For real rock and punk fans
Interview with Jane Walsh, creator of the great site Punkygibbon
1. When did you started Punkygibbon and how did you got the idea?
Punky Gibbon was first published in 2009. I must have had the idea in my head for years beforehand, because my initial vision was a punk rock discography book, encompassing everything from the pre-punk period of the 60’s (Shadows of Knight, MC5, Stooges, Count Five) and the immediate pre-punk years (Modern Lovers, NY Dolls, Mirrors) to the bands of the 1990s (Vindictives, Green Day etc). It soon became obvious that such a book would be ten volumes in size, be immediately out of date and incredibly difficult to research. I didn’t even bother pitching the idea to a publisher because there were already some decent discography books on the market and my one would be for a niche market.
It was, however, while researching this insane book - which I was going to call Black White & Pink (taken from the Wire song It’s So Obvious) - that I contacted Dave Parsons from Sham 69, and he put me in touch with Michael Beal, a photographer/art designer who had designed the sleeves for The Count Bishops’ Speedball EP, the first three Eddie & The Hot Rods LPs, the second Only Ones album, John Cale’s Guts and other stuff besides. He was a fantastic story-teller - he’d been standing next to Nick Kent when Sid Vicious belted him with a so-called bike chain - but he thought the all-encompassing worldwide history of punk was plainly too ambitious for words. He did however call me a genius, which i think demonstrates how misused that word is! We were going to help write a book together that focused on the years 1972-1979 and we made a slight start in it, but he sadly died and the proposed book deal fell through.
That’s when I decided to abandon the book and make a website instead. Unfortunately, I first had to learn how to make a website, and that meant taking classes, and I farted around for a while on Microsoft’s crappy Frontpage programme before I bought a Mac and got hold of Dreamweaver and built the site over the course of a year or so.
2. You was a bit too young to be a part of the first (1976-80?) punk wave, so when did you discover punk rock and which groups was most important for you?
I think it would be 1979. I’ve deduced this because I was trying to pinpoint the first punk records I ever heard and they were all from that year: Banana Splits, Duchess, Into The Valley, Hersham Boys, Silly Thing, Teenage Warning, I Fought The Law, Playground Twist. These were records my brother was buying at the time, so I guess I got the hear them when he played them. I certainly remember Sid Vicious dying because on the day news of his death hit the papers in February of that year I was sent to the shop by my dad to buy him his fags and two complete strangers stopped me and breathlessly told me, “Sid Vicious Is Dead!” I was about eight at the time.
The groups mentioned above still mean a great deal to me and I still play them all the time, with the exception of the Banshees. I like the band and The Scream is a classic, but I think her snobby attitude over the years has rankled me a bit, she seems a bit up herself.
As you can guess my brother didn’t really get too deep into punk - he bought records which went into the Top 40, mainly - and I didn’t start buying records until about 1983, when I bought Holidays In the Sun from WH Smith, without a picture sleeve for 50p I think. After that I started buying whatever records I could afford, and back then they were pretty cheap. I rarely paid more than £3.00 for a single or an LP. The most important find was Crass. I stumbled across these in a second hand shop where they had a copy of Stations Of The Crass for sale. Unfortunately it didn’t have a cover and disc one was missing, so I had no idea who it was, but the impact on me was astounding. For a start, I couldn’t believe the amount of swearing, and the music seemed really strange. it was easily the angriest thing I’d ever heard. It cracked me up, and still does. It got me buying all sorts of stuff based purely on the cover.
3. Are the groups you have written about normally easy to help you with doing interviews, sending photos etc?
Some are. I don’t actually make any attempt to contact the bands I write about. I do my research, compile the discographies, write the band bio and publish it, and see what happens. Most of the initial contact comes from people who have taken umbrage with what I’ve written: for instance, John Hodgson from Blitzkrieg Bop thought I was a bit rude, Roger Miret said I was “not very nice”, somebody connected with Anti-Pasti called me a “cheeky cunt who don;t know shite” and the singer from the Proles sent me a one word email, a sarcastic “Thanks”. When I read what I’d written for these bands and people it turned out I was indeed not very nice. But they all continued to contact me and help me with information. The most helpful have been Larz from Bizex-B, Simon Wright from Trash and Andy Blade from Eater. They’ve been great.
4. Do you have other people who co-operate together with you with the site?
No. I am a bit of a loner and find working with people during my day job is hard enough. My boyfriend is incredibly tolerant of the amount of time I spend at the computer though, so that helps. Some people have written the odd article but so many have promised to write something or send something and done nothing that I’ve preferred to go it alone. It also allows me to de-stress and unwind at the end of a usually crap day at work.
5. Punkygibbon looks professional and have a lots of material. Do you work much with the site?
I spend about two or three hours a day on it. I start work at eight but I get up at five so I can spend a couple of hours on it, that play some more with it when I get home for about an hour. Sometimes I spend hours at the weekend working on it. I try to be thorough with the information, so I spend a lot of time typing up credits from record sleeves and scanning covers and CD booklets. Then there’s poring through books and other sites to gather info. My proof-reading is a bit bad so I waste quite a bit of time correcting mistakes. I also wasted years - and I mean years - in the early stages of development of the site by being unable to make up my mind about the layout of the site, so I kept having to undo my own work to correct it.
It’s good to hear people say it looks professional but I think it looks a bit low-tech. I’d like it to be a bit more interactive, so people could rate stuff and post comments, but my web-building knowledge is limited and I fear the amount of time I’d spend adjudicating it.
6. Have you been inspired by other punksites, and if you have, which sites?
There are some cracking ones out there. Punk77 and Bored Teenagers I really like. There’s also Record Collectors Of The World Unite, which is invaluable for getting accurate information about picture sleeves. Kill From The Heart was also good, but that’s gone now, it seems. Then there are the various blogs, top go which would be Killed By Death and the now defunct 7 Inch Punk.
7. There are sometimes different meanings about in which country the punkrock started in, in the UK or in the USA? What do you think about that?
I would say it started in the U.S. with the new bands from New York (Television, Patti Smith, Ramones, Heartbreakers) and Ohio (Rocket From The Tombs, Die Electric Eels, Devo). The Brits got in a bit later with the Pistols, Clash, Damned and Buzzcocks etc. So I’ll say: the USA.
8. Which punkband was the first you heard (If you remember that) and do you still like them?
The Stranglers, I think. I still love them, but especially their stuff from 77-81. I’m pretty certain I saw them in 1978 or 1979 on Top Of The Pops and thought they were very cool looking and powerful. After 1981 they went into pure pop-rock/soft-rock mode, and I even like their first few albums for Epic when I’m in the mood for something mellow. I wish they’d split up though.
9. Which punk period do you like most?
77-82. In 1981 and 1982 we had the last classic albums and singles from the original and best punk/new wave bands: Strawberries, Combat Rock, English Settlement, Joy, Now Then, Oh No It’s Devo, Pleasant Dreams, The Flowers of Romance, Zombie Birdhouse, The Monkey Puzzle, Endangered Species, Christ - The Album. And of course many great bands had split up years before. It went downhill a bit after that, but for the preceding five or six years I could name dozens of classic records released in each year. It was a golden age of very high quality music. Also in 1982 some great bands were changing direction - Cockney Rejects went metal, Blitz became futurists, The Stranglers had totally softened - and we were entering the age of shitty bands like The Ejected and Erazerhead, who just seemed to be pretty crap.
10. Can you tell us about your favourite punkbands?
I know punk is generally considered to be a singles thing but my measure of a great band is by how many great LPs they made. Although plenty of bands made one or two classic singles/albums, I’ve decided to answer this question by naming bands who have made at least three classic albums. This therefore is a list of my favourite punk bands as well as their best three albums. Sorry if any of these are predictable!
The Clash - The Clash / Give ‘Em Enough Rope / London Calling
The Stranglers - Rattus Norvegicus / No More Heroes / Black And White / The Raven (yeah, I know, that’s four LPs)
Wire - Pink Flag / Chairs Missing / 154
Devo - Are We Not Men / Duty Now / Freedom Of Choice
Ramones - Ramones / Leave Home / Rocket To Russia / Road To Ruin / Animal Boy (yeah, I know, that’s five)
Skids - Scared To Dance / Days In Europa / The Absolute Game
Sham 69 - Tell Us The Truth / That’s Life / The Game
Crass - Feeding Of The 5000 / Stations Of The Crass / Penis Envy
The Damned - Damned Damned Damned / Machine Gun Etiquette / Strawberries
The Cramps - Songs The Lord Taught Us / Smell Of Female / A Date With Elvis
Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit / In God We Trust / Plastic Surgery Disasters
Black Flag - Damaged / Slip It In / Loose Nut
Angelic Upstarts - Teenage Warning / We Gotta Get Out Of This Place ./ 2,000,000 Voices
Special mention to the following:
Pere Ubu, Chrome, Suicide, Spizz, The Dickies, The Lurkers, The Undertones, Pistols, The Members, Subhumans (Canada and UK), DOA, Ruts, Toy Dolls, Macs Lads, The Vibrators, he Undertones, Discharge, The Exploited, Screeching Weasel, Wreckless Eric, Germs, Weirdos, X-Ray Spex, Subway Sect, Ian Dury, Buzzcocks. God, so many more I could rave about!
11. What kind of other music than punk do you like?
I really like punk rock’s mortal enemy, prog rock. Listening to Genesis and Yes I can see that it was vitally important that Punk had to happen, because this music really was complete and utter bollocks, but I really like some of this stuff. The worst 70’s music was bland pop, boogie and singer-songwriter shit (Leonard Cohen, Loudon Wainwright III and Jackson Browne excepted). There was something mental about prog: it was ambitious and had ideas, and some of these groups actually knew how to rock. Tales From Topographic Oceans is mesmerising, and VDGF’s “H To He Who Am The Only One” has to he heard to be disbelieved (if you’ve never heard ‘Killer; prepare to be astonished). My favourite non-punk bands are Genesis (Peter Gabriel era of course), Yes, Magma, Goblin, Van der Graaf Generator and ELP. I hate Gentle Giant, though. I also like cajun, country and British novelty records (by which I mean stuff like Monty Python, Benny Hill and Lance Percival). Then there’s Dylan, the Stones, the Eagles (sorry), early Rod Stewart, 2-Tone, Sparks, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds and Kate Bush. Even The Beatles are okay - if you’d have asked me thirty years ago if I liked the Beatles the answer would have ended in “Off”. I’ve also been known to listen to a bit of classical music and quite enjoy a Gregorian chant now and then to relax me.
The thing about punk I really like is that when I speak to people I’ve just met and they ask me what I listen to, when I tell them punk they just think of three chords, spikey hair and shouting. The diversity of sounds within the genre is so vast that even if I just liked punk and nothing else, I’d still be listening to wide variety of bands: The Screamers, Television, Crass, Wire, Big Black, Contortions, Rudimnetary Peni, PiL, Penetration, Television Personalities - none of them sound remotely like the other.
I hate virtually everything recorded after 1993 with the exception of stuff by Screeching Weasel, the Queers, The Vindictives, Fugazi, Nomeansno, The Hanson Brothers and NOFX.
12. Do you think there´s a big interest of punkrock nowadays and are your site popular (have many visitors)?
I think punk is still big, worldwide. I’ve been to Rebellion a couple of times and am amazed by the amount of bands and people which show show up, from all over the world. Labels like Captain Oi, Cherry Red and Anagram are constantly dredging up old punk albums to sell, and people still talk about it. I don’t really like any new punk ands I’m hearing, though. Most of them sound derivative and most of them just don’t have very good songs. Some of the better new bands have that punk thing going without being actually punk (Slaves and Sleaford Mods for example). I think punk peaked in 1977-1979 and was pretty clueless by about 1987, as reflected in my site.
As for how many visitors I get? Believe it or not, I don’t check. The stats page on my server is tediously difficult to decipher and I am extremely lazy! All I know is that a few months back I had to increase my bandwidth to allow for the amount of visitors, so it’s costing me more a month to run! I don’t care how many people look at the site, really. I don’t make any money out of it and it’s not exorbitantly expensive to maintain, it’s just a hobby dedicated to something I love. It’s something that keeps me occupied in the evening, and hopefully it’s something other people find useful or interesting or infuriating or amusing.