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Ruts

+ {Ruts DC} + {The Ruts DC}

One of the most revered punk acts to emerge in the seismic wake of The SEX PISTOLS and The CLASH, (the) RUTS shared the latter outfit’s love of reggae and dub as well as their Rock Against Racism (RAR) politics. Tragically, at the height of their short-ish career, after only a handful of hits – including the classic `Babylon’s Burning’ – and a Top 20 album, lead singer and heroin addict Malcolm Owen overdosed, mid July 1980. It happened only several short weeks after JOY DIVISION’s Ian Curtis hung himself, and put into context the mortality of vulnerable post-punk musicians left alone in their thoughts after a relationship breakdown.
Formed August ’77, in London, England, singer Malcolm Owen and guitarist Paul Fox had lived in a commune on the Isle of Anglesey, where they instigated a rock combo, Aslan. A subsequent embryonic RUTS of sorts, saw drummer Paul Mattock fill the vacancy, until his replacement, record shop manager Dave Ruffy (ex-Hit And Run), and the addition of Post Office telephone engineer, bassist and buddy John “Segs” Jennings, edged into the band.
While creative punk bands were already playing to a different tune in their attempts to break free of genre’s shackles, the RUTS were steadily building up a repertoire that was indeed within the punk ideals and boundaries, and one that incorporated more than a hint of reggae and dub.
After recording `In A Rut’ as far back as April ’78, and with no major record deal to speak of several months on, their loyal friendship with London-based reggae group, MISTY IN ROOTS, helped the lads kickstart their careers when the classic punk track was issued in January ’79 for the People Unite imprint. Championed almost immediately by night-time Radio One DJ, John Peel, the single served as the band’s signature tune. It duly earned them a series of John Peel sessions and a contract courtesy of Virgin Records.
The seething tinderbox intensity of follow-up single, `Babylon’s Burning’, was enough to break The RUTS into the Top 10 that summer, while the equally anthemic `Something That I Said’ scraped into the Top 30 ahead of debut album, THE CRACK (1979) {*8}. Alternating scathing politico-punk with defiant dub excursions, the set cut to the fractured heart of late 70s youth culture with a precision lacking in some of their clumsier peers; the ill-advised decision to release a third single, `Jah War’ (recounting police violence in an anti-fascist riot; and played to an alternative hypnotic dub beat), proved fruitless. Although a great album track, it paled into insignificance when compared to non-album track `In A Rut’ taking the No.11 slot in Peel’s end-of-year Festive 50; `Babylon’s Burning’, incidentally, creeped in at 47!
Opting to persist with the punk-rock element of their manifesto whilst “oi!” music raged all around them, spring 1980 unveiled another Top 30 classic in `Staring At The Rude Boys’, a record that displayed a spiritual solidarity with the burgeoning 2-Tone movement.
Despite earlier problems due a combination of sore throats and a heroin addiction (several gigs had been cancelled), Owen was working toward a full recovery on the back of a Peel session collaboration with reggae star LAUREL AITKEN. Having been fired, then reinstated, in order to commit to a UK tour (and gigs in the States), a recording structure was at least underway. A fresh song, `West One (Shine On Me)’, was booked as their forthcoming single. Whether it was down to splitting with his girlfriend, subsequently sleeping at his parents’ house in Hayes, or the pressure of impending tours, Owen upped the ante in his heroin habit and paid the ultimate price when he died on the 11th July; he was only 26.
Ironically, the aforesaid single was dispatched posthumously that August, but it only reached No.43, while a compilation set of singles, demos and live tracks, GRIN AND BEAR IT (1980) {*6}, served as a stop-gap release until the remainder of the band eventually reconvened. To warm up their impending comeback, Segs and Co chose to back KEVIN COYNE on his `Sanity Stomp’ set; and duly covered the man’s `Formula Eyes’ for their initial B-side.
RUTS DC (the D.C. standing for “da capo” in Italian) were back in early ’81; Segs taking over the vocal role; old mucker Gary Barnacle was drafted in on sax and keyboards. Subsequent single, `Different View’, and the John Brand-engineered parent set, ANIMAL NOW (1981) {*6}, couldn’t quite restore a commercial equilibrium, and Virgin Records duly dropped them.
1982’s independently-released RHYTHM COLLISION {*6} hooked them up with dub legend Neil “MAD PROFESSOR” Fraser, but on a commercial standing, the unique collaboration met with little enthusiasm outside their inner circles. Clearly struggling without frontman Malcolm Owen’s guiding light, RUTS D.C. finally split the following June, leaving behind a swansong 12-inch single, `Weak Heart’. Whilst Ruffy found work with AZTEC CAMERA, Barnacle went on to session with VISAGE and a plethora of pop/rock acts; too numerous to mention.
In July 2007, The RUTS re-formed in order to perform a benefit gig in aid of Paul Fox, who was earlier diagnosed with lung cancer; the mighty HENRY ROLLINS took the berth of Owen. Sadly, Fox died on 21 October 2007.
The story didn’t quite finish there, as Segs and Ruffy continued The RUTS DC momentum by recording, in 2008, another MAD PROFESSOR-styled album, RHYTHM COLLISION VOLUME 2 {*7}. Finally dispatched in May 2013 on the combined Sosumi/Echo Beach imprints, the record featured fresh band members, Seamus Beaghan (keyboards, guitar) and Leigh Heggarty (guitar), plus an array of guest reggae vocalists including Molara, Tenor Fly, Aynzli Jones et al.
On the back of an all-encompassing LIVE ON STAGE (2014) {*7} – featuring the aforementioned Molara (Beaghan retained as a guest) – 2016’s brand-spanking-new MUSIC MUST DESTROY (2016) {*7} stunned ageing punk fans. Comprising Segs, Ruffy and Heggarty on parade, the dub factor was abandoned for an all-out kick-ass assault on the likes of `Psychic Attack’, `Kill The Pain’ (featuring backing singers KIRK BRANDON and JAKE BURNS) and a mighty push for sonic-punk superstardom with American HENRY ROLLINS taking the mic on the astounding title track single for Westworld Records.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Nov2018

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