Thursday, 14 January 2016
The Underdogs "East of Dachau" Ep, 1983
It appears that I don't like to make things easy for the TSN staff lately as today's record is yet another minor masterpiece from a band there is not much information about and that released just the one Ep... Well, it's not as bad as Social Disease, I could gather some bits here and there, like a scavenging archeologist. Although there is a tiny chapter about them in Burning Britain, the band is actually not interviewed and despite the size of Ian Glasper's contact book, I assume even he could not find their tracks or they just declined the invite. Perhaps the recent reissue of the band's two demos on vinyl, "Riot in Rothwell" and "East of Dachau", might trigger some renewed interest in the band as their repertoire was really strong and, above all, incredibly ahead of its time, but we'll come back to that later.
That the "East of Dachau" Ep remains to this day one of Riot City's lesser-known record baffles me, as it is definitely one of the label's most potent releases. Punk has always been full of such injustices that give cult status to average bands and drown genuinely great ones into anecdotal obscurity. The Underdogs were a Yorkshire band, from Rothwell, like The Expelled (a member of which would actually join The Underdogs at some point while another one provided backing vocals for the Ep), a town close to Abrasive Wheels' Leeds. The band didn't play for very long, for about three years, between 1981 and 1984, probably because "East of Dachau" didn't sell very well and their planned mini-album for Riot City never materialized because of financial issues (although it had already been recorded and is known as the "Riot in Rothwell" demo if I am correct). By 1984 anyway, the second-wave of British punk-rock was already losing momentum and it is hardly surprising that the label had run out of money and the ever-versatile public had already fallen out of love for punk-rock... During their lifetime, the band still played with the Upstarts, One Way System and Subhumans, thus proving that the boundary between so-called UK82 punk bands and anarchopunk ones was more permeable than it looked depending on where you lived.
The actual dates of recording of The Underdogs' works are pretty unclear as I have come across several contradictory pieces of information. They were all done between 1982 and 1983 but I haven't managed to clarify which songs belonged to which recording sessions... I first knew of The Underdogs about ten years ago through a cdr claiming to include two demos, but the order of the songs and the production quality don't seem to completely fit with the recent reissue... If anyone cares to clarify all this, I'd be very thankful, although, truth be told, it is not what really what matters the most about 1983's memorable "East of Dachau".
To be completely honest, and it hurts me to confess it, I had forgotten a little about The Underdogs until a mate of mine, who is every bit as obsessed with UK82 punk as I am, gave me his spare copy of the "East of Dachau" Ep. But he did it with a purpose in his mind as he told me "give this one a good listen and tell me it doesn't sound like No Hope For The Kids!". Now, that is a flabbergasting thing to say about a 1983 Riot City Ep, isn't it? And "flabbergasting" is such a terrific word to use, right? But anyway, I was astonished but also very excited as my friend usually speaks the truth when we talk about records, an activity we can do for hours without tiring. And you know what? He is bloody right. The song "East of Dachau" does sound like a No Hope for the Kids' unreleased hit. The crucial thing about this is not so much that the Danes were into The Underdogs when they were all the rage 10 years ago (they were always very British-sounding to my ears anyway), but that in a small Yorkshire town in 1983, some kids were rocking this moody brand of anthemic mid-tempo punk-rock that so many people, from very different punk backgrounds, have got into since NHFTK. It would be a tad ridiculous to say that The Underdogs were 25 years too early, but honestly, if you released a selection of their 10 best songs and say they were from Scandinavia circa 2010, I am convinced they would sell in a heartbeat (the boys would have to look a bit trendier though, with plaid shirts and big badges, spiky hair don't really sell in that field).
A bit like Demob or The Samples, The Underdogs were this kind of bands that could effortlessly pen cracking, anthemic punk-rock song that were energetic but kept an almost melancholy edge. "East of Dachau" is really to die for, it is passionate, dark and intense, one of the best British punk-rock songs of that decade, without a doubt. And it sounds so modern too. The melodies on the guitar are incredibly ahead of the band's time and no one sang quite like U.G. at the time, with his rough, yet emotional, warm tone. There is something of Depraved and even Leatherface in The Underdogs as well, albeit in a sloppier and more direct form. Of course, their primary influences were the first wave of British punk-rock and you can tell that bands like The Clash, The Neurotics or Stiff Little Fingers must have inspirational in the way they wrote music. And of course, there are numbers that are more typical of classic UK82 punk-rock with that 1-2-1-2 beat and the catchy chorus you can sing along to (like the song "Dead soldier" on the Ep). But there is also so much more to The Underdogs, especially in their approach to tunes, in how they conveyed their frustration in a beautiful, powerful fashion through incredibly catchy vocal works, smart songwriting, instinctive and yet refined guitar melodies, hooking bass lines and a heart-felt rendering of the Cold War era from the perspective of a teen from poverty-stricken Yorkshire. This band could and should have been huge.
I chose to include the "Riot in Rothwell" recording (or the version of it I have anyway) along with the "East of Dachau" Ep, because it contains unsung punk hits that were meant to be released and can appeal to a lot of us. So give them a go and if you bump into a copy of the "Punk demos collection", just get it. It could be 2016's best-spent tenner.
And thanks to Mike for giving me this Ep. You are a top geezer!