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Suspect Device reviews

Consistently one of the best and our favourite punk zines, Suspect Device, has had some cracking issues lately. Just check out the latest issue, #69 for plenty of good articles, interviews, reviews and top tens of the year.

Recent reviews of Engineer Records releases in Suspect Device by Simon Briggs include The Atlantic Union Project '3,482 Miles', The 1984 Draft 'Best Friends Forever', States of Nature 'Songs to Sway', Kid You Not 'Here's to feeling' good all the time' and The Jukebox Romantics 'Fires Forming', whilst Tony Whatley has reviewed the new Earth Island Books releases, 'A Hardcore Heart', 'Silence is no reaction - Forty years of Subhumans' and 'Directions to the outskirts of town - Punk rock tour diaries from nineties North America'.

You can check out the reviews below...

I’ve been very slow on the upkeep with these guys, think it was released a little while back now, and I meant to check it out cause I know a few of them a little bit, but somehow didn’t get round to it till now, and more fool me cause this is an amazing EP (6 tracks)!!! Kind of a blast from the past of fastish melodic driving hardcore reminding me of Sensefield (the vocals are quite similar too), Hot Water Music, maybe Seaweed, and others of that ilk. The name of the band came about because some of them live here in the UK and some over in the US and I assume that’s what the name of the ep refers too also? The lyrics are more personal I think, but very well written and poetic, sound is really powerful and full. The first track, "the actuary”, is immense!, and on first hearing it I thought "wow, the rest of the ep cannot live up to this!” but I was very wrong, all 6 tracks are truly excellent. The vinyl comes in a gatefold sleeve and lovely looking sea foam blue vinyl, ooh!

Engineer Records: www.engineerrecords.com (si)


A 5 track ep of great, fast, in your face, pop punk, not something I listen to a lot of these days, but this is really hitting the spot! Has a bit of a Bouncing Souls sound, particularly on the first track “time to fly”, and maybe a hint of Latterman? Lyrics are good, some personal, some political, and the production is aces, sounds really full but clear. And there’s plenty of group vocal singalongs in there. Mine came on nice blue vinyl but it is available on 2 other colours as well all of which match up with the cool cover artwork. Looks like these New York based guys have been around a good while and have several other releases, I’ll be checking them out.

Engineer Records - www.engineerrecords.com (si)


These guys are based in San Francisco but sound way more East Coast, doing a Dischord/angular post punk, Jawbox type thing to very good effect, they also have quite a bit of a UK post punk/psychedelic sound I think, though I’m not sure who I would compare them too from these shores exactly?, and also a hint of Garagey type rock in places. Members of Dead To Me, a great band from a while back, and also Everybody Row, a band I’m not familiar with. Great dual vocals, male and female, which works really well together, in a sung /shouted way. This is a collection of songs from a few ep”s with a few extra tracks put together to make up a 14 track album which all runs together really well. Great cover art of random coloured lines which suits the music perfectly. Black vinyl, and with a cool inner sheet with the excellent lyrics and info on.

(si)


I had absolutely no idea who these guys were when I got this sent but good grief this is good stuff!! Can’t beat being blown away by a band you’ve never heard of. They have apparently been around a while it seems, and have released another album and several eps and singles so I will have to check them out for sure! Musically they are mid paced, tuneful, Indie Rock with a hint of country rock along the lines of The Replacements and The Hold Steady, top drawer stuff. They seem to wear their hearts on the their sleeves too 'cause 2 of the songs, one is called "Hold Steady", and one is called “Two Cow Barrage” which is a reference to the band 2 Cow Garage, another great band who they also have a sound of, I really like that, makes me smile, and a guy from that band also helps out with vocals and guitar on a track. One of tracks, “Toledo Strong” has a chorus that is totally stolen from an awesome older band called Piebald, again Like that. Vocals are kind of Hold Steady like too, and all the songs are real good! Cool old photo of 2 girls on the cover to go with the album title, and the vinyl also comes with a download code. Been listening to this one a lot and that will continue.

Engineer Records: www.engineerrecords.com (si)


Holy wowzers this is good stuff! A Floridian band and with that kind of HWM sound as well as other bands from that state, but also with a strong Latterman/Iron Chic/Tired Radio vibe too, oh so very much my kind of thing! 10 tracks and everyone of them an absolute corker and amazing group vocals that make you want to sing/scream along, damn the lack of a lyric sheet! Great full sounding production. This is apparently their 4th album so they’ve been around a while, I will be checking out the older stuff for sure. Nice red vinyl but as I mentioned no lyric sheet or any other info apart from song titles, but yeah loving this!

A HARDCORE HEART - Adventures in a D.I.Y Scene by David Gamage - Earth Island Books

There have been hundreds of books, films and documentaries about punk rock, it’s initial explosion and the impact it had. They all have their merits, but all seem to think it all stopped in 1979. While a lot of the old guard moved on, punk didn’t die, it moved underground and became more pure, more political and much more relevant to a new generation. While those early bands talked the talk, these new kids were walking the walk, punk was now a lifestyle.

Like a lot of us, David Gamage found himself immersed in this lifestyle. Small towns all over the UK had pockets of people starting bands, writing fanzines and putting on gigs (not shows). They were not on their own though, they were connected to all these other towns, from David’s Tunbridge Wells to Lemington Spa, Wigan, Durham, Southampton etc etc and all before home computers, the internet, email or smart phones. This was an age of land lines or telephone boxes, letter writing and soaping stamps.

David spells out how he got involved, how it all worked and why it was so intoxicating. A lot of fun was had, and a lot of long standing friendships were forged.

David takes us though his life, marking the time with gigs, records and tours with his bands Couch Potatoes, Joeyfat and Rydell, as well as his zine BHP and the labels he’s done. It’s all very relatable, initially, when he was doing the zine and playing gigs with Couch Potatoes, getting excited by the growing underground scene and the US bands who were including these smaller towns in the UK on their European tours. I think we all felt the thrill of seeing a great band and deciding to follow them around for a few days, sleeping on friendly people’s floors along the way. That was possible then as there were no tickets to be bought, these gigs were DIY affairs and you paid your money on the door. David is very influenced by the bands like Descendants, Hot Water Music, Jawbreaker and Green Day and their approach to making music and promoting their bands. So much so that by the time he’s in Rydel they are looking at bigger labels and tours. There is bad luck along the way, after Rydel signed to Headhunter records a US tour was arranged, they are due to leave the day after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York, so that never happened, and as David indicates, as gutted as they were, it was hard to feel sorry for themselves when so many people had lost their lives. It did strike me that using the underground network David and his bands had toured in Europe, recorded and released music with all his bands and helped drive the local scene, but there was always the desire to go the major label route. Having said that, the DIY ethic is always there, and David has continued to make and release music and now he is helping people tell their stories through Earth Island Books, something I think is fantastic.

There were lots of memories for me in here (and some surprises, like David being asked to join the Anti-Nowhere League), obviously gigs in Southampton that David was at, or played, but also some venues, records, bands and people that I haven’t heard from, or thought about for a long time. When David mentioned the gig Rydel played with Hot Water Music at a Health Club in Southampton, it brought back fond memories of doing the SD stall the night while sat on a sofa drinking tea with my friend Dan Roberson. It’s a gig I think about a lot as I often drive past that venue on the way to my mum’s house. Gaz and me first met David in his Couch Potatoes days, we always got on, but over the years the music that excited him wasn’t the same as were were into so we were in contact a lot less over time, but that’s ok, the DIY scene has many branches and we all travel our own paths out from that central point. I think it shows the strength of what we all created, that all these years later we are still in touch, and we have these shared experiences, even if our record collections are now quite different.

This book is important as it documents our history, and one man’s journey through it. It was an exciting time that deserves to be remembered and celebrated as it was just as important as the initial explosion of punk rock in the late 1970s.


SILENCE IS NO REACTION - Forty Years of the Subhumans by Ian Glasper - Earth Island Books

I can remember my introduction to the Subhumans, there was a short “new band” feature in Sounds and Gary Bushell made some snide remark about not liking their Politics, but did say that he loved their music. There was something about the photo and this write up that made me want to go out and get their first 7”, the ‘Demolition War’ EP. Of course, when I got the record home which I was instantly hooked. It’s a brilliant record musically, and who could question their politics? I mean if you don’t like the politics on this EP then what politics do you like? That EP seemed to me to be a pretty good comment on what it was like to be a teenager in the early 1980s, and also, ‘Society’ is one of the greatest punk songs ever, and then there was ‘Human Error’, just stunning. I was a fan straight away and each new record was bought and adored, I had that Sounds cover photo on my bedroom wall, and ‘The Day The Country Died’ is the album I have play most over the years, I Never tire of it.

Apart from the brilliant music and inspirational lyrics I wonder if the attraction was also because they weren’t from a big city, they were from small towns in Wiltshire, and I was living on the edge of the New Forest, far away from the bustling city centres of the punk rock universe (or was it because, like me when I was with Gaz, they would often quote Monty Python at each other)? Whatever it was they clicked with me from the time I listened to that debut EP for the first time, and the affection I have for them has remained, undiminished to this day.

I have been looking forward to this book ever since Ian Glasper mentioned he was going to write it, it was always going to be a book I would be buying at the earliest opportunity. The fact that Ian is a fan of the band means that he has put everything into this, spending time with the band, going through diaries, collecting anecdotes and getting first hand stories from those in and around the band thought the years to tell the story of the band, including members of Vermin, Stupid Humans and The Mental as well as their friends in bands like A-Heads and Organised Chaos, their roadies and friends in the UK, US, Australia and Europe etc.. All his hard work has really paid off as this is wonderful read, it’s detailed but fast paced, and I found myself really captivated by it all.

It’s all here, the genesis of the band, the practising, song writing, the records and the recording, the gigs (there is a full gig list at the back), the tours, the original split and the reformation. Throughout the book are some great photos going right back to the early days of their pre-Subhumans bands, as well as Dick’s original handwritten lyrics, gig posters, flyers, clippings etc. In fact everything you could possibly want to know about this very special band is in here.

With all that included, you won’t be surprised to hear that this book is huge, at over 600 pages, but I couldn’t put it down, at every opportunity I would go back to the book and completely immerse myself in the world of the Subhumans, I read the whole thing in a week.

Towards the end Dick talks about how he doesn’t really understand when people say that the Subhumans, or any band for that matter, has changed their life. Well, Dick, if the ‘Evolution’ EP didn’t change my life, it certainly had a huge and lasting affect on me. The title track helped me get some clarity about how I viewed the treatment of animals; I would call myself an animal lover, but still at that point ate meat and didn’t really think that I could do anything about vivisection. But the insert listing the companies that didn’t test on animals was a real eye opener. I could make a difference in my own little way just by where I chose to spend my money. It set me on the road to boycotting companies who’s ethical practises I found lacking, and also to eventually becoming a vegan.

In March 2022 I went to see the Subhumans on my birthday. One of my presents was a hoodie bought in support of the Free The MBR Beagles campaign, it had the words End Animal Experiments across the top. So on my 56th birthday, I was wearing this garment while watching the Subhumans play ‘Evolution’, and I found myself getting a little emotional. It was the perfect birthday present.

There is always a worry that when you read a book about a much loved and admired band that they destroy all your preconceptions and you end up really disappointed and disillusioned. Not so here, the members of the Subhumans, past and present, prove to be really down to earth, principled and funny people, and Ian allows their personalities to shine through. They have their serious, political songs, but they also have a real sense of humour and they also just treat people properly. So, far from being disappointed, I came away loving them even more.

I expected this to be good as I like Ian’s writing and I love the band, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so thorough, in fact it’s better than I could have ever hoped for. Per-order using either link below.

(Tony)


For a fairly small UK band, getting the chance to do an extensive tour of the US and Canada seems like a dream. Welly got this opportunity with Four Letter Word so you can find out if it was the stuff of dreams, or a bit of a nightmare in the second half of this book.

First up Welly got to experience a punk rock tour of the United States with Chaos UK in 1994, doing their merch as they took their punk rock shenanigans across the water. Before the end of the book I was starting to think that this seemed like the more fun tour of the two, as he was there with the band, but not in the band, watching the events unfold, not being at the centre of them.

I like the typeface, included gig flyers and photos taken with e 1990s camera, it gives the book a feel of a much loved fanzine, although at over 300 pages this book is much more comprehensive.

Four years after the Chaos UK tour, and having landed a deal with BYO Records to release their albums, Four Letter Word were on their way to spend the summer touring North America, mostly in the US, but also getting to go to Canada too.

What came across here was that, after the initial excitement of getting such a great opportunity, being on a tour that entails so much travelling and such huge distances is hard. Each day turned into a cycle of Get up, find breakfast, hit the road for miles and miles, hours and hours, try to find the venue, watch good bands, don’t enjoy playing to uninterested audiences, then try to sleep while others drink and party… Repeat this, every day for weeks. Despite the fact that there were obvious high points, like finding cool records in cool record shops, getting to visit places like the site of the Battle Of The Little Bighorn and getting to watch bands like 7 Seconds and Youth Brigade night after night, touring such a big continent is hard work and I’m not sure I’d have survived.

I have been to gigs in the US, both big and small, and the way they do things is different from what we’re used to here, but being there as a member of the crowd is easy, being one of the bands involved and having to do it day after day after day would certainly get me down.

This book is not just a couple of tour diaries, it’s almost like a survival guide, not that I can see any UK bands of a similar size to 4LW getting to do this these days. It was obviously an opportunity of a lifetime, and one that any one of us would have grabbed with both hands, and now Welly, the rest of the band and their driver, Graham, have this story, and these memories of a time that they did something pretty damn cool, and I’m sure that, despite any difficulties along the way, they’re not sorry they did it.

I have to commend Earth Island Books for publishing this and giving Welly, and others like him, the chance to have a book out. I am all for punk rock books being published by people who know their way around the DIY Punk scene.

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