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20, The Ruts

20, The Ruts

The Ruts were the best punk rock band ever.

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When that monster Punk Rock reared its head in 1976 even the sleepy towns on the edge of London, immortalised poignantly by the SEX PISTOLS in 'Satellitte'. Just down the road from me, in a little known town named Hayes, a band called THE RUTS was about to take shape.
As word of the new craze got around, Malcom Owen , then an often beaten up Mod, phoned his old friend and guitarist Paul Fox to suggest they form a Punk band together. Little did either of them know that they were about to embark on something that would make a small piece of musical history.
Dave Ruffy was drafted in on dums and another old friend, John 'Segs' Jennings , was eventually sent out to buy a bass guitar. This line up of the band made their debut at High Wycombe Town Hall supporting Wayne County & The electric Chairs. It was now 1978 and the band were out and about in West London bullding up a sizable following and playing infamous Punk haunts like the White Hart in Acton.
From the beginning THE RUTS had a deep hatred of racism: Malcom being a Southall boy had first hand experience of bogotry. They therefore made contact with Rock Against The Racism, themselves a new orgnisation trying to halt the rise of the National Front. The R.A.R. gigs took The RUTS out of London and teamed them up with southfall Reggae band Misty In Roots on a number of occasions. Misty helped run the People United record label and consequently offered The RUTS a chance to record a single which they jumped at. The result was "In a Rut", a scorcher of a record which went on to become a virtual theme tune for them. The flip side was "H-Eyes" a venomous anti-Heroin rabble rouser which was to prove prophetic as we'll see later.
Enter John PEEL, who on hearing the single played it regulary and found a place in his heart for the band, offering them a session at the beginning of 1979. The sucess of the session, coupled with Peel's obvious love for The RUTS, meant that they were invited to record another one a few months leter which was subsequently released on Strange Fruit in 1986.
As the music press began to stand up and take notice so did the major record labels and after a spot of flirting they finally plumped for Virgin,signing a deal in the spring of 1979.
Even the A&R men at Virgin couldn't have foreseen the sucess their first release for the label would have. In the summer of 1979 "Babylon's Burning" reached N°.7 in the singles chart, paving the way for two 'Top Of The Pops' appearances. Originally entitled "London's Burning" the single was an awesome slice of Punk-Pop, hittings nails on the head that most Punk bands of the time didn't even get close to. It was backed on the other side by a rampaging "Society" where Fox was goaded by producer Mick Glossop about playing harder to get the right effect. It worked.
Suddenly The RUTS were famous and everyone knew their name. Local lads made good etc but it was more than that. A lot of people were feeling isolated from the Punk movement, The PISTOLS had exploited, The CLASH gone to America, questions were being asked. The RUTS were the answer and they hadn't been to Art School. Real kids like me and you who'd become pop stars by simply picking up a few instruments and in doing so had reinforced the 'Punk philosophy' that anyone could do it.
On this growing tide of popularity the group set off on a British tour with The DAMNED, whilst in august their debut with a new single, "Something That I Said - Give Youth A Chance", the latter taken from the first Peel session.
The single didn't quite match the peaks of Bybylon although the B-side did emphasize the bands love of Reggae, and it still charted, promoted with a bizarre video.

"The Crack" was, and still is, a masterpiece of the period.Opening with a screaming police siren which leads into "Babylon's burning" it highlights the sheer diversity and depth of the band. Sure the early basic Punk numbers like "Criminal Mind", "Out Of order" and the chaotic live version of "Human Punk" were there o keep the hardcore following happy but it was the lyrical and musical progression which made the most impression. "Jah War" saw that love ofReggae taken even further, sevenpassion filled minutes based around the Sothfall riots set to a biting Reggae back beat that Misty themselves would have relished. The LP received it's fair share of critical acclaim and today is still essential purchase.

"Jah War" itself was released as a single soon afterwards to coincide with the Southfall Riots trial but falled to chart,probably because the full version was already available on the album. The B-side was another prime time pogoer subtly entitled "I Ain't Sofisticated" and was a two fingered salute to privilege and the Upper classes.
Whilst all this record activity was taking place, the band had embarked on the 'Grin And Bear It' tour of Britain wich continued into Europe where one of the gigs in Paris was broadcast on French TV - "Chorus" TV show.
The Eighties beckoned and the band announced the 'Black To Blighty' tour for Februray, recording another PEEL Session beforehand. One of the new tracks recorded for the session, "Starring At The Rude Boys" appeared as a single to coincide with the tour. "Rude boys" was aimost as colossal as "Babylon's burning" with the opening chiming guitariff exploding into a sea of pent up frustration, culminating in a rather resounding chorus. The single made the Top Twenty and any doubts that they wouln't be able to follow up the album were quickly scuppered.
The "Back To Blighty" tour began as scheduled and went without a hitch until the Plymouth date when the band were forced to cancel due to Malcom's ill health. He'd started using heroin again although he had also piked up a throat infection which would have prevented him from singing anyway.

The tour was put back and in the meantime the restof the band talked about moving away from their basic Punk roots to develop the more ambitious sides of their music, while Malcom got better.

Malcom OWEN didn't get better.He died of a heroin overdose onJuly 14th 1980, at only 26years old. Before his death Malcom had been well enough to go into the studio and record one last time. The result being the bands' final single "West One(Shine On Me)". A classic song to go out with but, which still retains an aura of sadness due to the obvious references in the lyrics to how Malcom was feeling.

Later in the year Virgin put out an LP titled "Grin And Bear It" which collected together a few loose ends...

 

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