music."

So the scenario for big business and the mass acceptance of new wave has been set up over the last six months. The music now has enough record buyers to make it a viable proposition for the major companies. It has support all over the country and its own venues to tour. It even has the magic anti-establishment factor that all good rock 'n' roll trends seem to need. But how is the industry adjusting to the new generation's music?

Over to Chris Parry, who posed the original questions in December: "I don't think the new music has proved itself 100 per cent yet, but it is inevitable that it will. There are now around 40,000 avid fans who will buy any product released by the well-known bands.

"The British scene seems to be a more album-orientated market. LP sales for debut product have been phenomenal, with the Jam going into the album chart at 43 on two days' sales, and a strong re-ordering pattern emerging.

"It could be that until the new wave music can transfer to the daytime strip radio shows, singles will be weaker than albums.

"But there are four bands out there selling product which have only come up in the last six months. This sort of thing is extremely rare and we have not had this sort of excitement in the industry for years.

"I see the new wave as a much more viable type of music than disco, and it is not music that appeals to the intellectual late teens and early 20's market. It is more geared to the 14-18 year old age-group and is very much a working class street movement.

"I would certainly like another new wave band, but it has got to be good. With the Jam we have come one hell of a way in a very short time, and I don't want to be tempted into an overkill job, which could get very boring."

At CBS, managing director Maurice Oberstein sees the new wave as having already proved itself. "The situation is levelling out on a musical basis. The media are now taking it seriously rather than treating it as yet another marketing device.

"At the moment the bands are not really making suitable records for daytime airplay, but we have passed the point where radio producers would just turn off when they heard the product was from a punk band.

"The producers are now prepared to listen, and it is up to the bands to record the singles.

"But in America we still have a long way to go. The Clash album will be released there at the right time, but the climate will have to be right for it. We have advanced six months in Britain, but we have left the U.S. behind. European sales are very strong, though, with top 20 positions for the Clash in Sweden and France."

Nigel Grainge at Ensign Records, which has recently signed the Boomtown Rats sees some danger in the all-embracing "new wave" tag, "It's great that young bands are being accepted again, but I hope that we are not just going to see a long succession of more and more outrageous images and artwork. A lot of the albums out now are very thinly-produced too." He rates the Ramones' "Sheena Is A Punk Rocker" single alongside the Archies as a great pop single.

"The weekly English music papers have done more to promote new wave than any radio station," comments Andrew Lauder, UA's a&r man. "The way things are going for the Stranglers at the moment, I can see them building into a band of world stature. It is going to be a battle in the States, but here, bands are just springing up the whole time.

"I am really enjoying myself, and I would say I will definitely be looking for something new in a few months time and I am very interested in what is going on in the provincial scene.

When Mike Noble at A&M's a&r department was interviewed in December, he expressed strong doubts about the musical qualities of the new wave, and was not convinced of its longevity. Since then, of course, the company has signed and sacked the Sex Pistols.

"We at A&M are in the market for anything that looks as if it can be interesting and we can get involved in on a long term basis. Success will come in the States when the Americans see the music taking off in a big way here.

"One of the best things about the new wave is that it is giving new bands a chance to get their foot in the door of a&r departments which would have been closed to them six months ago.

"We are in the market to sign new wave bands or indeed any kind of act and we are looking for something to which to commit ourselves fully.

In December Dave Robinson of the then totally independent new label Stiff Records told Music Week: "From now on there will be an expansion in the new wave that will take people by surprise."

His partner Jake Riviera makes this update: "We had a lot of reluctance on the part of the dealers to take the Damned album, which was the first LP available of this sort of music. Now the Island sales men tell me that they are finding the selling much easier as the whole scene expands, and sales are still very strong on the Damned album, and building up and up.

"This country has a wonderful record for throwing up great rock groups and has a bigger proportion of rock bands per head of population than anywhere else on earth, All the big trends of the last 15 years have started out here, and I think the new wave is the new biggie."


Tags: Jake RivieraDave RobinsonStiff RecordsThe DamnedTop Of The PopsThe JamIn The CityThe ClashThe Velvet UndergroundNew York DollsTalking HeadsBlondieTelevisionWayne CountyThe Sex PistolsJohnny RottenNational FrontSwindonThe AffairMiddlesbroughJohn PeelCreamJimi HendrixAndrew Lauder

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Music Week, June 4, 1977


John Hayward's profile of punk rock includes quotes by Jake Riviera and Dave Robinson.

Images

1977-06-04 Music Week page 32.jpg
Page scan.

Cover.
1977-06-04 Music Week cover.jpg

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