By Joe Pearce, Skrewdriver Services, London 1987
I first met Ian Stuart eight years ago in the Hoop and Grapes pub in Farringdon Street. Before then, we both knew of each other even though we’d never met. I knew of him as the lead singer of the skinhead band Skrewdriver whose album All Skrewed Up I’d bought a couple of years before in 1977. He knew of me as the national organiser of the Young National Front since he was, at that time, the local YNF organiser for the Blackpool and Fylde Branch in Lancashire. The purpose of that first meeting between us was to discuss Ian’s plans to reform Skrewdriver. It was a strange setting for such a meeting, not least because the Hoop and Grapes is renowned as a favourite drinking place for Morning Star journalists and printworkers.
Throughout the evening, although the subject of reforming Skrewdriver was discussed, we spent most of our time discussing politics. A few pubs and a few pints later we found ourselves in a Fleet Street pub frequented by journalists with Ian sounding off indignantly about the ‘scum in the media’! Since that first meeting we have formed a good friendship and have worked closely together in building Rock Against Communism and White Noise Records.
All went well until December 11th, 1985, when Ian was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment for defending himself from an attack by a black gang at Kings Cross station. Until then Ian had never been in any trouble with the police but that didn’t prevent the judge from meting out such a harsh sentence. Needless to say the blacks that attacked him were never punished and got away scot free. I heard of the savage sentence inflicted upon Ian, and the six month jail term given to his friend and co-defendant Des Clarke, on the morning of December 12th at Snaresbrooke Crown Court where I was facing trial under the Race Relations Act. I remember being horrified by the harshness of Ian’s sentence, yet little was I to know that on that very day I too would be given a twelve month jail term. I awoke the following morning, appropriately enough it was Friday the Thirteenth, in a prison cell at Wormwood Scrubs. I’d just spent the first night of my sentence with a Pakistani prisoner as a cell mate and was unsure as to what the next weeks and months held in store. I was, to say the least, somewhat anxious about what the future would bring. Imagine my delight, therefore, when I spotted Ian Stuart in the cell opposite mine as I ‘slopped out’ that morning! We exchanged a few words and I tried in vain to get a job on the hot-plate where Ian was working serving up prisoners’ meals. I was transferred to another wing of the prison on that same day.
In the weeks that followed Ian was transferred to Wayland prison in Suffolk while I was transferred to Standford Hill prison on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. Thus it was that we were destined not to see each other again until we were both released on parole six months later; Ian on June 11th, 1986 and me a day later on June 12th. In between time, however, we kept in regular touch by post and it was during this period that I suggested I write a book about Skrewdriver to commemorate the first ten years of the band in 1987. Ian agreed and this slim volume is the results of my efforts.
In closing this short introduction I’d like to dedicate this book to Ian Stuart whose acquaintance I’ve enjoyed over the years both as a friend and comrade. Without his help this book would not have been possible, not only because of the hours of taped interview he gave me so that I’d have all the background information I needed, but, far more importantly, because without Ian Stuart there wouldn’t be a band called Skrewdriver to write about.
JOE PEARCE, April 1987
THE EARLY YEARS: FROM BLACKPOOL TO CHISWICK
Ian Stuart was born Ian Stuart Donaldson on the 11th of August 1958 in Poulton-Le-Fylde, near Blackpool in Lancashire. He was educated at Baines Grammar School where he met Kev McKay, Sean McKay, John Grinton and Phil Walmsley. These five formed a band called Tumbling Dice, named after one of the many hit records by the Rolling Stones who were Ian’s biggest influence at that time. In turn, following the departure of Sean McKay, Tumbling Dice became known as Skrewdriver in May 1977.
Tumbling Dice, who were the first band Ian ever played in, were formed towards the end of 1975. As their name suggests they played mostly Stones’ cover versions, although covers of classics by The Who and Free were also included in the band’s set, as indeed were four or five original songs. They played at various working men’s clubs in the Poulton-Le-Fylde and Blackpool area. Following the formation of Skrewdriver in the late spring of 1977, the band started to write more of its own material. Right from the start Ian Stuart took on the bulk of the writing and while he credits much of the music which influenced his early writing to the Stones and The Who, he admits that the Sex Pistols were a vital early influence. He saw the first Sex Pistols gig in the north of England at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester in very early ’77, when they shared the bill with Slaughter and the Dogs and the newly formed Buzzcocks. Punk was, according to Ian, ‘different’ and ‘full of energy’ and it influenced Skrewdriver’s early recordings greatly.
While Ian names the Sex Pistols as the punk band which he most liked he also remembers being impressed by The Jam who were just starting out at the time. He also cites American bands like the New York Dolls and The Stooges as being particular favourites when Skrewdriver started. Skrewdriver’s first record release was the single You’re So Dumb, backed with Better off Crazy, which was released in 1977 by Chiswick Records.
You’re So Dumb was an anti-drugs song which, according to Ian Stuart, “didn’t make us too popular in certain circles because it was quite ‘hip’ to take drugs and we were ‘thickoes’ from a northern town who were coming down south and slagging off something that was quite ‘hip’ to do”. However, although the anti-drugs sentiments in You’re So Dumb didn’t exactly ingratiate Skrewdriver with the drug-taking fraternity who infest record companies and the like, it did gain the band support among the grass-roots of the punk movement which, at the time at least, was working class and predominantly anti-drug – not least because drug taking was seen as a pursuit for middle-class ‘trendies’ trying to be rebellious. Unfortunately, of course, middle-class ‘trendies’ trying to be rebellious hi-jacked the punk movement later on causing many of the original punks to shave their heads and become skinheads. That, however, is another story…
You’re So Dumb was extremely punkish in its overall sound which is not altogether surprising since the band were all punks at the time. Indeed, it established Skrewdriver’s credentials as a punk band, particularly in London where most copies of the record were sold. The follow-up single to You’re So Dumb was Anti-Social, which was backed by a cover version of the Rolling Stones’ classic Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown.
At around the time of the release of Anti-Social, near the end of 1977, Skrewdriver were undergoing the first of their many metamorphoses. First, Phil Walmsley left the band to be replaced as guitarist by Ron Hartley. Second the band forsook their punky image in favour of cropped hair and DM’s. In short, Skrewdriver became a skinhead band. Thus it is that the cover of Anti-Social shows a photograph of Skrewdriver as punks while their debut album All Skrewed Up, which was released about the same time shows the band as skinheads.
Nevertheless, while the visual appearance of Skrewdriver may have changed at this time, there was no drastic change of musical direction. On the contrary, the pulsating punk which was the hallmark of You’re So Dumb and Anti-Social continued to characterise the thirteen tracks on the album. This being so, why did Skrewdriver feel it necessary to ditch their punk image even though they still produced essentially punk music? According to Ian Stuart the decision to become skinheads was motivated by a belief that ‘punk music at the time was becoming too left-wing’.
However, it wasn’t just the politics but the posing of these new leftwing punks which really annoyed Skrewdriver. Ian Stuart explains: “There were a lot of poseurs at the gigs. When punk first started everyone went for the music, but when it became the fashion to be a punk you started to get a lot of rich people coming along. They had nothing to do with punk, they were just there because it was the place to be seen. They weren’t dancing to the bands. There was no comeback from the audience when it was packed with those sort of people because they weren’t there to enjoy the music but just because it was the place to be.”
Following the band’s utter and complete disillusionment with the punk scene, becoming skinheads seemed the most natural thing to do. Towards the end of 1977 there was a skinhead revival and many skins were starting to go to Skrewdriver gigs. The four members of Skrewdriver were friends with many skinheads, not least because they all had been skinheads themselves during the early seventies. Thus it was, at the end of 1977, that Skrewdriver became a skinhead band.
Perhaps, when one considers the scathing invective by Ian Stuart against punk ‘poseurs’ who were just there ‘to be seen’, it is not altogether surprising that the new-look Skrewdriver spat out their venomous revenge in the lyrics of songs like We Don’t Pose on the All Skrewed Up album.
The album itself, while not representing any great change in musical direction to mirror the change in the image, did represent a move towards more meaningful – or, at least, less facile – lyrics. For example, the shallow nihilism of Anti-Social I Don&rsquot Like You and I Don’t Need Your Love on side one of All Skrewed Up are counter-balanced by Nine to Five and the excellent Too Much Confusion on side two. These last two tracks, together with Government Action on side one, indicate through their lyrical content the birth of Ian Stuart’s political awareness. In fact, an interesting exercise in observing the musical, lyrical and political progress of Ian Stuart as a song-writer can be gauged by playing Nine Till Five from All Skrewed Up alongside Mr. Nine Till Five from the excellent Blood and Honour album. Such a comparison will illustrate how an essentially similar theme is dealt with entirely differently in the two songs. The former is raw, powerful and lyrically simple; the latter is refused, powerful and lyrically subtle. The power still remains yet the refinement and subtlety of the latter can only come with the accumulated knowledge and skill which is the result of eight years extra experience.
My personal favourite track on All Skrewed Up is undoubtedly the powerfully aggressive Too Much Confusion which opens the second side, yet it is interesting that Ian Stuart’s favourite from the album is Won’t Get Fooled Again. It is interesting because his choice is the only cover version on the album, being a rendition of The Who classic, and it illustrates his real rock roots which owe more to the sixties than to the Sex Pistols. These roots were destined to bear fruit much later.
BUILT UP, KNOCKED DOWN
To say that Skrewdriver have had a bad press in the ten years since they first started would, to say the least, be an understatement. From the moment their first single You’re So Dumb launched an attack on drug takers the music media have generally eyed the group with hostility and suspicion. Nonetheless, it must be remembered that Skrewdriver were not particularly political when they first arrived in London to sign for Chiswick Records and none of the band were involved with the National Front. This being so, the band did get some fairly reasonable press coverage in the early days. For example, as Ian recalls, “New Musical Express gave the 1.p. (All Skrewed Up) quite a good write up, and Sounds gave a decent write-up. Even Melody Maker and Record Mirror were okay.”
No doubt the press interest in Skrewdriver during the heady punk days of ’77 and early ’78 sprang from their growing popularity. The group’s reputation grew steadily with the demand for Anti-Social and All Skrewed Up outstripping by far the demand for their debut single You’re So Dumb. Live too, Skrewdriver were pulling in the crowds achieving house records at the Roxy – the Mecca of punk – and at the Vortex.
Prior to their ditching of the punk image, their live audiences were comprised mostly of punks with only a few skinheads dispersed amongst the crowd. However all this changed following the band’s changeover to skinheads with their audiences becoming almost exclusively close-cropped and white. Predictably this changeover caused concern in the music media who made the most of a near riot at a Skrewdriver gig at the Vortex by slagging off the group’s audience as ‘thugs’ and ‘National Front supporters’. This was the first time the band had been linked with the NF, albeit indirectly.
Following further exposes in the press that many skinheads were involved actively with either the National Front or the British Movement, the Marxist dominated music media began to demand that Skrewdriver and the other leading skinhead band, Sham 69, denounce their audience as ‘racists’. This demand was complied with willingly by Sham’s lead singer Jimmy Pursey – an indiscretion for which he was never forgiven by his audience but for which he was rewarded by his media masters. Skrewdriver, however, refused to betray the loyalty of their followers as Jimmy Pursey had done. Ian Stuart and the rest of the band refused resolutely to dance to the media’s tune. From that time on the Marxist music media declared war on Skrewdriver.
Even today, Ian Stuart doesn’t regret his decision to stand by his audience in spite of the difficulties it caused the band subsequently. Neither has he forgiven Jimmy Pursey of Sham 69 for his betrayal of those who had followed the band loyally up until then: “Sham cut their own throats by slagging off those people because that’s what destroyed them in the end.” Nonetheless, Ian Stuart’s decision to stand by his supporters very nearly destroyed Skrewdriver also. They paid dearly for their stand against the music establishment. They were barred from playing any gigs and in the end the pressure told. In the middle of 1978, unable to play live or get a new recording contract, the band split up.
Disillusioned with the corrupt set-up of the music business in London, the band packed their bags and returned to Blackpool. In fact, Ian Stuart was so disgusted at the way the Marxist left controlled the music scene in London that he began to take an active interest in Nationalist politics. Naturally enough he sought to find out what it was that the music press were so frightened about and why they were scared of National Front involvement in the music business. In short, he wanted to know more and, as such, he began to attend National Front meetings in Blackpool. Convinced that he liked what he heard at these meetings, he joined up as a Full Member in April 1979. The music media, in their efforts to browbeat Ian Stuart into submission, had made him into a formidable enemy who would still be haunting them many years later.
In the meantime, however, he was paying dearly for his principles. He returned to Blackpool from London without a job, as did the other members of the band. Several of the others eventually found work on local building sites while Ian ended up working in a car wash! Meanwhile, those with fewer principles were doing very well for themselves in London. Jimmy Pursey had become the darling of the music press following his stabbing in the back of those who had given him success in the first place. Nonetheless his former fans had the last laugh. Sham 69’s last concert at the Rainbow had to be stopped after the audience told the group in no uncertain terms what they thought of the sell-out. Not only was their farewell concert a sham, it was Jimmy Pursey’s last stand. He disappeared with egg on his face never to emerge again.
Unable to face another day in the car wash, and echoing the sentiments of Nine Till Five from the All Skrewed Up album, Ian got itchy feet and returned to London. He stayed at Suggsy’s mum’s house. Suggsy had been one of Skrewdriver’s roadies back in 1977 but now, two years later, he was lead singer in Madness who were about to make the big time themselves. It was during this period that Ian and I first met in the Hoop and Grapes on Farringdon Street to discuss the possibility of reforming Skrewdriver. It was not to be. Ian only stayed in London for three months before returning to Blackpool.
Pretty soon, after enduring spells at another couple of dead-end jobs, Ian got the wanderlust again and moved to Salford near Manchester. He and Kev McKay then joined up with Glenn Jones and Martin Smith, two Mancunians, to reform Skrewdriver. Thus the new line-up was Ian Stuart on vocals, Kev McKay on bass, Glen Jones on guitar and Martin Smith on drums. The new Skrewdriver played quite a lot of gigs in and around Manchester and eventually got a recording contract with TJM, a local record company. They played regularly at the Mayflower Club near Belle Vue and quickly built up a good local following of skinheads and punks.
Along with the old favourites such as Anti-Social and Government Action, the audiences at the Mayflower Club also heard new songs, mostly written by Ian Stuart or guitarist Glen Jones. Three of these new songs found their way onto the bands first – and only- record release on TJM. The e.p., Built Up, Knocked Down, was recorded and released soon after the new-look Skrewdriver were reformed towards the end of 1979. The title track, as Ian Stuart recalls, “was about what happened to us, our experiences of the music business up until then. For instance, you got built up by the record company then they turn round and completely knock you down.”
In fact, the scars left by Ian’s experiences at the hands of the music business in London are a feature of the other track he wrote on the e.p., A Case of Pride. The stark realism of this song’s lyrics, borne out of bitterness, contrast completely with the romantic fantasies of Glen Jones’ lyrics on the third track, Breakout. Breakout is a typical rock song in the mould of so many others which build up an illusionary romantic aura around the music business. It’s about a musician ‘breaking out’ of his mundane surroundings and going down to London to make his living by making music – not so much a case of wishing on a star but of wishing to become one!
A Case Of Pride, on the other hand, is more down to earth. It is more down to earth simply because Ian had already reached for that star which Glen Jones can only dream about; he had reached for it and had literally been ‘knocked down’ to earth again. Thus it is that A Case Of Pride covers the same theme as Breakout but puts a whole new, realistic, perspective on it. A Case Of Pride is about someone leaving home, having no money but having too much pride to ask for any from either parents or friends. Neither is there a happy ending since the person in question ends up dying. Not only does A Case Of Pride ‘break out’ from Glen Jones’ romantic fantasy, it shatters the dream and turns it into a nightmare.
Nonetheless, if we cast aspersions on Glen Jones’ song writing ability, we can have no such feelings about his guitar playing. In fact, his superlative guitar is perhaps the most memorable and lasting quality about the Built Up, Knocked Down e.p. It gives the three tracks an added dimension, an extra quality which brackets them as pure, solid rock. As such, Jones’ guitar differentiates the tracks on Built Up, Knocked Down from anything Skrewdriver had done before or, for that matter, anything they were to do for a long while to come – you have to go to the Blood And Honour album to find any comparable guitar playing. Consequently, Glen Jones stamped his mark on the music of Skrewdriver even though he was destined to remain with the band for only a short period.
Neither are these observations about Glen Jones’ musicianship merely subjective judgements on my part. Ian Stuart states quite clearly that having Jones as Skrewdriver’s guitarist was a major contributing factor in the group’s decision to progress from punk to a heavier form of rock: “Glen was a brilliant guitarist, he really was good. He would have been wasted on doing punk music. The guitaring on Built Up, Knocked Down is amazing.” After the release of Built Up, Knocked Down the band continued to play regularly at the Mayflower Club and at various other venues around Manchester. But the breakthrough they were looking for remained elusive. The music press still had neither forgotten nor forgiven Skrewdriver for defying them two years earlier. The group were branded as a ‘National Front band’ and the barriers were put up to block their road to success. Unable to make any progress outside the Manchester area because of a ban on advertising of their gigs in the music papers, the band got more and more frustrated. At the end of 1980 they decided to call it a day.
Ian Stuart explains the conditions he was living under at the time, conditions which added to the feelings of frustration and reinforced his decision to quit: “I was beginning to get really sick of the right dump I was living in Manchester, and so was Kev our bass player. We were living in a right pit up in Cheetham Hill in Salford. It was a one-room bed-sit which both of us had to live in and there were rats in the kitchen and the halls.”
Once again, Ian and Kev returned to Blackpool. Ian got a job as a machine operator in a toolmaker shop and tried again to hang up his guitar and lead a ‘nine till five’ life. Over the previous three years Ian Stuart had experienced success and failure. He’d seen record companies and music papers that had been his friends turn into his enemies. He’d been built up and knocked down. Now, back in Blackpool and in a steady job, it look as though his Skrewdriver days were finally over. But, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, blows that don’t destroy you make you stronger and, within a year, wanderlust had hit Ian Stuart again and he boarded the train to London…
BACK WITH A BANG
It was during the autumn of 1981 that Ian Stuart returned once again to London. This time, however, Ken McVay and the rest of the former members of Skrewdriver didn’t make the journey with him. One by one they bowed out of the Skrewdriver saga, setting down to conformist lives and leaving Ian alone with his plans for a new-look band.
On his arrival in London Ian stayed at the Ferndale Hotel on Argyle Square, Kings Cross. In fact, how he came to be staying there is an interesting story in itself. Ian knew Maurice Castle, the Ferndale’s manager, from previous occasions when he’d visited London for National Front activities. Ian Stuart takes up the story: “We were walking around Argyle Square looking for a hotel to stay in for the weekend because we were down for a National Front march. There were about six of us, all wearing Union Jacks, and when Maurice saw us he asked whether we were National Front supporters. When we said that we were he invited us to stay at the Ferndale, telling us that it was the cheapest hotel in the area and the only one under British management. Ever since that time, we always stayed at the Ferndale whenever we were down in London and when I moved down again in 1981 I started to live there permanently.”
Following his return to London, Ian quickly became part of the skinhead scene again. He visited the Last Resort, a skinhead shop in Petticoat Lane market, on a regular basis. As a result, he got to know Mickey and Margaret, the shop’s proprietors, and they suggested that he reform Skrewdriver. It seemed that many skinheads were still asking how they could get hold of Skrewdriver records when they visited the Last Resort and Mickey and Margaret, feeling sure that there was a healthy demand for the band’s music, offered to help in any way they could if Ian got a new group together. This being so, Ian Stuart set about searching for would-be members of a new Skrewdriver line-up.
Ian used his contacts at the Last Resort to find suitable members for the band. One such contact, freelance photographer Martin Dean, introduced him to Mark French who had previously played bass for a skinhead band called The Elite. Mark French, known colloquially as Frenchy, agreed to join. He, in turn, introduced Ian to drummer Geoff Williams, who had also played with The Elite. These three, with Ian playing guitar, became the new-look Skrewdriver at the end of 1981. However, a fourth member, Mark Neeson, joined the band soon after as guitarist. Neeson, known to all and sundry as Lester, had answered Skrewdriver’s advertisement for a guitarist and passed the audition with flying colours. The new four-piece Skrewdriver began to rehearse regularly and pretty soon Ian Stuart was sure the band were ready both for live dates and for recording sessions. Skrewdriver were back in business! Mickey French, the proprietor of the Last Resort (not to be confused with the group’s bassist Mark French), kept his word that he would help Skrewdriver if they reformed. The band brought out the Back With A Bang twelve inch single on his label, Last Resort Sounds, at the beginning of 1982.
In fact, most emphatically, Back With A Bang was the perfect title for Skrewdriver’s first record release for more than two years. The single hit the independent record charts and even elements in the music press were compelled to comment on the title track’s powerful riff. Skrewdriver were indeed back with a bang! Neither had Ian Stuart and the band betrayed their patriotic principles in their bid for success. On the contrary, the lyrics of Back With A Bang are about the media’s efforts to smear and smash the skinhead movement. In fact, in words more calculated and candid than any other Skrewdriver song up until then, Ian Stuart’s vocals spit both venom and defiance at the music media; venom because the lyrics make it patently obvious that Skrewdriver hadn’t forgotten nor forgiven the press for the way they’d been treated in the past, and defiance because they make it equally obvious that the media had failed in their efforts to destroy either Skrewdriver or the skinhead movement. On other feature of Back With A Bang’s lyrics is also noteworthy, and that’s the latent Nationalism which bubbles under the surface without ever boiling over into overt support for Racial Nationalist parties like the National Front. An example of this latent Nationalism is illustrated in these two lines from the song:
“Being patriotic’s not the fashion so they say,
To fly your country’s flag’s a crime.”
In lines such as this from Back With A Bang Ian Stuart was daring to expand the frontiers of Skrewdriver’s music into uncharted political waters which would make them even more persona non grata with their old enemies in the media. The flip side of the single, on the other hand, was far less controversial. It was a new version of the old Skrewdriver classic, I Don’t Like You, which appeared originally on the All Skrewed Up album. The decision to re-record this old Skrewdriver song was made at the behest of Mickey and Margaret at the Last Resort. They convinced Ian Stuart and the rest of the group that a whole new skinhead scene had emerged in the four-and-a-half years since All Skrewed Up was first released. Many of these new skinheads couldn’t get hold of earlier Skrewdriver material and re-releasing some of the old songs would be one way of letting the new wave of young skinheads enjoy the music their predecessors had enjoyed before them. I Don’t Like You was singled out for re-recording because it was one of the most popular tracks from the All Skrewed Up l.p. – a fast and furious favourite.
The words ‘fast and furious’ should be singled out for special attention because they describe the overall sound of the two tracks on the comeback single. In fact – and to stretch the alliteration to the limit – fast, furious and frantic would best describe both Back With A Bang and I Don’t Like You. In short, the come-back twelve-inch single signalled a reversion to the punk sound of the very early Skrewdriver and a departure from the heavy rock riffs which epitomised the sound on the Built Up, Knocked Down e.p. Following the success of the Back With A Bang twelve-inch, Skrewdriver once more found themselves in great demand. This being so, it was scarcely surprising when Mickey French offered the group top-billing on the skinhead compilation album, United Skins. This album, which was also released on the Last Resort’s own label, included many new skinhead bands. Some of them were good, some were bad, but all subsequently sank into oblivion – all that is, except Skrewdriver, a further testament to the band’s endurance and class.
Skrewdriver laid down two tracks for the United Skins l.p. Again, as with the BB twelve-inch, one was a new song while the other was and old favourite. The old favourite was the 1977 skinhead anthem, Anti-Social, a re-working of which appeared on United Skins ‘by popular demand’. However, Ian Stuart remembers the choice of Anti-Social with mixed feelings: “It was always a popular song for some reason. God knows why! A lot of people like it but I can’t stand it myself.” Apparently, the reason for Ian’s less than enthusiastic response to the choice of Anti-Social for the album stems from over-familiarity. To put it bluntly, he’d played the song live so many times that the mere mention of it sickened him. Nonetheless, and mindful of the opinions of others, Ian bowed down to demand, accepting begrudgingly that Anti was still immensely popular.
The new track on the United Skins album was Boots And Braces, a song in the same mould as Back With A Bang with angry lyrics spitting venom at those who seek to stereotype skinheads as troublemakers: ‘We always take the blame..’ Boots And Braces quickly established itself as a firm favourite at the band’s live performances but once again Ian Stuart had distinct reservations: “I suppose a lot of what the song says is true to life but I think it’s a very basic tune and boring to play”.
Whilst it is refreshing to experience Ian Stuart’s modesty and unbiased attitude towards his own songs, and whilst self-criticism is doubtless a virtue, I still feel his criticism of the songs on United Skins somewhat harsh. Firstly, the true quality of both tracks can be gauged by comparing them with the rest of the tracks by other bands on the album. When this is done it becomes patently obvious that Skrewdriver stand head and shoulders above any competition from rival skinhead bands around at the time. They were quite simply in a class of their own. Secondly, Boots And Braces rates alongside the best that Skrewdriver has ever produced. Not the best perhaps, but amongst the best. That, at least, is my opinion and it is an opinion, which I know is shared by many other Skrewdriver aficionados.
To continue on this tangent for a while longer, and putting on my amateur psychologist’s cloak, I believe the real reason for Ian’s attitude to Boots And Braces can be gleaned from his own words: “it’s a very basic tune and boring to play”. As far as Ian is concerned Boots And Braces should be re-titled “Base and Boring” because, as we’ve discussed earlier, his real roots are in rock and the type of music Skrewdriver were playing in 1982 was not, as far as he was concerned, the type of rock he wanted to play. Anti-Social and Boots And Braces were too simple, too basic. Oi music and punk were too simple and too basic. He wanted to branch out towards the heavier rock he and the previous Skrewdriver line-up had experimented with successfully in Manchester. In short, he wanted a challenge which punk and Oi! music could no longer offer him.
Removing my psychologist’s cloak and returning to the central theme of our story, it seems that certain elements in the music press agreed with me about the excellent quality of tracks like Boots And Braces. “There’s a really good guitar sound on this record” wrote music journalist Gary Bushell in Sounds, “but doubts still hover over their political beliefs.” The doubts weren’t to hover for long!
In the early months of 1982 Skrewdriver were packing in the crowds at both the 100 Club in Oxford Street and Skunx in Islington. It was at one of these live dates at the 100 Club that certain political remarks made by Ian Stuart from the stage destroyed any lingering doubts which still ‘hovered’ about where the band stood. They were Racial Nationalists and proud of it! And, what was more, they were no longer prepared to hide the fact… Ian Stuart takes up the story: “The press slagged us off for coming out with ‘ultra-nationalistic’ comments from the stage. They called out audience ‘morons’. In the end I just got fed up. It was obvious they were never going to praise us for anything, and in any case I couldn’t see anything wrong with being a Nationalist, it was natural to me. That’s when we thought we might as well go the whole way.”
In practice, ‘going the whole way’ meant meeting me to discuss the organising of Rock Against Communism concerts and the possibility of setting up an independent record label for Nationalist bands. For my part, I’d just been released from prison in May 1982 after serving a six-month sentence under the Race Relations Act for editing the Young National Front newspaper, Bulldog. Immediately upon my release I got back involved with the Nationalist scene and, in particular, I was very keen to re-activate Rock Against Communism.
Rock Against Communism had lain dormant since 1979, which was the date of the last R.A.C. concert in London. In the three years from then until spring of 1982 I had become increasingly frustrated by the stranglehold which the Marxist left seemed to have on the music industry. Imagine my excitement then when I heard that Skrewdriver were ‘back with a bang’ in London. I bought Back With A Bang and United Skins and started to go and watch the band play at the 100 Club and Skunx. By this time Skrewdriver were already including the songs White Power and Smash The IRA in their live set – another factor that doubtless didn’t ingratiate them with the music press!
Talking of the music press, every effort was made to make the band pay for refusing to toe the multi-racialist line. The press put pressure on both the venues Skrewdriver played regularly but, as Ian Stuart recalls, they met, at first at least, with very limited success: “All that the owners of the clubs could see was that they were getting a lot of people in, there was no trouble and they were making lots of money so why should they ban us?” The music media, demoralised by their failure to get Skrewdriver banned, laid low for a few months, during which time the band pulled bigger and bigger crowds. Then, in the summer of 1982, there was a fight at the 100 Club between followers of Skrewdriver and those of rival pseudo-skin band, Infa Riot, who had made their name playing Rock Against Racism gigs. This was the signal for the press to renew their hate campaign, blaming all the trouble on Skrewdriver and exonerating Infa Riot even though it was their roadies who started it. More stories followed about Ian Stuart being seen at the 100 Club wearing National Front regalia.
However, the knockout blow came when the music papers gave the 100 Club an ultimatum that they either ban Skrewdriver or else the club would not be allowed to advertise any of their events in the press. The 100 Club caved in under the financial pressure and banned Skrewdriver. The media then switched their hate-filled gaze to Skunx in Islington and gave the manager there the same ultimatum. However, much to their annoyance, Skunx were unprepared to ban Skrewdriver who were, by then, their biggest crowd-pullers. In the end though pressure by the police forced Skunx to close down altogether.
This, therefore, was the situation that Skrewdriver found themselves in towards the end of 1982. The screws (or should that be skrews!?) were well and truly being tightened on Skrewdriver’s coffin – or so the Reds in the music media believed. Skrewdriver, however, had other ideas. During the autumn of 1982 the relationship between Skrewdriver and myself bore fruit in two different directions, both of which forced the music media to realise that Skrewdriver weren’t so much dead and buried, as they’d hoped, but very much alive and kicking!
The first kick in the teeth for the musical establishment was the staging of a highly successful Rock Against Communism concert in Stratford, East London – the first for more than three years and easily the biggest. Skrewdriver headlined and proved their pulling power by attracting more than five hundred people. They were ably supported by the Ovaltinees, who brought out the excellent British Justice e.p. a month or so later.
A month later, at about the same time as the Ovaltinees were releasing British Justice, Skrewdriver released the White Power e.p. This was the second kick in the teeth for the musical establishment, not only because of the overt racialism of the title track but because it was the first release on Britain’s first and only Nationalist record label – White Noise Records. Although the three tracks on the White Power e.p. were very much in the same mould as the previous Skrewdriver tracks on the Last Resort label, i.e. basic and punky, Ian Stuart is far happier with the latter than we have seen he was with the former. For instance, whereas he derided Boots And Braces as ‘a very basic tune and boring to play’, he describes the title track of the White Power e.p. in the following terms: “I like White Power. The lyrics, for me, apart from Tomorrow Belongs To Me, mean more than any other song we’ve ever done. It’s such a stark statement. It’s there. It’s very direct.”
However, although Ian enthuses over White Power’s lyrics, he is less happy with the overall production on the e.p.: “I think it could have been mixed better. It’s a very weak mix.” The e.p. was produced by Mark Sutherland in his studio in East London and the poor quality of the mixing is probably due to the fact that he was, at the time, a relative novice. Later on, as he gained more knowledge and experience, the quality of his production improved by leaps and bounds. Another factor in the poor production, as Ian Stuart is quick to point out, was the fact that Mark Sutherland’s studio was, at that time, only four-track.
Nonetheless, notwithstanding the poor production, Ian Stuart is also pleased with Smash The IRA, the second track on the e.p.: “It means a lot lyrically. It’s not a brilliant tune, but it’s quite catchy. The words mirror the stance of the Party I was a member of at the time.” “Shove The Dove was a joke!” Ian explains when asked about the third track on the e.p. “I think it’s quite catchy but I only did it as a joke.”
One senses, when speaking to Ian Stuart about this e.p., that he is not too keen on Shove The Dove and certainly it is his least favourite of the three tracks on the record. This being so, I find I must beg to differ with him yet again. As far as I am concerned, Shove The Dove is my favourite track on the White Power e.p. In fact, it rates as one of my all time favourite Skrewdriver songs, being fast, furious and, as Ian readily concedes, fun! Although it is doubtful that Mary Whitehouse would approve…
As far as White Power and Smash The IRA are concerned, they remain firm favourites among Skrewdriver’s following, in spite of the handicap of being poorly produced and the even bigger handicap of my appearance on these two tracks as ‘guest vocalist’. Unfortunately, I feel doomed to go down in the annals of rock history as the only man who makes the voice of Lee Marvin – he of Wanderin’ Star fame – sound like Elvis Presley! Nevertheless (in spite of the appearance of Joe the Croak on backing vocals), Skrewdriver’s first release on White Noise Records sold enormously well. White Power and Smash The IRA have become latter day skinhead anthems, in constant demand at all Skrewdriver gigs, and the e.p. is still selling today, selling out and being re-pressed on several occasions. After years of ‘anti-racism’ and Black Power, a new phenomenon had emerged triumphantly and defiantly on the music scene – White Power!
VOICE OF BRITAIN
In the months following the release of White Power, Skrewdriver beat the ban on playing live imposed by the music establishment by playing a series of ever more successful Rock Against Communism concerts. These were held all over London and attracted ever larger audiences. The success of Rock Against Communism led to more bands being prepared to speak out against Marxism and multi-racialism. Thus Skrewdriver were supported by various other skinhead bands, such as Peter and the Wolves, the Die-Hards and the ever-popular Brutal Attack. Rock Against Communism, it seemed, was continuing to go from strength to strength.
The initial success of the re-activated Rock Against Communism movement received a further boost with the release of Skrewdriver’s second record on White Noise. Voice Of Britain was released in the autumn of 1983 and, for once, I am in total agreement with Ian Stuart in his assessment of both sides of this release: “The mixing was an improvement on White Power and I think the tunes were as well. It’s quite a good single.” The only point of difference between myself and Ian Stuart’s words lies in his description of Voice Of Britain as ‘quite a good single’. In my subjective judgement Voice Of Britain coupled with Sick Society on the flip side, represents the best Skrewdriver single to date. This being so, Ian’s reference to it as ‘quite a good single’ appears something of an understatement.
Lyrically, Voice Of Britain is much the same as many other Skrewdriver songs, lamenting the decline of Britain and longing for the long-overdue renaissance of the British people and the White race. However, its real strength lies in its instant and insistent catchiness, its sing-along tune and its unforgettable chorus. In fact, Voice Of Britain is the nearest Ian Stuart has yet come to writing a classic pop song. Neither do I mean this in any derogatory sense. I’d even go so far as to suggest that, had it not been for the band’s politics, Voice Of Britain could have catapulted Skrewdriver into the national charts. The flip side, Sick Society, on the other hand, derives its strength not from its tune but from its words. It isn’t as catchy or commercial as Voice Of Britain yet, if anything, I prefer this side to the ‘a’ side. It is, in fact a modern-day folk song, regardless of its rock format, and would sound as impressive and moving if sung slowly with acoustic guitar and backing.
Sick Society was inspired by the murder of Albert Mariner in May 1983. Ian Stuart explains: “Albert Mariner, who was a pensioner from East London and a National Front member, attended a legal election meeting in Tottenham. The meeting was attacked by a mob of Blacks, who were wound up by the Labour Party, including the mayor, and they bricked the Nationalist demonstrators. One brick hit Mr. Mariner on the head and he died early the next morning in hospital. The authorities refused to hold and inquiry and said he died of natural causes, which, of course, is absolute rubbish. The song is about his life, and his death, and about why they refused to hold an inquiry.” The words of Sick Society serve as a fitting and moving tribute to this martyr to British Freedom:
“Now you have died while fighting for your country
Fighting against an enemy that’s within.
Now I’ll make a promise to your memory, Albert Mariner,
We’ll keep on fighting, until we win,
Yes, we’ll never forget you.”
Besides serving as a constant reminder of the sacrifice of Albert Mariner, Sick Society has served as an inspiration to countless Nationalists who gain enormous strength from its moving message. Neither is this inspiration confined to British Nationalists since the lyrics of Sick Society have also been published in foreign Nationalist journals such as The Spotlight in America. Voice Of Britain followed its predecessor, White Power, as a success in terms of both sales and popularity. Most important, it made the music establishment realise that they had failed dismally in the attempts to ban Skrewdriver out of existence and proved emphatically that an avowedly Nationalist band could succeed without the backing of communist music journalists or capitalist record companies.
Parallel to the success of Voice Of Britain, the success of the Rock Against Communism concerts carried on apace. Turnout at these gigs, recounts Ian Stuart, “was going up and up. Basically when we were playing the 100 Club we were getting crowds of three to four hundred and it was packed, but our crowds were going up to above five hundred by this time.” The full extent of Skrewdriver’s growth in popularity is even more remarkable when one considers that no Skrewdriver gigs could ever be publicised or advertised in the music press because of the universal banning of the group. News of Rock Against Communism was passed on by word of mouth along the skinhead grapevine, yet this alone, without any outside advertising, was enough to ensure increasing turnouts. The smears, and later the silent treatment, of the music media had failed dismally. The Skrewdriver cult was spreading like wildfire!
The growth of Rock Against Communism was reflected early in 1984 by the release of the This Is White Noise e.p. which featured four different bands. The full track-listing was The Return Of St. George by Brutal Attack, White Working Class Man by the Die-Hards, Nerves Of Steel by ABH and, last but not least, When The Boat Comes In by Skrewdriver. Above all, This Is White Noise demonstrated decidedly that an increasing number of good bands were rallying to the Rock Against Communism banner. The most powerful track, and arguably the best on the e.p. was The Return Of St. George by Brutal Attack, with Ken McLellan’s vocals the high point. Yet, not to be outdone, the down-tempo Die-Hards number is catchy in an indefinable way and the lyrics of Nerves Of Steel by ABH are the best on the whole e.p.
But what of Skrewdriver’s contribution? According to Ian Stuart, When The Boat Comes In is about “the influx of immigrants into this country and the effect it’s had on Britain. The tune is sort of rock-n-roll, it’s a good tune although the mixing is diabolical.” Above all, however, When The Boat Comes In saw the sun setting on the old Skrewdriver. It was the last of the punky songs which had epitomised the Skrewdriver sound since 1977, with the notable and honourable exception of the Built Up, Knocked Down e.p. Another change of line-up was to follow, and the change of line-up signified a change of sound. Skrewdriver were ringing out the old and ringing in the new. They were hailing a new dawn!
HAIL THE NEW DAWN
In the beginning of 1984, the line-up of Skrewdriver underwent drastic changes. Mark French, Geoff Williams and Mark Neeson left the band to be replaced by new members. Mark Sutherland, Skrewdriver’s producer since White Power, had already been standing in for Geoff Williams on drums, both live and at recording sessions, because Geoff had begun to feel nervous about the pressure put upon the band members by the music press. At the beginning of 1984 Mark Sutherland, as well as remaining Skrewdriver’s producer, took over as the band’s permanent drummer.
An Australian called Adam Douglas took over from Mark Neeson as the band’s new guitarist, and a fellow Australian, Murray Holmes, joined the band as bassist. Previously Holmes had played bass for the Australian band, Quick and the Dead. Thus, the new look Skrewdriver took on an international flavour, with two Australians, an East Ender, and Ian Stuart representing the only original thread belonging to the group’s roots in Poulton-Le-Fylde in Lancashire. The first release of this new line-up was also the band’s first release on Rock-O-Rama Records, a West German company who had taken an interest in Skrewdriver following the phenomenal success of White Power in Germany and Europe. In Germany, in particular, the skinhead movement had mushroomed throughout the early 1980’s, a visible expression of deep-rooted Nationalism. An offshoot of this growth in the European skinhead movement was the snapping up of copies of White Power, which quickly assumed the status of being a rare and highly prized cult single. Rock-O-Rama Records realised Skrewdriver’s potential on the continent and gave the band a contract to produce one album and one single.
The first single on R-O-R was Invasion, a scathing condemnation of Russia’s incursion into Afghanistan. “Not that I particularly like Afghans” explains Ian Stuart, when asked about the lyrics, “but it’s their country and they’re quite entitled to defend it against communist invasion.” As regards the tune of Invasion, Ian Stuart and I differ yet again, inasmuch as he quite likes it whereas I feel it is not up to the remarkable high standard of their previous singles. It is, however, a notable departure from the previous punky style with the new line-up breaking new ground with a sound more akin to heavy metal than basic punk or Oi! music.
Invasion was backed with On Our Streets, a song about police harassment of skinheads on their way to gigs. Explaining his motivation for writing On Our Streets, Ian Stuart complains that “basically skinheads are an easy nicking as far as the police are concerned. They can nick a skinhead and no one is going to stand up for him like they would for a black. There are no left-wing lawyers or Labour politicians to stand up for a skinhead. Then, when a skinhead goes to court, the jury, believing all the lies they read about skinheads in the papers, automatically find him guilty. He’s got no chance. The song is about the police being a gang on our streets, which, when it comes down to it, is what they are.”
Whereas, personally speaking, I found Invasion something of a disappointment when compared with previous Skrewdriver singles, such as the excellent Voice Of Britain / Sick Society, I had no such reservations with regards to their second album, and their first on Rock-O-Rama Records. In fact, Hail The New Dawn exceeded all my expectations, constituting one of the best rock albums I’ve ever heard. More than that, it heralded a genuine ‘new dawn’ for the band. It was their coming of age. Skrewdriver, as a band, and Ian Stuart, as the writer of the band’s music, had waved goodbye to their punk past (or Oi! if you prefer) and had reached maturity as a powerful and pure rock group. As such, Hail The New Dawn was a highly appropriate title for the album. There was a new recording contract, a new line-up, and a new musical direction, a new beginning…
But what of the individual tracks on the album? Ian Stuart, as self-critical and candid as ever, has mixed feelings: “The mixing’s not brilliant but I like just under half the songs on the l.p.” In fact, such is Ian’s self-critical and modest approach, that one gets the distinct impression that he is actually pleased that he even likes nearly half the album’s tracks! When asked to sum up in one sentence what his overall impression of Hail The New Dawn is, he responds that “tune-wise it’s average, lyrically it’s good”. One suspects that his overall satisfaction with the album’s lyrics is due to their overt political content. On this album, indeed, he really goes to town lyrically expressing his idealistic impressions more lucidly than ever, as a run-down of the fourteen tracks on the l.p. indicates clearly:
Track one on side one is the title track, Hail The New Dawn, which is one of Ian Stuart’s favourites: “I like that one, it’s one of the best on the album. It means a lot to me.” Our Pride Is Our Loyalty, track two on the album, is, according to Ian Stuart, “the epitome of what I believe in – pride and loyalty in the ideal of the White race. I’ll never stop fighting for the White race and that song is about my pride in what I’m loyal to.” Track three, Before The Night Falls, is “about the threat to this country from immigration and how we’ve got to do something before the night falls, before it’s too late.”
Justice, track four on side one, is one of the few songs on the album where the lyrics were written by someone other than Ian Stuart. In this case they were written by Ian’s friend Nicky Crane. The lyrics of Justice, as Ian explains, are “about Nicky’s case, when he was sent to jail for four years for leading a British Movement gang who were retaliating for attacks by blacks upon themselves. Of course, the way ‘justice’ is in this country, they got the blame and they got sent to jail. But, although Nicky wrote the lyrics, the words apply to virtually all Nationalist political prisoners around the world.”
Race And Nation, track five, had lyrics, like Justice, which were written by one of Ian’s friends. In this case the lyricist was Matty Morgan who was one of the gang members sent to prison with Nicky Crane. The next track, Flying The Flag, is, as Ian explains, about the fact that “most skinheads love flying the flag, far more than any other cult about. Most have the flag on a badge, or a jacket, or tattooed on their arm – and flying the flag certainly means fighting Reds because Reds are totally against our flag.”
The last track on side one is If There’s A Riot. Ian describes the lyrics of this song as “another attack on the media because, should there ever be a fight anywhere near where a skinhead concert is taking place, it’s obvious the skinheads will get the blame even if they’re not involved.” Although, as usual, Ian disagrees with me, I think If There’s A Riot is one of the most powerful, exciting, and best tracks on the whole album. Certainly, it serves its purpose of whetting the listener’s appetite so that he turns over immediately to listen to side two. Speaking of the second side, it begins with a powerful rendition of Tomorrow Belongs To Me, the classic song from Bob Fosse’s Cabaret. Not surprisingly, continuing his penchant for preferring songs by other people as opposed to those penned by himself, Ian names this cover version as “personally my favourite song that we do.” Ian justifies this opinion by stating that, for him, Tomorrow Belongs To Me “signifies the beauty of Europe.”
Track two on side two is Europe Awake, which Ian explains as “something I believe in strongly, a Europe of the Peoples. My hope is Europe will awake and create a power bloc which can put policies into practise without fear of intervention by the Soviet bloc or the USA.” Thus, as if to emphasise Ian’s vision for Europe, the chorus of Europe Awake represents a battle-cry for the beleaguered nations of Europe:
For the White man’s sake;
Before it’s too late.”
The third track on side two is Soldier Of Freedom which, Ian explains unashamedly, is about mercenaries: “Mercenaries get a lot of stick but, having read the magazine Soldier Of Fortune, I think that, whatever they call themselves, many mercenaries are not merely ‘soldiers of fortune’. I think many don’t become mercenaries for profit but for reasons of ideology. Lots of them are anti-Communist and fight as such. They go and fight against communist-backed guerrilla’s and that song is for them. But it’s also for all those soldiers from regular armies that have ever died fighting against communism. It’s about soldiers wanting freedom for their own people.”
Skrew You, track four side two, is yet another attack on Ian Stuart’s pet hate – the music press: “It was specifically about Gary Bushell at the time but I don’t think it applies only to him because it could apply to any of those scum who write for the music press. Apart from the heavy metal writers, most of whom have got no interest in politics whatsoever or in fact probably are more politically aligned to us than they are to the Communist Party, all the ‘hip’ new wave writers are complete filth. They’ve been through art college and all that rubbish and go and support all the left-wing causes in the world.” No, Ian, it appears, does not like the music press! Track five on side two is Pennies From Heaven, a song which has little in common with the Bing Crosby song of the same name! In fact, the irony in the title is evident when one realises that the song is about signing on the dole. “Signing on, if you’ve ever tried it”, begins Ian, “is a joke. The song is about the pain you have to go through when you have to sign on. You go from office to office and you still don’t get your money. They make the mistakes and you’re the one who has to pay for them.”
Power From Profit, the next track, is “about the way multi-nationals and big business gain power through money. In this country, the way to gain power is by having a lot of money. That’s how these multi-nationals get such a say in the running of the British economy, by making huge profits out of people. It doesn’t matter if you are an honest bloke who works hard in this country, you still don’t have a say. The people who have a say are the ones with a lot of money.” The last track on the album is the excellent Free My Land, which is, personally and subjectively speaking, arguably the best song Skrewdriver ever recorded and Ian Stuart has ever written. It is, according to Ian, about “the land being taken over by people who shouldn’t be running Britain, many of whom aren’t even British. It’s about wanting our own back, our country back for the British people.”
In fact, amazingly enough, Ian and I actually agree that Free My Land is one of the best tracks on Hail The New Dawn, although he lists the title track and Tomorrow Belongs To Me as his two other favourites while I plump for If There’s A Riot and Justice. However, although we both like Free My Land, I suspect that Ian, being bashful, would be a trifle embarrassed were I to compare Free My Land with heavy metal classic Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ian has a healthy respect for Lynyrd Skynyrd, the American group who were wiped out in a plane crash during the 1970’s, as a perusal of his sizeable record collection will demonstrate. This being so, comparing one of his merely mortal songs with the seemingly mortal Freebird may seem somewhat wishful. Nonetheless, I still make so bold as to make the comparison. Free My Land, like Freebird, is a slow rock ballad, which possesses power without needing speed. Furthermore, like Freebird, Free My Land has that instant charm and persistent catchiness which embeds the tune and the song in the memory. The only difference is in the lyrics. Those of Freebird, being tame, non-political and, therefore, acceptable; while those of Free My Land are rebellious, overtly political and, ipso facto, unacceptable. Thus, the former is generally accepted as a rock classic while the latter is relatively obscure to all but the privileged few who have had the opportunity to hear it on Hail The New Dawn. Indeed, had it not been for Skrewdriver’s resolute political stand, I am convinced that Free My Land would have taken its rightful place amongst the dozens of other classic tracks in the rock hall of fame.
As it is, Skrewdriver and Free My Land will have to wait until the New Dawn they dream of becomes a living reality before they receive the recognition they deserve. In the meantime, Free My Land is, on its own, a good enough reason for acquiring a copy of Hail The New Dawn.
In the summer of 1984, with Invasion and Hail The New Dawn hot off the presses, Skrewdriver and five other bands played the first Rock Against Communism festival in Suffolk. The Festival was a huge success, with people travelling to the wilds of Suffolk from all corners of the British Isles to attend. However, the most striking success about this festival was not so much the number of people attending, since large turn-outs had become commonplace at RAC concerts in London, but the large number of bands who played there.
The success of Rock Against Communism and White Noise Records had continued to attract many up and coming young bands who, like Skrewdriver, were prepared to nail their Nationalist colours to the mask. No longer were patriotic bands prepared to surrender their souls to either the music press or Mammon as a means of achieving recognition. Indeed, they no longer need to since RAC provided them with gigs, even if they were banned everywhere else, and both White Noise Records and Rock-O-Rama Records were providing them with recording contracts even if the major record companies refused to touch them because of their politics. The White resistance to the multi-racial music industry was growing. There would be no surrender to Red intimidation or capitalist financial pressure!
In fact, the situation was such in 1984 that, far from not having enough bands to play Rock Against Communism gigs, there were far too many jostling for the right to support Skrewdriver live! So acute had the problem become that the decision to hold a Summer Festival was taken in order to give more bands a chance of being seen live. Thus it was that six bands were billed to play the first festival in front of a crowd exceeding five hundred. These included – besides Skrewdriver – Brutal Attack, The Die-Hards and Public Enemy.
The success of the gigs, and RAC generally, was echoed by the success of sales of Skrewdriver records. In fact, Skrewdriver’s contract with Rock-O-Rama Records opened up a far larger market for the group’s records throughout Europe. This was so especially because R-O-R, based as we have seen in West Germany, began to distribute earlier Skrewdriver singles, such as White Power and Voice Of Britain, as well as the two records, Invasion and Hail The New Dawn, which were released on their own label. It is not surprising then that Ian Stuart describes the sales throughout Europe as ‘brilliant’.
Besides the continual healthy sales in Britain, sales were escalating in Germany, Holland, America, Belgium, France, Sweden and Australia. Skrewdriver’s success, it seemed, knew no bounds. The success continued with a new compilation album, No Surrender, the fruit of collaboration between White Noise and Rock-O-Rama. Skrewdriver contributed two tracks to the album but, as was the case with the This Is White Noise e.p., its main purpose was to give the increasing number of bands rallying to the anti- communist banner a chance to put their songs on record. No Surrender was recorded in March 1985 when I hired out Mark Sutherland’s studio for a week. Mark himself did the production on the album, and I was present at most of the marathon recording session during which eleven bands laid down twenty-two tracks, sixteen of which appeared on the album.
All in all I was extremely pleased with No Surrender. It proved, once and for all, that Nationalist bands could defy the music establishment and still get their songs on vinyl. Leaving Skrewdriver’s two contributions on the album to the one side for a moment, there is a great of good music on No Surrender. The majority of tracks are, as one might expect, traditionally ‘skinhead’, i.e. punk/Oi. The best of these are the two contributions each by Brutal Attack and The Die-Hards, Britain For The British by the Scottish band, New Dawn, and, my personal favourite, Disco Nightmare by Public Enemy.
Ironically, however, the best track on the album is neither Oi!, in the strictest sense, nor even British! For, in my opinion, the honour of the best track goes to the Swedish group Ultima Thule. Their rendition of the Swedish National Song (Du Ganla Du Frig) is quite simply quality with a capital Q! The melancholy piano intro to the song, and the singalong melody throughout, prompted someone to label Ultima Thule ‘the Abba of Oi’. Neither did they intend the label to be an insult, but merely a description of the universal catchiness of their sound, which can best be described as pop with power. In fact, if it wasn’t for the censorship imposed on Nationalist bands in our so-called ‘free society’, I believe, as with Free My Land by Skrewdriver, the Swedish National Song by Ultima Thule would have catapulted into the charts. Certainly it is as catchy and commercial as recent hits by their Scandinavian cousins, A-Ha and Europe. Besides the Swedish National Song, there is one other track on No Surrender which has undoubted commercial potential. Genetics by The Final Sound, a Southampton based band, is electro-pop at its best. It is in the same mould as, and of similar quality to, Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division and Blue Monday by New Order. Why, then, does it not receive the same level of critical acclaim? The answer lies in the lyrics, with lines like ‘multi-racial societies just don’t work’ clearly distinguishable beneath the blanket of synthesisers. Lines such as that one and the repetition of ‘black pigmentation, genetic deviation’ in the chorus, ensured its being branded and banned as ‘dissident’ in the eyes of the multi-racial music establishment.
Setting aside the abundance of fruit provided by new and emerging Nationalist bands for the moment, what of the two contributions made by Skrewdriver to the No Surrender compilation album? By March, 1985, when Skrewdriver entered the studio to record their two tracks for the No Surrender l.p., Steve Roda, an Italian from Bologna, had joined the group as a second guitarist. Besides giving the group more scope musically, the addition of Steve made the band more international in composition than ever before. Skrewdriver now comprised two Australians, two Englishmen and an Italian! The new five-piece Skrewdriver recorded Tearing Down The Wall and Don’t Let Them Pull You Down.
Tearing Down The Wall was, Ian explains, “about the Berlin Wall which divides East and West Germany. It was built by the communists to stop people escaping their ‘paradise’, their ‘workers paradise’! That song was recorded for the album out of respect for our German comrades because we share their belief in a united Germany which can only help strengthen European ties.” Don’t Let Them Pull You Down, the second track, was a call for “British Nationalists not to let the establishment tear their flag from them”. The lyrics of Don’t Let Them Pull You Down are, in fact, quite clever, since they can be addressed both to the flag and to those who carry it.
The cleverness of Ian’s lyrics, however, was more than matched on the two tracks by the cleverness of the group’s musicianship. The musical maturity which manifested itself on Hail The New Dawn continued to stamp itself on Tearing Down The Wall and Don’t Let Them Pull You Down. Indeed, the addition of the extra guitarist gave the group a new dimension musically, making Skrewdriver’s sound heavier than ever. The metamorphosis from punk rock to pure was now complete! The one minor criticism I have of the two tracks on No Surrender is my belief that the songs, perhaps, are not as strong, tunewise at least, as previous Ian Stuart compositions. Nonetheless, the slick musicianship more than make up for this shortcoming, setting Skrewdriver apart from their rivals. In short, Skrewdriver had paraded their talent alongside ten other Nationalist bands on the No Surrender album and had come through with flying colours.
Consequently, No Surrender, the title of the l.p., acquired a whole new meaning in the context of the Skrewdriver story. In the wider sense, as we have already seen, No Surrender is an appropriate title since it signified that Nationalist bands could stand on their own two feet and no longer need surrender to the power of the music press or to the power of Mammon. In the narrower sense, relating specifically to Skrewdriver, No Surrender meant that Skrewdriver, while welcoming the opposition from the growing number of Nationalist bands, would not surrender their position as the world’s most popular, and best, Nationalist rock group!
BLOOD AND HONOUR – BLOOD AND GUTS
During the autumn of 1985 Skrewdriver began recording their third album, and their second for Rock-O-Rama Records. However, the album wasn’t actually released until December, a fateful month during which Ian and I were sentenced to prison for twelve months. Ian’s ‘crime’ was defending himself from attack by a group of blacks who presumably didn’t like his hairstyle. Needless to say the police, in their wisdom, refrained from prosecuting the blacks who instigated the attack. My ‘crime’, on the other hand, was daring to report accounts of black attacks, like the one inflicted upon Ian and his co-defendant Des Clarke, in a Young National Front magazine called Bulldog. Either way, Ian was convicted on December 11th and I followed him to Wormwood Scrubs the following day.
As a result, the first time I actually heard Blood And Honour was in the relative privacy of a prison cell. In fact, being able to hear the album was a considerable achievement in itself since only cassettes were allowed into the prison and BH was, and is, only available on record. This minor ‘inconvenience’ was overcome by arranging with a friend to tape Blood And Honour over a Black Sabbath cassette. It was my guess that the prison censor responsible for listening to all incoming tapes, being an aficionado of country and western music, wouldn’t know the difference between Black Sabbath and Skrewdriver. I was right and the tape was given to me without the slightest hint of suspicion.
I suspect that Ian Stuart, being a devotee of heavy metal music, will be flattered by the censor’s inability to tell the difference between Skrewdriver and Black Sabbath. However, I suspect he will be somewhat less flattered by the fact that the same censor couldn’t tell the difference between Skrewdriver’s Hail The New Dawn and Infa Riot’s Still Out Of Order album which another friend taped over for me! Anyway, returning to the musical content of Blood And Honour, it is, in my considered opinion, the best thing Skrewdriver have placed on record so far. It helped while away many a boring hour in prison and even now is seldom off my record player.
What is even more surprising perhaps is the fact that, for once, both Ian Stuart and I agree with one another. He, like me, rates Blood And Honour very highly. Indeed, to quote him precisely: “I like it. Personally, I think it’s the best thing we’ve done. It’s heavier and better produced than anything we’ve done before. The tunes on the album are more intricate, not so basic, though the music is still raw and powerful which is the way I like the band to be. There’s more to the tunes, more to the lyrics and better musicianship.” Certainly I agree with Ian that Blood And Honour is ‘heavier’ than anything the group had done beforehand, but does Ian now accept that the band is ‘heavily’ influenced by heavy metal?
“Yes probably. I mean most of the people who have been in the band liked heavy metal and really I think a lot of skinheads like heavy metal. After all, punk was based on heavy metal without the guitar solos.” The ‘intricate’ nature of the tunes, the ‘better musicianship’ and the more substantial nature of the lyrics can be gauged best by taking the album track by track. Track one on side one, appropriately enough, is the title track, Blood And Honour. It is, as Ian explains, “about Europe and about the way the capitalists and the communists co- exist. They are both working to destroy Nationalism and create, maybe in the end, a one-world government. If not, they are at least working to create a two-world government. Either way they will destroy Nationalism and the song calls for greater co-operation between the nations of Europe to fight both capitalism and communism.”
Mr. Nine To Five, track two on side one, is “about a man who is probably typical of seventy to eighty percent of British men who aren’t interested in the politics which runs their lives. All that they are interested in is going to work, doing a day’s work and reading the paper. Although in some ways it’s understandable I think it’s about time some of them looked around and thought of the future and the state of their country. They should take a little more interest in the way their country is run because eventually their children and their children’s children are going to suffer if they don’t stand up and do something about it now. “Basically Mr. Nine To Five is about the people who are only interested in the vacuum of their own little lives and don’t want to break out of that vacuum. They’re not even bothered about people such as the IRA blowing up British people so long as it doesn’t affect them. They may say how ‘evil’ it is but they are not prepared to do anything about it unless the problem actually lands on their own doorstep. Unfortunately, that attitude is probably typical of a lot of British people. In fact it is probably typical of a lot of the world’s people but Britain seems to be afflicted a lot more than many other countries.”
The next two tracks Don’t Be Too Late and When The Storm Breaks are both about the inevitability, as Ian sees it, of race war, not just in this country but in various parts of the world. The songs convey the message that people will have to choose sides fairly soon for, as Aneurin Bevan so rightly said, “we know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road, they get run over”. Incidentally, Ian names When The Storm Breaks as his favourite track on the whole album. Although I don’t agree with his choice, it is likely that his affection for this track has much to do with its pure power and raw, rip-roaring riffs as with its lyrics.
Track five on the album is Prisoner Of Peace which is about ‘the lonely man of Spandau’, Rudolf Hess, who has now been in prison for forty-six years. That makes him the world’s longest political prisoner and, as the song makes clear, his release is long overdue. Poland, track six, is, to state the obvious, about that particular beleaguered nation. As Ian says, the Polish people are “under semi-marshal law all the time and are not able to live their own lives because they are being told what to do by Russia and her agents”. The last track on side one is Tomorrow Is Always Too Late. Again, returning to the theme of When The Storm Breaks and Don’t Be Too Late, this track urges people to ‘go out and do something today’ rather than wait until tomorrow because tomorrow could be too late. “It does”, Ian explains, “thank the troops of yesterday for fighting the communists and says that we must be the troops of today and carry on the same fight against the Marxist plague”.
The opening track on side two is The Way It’s Got To Be. It’s about “the struggle of the Nationalist and what he has to go through. It’s about the way he’s slagged down for flying the flag and so on. And”, Ian emphasises, “it puts over my view of the way that I’m going to carry on fighting and I hope it’s the way other Nationalists feel as well.” In fact, in this last statement, Ian has unwittingly put his finger on what it is that makes his songs so universally liked by Nationalists the world over. Indeed, what he really has his finger on is the pulse of Nationalism. Ian has put down in word and song what most Nationalists feel but can’t express themselves. His songs are an outlet for the spirit of every Nationalist who is touched by the music and lyrics of Skrewdriver.
To give a singularly subjective example of the point I am trying to make, I can vouch personally that The Way It’s Got To Be fulfilled Ian’s hope that “it’s the way other Nationalists feel as well”. It certainly expressed perfectly what I felt every time things began to get me down during my prison sentence. In fact, whenever waves of depression swept over me in prison I reached for my ‘Black Sabbath’ tape and listened to the defiant sentiments expressed in The Way It’s Got To Be. Then, within seconds of hearing the haunting hook-line of the chorus, the waves of depression were swept to one side by waves of defiance: ‘We’ll just keep on fighting that’s the way it’s got to be!’
The second track on side two is Jewel In The Sea, a down-tempo song in the same vein as Free My Land from Skrewdriver’s previous album. Nonetheless, although it is a good song, I don’t feel it reaches the same heady heights of excellence, as does its predecessor. The Jewel In The Sea is, Ian confirms, about what he feels about Britain. “I consider it to be the jewel in the sea” he says, “and people who move away from it always have that urge to come back, that urge to return to their homeland”.
One Fine Day, the following track, is somewhat profound making it more like the product of some art student rather than the leader of a down-to-earth skinhead rock band. “Yeah man, far out” Ian laughs when I make this observation to him. Seriously though, One Fine Day does make a valid, albeit a subtle, point. Ian explains “I wrote that quite some time ago actually. I was reading through the paper and it was a really beautiful day, sun shining, hot, and a clear blue sky, and there was nothing in the paper but death and destruction all over the world. It just struck me as being something to write about”.
Searching, the fourth track on side two, is arguably the heaviest on the album and certainly it is the most proximate to the classic heavy metal sound which Blood And Honour epitomises and which Skrewdriver as a group were evolving towards. This being so it is perhaps no surprise that it is one of Ian Stuart’s favourite tracks on the album. “That’s another ‘profound’ statement!” Ian explains jokingly about the lyrics of Searching, still amused at my observations of the preceding track. “It’s basically about what you’re looking for in life and will you ever find it. Most people never do. They always consider that they have certain goals in life but when they reach them they want something else. Nobody really knows what they are actually looking for I don’t think.” Profound indeed! G.K. Chesterton in Doctor Marten’s boots!
Searching is followed by Needle Man, one of my personal favourites on the album. As the title suggests the lyrics are about the drug problem. “It isn’t written personally about anybody I know” Ian points out emphatically, “although I have known people who have been on drugs and people who have died from them. Personally, I am totally anti-drugs and that song is about a person but not any particular person that gets on to drugs and ends up dying. It’s basically a warning about what can happen to those who dabble with drugs.”
The album’s penultimate track is Open Up Your Eyes, a catchy, almost singalong number. It is, Ian elucidates, “about a lot of groups who go playing for the left-wing because they can get a platform for doing that, not because they particularly believe in any of their policies. For instance, it would be tempting for a lot of groups to play in front of ten thousand people at a CND festival, not because they support CND but simply because it would allow them to play in front of ten thousand people.
“The song basically asks groups to think more carefully before they succumb to those temptations.” The final song on Blood And Honour is another ‘heavy’ track called I Know What I Want. Again, the theme is fairly self-evident from the title, being an affirmation of faith in one’s cause and a statement of intent to fight to the end to gain victory for it. During the same sessions at which the group recorded the fourteen tracks for Blood And Honour they also recorded two additional tracks which were initially intended to be released as a single. In fact, the single was never to be but the two tracks later emerged on the second No Surrender album, which was released jointly by Rock-O-Rama and White Noise Records in February 1986. The first of these tracks was Streetfight, a song which originally dates back to the group’s early days in 1977. Then it was about fighting at football matches on a Saturday afternoon. The recorded version, however, has different lyrics, which make it more relevant to the struggle for Race and Nation. Ian Stuart takes up the story:
“It’s about something which happened a couple of years ago at Jubilee Gardens on London’s South Bank when the communist GLC held on of their big anti-racist festivals. There must have been fifteen to twenty thousand ‘anti-racists’ down there, and a couple of gangs of skinheads and Nationalists, numbering only about eighty or ninety, attacked both stages because they are denied free speech all the time so why should the communists be allowed it? In spite of the massively overwhelming odds the skinheads and the Nationalists managed to come off best, beating up the communist, homosexual group the Red Skins. They got away with only a few injuries themselves and it was a good publicity coup and a great victory for Nationalism.”
The other track, Friday Night, is more light-hearted being, as Ian puts it, “about going out on a Friday night, having a good drink and trying to end up with some woman.” Ian readily admits that lyrically this song is not one of his more ‘profound efforts’ yet he doesn’t seem too concerned about being labelled a ‘sexist’. “It is”, he says, “the politics of waking up in the morning with a hang-over and a right old pig!” I doubt whether the Labour Party Lesbian Committee would approve! As with the album, Ian is happy with the overall quality and production of Streetfight and Friday Night. Together, representing as they do Skrewdriver’s contribution to the No Surrender Two album, they are the last two Skrewdriver songs to appear on record so far. Doubtless they will not be the last, ever.
Thus, with the Blood And Honour l.p. and the two tracks on No Surrender Two, we bring the Skrewdriver story right up to date – at least as far as their appearances on record are concerned. This being so, no one could possibly hope for a grander finale to the first ten years of Skrewdriver than the sheer excellence of Blood And Honour. Both Ian and I agree that it represents the best in terms of musical and lyrical achievement that the band have yet ascended to, the pinnacle of excellence.
Above all, Blood And Honour has real blood and guts. Taken as a whole it illustrates the culmination of the group’s metamorphosis from bare basic punksters to fully- fledged rockers, ranking alongside the best in the business, full blooded and worthy of honour. In short, Blood And Honour is the crescendo at the end of ten years struggle against those who have sought to destroy the country’s premier Nationalist rock band. It would make a worthy epitaph for a great band, but Skrewdriver don’t need an epitaph because Skrewdriver are not dead nor buried. Rather, Blood And Honour is a milestone representing the dividing line between ten battle-scarred years behind and hopefully ten years of glorious struggle ahead!
THE WAY IT’S GOT TO BE
Walk around the city,
And hold your head up high,
The sheep will try and drag you down,
With their repression and their lies
But life is just a struggle
‘Cos you’re proud of your country,
And we’ll just keep on fighting,
That’s the way it’s got to be.
‘Life is just a struggle’ growls Ian Stuart on The Way It’s Got To Be, the opening track on side two of Blood And Honour. Ian Stuart should know because his life over the last ten years has been a struggle. He bears the scars of those ten years struggle both physically and emotionally. Physically the scars on his head serve as a testimony to the time he was ambushed by a group of Marxists outside a friend’s house in north London. To the Reds Ian has assumed an almost legendary status, a modern-day Attila the Hun. They fear him and daren’t attack him unless the odds are twelve to one – and even then they must be armed and he must be defenceless. Such is the bravery of the Marxist left!
Emotionally, Ian can scarcely forget the six months he spent as a political prisoner in Wormwood Scrubs and H.M.P. Wayland during Christmas 1985 and the first half of 1986. Prison leaves an indelible stain on your character, scarring you emotionally for life. Needless to say, life for self-styled ‘rebels’ at the other end of the political spectrum doesn’t include the permanent risk of being physically attacked or the perpetual threat of imprisonment. For example UB40, most of whom are ex-members of the Communist party, are heralded as darlings of stage and screen for singing songs about South African terrorists. They are more likely to receive the OBE as opposed to imprisonment for their so-called ‘anti-state activities’!
So how is Ian Stuart standing up to the rigours of life as a rebel for Race and Nation? The answer can best be gauged by his irrepressible determination to continue the struggle regardless of the personal cost to himself. Such is his commitment to the Cause of racial survival. In practical terms, Ian is already looking ahead to his next Skrewdriver album, most of the tracks for which he wrote whilst in prison. There is also talk of a new single and even rumours about a solo tape on the horizon. For thousands of people worldwide who snap up every new Skrewdriver record, the new material will be welcomed enthusiastically.
For my part, I’ve enjoyed the small role I played in Skrewdriver – The First Ten Years. But, far more importantly, I shall be proud and honoured to play my part in Skrewdriver – The Next Ten Years! In the meantime, it is only right that Ian Stuart, through the lyrics of The Way It’s Got To Be should have the last word:
They’ll always put the blame on you
And tell the public lies,
But we’ll be here a long long time
‘Cos the spirit never dies.
We’ll speak our minds,
We’ll fly our flags,
We’ll fight for victory,
And we’ll just keep on fighting
That’s the way it’s got to be!