A man of many bands (The Damned, Maniacs, Physicals, Rings and too many more to count), guitarist Alan Lee Shaw may well come off to some chroniclers as a rock 'n' rollin' Zelig, of sorts...but, as usual, the story's a bit more involved than that.
Certainly, song-wise, Alan has contributed his share of nuggets to the punk 'n' roll canon. If you've ever felt like slapping a card-carrying member of the international art school jet set around, "Chelsea '77" (The Maniacs) offers the ideal soundtrack ("I'm not one of the young and rich, young and riiiich!"). Ditto for the Physicals' "Be Like Me," surely among the best non-Pistols tracks that could have come from the bollockin' boys themselves (and benefits from the co-conspiratorial hand of drummer Paul Cook, surprise surprise: for an embarassment of riches, see the Physicals' SKULDUGGERY CD).
I first interviewed Alan about his involvement in these sundry ventures for a VINTAGE GUITAR article (circa 2000), and sufficiently enjoyed the experience to repeat it several times since. Like the ever-movin' shark, I'm circling back to the good stuff, as this archival blast proves (9/17/06)...which came about as I revived my Indiana Jones-style quest for a Clash book that truly matters. I emailed Alan some questions, and got the answers that weekend -- so here they are now.
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): What are the forces you'd credit with getting you into a) punk rock, and b) becoming a musician? Who would point to as your chief inspirations?
ALAN LEE SHAW (ALS): I got into music like a lot of musicians, from Art School. I was at Art School in the '70s studying Graphic Design in Cambridge.I teamed up with an old buddy of mine, Rod Latter and started to play in college bands. Music at that time, mid '70s was pretty bland, what with Prog Rock and Glam Pop and what seemed like a never-ending list of old Hippy bands from the '60s still making records. I, at the time was into left field, raw high energy music. I had seen the Pink Fairies, MC5, The Doors and Velvet Underground and was a big fan of The New York Dolls and Iggy Pop, also some '60s bands like The Pretty Things.Yardbirds and The Who.
I left Art School and moved to London, with Rod in '75. Pub Rock was the thing in London at that time but we arrived just as Punk Rock was about to break. We put the Maniacs together and started to ride the wave! For me Punk Rock was like I had found home.I had a voice, it was raw, Loud and angry and got up peoples noses. Also, itS do it yourself attitude appealed, anyone could form a band and make records! Which was revolutionary at the time
CR: Which venues were 'most happening' when punk rock started, and why? Which ones were good for you to play, particularly?
ALS: Punk Rock was played at the time in a lot of the old pub and club venues like The Nashville Rooms,The Greyhound, Red Cow, Hope and Anchor, Man in the Moon, The Marquee and The 100 Club but Punk did open its own new breeding ground venues, such as The Roxy and the Vortex. All of these venues were pretty small 100 to 300 max. They all had small stages and it could get very, very hot and crazy with a full house. The Vortex was good, we (The Maniacs) were on the Live at the Vortex album.
CR: Did the press focus on those deemed to be "the heavies" (Clash, Jam, Pistols) tend to diminish bands like yours? If so, how has the passage of time changed this equation?
ALS: The Press at that time became very precious and snobby about what bands were considered to be real Punk or not. The Clash. Sex Pistols and the Damned were the Holy Grail and the Buzzcocks and the Jam were let in the gang, and of course others followed as New Wave took over, but in general most new Punk bands were viewed with suspicion by the Press and called bandwagon jumpers. In retrospect this now seems a bit harsh as the idea of Punk was that anybody could play and form a band. A lot of acts suffered because of this but time has made them into collectors items in the big Punk Rock picture, enjoyed by many!
CR: Do you feel there's more of a connection between the pub and early punk scenes than folks admit, given that entities like the Albion agency were significant players, in getting gigs for bands? What's your take on this?
ALS: Yes I think there was a sort of affinity between Pub Rock and Punk Rock. Most of the venues and then the promoters were the same and Pub Rock was low key and unpretentious, The Stranglers came from Pub Rock, the founders of Stiff and Chiswick records had their roots in Pub Rock. So there is a connection, but the raw attitude and noise of Punk Rock was not liked by the laidback musos of Pub Rock. So there was a marked difference.
CR: And, yeah, since you mentioned Mont de Marsan: take me back to that day. How'd you end up on the bill in the place described as "a sleepy little French border town"...
ALS: Mon de Marsan was a dusty sleepy town in the south of France near the Spanish border, hence the bullring that the festival was held in. We (the Maniacs) were invited to play by Marc [Zermati], the French promoter who had a record shop and label (Skydog) in London. He put us on the bill. We went down on a bus along with The Police,The Boys, The Sean Tyla Gang, all the Music Press and Photographers.
It was a long ride and I got to know Stewart [Copeland] and Sting quite well. The festival was over two days with all the bands staying mostly in the same hotel and bars. Speed was the drug of choice in those days so things went in a bit of a haze, but I do remember that all the bands played really well, the Clash, I do remember, played a great gig!
CR; What was the festival's significance, if any, in terms of the punk rock scene, and how did it help the bands involved? What were your lasting impressions of the day?
ALS: This was the second Punk Rock festival at Mont de Marsan. The bands and Punk in general had now reached its peak and was just about to implode and morph into New Wave. So in some ways, in retrospect this was the last hurrah, so to speak. I myself spilt up the Maniacs to form the Physicals in Jan '78, thinking that Punk was over and what's next. l had no idea that 30 years later I would still be talking about it and how it has influenced generations. That gets a bit scary.
All I know is Punk felt perfect at the time and that we were at the centre of a powerful change in music. It was only sometime later that I realised how powerful that change was. I was and am pleased and in a kind of way, proud to have been there. You can't buy this stuff!
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