While most of the early British punk bands spoke of working-class concerns -- primarily unemployment and the shrinking U.K. economy, which was leaving a generation with nothing to do and nowhere to go -- many of the pioneering groups had working-class credentials that were suspect at best; the Sex Pistols' career was being molded by a haberdasher and would-be artist, while the Clash were led by the son of a diplomat. Sham 69, however, was different; proletarian and proud of it, Sham 69 was the voice of the people in the first wave of British punk, and if they were never as fashionable as such contemporaries as The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wire, or The Jam (who, in their early days, shared Sham's provincial outlook and "we're with the kids" fan solidarity), they enjoyed a long run of chart successes and were a major influence on the street punk and Oi! movements which followed.
Sham 69 was formed in the working-class community of Hersham (in Surrey) in 1975 by singer and lyricist Jimmy Pursey; the name came from an ancient bit of graffiti celebrating a local football team's winning season in 1969. From the start, Sham 69's politics were populist, and their sound accessible; straight-ahead four-square punk with a hard rock influence and lyrics that often used sing-along slogans in their choruses, such as "If the Kids Are United" and "(Gonna Be A) Borstal Breakout." The band went through a revolving cast of musicians early on before settling on the lineup of Pursey, Dave Parsons on guitar, Albie Slider on bass, and Mark Cain behind the drums. They began scaring up gigs where they could, and began playing the notorious London punk venue the Roxy on a regular basis, where they built up a loyal following. Step Forward, a small independent label, released the band's first single, "I Don't Wanna," in September 1977. The success of the single and the band's growing fan base prompted Polydor to sign the band in the U.K., and their first album, Tell Us the Truth -- one side recorded live, the other in the studio -- was released in early 1978. (Sire released the album in the United States, and it would prove to be the only Sham 69 album released in America until the late '80s.) By the time the album came out, Albie Slider had left the band and Dave "Kermit" Tregenna took over on bass. Sham's second album, That's Life, was released in the fall of 1978, and featured two major hit singles, "Hurry Up Harry" and "Angels With Dirty Faces"; and as many of the first wave of U.K. punk bands were beginning to peter out, Sham 69's popularity continued to grow.
However, there was a fly in the ointment for Sham 69; the band's rowdy, sing-along attitude began attracting a violent and undiscriminating audience, and fighting became increasing common at the band's live shows. The group also found their gigs were becoming recruiting grounds for Britain 's extreme right-wing (and racist) political party, the National Front; while Pursey often spoke out against the NF, for some reason it was an association that wouldn't go away. While the group's third album, The Adventures of the Hersham Boys, was a commercial success (as were the singles "If The Kids Are United" and "You're A Better Man Than I"), the increasing violence at concerts made it harder to tour, and Pursey began producing other bands and investigating new musical directions, (Drummer Mark Cain also quit the band, with Ricky Goldstein taking over on percussion.)
After the group's fourth album, The Game, received a lukewarm reception from both reviewers and fans, Pursey opted to split up Sham 69 in mid-1980. Pursey went on to a solo career, briefly working with former Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, while Dave Parsons and Dave Tregenna formed a short-lived band called the Wanderers with former Dead Boys vocalist Stiv Bators. After "the Sham Pistols" failed to work out, Pursey recorded a series of ambitious but commercially unsuccessful solo albums, and Tregenna joined the Lords of the New Church. In 1987, Pursey and Parsons assembled a new edition of Sham 69; Pursey continues to tour and record with the band, whilst also pursuing an acting career and recording solo material.
The band's second album that was released in 1978 includes two hit singles, Hurry Up Harry that made No.10 on the UK chart and Angels With Dirty Faces that just made the top.20, The album itself made No.27 and sold in decent numbers at the time, helped in no small way by the success of the singles. Leader Jimmy Pursey is not only credited as lead singer he's also the producer, the cover designer, took some of the photography and he wrote the liner notes. . .oh yes and he wrote or co-wrote all of the tracks. While Sham '69 are not as well known as some of their contemporaries, or as well remembered, this is classic Punk Rock and should not be missed by anyone who has a love for this era of musical change.
Guns a blazin…….Here comes The Cockney Cowboys!! Sham 69 dressed as extras from a spaghetti western movie. Yep! Well this is no country album, but a more dare I say, powerful, yet restrained Sham? From the opening track Money, you get the feeling that your ears are in for a treat. This album is much more pop oriented, but still retains their anthemic drive they are known for. Songs like Hersham Boys, Joey’s On The Streets Again, Voices carry on the path that Sham 69 started with their debut single on Step Forward. The difference in this album versus the other two is the usage of slower, moody songs that you would not expect from Sham 69. Fly Dark Angel, Questions and Answers, and the wonderful You’re A Better Man Than I, shows growth and progress, and a more restraint in their playing, more than some of their contemporaries at the time. Now more evident is the 60’s influences that Sham have on display. Even though their take on Mister You’re A Better Man I, is a pretty straight forward rendition, it still shows the ability to turn it down a notch and groove with a song. This song has got to be my favorite of the album. Keyboards again show up in some of their songs, and I feel they lend a nice accompaniment to their songs. As much as this album has it’s strengths, it does suffer some weaknesses. The version of Questions and Answers on the album is far weaker than the wonderful single that was released the same year. It just seems to be over produced to my ears, and where are the keyboards? Voices could have been stronger if they would have excluded the boogie woogie piano. Voices sounds like a bridge gap between The Adventures of The Hersham Boys and The Game. Mind you this is not a bad thing, but it just does not seem to fit in with the rest of the material. It probably would have been better to save it for The Game. Overall though, this is one fine album, and based just on the singles that were released from the album Sham 69 had not run out of ideas.
Sham 69 really did draw the short stick when the fates were handing out punk honors. Armed with one of the most charismatic frontmen of the era, fueled by some of the most phenomenal 45s of the age, and packing the most relentless energy you could hope to hear, Sham 69 also boasted one of the most partisan audiences around -- and that's "partisan" in the sense of insurgent warriors. Every show was a battlefield, every interview a war cry; even Sham didn't understand the Sham Army, and the band eventually self-destructed beneath the weight of trying to explain how their messages of peace and tolerance were so warped by the powers of the political far right. But although great swaths of their fan club may have been loathsome slugs, they sure bought the records in vast quantities, from the fist-waving, boot-stomping "If the Kids Are United" on through "Hersham Boys," "Borstal Breakout," "Hurry Up Harry," and even a few misguided singles at the end. Sham 69 weren't simply one of the most exciting bands on the punk scene, they were also among the most successful, chalking up hit singles like other bands broke guitar strings. And this magnificent collection has all the ones you need to hear, plus a special video bonus -- seven minutes of (admittedly latter-day) Sham in concert, pounding through a reprise of the opening "Action Time Vision."
Words: Dave Thompson"
There are a whole lot of Sham 69 -- the original Oi! boys -- comps out there, but this single disc from Castle that compiles tracks from the band's original four albums is the clear winner. From the riotous "Hurry Up Harry," "Borstal Breakout," "Angels with Dirty Faces," "Ulster," and "If the Kids Are United" (three of which became Oi! anthems) down through their reading of "Mister You're a Better Man Than I" to the surreal punk of the Game album, this stuff is solid front to back. The band underwent a permutation of sorts, but didn't change that much because lead vocalist Jimmy Pursey has one of the most identifiable voices in the history of punk. The collection idea is a good one because after their debut, Sham were among the spottiest of album units.
Words: Thom Jurek
Very nearly a complete set of Sham '69's hit singles along with some of their best album tracks it is a great place to start delving into the history of a band that were an essential part of the Punk scene in late 1970s London. Their attitude, confidence and all around punk passion is recorded loud for all to hear.