Punk Rock: An Oral History: A Starred Review

Punk Rock: An Oral History

By Neil Derksen
Library Journal

December 2012

Longtime music journalist and founding member of The Membranes Robb ( Death to Trad Rock ) has collected the stories of over 100 eyewitnesses to the birth of British punk. From icons like John Lydon (Sex Pistols) and Mick Jones (The Clash) to lesser-known but no less outspoken musicians, managers, promoters, and fans, the interviewees bring a wide range of viewpoints to their tales of the scene’s development. In scope and format, Robb covers much the same ground as Jon Savage’s 2010 collection of interviews, The England’s Dreaming Tapes. From an editorial perspective, however, the difference between the two works is striking. While Savage presented his transcripts in their entirety, Robb uses a cut-and-paste chronological arrangement, grouping together several subjects’ takes on a given event or band. These multiple, often conflicting voices, together with the cheeky footnotes that clarify certain obscure references or blatant misrememberings, add a level of wit and chaotic energy to this book not present in earlier oral histories of the era. °© VERDICT With its brilliant balance of in-depth information and accessibility, this title will be equally at home on academic, public, and personal library shelves. Essential for punk fans and highly recommended for readers interested in firsthand accounts of the growth of new cultural movements.

It takes a punker to write one of the definitive books on punk rock that exploded on the music scene in the mid-1970s before fragmenting into niches like Oi, Hardcore and Two Tone.  John Robb (The Membranes) has written such book, “Punk Rock: An Oral History.”  Rob who grew up with punk rock and formed his own DIY band/label interviewed over 150 individuals who helped give birth to one of the greatest upheavals in music industry history.  Among the many participants include John Lydon (Sex Pistols/PiL), Siouxsie Sioux (Siouxsie & The Banshees), Poly Styrene (X-Ray Specs), Mick Jones (Clash/Big Audio Dynamite), Chryssie Hynde (Pretenders), Billy Bragg, Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and Henry Rollins on through band members from Joy Division, Buzzcocks, The Damned, Killing Joke, The Stranglers, The Slits, Selecter, UK Subs, Sham 69, Cockney Rejects, The Saints, Stiff Little Fingers, The Adverts, Wire, The Undertones, Chelsea, The Beat, The Specials and Angelic Upstarts, among many others. 

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