What was the catalyst for this new compilation?
I present a Punk & New Wave show at [online station] Soho Radio every Tuesday afternoon. Jim Lahat, my musical better half and co-presenter, have been talking about doing this show for years. We had suggested it to a couple of radio stations – both national and local – but nobody went for it. Then I noticed that Eddie Piller and Chris Sullivan were on Soho Radio so we took the idea to them and they said, “Yes”.
It’s a broad church – Punk, New Wave, and some Power Pop, a bit of Mod Revival, even a bit of Synth Pop. Then we took the idea of a compilation to Demon Music and they also said, “Yes”.
The box set boasts a sticker stating “77 tracks of Punk, New Wave, Post Punk, Power Pop and Mod Revival”. For the uninitiated how would you explain the differences?
That’s a tough one. What links them is the energy and vitality, that’s the easiest way I can answer. That’s the common thread.
Jim Lahat has been so important to this project. He has amazing knowledge and a brilliant record collection. His taste goes really deep, mine’s a bit more mainstream.
We both started with a “wish list” as long as our arms then we got it down to about 125 songs. A lot of the bands that I chose, I knew personally. When I was growing up in London one of my first jobs was office boy at Decca Records, then receptionist at the NME. I got to hear loads of new bands and I think it was my love and enthusiasm for groups like TV21 and The Nice Men that lead to Clive Banks signing them to his publishing company.
It’s worth emphasising how important Peelie’s [the late John Peel] influence was. I’d be listening to his radio show every night in London whilst Jim, who grew up in Israel, would hear him on BFBS, the Forces network, or on his weekly BBC World Service show.
This box set covers a pre-Google / pre-YouTube era – are you surprised at how quickly and how far this music spread?
There was only a couple of outlets, both radio and print wise. We had the NME and Melody Maker but the impact was concerted. I don’t know how you would get maximum exposure now. Alan McGee told us it is more difficult than ever to break a new act because the market is so fragmented. You’d listen to Peel, cassette in… he played that mix of Punk and New Wave and Mod Revival. That’s where I discovered bands like The Quads, The Modettes and The Only Ones.
You have avoided the ‘usual suspects’ and shone a light on some less obvious bands. What informed your song selection?
With our radio show it’s something we wanted to do from the off. We do play the Pistols, Buzzcocks, Generation X, of course, but we wanted to dig deeper. Jim has bought loads to the table. I’ve discovered so much, not least through our listeners. Some I just about remember from first time round. It has made it really interesting compiling the box set. There are a few curve balls on there. It’s an era when the single was still king and there’s such a great sense of melody there.
Forty years on you are celebrating music that probably didn’t expect much more than a token 15 minutes of fame. Why do you think this music – and your passion for it – has endured?
It all goes back to the melody and the energy. There was a time in the early ‘80s when I’d moved on. I was a sort of musical Zelig, moving on to the next big thing… providing it wasn’t Heavy Metal or Goth!
The vitality has endured. You have to remember a lot of these bands were self-financed. The band made one record and disappeared but at least we still have that record to remember them by. Some of the bands we have featured have since got in touch and said they are so happy to be re-discovered.
Are you still a collector of Punk & New Wave singles?
I am but nothing compared to Jim – he has a music room you literally can’t get into! Without wanting to sound too cheesy, we’ve been bandying this project around for 15 years. Volunteers run Soho Radio, we don’t get paid for the show. There’s a young guy works there who told me it’s lovely that there’s somewhere for us old boys to come and listen to our tunes!
Do you see evidence of the Punk ethic today, either individual bands or record labels?
I do. As I said, the thing that springs out for me is how do bands make an impact when the market is so fragmented and there’s so much choice. The smartphone is a double-edged sword. It’s made it so easy to access music but the emotional investment has diminished.
I do a show on BBC Radio London on a Saturday evening and I love to feature new bands on the BBC Music Introducing slot. Bands like Sister Ray or The Velvet Hands, who wouldn’t have sounded out of place in ’78, ’79.
Moving onto the fashion of the day, do you remember the first time you were allowed to buy your own clothes?
I certainly remember the first times I bought my own shoes. Monkey Boots and Hush Puppies. Then when the Mod Revival started we would go to three or four jumble sales in one day. We’d get the local newspaper, circle the jumble sales and say “Right, we’re going here!”
About ’75 / ’76 my auntie and uncle were into the Mod thing, so I had their influence, and I probably liked a couple of Led Zeppelin songs but when Punk came along I thought “Hang on! This is my time!” Back to the classic 7 inch single!
You collaborated on designing a Desert Boot. Any more ambitions for the style market?
Well I’m not planning to open my own shop, if that’s what you mean, but it was great fun doing it. I don’t think Tootal need to worry.
How would you describe your own style these days?
Dress wise? Eclectic. I sill love my clothes, the classic names but then I still love a good charity shop.
‘Gary Crowley’s Punk & New Wave’ 3CD box set is released 15th September 2017. More details at www.demonmusicgroup.co.uk
You can also hear Gary each Saturday night on BBC Radio London between 6.00 and 9.00 p.m., and each Saturday at 1.00 p.m. for his ‘My London’ show (repeated at 9.00 p.m.)