A band with an illustrious history and even bigger back catalogue. Punk band Angelic Upstarts this year celebrate 40 years of releases. Formed in 1977 in South Shields on the mouth of the Tyne, the band it has to said might be described as something of a “soap opera” with a line-up as long as your arm, and they were regarded as “pioneers of the Oi subgenre of punk” in the late 1970s. This was something I remember from the early 80’s, although I was never the kind of participant who would have taken the step of greeting the clippers with much relish! Angelic Upstarts were a band a school mate first introduced me to, although he had the advantage of having an older sister and was most certainly a Rude Boy. But we were all 11 going on 16 back in the day, learning life through music…
This is the second boxed collection from their back catalogue, and whereas the earlier released The Albums 1979-82 was then a 5 album set, comprising the memorable debut ‘Teenage Warning‘, with its homage to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange adorning the cover, this set covers the years 1983-91 and comprises 6 albums. It’s fairly apparent from the outset that this is a better produced affair, with the edgier sound apparent on the first boxset giving way to a fuller, warmer sound of Reason Why?, the band’s 5th studio album. We hear this demonstrated on the tracks ‘Woman In Disguise‘, to ‘Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner‘, but punctuated by a return to the “dub/reggae” first heard on 2,000,000 Voices (the band’s 1981 LP) on the album’s title track, as well as another form first heard on the same album, that of frontman & vocalist Mensi’s spoken word input. This time it’s ‘Geordies Wife‘ and a little later ‘Dollars And Pounds‘, both politically charged poetry. However what some might find surprising is that following this comes something of a departure, as ‘Don’t Stop‘, is a number filled with 80s funk, that might appear out of keeping, but remember the ‘Rudeboys‘. For those familiar with the original release of this album, both these numbers are among the album’s 10 bonus tracks and will lend an understanding of a band, that I’ll admit that from the early days, I had totally misunderstood.
Next up is Last Tango In Moscow, where the band kick into submission their brand of Punk-rock and political story telling. But on what is now an album comprising 22 songs (including 10 bonus tracks), this is filled with fine music, political views and even better story telling. Along the way we encounter ‘Who’s Got The Money‘, ‘I Think It Should Be Free‘ with its false starts, and interestingly Mensi & Ray Cowie’s take on the warmongering of the time, with their wake-up call to those in power and a historical lament on ‘Jarrow Woman‘, finishing off the album proper as they take on Northern Soul, on Martha Reeve & the Vandellas‘ ‘Nowhere to Run‘.
Live In Yugoslavia hears the band’s original 1985 LP brought to Compact Disc in what seems like a very polite live show played in what is now no more. It seems rather odd that a band with such a political history should have played a country made up of six republics that saw such unrest in recent times. But that aside, despite an audience that can be barely heard, this is a very charged outing and back when this was a stand-alone LP, would have been a fine introduction to the band.
What follows is Power Of The Press and an album with greater pop influences. Still very political and kicking off with ‘I Stand Accused‘ which opens with the distinct sound of an electronic drum kit, certainly a sign of the times. But the next number, ‘Nottingham Slag‘ is musically a number which bears distinct rings of the year it was made. Whether this was intentional or just something that Mensi made organically, is another story. With echoes of New Wave pop, if not entrenched, it was certainly heard as clouds parted. This album was a product of its time, with punk legend Joe Strummer paid tribute to in ‘Joe Where Are You Now?‘, life as a British Soldier in the 80s told in ‘Soldier‘, then a story still played out today in ‘Power Of The Press‘. The album rounded off with another story, in ‘Brighton Bomb‘, another product of its time played out in real life.
By the time 1987 came around, Blood On The Terraces was most certainly a coming of age. The sound that seemed such a key change by the time Reason Why was released had morphed again, becoming more competent and clear of itself. Musically the same influence that made “PoP” had been refined, while the words still contained the same passion. Amusingly by track 3, Mensi was proclaiming “I Wanna Knighthood” in a 2 ½ minute musical stab, while ‘Heart Attack In Paris‘ was New Wave through and through. Track 6 was tackling the cold-war in ‘I Don’t Wanna Fight The Soviet‘, but this time it was not full of the youthful fervour that earlier outings might’ve done, instead a road weary and educated view was what I was hearing. By the time the title track came around, a battle hardened band were expressing views otherwise seen on the terraces, a number of years earlier. With a further 7 tracks included here, rounding off with a live version of ‘2,000,000 Voices‘.
The final offering here is the band’s 1992 album Bombed Out and New Wave had most certainly reverted to Punk/New Wave as ‘Red Till Dead‘ seared through the silence and a further four 3 minute numbers rang through. The 4-minute barrier is only broken in ‘The Writing On the Wall‘, turning from a John Carpenter-like sound into “Oi punk” before the minute is out. Another politically driven song recalling the band’s glory days. If nothing else this collection is like a time capsule, recalling these years perfectly in lyrics, chords and rhythm. Cherry Red have again captured just what Angelic Upstarts were all about and remember this might only be chapter 2 of a story which has yet to come to an end.
The Albums 1983-81 is released on 25th Jan through Cherry Red.