Rarely has a new form of music been as despised as punk was when it reared its pimply head in the mid-‘70s. Mocked, ostracised, and, once the Sex Pistols came along, absolutely reviled, punk must’ve seemed at the time the unlikeliest starting point for a future pop star. But punk did nothing if not generate publicity for those involved, and, as the old showbiz saying goes, any publicity is good publicity, and punks with the perceived commercial potential inevitably got a chance to take things further. Obviously, some of the original punk acts became hitmakers themselves; even the Sex Pistols were huge in the UK, thanks in no small amount to the controversy, while the likes of The Clash and The Jam through to John Lydon’s post-Pistols outfit Public Image Ltd, and Siouxsie & the Banshees all rode on punk’s growing audience base to become bona fide pop stars. We’re not talking about them here. What we are talking about are those performers whose background in punk is probably not that well-known to the public at large.
In most instances, it probably won’t come as a huge surprise. And then there’s Belinda Carlisle... Here’s our selection of famous musicians whose background in punk is not often highlighted. Enjoy.
It wasn’t just Belinda – it was the whole band. Believe it or not, a few years before transforming into the bubbly power poppers of “Our Lips Are Sealed”, the Go-Go’s were up and comers on the burgeoning Los Angeles punk scene. But it was Belinda, who had roughly cut short hair even in early Go-Go’s days, who had the real punk cred; under the non de punk Dottie Danger she was briefly the drummer – as early as April 1976 – of the most legendary LA punk band of them all, The Germs. Indeed she remained in their orbit and was once resident at the notorious Canterbury Apartments, which was home to most of LA punks at the time. Also resident there was fellow future Go-Go Jane Wiedlin, aka Jane Draino. We doubt Belinda was thinking of the Canterbury when she sang “Heaven On Earth”, but there was still a little bit of rawness when the Go-Go’s cut their first single, “We Got The Beat” for England’s Stiff Records in 1980.
Whether you think Billy Idol’s look is cool or stupid, it’s one he’s carried with him since the early days of UK punk, when, as a member of the Sex Pistols’ high profile bunch of fans known as the Bromley Contingent, he garnered plenty of attention before he sang a note. Never exactly camera-shy, he helped found punk group Chelsea, which he quickly left to form a new group with bass player Tony James. James had previously been a member of the notorious but never-recorded group the London SS, who also contributed members to the Clash and the Damned but never played a show themselves. The group Billy and Tony formed was Generation X who chalked up several hits in the UK before shortening their name to Gen X and toning down their sound. A re-recording of Gen X’s excellent single “Dancing With Myself” set the early template for Billy’s early solo career. Still, the early Generation X singles like “Your Generation” had remarkable power and energy that Billy never re-captured.
Another member of the Sex Pistols’ entourage – and someone also said to have rehearsed with the London SS - was young Chrissie, who’d moved to London from Akron Ohio in 1973, nearly joined the Pistols in 1975, and had been kicked out of the band that became the Damned in 1976. Falling in with rock journo Nick Kent, she started writing for the NME as punk was beginning, but she always wanted a band. She briefly joined a French group – called The Frenchies of course – in 1976, and was a member of a fabled group called the Moors Murderers, who are said to have recorded a single that was banned before it was released. Titled “Free Hindley” after Myra Hindley, one of a pair of English child killers from whom the group took their name, the song, whether it was recorded or not, was a blatant attempt to court controversy. Chrissie was the band’s guitarist; their singer was Steve Strange, who later came to fame with the New Romantic outfit, Visage. Chrissie also cut a demo for Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones in 1978, while they were both working on So Alone, the iconic first solo album by New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders. Through the Thunders connection, she found a manager and label that helped her form the Pretenders, and international success was only a couple of singles away.
The Moors Murderers. Chrissie is easy to pick!
Listen to Chrissie talk about the Moors Murderers, and sing a couple of bars of “Free Hindley” below.
We guess most people know that the good Captain was a founding member of seminal London punks The Damned, but in case you think the Captain was all “Happy Talk” and “Wot”, check out the Damned’s classic first single “New Rose”. That’s him on bass. The man once known as Ray Burns is of course still a punk, and plays in the Damned to this day.
Moving to Australia, it’s not that well-known a fact that the Hoodoo Gurus are some sort of finishing school for ‘70s punks. Main man Dave Faulkner and original drummer James Baker first played together in legendary Perth bunk band, The Victims, whose 1978 single “Television Addict” is an Oz Punk classic. James was also in the original line-up of The Scientists. Gurus guitarist Brad Shepherd first played out as a teenager in 1978 in Brisbane punks The Aliens, who became the Fun Things, whose sole EP is as highly revered as the Victims’ records. Brad then joined the Hitmen, an offshoot of original Sydney punks Radio Birdman. Long-time Gurus drummer Mark Kingsmill was also in the Hitmen (having previously been in the Hellcats and the Other Side), and he and current Gurus bass player Rick Grossman nearly formed a band together back in 1973, with guitarist Deniz Tek, who went on to form Birdman. Original bass player Clyde Bramley was singing Ramones tunes upfront of Toowoomba’s Street Life circa 1976, while the Gurus original second and third guitarists, Rod Radalj and Kimble Rendall, had played in Perth punks the Invaders, the Scientists and the Rockets, and Sydney’s XL Capris respectively. Got all that? Let’s check out Dave and James in the Victims.
James Freud/Sean Kelly
Moving momentarily to Melbourne. As photogenic as young Billy Idol, James Freud fronted Melbourne’s early punk outfit the Teenage Radio Stars, alongside guitarist Sean Kelly. By August ’78 Sean had left to form The Models, and James went on to a solo career, with a backing band called the Radio Stars. Here’s James and Sean’s rarely seen first Countdown appearance.
Taking a sharp turn away from things photogenic, Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan – or Shane O’Hooligan as he called himself at the time - was another regular at all those early Pistols gigs, and he was photographed often, but we don’t think it was because of his chiselled good looks. And Shane had himself a band too – the Nipple Erectors. The Nipple Erectors, for obvious reasons, struggled to get gigs, so they changed their name to the Nips but not before releasing the classic single “King of the Bop.”
Shane McGowan’s mate, Nick is arguably a bit more photogenic; he certainly was in his younger days. And yes Nick was a punk too. Although he very quickly became a post-punk, Nick and the Boys Next Door cut their teeth on Ramones covers and the like, and classy originals like this one. Oh, and cute bow-tie, Nick.
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