1976 saw the start of the British Punk Rock explosion. At the time it was viewed by many as a shocking and violent revolution which disappeared almost as rapidly as it had appeared 30+ years later its influence on British society as a whole is there for all to see. At the forefront of Punk were the Sex Pistols without whom it is questionable whether the genre would have received the mass exposure it did. The Pistols were the most (in) famous of the Punk bands not for their music but because of a series of public appearances which shocked the nation and made them front page news across all the British tabloid newspapers. These incidents included the famous Bill Grundy T.V. interview conducted at 6pm in the evening where the Pistols after much baiting from the interviewer started hurling foul-mouthed abuse back at him. It was later claimed by their manager Malcolm McClaren that this was a pre planned event to launch the band but in reality it wasn't however a lot of the events that followed quite obviously were.

Like a lot of musical genres before and after it Punk was also a fashion and in the Sex Pistols case the fashion seemed for a while at least to be more important than the music. This was without doubt due to the influence of McClaren who's other major project at the time was the "Sex" boutique he co owned with Vivienne Westwood.

The other two major Punk bands to first emerge from the London Punk scene were the Damned and the Clash. While in Manchester the Buzzcocks whose first public appearance was supporting the Sex Pistols, on their first gig outside the capitol, were receiving critical acclaim. The interesting thing about all of these bands was that they each had a unique sound with the one common factor being the speed at which they played their songs. The Clash and The Damned had their roots in a band called London SS, a short-lived band put together by future Clash manager Bernie Rhodes.

The Damned became the first British Punk band to release a single when New Rose was released on the fledgling label Stiff Records at the end of 1976. The Sex Pistols followed very quickly with the Punk Rock anthem Anarchy in the UK with the Clash's White Riot completing the trio's first set of releases. Further Sex Pistol releases were held back due to their ongoing and much publicised record company battles which led to them being dropped by EMI and then A&M before Richard Bransons Virgin label signed them in the late spring of '77.

The Clash

The Damned

The Buzzcocks

The Clash meanwhile were signed to CBS yet while achieving critical acclaim for their first and subsequent single and album releases it was not until the release of Combat Rock in 1980 that the band achieved any sort of commercial success. For a very short period in the early 1980's the Clash were the biggest band in America yet this all ended when they slowly disintegrated in the mid '80s.

Manchesters Buzzcocks early releases earned widespread commercial success their style was fast yet poppy and more accessible than some of their contemporaries. Two of their biggest hits Ever Fallen In Love With Someone (you shouldn't have) and Promises are today seen more as pop classics than punk anthems.

1977 was the year that Punk became a national youth culture with kids all over the UK swapping their disco gear for bondage trousers and bin liners. With national interest came a softer more commercial sounding Punk Rock led by bands such as Generation X and The Jam. The Jam were initially hailed as Punk icons but with their sound more aligned to that of the Who they soon became the catalyst for a Mod revival. Generation X meanwhile flirted with chart success for a while but are probably best remembered for being lead singer Billy Idol's first band. Idol was to later achieve massive chart success, during the mid 1980's, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Punk had set out to change the British musical structure and end the dominance of acts which the kids viewed as dinosaurs, bands such as Pink Floyd yet when the Damned recorded their second album, Music For Pleasure they called on Floyds Nick Mason to produce it. The album lacked the instant appeal of its predecessor, Damned, Damned Damned and subsequently flopped. As a result of that and internal divisions the Damned became the first of the high profile British bands to split up. Meanwhile the Sex Pistols were becoming even more notorious releasing a song called God Save the Queen around the time of the Queen's silver jubilee and on Jubilee day, a national holiday, they were arrested while playing on a boat on the River Thames. Founder member Glenn Matlock had by this time been replaced on bass by Sid Vicious despite the fact that Vicious had no knowledge of how to play the bass but he did at least look the part. The Pistols were still seen by the majority as the Punk leaders but mainly due to McClaren's influence they seemed to be turning into a circus act.

The Sex Pistols records were banned by all but the bravest Radio stations and record stores. They were only able to play anywhere outside London using an assumed name. In 1978 at the end of their first US tour lead singer Johnny Rotten left the band effectively ending the Sex Pistols. Rotten was to enjoy critical and commercial success under his real name John Lydon, with his new band Public Image Limited whilst maintaining his aloof and arrogant persona he is a much respected and unique vocalist. Sid Vicious meanwhile deteriorated into heroin addiction and while on bail after the death of his girlfriend Nancy Spungon he died of an overdose. In 1996 the original Sex Pistols line up with Matlock on Bass reformed for a one off tour and subsequent live album. They reformed again in 2002 for a US tour and in 2007 for a highly successful UK tour followed in 2008 by a European festival tour.

Generation X

The Jam

Sid Vicious

John Lydon (AKA Rotten) in 1996

The Ruts

The Damned in 1979

And in 2005

By late 1978 the Punk Rock explosion had effectively petered out replaced by New Wave and a Ska revival led by bands such as the Specials, Selector and Madness. Around this time the Ruts appeared on the scene producing a mix of fast hard edged punk and reggae they were like a breath of fresh air to the Punk scene however there success was short lived and they are best remembered for the classic Babylon's Burning. Following the release of the Ruts first album The Crack lead singer Malcolm Owen was found dead. 1979 saw the release of a new album by the Damned who had reformed a year earlier, minus songwriter and guitarist Brian James. The nucleus of original member's singer Dave Vanian, bassist but now guitarist Captain Sensible and drummer Rat Scabies were joined by ex Saints bassist Algy Ward. The album Machine Gun Etiquette was a brilliant fusion of Punk and New Wave and spawned 3 hit singles Love Song, I Just Can't Be Happy Today and the surprisingly melodic punk anthem Smash It Up.

In 1980 Ward left to be replaced by ex Hot Rod Paul Gray. This line up released the grossly underrated Black Album and the more poppy yet still underrated Strawberries before Sensible left after he had become a solo star reaching number one with his cover of the Rogers & Hammerstein classic Happy Talk. The Damned continued without Sensible and Gray, who had left to join rock band UFO. The line up now featured Vanian & Scabies with Roman Jugg on guitar and Bryn Merrick on Bass. Signing to major label MCA this line up released two albums 1985's Phantasmagoria & 1986's Anything. Ten years after their original formation the Damned had their biggest hit single with top 5 UK hit Eloise. The Damned continued with a fluid line up sometimes joined by Sensible, Gray and James through the late '80s and early '90s. In 1998 they settled with a more solid line up featuring Vanian & Sensible along with ex Sister of Mercy Patricia Morrison on bass, Keyboard player Monty Oxy Moron and ex English Dogs and Janis Stark Drummer Pinch. In 2001 this line up released the first proper Damned album for 15 years the outstanding Grave Disorder. The Damned are musically as strong as they have ever been whether they will achieve any form of commercial success remains to be seen. In 2005 the Damned released a new single with ex English Dogs bassist Stu West replacing Morrison, who is on extended (permanent?) maternity leave. In 2008 they released the critically acclaimed "So, Who's Paranoid Album?" and continue to tour on a regular basis.

The early '80s saw the New Romantic era which was the complete opposite to Punk with it's immaculately dressed stars and lavish production. However there was still a darker side to British music with bands such as Killing Joke, The Cult and Theatre of Hate continuing musically where Punk had left off. Punk rock could still be heard and there was a huge underground movement featuring bands like the Exploited, Discharge, GBH, Anti Nowhere League and Eco terrorists Crass. As well as The Damned other bands from the late '70s achieved a certain degree of success the most notable of these was Belfast's Stiff Little Fingers. SLF produced a raw dual guitar based sound with songs highlighting the frustrations of kids growing up in the middle of the Northern Irish troubles. Led by singer, guitarist Jake Burns, songs such as Wasted Life, Gotta Getaway and Alternative Ulster became anthems for the region.

Another band from the mid to late 70's who achieved consistent chart success were the Stranglers. London's Punk elite would never embrace the Stranglers but outside the capital they were seen in the same light as the other Punk bands. Hugh Cornwall, JJ Burnell, Dave Greenfield and Jet Black formed the Guildford Stranglers in 1975 by 1977 the Guildford had been dropped from the name and signed to United Artists they were achieving chart success with songs such as Peaches, Something Better Change and No More Heroes. Their first two albums Rattus Norvegigfus & No More Heroes were classics of the time. The Stranglers sound was best described as raw yet thoughtful and melodic. The Stranglers enjoyed consistent chart success for 10 years until Guitarist/Singer Hugh Cornwall left to pursue a solo career despite being replaced by Paul Roberts and still being together today the Stranglers have never recaptured the success of their golden period from 1977 to 1983. Paul Roberts has subsequently left and The Stranglers are back to being a 4 piece with Baz Warne on Guitar and Vocals. Touring on a regular basis the Stranglers have not rested on their laurals and will be releasing a new album in 2011

Stiff Little Fingers

The Stranglers


Siouxsie & The Banshees were part of the London Punk scene of 1976/77, in fact Siouxsie was in the TV studio with the Pistols during the Bill Grundy interview, but it was not until 1978 that they released their first single Hong Kong Garden. Their most successful period was the early '80s when they achieved their only number one hit the Beatles cover Dear Prudence. The Banshees were perhaps best described as avant-garde punks and appealed to New Romantics and Goths as well as Punks. This can be attributed more to the look of the band and in particular Siouxsie than the bands sound, which was never harsh in the same way as say the Pistols but could never be described as Pop in the same way as Duran Duran.

Siouxsie's success probably helped to inspire a host of successful female artists in the late 70's and early 80's such as Hazel O' Conner, Toyah Wilcox and Chrissy Hynde of the Pretenders.

Punk Rock in the UK was all about ordinary kids forming bands and playing music. It came along at a time when the British music scene was stagnating. The anarchy was more musical than political but the trend for a short period at least, had the establishment running around like a headless chicken. It was over almost as quickly as it had started but despite valiant attempts over the past 30 years to kill the genre it has refused to die. PUNK IS DEAD LONG LIVE PUNK.

In 1979 as Thatcher's Conservative Government came to power a group of kids fresh out of school and out of work relieved their boredom by forming a Punk band. What they initially lacked in musical ability they made up for in enthusiasm this web site is dedicated to that band the PLATINUM NEEDLES.

Written by Kevin Ruscoe in 2002 Revised in 2006 & 2010

For a more in depth view of the Punk revolution visit the excellent Punk 77 web site The site has excellent articles on all of the bands from the late 1970's

Punk77 - A complete history of UK Punk 1976-79. Sights, sounds & opinions.