The Saints, 999: The Nashville, London

THERE IS A TEMPTATION to regard The Saints as comic. This stems from a number of idiosyncratic things about them, not least of which is the deadpan approach they have to the business of putting it across on stage.

Their insular development in whatever corner of Australia they come from seems to have left them pretty well unaware of anything except Stooges records. Even then, they can’t have seen the covers, because they appear to have no idea of, nor any interest in, the trappings that usually accompany relentless powerchord-driven mania.

For a start they look as though they’ve walked in off the street – not any hip, romantic notion of the street, but a very average street. Secondly, they all remain perfectly still apart from the bass player who, as the set progresses, begins nervously to shake his head. The closest the singer comes to any kind of stage antics is to hang onto the mike, keeping the stand next to his chest at all times, and occasionally move his hair away from his face.

This isn’t simply ‘dumb’ like The Ramones – it’s better described as unconscious.

My first reaction to this total lack of contrivance and the anomaly between the way they look and what they play was one of mild amusement, but this had something to do with the fact that the cords in the opening song were stolen from Cliff Richard’s ‘Move It’. After a while, though, the monotony of their music became annoying and the spectacle was all that was left. It’s refreshing that they don’t give a thought to looking or acting like other punk bands but, unfortunately, the music was totally nondescript high energy – except perhaps for a version of Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’.

The reverse was true of 999. They looked very contrived, an arbitrary collection of punk style with more than a passing nod to The Clash, but it was their music which set them apart.

They’re a South London band who have been together for about nine months now and were once called 48 Hours, a name which points to being inspired by The Clash. Their new name’s a quote from ‘London’s Burning’. They possess the required urgency in their playing and embellish it with a streak of inventiveness, which meant that, as was not the case with The Saints, is was possible to distinguish one song from another.

The songs themselves dealt with expected themes, embodied in titles like ‘Emergency’, ‘My Street Stinks’ and ‘I’m Alive’, but were treated with an uncommon touch of humour. The singer had a thin, raspy voice and tried hard to achieve a suitably threatening stage presence.

All that was lacking was an identity of their own, but there’s time enough for that.

© Paul RambaliNew Musical Express, 2 July 1977

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