Sunday, July 25, 2004


Sham 69 live in Brighton

Sham 69, Concorde 2, Brighton, 24 July 2004
Sham 69 were the punk band I saw more than any other in the heady days of 77-78. I was just too young to see the Pistols in 76, and it was early 77 before I started going to gigs. The first time I saw Sham 69 was at the 100 club. There were 10 people in the audience: my two mates, 7 skinheads and me. Earlier that day Sham 69 had signed to Mark P's Step Forward label.  The skinheads were heckling Jimmy Pursey for having "sold out".  Step Forward released the excellent I Don't Wanna / Red London / Ulster Boy EP (produced by John Cale).  My last Sham gig was at the Roundhouse in Autumn 77. At least half the crowd were skinheads, many more marauding around outside without tickets.  One gang reversed a truck into one of the fire exits to try and break in. That gig was very violent and put me off ever seeing Sham play live again.  Coincidentally the gig was filmed for the Old Grey Whistle Test, the clip they showed included Jimmy handing a young punk at the front the remains of his lager - I was that young punk.

Anyone lucky enough to experience first hand the excitement of punk rock in Britain in ’77 would agree that Sham were one of the best.  These days people seem to remember them for their slightly cartoony hits – Hersham Boys, Angels With Dirty Faces, The Kids Are United and Hurry Up Harry.  But the early songs – stuff like Borstal Breakout, Ulster Boy, Rip Off, What Have We Got, Tell Us the Truth, Questions and Answers – were prime slices of early UK punk.  Jimmy Pursey was always an engaging and passionate front man too.  So how would it be seeing them for the first time in 27 years?

I arrived in time to catch the last 7 or 8 songs of the UK Subs set.  I’d already moved on from punk by the time the UK Subs were gaining popularity.  From my disinterested position Charlie Harper always seemed something of a joke figure – a middle-aged hairdresser turned punk.  That said I quite enjoyed the songs I heard.  These days Charlie is a portly fellow and was giving it his all.  Unfortunately his passion and lack of fitness resulted in him having to wipe the sweat out of his eyes every few seconds.  Hard to maintain ill defined rage when you have to keep wiping your eyes.  There was a sizeable Subs crowd if the t-shirts were anything to go by and they all seemed pretty happy.  And, if punk-by-numbers enthusiastically played by punk survivors is your thing, then you’d be happy too.  They were certainly very watchable but nothing special.

The crowd were a weird mix.  A few ageing skinheads looking quite flabby and unthreatening (weird how the prevalence of Beckham-inspired crops has taken the edge out of the look), some ageing punks still living the dream (fat, middle aged and sporting a mohican is perhaps not the greatest look in the world), a few young Euro-punks checking out some punk legends, a lot of 30 or 40 somethings in varying degrees of decay, and a few biker / rocker types all of whom seemed to be wearing Motorhead t-shirts.  Everyone was very good-natured and there was a party feel to the event.

Jimmy, Dave Parsons and the rest of the band shuffled on to the stage whilst most of the audience were at the bar.  Jimmy smoking a fag and smirking.  The years have been very kind to Jimmy.  He looks better than ever - hair longer and more tousled than in his heyday, very trim, fit looking and energetic – and with loads more charisma than poor old Charlie Harper.  He really is a consummate performer, moving between Lydon’s psycho stare and mike stand hanging to a Frankie Howerd smirk and Kenneth Williams campiness.  The best thing about it all is that Jimmy patently realises the absurdity of this – but he loves it and so do we.  Everyone’s in on the joke.  All of which makes for wonderful entertainment.  The hits were peppered throughout the set, a lot of the early stuff was present and correct, a couple of new songs (including the obligatory “Iraq war” inspired number), and some other stuff I assume was ‘mid-period’.  All sounded great.  I was never less than captivated and happily joined the moshing for Borstal Breakout, Ulster Boy and Angels With Dirty Faces.  My expectations for this gig were low but it really was great entertainment.  Watching Sham also made me realise just what powerful music punk is, and how uncontrived – a far cry from today’s scene. 

As I cycled home along Brighton seafront caught up in memories of punk rock and the late seventies it really struck me just HOW different things are today.  The seafront was heaving with Saturday night revellers all smartly dressed in their cheap, disposable, sweatshop-manufactured finery.  It appeared I was amidst an almost universal level of conformity and homogeneity.  Everybody’s happy nowadays.

I continued along the front and there was an open air screening of Quadrophenia on the beach.  Having travelled from the noughties to the seventies and back again, I was now transported to a fictionalised version of the sixties.  Again I was struck by the changes.  The Mods and Rockers also seemed a far cry from the more predictable world of today.  Maybe it’s a good thing?  Maybe every generation thinks the era of their youth was the best?  Either way I’m grateful I had punk rock and I’m glad that Jimmy Pursey is still out there doing it.  Some people are dismissive of rock musicians continuing to play nostalgia-type shows.  It’s OK for old bluesmen or jazz musicians to be doing it into their old age but wrong for rock musicians.  I probably thought so too once upon a time – not any more.  

 “If the kids are united they will never be divided” . Try telling that to the kids of today - they’ll laugh in your face.

that was a really good post. a joy to read. i used to like sham 69, but was never really all that into them. still, it was a shame to see all that crap with the skinheads. youre spot on about the youth of today.

that was a really good post. a joy to read. i used to like sham 69, but was never really all that into them. still, it was a shame to see all that crap with the skinheads. youre spot on about the youth of today.

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