Ian Glasper ‘Trapped in a Scene’ interview

Author Ian Glasper’s latest book ‘Trapped in a Scene’ is just out, and completes his trilogy of Eighties UK Punk.

‘Trapped…’ charters the latter part of the decade and, like it’s predecessors ‘Burning Britain’ (early Eighties) and “The Day the Country Died’ (Anarcho-Punk) is extremely well researched and as definitive a piece of writing you are going to find on an era that, for the most part, was a strictly subterranean phenomenon, that existed off the radar of the mainstream, but thrived none the less.

It was a time when cities like Nottingham, Birmingham and Leamington Spa (!!) were hot beds of furious musical activity, and Ian was there, on the frontline, playing bass in his band Decadence Within. He manifestly remains passionate and dedicated to Punk Rock.

Pete Craven delves into the hotpot of hardcore to find out more about Trapped and the way it was put together..

Let’s get right back… was there a pivotal moment that got you hooked on Punk, or at least interested??!!

Uh yeah, that would have been when my cousin Mobs played me the ‘Decontrol’ single by Discharge! I was aware of punk by then, and really into Killing Joke and the Antz and stuff, but that was a pivotal moment because I’d never heard so much intensity – ever!

And how did that develop in to a life long passion?

Well, you know how it goes with punk rock – one minute you’re listening to the music, the next you decide you’re going to have a go at playing it, and it all escalated from there! I got more and more into it, and spent every penny I earned on my various paper rounds on new records as they came out – I had a big brown bag put to one side in the local record store, and I’d collect what I could pay for each week, and they were good enough to keep the rest there for me! Thing is, I was ordering new stuff for the slate quicker than I was clearing it, haha!

When did you start writing, with fanzines?

I did my own fanzine called Little Things Please Little Minds – that lasted five or six issues, but got me into putting pen to paper… everyone did a fanzine back then though, didn’t they? It was just another way of expressing yourself – I had a lot of shit to get off my chest, but I was very shy, so it was easier to write it down than scream it from the roof-tops…

And then you progressed on to bigger magazines, notably Terrorizer…

I didn’t start writing for Terrorizer until ’93? Issue no. 3 – and I’ve been sullying their pages ever since… respect to Rob Clymo for giving me my ‘big break’ and letting me do the Hardcore Holocaust column!

Writing a few reviews is one thing, but nailing a whole book is a big next step! Was it a long held ambition to document the Punk of your youth?

No, not really, I always fancied writing a horror novel, to be honest! But I was reviewing for Record Collector, all these different books about Sid Vicious and The Clash and the usual suspects, and I just kept thinking, ‘Where’s the book on Discharge?’ in the end, I took the plunge and decided to write it myself…

Did you set out with the idea of an Eighties Trilogy (if you will!) or did that just develop as the project evolved?

It was only when I was about halfway through the second book that the trilogy idea really cemented in my head – it was too daunting a prospect to think about properly until then, haha! I knew I wanted to write about all the underground bands of the Eighties, and I knew it was too big a thing to do in just one book, unless it was going to be 1000+ pages and cost £30, but I didn’t really have the nerve to commit to it until I was already officially halfway there!

I remember talking with a mate of mine when Burning Britain came out, and we were stoked that someone had actually documented an era of Punk that was really important to us but had been rarely acknowledged. We’d been too young to properly experience the ’77 explosion… but when the early 80’s hit we’d been old enough to finally get involved. Was that a similar experience for you?

Absolutely! A lot of the older punks laughed at me and my mates ‘cos we didn’t ‘know the score’… we dressed badly, couldn’t hold our booze, and couldn’t get into any of the best gigs!

They were still listening to the Stranglers and Damned (both great bands, of course) and I was listening to ‘immature shit’ like Disorder and Varukers… I think everyone defines their punk rock experience as the time when they really got involved them, and for me that was 1981/1982 – everything prior to that was just something I read about or glimpsed on TV.

Particularly with the Anarcho and Hardcore books you’ve reached out to people who were involved in those scenes for information, which must be quite rewarding, knowing that elements of that network of friends still exists, and in some cases are still very active

It’s amazing how many people were dragged screaming and kicking from the woodwork for these books – and some of them even felt motivated enough to start up their musical endeavours again, which is kinda crazy to think about, but I’m glad I helped bring some of these old friends back together and get them talking again.

Below: Ian in Stampin’ Ground at the Kingston Peel. Photo: Naki

Ok, ‘Trapped in a Scene’ is finally out… it’s a big book isn’t it! Did you really have to limit yourself on the content this time around?

It could have been BIGGER, haha! I had to hold a few bands over and edit a few chapters down, to bring it under the number of pages where we could keep it to £14.99 RRP… to be honest, you could go on and on and keep unearthing bands and releases and new pictures and fliers, but eventually you have to draw a line somewhere and set a deadline for yourself.

Working thru the book early on got me thinking (and digging deep in to the memory banks!) that my first taste of what became UKHC was most likely hearing The Stupids on a compilation tape in ’84 I’m guessing. What about you, when did you start to see the emergence of these new bands?

I was going to the Mermaid in Brum every weekend and seeing a lot of incredibly noisy, aggressive and FAST bands… it never dawned on me that it was a ‘scene’ until a few years later, but it was an exciting time to be staggering about a dance floor with a bottle of cider in your hand!

The evolving momentum and increasing overseas influence on UK punk must have rubbed off on Decadence Within, because your sound began to evolve from its more Anarcho inspired origins…

To be honest, DW’s sound changed with each new member the band brought in… Kev was a shouter, but when we got Rid in, who could actually sing, it opened all sorts of possibilities up to us… similarly each guitarist had a different set of influences they brought to the table that really affected our sound… Kris was a big Hendrix fan, Giv a big Celtic Frost fan, and Joey was totally into Satriani! Their very different playing styles all impacted massively upon our overall sound…

Looking back, what do you think made the late Eighties so vibrant?

The personalities, of course, all the great, crazy people like Boff and Ivor The Diver and Hellguts Weird Beard – people who were basically legends before they ever joined bands! And then the music – so diverse, so much going on – thrash metal meets USHC meets anarcho punk meets tripped out reggae dub meets sing-along street punk meets… well, you get the picture! And then there was the network of friends you alluded to – hundreds of folk trading tapes and soaping stamps and COMMUNICATING without computers and mobile phones! Who woulda thought, eh?

Taking the books title from Heresy’s famous lament on the clear limitations they came to experience during those halcyon hardcore days… (“Is this Alternative? Alternative in name only, Role plays the same with a new adopted name”) you seem keen to get across the (balanced) point that as the Eighties progressed some bands were garnering big followings, moving away from their punk ‘roots’, with options for a more commercial (dare I say it) crossover, and that caused a negative reaction in certain quarters… friendships were often tested, or broken….

Yeah, my own band Decadence Within even experienced it a bit, and we were total small fry compared to the likes of Napalm and Heresy, so they must have really felt it. We copped all sorts of flak for appearing in Metal Forces and stuff… which seemed really weird, because we had a very positive message and we just wanted to communicate it to as many people as possible. I’ve never bought into that introspective scene mentality… you can expand your horizons without selling out your principles!

Do you think it’s fair to say that the period covered in ‘Trapped…’ was also the point that punk in the UK started to split off into specific sub genres, which developed their own more and more insular scenes, and that’s carried on to this day? I particularly remember as 1989 progressed going to gigs in (my hometown) Brighton and the crowds becoming more and more divided… thrashers, anarcho/crusties, hardcore kids, skaters, punks… straight edgers…

Well, it’s an interesting theory, mate! It did suddenly fragment, didn’t it? in many ways, it WAS the beginning of the end as far as a united punk underground went, but I think that’s human nature, to carve things up and try to keep the best for ourselves – the punk scene was no different, as much as we liked to kid ourselves that it was… at least with age and hindsight, we transcend some of that silliness – the annual Rebellion Festival is a fantastic example of how the clans can co-exist harmoniously once again.

Trying to contact all those people from the past, especially those no longer associated with Punk must have turned up a few interesting stories in themselves!

It’s surprising really, but most of them are still ‘punk’ in some way or another… if only in general attitude… most ex-punks still have a healthy mistrust of authority etc. you might stop spiking your hair up (mainly ‘cos we lose it!), but it’s hard to walk away from all those ideals, unless you were faking it in the first place, of course… thankfully, most of the people I’ve spoken to for the books cared about it then, and still care about it – to a greater or lesser extent – even now.

Photo: Decadence Within (1994), Turen, Poland

And for all the positive feedback I can imagine you’ve received from people in bands that you’ve covered, have there been any adverse reactions… people pissed off at what was written about them… or maybe that they weren’t included??!

There’s usually a few folk who feel they’ve been misrepresented by whichever of their ex-band colleagues I ended up interviewing, but that’s always going to happen, with the volatile relationships and fragile egos that go hand-in-hand with making music… you get very (very) close to what you create and it’s awful to see it belittled by someone – who often helped you create it – in print… but overall the response has been terrific to all three books… I don’t have any hidden agenda here, I’m just trying to document the scene as accurately as possible before some of these more obscure bands – who had just as much of worth to say as the ‘bigger’ ones – are forgotten

How did you conduct the interviews; face-to-face, email, phone?

Bit of everything – mainly e-mail and phone, but a good percentage face to face too!

Would it be fair to say that trawling back thru all these old bands (for all three books) has been a voyage of discovery, hearing and learning about bands/music that you missed out on first time around?

To be honest, there have been very few bands I’m discovering for the first time, because I needed to know of them in the first place to want to include them… but it’s been great rediscovering some of the bands that I haven’t listened to in many a year. Especially some of the bands who only did one or two demos, or just a single, or whatever… several kind friends of mine burnt stuff from their vaults to CDR for me (I parted ways with much of my tape and vinyl collection several years ago) and it was great to blast stuff by The Uprising and Terrorain and Bad Beach and Pink Turds In Space again.

You hold down a day job, and have a young family, so to write three books in your spare time must have taken an incredible level of discipline!

Yeah, I work pretty long hours, and have two kids who I like to spend quality time with, as well as the band (s) I’m in and the magazine I contribute to, so sometimes it’s near midnight before I settle down to write… and then I’m face down on my keyboard within the hour – that’s why this third book took so bleeding long!!

I’ve read that you may return with a book on UK Thrash Metal… which with the recent Thrash revival would certainly be opportune timing

I’ve always loved thrash metal, and I’ve always felt the UK thrash metal scene has been overlooked somewhat, so it’s about time someone redressed the balance a little… a lot of that metal stuff fed into and out from the punk scene as well, so it’ll tie in with the first three books on some levels

Talking of which… your band Suicide Watch have a new album, right?

We’re giving our new album – Figurehead Of Pain – away for free download, c/o of the kind people at Mosh Pit Tragedy Records… we spent a lot of time writing and recording those songs, and I’m pretty proud of the results, and we’d love as many folk as possible to hear it – hence the ‘pay as little as you like’ nature of the release… you can download the whole thing: music, cover, lyrics, insert, blah, blah, blah…

I also read you are regrouping with some former members of Stampin’ Ground in a new outfit Betrayed By Many… when can we expect activity??!!

Very soon! It’s me, Mobs and Ade from SG, who were the three song-writers in that band, plus Dan Philp from Pointdown and Jim from Seventh Cross. We’re recording a demo right now, and we have our first show booked for December – in Athens, of all places! We’ve got some SG chestnuts in the set, and the new material is disgustingly heavy too… it’s sounding pretty good so far.

And of course you joined Flux of Pink Indians a couple of years ago to play bass for a few gigs, which, on a personal level, must have been pretty awesome!

It was indeed pretty awesome! I learnt to play bass plonking along to Tube Disasters, and absolutely loved their early Eighties material, so to spend some time playing my favourite tunes with the guys that wrote them was brilliant! We only did the four gigs though – Steve’s Feeding…’ show, the 1 in 12, one in Dijon, and one with the Subhumans in Islington, and that’s yer lot, Colsk isn’t interested in a full-time resurrection. Shame though, ‘cos we were really getting our shit together, and I was having a ball (bit of a trek to practise though!) There should be a live DVD from the aforementioned gigs surfacing sometime soon though, as a little keepsake of the reunion.

Is you record label Blackfish still active?

Unfortunately not, I quit while I was ahead (i.e. just before I was about to run up some serious debts!) back in 2003… 20 releases on BFRex was enough anyway, I was losing my focus a bit

Having immersed yourself in so much old music, are you still able to keep abreast of new bands? Who’s got you excited at the moment?

Mmm, I’ve not got my finger on the pulse the way I used to have but recently I’ve been blown away by Jello Biafra’s new band, the Guantanamo Bay School of Medicine… I also like Cross Stitched Eyes, War/System, Bad Samaritans, Your Demise, Rumplestiltskin Grinder… all sorts of shit really.

C’mon then Ian, if any one can, you definitely can… let’s have your Top Ten Eighties UK Punk records. (Drum roll… please)…

In no particular order, and based on sheer number of plays over the years:

Rudimentary Peni ‘Death Church’
Anti-Pasti ‘The Last Call’
Icons Of Filth ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’
Chron Gen ‘Chron Gen’
Omega Tribe ‘Angry Songs’
GBH ‘City Baby Attacked By Rats’
Conflict ‘Increase The Pressure’
Discharge ‘Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing’
Broken Bones ‘Dem Bones’
The Mob ‘Let The Tribe Increase’
The Exploited ‘Troops Of Tomorrow’
Crass ‘Stations Of The Crass’

Yes, I know that’s twelve… ten is just impossible! Ha!

Trapped in a Scene is out now via Cherry Red Find Ian online at Myspace