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Sham 69

Hersham boys SHAM 69 were the toast of the young punk brigade, at a time when prospects for keeping the genre in the limelight looked bleak. Led by the brass-necked, bare-chested Jimmy Pursey, their yobbish/barra-boy ethos guaranteed chart success; their 15 minutes of fame squeezed from Top 20 hits `Angels With Dirty Faces’, `If The Kids Are United’, `Hurry Up Harry’, `Questions And Answers’ and `Hersham Boys’. When the on-set of the 80s shifted gear and punk-rock was pulled into the neanderthal Nazi nutate oi! movement, SHAM 69 were thrown no life-line.
Not from any art school or England’s dreamy suburbs, working-class lads SHAM 69 started to rehearse together in 1976, taking their moniker from a piece of faded graffiti celebrating the Walton and Hersham ’69 win of the Athenian Football League title. The aforementioned frontman Pursey, Neil Harris (lead guitar), John Goode (rhythm guitar), Albert Maskell (aka Albie Slider; bass) and Andy Nightingale (aka Billy Bostik; drums) attracted attention on the live circuit as well as an interesting interview with NME journalist Julie Burchell that November. Dropping off Harris, Goode and Bostik on their way to a one-off contract with indie specialists Step-Forward Records, respective replacements Dave “Vicar” Parsons and Mark “Doidie” Cain would sit in on the band’s 1:46 minute single `I Don’t Wanna’. Produced by JOHN CALE and backed by the equally pogo-friendly, dumbly-anarchic punk-rock songs `Ulster’ and `Red London’, their fiercely working-class agenda issued a statement of intent right from the get-go.
On the strength of its independent chart success that had rivalled label mates CHELSEA and The CORTINAS and with Dave Treganna in for Albie, SHAM 69 immediately signed to the mighty Polydor Records. The inimical `Borstal Breakout’ was first to stir up media confrontation, but “somehow” it failed to dent the pop charts. Had the nation yet another SEX PISTOLS to contend with, now that Rotten and Co were briefly out of the picture? Well, going by the Pursey/Parsons-penned Top 30 debut album TELL US THE TRUTH (1978) {*8}, the jury was not united. One side live and sprawling (`Borstal Breakout’ among semi-classics `Rip Off’ and `They Don’t Understand’), the flip studio side kicked into gear with Pursey protesting against his domineering mother on `Family Life’; hardly deserving a clout around the ear, the 23 year-old just soared on `Hey Little Rich Boy’ (a recent B-side), `I’m A Man’ and the title track.
What really took their football terrace chant appeal to the masses, however, was the subsequent rush of big hitting singles led by the aforesaid `Angels With Dirty Faces’, `If The Kids Are United’ and `Hurry Up Harry’; the latter track (complete with hilarious chirpy Cockney intro) a well meant but naive call for youthful brotherhood. Which kind of summed up SHAM 69’s fate, Pursey’s idealistic working-class-warrior philosophy backfiring as the air-punching punk-by-numbers motifs began attracting more and more face-punching neo-Nazi skinheads.
Leaving out `If The Kids…’ for `The Cockney Kids Are Innocent’, and sounding all KEITH MOON on `Sunday Morning Nightmare’, Pursey and Co relied too much on the talk (`Leave Me Alone’, `Reggae Pick Up’ etc.) and not so much of the action on Top 30 sophomore set THAT’S LIFE (1978) {*6}. Still, if one liked kitchen-sink drama without the need to watch rainy-day British film noirs, then `Everybody’s Right, Everybody’s Wrong’ and `Who Gives A Damn’ would be right up one’s street or alleyway.
Despite a considered attempt to brush up on the lads-on-the-loose formula with their third LP, THE ADVENTURES OF HERSHAM BOYS (1979) {*6}, the decision to leave out from the Top 10 set, other major hit `Questions And Answers’ over a tame version of the YARDBIRDS’ `You’re A Better Man Than I’ was baffling; their other cover at the time was a B-side re-tread of The BEATLES’ `With A Little Help From My Friends’. Of the album itself, the shame of the SHAM was the inane attempts to slide punk downhill into some sort of rock’n’roll bandwagon; `Joey’s On The Street’ and `Lost On Highway 46’ prime examples.
Pursey duly disbanded SHAM 69 in the summer of ’79, only to re-form the band a couple of months later – with fresh drummer Ricky Goldstein – for a final throw of the dice in THE GAME (1980) {*3}. With only a minor-placed entry `Tell The Children’ to speak of, the LP failed to chart and JIMMY PURSEY joined up with Cook and Jones to form the ever-so-brief Sham Pistols. The singer/producer subsequently pursued a low-key solo career, initially with Polydor, who released his debut set `Imagination Camouflage’ (1980); then with Epic Records for `Alien Orphan’ (1982), before going on to record a series of one-off singles for various indie labels. Meanwhile, the three remaining alumni of re-surfaced as The WANDERERS, a sort of cosmopolitan punk outfit fronted by former DEAD BOYS singer STIV BATORS; the latter geezer and Treganna would take goth-rock a step further in The LORDS OF THE NEW CHURCH.
With his musical credence going down the dust-pipe, Pursey and a freed-up Parsons resurrected SHAM 69, releasing a deservedly ignored pop-rock album VOLUNTEER {*3} a year later in ‘88; other members of the band at the time were Andy Prince (bass) and Ian Whitewood (drums); Tony Bic (keyboards) had previously bailed.
Retreating from view for a further few years, the never-say-die SHAM 69 were back yet again in the early 90s, releasing a string of albums for the diehards and playing regular gigs on the punk nostalgia circuit. 1992’s INFORMATION LIBRE {*4} was largely unconvincing, re-vamping a DOORS classic, `Break On Through’, while Darren Courtney and Max Coon joined with the Pursey/Parsons sham of SOAPY WATER AND MISTER MARMALADE (1995) {*3}.
THE A-FILES (1997) {*3} introduced Mat Sargent on bass (from rivals CHELSEA), while drummer Ian Whitewood was re-instated for their first post-millennial set, DIRECT ACTION: DAY 21 (2001) {*4}. Having had no chart action in over a quarter of a century, the England World Cup football single reared its beneficial head again when SHAM 69 (and the Special Assembly: featuring instigator DJ Christian O’Connell, GRAHAM COXON, et al) swapped Harry’s jersey for Top 10 single `Hurry Up England’.
2007 saw a major fall out between Parsons and Pursey, with the latter ultimately sacked from his own band when he allegedly failed to turn up at gigs. The guitarist (and sticksman Whitewood) enlisted newbie singer Tim Scazz and bassist Rob “Zee” Jefferson to play the odd festival, and on the band’s “comeback” set HOLLYWOOD HERO (2007) {*2}. As bold and brass as it was, many punk-rock pundits had thought this and its follow-up WHO KILLED JOE PUBLIC (2010) {*2} a stretch too far; Al Campbell (from UK SUBS) had taken over on bass.
The fiasco continued when Pursey, Parsons and a returning Treganna (with drummer Robin Guy) trademarked the SHAM 69 moniker as their own property, leaving the others outcast and a little disgruntled; the Tim V “Official Sham 69” version (with Whitewood and Campbell) remained resolute, competing with their class of ‘77 Pursey-led rivals, even going as far as to rope in original Neil Harris and ex-ANGELIC UPSTARTS axeman Tony Feedback. In the profound punk words of a disillusioned Johnny Rotten: “Ever felt cheated?” or, better still, in the words of folk poet PETE SEEGER: “Whose side are you on?”, the case for the defence continues.
Meanwhile, the pseudo SHAM 69 (singer Tim V, guitarist Tony Feedback, former bassman turned guitarist Al Campbell, bassist John Woodward and drummer Ian Whitewood), self-financed THEIR FINEST HOUR (2013) {*2}. Neil Harris replaced Feedback thereafter, but after IT’LL END IN TEARS (2015) {*2}, he died from cancer on 28th January 2018.
© MC Strong 1994-2003/GRD // rev-up MCS Mar2015-Sep2018

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