Sunday 12 January 2020

Forever punk?

"Oh YES, that’s exactly it!” I exclaimed excitedly at the telly.  Or, more precisely, at Chris Packham on the telly.  And it happened more than once as I watched the recent BBC Four programme, ‘Chris Packham - Forever Punk’;  it was that jubilant feeling of being a kindred spirit, that understanding of why a certain musical movement seemed so important to those of us who felt like outsiders in our early teenage years (and maybe still do...)   Confirmation that punk was there for us and, yes, it did change things.

I’ve never really felt I’ve been able to get this across effectively to anyone who either ‘wasn’t there’ or who only picked up on what the papers urged them to at the time.  I remember once, soon after I’d left school in the Summer of ‘79, I was talking to a friend I met at college and it turned out that her neighbour had been my former Geography teacher, Mrs T.  Apparently a conversation about me had taken place  – I’d made quite a name for myself at school being the only girl there with an overtly punk image (which got me into a lot of difficulty, but that’s another story).  Mrs T told my friend she had been surprised when I had become a ‘punk rocker’ (a term which only people who didn’t get it would use!) because I was too (in her words) "nice”...   always the quiet one, a nerdy, shy student... it didn’t fit with the media’s portrayal of punks as gobbing, spitting, fighting yobs.

I never knew any gobbing, spitting, fighting yobs who were into punk.  Not one.  Any bristling aggression against the world, against injustice, right-wing politics and persecution - all valid targets - was channelled into music.  We were harassed and insulted by many non-punks, though.  Shouted at from across the street, barred from pubs and shops before we’d even opened our mouths, chased, even beaten up for our choice of clothes and hairstyle.  All this abuse came from non-punks – and often the straightest of people.  Funny, that.  What was it they found so threatening, so offensive, about a few kids in fluffy mohair jumpers, bleached hair and badges?

One of my “Oh YES, that’s exactly it!” moments during the programme came when Chris articulated how inaccurate that thuggish tabloid caricature was and that punk had been much more about inclusiveness.  Right from the start my own experience illustrated this too – punk felt like a place where us ‘outsiders’ could be on the inside, on our own terms.  The scene at my local music venue was a perfect example; a friendly gaggle of local teenage punks alongside a motley crew of others who just fitted in for not fitting in elsewhere.  And they genuinely liked the music.  C with his shoulder-length hair and Afghan coat, L with his thick-lensed glasses and total lack of sartorial style, a good few years older than the rest of us and like a kindly uncle, plus his biker mate W.  N, who booked all the bands, a little bloke in little round specs and a big hippy greatcoat.  At one time there was J, a lovely black guy who put flour in his hair to give it a bright white streak, as well as ex-public school boy/geeky punk E.   As Chris said in this interview in the NME , “Punk was never unkind.  It was about fairness and equality.”

The documentary drew attention to the causes with which punk associated itself, such as Rock Against Racism, and how the release of the Tom Robinson Band’s single ‘Glad To Be Gay’ early in 1978 was a ground-breaking moment that could only have happened at that special point in time, proof of punk’s whole ethos of defiance and standing up for the right to be different. 

In my view punk was a brief, once-only event, and from its early, genuinely rebellious and more creative/artistic origins, aspects of  it inevitably evolved in ways that weren’t always so positive (e.g. the Oi! movement) – then, as so often happens, things became more watered down and appropriated.  But other good things happened because of it. Now too we have a whole new crop of bands clearly influenced by it (e.g. Idles, Slaves, Savages, Fontaines DC, etc.) and the state of contemporary music is all the better for them.  I guess we still call them punk but it's intrinsically different just through no longer being a new nor shocking phenomenon.   Still, if we go right back to what drew us to punk's initial incarnation all those years ago, it does make sense that its spirit should live on forever.  For me that doesn’t mean trying to dress like you did when you were 15, nor even playing your old Adverts records all that often, it’s about maintaining faith in who you are, caring about equality and staying true to what you believe in, however non-conformist that may be in the eyes of the mainstream.

I won’t give too much more away about the programme in case you haven’t seen it and want to catch it on BBC iPlayer (here), but it was interesting to see some old faces and to be reminded of how well a lot of people have come out of it (even though our teachers may have told us we wouldn’t!)  Many are still motivated to bring about some positive change in any small way they can.  I came away feeling quite uplifted and even more pleased to have this history in common with Chris, whom I’ve long been inspired by and admired for all things nature-connected anyway.  And he does have a fantastic record collection!

We’re not so bad, eh, us old punks?!

Chris Packham's all-time favourite punk song is 'Shout Above The Noise' by Penetration,
but this is the Penetration song that truly spoke to me...


  1. I watched the first half this afternoon and will finish it later this evening. Yep, I know exactly what you mean; like a lot of history, it's been rewritten by people who weren't there; people who don't know how it felt to hear New Rose in '76 (not '77 as the film would have you believe), how it felt to pogo down the front at a Generation X gig.
    A cursory look at my blog history (like yours) can see it owes much to punk and, yes, the 'spirit' of punk.
    My all time favourite punk song? Day by Day - Generation X.

    1. Great programme, wasn't it? I can see how punk helped shape you, John, it's just in there. I loved and bought Day By Day too. I don't think I could name an all time favourite but I could probably narrow it down to a small handful which would include that too, and mainly because any time I hear them I just get an incredible, special feeling.

    2. Postscript.

      I've watched it all now, and I've had chance to digest it.

      I think what comes through loud and clear is just what a nice fella Chris Packham is. I always warm to heart on their sleeve people (being one myself) and he really does seem v genuine. He's come in for a lot of stick lately (I don't know why) but he'll weather the storm, I'm sure.
      Thanks again for pointing me in the direction of this little gem.

    3. I totally agree. I find him very inspiring (his attitude ticks a lot of boxes for me, especially on the wildlife front too.) He gets a lot of hassle from people who are unable to present a reasoned argument thus they can only resort to abuse, e.g. the dead fox and dead crows left on his gate. If that's the best defence they have for their inhumane beliefs then really it says it all.
      So glad you enjoyed the prog!

  2. (I missed it - I was 6 when the Damned released "New Rose")

    But ... and this is going to sound madly socilogical but Punk was about attitude and inclusiveness.
    Those purposes remain even after the music has fallen out of fashion. It is perfectly possible to be Punk without being there - I think that's me (or like to believe so).
    Chris Packham raised a good point - is he now the bastard he hated because he accepted a CBE?
    No - he accepted it (and deserved it) for what he has done and how he has done it (do like the fact he added an Extinction Rebellion symbol on his tie)
    The point he made is it is about empowerment and doing what you believe to be true for yourself, not about destruction and violence (which sadly seemed to be more of a pre-occupation of Oi and the second wave mohican bands).

    1. Completely agree, RD. I loved that too about Chris's tie and his self-awareness about accepting the CBE; realising that maybe you can use these recognised platforms, whether you agree with them or not, to further publicise your cause.
      I know you were a little too young at the time but I understand what you say about you still getting it. I've just met a lot of people for whom it passed them by and they seem to think all punks were like Kenny Everett's Gizzard Puke character (more Oi and second-wave, as you say)!

  3. Really good post C. I watched it too, and thought it was great. Chris has got credibility and punk clearly saved his life in a way. The spirit, the attitude, have stayed with him (and you) and that's the important thing to take away from it. Interesting that the question of 'selling out' is still a question.

    I was 7 in 1977 so too young to be directly affected by it but there was enough of a hangover by the early 80s for the ripples to be still making their way to the edge of the pond. As they still are now.

    1. Thanks SA, yes I thought Chris was a great spokesman. I appreciate what you mean about the ripples as I can see that you get it too in spite of being too young at the start. Maybe it's down to the person, if you think a certain way and have that deep interest in music too, then you just pick up on what it was all about naturally.

  4. I am a big fan of Chris Packham. I used to love it when he tried to sneak song titles from a particular band into Springwatch.

    1. Me too Rol! Chris Packham, wildlife and covert song titles are a heady combination for this woman.

  5. Ah, good find, C, will add this to my "to-watch" list".

  6. Chris Packham is one of the good 'uns; someone who sees the bigger picture and who thinks about long term impacts instead of short term gains - the antithesis of the small minded clots who are so quick to condemn, vilify and threaten him.
    A beautifully written post C, which brought to mind an old Joe Strummer quote ' fact, punk rock means exemplary manners to your fellow human being...'

    1. That's so true about CP. We could do with more people who think like him - was only saying the other day about who's going to step into his (and David Attenborough's) shoes in the future, I really hope there are going to be plenty of people growing up now who've been inpsired to take up the gauntlet.
      Great words from JS there too, thanks.


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