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Review: Burning Britain - A Story of Independent UK Punk 1980-1983

Burning Britain : A Story of UK Independent Punk 1980-83 (Cherry Red Records).
Burning Britain : A Story of UK Independent Punk 1980-83 (Cherry Red Records).

To many fans, punk didn't begin with the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and Buzzcocks back in 1976.

They were too young to remember the 'Filth and The Fury' headlines, or the outrage over the way the early punks looked and behaved in drab, conservative mid-70s Britain.

It wasn't even the second wave of bands who enjoyed chart success - bands like Sham 69, Angelic Upstarts, Skids and Stiff Little Fingers - who they regarded as their own.

To them, punk was all about the third wave - the myriad of bands which sprang up around the country after Johnny Rotten encouraged kids to do if for themselves.

The third wave - retrospectively dubbed UK82 - was all about Dr Marten boots, spiked leathers and mohawks as the youth gave their music its own identity.

Some of the earlier bands were still around, and a few feature here - The Damned, UK Subs, Chelsea, The Lurkers and The Vibrators to name just a few..

The collection kicks off with Bad Man by East End herberts Cockney Rejects (a great single, but a curious choice, as it was on major label EMI rather than an independent).

The new punk was all about the music from the streets, and some of the bands are still around today, 35 years after punk was supposed to be dead.

Of course, the quality is variable, but the DIY ethos was what counted for many of the bands featured here.

Much of the best music came from areas which were affected by strife; the North East, for example, produced bands like Angelic Upstarts, The Toy Dolls, Red Alert, Major Accident, Uproar, and Red London, and all are represented here.

Ireland, which was at the height of The Troubles, gave us some wonderful music by the likes of Rudi, Outcasts, The Defects and Ruefrex, and again they're present and correct.

Then there were bands like Discharge, whose raw power influenced a whole sub genre (d-beat), their fellow speed merchants GBH, and The Exploited, whose clattering racket epitomised for many what punk had become.

It's interesting to listen to the way the music was changing, getting faster, angrier and more overtly political at a time when - let's not forget - nuclear war between East and West seemed a real possibility.

There are 114 tracks spread over four discs, from labels like Riot City, No Future, Fallout, Clay, and many more, and as ever with Cherry Red compilations it's got extensive sleeve notes, and lots of material appearing on CD for the first time.

Everyone will have their own favourite songs, depending on which bands and which of the emerging sub-genres they prefer. Is it Oi! (The Business, 4 Skins), anarcho-punk (Conflict, Anthrax) or hardcore (Chaos UK, Broken Bones)?

My six of the best are Anti-Pasti's No Government, Peter & The Test Tube Babies ' Banned From The Pubs, 17 Years Of Hell by The Partisans, Nuclear War by The Insane, Decontrol by Discharge, and the utterly magnificent Dead Hero by The Samples.

Well done to the compilers for throwing in the odd curveball; songs like Bewerewolf! from Rudi, instead of the excellent but obvious Big Time, and For You from The Anti-Nowhere League rather than The Streets Of London.

There's always someone missing from a collection like this, of course, usually for licensing reasons, and here it's Crass - a pity, as they were hugely influential back in the day.

Still, if you had all the records featured here you'd have a very valuable collection indeed, and it might just introduce you to a band you've never heard before. 8/10.

* If you like Burning Britain, check out Cherry Red's 1976-79 punk boxset Action Time Vision (reviewed here) or the post-punk set To The Outside of Everything (reviewed here).