Spotlight On NE Music History: Punk
The initial rise of Punk only lasted a few short years, from the late 1970s into the early 1980s.
There are typically several layers to the genre; If you were Punk yourself, who you listened to (be that New Wave or Hardcore Punk) dictated your dress sense and philosophy.
However, Punk has since spawned many genres since its evolution, most notably Indie Rock and Post-Punk. Punk itself meanwhile, coupled with the social-economic difficulties at the time in the UK, created a large youth movement.
Looking at local Punk bands from that time, I decided to delve into how the Punk movement, intertwined with our own social history within the region.
The late 70s and 80s became defined by mass unemployment. Significant events, which affected the North East, include the 1974 nurses strike, the Easington Colliery miner’s strike (one, amongst many similar strikes that occurred) and the election of Margaret Thatcher. These events, alongside issues such as poor social housing, police brutality, power cuts and lack of public funding on social facilities, became the background on which Punk culture rose in the local area.
Much of the music written at the time gave young people in the North East a voice which they had lacked in previous eras of music. Themes such as anti-capitalism, anti-establishment and the concept of ‘no future’ defined the genre and the fashion which developed from it.
Penetration’s 1978 album entitled ‘Moving Targets’ undoubtedly reflects this era of disenfranchisement. The band, which was formed in County Durham, has consisted of many members over the years, especially since they reformed in the early 2000s.
Pauline Murray’s vocals on this record are varied and keep up with the fast paced, choppy guitar which is throughout the album. My favourite tracks on this album include, ‘Don’t Dictate’, ‘Free Money’ and ‘Money Talks.’
I feel the track ‘Don’t Dictate’ particularly embodies the entire Punk philosophy, with its rising crescendo of a drum beat and bass guitar in the opening creating a sense of anticipation which breaks when the rhythm levels out.
This makes Murray’s voice clear so the catchy chorus, which literally repeats the songs title, could arguably be seen as a Feminist exclamation.
I love that Penetration has a female lead singer. Its very empowering as at the time this wasn’t as common in the widely male dominated Punk genre as it was .
At this time in the North East there was major social change. The Tyne and Wear Metro system was being built, social housing was being demolished in the West End and it was one year before the Conservative government, ran by Thatcher, would come to power.
What Penetration captured, was the deep social unrest that was just beginning…
With unemployment on the rise, the 1980s would truly reflect what Penetration was describing in ‘Money Talks’ and ‘Free Money’ and, when the economic recession occurred, it was the perfect breeding ground for the Punk philosophy of ‘Do It Yourself’.
In some sense, this is how the Punk scene was both accessible and became embedded in working class culture. Therefore, it could seem ironic how mainstream clothing outlets have appropriated the Punk aesthetic as it initially didn’t require a lot of money to dress ‘Punk’ at the time and the genre itself was against the establishments which were depleting the resources of the working class people.
A band which reflected this is the Angelic Upstarts.
Formed in South Shields, the band’s album ‘2,000,000 Voices’, released in 1981, depicted the era more blatantly than Penetration.
In my opinion, their music, has a slight SKA influence on it, rather than being pure Punk. However, their sentiments are very much the same as Penetration, in the way that they seem discontent with the status quo.
This can be seen in the song ‘Ghost Town’ which describes the state of many Northern towns of the time, specifically Consett. Despite the grim content of the song, the rhythm is quite upbeat while getting the message of social deprivation across to its listeners.
“Pride is of the essence. And when you take it away. There isn’t much to live for. With the working day. Those Consett men had their pride. And their jobs of steel. Now they stand in the dole queue. With their hands outstretched.” - Ghost Town - Angelic Upstarts.
Unsurprisingly, nothing much has changed here. Instead, what I have found is that many of the messages in the Punk songs from this era still remain relevant, you just have to change the name of the Prime Minister.
Punk as a genre still remains incredibly popular, however with the 1980s came mass consumerism and ‘Pop Princesses’ so it did take a back seat for a little while.
Nonetheless, it did pave the way for many movements, including other socially charged music genres such as ‘riot girrrl’ a crucial element of third wave feminism, but we’ll touch on those soon...
Cover image: Angelic Upstarts 'We Gotta Get Out Of This Place'