Aged fifteen and at the dawn of the 1980s, my favourite band was Stiff Little Fingers. The Irish quartet, fronted by Jake Burns, released their second album in 1980, and SLF would eventually become the first band I saw play live—at Newcastle City Hall at the back end of 1982 as I recall. I also saw their “farewell” gig early the following year. On an undeniably emotional evening, the band made their final exit stage left to the strains of No Regrets by Midge Ure.
However, on the basis that the current line up—fronted by Jake Burns and with original bassist Ali McMordie back in the fold—is still touring three decades later, Midge’s version of The Walker Brothers’ classic was clearly not the most appropriate song choice all those years ago. I reckon they should have opted for the tune that was played at the end of each episode of the kids’ television series Here Come the Double Deckers when the characters gathered together, waved at the camera and sang “See you next week!”
The generic term “new wave” was applied to a lot of bands that were spawned by the short-lived, but undeniably hugely influential punk movement. Quite a few of these bands achieved mainstream chart success (of sorts) and I wasn’t averse to sitting next to my radio cassette, fingers hovering over the record and play buttons in the hope that the next song was by The Ruts, The Undertones, or the like and Kid Jensen wouldn’t go and spoil everything by talking over the end of the song. Actually, being able to hit the pause button before the DJ interrupted was an art—and one that I never mastered.
Away from the top forty, simmering away in the background, there was a vibrant indie scene and much as post-punk music pointed me in a new direction, it was some of the bands associated with the small independent labels that really resonated with me. To be considered for inclusion, a record basically had to be distributed outside the framework of the major companies. The first chart was compiled in January 1980, with the inaugural number one being Where’s Captain Kirk? by a punk band called Spizzenergi—well they were for a while: the group had a habit of changing their name on an annual basis.
Meanwhile, back in York, my father was a schoolmaster and I actually grew up living at the school I attended. It was an almost unique situation that is hard to try and explain, but in many ways, never being away from the school environment meant that my formative and teenage years were, at times, both difficult and lonely. I wasn’t without friends, but being the son of a teacher was never likely to make me universally popular—and what I desperately needed was something to spark my individuality.
I can’t pinpoint the specific moment, but there was a defining record, a four track EP by the New Mills-based outfit Blitz, entitled All Out Attack. I had never such a raw sound, brutal, distorted guitar and rasping, intimidating vocals and right from the opening chords of Someone’s Gonna Die, I knew I was listening to something new, something real. I was carried along on a wave of adrenaline the like of which I’d rarely experienced. I no longer felt like the outsider so many people had tried to make me. I didn’t need to conform to the pathetic stereotype that knew all the words to Wheels of Steel by Saxon. I might have been lonely at times, but now I had an identity.
The EP spent ages in the indie charts, peaking at number three. As usual, the press found a need to label the band, which comprised two skinheads and two punks. The record was the first to be released on the No Future label as Oi1—I don’t know whether this was the origin of the Oi! genre, but to be honest I don’t really care. All the mattered was the sheer power of the songs (Someone’s Gonna Die, Attack, Fight to Live and 45 Revolutions), and the profound effect they had on one particular teenager.
I acquired my copy (the blank labelled second pressing) from Red Rhino Records, an independent shop situated on Gillygate in York whose takings were boosted on a regular basis by my pocket money. Red Rhino is now long gone—I believe the premises is now a craft shop. Very rock ‘n’ roll.
The four-track debut EP was relatively common amongst the punk bands of the time. For starters there was Anti Pasti [now that it classic comedy] who released their Fore Sore Points EP including the original heavier and slower version of No Government and another memorable offering was Realities of War by Discharge, which was even more hardcore, or extreme—with a relentless drum-beat and lyrics that were often still indecipherable even if you had them written down in front of you!
I do recall a slightly awkward moment when I was sitting in my room with the song Always Restrictions playing merrily away in the back-ground. Dad opened the door just as singer Cal Morris launched into a tirade of expletives.
Dad beat a fairly swift retreat and no words were exchanged. Some-times a disapproving look is all that is needed!
As an interesting aside, after the original Blitz line-up had gone their separate ways, guitarist Alan “Nidge” Miller (who would tragically lose his life in a car accident in 2007) recruited new members and, using the name Blitz, released the 1989 album The Killing Dream. I did find an interview with Miller from that time, where he highlighted the following words, which were spoken during the song All You Want: “How many men of less worth than yourself have obtained so many of life’s rewards, whilst you who can imagine so much, have so very little.” I’m sure the quote was intended to make a strong statement, but whatever the sentiment, it lost a lot of its potential impact for me, when I had heard the words spoken by the character Sardo Numspa, the baddie from the Eddie Murphy film, The Golden Child!
Anyway, in November 2013, I managed to get in touch with Neil “Mackie” McLennan, Blitz’s original bassist, who was only too happy to (in his words) “ramble on about the good old days”—and I was only too happy to let him!
It might be helpful if I give you a bit of an insight to the background of the record. We [Blitz] had been trying to get interest to get a record released. We had a little bit of press through Sounds Magazine, who were the only music paper interested in “Streetpunk” or “Oi”— oh how we disliked that label, it was all just punk rock to us.
We had a full set of songs and decided to record the best four. Hologram studios in Stockport had an offer going on, where if a band block-booked a week’s session, the dead time—ie when the band or engineer had had enough, usually about seven, eight o’clock at night—you could use time through the night for a reduced rate, so we went in for a couple of nights, and recorded and mixed in just two sessions I think it was.
It was quite surreal to be stood on Stockport market, where the studio was based, at something like four in the morning, having a break from the studio with the waft of Robinson’s brewery in the air. So romantic!
We bashed out the four songs “live” as we would play them normally, and overdubbed vocals and backing vocals the next night, followed by mixing.
It was a great time for us, What I always loved—and still do—is going in a room with an idea, knocking it into shape and coming out with a new song, and to get to hear them recorded was the icing on the cake for me. It didn’t matter if no one liked our stuff, we had written and recorded it and were happy just to have done that.
As far as the inspiration behind the EP, it’s been pretty well documented that the early eighties were dark times for working class kids in the UK—the miners’ strike, three-day week, Tories fighting the unions, mass unemployment, you get the picture— and I suppose the songs were echoing the times, Listening back, there is a lot of violent imagery in the songs. There was a lot of violence around the punk scene back then, and this probably explains our mindset at the time.
Musically the bands we were into were the Clash, the Ramones SLF [Stiff Little Fingers], so I suppose it’s those bands we would be trying to emulate, but we were much more “raw” and it sound corny to say it now but more “street”—we certainly hadn't been to art school or university.
We replied to an advert we had seen in Sounds for punk band demos, and sent the demo tape cassette. The advert was for No Future records and they wanted to put the four tracks out as an EP, just as we had recorded it, warts and all. We agreed and it became the first release on the new label. Sounds got behind it and we got great reviews. It enabled us to get decent gigs and got our name to places we never thought we would reach. It had no real impact financially, or to us as people at the time, but it did change people’s view of us, and we didn’t realise at the time just how far reaching it would prove to be.
Back then the band meant everything to us, Cliché time again, but it was our way out, there were no jobs, we loved music and punk rock, so if we could use that to achieve something then great stuff. Listening back now it sounds raw, a blast of sound, a warts and all recording of a moment in time, we did it quickly on shitty gear, and pretty lo fi, but that’s what makes it.
Great stuff, and a truly great record.
Here are all four tracks - feel free to listen, but please be
aware the songs contain occasional strong language/lyrics.