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Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Old Skool is the New Skool

sham 69 live
Sham 69, Live in 2007

On August 30 in Los Angeles, it must have been 92 degrees in the shade, and no telling how hot (perhaps it hit the 100 mark?) it was under the direct sunlight - but I walked in this weather through Sunset Plaza's pseudo-Euro al fresco cafes on my way to the House of Blues. The high temperatures generated by not only the evil ball of fire in the sky some 93 million miles away, but the cumulative car exhaust of rush hour traffic and the residual heat emanating up from the asphalt made me work up such a sweat that I doused myself with Chanel No. 5 (how UNpunk is that?) when I finally arrived at the House of Blues.

Although they were scheduled to arrive at 4 PM for their sound check, Sham 69 did not arrive until about 5:30. That gave me time to cool off in the marvelous shade thrown by the House of Blues's massive structure and hang out and chat with Dickies roadie Ames and merch guy for the day, former DI member Steve Guevara.

steve and ames
Steve and Ames, holding down the fort for the Dickies

Its always a pleasure to hang out with Old Skool punk rockers who not only remember the old days, but lived them to their fullest and lived to tell. I guess I am old because these old war stories always make me smile.

dave and ian 1
Dave Parsons & Ian Whitewood

When Sham 69 arrived, after a trying day of van rental mishaps and bumper to bumper traffic between the Inland Empire and Los Angeles, they too were sweaty and in need of a little break.

It reminded me of the sweltering afternoon in 1980 that Sham guitarist Dave Parsons and I spent at New York's JFK airport flying stand-by from NY to LA. Dave had his Les Paul in an anvil flight case in tow, and I had several cameras. We walked from one terminal to the other - a distance best traversed in a vehicle; plus it was also a hot August day.

dave parsons in the airport
Dave Parsons, 1980, JFK Airport

But we lived to tell.

sham handbill

The billing of Sham 69 and The Dickies may smack of nostalgia to many readers, but being there was a spectacle to behold.

The Dickies never disappoint. Of the original line-up, only Leonard Graves Phillips and Stan Lee remain.

Leonard Graves Phillips
Leonard Graves Phillips

They are punk rock warrior kings and continue to entertain with the zany, chaotic sense of humor that was the Light against so much punk rock Gravitas.

Not that gravitas is a bad thing.

Like their UK punk rock brethren the Sex Pistols and Clash, Sham 69 rings a political bell.

Musically, they kicked the hard edge up a more than just a notch; they kick-started the UK hardcore - Oi and Skinhead - thing, as well as created a landscape that would welcome back into the fold some hard rock elements previously unacceptable in punk circles.

tim and rob in mirror
"punk rock inner circle" - Backstage with Sham 69 - in the mirror, Tim V and Rob Jefferson

Sham 69 sang of a "Borstal Breakout," - that reform school theme has been the topic of many a notorious and respected writer from the UK/Eire shores over the centuries, from Brendan Behan to The Faces. The frustration of youth in such oppressive regimes from school to government fueled classic Sham songs such as "Angels With Dirty Faces" and "If the Kids Are United." Sham 69, The Sex Pistols and Clash were the voice and avatars of a youth subculture that voted Labor but found Labor wasn't working.

Back in the day, 1980 - that is, original Sham bassist, Dave Tregunna's then-girlfriend told me she had cast her vote for Margaret Thatcher because Labor disappointed. Regardless of the candidate, the fact was she voted and that in itself is an act of power and empowerment.

And "power" definitely describes Sham 69 and its Lad Factor. With a taut, muscular rhythm attack brought on by just three musical instruments (the way it should be: One guitar can kick ass! Witness: Ramones, Led Zeppelin, The Who), Sham leaves room for its singer to rally the troops.

Tim V fronts Sham 69

After a much publicized split between founding factions in the band, the Parsons-Whitewood contingent is carrying on the Spirit of Sham 69.

New frontman Tim V told the crowd at the House of Blues that "YOU are Sham 69. The SONGS are Sham 69." He never once suggested he was the New Pursey - he hailed the continuity of Sham 69 as the songs and the supportive fans.

dave parsons live

Guitarist and key songwriter/co-writer of all the signature Sham songs, Dave Parsons maintains his Jean Paul Belmondo cool (did he and Paul Simonon of the Clash study French cinema together or something?) while unleashing a guitar assault that is about strength as much as it is about virtuosity.

dave parsons portrait
don't ask me why - but Dave looks like a movie star here!

Combined with the steady and sturdy thunder of the rhythm section of Ian Whitewood on drums and Rob Jefferson on bass, this is THE formula for a punk rock riot.

tim sham 69 live
Rob Jefferson on 5 string bass

Indeed, the kids responded.

Nothing has ever put a smile on my face as much as seeing the young lads in the audience slam dancing in that punk rock daisy chain that marked every hardcore show as a success. Normally, this punk Dude version of Iron John man-behaviour annoys me - but seeing this happen in the corporate House of Blues made it feel like the first real punk rock show I'd seen in recent years since the Saints made a triumphant return to the USA in 2004.

A multiple song encore from Sham ended naturally with "If the Kids Are United."

And it summed up everything Tim asserted earlier. Sham 69 and punk rock, for that matter, belong to and ARE the songs and the fans.

It made me smile again remembering the first time Jimmy Pursey declined to tour...he left the door open for Stiv Bators to front Sham 69. They called themselves The Wanderers.

ny palladium 3
The Wanderers, NYC Palladium, 1980
They covered "Sonic Reducer" from Stiv's Dead Boys days, Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a Changin'" (which you can see and hear in the player below)


And The Wanderers always ended their live set with the Sham 69 song that got the audience to pump their fists and sing: "If the Kids Are United, they will never be divided!"

stiv x

official sham 69 myspace

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