Sham 69 – “That’s Life”

sham60thatslifeWe’re headed back to the roots of UK punk, back to 1978 when the scene was on the verge of both exploding into massive popularity and imploding under the weight of it’s own nihilism and growing mainstream appeal.  One of the bands making a name for itself during this period was Sham 69, a more working class type of punk band that came from the soccer terraces and unfortunately attracted a more violent type of fan, most notably white supremacists of the National Front.  This gave them the reputation of being a racist band, but that wasn’t apparently true given their participation in the Rock Against Racism events, though unlike some of their peers they refused to make efforts to keep these types of fans out of their shows.  During the brief, chaotic, hyper-evolution of the early punk scene things changed fast and bands found themselves facing challenges they never expected… and which they were often woefully unprepared to deal with, so by holding true to their belief in an open, inclusive community, Sham 69 sometimes found themselves lumped in with the subgroup of their fans comprised of National Fronters.

The most defining feature of That’s Life isn’t actually the music, nor is it the vocals.  It’s the use of non-musical interludes to set the scene.  The album opens with a family arguing as the mother tries to roust the son from his sleep to get him off to work, and the resultant complaining all the way around about unpaid bills and too much time being spent at the pub, which leads directly into the opening track “Leave Me Alone.”  The same technique is used as a lead-in to “Win Or Lose,” “Hurry Up Harry,” and many others.  It’s an interesting way to prelude the songs, portraying the environment in which they were written and Sham 69 lived.  Unfortunately it’s so prevalent on That’s Life that it starts to become pretty annoying by time you’ve flipped over to the B side.

Musically Sham 69 is closer to standard, stripped down rock ‘n’ roll, getting much if not most of it’s punkness from Jim Pursey’s sneering style of singing.  The band’s football influences can be found on songs like “Hurry Up Harry,” with it’s chanting backing vocals that sound like they came right from the pitch, a precursor to the troubled Oi! subgenre that is actually a lot of fun but unfortunately will likely forever be tied to the white power movement that seemed particularly fond of the sound, much to the dismay of many bands.  In fact when I first picked this up the other day at Hi-Voltage Records the first thing that went through my mind was, “I can’t remember… were these guys a white power band?” because I’m certainly not interested in anything to do with that.

That’s Life is an OK album, despite the overuse of vignettes to open the songs, but there isn’t too much exciting here.  It’s valuable as a historical artifact of the early punk movement, but that’s about it, at least for me.