Thursday, 9 July 2015

Sham Pistols - Natural Born Killer (1979)

I vaguely remember following the story in Sounds music paper as Steve Jones and Paul Cook, at a loose end following the implosion of the Sex Pistols, began hanging around at Sham 69's house. Sham 69 seemed to have got into the habit of splitting and then reforming on a more or less daily basis, but had reputedly definitely called it a day following the release of The Game, their disappointing fourth album which Pursey hated. Being a fan of both groups, obviously I was excited by the prospect of the Sham Pistols - a name I presume to have come from some journalist rather than any of those involved - whilst being at least a little sceptical, even at the age of fourteen, of what was essentially a supergroup, an entity forged through celebrity rather than the usual social channels. Peculiarly it turned out that I was right when Sounds reported how it had all fallen apart with everyone going their separate ways. Those involved had shared roughly comparable degrees of fame through production of noisy guitar-based rock records, beyond which they had nothing in common apart from the fact that I thought they were great. The two former Pistols declared that it had been worse than working with Rotten, and Pursey observed that he had known all along that it would never work, such were the differences between them.

Sham 69 seem to be remembered as the band responsible for Oi! in so much as that of all those punk bands of the time, they were the most conspicuously lacking any sort of art school heritage, and they appealed to football hooligans and your actual working class types who couldn't give a shit about bondage trousers or hair gel. Nevertheless they made some fucking great albums which probably don't sound anything like you would expect, combining monosyllabic terrace appeal with surprisingly refined musical or artistic touches presumably sprung from Pursey's slow transformation into Marcel Marseau. This transformation may possibly be why Sham Pistols were doomed from the start. Pursey was already moving towards whatever the hell Imagination Camouflage was supposed to be, and the belching Cockney steamroller of Steve Jones' guitar was pulling too much in the other direction, at least from where Jimmy was stood.

I hadn't realised they ever really got beyond hanging out and trying to understand each other's jokes, let alone studio recording or sharing a stage, so my ears extended out on stalks when I first encountered this, just like in a Tom & Jerry cartoon; and weirdly, given how much I expected of this union at the age of fourteen, it doesn't disappoint. Side one is four entirely new and substantially beefy studio tracks - only one of which was to be recycled by Cook and Jones' Professionals. Sham Pistols actually sound exactly like Sham 69 with Steve Jones playing guitar, and significantly better than anything Sham had done at least since That's Life - which I state as a fan, in case that isn't obvious. Side two comprises four songs recorded live in Glasgow, Pretty Vacant, the Clash's White Riot, and a couple of Sham 69 numbers. They're nothing earth shattering, but just for the raw energy and the sheer peculiar novelty of this record, everything works pretty well. Natural Born Killer should by all rights be an oddity, a collectors' item rather than something you listen to, but against expectation it adds up to something much fatter and meatier than the sum of its parts, with everyone bringing the best out of each other, even if they all secretly regarded each other as tossers.

It was never going to last, which is a shame, but it's nice to have something to show that it happened, and that it was very briefly as great as my fourteen year-old self once hoped.

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