I can honestly say that before very recently I would’ve been unable to give anyone a cohesive definition of ‘Punk’ as a genre or movement, and I reckon the same is true for many kids of the 80’s who aren’t fans of ‘studying’ music from before their time. By the time we we’re born it was over, and in an age when every band playing their Telecasters slightly louder than ‘indie’, loves to attach the label to themselves, it becomes increasingly difficult to feel what punk is – you really have to be shown.
I believe I was shown all I needed to know about this most transitory and mythical of genres one night last week, in the most unassuming of music rooms, when I played a support slot to one TV Smith; lead singer of 70’s band ‘The Adverts’. This guy delivered a set of messy, angry, aware and brutally honest songs with more meaning than that of any live music I had seen in a long time. I realised very shortly into the set that TV, now in his 50’s, was showing me Punk in its most distilled and direct form.
The power for me was the intriguing apparence of brutal simplicity of melody and a deceptively ‘pop’ songwriting sensibility combining to harbour and present viciously raw emotions and a fearlessly rebellious spirit. The short inter-song diatribes which preached the meaning at the heart of each song before it was played delivered indisputable gravitas to the performance and had the mixed crowd of punks and ‘respectables’ in a kind of agitated trance.
There were messages firing towards all strata of society throughout the set, but there were two that came across to me strongest:
The first message was more a by-product of TVs delivery and said to me, along with perhaps everyone else (and the aforementioned indie bands especially) that ‘punk’ is not about the sound of the music, it’s about the sentiments within. I now feel that true punk songs could just as well be played on a grand piano or spat A cappella as in the accepted form of scratchy guitars, simple bass-lines and pounding drums. The sound of punk is in the words – the rebellion, the non-conformity, the rejection of authority and of societys insidious control, but above all; the honesty and the bravery – to shout your complaints and scream to all who will listen about your deepest, grimmest fears.
TVs courage, I thought too, was in the seriousness of his delivery of extremely simple and some may say ‘hackneyed’ anti-establishment ideas (I wont go into which aspects of society/the government TV was speaking about, go listen to his music!) – this I feel is an extreme rarity in todays musical climate. For example the current slew of Bragg-esque ‘political’ singer-songwriters seem to want to do a similar thing, but their use of humour and pretty poetics often dilutes any message to the point that its forgettable. And herein lies the second message in TVs music – to every political performer: if you’re going to sing about it – ITS NOT FUNNY!! Why not be brave and try to put your message across directly, with the seriousness it deserves; say what a lot of your audience may really be thinking.
If you’re wondering what punk is, or if it’s still relevant, go see TV Smith play; I can’t think of many other places these days you’ll see it played with this much of one mans truth and heart.