Punk Britannia: Do you remember 1976?

Wednesday 30 May 2012, 14:33

Andy Dunn Andy Dunn

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June 2012, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, a heatwave in the headlines and a double-dip recession well underway.

What better time for BBC Four's Britannia strand to tackle the story of British punk?

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Watch the Punk Britannia Trailer

My sister was born slap bang in the middle of the summer of 1976, my all-time favourite film Taxi Driver came out that year and of course in those 12 months punk rock mutated from a few like-minded London bands to the national cultural phenomenon we know it to be today...

... but I wasn't there.

My sister is a couple of years older and by the time I came along post punk and new wave were well underway and punk had been reduced to an excessive hairstyle on a postcard.

So it was with an open mind that myself and the two other thirty-something directors set out to tell the story of Punk Britannia.

Well it's our version of the story at least.

It's impossible to tell THE story (if that even exists) so we decided firstly to follow the music, wherever possible to hear the story from the horse's mouth and attempt to convey a sense of the conditions in 70s Britain that gave rise to this most confrontational genre of rock.

Each episode had its own distinct challenges.

I directed the first programme in the three-part series.

To be honest it's the bit most documentaries on punk fast forward through to get to the juicy controversy of the Sex Pistols swearing on telly and upsetting the Queen.

But for me the fact that this early period (1971-1976) is less well trodden made it all the more exciting to explore.

It became clear that the origins of punk lie in a generational struggle for identity.

The momentous progress made in music, art and civil rights in the previous decade presided over by 'the hippies' had lost its way by the early 70s.

Kids coming of age in the early 70s did an about turn and began looking back to before the 60s revolution in an attempt to recapture the excitement and simplicity of the original teenagers in 50s America's dances and diners.

Punk's hard, fast tunes and its rebellious, tribal culture owe a great debt to a cast of unsung heroes who decided to launch an attack on the overblown prog rock and stadium super rock which rock 'n' roll had morphed into by the 70s.

John Lydon, lead signer of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd performing on stage

John Lydon, lead singer of The Sex Pistols and Public Image Ltd

Alongside the likes of John Lydon, Mick Jones and Paul Weller, many of the characters interviewed in the first programme aren't exactly household names and never will be, but that's what makes them so fascinating.

Knowing that without them there may never have been a Sex Pistols, The Clash or The Jam.

It's this depth that BBC Four can bring to the subject that makes this series different to any previous punk series.

The second episode documents the big moments in punk, but so much more besides and the third episode contains music and stories that have never been seen or heard before.

That said there was no way we could ignore the white heat of the key moments in British punk and for me this boiled down to a diverse cast from Siouxsie Sioux to Humphrey Ocean recounting their collective epiphany on experiencing the Sex Pistols for the very first time.

We also decided where possible to film the interviews with the fine men and women of punk wherever we found them.

Minimal lighting and wide angle shots tell their own unflinching 'where are they now?' story of the cast.

Glamorous punk is not, and to their credit I've never met a group of musicians who remain so dedicated to the values that defined them in their heyday.

Kursaal Flyers

The Kursaal Flyers

My personal highlight has to be the driving soundtrack in the first episode - there are so many rare tracks from bands like The 101ers and The Kursaal Flyers that I hope will inspire people to discover these bands for themselves.

There are also quite a few artists that for various reasons didn't make it into the final cut.

Fitting everything in to 60 minutes was the toughest part of making this and I hope to fit the likes of Jesse Hector into another programme in the future.

He's a true original and leader of The Hammersmith Gorillas (look them up!).

In Punk Britannia we tried to tell it like it was, to celebrate the energy and excitement of the music and acknowledge the social and political effect of the movement.

Oh yes, before I forget, there's SEX, VIOLENCE, SWEARING and SPITTING in there too (phew!).

Andy Dunn is the director of episode one of Punk Britannia.

Punk Britannia starts on Friday, 1 June at 9pm on BBC Four. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

Read a BBC Music blog post by executive producer James Stirling about the Punk Britannia season of programmes on BBC Four and 6Music.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Looking forward to watching this! Growing up then (I was 16 in 1977) was just the BEST time to be a teenager. Especially for working-class kids in a small town up north, like me, who's future appeared to be mapped out for us. My careers officer ignored my ambitions, and tried to get me a welder's job. Suddenly, along came four almost brilliantly talentless kids, only a year or two older than us, who upset the whole applecart, and showed our generation that you could do anything you wanted, didn't have to accept what was thrust at us and told was good for us. Most people have no idea of the impact this had on us. Those values were truly inspirational, and yes, they remain with me today too. I'm so thankful to have experienced it all in my most formative years, it gave me a political/cultural/artistic awareness I would never otherwise have been exposed to. It gave us control over our own lives/careers/destinies.

    What's really interesting is that today's teenagers are in almost exactly the same conditions, with little happening for them culturally or musically, and no future to look forward to, even if they have degrees. I'm really hoping we'll see a "new" punk, i.e. a birth of something culturally original from today's generation.

    Best books on that time are Jon Savage's 'England's Dreaming" and Greil Marcus' "Lipstick Traces".

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    I was 15 in 1976 and stuck in a small town in Northern Ireland. I first heard about punk via newspaper reports about the now infamous appearance of the Sex Pistols on the Bill Grundy programme and thought 'this is for me!'. I had encountered The Ramones and Television via my local library, but this was something new and relevant, despite being 'across the water'. Luckily Northern Ireland developed a lively punk scene, with bands like Stiff Little Fingers and The Undertones and a great record shop - Good Vibrations - in Belfast.
    I'm really looking forward to the Punk Britannia series, especially the first episode, as the roots of punk get very little coverage normally, yet are vital to the development of the movement. Also love the fact the it is tied in with a whole month of themed programmes on BBC6Music - good to see Siouxsie and Patti Smith getting more attention than usual!

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Typical, no mention of "The Kings Of Pub Rock" Brinsley Schwarz then? I think it's absolutely disgusting and so does my wife!

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Looking forward to the show hopefully this won't be a completely 'Jon Savage' influenced removal of the stranglers from the history books. Of all the bands they had the attitude to back it up. Unfortunately they were considered too old and probably too talented musically! The inclusion of sax(Grip) and keyboards probably didnt help. Stranglers have to be the most underrated British band. Still doing it now and as good live now as they have ever been.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    If you want a really good measured book on the era check out John Robbs book Punk Rock: An Oral History. Much better than Savages

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Even before this series is broadcast you already know that there will be NO discussions or coverage of seminal anarcho-punk band Crass They were the ONLY band that in 1977 nailed their ideologies of anarchism, peace and DIY firmly on the mast of the good ship punk whilst Messrs Rotten and Co were stuill 'Fri**in (censored by BBC) about in the riggin' of their fashionable commodified version of anarchy sinking in a sea of filthy lucre. For the likes of Joe 'Bummer' and all the other so called punks that sold punk out to the major record labels, Crass were the only punk group of that era that were actually doing it,(Anarchy) rather than playing with it or just insignificantly and casually singing about it . The BBC will no doubt repeat the comfortable glossy coffee -table book version of a narrow punk history that we have become accustomed to. Shame really that the BBC actually had a chance here to do some serious research and highlight the importance and lasting cultural reach that the real underground punk movement had and continues to have. Better luck next time BBC!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Hi, in 1977 I was a teenager playing in a band, and buying lots of singles.
    I appreciate "Punk" did have an effect on the music industry, but it was never as big a deal as all the current hype would have us believe. The music in 1977 was dominated by Soul, Rock, R & B, Reggae and a fair amount of "middle of the road stodge" that we would all wish didn,t exist. Punk looks colourful and interesting to look back on, but it was a small part of the musical scene and seems to influence current programme makers more than the media on the late 1970's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    I was 16 in 1977. 1975-76 had been dreadful musically. Ok there was Bowie but not much else. Everything felt old, nothing new was coming through. And then at the tailend of 76 I saw Dr Feelgood at Leicester Demont. Wow what's this? Then care of HRH John Peel I heard the Damned, Clash, Stranglers, XTC, Desperate bicycles, Chelsea, Vibrators, Siouxsie, MC5, New york dolls, stooges, etc. Saw the stranglers live in 77 backed by Steel Pulse, great Brummy reggae. And we laughed at all the boring old farts listening to barclay james harvest, yes and genesis...and now I'm a boring old fart chuntering on about 35 years ago!!! p.s. Hugh Cornwell still looks great.

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I was eighteen in '76 and remember punk mainly as a mass of really bad music. It is only in later years that the real quality remains. Bands like The Clash and The Stranglers got lost amid the seemingly millions of bands that suddenly sprang up, encouraged by the fact that they didn't even have to learn E, A, and C, never mind struggle with that damned F. I mostly ignored punk, it didn't seem to have much to offer. It didn't destroy Yes or Hawkwind or Jethro Tull or Pink Floyd or Tangerine Dream and I continued to enjoy all the music that was made by real musicians. Of course, the real punk musicians are still with us to this day, they were simply being savvy at the time. The only real casualty of the mid seventies was Genesis and it was Phil Collins that destroyed them, not punk. Nowadays, music is in great shape due to the industrial machinery that has fed us crap for decades finally dying. I now buy more new music, Deadweather, Faithless, Zomboy, Radiohead, than I ever did. If punk taught us anything, it was to stick two fingers up to the music moguls, and I salute it for that if nothing else.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    People always talk about punk rock getting rid of the 'old guard',prog rock, MOR,disco etc. like you were supposed to discard everything that you had listened to before,because punk was going to sweep everything away and there would be a new beginning.
    I never stopped listening to Pink Floyd,Donna Summer,Sparks,whatever took my fancy,I enjoyed mixing punk with everything else I listened to,it made no difference to me,if I liked it,I played it,no barriers,that's what punk was supposed to be about,doing whatever gives you a thrill,don't worry about what other people think,be yourself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Loving this so far, you can't under estimate the importance of punk and this period in history, 2012 has the same feeling about it.

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Thats really funny!! I just tried to use the Pistols album name Never mind the (whotsits) and got a message telling me to remove the profanity before they can post it. Nothing changes at the BBC eh!
    I was privileged to work at the studio where many of the Pistols sessions plus 1000's of others, were recorded. Chaos...Anyone else out there who worked at AIR Studios?

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    Having just watched the programme i cannot believe that having covered pub rock up to the early punk period The Stranglers did not feature at all,i was sixteen at the time growing up in West London and as far as i can remember without any doubt whatsoever The Stranglers were huge not only in London but throughout the UK and they certainly earned it....no other band played more gigs than The Stranglers in the UK during that time, a shocking emission from an otherwise good documentary.

  • Comment number 15.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Just seen part one. Very enjoyable and the attention paid to pub-rock was much appreciated. I wonder, though, whether you've neglected American influences. Iggy Pop & The Stooges received a fleeting mention during a piece about The Sex Pistols, The New York Dolls were rightly credited with stirring up Malcolm Mclaren but I don't recall any reference to The Ramones. During their summer tour of 1976 they had a galvanising influence on Britain's nascent punk scene. I think they merited a sentence or two.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Watched episode 1 last night. Where was John Peel. I was aware of punk through tabloid headlines but living in the North did not have access to the London pub scene. So listening to John Peel gave me access to all that was great. I just dont understand how an entire hour on the origins of punk can miss such an important champion of the music.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    The first episode was great stuff, thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    As John Lennon said about the Beatles "they were only a pop group". Although the punk bands and the Pub Bands would like us to think they changed the world, actually all they were in it for was the fame and the money. Just listen to John Lydon - he now sounds as he is from the aristocracy and advertises butter!

    Punk, like all pop music, was a way of getting yourself some women and money - it just attracted more disjointed people and their money.

    I have seen all the fashions come and go and, for whatever the musicians say, they are all part of the entertainment machine and not anything too important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Like a bomb going off under you. The last time the rebel spirit of rock was truly alive. There were no half measures with punk, either you felt part of it or you didn't. Those of us who did were waiting for it to happen. I was 22 and living in Sudbury Hill in 1976. Shortly after the Bill Grundy interview I saw two guys in black leather coming out of the underground station one night. One of them had a dog leash and was leading his companion who was bent over with a spiked collar round his neck. He had an expression of sheer madness on his face and his tongue was hanging out. It was such a shocking image for suburban Sudbury Hill. I will never forget the energy and excitement of those years. But it's time for another radical change. Punk fashion and imagery still dominate our culture 36 years on in the same way that hippy flares and long hair did prior to 1976. Was it indeed 'the last chance' as Paul Weller observed and were Burchill and Parsons right to announce that ‘rock is dead?’


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