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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, January 25th 2008
Hammersmith Apollo, London, January 26th 2008
Strangely we’re in the Shepherds Bush Empire to see a film. We’re up in the deserted first floor balcony, with the VIPs. Not that we didn’t pay our ten quid a head you understand (proceeds to charity), it’s just that someone kindly put us on the list, so we’ve been arm-banded and escorted in. It’s empty because almost all of the VIPs are in the bar, which is, as Jozzer observed somewhat opaquely, “as full as a duck’s arse” – another culinary metaphor I suppose. On stage, performing some of their very nice tunes, are the Alabama 3 Acoustic line-up, of whom you will have read before.
The film? Well that’s coming later – as it turns out much later. Mr Segs is pacing around, not looking too happy. “This has just all got out of hand, it wasn’t meant to be this big …” he says before being dragged back to the bar. It’s the premiere of the film made in July last year of the last Ruts gig – featuring original members Dave Ruffy on drums, Segs on bass, Paul Fox on guitar, and guesting on vocals American punk polymath Henry Rollins. Original vocalist Malcolm Owen died in 1980 at the height of the band’s power from a heroin overdose. It’s a very special gig because Fox – or should I say – Foxy, was ill with terminal lung cancer when it was made. He died a few months later.
If fate hasn’t been kind to the Ruts then history has. They were a politically-tinged band that emerged from the Rock Against Racism movement of the late seventies (whose formation was prompted, you may recall, by racist remarks allegedly made by Rolex Brand Ambassador and sometime musician Eric Clapton). The Ruts
And although not acknowledged at the time, they wrote some of the most enduring songs of the era, which have outlasted many of their contemporaries – listen to many of them today and see how well they’ve stood the test of time. To the point where many critics now write of them as being one of the top three punk bands (I guess the Clash is number one). They were certainly hugely influential – that’s why Rollins is in the film, as a one-time one-man Ruts teenage fan club he couldn’t resist the offer to come and play with them. And he’s here tonight too.
Alabama 3
Alabama 3 acoustic
But before we get to the movie we have the music, as an assembly of bands shamble to the stage to play a handful of songs, their own, and the Ruts’, starting with the Alabama 3. They were followed by Dirty Strangers, a band Fox played with after the final break-up of Ruts DC (formed following Owen’s death) in 1982. In their heyday the West London Strangers could roll out Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood on guitars, but tonight their only celebrity is Fox’s son making a good fist of the drums. Their highlight is an amusing (well it is if you live in this part of town) ‘Shepherds Bush City Limits’. What followed was P.A.I.N. (it stands for Propaganda and Information Network) – fronted by bandy-legged tartan-trousered Phil Pain (of indeterminate age) who stumbled to the microphone and introduced the first song– “Oi oi! Fucking punk rock eh, fucking hell. Here’s one for Foxy …”. They were very noisy, and murdered the Ruts classic ‘Babylon’s Burning’ before leaving the stage. Well they didn’t really as Phil hung around swigging vodka from a bottle leering at next up, Vice School, a combination of musicians from Girlschool and Vice Squad. I think he must have had his eye on Beki Bondage. Jozzer and I had our eye on the bar, returning in time to catch the splendid TV Smith doing a solo version of ‘Babylon’, and then some Members of the Members (not Nicky Tesco), fronted by Jean-Marie Carroll, playing with varying degrees of efficiency a pretty dreadful song ‘Mid-life crisis’ (sorry), their brilliant ‘Sound of the suburbs’ (remember that one?) and a decent bash at the Rut’s “Jah War”. As the clock steadily progressed they were followed by Captain Sensible who bashed out ‘Neat neat neat’ and a couple of others before being joined by Henry Rollins of Black Flag fame for the Ruts’ ‘Staring at the rude boys’, which was pretty good.
Captain Sensible Mr Segs
Captain Sensible and Mr Segs
As the equipment was eventually cleared Mr Segs stepped up to say a few words on a lonely stage, to introduce Dave Ruffy to draw the prize raffle (very church hall I thought), and then Rollins, who prefaced the film with some powerfully-spoken words about the Ruts, and in particular about Fox, and his determination to make the last gig. Actually very moving I thought – even more so, when after the trail of warm-up acts who preceded them on that night in July last year (a sort of who’s who of punk) the Ruts with Rollins took the stage. I have to say that whilst the sound for the movie might not have been perfect (hard to judge in a big theatre for which I assume it was never intended) the filming was very good, certainly far superior to many of the “let’s knock up a quick DVD of the tour” products that you get to see. And the Ruts with Fox on pretty good form, their outstanding rhythm section, and the hyper Rollins on vocals (“he’s a fucking scary bloke” Mr Segs had told me) were very good, very good indeed. As good a last gig as you could want.
The Members
The Members
And that wasn’t quite it, as the next night we hoped along to the Hammersmith Apollo to watch Henry Rollins’ ‘Spoken Word’. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but what we got was a sort of superior stand-up comedy. Very intense, highly accomplished but really not as challenging or though-provoking an evening as I might have hoped for. Mostly the stories surrounded a succession of increasingly surreal trips to Islamic countries (he was in Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was murdered) when Henry did this and Henry did that. The best part of the night was when he spoke about his passion for the Ruts, the rehearsals leading up to the gig, his bewilderment at the Segs/Ruffy “lets go down the pub” approach to problem solving (he’s teetotal), and most of all the resolve that Fox showed (in frankly unimaginable circumstances) in making it happen. Buy the DVD – have a look yourself, and see what I mean. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

Kate's Ruts photo album Kate's photographs

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