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24 September 2014
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Photo by Rik Walton
Pauline Murray and Penetration

Penetration: Re-animated!

Site contributer, David St Clair, talks to Pauline Murray from the seminal North East Punk band, Penetration.

Where are they now?

Pauline Murray (voice):
For over 16 years, Pauline has run Polestar Studios, a rehearsal and recording studio in Newcastle. She is still writing new songs and performing.

Robert Blamire (bass):
Working on the new material with Pauline at Polestar; also lectures in Graphic Design.

Fred Purser (guitar):
Later joined Tygers of Pan Tang, and currently owns a recording studio in Newcastle.

Gary Chaplin (guitarist):
Now works for Sedgefield District Council

Neil Floyd (guitar):
Whereabouts unknown.

Gary Smallman (drums):
Has been working on the new material – however, the recent gig at the Carling Academy was his last. He has a successful building business, so Penetration are looking for a new drummer.

New members:

Steve Wallace (guitar):
Works in live music production and crewing.

Billy Gilbert (guitar):
A furniture maker who has been in lots of bands, including the Lurkers.

Hailing from Ferryhill, County Durham, Penetration always stood outside the punk mainstream. Though they played their first ever gig at the infamous Roxy Club, London, their sound was dense, atmospheric and certainly musical.  Thirty years on from their first gigs, and recently reformed, Penetration’s Pauline Murray is having fun again.

DStC: Tell me about Ferryhill, Durham, 1975:

I had an older boyfriend who used to buy a lot of records.  All through the early seventies we used to go and see bands. I’d seen the New York Dolls and Lou Reed when I was fourteen.  We were into Bowie and Roxy Music but about 1975 things were fairly dull, as I recall.

Pauline Murray
Pauline Murray

You’d get things like Dr Feelgood at the City Hall and Eddie and The Hot Rods in Sunderland. But it did get a little boring for six months, and six months is a long time when you’re young, because there needs to be something happening. So I think there was a bit of a lull before it (punk) happened.

What was the turning point?

Well before I actually saw the Sex Pistols (in Northallerton Yorkshire), there was a lot of American stuff making its way here; like the Ramones, Blondie, Jonathon Richman, the Runaways, Television, Patti Smith.  Some of which had a very strange sound to it.  I’d never heard a woman singing like, or looking like Patti Smith.

What was it like seeing the Sex Pistols play Northallerton?

It’s almost synchronicity in a way, everyone has their version of the event – and even though they are unconnected they’re very similar – it seemed to have the same effect on a lot of people.

Punk pulled everybody together – all total strangers, but we were all at the same place in our lives.  We were all poised for something we didn’t realise.

So, how did the first version of Penetration come about?

Gary Chaplin was at a different school, but I met him on the coach to Newcastle. He asked me if I would try singing. He had a drummer and a bass payer, and used to do covers of New York Dolls, Jonathon Richman, the Seeds, that type of thing. This was before we saw the Pistols.  Gary used to ring around venues and we got offered all the supports up here! The Stranglers rang us and asked us to support them at Newcastle City Hall. That was our second gig!

"Punk pulled everybody together – all total strangers, but we were all at the same place in our lives. "
Pauline Murray

Because there weren’t many punk bands around, we used to get offered all the supports up here. The Vibrators called us and we played Middlesbrough Rock Garden. We got a lot of exposure and a lot of experience.

Your early single, Don’t Dictate, fits fairly well into what was going on in 1977, but Moving Targets is different. It has a lot of atmosphere; a very dense sound. How did you arrive at that unique sound?

Don’t Dictate was with our first line-up; that was us learning, we’d never done it before. But we’d always try and push ourselves – we were never just content with a three-chord bash.

We did a lot of touring; toured with Buzzcocks, and then Virgin took us for one single. They suggested we add another person to the line-up, and we took their advice.  That was Fred Purser. If Moving Targets had not had Fred, there would have been less atmosphere to it.  We had producer Mike Howlett who’d worked on Don’t Dictate and the other singles, and Mick Glossop who were both very good, and brought even more out of us – so Moving Targets was a culmination of a couple of years work. There was a lot of story in it; we’d done a lot in that time, we’d developed a lot, and that’s why it’s atmospheric.

But you only made two albums?

The second album, Coming Up for Air, was a bit of a rush job compared to Moving Targets.

We had half of it written, then went to America for five weeks, and when we came back, we went straight into the studio. The rest of the band were coming up with backing tracks, giving them to me, and I had to put the words and the tune to them; the pressure was just unbearable.

It was at that point that Neil said he wanted to leave the band, which sent us into an implosion. I was feeling the pressure. We had a full tour booked.  I thought “I can’t carry on”. It was too much. It was a burn-out situation.

I’d had enough. It started out as fun and enjoyment – but this was just a hassle. I wanted out. I was 23 at the time.

You went solo and made an album with the Invisible Girls?

After Penetration, I stayed together with Robert on bass. I didn’t want to get another band together, I’d had enough of musicians.

Penetration
Penetration

Robert and I went away and wrote some songs and RSO took them on; they had a new label at the time.  I didn’t have a regular band so we chose Martin Hannett, who was part of the Factory records team, as producer.  Martin had done work without bands; he did John Cooper Clark with the Invisible Girls, and Jilted John; he used session musicians, so we did the Invisible Girls album with him using Manchester session musicians apart from me and Robert. That was a very strange album as well; and album on the edge of punk and the start of the 80s – on a cusp, right on a turning point.

You never seemed to fit neatly into that ‘punk’ niche. Everything you’ve done has sat slightly outside the mainstream.

That’s true, and that’s why a lot of people have never heard of us. We didn’t get the hits, because we didn’t fit neatly into a market.

Maybe that’s why you’re still listenable.

We’ve always been outside of the markets really; but I think that’s the best place to be, unless all you want is commercial success.  I’ve always tried to have integrity about what I do; I’ve always done things that are true to me – hence it’s a bit of a rockier ride as an artist. You do what you want.

Then I quit out of it all, and not many people have the guts to do that.  But when you’ve done music and you’ve got it inside of you, it starts to come back out, and I started to write. In the late eighties, Rob and I put stuff out ourselves on the Polestar label.

We did lots of gigs, put an album out, started getting back into it. In 1990, I set up the rehearsal studios [Polestar Studios on the Ouseburn] and concentrated on that, then I had a couple of kids - so I’ve been very busy ever since.

Tell me about your most recent version of Penetration, and the Captain Oi re-releases of your albums – how did that all come about?

I never thought that we would reform Penetration. It had been put to me many times in the 80s, and I though, definitely not! It didn’t feel right, and my life wasn’t in that place; I didn’t think I could sing those songs, I felt it was very much in the past – I had put it behind me. But it kept coming up; I could never escape it.

You’re part of people’s lives!

I thought it was all gone. Then a few years ago Gary and Neil got in touch with me, in the same week, but separately, and mentioned getting back together. I realised that this wasn’t going to go away; I thought give it a ago, and if it’s not to be, then I can forget it forever.

Penetration
Penetration

So, we tried one rehearsal. It was really rusty; I couldn’t get through a whole song – all the elements were there, but it needed work. We got together once a week. I knew Paul Harvey from my Storm days, and I put the word out that we wanted a guitarist, and it all happened very naturally; it all fitted in an organic way, we didn’t really force ourselves. Eventually we had a set together, and we needed to do a gig – we started small, then we started getting offered the punk revival gigs, which we do a lot of.

We discovered there was a fan doing a retrospective website [www.loversofoutrage.co.uk], though the fan who did it never thought he’d see the band perform again! We got in touch and he’s kept people informed ever since.

We’ve been asked to tour the US but it’s not viable – not unless we had something out, not unless we were being paid enough to cover it.  We can’t just do those things now. But there’s still plenty of interest. Someone came to a recent gig from Sweden.

Is it fun again?

Yes it’s fun again, and that’s what counts. Because we don’t do it very often, we really enjoy it. The flip side to that is that we could be better if we did it more, but the reason we’re not out there more is because we all have other commitments.  We’re just a band on our own, and we don’t have managers and agents and all that.

Celebrating 30 Years of Punk!

For over 30 years, local photographer and music fan, Rik Walton has been capturing images of rock, folk and jazz musicians who’ve played the region. From Bowie to Bolan, Rik has an exciting archive of candid snapshots, concert footage and backstage  glimpses of some of the worlds greatest stars. 

In the late 70s, Rik was also one of the first documentary photographers to recognise the significance Punk and New Wave music, and took his camera historic gigs such as Blondie, The Jam and Iggy Pop at Newcastle City Hall; as well as The Clash in Middlesbrough Town Hall!

last updated: 27/07/06
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