Friday, July 22, 2011

Sham 69 - Tell Us The Truth


An interesting footnote in British and Irish punk history was the fact that English band Sham 69 – formed in Hersham in Surrey in 1976 – took their name from grafitti that singer Jimmy Pursey spotted on a local wall which proclaimed Walton and Hersham ’69. This was in reference to the local amateur football team’s victory in the Athenian League in 1969 and with most of the message having faded away.

Although not as well remembered today as their contemporaries they still mustered considerable success with three of their albums – Tell Us The Truth, That’s Life and The Adventures of the Hersham Boys. Likewise there were some memorable Top of the Pops appearances in tandem with five Top Twenty hit singles in Angels With Dirty Faces, If The Kids Are United, Hurry Up Harry, Hersham Boys and Questions and Answers.

I have never really been able to make out whether the track Ulster from the first album was a comment on the zero-sum game of Northern Ireland violence or else a “pox on both your houses” commentary on The Troubles. Dismissed by some true believers as cartoon punks there was certainly nothing funny about the skinhead violence attendant to their live appearances - singer Pursey being certainly very vocal in condemnation of this both on and off-stage. While the sentiments of their lyrics may certainly sound politically incorrect today, this cannot detract from the longevity of the angst expressed:

All foreign feet down Oxford Street
Faces from places I've never been
All the shops and restaurants
Ask for money I haven't got
It’s just a fake - make no mistake
It’s a rip-off for you but a Rolls for them


There are two particular clips of Sham 69 that I think are utterly priceless. Firstly, on the Hersham Boys video it concludes with Pursey barn-dancing around with his “grandad” and an old grey-whiskered black dog. Something quite unlikely to have been replicated by Bono or Michael Stipe - or Coldplay. The end of the video also includes footage of the band chanting the chorus of the song while gathered around the street sign at the entrance to Hersham itself. There is a little six-year-old blonde boy in shorts to their right skipping along in turn and “acting the goat” as they used to say in Belfast.

Then there is footage of an appearance on what I assume is Jim’ll Fix It with the guitarists thrashing away in the background while Jimmy Pursey clinically elucidates the Marxist lyrics of the If The Kids Are United verses to a 12-year-old boy with all the mateyness of the best big brother in history. The studio audience of mums and dads and kids get into the spirit of things while at the song’s end the boy's brother – or twin – joins in on the chorus while a four-year-old girl sits inbetween clapping along in turn. This was certainly one of the coolest music clips I had seen since viewing Eddie Cochran playing C’mon Everybody for a group of American 12-year-old school children. Likewise one of the greatest moments of the British Class War.

Alike with the other great street punk band The Cockney Rejects, Sham 69’s frequently magnificent music seems now to come from a time as long ago and distant as Saturday afternoon wrestling on World of Sport with Les Kellett, Adrian Street and Kendo Nagasaki. But at the same time - as grounded in the disaffection of alienated and fucked off working class youth in early post-industrial Britain - it does throw up questions as to why a sector of our population solely responsible for the humour, folk spirit and financial wealth of our country became so vilified to the point of rank caricature, dismissal and contempt.

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