Against my better judgment perhaps, I tend to pick up most titles related to punk and post-punk music/culture (and its various cousins), so this title put together by Dublin’s Hope Collective proved irresistible as it collects mostly brief reflections on gigs played or attended by a wide range of people either involved with or inspired by punk. Amongst the contributions are pieces by people who are in (or have been in) groups such as Crass, Angelic Upstarts, UK Subs, The Members, Zerra One, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, Fun-da-mental, Vice Squad, Rollins Band, Blyth Power, The Cure, Ruts DC, Penetration, Newtown Neurotics, The Pukes, Celibate Rifles, The Crack, Gang of Four and more, besides others by regular punters, promoters, booksellers, artists, writers and suchlike. Hope Collective themselves have been promoting shows in Dublin since the late 1980s, so have been accorded a great position to tap into the network most of those included here have been a direct part of.
Each contribution essentially amounts to an anecdote concerning a gig (or even several in some cases), itself often shining a light onto the reality behind the scenes, or gets worked up over just how important and inspirational a certain live show was for the person concerned. This premise alone makes for an interesting and diverse one that’s very digestible and hard not to relate to at various points if equally moved by not only music but some incredible performances by those responsible for contributing something special or unique to it over the years. The choice of contributors is wide-ranging and extends from those who sucked on punk’s cracked and sore teats the first time round to comparatively fresher faces who feel it still furnishes them with some kinda lifeline. I’m not going to start unpacking what constitutes ‘punk’ or its legacy here, either. As has been clear since its early days, its meaning spirals in all kinds of directions. I might well, being old enough to have caught the tail end of early punk, be somewhat jaded in many respects now, but cannot deny it motivated me to do everything I’m doing now with my labels, book publishing, music and so on. My own thoughts on ‘punk’ and its ‘importance’ or ‘meaning’ might well have shifted over the years (as well they should), but I wouldn’t want to deny others their own claims to whatever it meant, or means, to them. When reflecting on ‘punk’ these days I cannot help conflating it with notions of identity and the basic idea of feeling part of something, which is why I personally never once claimed to having been a ‘punk’ and only ever told anybody who cared I was simply motivated by it. I also feel it was amongst the greatest cultural shifts in the latter part of the last century and was more than merely a ‘youth movement’, but this all again points to a rabbit hole worth exploring elsewhere rather than here.
Which brings us conveniently back to the book. Divided into separate years, ranging from the late 1960s (a very important time for many first generation punks and punk groups) to the very start of 2020, just as the world began turning upside-down due to the pandemic, we are treated to first hand accounts of gigs by Hendrix, Bert Jansch, Bob Marley, Alice Cooper, the Pistols, The Clash, Wire, XTC, The Slits, The Ramones, Talking Heads, The Stranglers, ATV, PIL, Magazine, The Passage, Discharge, Fugazi, Bob Mould and countless others. Most of the gigs are, naturally enough, ‘punk’ or related in some way, though a handful of others are included to mix things up somewhat. Some of the accounts go into great detail, while others are merely an age/memory loss/alcohol-corrupted snapshot. All are at least entertaining, however, if sometimes badly written or underlining the fact most musicians aren’t generally amongst the most erudite of people around. It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t dive into such books with a view to being forced to rethink an idea or gaining great new philosophical insight into the world around us. I want cheap, entertaining anecdotes and stories that’ll perhaps tell us a little more about those responsible for having created some of the best records around. Records of music that magically seems to transcend the people behind it regardless of how their own stories played a significant part in its creation.
To that end, Great Gig Memories is a perfect read. It’s such a simple yet effective idea, too. I can imagine there’d be mileage in Hope producing another such book, or even a series of them. As it stands, however, this one covers a lot of ground, plus touches on politics and certain contemporary issues as well as some of the nefarious goings-on backstage in those idle hours before and after a gig. There’s everything from the usual drunken antics and an appreciation of all those who have put on a gig (not an easy thing as I can testify for my own having done it many times over the years!) to pontifications on the art at work and its own relevance beyond the here and now of the actual moment. A few fights are also noted. They were once quite common at punk gigs due to disruptive far-right skinheads creating havoc, but thankfully these long ago became a thing of the past. A fact that seems to be overlooked as the world once again tears itself apart due to social media-led divisiveness. The different tribes that once formed a huge part of my own youth (and beyond, as they continued until the rave, ‘baggy’ and grunge scenes still prevalent in the ’90s, as well as hip hop and the fact dance music itself fragmented into different factions) are only too readily found on social media platforms these days as people readily brandish the exact same political banners as their friends, or agree on the exact same interests. There’s no real escaping this side of ourselves either. The tribal instinct is hardwired into our DNA, no matter how much some of us might prefer it wasn’t. The idea of fitting in with a certain ‘tribe’ and then opposing those who didn’t was not exclusive to punks and far-right skinheads, of course. It’s seen everywhere around us now and can be traced throughout history. The ironic thing about ‘punk’, however, was that it was supposed to embrace the very individualism other tribes seemed against. Little wonder it was doomed to fail in this respect. As said, we just can’t escape ourselves.
There’s a lot of Irish music coverage in Great Gig Memories as well, but that’s perfectly understandable given Hope’s being based there. The picture thus painted of the community surrounding Hope is only too familiar, but cannot be faulted. I’d rather hear about people making things happen than listen to those forever complaining that nothing happens. One of the positives in punk was its instilling the idea anybody could do anything if they put their mind to it. The entire DIY culture concomitant to punk was one of its greatest strengths, plus became a yardstick with which to measure all subsequent youth movements. Hope Collective exemplified the realisation of a possibility born of genuine passion and determination. I cannot knock that in anybody. Thinking about it more actually, I am quite certain Hope even organised a show at Dublin’s Trinity College by my group Splintered in the early 1990s (a show only soured by our being wrongly accused by one of the organisers of stealing a guitar tuner, funnily enough – something, needless to say, we’d never have done), so it’s to their credit they are still firmly dedicated to what they believe in. With this in mind, all the proceeds from the book are likewise being donated to the NHS , which I personally find admirable and furnishes it with an extra reason to purchase a copy.
The first edition, at the time of writing, might well have sold out, unfortunately, but drop them a line or check for updates on the website linked below. If you grew up with punk, simply still listen to some of those old records or continue to feel inspired by it, then this is an ideal way of supporting a great cause. (RJ)