Wednesday 3 July 2019

Records I Forgot I Owned (part 5): Red Flag 77 / PMT "Demolition Derby" split Ep, 1995

Before I start the new episode of my foolish series about personal memory lapses as they pertain to my record collection (potentially awkward stuff), I would like you to relax and close your eyes and follow my voice (I am aware you do not know my voice just imagine how it sounds like and if nothing comes, let's just say I sound like a wrestling announcer). Don't be so tense and try to release these flows of bad energies, these bad vibes, the ones that prevent you from liking top bands like Blyth Power and The Astronauts, you know what I mean. Now try to empty your mind and go back to the origins of the Self, of Meaning, of Life itself. Travel deep inside your roughed up psyche and unravel what you find at its core. That's right, it is a massive safety pin and it symbolizes bloody  old-school punk-rock, the class of 1977, the one that started all this nonsense. 

Since I am prone to panic attacks whenever I am being told to relax and especially when I hear the combination of the words "yoga" and "meditation", I am grateful I didn't have to reach into my inner self to see the '77 light and just had to browse through my Ep's. I am not the biggest fan of 70's punk music and while I do enjoy some of it, I tend to prefer the second wave, the one that was influenced by the original wave, basically punk-rock influenced by punk-rock. Of course, the huge success and popularity of bands like The Clash, the Pistols, The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers or X-Ray Spex implies that they have had, to this day, a lasting effect on punk music and aesthetics. In fact, '77 punk has become a punk subgenre throughout the years, a bit like UK82 but with a bigger claim to being "the original punk sound" (some people do treasure that notion to an unhealthy extent). If anything, this constant process of turning a specific, contextualized sound into an actual genre, this cementing "genre-ification", shows that we - us punks - have a very limited understanding of the diachroneity and fluidity of music. We love categories. On the other hand, it has also spawned a lot of discrete punk subgenres which, in spite of their inherent systematization and an archipelago structure, account for the diversity of punk music. And besides, I love the botanical approach that emerges from this somewhat unified fragmentation and I guess there would be no Terminal Sound Nuisance if it were not for it.

But anyway, I don't listen to many original '77 punk bands (although it is always fun to play some classics once in a while and Ulster bands are ace) and even less to the '77-styled bands that came after. With some meaningful exceptions of course, otherwise I wouldn't be sweating like a pig in front of a computer screen. I fucking love Red Flag 77. There I said it. I am still not sure how I could forget that I owned this split Ep but I think I got this one in Osaka last year during a record shopping frenzy when I blitzed a 300 yen record box. There were many casualties and it may have been one of them. Although I don't really know what records I have from them, RF77 hold a special place in my heart. Their gig in 2001 in a Parisian squat was not only insanely good but also one of my first "real" punk gigs (before that it was pretty just terrible ska-punk gigs in my sleepy suburbia) with proper punks with studs, spiky hair and shit. I was 17 and they played an absolute blinder with a cracking cover of "What's my name?". They were energetic and their brand of snotty old-school punk-rock with singalong tunes really spoke to me then and I am relieved to say upon listening to them again today, it still speaks to me now.

RF77 formed in 1990 in Ipswich, hometown of Extreme Noise Terror who were still going strong at the time. Although RF77 didn't sound in the least like crust punk or hardcore punk (on that level they were certainly oddities in the UK punk soundscape of the time), they still had Pete from ENT as a guitarist during their early years and two members of Screaming Holocaust, Malcum on the drums and Les - briefly - on the bass. Another great example of punk's porosity and incestuousness I guess. The band did their first gig - under a different name that was quite terrible - with Chaos UK, ENT and Filthkick and got to release a couple of cover songs for the 1991 Punk's not Dread compilation Lp (the punker than punk fellow on the famous cover being actually RD77's singer Rikki!). After that, they recorded a demo tape and then, in 1995, thanks to a stable lineup (something that the band never really enjoyed until then), the two songs appearing on their side of Demolition Derby, "The Martians" and "Nervous system". These numbers are perfect examples of what old-school punk-rock should sound like. They have the obnoxious snottiness, the catchy chorus, the direct energy, simple and clear guitar riffs. Of course, they are not reinventing the wheel but given the templates of the style, I cannot think of another 90's band doing it better. The genre can be pretty tricky to play and I have seen many bands trying far too hard to recreate the '77 vibe and ending up sounding (and looking...) corny and a little pathetic. RF77 have this spontaneity for them, and even though it is easy to hear that they are going for the sound of the UK Subs, Menace, The Clash or SLF, the tunes sound fresh and the band authentic. Old-school punk-rock for the punks. I can't help but hearing a Toy Dolls influence on the chorus of "The Martians" and the simple but wicked guitar lead on "Nervous system" turns a rather typical punk-rock song into a genuine hit. And of course, Rikki has got just the right voice for the style, rough but with some melodies.

I strongly recommend their first album A Short Cut to a Better World that was released in 1998 (with a vinyl version only in 2000 for some reason). As I said, it is not easy to play that overdone style well, especially on a whole album and on this one RF77 basically gave a lesson on how to make it sound both classic and fresh, snotty and catchy. A genuine 90's punk-rock classic. At a time when many bands are happy to release albums with only 8 songs, RF77 delivered 19 songs at the time and believe me when I say that, despite the relative length for a punk Lp, it never bores. I have to admit that I haven't really kept up with what the band did afterwards but I'm sure it's still quality.

On the other side of the split Ep are the mighty PMT, initials that did not stand for Pre Menstrual Tension but for Pissed Mouthy Trollops, a name that adequately summed up what the band was all about. PMT formed in Norwich in 1992 and they were and always have been despite numerous epic lineup changes an all-girl punk band. This was not so common in the UK punk scene in the 90's and although the 80's anarchopunk wave saw many girls playing in punk bands like Androids of MU, Hagar the Womb, Lost Cherrees and Rubella Ballet to name some of the most remarkable, the same could not be said a decade later. Of course, the riot grrrl movement was contemporary with PMT but it was essentially a North American phenomenon - though it spread afterwards - and its artier aspects, without mentioning its sonic proximity to the exploding US grunge rock scene, do not really fit with Norwich's female punk gang. According to the chapter devoted to the band Armed in Anger, PMT's career was an eventful, epic, drunken one with some stories that would be worthy of inclusion in a telenovela and while the band did tackle the issue of sexism in the scene (among other serious subjects), it was also very much about fun and fury (I mean, they had a song entitled "Cider slags"). The early lineup of the band recorded the Pretty Mental demo tape in 1992 and Tunes from the Womb in 1993 before Jenny P and Ella (on the sax and drums respectively) left to form another all-female garage punk band Compact Pussycat (they were replaced by Jenny D and Elaine). PMT finally released a third tape in 1994, In Tomato Sauce, before recording the two songs that would end up on the split with RF77 in 1995.

Before reading Armed with Anger I don't think I had heard of PMT before. I knew their brilliant cover of Crass, "Heart-throb of the mortuary", not an easy one to pull out, that appeared on Ruptured Ambitions' You've Heard it all Before compilation Lp, but I didn't bother checking out the band (and I never noticed their records on distro tables). So seeing that there was a whole section about them in the book was a bit of a surprise and I did get to discover a new band. I have to confess that I was also slightly upset that I did not know them before but the pleasure of the discovery exceeded the injured ego, albeit barely. Not unlike RF77, PMT had a raw old-school vibe to them although I would argue that they sounded closer to the second wave than the first one (in spite of their professed love the Subs and SLF) and even the saxophone, which would normally instantly bring to mind X-Ray Spex strongly reminded me of French anarchopunk bands like Psycho Squat or Kochise who also loved sax, a somewhat problematic instrument that I can find interesting in some punk bands but that I am usually prone to discard like all other wind instruments (since it is not too distracting in PMT's music and that I like the band, they get a free pass). Musically I suppose you could describe PMT as a punk as fuck, pissed, mouthy cross between The Expelled, Dan, Suicidal Supermarket Trolleys and the aforementioned Psycho Squat. The faster UK82 song "Ex punk" is the definite winner here with its catchy chorus and pogo-inducing beat and flow. It would not have been out of place in a Riot City sampler. "Anti fash" is a more of a mid-paced number with more prominent sax parts and unfortunately quite a lot of skips (it is a second-hand copy after all). If they were around today - and Instagram-compatible - I am sure they could be rather popular since this kind of 1-2-1-2 raw punk-rock is fairly popular. They went on to record a full Ep, Hazard!, in 1999 with a different lineup (bass player Clara left for Hackney and played in Zero Tolerance) that is better produced and more solid (although I have my own reservations about covering "I will survive") and will probably end up on Terminal Sound Nuisance one day as I certainly did not forget owning that geezer. PMT apparently reformed a few years ago since discogs lists a split with The Destructors from 2012.

Demolition Derby was released in 1995 on Weird Records, a label that was really active in the 90's and early 00's and was responsible for putting out records from the Varukers, Road Rage, Kismet HC and the superb Dogshit Sandwich (oh yes).

Now spike yer hair and polish your studs, it's time to dust off your Clash and Spex records, punk!


  1. Semi-civilized11 July 2019 at 01:48

    I am a new punk just getting into the scene, but A Short Cut To A Better World is raw, I love it! There isn't really any punk rock in my town, so thanks for keeping this blog active.

  2. played with and knew both bands as good friends. Thanks for this.

  3. PMT Have a gig in Norwich on 28th September 2019 in aid of the Motor Neurone Disease Association along with Braindance and Dogtown Rebels whO feature Fanny from RF77 on guitar