If in 1977 anyone had suggested to the 15 year-old proto-Teddy Boy Midcentury Chap that one day he’d be working with a band playing punk rock and thoroughly enjoying it, he’d have dismissed you as someone who simply didn’t get the gulf that existed between the scenes of the time. Punks and rock’n’rollers sat at opposing ends of the musical spectrum, the one group embracing anarchy, safety pins and pogoing, the other the uniform of drape jackets, hair grease and bopping. The newspapers of the time told us we should all be duffing each other up in the King’s Road or, for those of us out of easy reach of Chelsea, at least indulging in a bit of argy bargy behind the bike sheds. Given that one had to make a hard choice on what sort of music you were going to spend your available cash on, record collections tended to reflect only what you were most ‘in to’ and as soon as stuff dropped out of the Top 30, it wouldn’t often be heard on the BBC’s radio stations my exposure to punk was largely limited to what my school contemporaries were playing on the battered record player in the corner of the common room.

The late 70s and early 80s were an exciting time for music, though. Punk music broke the dominance of the combination of finely-honed studio material from established groups, stadium rock and novelty or teen pap and restored the concept of music made by and for teenagers with minimal musical expertise and maximum attitude. If anything, it was the true heir of the rockabilly record, tracing a direct line to a previous generation of hormonal adolescents equipped with guitars, a voice, something to say (or shout) and the drive to get themselves on record. More than anything, it was the soundtrack of my teens, instantly calling to mind the excitement of discovering music for myself, even if my taste was off at a tangent. As a result, I’ve found myself building a small collection of original singles from the likes of the Clash, Sex Pistols, Blondie, Elvis Costello and the Jam, plus the odd one-hit wonder like Jilted John (aka Graham Fellows) and French loon Plastic Bertrand.2

So, when our local music festival running order offered a band called Johnny Clash, we had to give them a listen. After all, whether it turned out to be inspired more by Cash or Clash, it as unlikely to be a bad evening out.  As it turned out, we’d made a good call: a four-piece band performing punk, new wave, glam rock, surf and rock’n’roll covers all from the late 70s and early 80s, faithful to the originals but with enough individual style to keep them firmly away from tribute band territory, and a front man with just the right level of arrogant insouciance. And they included both Cash and Clash in the repertoire. Catching them again shortly afterwards, we spotted some classic instrumentals in the set, including Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’ and Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ (both prompted by their inclusion in the Pulp Fiction soundtrack) and got chatting to the guys about their influences. All had an extensive background in live performing, some firmly in the punk and new wave genre, others having cut their teeth elsewhere, but all now in a tight and well-rehearsed unit under their Tarantino-inspired stage names of Misters Blonde, White, Orange and Pink.

Having bonded over a shared love of screaming rock’n’roll and instrumentals, I introduced them to Smokey Joe’s café in Cheltenham, my regular spot for a Friday night spin up. Sure enough, they went down a storm there and for their return visit invited me along to play a vinyl set, I was delighted. Would they expect me to play late 70s/early 80s material, though, as that would put me in danger of playing tracks by the same original artists. Oh no, came the answer – we want wild original rock’n’roll!

Setting up was remarkably easy as the guys’ professionalism quickly established how my decks could sit alongside their performing area, and plug into their soundboard. The crowd built steadily as I ran through an hour’s worth of loud and crazy rock’n’roll, from the well-known like Chuck Berry and Little Richard, through searing instrumentals (including a bit of Link), some early 60s garage, to the uncategorizable (Mel Smith’s ‘Pretty Plaid Skirt’ and Kai Ray’s ‘I Want Some of That’), with no dance floor to worry about and secure in the knowledge that, however loud I was, the band would be louder. The band’s set was even more varied than the last time we’d seen them, kicking off with their usual opener of ‘Misirlou’, but going straight into ‘Brand New Cadillac’ (the Clash cover of course) and then a rapid journey through the Monkees’ ‘Steppin’ Stone’, Bowie’s ‘John I’m Only Dancing’, Bolan’s ‘20th Century Boy’, the Sonics’ version of ‘Have Love Will Travel’ and back to the 60s with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ ‘Shakin’ All Over’. The Sweet got a look in with ‘Ballroom Blitz’, likewise, Iggy Pop with ‘Search and Destroy’ and Talking Heads with ‘Psycho Killer’, and the Linkster of course with ‘Rumble’. We were delighted to see Johnny Cash represented by tracks from either end of his career in ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Personal Jesus’, though perhaps the most unlikely candidates for the playlist were the Osmonds, but fortunately with their gutsiest number of ‘Crazy Horses’.

Punk rock wasn’t neglected either in the shape of Generation X’s with ‘King Rocker’, the Strangler’s ‘Go Buddy Go’, Sid Vicious’ take on Eddie Cochran’s ‘Something Else’ and an excellent cover of the Ruts’ ‘Babylon’s Burning’ with the iconic riff captured perfectly. The Clash were in there, too, needless to say, with both their version of Bobby Fuller’s ‘I Fought the Law’ and the classic ‘London Calling’ (recorded just around the corner from where I used to live in Pimlico). Closing honours, though, went to the King, with a raucous version of ‘Viva Las Vegas’.

So here I am, raving about a band that not only plays punk rock, but the Osmonds too! Maybe I’m getting soft in my old age, or I’ve heard enough to know that rock’n’roll is rock’n’roll, whatever label happens to be in vouge at the time, and I’d rather hear punk played loud and well than 50s numbers played indifferently. Either way, I know that Johnny Clash are a great band so if you find yourself in Gloucestershire and want a good night out, watch out for one of their gigs…

Check out the band’s Facebook page for future gigs, which is where I’ve culled the images to illustrate this article. Kind of helps that the bass player is an accomplished graphic artist, so it’s never hard to find stuff!