While most continue to focus on the initial wave of bands that blew minds (Sex Pistols, Clash, Damned, Stranglers, Sham 69), the genre has forever been producing bands and records that stretch the boundaries of what was acceptable in 1977, meaning that a good chunk of the best punk records were made long after those halcyon days. Of course, some would prefer to focus on the past owing to the historical prestige that those records now have, as well as being able to sit back and bask in the glow of being an ‘expert’. Such people are to be regarded with suspicion.
Written by lifer Ian Glasper (author of Contract in Blood among other tomes), The Scene That Would Not Die takes a look at the last twenty years of UK punk, arguably a time which has demonstrated that punk (as a genre of music) is pretty robust and versatile. Like his previous books, Glasper looks at bands throughout the UK, with Belfast getting props for Runnin Riot/United Bottles and The Dangerfields.
I once wrote that “what's always been infectious about Glasper's tomes is that he gives just as much space to the lesser-known bands as he does to the big hitters (i.e., the ones you've come to read about) and their tales are just as compelling.” Although there are certainly prominent bands featured (such as Bad Breeding and Dead Objectives), the vast majority will be unfamiliar to most and so it’s to Glasper’s credit that he manages to fashion their stories into something that is both fascinating to the casual reader and also reverential to the scene that they built.
Reading through the various accounts, it’s heart-warming to see a broad spectrum of bands who started off as pissed off teenagers, immigrants looking to make a stand and older types coming back to the scene after years on the outskirts. There are also ones who combine folk, industrial, goth and post-punk to create unique records, often with little in the way of a local scene to be influenced by.
On that note, one thing that does emerge through these accounts is just how little support these bands get compared to 25/30 years ago, where there was a genuinely healthy number of people going to underground shows. Some of this is put down to the fragmentation of punk, music itself becoming a commodity, the ubiquity of festivals like Rebellion (with its line ups being heavily skewered in favour of older acts) and also the fact that rock n roll is itself 60 odd years old, so how can it compete with the likes of grime in terms of anti-authoritarianism?
All of these are certainly true, but I also suspect that the militancy of some bands and their fans also put people off from joining in. This is hinted at a few times when some (rightly) complain about the prevalence of identity politics over class politics (and indeed, some of this blind sighted identity politicking emerges in a few accounts). It’s a double-edged sword, because said militancy can be the reason people are attracted to a group/individual. However, having seen first-hand how damaging such attitudes can be, it is astonishing how quickly this creates a feeling of cliquiness among local punk scenes before the prime offenders go off to work in a bank after a few years. As a result, with limited resources and people, the scene collapses (sometimes temporarily, sometimes for much longer).
Regardless, as an example of how people will continue to create music regardless of popularity or financial reward, The Scene That Would Not Die is a heart warming reminder that the UK underground remains (musically at least) in rude health.
Punk’s dead. Long live punk.
Ian Glasper, 2020, The Scene That Would Not Die – Twenty Years of Post-Millennial Punk in the UK. Earth Island Books, ISBN-13: 978-1999758158
⏩ Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.