Punk was a watershed moment for UK music, one which shook the mainstream, enlivened the underground and influenced everything that followed. Everyone’s aware of this but if you weren’t there at the time, how much do you know about the scene beyond its epochal acts – punk’s acceptable face, The Buzzcocks, its unacceptable face, The Sex Pistols and its conscience, The Clash? Maybe The Damned, X-Ray Spex, Stiff Little Fingers and a few others have entered your consciousness but even then the musical legacy doesn’t seem to match the cultural legacy. Action Time Vision is a just-released, four-CD set featuring punk records released on a variety of independent labels in the late-’70s which helps give an idea of the breadth of the scene beyond the main players.
Cherry Red Records have developed a formula for this sort of thing – taking an underground musical subgenre, collecting together the best examples of tracks from that scene and sticking them on CD compilations, lovingly packaged with illustrations, photos and writings from journalists who covered the scene at its height. Just this year the label has released collections covering the early-’90s shoegaze scene, 1980s neo-psychedelia, early British electronica and the developing C86/indie scene. These collections provide a nostalgia trip for those who were part of these scenes and a rare insight for those who weren’t. Cherry Red’s punk collection, covering a scene that everyone’s aware of but not so many really know, is probably overdue.
In the case of Action Time Vision, the foreword is written by Kris Needs, editor of Zigzag magazine during the punk era. By his estimation, the songs collected here “wrench up the paving slabs to reveal what was really going on underneath street level during that seminal time”. And so it is that the collection starts off with The Damned’s debut single on Stiff Records, New Rose – which reached the dizzying heights of number 81 in the 1976 charts – before unearthing lost treasures that never got that close to rubbing shoulders with ABBA, like Lockjaw’s Radio Call Sign, New Religion by Some Chicken and the Poison Girls’ Under The Doctor.
There are 111 songs on the four discs of Action Time Vision, ranging from really great stuff, like Stiff Little Fingers’s classic Suspect Device, Little Miss Perfect by Demon Preacher, Blank Generation by Xtraverts and Teenage Treats by The Wasps, to energetic triers like Steroid Kiddies, whose 1979 effort Dumb Dumb, sounds a lot like something by Bad News. There are also rarities like the previously unreleased I Hate The Whole Human Race by Newcastle band Big G and curios like a cover of Nancy Sinatra’s These Boots Were Made For Walking, released on the UK label Golden Sphinx by Philadelphia’s Pure Hell.
Early incarnations of The Fall (with Psycho Mafia), Joy Division (Failures) and a pre-nose-plaster Adam and The Ants (Zerox), are all featured and sounding great along with a whole load of other musicians who really made their mark in the next decade. Kevin Rowland of The Killjoys became the lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners, Shane McGowan, Billy Bragg and Gary Numan started their singing careers with The Nipple Erectors, Riff Raff and Tuebeway army respectively, while Johnny & The Self Abusers had the audacity to evolve into Simple Minds.
Action Time Vision gives a real sense of what UK punk was about, showcasing dozens of bands who bought into its DIY ethos and helped give the scene weight. Listening to it is like being handed a crate full of obscure punk 7″s collected by a fan – and who wouldn’t want that? – it’s a compilation to live inside for a long time and really absorb. Everything included was released by independent record labels, and whether the bands featured went on to greater successes or disappeared after one single, they all got their opportunities and audiences from the same musical revolution.