‘A Sharp Shock To The System’ by Vernon Joynson (2019)
In a departure from his famous series of works on rock, pop, beat, garage, psych and prog rock recorded between 1963 and 1976 in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other countries, British musicologist Vernon Joynson has penned a new title covering punk, new wave, post punk, mod revival, neo-psychedelia, goth rock & electronic music in the UK between 1976 and 1986. In his new book Joynson focuses on the revolution the music business underwent in the UK during the decade following the period covered in his earlier two volume “Tapestry Of Delights” and analyses the bands and artists from the new genres of music that changed the face of music forever.
The new 1,452 page volume contains 1,682 entries and is profusely illustrated throughout, including 12 pages of full color album artwork. Each entry contains detailed artist discographies and line-up details for their 1976-1986 era, biographies, and in most cases, comments and critiques of their music, details of compilation appearances and an up to date rarity scale for all their album, EP and single releases during the time period covered. For artists whose careers continued beyond 1986, the biographies continue until the present or until the artist ceased performing and/or recording.
The period and genres covered in the book cover many exciting acts, from the long lasting and influential likes of The Clash and The Jam to name but two, to more obscure artists such as The Scabs and Sedition 81. “A Sharp Shock To The System” is chock full of valuable information in all cases. The entries for The Clash and The Jam are extensive, nearly ten pages in each case. Besides complete lineup information, every album released by the band is listed including the label released on and catalog number as well as the year of release and an up to date rarity scale which gives collectors an indication of the LP’s value. The same information is included for every EP and 45 issued by the artist. Reissues of the albums are detailed, including date, label and catalog number, as are appearances on various artists’ compilations. Descriptions of the band and its music are invaluable for collectors and inquiring minds alike. The entries are illustrated throughout with album artwork. For the more obscure artists entries are shorter, but as complete as possible, following the same format, and providing invaluable information unavailable in other reference works, making the book absolutely essential to fans of UK rock related music originally released between 1976 and 1986.
The massive volume, published by Borderline Productions, is a numbered, limited edition of 1,000 copies worldwide. While the book retails for 75 pounds sterling it is available online from book dealers at greatly discounted prices. As with Joynson’s earlier works the book comes highly recommended and is a treasure trove of information for record collectors and music fans alike. “A Sharp Shock To The System” certainly lives up to its subtitle of “A Comprehensive Guide To UK Punk, New Wave, Post-Punk, Mod Revival, Neo-Psychedelia, Goth-Rock & Electronic Music 1976-1986”.
“A Sharp Shock To The System” by Vernon Joynson (Borderline Productions, 2019)
A Quick Q & A with author Vernon Joynson
In his newest work British musicologist Vernon Joynson breaks completely new ground from his classic trio of books on rock, pop, beat, garage, psych and prog rock in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, which was later expanded to include four titles and cover music from other nations. The latest title “A Sharp Shock To The System” is subtitled “A Comprehensive Guide To UK Punk, New Wave, Post-Punk, Mod Revival, Neo-Psychedelia, Goth-Rock & Electronic Music 1976-1986” and is quite a departure in subject matter, and covers only the UK, but employs the same format as the earlier works. The author has graciously taken the time to answer a few questions regarding the new, massive 1,452 page tome.
Congratulations on your newest publication. It is quite a departure from your earlier works, so I greatly appreciate you taking the time to tell our readers about the new book and its inspiration.
‘Fuzz Acid and Flowers’, ‘2-Volume Tapestry of Delights’, ‘A Melange of Musical Pipedreams and Pandemonium’ and ‘A Potpourri of Melodies and Mayhem’ are considered the last word on music of the psychedelic genre from the 1963-1976 era. What was the inspiration and purpose of you penning a book covering completely different genres of music and a totally different time-frame?
Well I was fortunate to live in London’s Camden Town, which was at the heart of punk and new wave in London, in the late seventies and I saw many of the bands of this era live. Locally there were venues like Dingwalls, The Electric Ballroom, The Music Machine and the Dublin Castle and walking distance from my home was also the legendary Hope and Anchor in Islington, which hosted many of the smaller iconic bands of the era. I enjoyed the gigs and I liked a lot of the music.
In many ways this era was as exciting as the emergence of garage and psychedelic music in the mid to late sixties. It led to huge changes in the music industry. A new D.I.Y. ethos emerged that saw many artists produce their own music and distribute it via independent record labels circumventing the established record companies and labels. Cassettes as well as vinyl became an important medium for music in this era. A new rebelliousness emerged that exceeded that of the rock’n’roll era of the fifties. The era heralded a new dress sense that was both aggressive and individualistic with offensive T-shirts, studded leather jackets and jewellery, safety pins and bondage gear and unconventional dyed hair and styles. A whole new culture of fanzines emerged to promote the new music and a whole network of smaller venues developed where new bands could play. Finally, given the high levels of unemployment in the UK at the time, the new bands had a captive audience of disenchanted younger people.
How did you select the new work’s title?
I chose it to try to convey the upheaval that the music industry underwent in this era.
The book employs the same format as your earlier works. Would you take a few moments to explain the format, what it includes and why you chose to use it?
I view the book as part of an ongoing series of books that was preceded by titles like ‘Fuzz Acid and Flowers’, ‘2-Volume Tapestry of Delights’, ‘Dreams Fantasies and Nightmares’, ‘A Melange of Musical Pipedreams and Pandemonium’ and ‘A Potpourri of Melodies and Mayhem’ so it seems appropriate to use the same format.
For each artist or band featured, detailed discographies, line-up data, bibliographies, where the artist or band was originally located in the UK, and comment on their music are provided along with details of their compilation appearances and there is also an up-to-date rarity scale (where applicable) for album, EP and 45 entries in the book. The wonders of youtube mean that I am able to comment on a much wider range of music than simply what is in my record collection. Whilst the book’s main time-frame is from 1976-1986, where artists or bands recorded beyond 1986 I have tried to document their careers until they disbanded or until now. So my overall aim is to provide all you should ever need to know about each artist or band featured in the book.
There are lots and lots of black and white illustrations throughout the book featuring pictures of the artists, their recordings and gig posters.
The familiar full color album art section is included. How large is it? How did you decide which artwork to include?
This is 12-pages long and we tried to feature photos of recordings that weren’t featured in black and white illustrations in the main text and which spanned the genres and the time-frame of the book.
What are some of your memories of the late seventies punk scene in the UK and what part did they play in inspiring this new book?
Some of the great gigs I went to in the late seventies and early eighties helped inspire me to write this new book. For example, I lost count of the number of encores that Penetration received at their farewell gig at London’s Electric Ballroom. I remember seeing The Cure at the Marquee very early in their career and saw The Soft Boys several times at the Hope and Anchor. I saw countless bands from this scene in the late seventies and that made me want to document the whole era in a similar way to my earlier works about the sixties and early seventies.
There was one occasion when I couldn’t even get into the gig. I took a work friend along to see the anarcho-punk band Crass who were playing at the Hope and Anchor in Islington and there were 10 times the number of people who wanted to see them who couldn’t get in out in the street than there were inside the venue!
How far do you think punk and new wave was influenced by the 60’s garage and psych that some of your earlier books covered?
In the UK, neo-psychedelic acts like The Soft Boys, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and The Desperate Bicycles are good examples of late seventies and early eighties acts whose music drew much of their inspiration from sixties psychedelia. Some of Siouxsie & The Banshees’ music, for example the flower-powery ‘Christine’, was clearly influenced by sixties psychedelia and much of the organ-driven music of The Stranglers sounds influenced by The Doors.
You cover a lot of different genres in your new work. Why did you select the ones you chose for inclusion in “A Sharp Shock”?
Punk (including sub-genres like Oi! and anarcho-punk), new wave, post-punk, mod revival, neo-psychedelia, goth-rock and electronic music were most of the key genres of the 1976-1986 era in the UK, given that none of my books cover soul, disco, ska, two-tone and reggae. The book is broader than its sub-title suggests and verges into synth-pop, indie-pop and power-pop as well but constraints of space and the desire to confine the publication to one volume means coverage of these last three genres is not as comprehensive as the others and some of the very popular synth-pop acts have truncated entries because there are plenty of other places people can read about them.
With so many to choose from, what criteria did you use in deciding which bands and performers to include in the new title?
To qualify for inclusion acts had to release vinyl, cassettes or later CDs (or appear on compilations in one of these formats). I prioritised the ones that I believed would be of greatest interest to my audience of music fans and collectors.
“A Sharp Shock To The System” is limited to 1,000 numbered copies. Who decided on the number to be printed and who published it?
The book was published by Borderline Productions, like all my other titles since the mid-eighties. The print run size reflects the high retail price (due to the huge amount of paper used and the high number of illustrations) and the very difficult economic situation featuring the UK at the time of publication.
There is a very complimentary review of the book in ‘Vivre Le Rock’ issue no. 71.
The title by necessity carries a slightly higher suggested retail price than your earlier books. Where are some of the places readers can find copies and can it be obtained at discounted prices?
At present many of the retail outlets that sell the book are closed due to the coronavirus. The best discounts, as of 7 April 2020, can be found on the Amazon Marketplace. Here they are UK Paperback Shop (£50.58, free delivery), Superbook Deals UK (£47.79 plus £2.80 delivery), BOOKS ETC (£50.54, free delivery), Book Depository (£51.94, free delivery), Blackwell’s UK (£55.05 plus £2.80 delivery) and Aphrohead (£58.24, free delivery). Also try Browns Books (£52.50) and hive.co.uk (£51.05).
These outlets also stock my other two titles still in print incidentally, the paperback version of the ‘2-Volume Tapestry of Delights’ and ‘A Potpourri of Melodies and Mayhem’, which is a guide to Canadian and South American rock, pop, beat, r&b, folk, garage, psych and prog from the 1963-1976 era.
“A Sharp Shock To The System” is a departure from your earlier works, but I can attest to the fact that it is as thorough as “Fuzz Acid And Flowers”, “Tapestry Of Delights”, ‘A Melange of Musical Pipedreams and Pandemonium’ and ‘A Potpourri of Melodies and Mayhem’ and is as informative and valuable as a reference work in its scope as your famous trio. Congratulations on the new book and I can’t stress to readers how exciting it was to delve into new territory with you in this guide. With only 1,000 copies available worldwide I strongly suggest readers seek out a copy before the title goes out of print and prices inevitably rise.
– Kevin Rathert