Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Professional Punks

I read an interview with the band Frau recently, in it they were asked about the punk scene in the UK.  One of the responses offered was that the UK punk scene is full of professional punks.  That a lot of the people involved, whether in bands or running labels, booking shows or writing zines, whatever, a lot of them have professional jobs.  This got me thinking, being that I’m now back in school and aspiring to something along those very lines.

Reading the interview reminded me of a conversation I had with Mark from Black Breath/Go It Alone about the differences between the scenes in North America and Europe.  He told me that he thought it was amazing that so many of us “older guys” were still playing in bands, that it seems like it’s a much more accepted thing to do in Europe than on the other side of the pond.  That is, being old and playing in a band is not frowned upon over here like it is for those guys back home.  He was curious as to why this was.  One reason may be that culture and subculture is supported a lot more by the government in Europe, even though there are plenty of complaints to the contrary from people here I think this holds water somewhat.  I remember when we were kids in the band Sect, applying for a Prince’s Trust grant from the government to fund the recording of a demo tape.  Some woman came down to our practice space at the local community centre and interviewed us, it took about twenty minutes and then they posted us some money to put towards the studio.  Free fucking money, couldn’t believe it.  In Sweden today you can apply for money to support your art from an organisation called Studiefrämjandet which gives support to bands in all sorts of ways, donating money for equipment and so on, all you have to do is, once signed up, send a report off stating when and how often you’ve been practicing, and you can claim money back.

I’m not saying that "the system" over here doesn’t have huge flaws, it does, and it’s getting worse for sure, but I’ve always been amazed by how much harder things seem to be with everything in North America, especially in the good ol' US of A, land of the free.  At least that’s the impression I always get from friends who are from there.  Mark told us that if you’re still playing in a band after the age of twenty five you get looked at like you’re a bum whereas over here there seem to be people still doing the band thing well beyond that.  Indeed it isn’t that uncommon for punks in their forties and fifties to still be at it.  I always remember how Mark put it: You can play in bands when you’re young, up until about twenty five it’s deemed okay, but then if you haven’t “made it” by that point it’s time to scrap it and get educated and get a proper job.

“Made it” has always been a fucked up concept to me.  What the fuck does “making it” mean really?  The thing is, slowly but surely getting back to the point, job/band thing, the one doesn’t necessarily have to be sacrificed for the other in Europe.  You can have an education; you can have a professional job and you can play in a punk band simultaneously.  That conversation with Mark, sparked into the conscious again by the interview with Frau, brought me to think about the fact that I know quite a few punks or people in and around the scene that have some mental jobs that they leave behind on a Friday night to go do this punk thing at the weekend, or even every now and again for a lengthier period of time.  Of course, I now belong to the older generation where this phenomenon is more prominent.  Amongst the younger, of which I once was, it’s a lot easier to do punk full time, before kids come into the equation, before “digs” becomes rent and when your body can still physically function after endless months of touring, function at a bare minimum at least.

But yeah, the older you get the larger part normal life plays for most of us.  For most of us punk becomes an impassioned hobby, but a hobby none the less.  It’s not something you’re forced to give up at twenty five or face being labeled a bum.  And as much as I know some charming bums within the scene, I know a fair few others who have professional jobs, as Frau would put it.  My mates Karl and Jamie who play in Disculpe and a bucket load of other bands from around the Deptford scene are both professors, or something along those lines, they both work at universities and they’re both clever as fuck at least, one an expert in sociology, the other in music theory.  Alec and Mucky Marcus run a successful tattoo studio and coffee shop business which Kev helps run.  Nige who played drums in their old band Regimes is now some mega rich real estate entrepreneur or something.  We know a guy called Sean from Canada who made millions through the internet boom and can now be seen at practically every London gig going.  Wayne is a vegetarian chef who works at some fancy restaurant in Primrose Hill on and off.  I once knew a guy who worked for the McLaren Formula One team, some physics expert or something, who played in bands back in the day.  I even knew a guy called Willis from Swansea who sang in Black Eye Riot, absolutely mental in the nicest sense of the word, who was rumoured to work for Jackie Chan as his PA in Europe!  I’m not sure that was ever confirmed though.. Still, the thought of Jackie Chan’s PA drinking poppers and almost blinding himself in the backroom at a Speedhorn gig in Swansea is an image I’ll hold dear for the rest of my days.

One of my dear friends mentioned above, Karl Ghostface Kidneybean Broome, is as I said a lecturer in sociology and since I started studying we’ve had a few interesting conversations on the matter.  I’ve decided I’m taking him on as my mentor since he’s soon out of contract with the University of Sussex, although I can’t afford to pay him. Student and all that.  Anyway, Karl, like me is from a working class background and has a long history in the punk scene, and that coupled with a passion for sociology has led him to where he is today, and he’s started to write about these matters on his new blog, What Is Not To Be Done.  Check it out, it’s a very interesting read.

The scene is full of professional punks?   Maybe.  I know a few at least.  A few others beside the lot mentioned above.  Like I said, my aspirations now lie somewhere with that lot too.  I’m at the start of a longish road towards obtaining a degree in sociology which I hope will take me to a job that is a far sight more rewarding that some of the shite I’ve dealt with in the past to make the rent.  Something in the school environment appeals to me at this moment in time.  I figure that with the long summer breaks I’ll be able to both spend time with the family and still go on tour.  Be a professional punk.

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