Sham 69 were one of those bands who music critics loved to hate, but there’s no denying that in their late 1970s heyday they packed a powerful punch.
As one of the first working class punk bands, they took the music out of the hands of the art-school originators, and became one of the first Oi! or streetpunk bands.
Sadly, they were more violent times, when one youth cult was often pitched against another, and had to fight (literally) for their right to attend a gig by bands they liked.
Sham’s terrace anthems appealed to the right-wing, as well as those from the left and the non-political punks, and many of their gigs were spoiled by violence.
That’s why, by the time they released their fourth album, 1980’s The Game, frontman Jimmy Pursey had already stopped playing live and announced they were splitting.
A gig in July 1979 at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, North London, was hailed as their ‘last stand’, and sadly, like most others, it was disrupted by bother.
This album – originally released in 1989, and now reissued on a limited edition white pressing by Let Them Eat Vinyl – purports to be from that final gig, though contemporary reports suggest it had to be abandoned after five songs.
Much of it could well be from another ‘farewell’ gig in Glasgow, a month earlier, but whatever the source, the performances captures Pursey and his band at their exhilarating best.
Whatever you made of the singer – much older than most of the audience he was preaching to – he had a way with a catchy tune, as shown by the appearance of anthems like Angels With Dirty Faces, If The Kids Are United, Hurry Up Harry and Hersham Boys in the Top 30 of the UK charts.
They’re all included here, along with other rousing bootboy singalongs like What Have We Got?, Borstal Breakout, Tell Us The Truth and I Don’t Wanna.
Voices, from recent album The Adventures of the Hersham Boys, sounds much better live than on record, though the covers of the Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and The Clash’s White Riot – credited in some places to the short-lived punk supergroup ‘Sham Pistols’ add little to the record.
An older and wiser Pursey will probably cringe when he hears his younger self utter: “Here’s a young lady’s shoe, there’s somebody being raped down the front,” but you’d hope the fact that such ‘banter’ sounds so awful now is a sign of thankfully changing times.
Pursey and Sham have, in recent years, been reunited, and are still a formidable live act – happily, with none of the aggro that used to dog their every move. If you want to hear what they sounded in their heyday, this’ll give you a good idea. 7/10.