Ruts DC roll back the years to celebrate The Crack 40 years on with the help of The Professionals - Newcastle gig reviewed
Inspired by the first wave of punk, but adding a strong reggae influence from their West London roots, The Ruts formed in 1977, and enjoyed a Top 10 hit with just their second single, Babylon’s Burning.
One of UK punk’s most essential 7”s, it paved the way for their debut LP, The Crack, which made No 16 in the UK Albums chart on its release in September 1979.
Regarded by many as heirs apparent to The Clash, tragedy struck when singer Malcolm Owen died of a heroin overdose in July 1980, aged just 26.
The band soldiered on without him for a while as Ruts DC (the suffix standing for the Italian phrase da capo, meaning back to the beginning), but split in 1983.
In 2007 they reformed to play a benefit for guitarist Paul Fox, after he was diagnosed with lung cancer. When he died a few months later, that seemed the end of that.
But people were talking about the band again, and by 2008 surviving members John ‘Segs’ Jennings (bass) and Dave Ruffy (drums) returned to the studio to record some new tracks.
With guitarist Leigh Heggarty making them a three-piece, the last few years have been a blur of activity, with a wave of gigs , and, in 2016, an excellent new album, Music Must Destroy.
They’ve become staples of festivals like Rebellion and North East Calling, pulling ever-larger crowds, so it seemed a no-brainer that with this year being the 40th anniversary of their one and only proper original album, they would hit the road to celebrate it.
And how they celebrated it, performing the record from start to finish for a rapt crowd at the Riverside in Newcastle last night.
But first it was time for some special guests, The Professionals, whose ranks include someone with an even better punk pedigree than The Ruts, former Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook.
Formed by Cook and guitarist Steve Jones after the break-up of the Pistols, they, too, were a band who only released one album in their original lifespan, and have enjoyed a welcome resurgence in recent years.
Jones sadly no longer tours, though he did contribute to their latest album, 2017’s What In The World, so the spotlight was very much on Cook, whose kit was accordingly placed near the front of the stage.
Despite being 62, he showed what a powerhouse of a percussionist he still is, hammering out a sold backbeat as the band (Tom Spencer on guitar and vocals, Toshi JC on bass and 3 Colours Red's Chris McCormack on guitar) turned in a storming 12-song set.
Starting with old favourite Join The Professionals, they split the set evenly between past and present, with new songs like Good Man Down and Hats Off greeted as warmly as oldies like Payola and Just Another Dream, but the biggest cheer of their set was reserved for a run-through of the Pistols' Silly Thing.
As warm-up bands go they were certainly merited their billing as special guests, but now it was time for the main attraction, Ruts DC performing The Crack in full.
Playing beneath a huge backdrop of the album sleeve, with younger versions of themselves looking down, along with the much-missed Owen and Fox, Segs, Ruffy were on top form from the off.
With Heggarty looking like he’d been a Rut all along, they tore into opening track Babylon’s Burning with an intensity that belied their advancing years.
You wondered if they could keep up the momentum after starting with one of their best songs, but the answer was simple. Of course they could. This is Ruts DC you’re talking about.
Some of the tracks, like the singles Something That I Said and the reggae masterpiece Jah War, have been staples of their live set for years. Others, like the punkier Criminal Mind and Out Of Order, probably haven’t been played live since they were written.
You couldn’t tell, and every one of the 12 tracks went down a storm with the audience, many of whom will have discovered The Ruts as kids, and are now Ruts DC devotees.
It’s not always the obvious songs that stand out, and for me the highlight of the first part of the set was the brooding It Was Cold, though Jah War ran it close.
Dues paid to the record we’d all come to hear, the band then performed a mini greatest hits set comprising old and new material.
From their latest album we got the excellent title track, Kill The Pain and main set closer Psychic Attack, which fitted seamlessly alongside old favourites like In A Rut and West One (Shine On Me).
A three-song encore followed comprising anti-drugs anthems H-Eyes and Love In Vein (which segued effortlessly into Junior Murvin’s Police And Thieves), before the finale of Staring At The Rude Boys (which drew the liveliest moshpit of the night) finished the show in style.
As well as demonstrating what a great band The Ruts were, you were left to contemplate how good they could have been were it not for the scourge of drugs.