Punk rock was quite a big deal in west Cornwall. I mean, it was quite a big deal all over the UK, but it seemed to hit deeply in the far flung wilds of the south west. I guess it was easier to feel a social outcast there due to the relative isolation of the area. Given that Penzance is around 300 miles from London (and 80 miles from the nearest sizeable conurbation, Plymouth), it’s amazing that so many bands went the distance to play shows in this town-on-the-way-to-nowhere. But they came: The Stranglers, Ramones, The Damned, The Adverts, Generation X, The Vibrators, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello and many others all played at the Winter Gardens (known as The Garden by 1977) through the punk era. Most notoriously, the Sex Pistols played one of their last ever UK shows there in September 1977 on their infamous Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly (SPOTS) tour. Julien Temple was accompanying them on the dates, and – thank Heavens - filmed some of the Penzance show for posterity.
Sadly, I was 11 years old at the time, so missed these incendiary moments.
Because punk rock was all about participation, it wasn’t long before bands started springing up in the area. I remember seeing early local punkers The Cramp at a friend’s party in 1978; other names to emerge from the scene around that time included The Brainiac Five (who lived down the road, & recorded a couple of 45s at Roche studio) , The Vendettas (whose vocalist Simon Parker worked at key Penzance record shop Chy An Stylus), Septic and the Sceptics, and The Rusty Bottles. Formed by brothers Noel & John Lane (Noel was the band’s main singer & songwriter), The Rusty Bottles recorded a demo at Sentinel circa 1978 (which I’ve been unable to track down, more’s the pity), before mutating into An Alarm.
An Alarm were definitive post punk, though with a unique outlook that could only be found in a place like west Cornwall. Their first demo tape - also recorded at Sentinel - was called “Welcome To Penzance”, and the opening title – “Bandwagon (Welcome To Penzance)” – had a lyric which seemed to focus on the dichotomy between the need to escape the local scene, and the need to stay, in order to keep the scene alive. The guitar solo included a snippet from “The Floral Dance”. How we laughed. Other titles, such as “Someone’s Life” were a personal take on the politics of the era (“The bomb was cleverly concealed underneath the back seat of his car. He didn’t know what hit him, and he’s quiet now. His wife fainted when she saw the blood on the double yellow line.”), while others were character sketches of friends (or, more likely, enemies): “Cally’s Cax” is the tale of a local sleep-around, “One More” cocks a snook at an associate who’s about to leave for University. Many of their songs were concerned with the unviability of being a working musician in such an insular environment as west Cornwall, and the frustration of trying to get your point across to an unreceptive audience: “We know we face blind ignorance. We receive it with gradual acceptance. We listen to – but don’t accept – advice, and try to put over an air of confidence. But we don’t give up. You can’t go back. The clocks won’t stop.” (“Gradual Acceptance”). It’s witty stuff; purposeful, and lyrically brilliant.
An Alarm never broke out of that local scene, but they went on to record a couple more demos of increasing musical worth (“For The Sheep” and “Throttle”, both home-recorded), which maybe I’ll upload at a later date, though they rather fall outside the remit of the blog. Noel Lane left the area around 1982 to spend time in Huddersfield, where he recorded as Anne Gwirder, before moving to Bristol. Here he formed Chorchazade, who released an intriguing LP (”Made To Be Devoured”) and EP (“Ah, You Are As Light As A Feather”) for Revolver in the late 1980s; Steve Albini was an admirer, apparently. Before the big myspace meltdown, Noel could be found there under his nom-de-plume (he was also a published writer) Bunny Dees, after which the trail goes cold. However, he was interviewed for the Perfect Sound Forever website in 2012, where he discussed – amongst other things - the making of the Chorchazade records.
Something of a lost talent, I think. Here’s “Bandwagon” and “Someone’s Life” from that An Alarm demo tape, recorded at Sentinel early in 1979.