REVIEW: Action Time Vision boxset (Cherry Red Records)

The Action Time Vision boxset, left. Right, from top, UK Subs, Riff Raff featuring Billy Bragg, and The Shapes.
The Action Time Vision boxset, left. Right, from top, UK Subs, Riff Raff featuring Billy Bragg, and The Shapes.

This year is the 40th anniversary of punk, and you didn't really expect reissue specialists Cherry Red NOT to mark the occasion, did you?

They have the happy knack of coming up with top-notch compilations that shy away from the ordinary, and they've done it again with this 4CD, 111-track collection, subtitled The Story of UK Independent Punk 1976-1979.

Action Time Vision (Cherry Red Records).

Action Time Vision (Cherry Red Records).

It kicks off with one of the genre's most famous records, The Damned's 1976 debut New Rose, released on the iconic Stiff Label.

But there's no Sex Pistols and no Clash, because this collection concentrates on the best thing about punk – the DIY ethic, and the idea that anyone could make a record.

For every band who 'made it' and reached the charts (or 'sold out', depending on your view), there were dozens who didn't, and you'll find many of them here.

Some of the big names you'd expect, such as Sham 69, Stiff Little Fingers, UK Subs, Skids and 999 (most of them still doing the rounds today - so much for punk being dead) are featured.

Thus we have some classic singles, such as SLF's Suspect Device, the Subs' C.I.D. and The Ruts' In A Rut.

Then there's a raft of artists who went on to greater things under a different guise – Johnny And The Self Abusers (later to become Simple Minds), Nipple Erectors (featuring a pre-Pogues Shane MacGowan), and Riff Raff (with Billy Bragg).

That's not to mention Tubeway Army before Gary Numan went on to rule the charts as a solo artist, a pre-fame Adam and the Ants, and The Killjoys, whose singer Kevin Rowland went on to hit No 1 with Dexy's Midnight Runners.

But what makes this compilation isn't the obvious cuts from artists we have known and loved, but forgotten gems by bands who didn't get a lot of airplay for obvious reasons, such as Raped and The Snivelling S***s.

There's a track from the first EP by The Fall (who sound just like they do today) and Joy Division (unrecognisable from the band they would become).

And there's loads more stuff you'll never have heard, even if – like me – you grew up listening to this stuff, glued to John Peel's hugely influential Radio 1 show every night.

Who knew, for instance, that Mucky Pup from The Exploited's 1981 debut album Punk's Not Dead is a cover version of a song by Puncture? Not me. I've never heard of them, but the original is here, in all its shouty, lo-fi glory.

These are the earliest cuts from some of the thousands of bands who emerged in punk's heyday.

Some are their only singles, and an original 7", if you can find one, would cost you an arm and a leg.

Everyone will find something to enjoy here – perhaps a gem like The Rezillos' I Can't Stand My Baby ("I can't stand my baby, it's a real drag, I think I'm going crazy, I'm gonna go radge.").

Or maybe they'll discover something they've never heard before, like The Stoats' Office Girl, more Mod/power-pop than punk to me, but a decent enough tune all the same.

There's classics like Rudi's Big Time, rescued from obscurity by the movie Good Vibrations, rubbing shoulders with obscurities like The Shapes' wonderfully dumb Wot's For Lunch Mum (Not Beans Again!).

Credit to the compilers, too, for not always going for the obvious choice: The Members' Solitary Confinement rather than Sound Of The Suburbs, and Reasons by Skids, instead of the ubiquitous Into The Valley.

If you're buying this for the hits I'd ask why – you've probably already got them, many times over. But if you want to take a peek beyond the bands who took punk into the mainstream, this is essential. 9/10.