Twenty-three years after the British explosion, punk rock has become a fractious hydra of genres and sub-genres and crossovers, with five mutations springing up for every head lopped off. For all the embarrassment of stylistic riches loosely classified under the term “punk,” it’s easy to get nostalgic for a time when punk resembled an episode of BBC’s “The Young Ones”: raucous, snotty, a little destructive, but more than anything energetic and fun.
Jolly good, then. This Sunday, the Ritz will play host to one of the bands of the second wave of British punk, one that had already put out two LPs and a slew of catchy singles (back in the day, you have to remember, singles were the coin of the realm and by the time a band recorded an LP—if they stayed together that long—quite often they’d already fired a salvo of 45 RPM wonders up the charts) by the time the first episode of “The Young Ones” aired in November 1982. Read on and find no less than five reference points by which to date them.
Vice Squad first came together in Bristol in late 1979. Three provocative gigs were sufficient to garner the band a place on a local compilation album, Avon Calling, and secure them several plum opening slots for bands like the Damned and the Ruts. Singer Beki Bondage’s fondness for leather outfits and S&M accoutrements immediately insured her an eager audience of hebephrenic teenaged boys, but it was evident to many that Bondage brought a lot more to the table than just Teutonic T&A. Her songwriting was a lot more personal, for one thing, and it eschewed the formulaic three-to-four chord methodology of contemporaries like Discharge and the Exploited, who, for all their far-reaching influence over today’s spiky-haired soapdodgers, were hardly the most thoughtful punks to ever come down the pike. Bondage addressed the topics of animal rights and vegetarianism. She wore kinky outfits but railed against sexism. She also raised the eyebrows of Vice Squad’s home label, EMI (who had no compunction at all about cashing in on punk’s popularity) with a song about jingoism and the Falkland Islands (feel really old yet? Or really young?). None of this is exceptionally mind-breaking, except when you consider that Bondage was one of the first to do so.
Mostly, though, she was a lot of fun and she lit the fire under a band that kicked a lot of ass even for back then. Vice Squad’s debut LP, No Cause for Concern (recorded while the band was on a three-day break from touring in the UK—the same weekend, incidentally, as the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana!), was followed only six months later by a second LP, Stand Strong Stand Proud, in May 1982 and Bondage’s departure later that same year to form the short-lived Ligotage and later the Bombshells.
And here it’s 18 years later, can you believe it? Bondage is leading the helm of a reformed Vice Squad, and God save the queen.
Vice Squad plays the Ritz Sunday, May 7 at 10 p.m. Cover TBA.