The Outsiders – Count For Something
Released 23 April 2021
5CD set bringing together the two albums released by Adrian Borland’s pre-Sound punk outfit The Outsiders, plus the One To Infinity EP, extensive demos and a live set which seems to be the only one of the band in existence. All of this music was recorded from 1976 to 1978 and the project has been put together with much input from Adrian Janes, the band’s original drummer and songwriter. Ian Canty puts his bunce on a long shot…
The UK punk explosion encouraged thousands all over the country to pick up instruments for the first time. Which was a great thing of course, but we shouldn’t forget that there were also people playing in bands already that were fired up by events both here and in the US, something which was important too. Often, those people were the few fans of punk precursors like The Dolls, The Stooges and Velvet Underground resident in Britain at the time. They had time to learn to play their instruments and possibly even performed in or as hard rock bands, although privately favouring a more earthy sound. But with the emergency of The Sex Pistols and The Ramones, they felt able to finally grant their latent proto-punk feelings a free hand. The Outsiders, a three piece group from South London, were a good example of this, moulding their older influences into something fresh and different with the onset of punk.
They originally formed whilst at school in 1974 under the name Syndrome, with a line up of Adrian Borland on guitar and vocals, Bob Lawrence on bass and drummer and lyricist Adrian Janes. On December 21st 1976 they played as support to Generation X at the punk mecca to be The Roxy in Covent Garden. Before this The Outsiders had developed in some isolation, until in 1976 they started recording demos, with the hope that the change in the musical climate at the time would help net them a record deal. Ultimately this proved unsuccessful, so they took on the credo of the times do it yourself to heart and recorded and released their own records. They had two full years beforehand to hone their chops and play the odd gig, which gives one a possible reason why they presented on their first recording a seemingly bizarre mix of old and new.
Calling On Youth is a very interesting album, if perhaps not quite a great one. Released on their own Raw Edge label and recorded at the studio of the same name which was really the Borland family home, it emerged in the early summer of 1977. Even without the trailblazing “first independently released punk LP” reputation, the nine tracks that make it up still stand out from the pack. This record is certainly far from the headlong “1,2,3,4” ramalama rush one might expect, something that no doubt held The Outsiders back at the time, but matters far less all these years on.
The dynamic title track comes with a good dose of old school guitar soloing, which shows the playing ability of the band but was probably a bit of a no-no in year zero. This up-tempo start is followed by the acoustic and downbeat atmosphere of Break Free, which masks a scathing lyric. The buzzing Stooge-a-rama of On The Edge has a dose of real punk rock venom and gets another full on metal guitar break and a tough Hit And Run also evokes the sound of Iggy. Start Over slows things again and is as near a completely late 1960s self-examination as one could conceive ten years on.
Weird continues along similar lines but in a louder manner, with only the choppy chord sequence taking it closer to the sound of the summer of hate. While the title and lyrics of I’m Screwed Up may seem peak 1977 (“I hate myself”), the explosive funk rock touches and guitar overload definitely aren’t. Walking Through The Storm again takes the pace down and has a little in common with Weird, sad and delicate with long, quiet sections. Oddly enough Calling On Youth ends with one of the band’s oldest songs Terminal Case, Adrian Janes’ self-confessed ode to rock & roll, which motors along nicely with some snappy drumbeats.
The self-appointed “typewriter gods” of the new wave in the weekly music press gave Calling On Youth a unanimous thumbs down. Its mixture of old and new wave must have been confusing at the time to be honest, but now the will to mix influences and provide contrast seems positively heroic. It is joined on the first disc of Count For Something by the excellent One To Infinity EP. Simply a fantastic record that is a step up in class from the LP and in the power-packed Consequences managed to sum up the excitement of the new wave as well as anyone.
The title track comes bursting out the gates with a real slashing fury, leaving anyone who was lulled into a false sense of security by the milder album tracks agog I would imagine. On New Uniform they hit back at the kind punk conformity which had greeted Calling On Youth and Freeway’s psychedelic warps and backward cymbals lead to a solid jam that shows a band quickly leaving that scene in their wing mirror as they sped on into the future.
Count For Something’s second disc rounds up demos and original versions on the first album and EP tracks, plus a few early songs that slipped through the net for one reason or another. Unlike many other demos that turn up after years in the vaults, the sound quality here is pretty good. Though perhaps the numbers from the first album and EP aren’t wildly different, they’re full of energy and presented with clarity. Of even more interest are the songs that didn’t make it onto those records, which make up the final five tunes on this platter.
There’s two takes of Blowtorch, the original and a faster, shorter and less gritty one recorded at Pathway Studios (Weird on this disc was also cut there). Apparently the Velvets’ sleaze and oral sex innuendo of the lyric was enough to put the kibosh on it being included on the album itself. At the other end of the scale Anniversary is a pretty enough rock ballad dating from 1975 – if the music press trendies baulked at Calling On Youth they certainly wouldn’t have been able to take this. The lengthy I’m Gonna Be Free is an interesting psychedelic/glam/punk rock mix up that slows down and speeds up during the course of its eight or so minutes and Perfect Girl touches on funk rock in a similar way to I’m Screwed Up.
The Outsiders’ second album Close Up arrived in 1978, with the band leaving their home environs of Raw Edge to record at Spaceward in Cambridge. This makes up all of disc three of this set and it’s a far leaner, more streamlined document, leaving their old wave affectations behind without relinquishing any power. Vital Hours is a fine rallying cry to open the album, fast and catchy with almost reggae guitars. It fits in vaguely with the post punk sound of the times, but the band are lithe and imaginative likes few others. Observations again shows them brave enough to go slowly and quieten things, with the song apparently an attempt to transport Kraftwerk circa Autobahn to Surrey. It’s a good try too, marking out the small town alienations that were a big part of punk. Both neat innovations and sheer pop appeal are present from the very beginning of Close Up.
Fixed Up is more a straight punk/new wave melody with a bright and wry lyric, with Touch And Go following with cutting guitar and a tight rhythm. The bass and drums are always spot on and spry in The Outsiders, driving things along here to the galloping, memorable chorus. Inspired by Burning Spear’s Slavery Days, White Debt’s wobbly effects and soloing could on first glance appear to be a throwback to Calling On Youth, but here the band are driving towards the new on this nervy slab of coiled tension. Count For Something brims with a vivaciousness that brought to my mind Buzzcocks, a great punk pop song which would have made a fine single for the band, if they ever got round to releasing one. Towards the end it gives us some pure guitar solo action that shows Adrian Borland’s ebullient talent on the six string.
Out Of Place was the first track on side two of the original record, based in r&b but with a riff that zooms on top of the ultra-tough power pop structure. Taking the pace right down, Keep The Pain Inside seems like the follow up to the more angst ridden numbers on the last album. There’s a touching vulnerability evoked here and the brief Face To Face, which comes next, is in contrast a smart mini pop tune. Semi-Detached Life vividly spells out the pitfalls of suburban existence, something that was an element in UK punk and its aftershocks and then Conspiracy Of War brings the curtain down on Close Up. There’s a slow build to what is overtly an anti-nuke song, calling to task scientists and governments in perhaps a naïve but also enchanting way. The Outsiders ramp up the atmosphere and sheer musical might here and end things in a suitably dramatic fashion.
Sadly again the music press still didn’t get it and some slightly better reviews didn’t really reflect the band’s progress. At the time of release Bob Lawrence left and Borland’s mate Graham (Green) Bailey replaced him. Some more demos were recorded, but with Janes also decided to leave by the end of 1978 that was more and less it for The Outsiders. Mike Dudley came in for him, but the remainder of the band soon took on the new name of The Sound, which is another story entirely.
On disc four we get the demos for Close Up, plus later recordings from Green/Bailey’s stint in The Outsiders. Much like the extra Calling On Youth disc, these sound really good. The album itself features in demo form first in the same running order it was released in and again these songs are near fully formed here. Touch And Go is particularly sparky, but the whole set is accomplished by The Outsiders, who were as sound as a bell by now.
This selection is joined by a further 12 unissued songs, some of which showed up in different form on The Sound’s recordings. All except the insistent refrain of Watchdog and the ball of energy that is Prime Mover were recorded after Graham had taken over on bass. On Settled Dust there’s an immediate sign that things have moved on to as they weave r&b deftly into a post punk framework and Flesh On Flesh’s stop/start guitar attack is bracing. Blind Date comes over as rock-solid punk pop with a little 60s influence in both of its mixes and the pared down riffing of Sooner Or Later is a deep and moody delve into the near future.
There is a definite sense on these efforts that unconsciously groundwork was being laid for The Sound, though Deep Breath feels more like a natural progression for The Outsiders. Night & Day and Symbols are some way edgier and seem more built for the coming decade, in fact the former showed up on the second Sound LP. Quarter Past Two rattles away with a big guitar sound and final track Got To Get Away makes for an invigorating, hyperactive end-piece with guitar stabs and bouncing bass. It all combines to give a picture of a band that seemed to have a real future in the post punk world, but that wasn’t in the script sadly.
The final disc of this set captures a live show played at the LSE on 8th February 1978. It shows the band in the middle of their development from One To Infinity to Close Up (the Calling On Youth songs had been junked by this point). The sound quality here is decent, good bootleg quality and the band speed through 10 numbers which include a version of Iggy’s Raw Power. New Uniform is preceded by a barb aimed at Sham 69 and The Outsiders thrive in a live setting with good honest power welded to interesting ideas. A lengthy Keep The Pain Inside is particularly moving and intense and Running Out Of Time, which went unissued, is full of well-honed attack.
They finish up with Observations and Vital Hours, both of which would feature on their new LP. The former starts off quietly and it is important to note again that The Outsiders were one of the few bands caught up in punk who could actually “do quiet” convincingly. A stylish guitar figure asserts itself then to head up the neat meander through their local stomping ground. Then a fiery Vital Hours impacts and ends the live set and Count For Something with an explosive joie de vivre.
I think Count For Something is an excellent boxset, with everything an Outsiders fan or even an intrigued Sound fan could really wish for. Adrian Janes, the band’s drummer, has clearly put a lot in and there’s a genuine warmth that comes over in the sleeve notes. This is the story of three schoolmates from the outskirts of the big city who did things their way in the punk world. They also managed to stay on good terms along the way, which is quite a feat in itself.
The late Adrian Borland is clearly still missed by his friends in the band and appropriately there is plenty of love for him here. The Outsiders used their influences and background to make something truly original when it would have been far easier to do what everyone else was at the time i.e. 100 miles an hour punk thrash. Sticking to their guns ultimately served them well as what they did remains intriguing, occasionally bemusing but always beguiling, as well as well worth hearing afresh here.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here