Celebrating 40 years of Punk Rock.
Forty years ago from 2017, one of the most influential movements in popular culture exploded into the imaginations of the general public. It’s true that many of the bands and artists who created the phenomena were active before 1977: the Ramones forming in 1974, releasing their first LP and single two years later; the Damned releasing both the first British punk single and the first British punk LP in 1976; the Sex Pistols forming in 1975 and releasing Anarchy in the UK the following year; plus a number other bands and artists playing and developing the style before it officially became ‘punk rock’. Even before the 1970s, the ingredients that went into what we now know as punk rock, were beginning to emerge through The Stooges, MC5, The Velvet Underground and others.
‘Punk’ had a do-it-your-self ethos, from the torn and stencilled clothing held together with safety pins, to the idea that anyone could get on the stage and have a go. Passion and attitude was often considered more important than musicianship: Guitarist Steve Jones once explained that “Sid was in a hospital with yellow jaundice and he couldn’t really play…not that he could play anyway”, as an explanation as to why Sid Vicious didn’t play bass on the first Sex Pistols LP. And by all accounts Sid’s drumming for Siouxie and The Banshees, before the Sex Pistols, was just as bad!
But it wasn’t until 1977 that punk, really burst into the mainstream with spikey topped teenagers and bands, wearing torn clothes and safety pins, popping up all over the country. By 1st January 1977 The Clash were headlining the opening night of London’s first Punk Rock Club, The Roxy; with The Jam, The Vibrators, Generation X, The Damned, The Stranglers, the Buzzcocks and many others following that same month. While by this time, New York’s CBGB’s had also firmly established itself as the home to bands like the Ramones, Television, The Patti Smith Group, Blondie (pre-disco) and others. By 1977 the term ‘punk rock’ had crossed the Atlantic to describe these artists.
Punk shocks the south Wales valleys
A punk rock line-up, that by today’s standards would be considered iconic, famously visited the valleys in December 1976 for the Anarchy in the UK Tour featuring the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and Johnny Thunder’s Heartbreakers with a gig in Caerphilly (following a cancellation in Cardiff). The event was met with hymns and a protest by locals, appalled by what they’d seen in the media about the Sex Pistols and punk rock. The media image of what punk represented was shocking to some at the time. However beneath the media persona, the individuals involved in the Anarchy Tour, and punk generally, were just young people, like so many others living within communities up and down the valleys.
At least one of those on the Anarchy Tour had already performed in the valleys with no outrage and little note: During 1988 when The Clash’s Joe Strummer visited Dollars Night Club in Merthyr (more recently Argos store), to perform on his Rock Against the Rich Tour, I remember his recollection of performing at the venue years before (probably during his time at Newport Art College). I was lucky enough to get backstage as a member of the crew, with friends who were the local support band, Merthyr’s very own punk rock stalwarts Foreign Legion, who are still playing all over the country and released their most recent LP on Aggro Beat last year. The Clash’s Mick Jones also produced their second LP.
As punk rock swept across the nation in 1977, one of those who identified with the phenomena was a 14 year old school boy from Merthyr Tydfil called Gerrion Jones. I first met Gerrion some years later, on the streets of the Gurnos estate, when I was a 14 year old spikey topped punk myself. Today Gerrion is an artist and art collector, with a significant collection of original artwork by Jamie Reid, James Cauty, Billy Childish and others. Gerrion has become a bit of an expert on punk history and Jamie Reid; most notable for his sleeve designs for Anarchy in the UK, God Save the Queen, Pretty Vacant, Holidays in the Sun and Never Mind the B******* Here’s The Sex Pistols. Gerrion’s Punk Forever project has visited various venues across the UK and has become more than just an exhibition, with live music events, talks and film showings, together with the artwork changing from venue to venue.
Punk comes to Redhouse: Punk Forever / London Calling
As a celebration of Forty Years of Punk, we’re thrilled at Redhouse to be able to show Gerrion’s exhibition Punk Forever. The exhibition is made up of just some of Gerrion’s collection, featuring some of the most iconic imagery associated with the first wave of punk in 1977, with original Jamie Reid artwork and posters for the Sex Pistols, The Clash and others who were storming the music and fashion scene forty years ago.
Picture: Punk Forever poster
The exhibition expands into the present day with more recent work by James Cauty and Billy Childish, displaying the same sharp wit and vitriolic political commentary that made punk rock so appealing forty years ago.
In addition to the Punk Forever exhibition, Redhouse will also be welcoming a tribute to one of the most iconic bands ever associated with 1977 punk, often described as “the only band that mattered”, The Clash. London Calling will be bringing the spirit of Joe Strummer back to Merthyr by playing songs by The Clash at Redhouse on Friday 3rd February, as a further celebration of forty years since the 1977 punk explosion. Coinciding with the London Calling performance, the Punk Forever exhibition will also include an adults’ only element on 3rd February and Saturday the 4th February, 2017.
The punk spirit in Merthyr today?
During 1977 it seemed obvious, that any serious musician or band would need to be based in a major city, like London or New York, if they wanted any real success. Today however, with the advent of the internet, a major cultural change has taken place. TV and radio viewing and listening habits have changed significantly; and information sharing has increased the opportunities to be seen on a world stage. The next big thing in popular culture could begin anywhere.
With 2017 seeing the launch of Made in Merthyr, a monthly showcase of new music originating from Merthyr, the spirit of punk rock seems to be alive and kicking. Tracy Island, Chapel Row, Himalayas, Florence Black, The Moon Birds, Celtic Mosh bands and others. True, these bands may not have the spikey hair or wear rips and safety-pins (those elements were always superficial anyway – statements against the 1970s status quo of hippie lethargy and prog rock elitism), but just as the 1977 punks used much of the spirit and attitude (and some of the fashion) of the original rock ’n’ roll rebels from the 1950s, many of the Made in Merthyr bands and musicians share that same spirit and attitude. A spirit and attitude that made punk rock so appealing forty years ago, keeping alive a rock ‘n’ roll continuity that has almost become a tradition. No pretence, just getting on the stage and saying it as it is and playing it as it is, with passion, commitment and honesty.
To see when these and other bands will be performing for Made in Merthyr, keep an eye on the Redhouse What’s On pages.
For more on the Punk Forever exhibition, click HERE.
For more on the London Calling gig, click HERE.
Art Class / Life Drawing / 56 Group Wales exhibition
The visual arts in Redhouse are taking significant strides forward this term with not only a new exhibition by celebrated artists’ collective, the 56 Group Wales, but also a regular art class on Thursday nights and life drawing classes, which will hopefully become a regular fixture.
The 56 Group Wales was formed originally in 1956, with the aim of “promoting Welsh Modernist art and artists”. The original collective included some of the leading Wales based artists of that era, including Arthur Giardelli, Heinz Koppel and others who were also instrumental in establishing the Dowlais and Merthyr Artists’ Settlements during the 1940s.
The Dowlais and Merthyr Artists’ Settlements provided classes for local residents within the community. It is then perhaps fitting that today, we again see the members of the 56 Group Wales exhibiting in Merthyr (both at Redhouse and Cyfarthfa Castle), with not only The College Merthyr Tydfil bringing many groups of students to see and study the exhibition, but two other visual art classes for the community beginning.
The regular Thursday evening art class is a “beginners’ class” but open to all levels. The class is run by myself and focuses on “colour theory”, with Agored Cymru accreditation. Unfortunately, due to demand, with almost 40 people joining the class and despite a second earlier session being created, we are unable to take any more new students this year. The enthusiasm has been overwhelming.
The Life Drawing sessions are run by artist, Tracey Rees as an independent initiative, and again the response has been hugely popular. The first session was well attended and the second is almost fully booked, so anyone interested in future sessions is advised to contact Tracey to make sure they get an opportunity to participate in future.
56 Group Wales, featuring (above) Ken Elias and Peter Spriggs.
Amongst various other achievements and exhibitions, Ken Elias (above) and John Selway (below) were included in a major exhibition in 2013 at the National Museum of Wales, as two of only four artists “with connections to Wales” in an exhibition titled Pop and Abstract, alongside work by Peter Blake, Alan Davie, David Hockney, Bridget Riley and others. Ken Elias’s artwork was used as the main advertising image for the exhibition. We look forward to Ken’s one person exhibition with us here at Redhouse next year.
56 Group Wales featuring (above) John Selway, Martyn Jones and Carol Hiles.
Together with being a member of the 56 Group Wales and a leading Welsh artist, who shows regularly in New York and Miami, Martyn Jones also teaches at The College Merthyr Tydfil, and will be exhibiting with us here at Redhouse in 2018.
56 Group Wales member, Robert Alwyn Hughes (above) will also be joining Ken Elias and Martyn Jones, by exhibiting a one person show in Redhouse (during 2017). Two of Robert’s paintings, referencing Dowlais Top, where he was raised, are on show at Redhouse on a semi-permanent basis, hanging above the main staircase. As a child Robert also attended the Dowlais Artists’ Settlement, mentioned earlier, where he came into contact with some of the key artists from Welsh Art History.