Various – City Walls A Southampton Compilation
New two-CD set which pairs a reissue of the City Walls album from 1981 with a disc taking in a selection of contemporary acts from the 2021 Southampton music scene. This new set has all been put together by the same people who released the original LP in 1981. Ian Canty muses the post-punk boom in locally-based compilations…
I was fourteen when the original City Walls LP came out and can clearly remember being as keen to lay my hands on a copy as I would have been say, a new PIL, Banshees or Clash record. Now this probably sounds eccentric in the extreme looking back at it from 2021, but I think this can be best explained by returning to the very beginnings of punk in the UK, when the onus was firmly on the individual to get involved, rather than simply being a passive consumer. This key message certainly didn’t seem to be about maintaining the London-based status quo of a centralised music business – do-it-yourself was by implication doing it locally. I was still at school so struggled to gain entry into the pubs and clubs that threw over their stages to the City’s new bands. But City Walls at least brought me just that touch closer to the music which flourished in now long gone venues like The Victory pub by the railway station in Southampton and The Canute Hotel, plus of course the long-running and still with us Joiners.
Southampton was by no means the first city to pull together a bunch of local bands and put them on a long player. Vaultage 78 from Brighton was to prove inspirational and was quickly followed by a couple of Manchester collections. Sent From Coventry, Bristol’s Avon Calling, Bouquet Of Steel from Sheffield, Is The War Over? focusing on Cardiff, and Street To Street’s sift through Liverpool’s post punk fallout also all predated City Walls’ release and many followed afterwards. All over the country these regional collections were popping out, giving bands like Young Marble Giants, Echo And The Bunnymen and Vice Squad a springboard. But more important than that, it was a sign that each city had much more to offer music than being just a stopping off point for big tours and their entourages. Indeed, it was such a good concept that the tradition on locally-based comps has endured right through into the present day.
Having said all that, these records can only be judged by the music on them and whilst putting down a flag for your hometown is very laudable, that alone cannot make anyone want to listen to them repeatedly. It makes sense for me to start with the second disc first, the original City Walls LP plus some demos that were recorded around the same time but have remained until now unissued. Like a lot of regional LPs, it is a bit of a mixed bag. People have commented that as the City’s most likely lads Strate Jacket were missing, it took something away from the album as a whole. But as we have to take into account that they were in a state of flux and had changed their name to The Captains at the time of recording in 1980, their non-appearance isn’t that surprising. But even missing SJ, happily the record does have enough tracks to make it a worthwhile listen all these years on.
The Motifs, a quintet headed up by Trevor Clawson, sound like they would have been good live on the tense art rock of Disillusion. But their other City Walls track Julie is a fairly typical new wave/reggae hybrid akin to what lots of bands all over the country were doing at the time in the wake of The Police’s success. They later put out a single On The Inside/Shadow Of Fear in 1982, neither showing up on in their two tracks on the LP and three demo extras included here. Of the demos, Can’t Say No sounds much like early 1970s hard rock, suggesting the band’s roots may have run rather deep. A spritely Always You is quite good though and Breakfast has a nice rough edge to the guitar sound.
Another foursome Vertical Motion only appear to have recorded Last Chance and You’ve Lost The Thread. They appear very much in a mannered-vocal post-punk mode on the former. But the guitar work is interesting and inventive, even if the more spikey You’ve Lost The Thread is the better of their two. Almost Cruelty were a later incarnation of The Catholic Girls, who at one stage featured journalist Lucy O’Brien. The eerie Instrumental sound of Foetus is very effective, a 1960s spy theme taking a decidedly odd turn. Dangers Of Tranquillity is more doom-laden mood piece, almost gothic with a Siouxsie-like a vocal coming in late.
The Exploding Seagulls were, relatively speaking, the best-known act on the album. They had strong ties to Bristol, having previously released the Johnny Runs For Paregoric single for the city’s Fried Egg label in 1980. Nick Jacobs of the band would later play in The Blue Aeroplanes. I remember really liking their Ring Pull/Takes a lot at the time, but age has rendered its quirkiness not quite so appealing. I would now have to concede that the ’60s garage punk of Prefab (Buildings) has lasted the test of time in superior fashion.
Something of a mystery band, the trio that were The Point Fives provide the most immediate and probably best two tracks of the whole album. The comic r&b punk pop of Stabbed is just brilliant and Next Time has plenty of guts and tuneful appeal too. It made me feel that it is a crying shame this was all we got to hear from them. Both these songs are really enjoyable and show an outfit full of energy, sarky humour and potential that was sadly not realised.
Seemingly impervious to passing trends, Southampton’s premier post-punk pioneers Inferior Complex are the only ones to have made it through from the first album to the 2021 record. On the original album disc they are featured with five tracks, two on the LP and three demos. Crimean War, their first effort, is one of the more memorable tracks on the LP, This and Stabbed are always what I think of first whenever City Walls springs to mind. A simple but effective guitar line and wordless echoing voices mesh together swimmingly. Not Concerned is more an actual song, with their Factory Records influences perhaps a little more overtly expressed on it. Nevertheless it is good fun and their three demos, the PIL-tastic Things Go Wrong, an It’s Always The Same with real drum power and the foreboding atmosphere of Uncertain Ways are all pretty good.
Finally Games To Avoid were the follow on band from Lip Moves, the modish punk outfit that put out the Guest single on their own Ticonderoga Records in 1979 (band HQ was Ticonderoga Gardens, Weston, Southampton). We hear three demo items from the latter band at the end of this disc. But GTA themselves were a fairly straightforward new wave pop act, as evidence by the reggae-tinged Nature Nurture and up tempo rocker Wasteland (Crusader 80). Both sound quite good and powerful and no doubt they were good value on a sweaty night down at The Victory. Games To Avoid later put out the Neckspots single in 1982, by which time one of the band’s lead singers Andy Wallace had left to front pop outfit Laughter In the Garden.
Lip Moves close off the disc with a trio of tracks that didn’t feature on their one single. Forbidden Zone demonstrates the chunky power pop punk of the band very well and is the pick of the trio. There is enough among the other two to suggest that they would have been an asset if included on the album proper.
Well that’s the past covered, but what about the new? Not wanting to this release to be merely a nostalgia exercise, White Elephant have also ferreted out new sounds from Southampton and its surrounding areas forty years on. It is a pity room couldn’t be found for some of the City’s excellent hardcore punk groups, the marvellous Abrazos or Kontatka, but never mind.
As if to show how much has changed since the first album, the frantic drums and bass of Sheps’ Chumocracy gets City Walls 2 underway in a pretty sharp and totally modern way. The Slack 5 sound good on Shallow End, it’s first song on this new album that really feels like a logical follow on from the original City Walls. Neko Roshi feature ex-Up Balloons Up mainstays Dom and Pete Harvey and the fuzzed up dreamscape of Atlantic Gull is very good. Their second track Avenue is a punchy enough rocker too.
Continental Liaison are a trio of clearly talented youngsters that niftily combine heavy synth beats with guitar attack on both Action Time and The Sublime. The latter has elements of the great Devo and also Suicide in the mix, which is pretty stellar company to keep. CL are clearly ones to watch, as their pair of offerings are the best presented on City Walls 2. The more laidback dance electro of TeleMarkk’s Bloom isn’t bad either and then come Inferior Complex again, 40 years on. Their Science drifts along in stately fashion and benefits from an assertive vocal and their other contribution Dome positively glistens with futuristic zeal.
Career and Revolt by Holbury’s Bitter Self Exploitment are good and very listenable examples of their youthful punk brio and Brash Bullets offer some similarly rough and ready sonic thrills on Zoo Event and Say You’re Sick. Closing the album we have the electronic duo Nostalgia Deathstar with the chilly but accessible retro synth pop tune Dead 80s and the self-explanatory Gary Numan.
City Walls 2 does do a creditable job of surveying the Southampton music scene of the present time, but perhaps like its predecessor misses a couple of prime local outfits that could have improved things further and added a touch of spice to proceedings. As it is, the new album certainly offers a more varied listening experience than the first City Walls album, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a better record.
Nevertheless this new compilation has been well put together and designed and has quite a few enjoyable tracks, with BSE, Continental Liaison and Sheps being on top of my list to check out further. It was a good idea to pair this fresh look at the local scene with the original City Walls LP, which needed reissuing anyway after a long time in the shadows. This gives a sense of continuity and the feeling that the DIY punk tradition that was part of the Southampton music circa City Walls is still alive and kicking today. Overall this set successfully combines a worthwhile slice of local history with a good shufty into the future.
The City Walls website is here
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here