John Robb, Gold Blade frontman and media mogul, has recently finished a comprehensive history of punk for cable channel PlayUK. Entitled ‘The Punk Years’, it delves deeper than your average Pistols-Clash-Ramones-wham bam thank you mam approach to the subject, covering other issues such as fanzines and fashion.
“Punk is fast adrenalised guitar rock n roll music with great clothes and sometimes cool politics,” explains Mr Robb “it’s also none of these things and an open minded cultural landslide!”. Er, right. Whatever punk is, what does it mean to you? “In my youth it was the turning point. The incendiary grenade of culture and pop thrills that hits every generation...it seemed to be the perfect summation of everything you hoped pop music could be and it totally changed my life...”.
In this, the 25th anniversary of punk, we are being flooded with coffee table books, best Ofs and compilations and nostalgia shows among many other things. Robb explains how he set out to make his different:
“I attempted to pull the story out a bit and start with Iggy and the MC5 and end with the modern punk scene, but in the end it was mainly compressed into the late seventies which was a fantastic period but not the be all and end all of this genre.”
He couldn’t cover everything he aimed to, though “I wanted more stuff on the eighties and the underground in the USA, but there was not enough budget to go to the States to do these bands. Saying that though the main difference was the fact that there loads of people interviewed that never get interviewed anywhere else and that is something that is important in punk. It was not necessarily the 'big stars' that were where the real story was at...”.
However, arguably the biggest ‘star’ of punk is involved in the show.
“John Lydon was great to interview funny, sharp, annoying and inspiring all at once. I think he's out of touch with what's going on now but I guess you could say that he's done his bit! And how!”
Many people have expressed discontent with Lydon and co wheeling themselves out for a second time. Robb is not one of them. “I've no problem with the Pistols reforming...they were great last time. Of course they weren't as 'dangerous' as they were in the late seventies, it was just a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll show and, fuck, that's enough sometimes, and I'll be there to see 'em at Crystal Palace...”
John lists ’Never Mind The Bollocks’ among his favourite punk releases along with entries from The Clash, The Stranglers and The Ruts. But there is also room for Rancid and Capdown, indicating punk is alive and well.
“Punk is still here and bigger than ever. The music has become even more of an outsider culture and is largely ignored by the respectable media...but that's a good thing...there's something pretty amusing about how big some of these bands are with no media support at all and how badly some music biz pet bands do!”
“Punk seems to infect all types of music, from the fantastic Death In Vegas to the inspiring Rancid, it seems to have to have affected people in so many different ways. In 2002 there are so many different social and cultural circumstances that affect what punk is. It can't be as angry now as it was in 1977...on the other hand purists may argue that Blink 182 are too dumb to be 'real punk' but then the Ramones played the dumb card in the seventies as well! Some argue that The Strokes are the heirs to the punk rock lineage but they are more of an indie band really...a nice cousin of the punk family!”.
The show isn’t about romanticising punk and making it out to be something it isn’t. You think the days of stabbing keyboards and Arthur On Ice were extinct after the three chord wonders came marching in? Think again
“One of the great myths of punk was how it destroyed prog rock. On one hand it didn't destroy prog and on the other hand a lot of the people that got into punk were NME reading earnest progheads anyway! There was always a prog element to punk rock even at the time. The best thing about punk was that it opened the doors for anyone to play music that prog was perceived to have shut. When people go on about how nothing was going on in music before punk are rewriting history, there were some great bands before punk in the seventies. From glam to Led Zep, from Miles Davies to James Brown from David Bowie to .”
Robb doesn’t see much of a comparison between ‘The Old Prog’ and ‘The New Prog’ of Radiohead and Air. “It's different, they have mixed prog rock tendencies with punk sensibilities. Radiohead are probably closer to the post punk experimentalists of the late seventies than to Yes or ELP. There are parts of Radiohead that are boring but there are moments when it really takes off. 'Sexy Boy' was a great single by Air but they are boring live. They remind me of Focus, a long forgotten Dutch prog band...!”
And then there’s Tony Wilson’s famous theory….
“Oh not that fucking 13 year theory...the only thing that proves is that you cannot make theories up about pop music its far too random for any of that Oxbridge crap! I think he's currently claiming nu-metal as the revolution and whilst that's half true it already happened a few years ago, it's just that the mainstream media suddenly noticed something that they didn't approve of was getting pretty fucking massive out there and tried to bag it up. I think Tony's theory goes like this 1963 – Beatles, 1976 – punk, 1989 - acid house...2002 er, nu-metal! But it all falls apart whichever way you look at it; acid house had already been big the year before 1989 and punk didn't get massive till after 76. So where is the main point for your revolution? And what about all the other musical revolutions in all the other years like glam rock/prog rock/Led Zep/hippies/reggae/dub/soul music/funk/ska and the rest all the other music that you may not necessarily like but have had an equally massive impact on popular culture. The claim is that only punk, acid house and the Beatles changed society at large but I think the hippies changed a lot and James Brown had quite a big influence and anyway where the fuck does Elvis fit into all of this!? There are always revolutions going on in music, it just depends where you are looking.”
“The key thing about punk was DIY...the fact that you could try anything and just DO IT! It's a powerful pop lesson and one that is as true now as it was then...There is still some great fiery music being made out there. Check any gig, any rehearsal rooms and there are loads of teenage bands hustling DIY punk rock...the children of the revolution!”
Robb says that it was “amazing to see how much people still really believed in the power of the music”. He certainly believes in it himself, his new album with Gold Blade’s called ”Do You Believe In The Power Of Rock And Roll?” and when not making music or programmes about music he’s running his Thrill City label. “I have no free time.” he says “I hate free time, its boring”.
’The Punk Years’ is shown throughout the summer on PlayUK