Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Ruts.

In 1979 things were starting to get a little tense in the UK. In May of that year Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister, heralding the start of a conservative era that lead to the mess we’re in right now. Were there other factors? Of course, but when you deregulate and privatize everything and leave the functioning of society at its most important points to private interests, the financial being one of those, then you end up with a big, greedy balls up, which is where we’re at currently.

In 1979 the punk era was winding down, segueing into what followed it, new wave. However, one British band, which kept the flag flying for punk, was The Ruts. Most of us on that side of the pond became aware of them when their rousing single “Babylon’s Burning” crashed into the UK charts in the summer of ’79, eventually settling at number 7 in June of that year. It was raw and fast, but melodic, the sound built from a fascination with reggae, metal, straight up ‘70s rock and the music of their punk and new wave peers.

The band was comprised of Malcolm Owen on vocals, Paul Fox on guitar, John "Segs" Jennings on bass and Dave Ruffy on drums. Owen was a magnificent front man, kinetic and full of righteous rage, as reflected in the fact that The Ruts started out as part of an anti-racist collective in West London called People Unite. They had a deep respect for the West Indian community and featured a prominent reggae sound in their music.

The next single that really made me sit up and take notice was “Staring At The Rudeboys,” a frantic ditty about an altercation with some racist skinheads, which was released in the spring of 1980. Then in July Owen died of a heroin overdose, a surprise to some given the anti-heroin stance of the song “H-Eyes,” the b-side of their first single “In A Rut.” The band became Ruts D.C., from the Italian Da Capo, meaning from the beginning and explored reggae and dub more.

However, in their first two years with Owen at the helm they crafted incredible, rousing singles, and the classic album The Crack (cover featured above), with its memorable cover. The single “West One (Shine On Me)” was released in August 1980, an obvious tribute to Owens. I heard it on a compilation album called Cash Cows, a Virgin Records release that featured some of their best artists. However the record was pulled due to a legal wrangle over a track by The Professionals, a band that featured Paul Cook and Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols. A store in Derry called Quaver — where The Undertones began their careet — was handing them out for free over Christmas 1980, and my mom got one for me. There are some top tunes on that record, including “Dirty Blue Gene” by Captain Beefheart, but “West One” was my favorite.

In 2007 Henry Rollins, standing in for Owens, at a London benefit gig for Paul Fox, who was battling lung cancer, announced to the crowd that “West One (Shine On Me)” was easily one of the best songs ever written about being lonely in the big city. Some will arguer otherwise, but it is definitely the most rousing, Enjoy it and check out The Ruts a little deeper if you haven’t already.


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