Strate Jacket: Punk Bashing – album review

Strate Jacketalbum review

Strate Jacket : Punk Bashing  (Detour Records)

LP+CD+DL package with 12 inch 8 page booklet

Out now

Southampton 1977 punk band have demo & rehearsal recordings released 46 years on. A time capsule that in essence is probably the last, ‘pure’, ‘unheard’ Year Zero punk album to appear. Packaged with a booklet telling their story in cuttings and first-hand accounts. A must for punk rock collectors and those who saw the band at the time.

(Strate Jacket have always been missing from the ‘authorised history of punk’ until now, but for the purposes of historical context they were contemporaries of bands like X-Ray Spex, the Lurkers, Sham 69, Menace, the Cortinas… the second wave who formed after the Pistols, Damned, Jam & Clash emerged. They would not have been out of place on the Step Forward or Raw Records labels.)

… a common trend in 1977, “Punk Bashing” where, partially as a result of hyperbolic tabloid reporting encouraging violence against Punk fans (including a shameful piece in the 6th June edition of the Sunday Mirror entitled “Punish The Punks”), there were many fights and attacks on Punk rockers..

Punk Bashing. it ain’t fun. Ever heard of one-on-one

Strate Jacket singer Terry O’Brien once told me about the time, when he was 16 in 1977, that he was mugged by a gang of Teddy Boys in central London and left dazed and confused on the pavement, wearing only socks on his feet.  They had nicked his brand new brothel creepers because ‘punks shouldn’t wear ’em’. He was gutted because they were brand new and had cost him nearly a weeks wages.

Punk Bashing. How smashing. This aint the summer of love. 

There are loads of stories about Strate Jacket gigs which involved violence usually meted out by older ‘casuals’ on the teenage punks.  A lot of them appear in the booklet with the beautifully packaged album.

‘It was a rough old year 1977’  I remember Terry saying to me some years back. I was researching a book about the local punk scene, which remains unfinished, and met him thanks to (former band manager, the late) John Weafer and his wife Liz. A group discussion at their place included this:

(Liz)   All this talk of constant violence is a bit exaggerated isn’t it?
(John)  We didn’t go out looking for trouble…but if it presented itself we stood our ground.
(Simon)  Except forroadieScotty, he was the biggest chicken in the world!
(Liz)   Oh, he wasn’t, I liked him.
(Terry)   He was, he’d start trouble and then run away.

Strate Jacket weren’t hooligans. Two of the band and two roadies/mates served time at HMP after an altercation in Bournemouth at a Generation X gig where they were playing support, but they were scapegoats.

(John Russell SJ drummer) Some Cortina boys thought they would punch some punks for fun, got more than they bargained for and then went to the police to complain. It was never more than a stupid scrap that changed the lives of the young men who were incarcerated; they lost their jobs because some judge wanted to make an example of these “punk rockers”

None of the band were involved in the altercation and were convicted in place of the people that were. There only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time and not giving away the identities of those that were actually involved. This didn’t surprise me as neither  are by nature violent people or grasses!

During the bands lifespan they supported The Clash, Generation X, Subway Sect, The Killjoys, Sham 69, and (the second line up) released just one 7” single “You’re a Hit / Too Soon Too Young” on the Wessex Records label in 1979. It’s not included on this album as this is the original line-up only and the 1977 demos and a ‘live’ rehearsal tape.

(Bassist Nick Petford) Our first demo was recorded at Hampshire Sound Services – a 4-track in a garage in Bishopstoke. The press was rife with ‘disgusting punk rocker’ type stories, and I remember (the older bloke who ran it) looking very nervous when about 15 of us (band and roadies and mates) all turned up off the bus carrying our gear (we travelled in style back then!). Terry sang ‘fuck’ on Stop Press and he nearly had a heart attack.

(the songs…?) Punk Bashing speaks for itself. Stop Press was about the trashy tabloid media having a go at filthy punk rockers, and Out in the Street was an anti National Front song inspired in part by the death of Blair Peach.

Strate Jacket wrote about what they knew and lived: City Life, Boredom City, Out In The Street. There were no love songs. Talking About London was about possible escape, but even in that they realised the streets weren’t paved with gold. Their alienation was turned into pure energy and short, sharp musical blasts.

It’s great to hear the Hampshire accent in a song instead of the usual fake Cockney or American accent.  The way certain words sound – ‘werk’ and ‘prin-ted pay-jez’ particularly in ‘Stop Press’.

There are only NINE actual different songs on the album: six of them twice and three versions of the other three, making 21 in total. The lyrics are included in the 12 inch square eight-page booklet which I thought was a bit strange until I listened to the ‘rehearsal’ recordings.  The vocals are not easy to decipher so you need ‘the words’.  That said, the actual performances are incendiary.

Like any band Strate Jacket sounded their absolute best in rehearsal when there are no nerves or pressure and the songs are freshly written. John Russell was an incredible drummer and together with Gordon O’Briens brickwall-of-guitar-sound they sound like a solid, no nonsense, ‘Year Zero’ punk band.

(What do I mean by Year Zero? There are no obvious pre-punk influences – no Dr Feelgood or Glam Rock touches – it’s just solid Ramones / early Clash, punk-only influences. Musical ‘time’ started with punk rock.)

The songs have a brevity, like Pink Flag era Wire, but a street-tough, urban sound, like say Menace.  Oddly, a couple people have noted that the rehearsal section sounds a bit like Cockney Rejects – a full couple years before they had even formed.

The story of Strate Jackets most memorable gig is told in the song Too Soon Too Young. They played at the Music Machine on a bill that includes Subway Sect, The Slits and the Killjoys. Promoted by Bernie Rhodes he also billed ‘the Cognoscenti Orchestra’ as special guests, knowing damn well that people would jump to the conclusion that is was the Pistols or the Clash under a pseudonym. Instead, he got Strate Jacket to play top of the bill.  John Russell takes up the story:

The audience was stunned, that is, completely stunned that we were not what they were expecting. We were not even close to what they were expecting. They had been had; Bernie’s little joke had just had the punch line delivered, he must have been laughing all the way to the exit (before he could get lynched) we however were faced with a hostile audience, a hail of cans, gob and anything that couldn’t be screwed down and no security.

At the end of the first number Terry made a sweep of the stage and started returning the cans from whence they came and the audience seemed to warm to this act of bravado and from the on we started to win them round and by the end of our set we were being warmly received.

The live rehearsal tracks have the between song chatter left in so you can really imagine what it was like.  After a mistake in the first song the band members communicate in aggressive barks at each other. Fuckin’ Him! /  What? / You! / Nice!   Later some mates wander in ask where the beer is and distract the band.  Terry shouts down the microphone ‘This one’s called Chris Twomey is Innocent’ before the standard One Two Three Four and an even more storming version of Talking About London.

Strate Jacket were absolute heroes in Southampton (Boredom City) as they were the first and only proper punk band around. They looked sharp, sounded great but just didn’t have the luck and the breaks to get anywhere on a national level.  The song Cash-In Boys shows their suspicion of people offering to be their manager who they perceived as being out to make money out of the latest outrageous music craze.

Strate Jacket did inspire other local bands to form, including the young Chris Packham who’s band The Titantic Survivors later included a keyboard player from Strate Jacket Mk3 (when they renamed themselves the Captains).

Promises of a ‘record deal’ made by a certain singer with a well-known punk band came to nothing (and were a bit of a ‘sham’ you could say.)

After so long it is great to see a proper album released by Strate Jacket so that they can be acknowledged for their part in both punk rock and Southampton’s social history.  They never enjoyed any large-scale fame or any kind of fortune but they made their mark and played their part and made music which still stands up today as being somewhere near the top of punk’s Division Two.

It’s rough and it’s raw but it’s pure 1977 UK punk rock made by teenage contenders : Punk Bashing is the final missing piece of the Class of 77 Punk Rock jigsaw puzzle and a time capsule that, in essence is probably the last, ‘pure’, ‘unheard’ Year Zero punk album that will ever be released.

Buy from Detour Records

All words Ged Babey

With apologies to Scotty

Full disclosure: A lot of the sleeve notes on the album are taken from interviews conducted with band members and associates by myself, twenty years ago, for a planned book on the Southampton punk scene – Hence the fact I am referred to in the sleeve-notes as a ‘punk historian’ – which was not my idea…  Quotes used in this review are mostly not included in the album packaging. (Ged Babey)



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