It's only in the past 30 years or so that the word "Reboot" entered our lives and even less time since it gained its alternative use as a metaphor to indicate "starting something already established again in order to get a clean slate" Now possibly overused (which Superhero film is NOT a reboot?) - the idea has worked well in the cinema/TV industry where reboots of many franchises from Star Trek to Batman and the Addams Family have made great stories and characters relevant to a new generation.
Whether one likes the album or not, whether it is any good or not, whether it's the best of the genre or not, "Never Mind The Bollocks" is possibly one of the most important and far reaching re-boots of the 20th century. It was a reboot of the whole of, what was at the time, one of the largest contemporary artistic phenomena in the world, Rock music itself. And in 70s Britain, Record albums were our NUMBER ONE retail leisure spend. No small thing. As such as well as an artistic reboot, it was a reboot of the business structure that surrounded a music industry which had around 60 years of history behind it at that time
I don't play this album much - and if tracks other than the obvious ones randomly jump into my playlist I usually press "skip". There are punk albums which are way more important musically, lyrically, politically and socially. There are even predecessors which we could argue about - were the Ramones more important? had Peter Hammill already done this on "Nadir's Big Chance"? etc etc....
If this were an article for Q or Mojo.... I'd have a lot of beating around the bush to do to get my reason for choosing this one - but here it's fortunately easier... the reason for these articles is to look at some albums that affected one other band - namely our band The Tangent. The Sex Pistols are not, really, all that influential on the way we currently write our music - The 2 minute "punk" bit on our new album is a lot more 80s hardcore anarcho punk than late 70s posture. In terms of our band, it's more on a personal note this time... because my entire life in writing music has been affected, for both good and bad, by this remarkable record. And one of the main reasons for that is purely lottery. When it was released, I was 17 years old.
Funny to think of it this way, like Brexit, it was something that happened - changed everything and after it happened we all had to find new ways of dealing with the new world it created. Those of us who were 16/17/18 years old when this reboot of music happened (well trodden turf for me here I'm afraid) were in a very interesting and odd position. We were at a crucial stage in our personal artistic developments either as listeners or musicians. We were at the great age of reception - where our senses are as open to stimuli and new ideas as at any other points in our lives. We were young - adults in the making - eyes on the future. We'd been absorbing rock music since we were 12, we loved it, it moved us. And in 1977 - this album arrived and the music press -along with the BBC offered us a binary choice and the majority of the media voted to leave. It was a huge dividing line - a line that many did not want to cross, and a line that people just 2 years younger than us would never want to go back over. This reboot was so intense, it was almost like a wilful destruction of the past - the tearing down of an ancient temple. Even now I have friends just a year older than me whose hatred of punk and all its manifestations is still part of their makeup and younger ones whose view of prog is as bizarrely distorted as that seen by the former group.
I do not like to be too self analytical, but if there is one thing I feel I have, it's an open mind that cannot easily be swayed by binary forces. In 1977, I was not prepared to make the choices that the NME were asking I made. I was not going at 17 years old to be what they so nastily referred to as a "Boring Old Fart". I was NOT going to surrender my love of Classical, Prog and Jazz music gleaned since my Mum first played me "Peter And The Wolf" - probably in a cot. Reboots are fine, but when they seek to obliterate the history of a story, character or a whole musical genre, they display a totalitarian and dictatorlike set of properties that I just don't get on with. For a good long period in 1977, John Peel was playing a selection of music that included Punk rubbing shoulders with Reggae, Left field prog (he was more Henry Cow than Yes at this point). He'd have Tangerine Dream butted up to The Damned similarly juxtapposed with Neil Young. Sure - Peel moved with the times and there did come a day when all references to Prog had gone - but during that exciting period.. Peel spoke well to me and I grew to love both sides of the musical Checkpoint Charlie that had suddenly been foisted upon us. In a Six month period I was fortunate enough to see gigs by Yes, The Pistols, Van Der Graaf, Steel Pulse, The Damned, Stranglers and Manfred Mann's Earth Band among many others. It was the time of my life. Many reading this will share that fabulous experience.
The disadvantage of Punk was primarily that it took over like a massive cloud. The record companies saw this method of regaining control over artistic output - as -to them - the lunatics had really taken over the asylum. Greek bands writing concept albums about the Book Of Revelation, English ones doing the Shastric Scriptures in response, bands with no singles, no fashion sense had been hard to control as they gained their own power. Similarly in the early 70s experimental film directors like Russell, Peckinpah, Polanski had been bamboozling the finance guys in big studios... and 1977 was the year they regained control. The arrival iof the Blockbuster Movie of Lucas/Speilberg did not happen at the same time as punk for no reason. This was strategy. And business strategy is never really that great for pure artistry. The punks soon learned this. We had this whole "insulting each other" culture for a while, the "Boring Old Farts" versus "Punks" We weren't exactly bigging ourselves up were we? And the press whipped us up - NME versus Melody Maker. Sound familiar? In the end though - objective completed. The media companies were back in CONTROL. And they'd accomplished this, astonishingly, using a dream of Anarchy!
But my goodness me - there were some HUGE advantages. And those advantages are what got me into playing and writing music in the first place.
I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, so forgive me if I knock over your favorite garden parasol here - but in all honesty, Progressive Rock had some of its leanest ever years between 1975 (mid 74) and 77. There was good stuff - to be sure, new stuff, certainly, but many of the key drivers of the movement were in hiatus. Yes descended into lineup troubles again, Genesis split with Gabriel, ELP were AWOL after BSS, Floyd were in some legal wrangle and, like them though I do - enormously in fact - Camel were left in charge. They and the Canterbury bands put up a strong hand - but the world was not ready to just forget the big fish and just take on a new shoal. Well - of course... that IS what happened, but it wasn't Camel or Canterbury that was the shoal that benefat. ( new past tense of the day)
As a musician I was feeling the pain and frustration. I KNEW I wanted to play, but the demands of progressive rock bands for keyboards players were very very high. How could I even HOPE to get into a band when most people were looking for someone with an LRAM qualification? They wanted Rick Wakemans, Keith Emersons, Peter Bardenses and Vangelii - and I was at that time a Lieutenant Pigeon in a world that needed Generals. Even being in the college cover version band was difficult, "Freebird" was a big ask (not just for the guitarist) - but hey - we could do punk songs dead easy. I wasn't going to let the fact that there weren't keyboards in the Pistols stop me playing on our versions. And The Stranglers were there too - my first real inspiration to learn what Dave Greenfield could do - picking apart his fast but easily playable arpeggios was the start of learning to do what I do now. I didn't have to own a 700 GBP (in 1977) synthesiser, I could use a crappy tinny organ from the local second hand shop - and it sounded great in punk as long as you has an Electro Harmonix "Big Muff" (sic) fuzz pedal - but sounded awful if I'd tried or even been able to try "Karn Evil 9". Punk was my gateway, my way in. I was going to enjoy every moment of the music that was around when I was 17/18 and no music paper was going to stop me.
The Punks started THEIR progression on day 2. For every Sham 69 who just wanted to do "that" and not much else, there was a Siouxie, an XTC, an Ultravox, a Talking Heads, Buzzcocks, Magazine and a Joy Division who in their legendary album "Closer" got about as near to Pink Floyd as you can get without actually being Porcupine Tree. Public Image quickly supplanted the Pistols as Lydon's chief vehicle. The Damned had a progressive 17 minute epic within just a few years of "Neat Neat Neat". The Clash were studio innovators, concept album creators, advocates of true Progressive Politics in a heartbeat - and XTC just thrived on the whole spectrum of Pop, Punk & Prog from their earliest days... How many times did they remind me of Gentle Giant's "Freehand" album in their long and wonderful career? And how great that Dave Gregory ends up in one of the UK's best prog bands right now. His work in Big Train has been a delight from the off with the added bonus of me feeling smug that "I always knew XTC were like minded".
The 80s saw the growth of harder, more genuinely earnest bands whose definition of Anarchy was more of the "political alternative" variety than the feathers-flying pillow fights we'd seen earlier. Bands like Flux, Crass, Chumbawamba and Conflict echoing many hippy ideals in a more realistic, angrily frustrated and gritty way.
Yet - as with Brexit - our media here in the UK took this polarised view, with its target demographics and editorial policy and bias. There are still, thanks to this ignorance peddling, people who think that Progressive Rock is about ice skating pantomime horses and huge light shows and trucks full of gear. Though we all know these things existed at some point , the fact that Progressive Rock is less known for Hammill bashing out his songs with his jugular vain glowing large in his neck on one acoustic piano and guitar, less known for its ceaseless quest for fusion, less known for its political commentary, less known for its poverty ridden grim determination at the lower end of the commercial success scale, than it is for these easily mockable "Codpieces And Capes" of which we have sung. Likewise there are those who think that punk was all about how cool it was to not be able to play (that lasted a few months only) - that the music was just basic noise and everyone was on drugs, but not the approved ones of the late 60s.
The great re-set that was Punk enabled a whole new type of person to enter the world of music making. It was tremendously inclusive and thereby anti elitist. It challenged authority "by name" (see "God Save The Queen") it spat anger, had humour, great choruses and was in my mind a wonderful, optimistic and liberating form. It was spoiled once again, by the erection of Chinese Walls like those which had existed between "Classical" and "Rock" in the first place. This was, in my opinion, a totally commercial strategy. A few scaled these walls - Hillage, Daevid Allen, Hammill etc from "our"side and I felt that Howard Devoto and the Jon Foxx Ultravox were certainly broadcasting both ways. On my first ever commercial release in 1987, the sleeve notes to "Where Do We Draw The Line" say that "When they Draw their line, they can SELL on both sides of it" I think that's what was done. A lot of us fell for it. A lot of Us missed out. And so did a lot of Them.