Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I've been steering clear of this blog of late as the lack of inspiration to write anything about music - after more than 600 entries on this here journal - has been overwhelming; and, as you can see, recent entries have been centred more on movies than sounds. But just today - yes, TODAY - I was so blown away by these two discs, The Outsiders' Calling On Youth and Close Up rekkids from 1977 and '78, respectively, only just reissued for the first time ever on CD in the past fortnight by the good folks at Cherry Red, that I feel inspired to rave.
Prior to reading the press sheets for these two titles - my interest in them, I must admit, goes beyond the mere interest of a fanboy and into the realm of "work-related reasons" - I must confess that the band's name meant absolutely nada to me, outside of the fact that the same moniker was used by a Dutch mob in the late '60s, one who produced a long-playing slab of genius by the name of CQ, a record I really should write about one of these days. I quizzed a few other music-dork pals of mine, and the strike rate was approx. 50/50 in the have/haven't heard of 'em equation. Considering the sheer depths of hopeless nerdery that myself and my buddies have dedicated our lives to in this regard, that certainly makes the band "obscure".
So I did some research: the band, a trio hailing from Wimbledon, of all areas, formed "for real" (they'd been bedroom jamming since '73 as Syndrome) in 1976, debuting at the Roxy in late '76 in support of Generation X; they self-released Calling On Youth in May 1977 on their own Raw Edge label, allegedly the first UK self-released "punk" LP, then followed it up w/ the 7" EP, One To Infinity soon thereafter (also on the COY CD); the second album, Close Up, was then released in 1978, once again on Raw Edge; their main acknowledged influences were the Stooges and the Velvets; the ace track "Semi-Detached Life" (see below), from Close Up, was used in the Richard Linklater film, School Of Rock; they barely received a good review in their entire existence, slagged by blowhards like Julie Burchill and even derided by Jon Savage (a guy whose writing I do like a lot); and singer/guitarist Adrian Borland, who died in 1999, went on to form The Sound after the band's demise in 1979, an outfit who had some indie success throughout that decade, but being a band often "favourably" compared to dickless Limey dullards such as Echo & The Bunnymen and Comsat Angels, are not an outfit I could personally recommend. Add to that the fact that I would have to rate these two discs as the most strangely ignored albums of their day. All this information would be perhaps curious though not of any great interest if in fact the music they made was of no great worth, and that's not the case.

The Outsiders had a couple of really great elements working in their favour: Borland had a cool, detached vocal approach in the slower, moodier songs which had the stench of Lou Reed all over them, and for a nominally "punk" band, a tag they rejected as not particularly appropriate to their approach, they could pull off quieter, acoustic-based songs w/ aplomb (such as "Break Free" from the debut), something just about none of their contemporaries could achieve (or even attempt). There's also Borland's shit-hot guitar fuzz throughout. It's a totally bluesless wall of noise which is caught somewhere between Wire ca. Pink Flag and Greg Sage ca. anytime then or now. He also wasn't afraid of ripping out elongated yet tasteful solos in a James Williamson vein, and the band equally wasn't afraid of the odd track extending over the 5-minute mark (the closer on Close Up, "Conspiracy Of War", is 6+ minutes of total Youth Of America-style bliss). The sound of the band is hard to place, because it appears to be paying little attention to anything else of its time: The Outsiders sound nothing like the 'Pistols, Damned, Buzzcocks or (thank fuck) The Clash, and the rockist approach puts them firmly outside of the post-punk camp. If anything, it sounds like its rooted more in the pre-punk British scene of the Pink Fairies/Hawkwind/Deviants, minus any hints of rhythm & blues in its make-up, but as for whether the band actually listened to or cared for any of these groups is pure conjecture. What I can say is that their Velvets-damaged approach mixed w/ inventive guitar hysterics has me thinking that anyone who thinks a band whose sounds approximate a hybrid of Wire, Wipers, Simply Saucer, Modern Lovers and MX-80 Sound is a ticket to a good time, should hear these two records.

When I rave about Don Cherry in this journal I expect few to care; when I sing the praises of Amos Milburn, I can hear you groaning from here, but these two albums are ones which I know a large section of this blog's readership will actually like. Just the other day I was whining to a friend how totally boring I find collectors of rare early punk to be, how their search for the ultimate unknowns and never-weres has me yawning in complete boredom; their trainspotting/stamp-collecting attitudes being the complete opposite of the excitement of the music itself, as if a concentration on one era and style of music neglects to acknowledge and appreciate all the other great music of the last few hundred years. Of course I was full of shit, and my belated discovery of The Outsiders, outcasts in their day because of their shaggy hair, lack of pose or uncool suburb they hailed from (it couldn't possibly be because of their music, could it? It sounds so much better than most of what else went down that year in the UK to me, and they made two albums of it!), shows that there's still so much good music out there to discover. Definitely one of the great rock & roll (re)discoveries of 2012.


Steev Hyooz said...

It's funny... I always found this blog's contents more centered on those whose interests would fall closer to the Don Cherry universe than the early punk one. Maybe I'm just failing to grasp how anyone into this kind of blog wouldn't be interested in a body of work like Cherry's, though...

Dave said...

I fail to grasp that, too, but the lack of any feedback I get when discussing avant-jazz speaks volumes.

Jimmy said...

Hey I dig jazz. I just know very little about it & rely on Dave (among others) to point me in the right direction.

Punk rock however is another matter altogether, though count me in with the "never heard of 'em" contigent as far as these guys go. Those YouTube clips definitely sound the goods & I'm amazed that the Outsiders have been so relatively unknown until now.

Jason Odd said...

Early punk suffers from a common element, DIY, which was no doubt fresh and exciting to all those who made it, but energy and enthusiasm doesn't always translate to any sense of quality.

Sure, there's some records that just leap out for me, of late I've been on a massive Wire jag, the first album is so amazing in it's immediate sense of being. A great first record, straight up solid quality.

But then you've got a record like their third album 154 which is where they show their craft, pure quality punk meets art.

When it comes to the crunch, punk fans are just as divisive as any other form of music fan, who stick to their specialised form of the genre... I don't suppose folks who dig dixieland jazz would have much to say about avant-jazz either.

Good post man, I want to check out these guys, plus you got me thinking about hardcore collectors of early punk.