This, quite frankly, is what we want. Within seventeen minutes of hitting the stage on a stinking hot Canberra night, Brit street punk heroes GBH have already blazed through three quarters of their debut 1981 EP Leather Bristles, Studs and Acne. Over the next hour they’ll play, at similarly breakneck pace, most of their collected seven and twelve inch output for legendary punk label Clay Records – six epoch-defining releases spread over three years – plus a few other choice nuggets from a career now well into it’s fifth decade. But this isn’t your usual middle-aged spread nostalgia cash in; rather, the ferocity with which this bunch of aural ne’erdowells attack the material on offer tonight underlines just what a great band they are, and indeed, always have been.
Opening track Race Against Time gives a fair idea of what to come this evening, and it has to be said these early signs are good. Vocalist Colin Abrahall hasn’t aged a day since this reviewer first saw a similarly vital performance from him onstage in London in 1986, and neither, gratifyingly, has his twisted snarl of a voice. Hence tracks from that first EP like the incendiary Knife Edge, Freak, and a particularly aggressive take on Generals, sound as fresh as they did when they were first minted all those years ago. A crowd pleasing run through Alcohol ends the first part of the set, and a quick glance around the room shows we are all, every man woman and near child of us, pleased with what’s been doled out so far.
No Survivors recreates the glory days of UK street punk in endearingly imprecise style, guitarist Jock’s greasy, oil-smeared riffs machine gunning the audience as a slithery counterpoint to drummer Scott Preece’s battering, take no prisoners assault. Jock has pleasingly resisted the temptation to ‘metal up’ his guitar playing over the years despite clearly being a better player than he once was, preferring instead to unleash riff after riff in unpretentious style, surely a good thing given the furious, primitive nature of the tunes on show.
Big Women is delivered mid set and is an unexpected highlight, it’s, shall we say ‘prosaic’ message even eliciting a cry of ‘fuck you hipsters’ from a tired and emotional old punk at the back at songs end; Jock throws in a glimpse of Black Sabbath before lurching into the riff of Sick Boy, and the band press on with a blitzkrieg reading of Slit Your Own Throat to keep up the momentum. I’m flagging at this point, and I’m just standing at the back drinking booze. Quite how the band and the young people at the front keep going is beyond me, but they do and now we’re being battered black and blue by a gargantuan Am I Dead Yet.
Give Me Fire is delivered true to the now-established blueprint set in 1982 and, gratifyingly, things are no different today. Almost imperceptibly more melodic than the preceding songs, it probably prompted taunts of sell out back in the day for its ear worm chorus, but tonight in Canberra it sounds like nothing so much as a fabulous piece of proto pop-punk without the horrible connotations that particular genre has gathered around itself over the years.
As if to underline how ahead-of-it’s-time Give Me Fire was, the band follow it up tonight with a rousing version of their own pop punk anthem Kids Get Down from 2010’s Perfume and Piss, the pair played together sounding like they might well have been written as part of the same session.
Diplomatic Immunity, the opening track from 1983’s sometimes-overlooked City Baby’s Revenge makes a welcome appearance and is given a good kicking in the process, before you suddenly realise that the hour has flashed by with seemingly not a breath taken by band nor the not-too-shabby midweek crowd (warmed up, if warming up was actually needed, by sterling efforts from the VeeBees and Urge to Kill). Somehow we’re all sucked into a vituperative version of City Baby Attacked by Rats together, the band quite literally hitting ramming speed just as the set comes to a close. Except it doesn’t. Bassist Ross Lomas pumps out the intro to City Baby’s Revenge and we off again, Jock’s barrelhouse axework pummelling the ears alongside another inhuman drum workout from Preece.
A scintillating take on The Stooges‘ I Feel Alright ends the night, leaving us with no alternative but to tumble out onto the still-scorching Canberra streets, throats raw and muscles aching, heads full of delicious punk goodness…