There was never truly a British equivalent to the US garage scene, the seemingly endless battleground of disparate bands with wildly inventive personae and often thrilling music, destined to achieve pretty much nothing. Merseybeat and Freakbeat are lightweight attempts to pitch for a Pebbles-esque posthumous footnote – they lack the excitement; the belligerence; the plain oddness.
But in fact, Britain’s take on garage rock has always been hidden in plain sight: forever ridiculed, history shows glam was punker than punk and more interesting than rock.
Across three discs, highlighting in various degrees the stomp, style and often ferocity of the glam scene and its junk rock off-shoots, new box set All the Young Droogs makes it clear early on exactly how skewed glam and its offshoots are by sandwiching Iggy & The Stooges between Third World War’s Working Class Man and Milk ‘n’ Cookies’ Wok ‘n’ Roll. In no way does I Got a Right stick out like a sore thumb – in fact, if anything, it feels a little tame. Milk ‘n’ Cookies had settled in London from New York with such appalling timing that Stiff elected to promote them at the same time The Damned and Sex Pistols were on everyone’s lips, before quickly thinking better of it and not bothering at all.
Artists from as far afield as Australia also get in on the glam sound – Taste’s (not to be confused with the Rory Gallagher mob) Boys Will be Boys and Supernaught’s I Like it Both Ways are both deliciously suggestive yet cuddly. But neither hold a candle to the remarkable Hustler whose Get Outa My ‘Ouse is an extraordinary Chas ‘n’ Dave knees-up with bleeped-out obscenities. Like garage, there’s a feeling of real regionality – tiny, oddly unmusical hotbeds appear in Blackpool and Cleethorpes; Edinburgh’s Iron Virgin wear American football gear, irrespective of the highland games going on down the road and that they’re wearing stolen motorcycle crash helmets.
Disc two moves on to more recognisably glam fare: the air-raid siren Glitter Band guitars; the Ian Hunter rasp; the furious tub-thumping. Many tracks across the whole collection revolve around a theme of threatening some old bloke that their poor young daughter is in danger of getting a right good seeing-to if she bumps into the band on a Friday or Saturday night. Hello’s Game’s Up; Simon Turner’s Sex Appeal and Angel’s Little Boy Blue, to name but three, all veering from barely-veiled threats of stalking (“I got your number”) through to threats of violence on Angel’s track.
Among the frivolity there are some cast-iron brilliant pop songs: Hot Rod’s I Want You (All Night Long) is equal measures Northern Soul epic and sexual-groaning-sing-along chant; the terrifying-looking Leicester grizzlies, Mint and Dog Eat Dog – tremendous tracks, lost forever due to happenstance and apathy. Familiar faces are never far away – Woody Woodmansey’s U-Boat, Be-Bop Deluxe and Mott the Hoople all appear, already coming across as wise sages of the scene, pontificating and flying the flag, albeit from near some bins.
As with the whole series of compilations covering the junk rock and glam scene from Cherry Red, there is an odd pathos to it all. The abundant, superb sleeve-notes offer hopeful guesstimates as to writers and performers; so many bands fell just as their star was about to shine; the majority of band members are presumed lost at sea. Yet, it’s glorious stuff, the tracks fit together beautifully and there’s nothing forced nor trite nor ironic about any element. Surely the best compilation to be released this year.
An alternative version of this review can be found at The Reprobate website.