Book Review:  Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a U.K. Sub and Other Strange Stories – Volume I Alvin Gibbs


Image Courtesy Tome and Metre Publishing

The best memoirs are written by strong, self-aware individuals who take their audience on a journey with them from who they were when they started to who they are now. The best authors offer him or herself up as a down-to-earth person who has, through living an interesting life, somehow changed. Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a U.K. Sub Volume 1 succeeds on both counts.

Comprised from a series of re-vamped blog entries originally published on with a new foreword by Henry Rollins, Gibbs paints a multi-coloured picture of a young, sometimes-selfish kid who, though experience and self-reflection has grown into a man. A man comfortable enough in his own skin to recount instances when he was an “arsehole” who learned and grew.

Gibbs starts at the beginning, takes us through his childhood and adolescence in the London suburb of Croydon. He moves chronologically from young fan and novice musician through his early days on guitar to a blossomed performer – writing, recording and touring the world as the bass player for The Users, Brian James’ Hellions and his first three-year stint with the U.K. Subs from 1980 to 1983.

The author knows his audience. Well. After having spent years chatting with them pre and post-gig, he knows what they want. He gives plenty of detail on the writing and recording process for the Subs’ fourth and fifth records, Diminished Responsibility and Endangered Species and copious anecdotes on guitarist Nicky Garratt, drummer Steve Roberts and their perpetually young-at-heart leader Charlie Harper. The best of which had my significant other writhing in hysterics, clutching his ribs.

Citing literary influences as diverse as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hunter S. Thompson, Raymond Chandler and Charles Bukowski, Gibbs’ descriptive prose and humorous anecdotes would entertain even readers unfamiliar with the Subs music. One humorous bit includes the portrayal of an uptight Swedish hotel manager who refused to allow unmarried consenting adults into his rooms, as “The Sex-Finder General” – a nice nod to Matthew Hopkins, the historical figure who burned witches during the English Civil War. Gibbs describes the puritanical hotelier as a man, who in his spare-time likely wore “nothing but a gimp mask and leather jock-strap” and whipped himself “furiously” to “expunge his many sinful thoughts.” This one had me giggling almost as hard as my husband.

Speaking of “sex-finding”, it’s clear that Gibbs was repeatedly torn between wanting a stable relationship/home life and having the freedom to live what Joey Ramone once referred to as “the life.” He’s not the first musician to battle with this issue, nor will he be the last. Hindsight has given him the ability to assess his feelings honestly and embrace his discomfort. It’s refreshing to see a musician deal with the subject head-on rather than brushing it off casually or brandishing his conquests as a badge of honour as so many do.

The book also portrays the feast-or-famine financial nature of the music business, and the high-contrast characteristics of life on the road. Each story is well-balanced with plenty of booze, sex, drugs and sometimes destructive behaviour to offer glimpses into the darkness while remaining light-hearted enough to make one envious. It’s a wonder the author’s liver hasn’t written its own memoir titled, “Oh, Christ… Please… No More.”

As engaging as the contents are, the omissions are equally worthy of discussion. The events recalled on the dissolution of the 1983 Subs’ lineup 1983 seems to come almost out of nowhere, with little to no buildup of animosity portrayed between the various members. Other than a few mentions of Steve Roberts’ growing problem with alcohol, there are precious few hints foreshadowing the meeting where they split.

Anyone familiar with the machinations of the music business–or the entertainment industry – knows there is no absolute truth in any situation. Only Rashomon-like scenarios, where each party involved in recalling a past episode possesses a unique point of view. Diplomatic to the end, there are never any suppositions made on the motivations of anyone on that fateful day other than the author himself. As it should be.

This is not Gibbs’ first outing as an author. His last book, Some Weird Sin: On Tour with Iggy Pop – the updated version of which was published in 2017 – chronicled his experiences touring with Iggy Pop in the late 1980s. When read back-to-back, Some Weird Sin and Diminished Responsibility Vol. 1 reveals another high-contrast image – the difference between touring with the Subs versus touring with Iggy. As interesting as Harper and the gang are, Iggy is…well, Iggy. He’s a legend. He’s also Jim Osterberg and the book goes a long way to making that distinction.

Despite the luxurious perks that come with touring with a major act, the exhaustion described at the end of 1988’s Instinct world tour further clarifies just how difficult–and fun – life on the road can be. The cast of characters encountered are equally entertaining, and the hotel managers a lot nicer than the aforementioned Swedish gentleman.

Some of this material will likely be revisited in the second forthcoming volume of Diminished Responsibility, which picks up in 1983 and continues all the way to present day. A far greater span of time that will cover the author’s self-described“most interesting period” of life.

In the meantime, you can purchase Diminished Responsibility: My Life as a U.K. Sub and Other Strange Stories – Volume I and the updated version of Some Weird Sin at:

Image Courtesy Tome and Metre Publishing




He’s Not Your Slave: A Chat with The Godfathers’ Peter Coyne

2020 has been a blowout for the live music scene in the UK. The Covid-19 pandemic assured there would be no more gigs from mid-March. It’s now August and nobody knows what the future will hold. Despite this uncertainty, there are quite a few bands making and releasing new music. The Godfathers are such a band.

Formed from the remnants of The Sid Presley Experience in 1985, They are probably most-known for their 1989 album More Songs About Love and Hate, and have undergone a break-up and more than a few line-up changes since re-forming in 2007. Their latest release is a double A-side single featuring I’m Not Your Slave and Wild and Free.

This band has always had a diverse pool of influences from which to draw including punk, proto-punk, and R&B. I’m Not Your Slave is the stronger of the two new tracks, with a punkier sound and a catchy main guitar riff.  Wild and Free veers off into an area just bordering southern rock but never crossing the line. A solid effort, but perhaps not as strong as 2017’s A Big Bad Beautiful Noise, their last full studio album.

Singer/songwriter Peter Coyne recently answered my questions about the band’s latest via email. 

The band recorded these two songs immediately prior to lockdown. Both deal with issues of oppression and freedom. On the one hand, they’re written to sound very personal, and on the other, they could be interpreted in the context of broader UK current events. In what way do you think they reflect what is happening in the UK right now?

I like to write lyrics that hopefully have multi-meanings…I would never want to tell somebody what they are specifically about or how they should interpret them – whatever they might mean to a listener anywhere is what’s important and that might change from day to day depending on their mood. So yes, they are songs about a personal relationship as much as a political one…I’d like to think a woman could sing ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ with none of the lyrics being changed. Lisa Kekaula from The Bellrays would do a tremendous job on that number, probably far better than me!! Both of the songs were composed in September/October last year and recorded in March this year just before lockdown kicked in in the UK – but in the strangest way they seem to chime with current events. There was another number we also wrote last year called ‘Dead In Los Angeles’ that was a contender for the double A side, but it might have been tasteless to release that song when people are actually dying in L.A. That song is, of course not about that fucking horrible Coronavirus – it’s about the final night on planet earth of a rock and roll star. It’s an exciting, epic number which we will definitely include on the next Godfathers’ studio album, which is set for release in 2021.

The two new songs are just as angry as anything you’ve ever done. Going back to your Anti-Thatcherite lyrics from the 1980s, does it ever feel like nothing has changed and it’s just as easy to write a song about everything that’s wrong with the world today as it was then?

Thank you! Well, not all our songs are political, just some of them! You can’t ignore what’s going on outside your window. That would be extremely foolish. But if you don’t do politics, then politics will do you…anyway I have always liked songs that have some kind of edgy social commentary in them, interesting. There is a grand tradition in rock and roll for songs of that ilk – ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘Satisfaction’, ‘Kick Out The Jams’, ‘God Save The Queen’ etc, etc. The Godfathers have always tried to make our contribution to that tradition with tracks like ‘This Damn Nation’, ‘Birth School Work Death’, ‘If I Only Had Time’, ‘Unreal World’ or ‘A Big Bad Beautiful Noise’. But these songs have to be fun too, entertaining – this is the true essence of rock and roll. I don’t like bands who lecture or pontificate, that is boring to me and pointless. Unfortunately, with the way things are with society, there will always be plenty of fuel for my artistic fire. I really wish there wasn’t and would much prefer to live in a utopia…but that’s not likely to happen, is it?

On your last album, you did a song called Miss America, where you paint a picture of the United States as that of a fading beauty queen. A lot has happened since 2017 when the song came out. Given all that has transpired, how do you see America now? Is the beauty queen old, on life support or is she already dead, rotting away slowly in the heat of summer 2020?

That’s a good song, ‘Miss America’! It’s definitely not about putting the USA or Americans down – I have many, many friends in America and a lot of family members there, too. America is a great country, but it has enormous problems that need resolving. It is quite clearly going through an enormous shift at present. Do I have the answers? – no, I certainly don’t. But, I wish you all the very best in your search for the very best solutions.

Has your approach to creating music changed over the years with the various line-up changes in the band? 

Well, I still use pen and paper to write lyrics! I have learned though to be much more spontaneous in creating songs, trusting in my initial instincts instead of labouring for weeks and months. The guys in The Godfathers now – drummer Billy Duncanson, guitarists Richie Simpson and Wayne Vermaak, and bass player Jon Priestley – are all super talented musicians and the creation of new material with them is a total pleasure. Obviously we take it all very seriously, but we like to have fun while we are doing it too….when things become a chore or a routine that’s really the time to stop. As Paul McCartney once said, you play music; you don’t work at it,

What is the band getting up to in lockdown? Are you writing or recording demos from your respective homes? 

Trying to survive and stay alive and look after our families is obviously our priority. Then waiting for the barbers to re-open so we can all get our hair cut!! But yes, we are all writing songs individually at home at the moment and bouncing them back and forth over the internet. Billy, Richie and myself live in Bonny Scotland and Wayne and Jon live in Merry Olde England and when lockdown eases sufficiently in both countries to travel we will all get together and collectively whip up all this new material. We haven’t seen each other since we finished recording the double A side single on March 19th and I miss those guys and their company! We have got rehearsals set up for August and September now though and we’re all seriously looking forward to that. We want to make the next Godfathers’ studio album an absolute killer, something truly ultra-special.

Provided the world returns to “normal” in 2021 (or sooner), what are the band’s plans both short and long-term? 

To keep writing and then eventually recording some more great numbers – like I said we are all on a mission to deliver a fantastic, kick ass album and we won’t rest until we have achieved that. Then depending on the Coronavirus situation around the planet, we would like to resume touring in 2021. We had some fabulous tours, festivals and gigs all round the world planned for this year we had to postpone when this awful, shitty pandemic struck. So hopefully we will get to play all of those and much more next year. The Godfathers have had a great past, but we want to do our utmost to ensure we have a glittering future too.


The Godfathers’ new double A side ‘I’m Not Your Slave’ and ‘Wild And Free’ is available NOW in a limited edition, clear red vinyl 7 inch single and limited edition 4 track CD only from

History in the Making: Bassist Alvin Gibbs Discusses his latest EP with The Disobedient Servants


Completed before the global Covid-19 pandemic – the most historically significant event in a generation – Alvin Gibbs and the Disobedient Servant’s aptly titled History EP is a solid effort, displaying both growth and reliability in the trio’s second outing.

History serves up four new songs, each distinct in style as the band members themselves.


Bad About You, written and by guitarist Leigh Heggarty who also performs lead vocal duties, is perfect for radio. A catchy song that stays in the listener’s head after hearing it a few times. The title track is bluesy, chocked full of bass runs and lyrics reflecting the time Gibbs spent studying for a degree in the song’s subject.

The second half of the tetrad is rawer than the first. If Only – penned by drummer Jamie Oliver- and Pavlovian (Gibbs) are both examples of punk at its finest with fist-pumping rhythms guaranteed to please audiences looking to pogo when the band hits the road again.

On stage is where this band shines brightest. Despite having very little rehearsal time, last year’s shows supporting their first album, Your Disobedient Servant was noted by many in attendance as among the tightest they’d ever seen for a newly formed outfit. Gibbs has assembled his crew wisely, drawing from both the UK Subs and Ruts DC, currently two of the hardest-working touring bands in punk.


With all live events on hold, Gibbs has not slowed down. Along with writing new songs for future Servants’ records, he is putting the finishing touches on his latest book Diminished Responsibility: My Time as a UK Sub and Other Strange Stories due in early July.

Mr. Gibbs kindly answered questions about his latest EP via email from his home in the south of France. No doubt with a glass of regional red wine within arm’s reach.

You’ve played on and off in other bands for your whole career. What made you decide in 2018 this was the time to finally put out a solo effort?

It had been suggested to me on numerous occasions by the likes of Charlie Harper (I don’t think he was trying to get rid of me from the Subs!) and others who have enjoyed my compositions and occasional modest vocal performances on various albums, but I always thought it smacked a little of indulgence and vanity. Then, whilst on a drive to Warsaw with the Subs’ Polish promoter Krzsztof Lach, he finally convinced me that it would be nothing of the sort and that a decent amount of folk would welcome a solo album from me – that was the other consideration, would it be commercially viable, would enough people actually purchase the record to cover recording cost, etc? Also, I had just reached the age of sixty so it became a case of now or never, and I opted for now and, as it happens, the first run of the album sold out in two weeks.

Was there anything you were looking to achieve or expand on (either lyrically or musically) between the first album and History?  

Keeping up the quality control both lyrically and musically was important of course. The solo album turned out to be so much better than I thought it would, therefore I was determined that this release would be a worthy follow-up and not a disappointment to either myself or those who acquired it. Having brilliant musicians like Leigh Heggarty from Ruts DC and my UK Subs’ rhythm section cohort, Jamie Oliver, play on this record certainly guaranteed a level of excellence that would have been sorely lacking without their involvement. I hope we’ve managed to again lyrically and musically provoke and entertain.

You’ve been in a lot of bands over the years. Are you enjoying being a leader for a change? What kind of leader are you?

I guess you could say I’m a benign dictator, certainly not a tyrant! No, seriously, although I’m aware I hold a tacit position of leadership in the Disobedient Servants I’m very open to suggestions and input from those I collaborate with and I actively encourage Leigh and Jamie and whoever else to might be involved in recording or playing live with us at the time, to challenge any ideas I might offer up whether they be musical or, more broadly, strategies or promotions for the advancement of the band. I learnt some of this from my time playing bass guitar with Iggy Pop. Although Iggy was obviously the undisputed leader, you could go to him with a new arrangement idea for a song or suggest some new material be added to the set from his large back catalogue and he would enthusiastically hear you out and, in most cases, adopt your suggestions. He realised the motivation in nearly all instances was to improve our performances, which in turn would reflect well on him. I’m the same. The best way to command a band’s respect and loyalty is to involve them as much as you can in the decision making without unduly compromising your own personal vision for the sound, look and performance-side of, what after all is ultimately a collective endeavor.

I’d like to dig a bit deeper into the title track History. In it, you weave a Bayeux Tapestry-like story that is simultaneously broad and very personal. You reference Nero and Vlad the Impaler and also your own personal life. Describe the genesis of the song.

I’m a self-declared history nerd. I’ve always been passionate about the subject and a few years ago obtained a BA Honours Degree in history from the Open University. When I tell people about my love of this topic a fair few start mumbling about how wearisome and irrelevant the subject is to them. That’s because they view history merely as old events, battles, wars, dates to be remembered at school such as 1066 or 1666, men in wigs, kings and queens. What they don’t realise is history is all encompassing, and personal too – yes, it is about those things listed above, but it’s also about the occasion your grandparents met, the day you divorced you husband or wife, the night you heard the song that changed your life, the technological advancements through the years that led to the accomplishment of that smartphone that resides in your pocket or the body scanning machine at your local hospital. In fact, far from being immaterial to our lives, history is actually all we have. The present is fleeting (even as I write these words, they are fast becoming a part of recent history), the future has not yet occurred, so we are ultimately left with that vast ocean called the past from which we’ve all emerged and that created the people we are today. My lyrical motivation for the song was an attempt to elucidate this.

If punk had its own Bayeux Tapestry starting in the mid ‘70s, continuing on to today, how do you see yourself within it?

Wow, that’s a tough question. I think I would have started out as one of those Saxon warriors in the shield wall but having lost the battle and survived (I’m nothing if not a survivor), would have been open to the Norman influence and tried to amalgamate it’s culture with my own rather than be a bitter survivors who constantly succumbs to nostalgia and endlessly moans about the loss of Saxon purity and the death and defeat of king Harold.

As a journeyman musician you have witnessed history and adapted to many changes over the years to within the recording industry. What’s the biggest change you’ve seen since you started? 

By far the biggest has been the technological and business transformations, one serving to alter the other. When I first began playing as a rock musician in the 1970s every band aspired to join a record label in order to pay for and release albums and singles. Due to the technological revolution pretty much anyone can now make a record in their bedroom and have an instant audience via internet platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. There is no need for a middleman anymore. These tech advances have allowed bands and musicians to go DIY in the recording of albums and in the promotion of them. Plus, virtually everyone owns a smartphone these days, and if you have a smartphone you also have a camera, allowing for a wealth of photographic material for bands to call upon from social media sites to use for promotional and record design purposes. Technology has transformed the music business for both the good and, occasionally, for the worse.

If you could interact with your younger self. The kid listening to T-Rex in his bedroom, what advice would you give him?

Just keep doing what you’re doing kid. You’re on the right path.

What are the future plans for the band both short and long term?

We are presently in the midst of a worldwide pandemic with countries prohibiting the movement and the gathering of people, so the prospects of doing anything regarding live work with the band for the short term are not looking too good. In the long term, I firstly want to fulfill the dates we’ve had to cancel in May and June, hopefully rescheduling them for the end of the year or, failing that, early in 2021. Secondly, I think we should record a new album around that time too. To this end I’ve been using the lockdown situation here in France productively to write new material for this forthcoming album and work on a fresh set with some new songs for when, mercifully, we can again play show as your Disobedient Servants.

History and Diminished Responsibility: My Time as a UK Sub and Other Strange Stories are both available now for pre-order at

His first book, Some Weird Sin – On Tour with Iggy Pop candidly chronicles Gibbs’ adventures on Iggy’s 1988 Instinct tour and is widely available in paperwork at all the usual online booksellers.













Reflections: Vice Squad’s Beki Bondage discusses the past and their latest EP, When You Were 17.


Reflections: Vice Squad’s Beki Bondage discusses the past and their latest EP, When You Were 17.

Earlier this month, in the midst of the UK’s lock down to prevent Covid-19, English punk band Vice Squad released a new EP titled When You Were 17. Originally formed in 1979, this latest offering shows they are fresh as ever, having lost none of their passion to either time or commercialism.

An excellent collection of four bone-crunching songs that were mixed entirely in their home studio, each track showcases lead singer Beki Bondage strong vocals against the powerful guitar riffs of long-time member Paul Rooney. Bassist Wayne Firefly and a few different drummers comprise a tight foundational rhythm section on which Bondage and Rooney construct songs as solid as brick shithouse. Each one is curvaceous, muscular and appealing.

Lyrically, Bondage’s keen intellect and observational skills stand front and centre. The title track–the best of the bunch–features a catchy main riff and reflects on the anger and passion of youth and how it changes as we grow older. Bar Code Babies and London Fog are equally solid pogo fodder and lament on the problems of modern technology and life in the big city. Beautiful Toy playfully reverses gender roles, with Bondage singing about a male who wears make-up the way a male singer would normally sing about a lady he met at a gig. The song plays broadly enough to archetypes and events that play out on any given night at a punk club in London that the gender of the person in question hardly matters. Unable to play live during the lock down, Ms. Bondage addressed this question and several others in an interview conducted via e-mail.

Walk me through the genesis of how you develop new songs. Does one person handle all the lyrics or it is collaborative with both words and music?

One of us comes up with a title or a riff first, usually a riff. Paul is responsible for most of the riffs and I’m responsible for most of the lyrics and vocal melodies. We sit down with guitars and construct musical parts first and then add lyrics. Sometimes we just play a beat and write a song over that. There are no set rules.

The song When You Were 17 looks back at the life of a young skinhead who has lost his rebellious streak. When you both look back to your youths, what do you think has changed about you the most?

When You Were 17 is about the innocence and arrogance of youth and how you come to realise that you knew nothing. My understanding of human nature has increased enormously since I was a teenager, as has my understanding of economics!!

There are a lot of articles written about how being young today is a lot different from what it was for our generation. In terms of the music business, what is the biggest change in the music industry you’ve seen since you were 17.

Most of the major labels have been eaten up by even bigger majors, and many of the larger independent labels no longer exist. There are thousands more artistes today because everyone now has access to the technology required to record music. This is both good and bad because it gives obscure bands a chance to be heard, but it also means there is little chance of them being discovered by a wider audience. There are thousands of other artistes competing for that audience. In the 80s if a label thought you had talent you could be signed and have a career, but now you’re more likely to grab the spotlight if you have money behind you. Although recording and making videos is cheaper, it still costs a lot of money to market music. At the top end, the industry still has gatekeepers so those with the most ‘push’ and money behind them are most likely to be heard.

Barcode Babies confronts the dangers of evolving technology to humans. Some of the technology arguably makes it easier for artists to create at home and get their music to the world efficiently. This EP was entirely recorded at home. The mix is great. Compare the home studio process of recording/mixing vs. a commercial studio. Do you have a preference? I would imagine having complete control is both liberating and a lot of work!

As a writer/composer, I like the control you get from working at home, but I don’t like the noise restrictions! The advantage of a commercial studio is you can sing at midnight. Plus, you have an engineer to help get the sounds you want. Paul and I have had to learn to be producers and Paul’s taught himself to engineer, so in effect our lack of money has made us self-sufficient. It is a lot of work but, when the result turns out well, it’s worth it.

Describe the technical process and specifically get into some detail on the video for When You Were 17.

The 17 video was one of two that we filmed on the same day. We filmed a video for the song ‘Ruination’ and had about an hour left so did ‘When You were 17’. We filmed it in a studio in Brixton by Stuart ’Studley‘ Stirling, he’s filmed us live a few times and has a very distinctive style where he uses lots of quick cuts. The first edit he did was a bit too comedic, no wonder considering how much we were clowning around, but we got him to make it a bit more serious looking. The skinhead in the video is Taylun Watts. Our drummer Ant Overman in Nottingham shot all that footage. I asked Ant to capture swagger, bravado and vulnerability from Taylun. Paul suggested he film him shaving, looking in the mirror and squeezing imaginary spots. Taylun went the extra mile and shaved his head on camera. I think Ant has definitely captured what I saw in my mind’s eye and more, he is very talented.

What’s next for Vice Squad, both short and long term?

We have a new album Battle of Britain ready for release. It was meant to come out on 1st May but we have put it back because of the lockdown. It’s disappointing for us, but nothing compared to what some people are going through at the moment.

We’ve started recording an album of acoustic songs. We recorded a couple for the live stream and people liked them and asked us to do more. You can really get inside the songs when you strip away the bombast of electric guitars and loud drums, and the lyrics are a lot clearer.

If the quality of this EP is indicative of the what we’re in for when Battle of Britain is released later this year, it’s going to make going to live gigs post-lockdown all the better.

The EP When You Were 17 is available now for download, CD and vinyl at

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Scream of the Wolf (1974)

B&S About Movies

In a sleepy town along the coast of California, an unknown animal begins killing people, beginning with a ‘70s version of Dana Carvey. The local sheriff (All My Children’s Philip Carey) recruits local writer John Wetherby (Peter Graves) who used to earn his living as a big game hunter to help track the animal.  Baffled by the presence of both four and two-legged tracks, he approaches his shifty ex-hunting buddy Byron (Clint Walker) for assistance who refuses to cooperate. As more people die, the townsfolk begin to believe there’s a werewolf in their midst. 

 A few weak red herring characters peppered throughout the story aside, Byron is the prime suspect. Not only was he bitten by a wolf, he has a strange obsession with the exchange of power between predator and prey. He hates John’s new “emasculating” life of leisure and possesses a rather creepy yet swaggering demeanor. 

Based on the…

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Square Punk

Let’s consider the square not merely as a geometric figure but by its use as a colloquial term meaning “a boring person.” The term originated in 1950s America and has endured.

The term “thinking outside the box” is directly related. Everything inside the box is predictable, everything outside exists as an unknown quantity.

The broader implication of these phrases within the context of the punk movement and its music is that a person whose life and art fit neatly into a box is not a life lived. The art exists in as boring a manner as the very lines who make up the square. Straight. Predictable. Joining at perfect angles. There are benefits to the square. Its boundaries represent safety, security and are easy to navigate. There are no twists or turns requiring actual mental acuity.

Punks regard the box as restrictive. A perimeter around a creative heart yearning to scale the wall to freedom. The community has always prided itself in not being “square” despite evidence to the contrary. The music itself adheres to a strict set of rules, a common time signature and recurring repetitive themes. A response to the borderless overproduced guitar solos that came before it.

Ironically, many of those who believe their punk lifestyles to be “outside the box” are merely confined to a different box. The box of visual cues is simple, well-defined and has rigid perimeters. The attire consists of a standard set of black t-shirts, multi-coloured mohawks, leather jackets and Doc Martens.

It is important to note that perfect squares do not exist in nature. They are a mathematical construct. The fact that humans gravitate towards building their lives within them is perhaps our downfall as a species. It divides us into groups always looking out from our boxes with mistrust or animosity. Maybe it’s a by-product of an education system that focuses on tests rather than on developing critical thinking skills. School does not train us see life’s canvas from above in three dimensions. The biggest box of all.

The best bands reside somewhere in between the area of the box and a borderless infinity. A square askew. A rhombus. A diamond that catches light and reflects it back onto the world brilliantly. These are the artists who experience the greatest successes in life. The ones who exist creatively within a set of clearly defined perimeters. They know how to manipulate the plane to create something new within the old.

These types of people don’t just make the best musicians. They also make the best painters, the best office workers, computer programmers and teachers. After all, you have to establish the rules before you can break them. To understand which ones to break and how to break them in a manner that yields the desired results.

The best results carry mass. Sound that not only carries the gravitational field but creates it in its own right. I’m fine with that formula. The shelf that holds my collection of vinyl is square, anyway.

The Backstreet Abortions Take On The Issue Through Their Music

Last week the male Governor of the state of Ohio signed into law one of the most Draconian abortion restrictions in the U.S. banning the procedure after six weeks, when most women don’t even realize they are pregnant yet. Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama all have similarly restrictive laws or have pending bills up for a vote in their legislatures. On April 10th, a bill proposed by Texas Republicans in that state that would have categorized the procedure as a homicide failed. Had it passed, it would have opened the door for it to carry the death penalty out on the people who have abortions. Yes, I said people. That’s what women are.

One Texas-born punk has had enough. Jesse Smith, and her UK band The Backstreet Abortions have something to say and they’re not mincing their words. Comprising Smith on lead vocals, Biff Smith (Jesse’s husband, also of The Varukers and Sick on the Bus) on guitar, Kevin Frost (also of Varukers) on drums and Les Dohery (The Varukers and Butcher Baby) on bass, their songs are powerful, catchy and meaningful. Sonically, they are reminiscent of The Ramones and Discharge but they cite influences as diverse as PrinceThe Clash, Motörhead and Poison Idea.

On the song Can’t Afford It, Smith directly addresses the men responsible for the erosion of women’s (i.e. human) rights and the difficult circumstances under which they often decide to have an abortion.

“Hey you pro-life hypocrites…it’s my choice, you piece of shit! Backstreet Abortion…that’s what you’re forcin!”

Songs like this one, Mother Mary and Useless Chatter off their 2017 self-titled debut EP fit perfectly into the punk rock mold but still sound fresh. In terms of lyrical content, it’s been the one subgenre of rock ‘nroll where the artists are typically free to say whatever they want regardless of the commercial consequences. Covering topics as diverse as family dysfunction, drug addiction, menstrual cycles, social media and religion, BSA carry on this tradition valiantly.  Although they typically don’t like to do interviews, Jesse was kind enough to answer a few of my questions for this article.

JU: “Describe the writing process. Do you write the lyrics first or does the music come first? “

JS: “I write all the lyrics. Sometimes they come first. Other times Biff has a riff that makes me think of some lyrics.”

The visuals of The Backstreet Abortions are as striking as their content. The cover of the band’s first EP featured a bottle of gin and a wire coat hanger. Symbols common to anyone who has a minimum of knowledge of what life was like in the United States for women before Roe vs. Wade made abortion legal and medically safe for them.

Last year, the band’s artwork for their single God’s A Pig (the best song on their second EP is also on the soundtrack to the new Troma film Shakespeare’s Shitstorm) was banned from iTunes for offensive imagery. The cover, created by Biff, features a nondescript male figure with an erection brandishing a crucifix chasing the figure of a child. Although the picture evokes the Catholic Church scandal, the lyrics of the track don’t reserve criticism solely on that one branch of Christianity. With lines like “Telling women what to wear, hide your face, shave your hair” it’s clear that the song’s intent is to shine a wider broader spectrum of light on the hypocrisy of all religions equally.

JU: “In the past, many punk bands came up in a decidedly less PC culture than the one that exists now. Do you think this will affect how your music is received by younger audiences?”

JS: “I say fuck ‘em, they don’t like it don’t listen to it.”

JU: Is there a greater goal to getting your stories out there for other people to hear?

JS: “I just hope it helps women feel that it’s okay to make mistakes. And hopefully puts at least one person off trying heroin. Life is so much better without it.”

Despite having only rehearsed and played live a handful of times, on stage, Mexican-American transplant Jesse Smith stands a good foot shorter than the British men she shares the stage with. With shock-pink hair and deep brown eyes, there is nothing diminutive about her presence.  These are her stories and under the red strobe lights of the Shacklewell Arms in East London last Friday, it was impossible for the audience to look away.  Jesse had something to say, and she’s said it through the raw, driving power of her songs, some of which are little more than a minute long. The heavy use of tritones in Biff’s chord progressions and the speed of his playing combined with solid, rumbly bass lines and sturdy, consistent drum patterns makes for some solid tunes. Biff plays like a wild animal. He’s the perfect counterpart to Jesse on stage and in life.

JU: “Does singing about such personal stuff make you feel vulnerable at all?”

JS: “No I don’t feel vulnerable about the lyrics. I just never thought we would play live. I just wanted to make an EP. Being on stage is strange but it’s getting easier.” “We have no long-term plans, whatever happens is cool with us.”

Their message is strong, their tunes are solid and they’re likely to only get better with time. Go see them. Buy an “offensive” T-shirt. You won’t regret it.

The Backstreet Abortions are playing The Rebellion Festival in Blackpool, England on the weekend of August 1st-4thand in the U.S., Kingsland Brooklyn NY on August 20th and The Three Links in Deep Ellum, Texas on August 24th supporting The Varukers.

Tickets Available Here:

Follow them on Facebook:

Listen to them on U.S. iTunes:

The Trailer for Troma’s Shakespeare’s Shitstorm:

The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine – 50th Anniversary Review


This week marks the 50thanniversary of The Beatle’s animated classic Yellow Submarine (1968). To commemorate the occasions, many cinemas around the country (and in the U.S.) are screening the film’s 2012 Dolby Surround restoration in 4K. For fans and younger newbies alike, it is well worth the effort to seek it out.

Although The Beatles themselves weren’t very involved in the project (it was a way to fulfill their contractual obligations to United Artists) the film does not suffer for it. The voice actors perform reliably decent impressions of John, Paul, George and (especially) Ringo and the frame-by-frame hand-restored animation is gorgeous. The separation on the soundtrack offers a depth and richness that modern audiences are accustomed to but could not be achieved during the period of the film’s original release.

Stylistically, it offers up a rich cornucopia of ‘60s pop-art styles. While this mixture of different types of animation could be criticized as inconsistent, it offers a glimpse into the different movements pioneered by the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and in this respect, serves as a sort of time capsule for that period.

There are two sequences worthy of exploring in greater depth.

The first is the submarine’s visit to monster land. This segment of the film shows that the animators not only had a solid foundation in the history of animation but that they were well aware of what the medium was capable of in those pre-computer times. At one point, a vacuum monster sucks up everything within the film frame including the background, leaving only the title’s namesake floating in the vast nothingness of the white space on which the invisible omnipotent animator controls their destiny.

It is reminiscent of the classic Warner Brother’s short Duck Amuck (1953)where Daffy Duck was held hostage, helpless against the manipulation of the unseen animator later to be revealed as Bugs Bunny who then slyly addresses the audience with “Ain’t I a stinker?”

Rather than break the 4thwall as Duck Amuckdid, Yellow Submarinegoes one layer deeper within the drawings themselves, having the monster devour itself until the audience is left with nothing to look at but a blank white frame. Just as we are about to ponder what happened, the submarine inexplicably re-appears. In animation, the standard world rules do not apply and it is a joy to see a film play with this freedom at every opportunity.

The movie’s other great sequence, which accompanies the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the filmmakers aren’t so concerned with stretching the boundaries of the medium as they are concentrating on creating colorful movement within the frame. The images are filled with subliminal (and not so subliminal) messages, featuring Lucy herself dancing as well as all kinds of animals, flowers and rainbows, sometimes residing in the heads of unnamed masses of people lined up geometrically in stark contrast to the colorful worlds inside their heads. The segment merits a repeated viewing at home where the frames can be paused and studied.

As an accompaniment for the song, which is one of the best Lennon-McCartney compositions of all-time, it works perfectly. The editing even changes tempo with the song when it switches between from ¾ verse to 4/4 time chorus. As for the song’s meaning it matters not that the original inspiration was a drawing by then-toddler Julian Lennon. It’s clear here that the audience is meant to take in the images on the screen in a state of altered awareness. Who knows, perhaps the animators themselves were high when they created them.

In terms of story, it is simple albeit still relevant today with the music-hating warlike Blue Meanies invading peace-loving Pepperland because they simply can’t abide by all of their positivity. The Blue Meanies remain a timeless representation of Britain’s conservative party. They even have grenade-launchers that look like clowns who send people into a joyless state of catatonia where all color is removed from the frame. In contrast, the peace-loving residents of Pepperland represent an entire generation of 1960s hippies who just wanted everyone to get along, play music and love each other regardless of age, race or nationality.

Pepperland’s happy ending is a far cry from where real society ended up in the Reagan-Thatcher era and beyond. What a shame that John Lennon didn’t survive to criticize all the hippies who voted for Thatcher and to create more great songs like All You Needs Is Love. Luckily, we still have the music of The Beatles and Yellow Submarine’s message to get us through these continuing dark times of considerable political division. It really is better to live All Together Now, isn’t it?