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 21.

    I enjoyed that Andy - thanks and special big thanks to the programmer(s?) who put it on this weekend for those of us out here desparately searching for something decent to watch other than wall to wall nauseating Jubilee grovel-fest. How many state-sponsored professions of loyalty to the regime can a body take?? At least one person at the BBC realised the answer isn't "an unlimited number"...

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I agree with Wagonmakeruk about the Ramones. OK I respect the argument that people singing about their own lives , their own country in their own accent was important, but I don't think it would have happened like it did without the Ramones. I would say that, I got their first album in 1976 on the strength of an NME review that made them sound very unusual and different and that was the big punk revelation for me.

    I also agree with Chelseaboy1961 about the Stranglers playing a key part in the first wave of punk. What was that all about though? I'm still not sure. I saw them pre-punk, they were slower and bluesier but definitely showing big Lou Reed/ Velvets influences. They were unusually stroppy on stage too - went off in a huff! In other words they were like J. Strummer, coming into punk in their mid-late 20s but it was a pretty natural transition - not bandwagon-jumping plain and simple.

    I loved some of the Stranglers' first album stuff but it did sound complicated and proggy, didn't really fit in with punk's DIY/ anti-expert-musician ethos. They also seemed pretty messed-up, a bit isolated and paranoid like they had taken too many strong substances...maybe that was it, there was a dark side to the times and with the Stranglers you got an authentic whiff of that? Maybe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Well I enjoyed this episode of Punk britania, it was interesting to hear about the roots of punk however having dealt with the pub rock scene I couldn't help but notice there was no mention of the stranglers who were very active in this scene who transitioned into the punk scene & are to this day still gigging & releasing music. My biggest hope for this series is that not just another BBC pistols-athon but it is not looking likely thus far.

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    Comment number 24.

    I enjoyed the programme, and I'm grateful for the programming decision to broadcast the punk season now, but why did the BBC have to commission 'thirty-something' directors? Wasn't there a fifty-something director who could have got the gig? Then you wouldn't have had to invent a theory - if you'd been there, you'd have known. You say you told 'our version of the story' - what right do you have? It's not your story - it's ours.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Now I want to disagree with myself (!) What I said about the Stranglers in Post 22 was off the mark, their songs were not a slice of the dark side even if the wall of macho moodiness they hid behind maybe was. "Grip" and "Hanging Around" were pretty joyous really.

    "No More Heroes" was probably their key single, it brought a different kind of politics into punk. There was no 'trendier than thou' with the Stranglers. They were calling on the lost and lonely, forgotten and frustrated to come out of hiding and have their day. Like Willie72 says they made sure the movement was always about more than the Pistols and their acolytes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Best time to be a teenager?
    I don't think so, you're all getting confused with the 50s and 60s and, let's face it, punk has only ever really been shorthand for 'missed the 60s'.

    Wilko Johnson (born 1947) was far and away the most intelligent and funny interviewee in the programme, and it's no surprise that the stand out act by a considerable margin was Dr Feelgood.
    If transported back to 1975, they'd be the only ones I'd cross the road to see.
    Indeed, I'd go to a Brotherhood of Man concert before I'd go to see the Clash!

    And for all the guff spouted (yet again) by John Lydon, the Feelgoods appear to be only ones who really were outsiders - they were from Canvey Island!!!
    Have you ever been to Canvey Island?

  • Comment number 27.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I liked the programme. I felt it gave credit to pub rock and Dr Feelgood in particular who are one of the UK's most influential and most neglected bands. The US influence was a bit underdone though. I was at an Undertones gig recently and they played their first album in its entirety (a common occurrence these days) and I was struck by the influence of The Ramones. US punk had a big influence on UK punk.

    I agree that there are social similarities between '76 and today. Johnny Rotten's words about No Future should resonate with today's youth. But music culture no longer seems to be the catalyst for social change it once was!

  • Comment number 29.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I remember this being done by Nick Abson, yet I don't see him credited on here. I want to support this but I cannot condone copyright infringement. I've also noticed that a user on here by NAbson has had his comments removed, can you please explain this??

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    In 1975 I left my nice secure job in T.V. advertising to join the exciting new world of music videos by joining Rockflicks in their very "punk" offices in the old cinema above Waterloo station. I was prompted to do this by seeing the Dammed's "New Rose" video. (also the Dr. Feelgood "Going Back Home" film that I saw in a cinema)

    I was amazed at the inclusion of Stiff's Dave Robinson assertion about his filming and editing of the "New Rose" video. It was shot on film by Rockflicks for the price of a roll of 16mm. film and would have been impossible to process, edit and conform neg. in the time frame he claims... but as 30 year old directors and producers, you're excused, things are much swifter now. If you want to check out the credentials on the "Stiff, if it ain't... film" Check a little invention called "You Tube" I think that's my face above the producers' credit.

    I hope you are not going to compound the mistake by putting any of the Ramones New Year Eve 1977 at the Rainbow classic footage.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    I don't think you can exaggerate the impact Punk had on kids. It was so fresh and new and totally reflected the times. You have to remember that in the late 1970s there were few opportunities for kids, same as today really. Punk gave kids a sense of belonging and the feeling that they could aspire to what their heroes and heroines were doing. Some fantastic music emerged from those times, mind, some was truly awful too. I cannot understand though why The Stranglers are rarely mentioned in these types of programmes. They were rather influential and made some great music.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    hmmm...was deleting comment # 27 about not crediting nor paying the artist for their work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I was 16 in 1976 a Fan of The Stranglers/Clash etc...I dont really like to 'look back', but with 76/77 I allow myself the occasional peak.
    I had such a fantastic time, buying singles, gigs, girls, beer etc etc....it was very exciting........first gig was a very angry Adam and the Ants in Barton Hill Youth Club,Bristol, I walked in and the atmosphere hit me, it was like walking into a very loud, dark zoo............seeing Joe pump his right leg to White Riot in Hyde Park later, watching JJ Burnel dispatch a spitting idiot.......honestly, I wish all teenagers could experience the excitement of 76/77.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    I was born in 1963 and grew up in west Berkshire (not very rock n roll). In those days the only way I could find about music was pretty much by watching Top of the Pops. I had loved glam but that had died. I remember sometime in late 1976, early 1977 doing my homework (not very punk) listening to Radio 1 and whoever did the teatime show played New Rose as a joke. I recall a quip abut new wave and haircuts. For me it was truly an empithany. I became a punk (there were about 10 of us in Newbury although things were a bit more exciting in Reading) and a little later co-wrote Berkshire first punk fanzine (No Cure).

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Hello all,
    Thanks for making it such an interesting discussion here. Just to be clear – nabson’s comment has been forwarded to the relevant department and is being handled privately. Please keep your comments coming – episode two is on tomorrow night and it's 1976-78.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    @ Fiona Wickman
    So Fiona, is this censorship? Some transparency would be nice. Wasn't this what punk rock was all about?

  • Comment number 38.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    I came home from the pub one evening in c1976 turned the Old Grey Whistle Test on and watched a band that changed my musical leanings for ever. DEVO. radiation suits and energy domes,Are We Not Men? and no mention at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Is it just me, or does anyone else consider it ironic that a blog related to a programme about punk should be suffering from so much censorship??

    It is almost inevitable that documentaries like this will concentrate on the mainstream - you simply cannot fit the history of something as wide-ranging as punk into three one-hour programmes. Kudos to the Beeb for trying, but it will inevitably fail to satisfy, especially those of us that were there.

    "Come and get your punk in Woolworths
    Bondage trousers twelve pounds
    Mohair jumpers sold next to cardigans
    It always comes around
    They make it safe"

    Patrik Fitzgerald (I wonder if he'll rate a mention somewhere among those three hours??)


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