Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Melody Lingers On...

Q: I am a Chinese boy; this is the first time to chat with you. I want to ask you what I should do to improve my English level?

A: Dear Xie Yong,

You are so right to Think Punk. There is no better way to learn a language than to follow your passion and tune in to whatever people like you are reading and watching and listening to in the place that interests you. Of course, in the case of learning English, you're lucky enough to get loads of opportunities -- US, UK, Oz, Canada, great chunks of Africa, India and Asia etc -- thanks to the old colonies, whose main upside was making large sectors of the globe able to communicate.

For a start, I recommend you watch BBC America and hang out on this site as much as you can. Really. All the BBC America reality shows like How Clean Is Your House, Bargain Hunt, You Are What You Eat, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, etc. reveal raw British everyday life in all its coziness, like no other TV station. Plus the drama and comedy are dead authentic.

Obviously I think you should listen to punk to get some proper Anglo flavor. Punk isn't exactly associated with great diction, but I kicked the concept around with some fellow punkoids and top punk photog Janette Beckman voted for The Jam "because they're so sharp and clever," while Joly of insists you can't go wrong with John Lydon, ex Rotten, of the Sex Pistols and PiL, "because of his clear enunciation." I like the Raincoats, who sometimes sing quite slowly, which could be helpful. (See below for info on a rare Raincoats gig in London).

My own vote, though, was for the late, great Ian Dury, who was punk's funniest wordsmith. Find songs like "Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick", "Clever Trevor" and of course, "Sex and Drugs & Rock'n'Roll" to hear how the likes of Lily Allen learned to sing a story. Try and get the studio versions, though, because on the live versions on ITunes, Dury's cockney accent might be a bit hard for a beginner.

PIL Rise Video

Ian Dury and the Blockheads Video

Q: Is Punk Dead!?

A: Dear Coreen,

When it began in the 1970s, punk had the shock of the new. Now it's part of the social/cultural pantheon. Now we can say that though the ideals of punk may be endlessly betrayed, they'll never die. And a wise word from my esteemed editor/publisher, Miss Grace: "Personally, I don't think it's dead. It's just older now and requires naps."

Punk Is Not Dead Trailer

Q: Hey Punk Prof

I saw some damn car commercial that was using the Clash version of "Pressure Drop" in the background. I think we can agree that Joe’s spinning in his grave (can't we?). But I wonder - is the whole idea of "selling out" passé? Since Moby sold every song on "play" to the advertisers, it seems like what used to be selling out is just cool. Is it just a matter of perspective? A financial necessity for musicians today? Should we still hate it? And I wonder who owns rights to the Clash songs. Someone ok'd that, and I’m old enough to think it ain't cool.

Mescaleros Pressure Drop Video

A: Very perspicacious questions, Kurt, and I can recall many anguished evenings discussing this and other punk ethics questions.

And so did Joe Strummer! Our London Spy, author Chris Salewicz's recent biography of Joe Strummer, Redemption Song, told me on the phone about interviewing Joe on this very point in Spring 2002, when “London Calling” was being used to sell Jaguar X Type cars. Joe had been quite sniffy when a dog food brand wanted to use the band for a commercial; but as Chris described, imitating Joe's voice precisely, "... and I just thought -- Jaguar! Yay! We've turned down millions of dollars, but every group deserves something, specially twenty years after the fact. I can use this money to finance the Mescaleros!" That same year, the Clash's 'Should I Stay or Should I Go' was used in a Stolichnaya vodka ad.

Ultimately I think the answer is found in an old song by Mark Stewart of Bristols's post-punk combo, The Pop Group: "We Are All Prostitutes," with the Margaret Thatcher sleeve. Mark was in post-punk angry pretenders, The Pop Group, whose anguished free jazz yowl and urgent funky groove is much missed. Having said that, Mark's new album, 'Edit,' is coming out very soon. See more info below.

As brand-dependent bands everywhere choke in shock at my cheek, think about this.

You can argue that in allying with corporations, often the Medicis or patrons of today, you are just trying to reach as many people (as well as make as much dosh) as possible. The problem with this argument, of course, is context. So you make a song that has a conscious aspect, something to say. To have it harnessed to sell, E.G. a polluting chemical company, or promote a political party, would make a true fan want to vomit and definitely reduce the credibility of the artist concerned. Tainted love, INDEED.

Ultimately, of course, it's a personal choice, often determined by depth of pocket. But just like you and Joe Strummer, Kurt, I believe that artists should monitor the public use of their music very cautiously so they don't look like total wankers.

And before I get any snide comments about this punk column appearing under a corporate banner, let me say again that I am a genuine BBC America fan and was before I started writing this column, so like Joe Strummer, I just thought, Yay! If I rabbit on about BBC America programming it's because I dig it. So that's that. Drop round my place if you don't believe me. Ask my cat, Laszlo. He's very good at guessing who's shagging who on 'Hotel Babylon.'


For a real wish-you-were-here punk rock London night out, grab a new DVD from the UK, "Ruts: 16th July 2007."

The London gig was the first time original Ruts drummer Dave Ruffy and bass player Segs Jennings had reunited since the death of their lovely lead singer, Malcolm Owen, a man I was super-fond of, who OD'd in July, 1980. The accidental tragedy happening just weeks after Joy Division's Ian Curtis killed himself signaled the end of an era, as John Robb says in his loving liner notes. At the show, Owen's role was taken by long-time Ruts fanatic, Henry Rollins. "It was real thinking music without being boring or too cool. It was fantastic," says Rollins on the interview DVD of why he and his hardcore crew were all so keen on the band.

Ruts and Captain Sensible

Happy jam at the Ruts' finale with the Damned's Captain Sensible at the fore

The Ruts and Henry Rollins

Goodbye to all that -- for now! l. to. r Segs Jennings, Paul Fox, Dave Ruffy, Henry Rollins

The Ruts Video

The show has all the atmosphere of an uncensored, rollicking gig of old comrades who love playing. Captain Sensible from The Damned, still in his trademark red beret and Dave Vanian, complete with cloak, sprint through "New Rose" (the first ever UK punk 45!) as ardent as ever. Misty in Roots display the sort of roots grandeur that made them a favorite of the Rock Against Racism activist organization supported by the Clash. In a nice twist, when the (black) Rasta band started a label in the early 1980s, their first signing was (white punks) The Ruts, whose "In A Rut" and "Babylon Is Burning," made the band loved everywhere punk took root.

Sadly, the show was a benefit for the Ruts' guitarist, Paul "Foxy" Fox, who died in October, 2007. Though Paul looks somewhat gaunt on this DVD, he's very up and chipper and plays like a champ. Big punks appear in support, like Tom Robinson, Splodgenessabounds, the UK Subs, John Otway, TV Smith and Eddie 'Tenpole' Tudor and the Peafish House Band. 

"Malcolm was like Iggy Pop," reminisces Segs. "He used to head butt the cymbals, it usually sounded great. But one night we were in Devon and we'd drunk some local cider before the show and he head butted the cymbals.... I had to take him to hospital in the ambulance after the gig!" They all laugh on the DVD, and I did too -- but under the circumstances, the funny memory has a bitter aftershock; a sad reminder of how "going mental" really can go too far. I miss Malcolm.

The interviews between all the various punks are rambling and hilarious, sometimes poignant. Asked about working with Rollins, Segs says, "It was great! Of course it was a bit funny when Henry did thirty press-ups before the rehearsal! Henry was bang on time, he puts the punk in punctual!" Ta-da!

The Damned Video

It's a big moment for the pioneering women of punk -- our time has come again sisters! (If it ever went away...) Legendary Rough Trade band and Kurt Cobain favorites, The Raincoats, are playing an all-age Saturday afternoon show on March 1 st . in London's St Peter's Church, Kensington Park Rd., W.11, to raise money for a house for Aids orphans in Uganda. They'll be a full band, as originals Ana da Silva and Gina Birch have enlisted Bat for Lashes player Lizzie and drummer Alison from ATV.

The Raincoats Video

And finally, U.S fans around the land can get to see the Slits. For more info on the dates by scene godmothers, the band the Punk Professor jams with on You Tube! and their The Revenge of the Killer Slits e.p., with its unforgettable take on Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine," see below.

The Slits New Record

Large and in charge - The Slits 

It would be kinda sad if after all that great gals' music, the Slits and Raincoats hadn't had some musical daughters. I'm partial to Mika Miko songs, specially the slower ones like "Jogging Song (He's Your Mr. Right)" and "Oh Head Spin." They'll be playing at South By South West and at Noise Pop in San Francisco introducing their new “C.Y.S.L.A.B.F.” album on the Kill Rock Stars label and their “666” EP on PPM, supported by No Age.


l. to r. Michelle Suarez, Jessie Clavin, Jenna Thornhill, Jennifer Clavin, Katelyn Hall

Since We Last Met.....

Singer Alice Nutter and drummer Harry Hammer from the anarchist punk rocker collective Chumbawumba who had a massive pop hit with 1998's irresistible 'Tubthumping' have formed a new nine-person combo called The Sex Patels, playing lengthy, sitar-drenched raga versions of songs by the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads and X-Ray Spex...

The Sex Patels Video

I have spent the morning paying tribute to the Jamaican producer, Joe Gibbs , who died aged 65 on February 21, by listening to the new re-issue on the fine Shanachie label, "Dennis Brown: The Best of the Joe Gibbs Years". In the punk era, the Joe Gibbs label was a brand of excellence. Joe released other classics like Althia and Donna's international pop hit, "Uptown Top Ranking" and the top punk favorite, Culture's Two Sevens Clash -- one of my Top Ten Ever selections, also recently re-isssued by Shanachie in a seriously loving edition. The Dennis Brown/Joe Gibbs work is still a rush of emotional, uplifting power. Mastersinger Dennis's wraparound velvet voice rings out over the energizing glory of the horn sections on "Money In My Pocket" "Ain't That Loving You", "Malcolm X" and "Oh Mother." A great testament.

Dennis Brown LP

Must-hear classic: Dennis Brown on the Joe Gibbs label 


For Mika Miko tour dates and info:

To buy the Ruts Benefit DVD with the Damned, Tom Robinson and many others including the Ruts w/Henry Rollins, go to

For the new Ruts single, a remake of 'Babylon Is Burning' by the Ruts w/Henry Rollins:


Mark Stewart's new album 'Edit' will be out in April (Europe) and May (UK/USA). Two tracks, 'Secret Suburbia' and 'Loner' are on

More details about Mark Stewart's 'Edit' can be found here:

For those smashing Slits, check: