The Fulford Arms, York, 16th January 2016
As a rule, I tend to keep my reviewing focus on the bands and the music, rather than myself. But there’s very much a personal element to tonight’s show.
So, first, some back story: in my early teens, I worked in a second-hand record shop – the likes of which you don’t really find any more – in Lincoln. The owner, Vincent, was a fanatical old-school punk, who would pogo round the shop and drum on the counter as he introduced me to bands like The Adverts, Slaughter and The Dogs, The Ruts, Penetration. That musical education was an integral part of my adolescence, but equally, provided the backdrop to my transition to music reviewing. The owner was also a bass player with a love of strolling basslines, and played sporadically with a band who never seemed to have the same lineup for more than a month.
20 years on, the shop is no more, but Suburban Toys are still going, and in the 20 years since I last saw them, they’ve supported the majority of the old-school punk bands their bassist introduced me to. Tonight is another one of those support slots – one of many they’ve had with 999.
York three-piece Percy sound like The Fall circa ‘77, and chop out a ramshackle-as-fuck set to get the night going. The sound is hindered by some serious guitar pedal grief, but shit happens, and said pedal gets booted around the stage for its unwillingness to co-operate. It all adds to the appeal of their shouty four-chord discordant blasts about doomed relationships and shit jobs delivered with a snarky sarcasm and a hint of curmudgeonliness.
Casting an eye over my badly scrawled notes, I’d scribbled comparisons to The Slits and Martha and the Muffins in respect of Suburban Toys’ current ska-infused post-punk pop sound (they were a much darker, post-punk proposition the last time I saw them), and then they only went and covered ‘Echo Beach’. The strolling basslines are pinned to some tight drumming. The band sound tight and look like they’re having fun, the songs short and punchy and with a keen sense of melody. They’re well received, and their free CDs fly near the end of their set, before they wrap up with a blistering rendition of Penetration’s ‘Don’t Dictate’ that seriously gets the front rows going.
Looking at the guys on stage before them, no-one could say that 999 have aged particularly well, and on listening to the songs almost 40 years on, the notion that punk was primitive and built on an advancement of standard, 4-chord pub rock is borne out here. It’s easy enough to say with hindsight, of course. What’s easy to forget is that such overtly political material, angry sloganeering, driven by high-octane guitar riffage, amped to the max wasn’t only revolutionary in musical terms, but in the way it brought people together.
While I’m often pretty down on nostalgia as a raison d’etre, 999 have an undeniable energy – and a new album out. Whereas there’s a sense that The Damned and The Buzzcocks are going through the notions and doing it for the money – and the less said about The Sex Pistols reunions he better – it’s obvious these guys aren’t exactly raking in the filthy lucre doing the small venue / pub circuit.
Their debut album, released in 1978, is one of those perfect encapsulations of the punk spirit, and tracks like ‘Me and My Desire’ and ‘Hit Me’ still do the trick, and the latter portion of the set includes the trio of ‘Emergency’, ‘Nasty, Nasty’ and ‘Homicide’ (for which they’re joined by Vincent from the Toys on backing vocals) really ratchets it up in the packed-out venue.
They encore with ‘Lie Lie Lie’ from 1980’s The Biggest Prize in Sport and a riotous rendition of ‘I’m Alive’ which nearly brings the house down.
999 may not be pin-up material, and nor may the music sounds exactly cutting edge in 2016.
The fact the audience, the majority of whom are in the 50+ bracket, get down, and whip up one of the most energetic moshpits I’ve seen in ages is impressive, and puts the young punk, rock and metal crowds to shame. Yeah, fuck you, stroking your beards and nursing your rucksacks and cans of Red Stripe – how about actually showing some passion? 40 years on and the old guard clearly still have it.