Sham 69 Biography
Last updated: 11/08/2002 02:21:18 AM
The beginning of SHAM 69 was in 1976 when Hersham (South London) born Jimmy Pursey, working at the Wimbledon Greyhound stadium(among 40 odd jobs he claims to have had), got together with Neil Harris (lead guitar), Johnny Goodfornothing (guitar), Albie Slider (bass) and Billy Bostik (drums). The name came from some graffiti sprayed on a local wall; It originally proclaimed "Hersham '69" but the "Her" had long since worn away. Like the SWANKERS and various members of the LONDON SS, the Small Faces were proclaimed as an early influence. Although at first SHAM 69 were nothing more than Bay City Roller and Gary Glitter imitators, by November 1976, with Punk rumbling through the suburbs, they had become a high voltage dole queue rock'n'roll band.
Unlike some of the other art-school politco rockers, Pursey and Sham 69 were strictly working class. Julie Burchill summed them up in their first ever review (in N.M.E.) when she said, "Sham 69 play rock'n'roll in the manner that American negroes fight, not for hun but for existence". However by June 1977 Pursey, who was also managing the band, had reached the conclusion that other members of the group were not into the cause as much as he was and so Bostik, Harris and Goodfornothing were given their marching orders.
Replacements were made in the form of Dave Parsons on guitar and Mark Cain on drums. He quickly formed a song-writing allegiance with Pursey and their set began to feature early classics such "Borstal Breakiut", "George Davis Is Innocent" and "Let's Rob A Bank". This new line-up were championed by Mark PERRY, founder of 'Sniffin' Glue', the English Punk fanzine. Perry and his partner Danny Baker were both great fans of the band and were able to put out Sham 69's debut single on their Step Forward label. "I Don't Wanna" EP came out in October 1977 on both 7" and 12" formats. Soon after it was re-issued with a different picture sleeve. The only difference was "Red London" had been moved from the B-side to share the A-side.
About the time the single came out, Albie Slider quit the music business. Dave "Kermit" Treganna came in as replacement on bass thus completing the best know, and most sucessful line-up. Sham 69 also managed to gain some valuable publicity at this time when at the opening night of the Vortex Club, they played from a nearby rooftop. The police were called in and tried to stop the band from performing. Pursey refused to stop and was later fined £30 for breach of the peace. A less welcome form of publicity was also occuring as the band gained a skinhead following. Fights were beginning to take place at Sham gigs with disturbing regularity.
Around October 1977 it was announced that the Inner London Education Authority had asked Sham 69 to appear in TV schools documentary about the New Wave. They performed two songs in a programme entitled "Confessions Of A Music Lover" that was screened to London scholls and colleges on a closed circuit system. Mark Perry was also interviewed for the programme. Good or bad, the publicity they attracted had caught the attention of Polydor Records.
Polydor were trying hard to built up their roster of Punk acts, as other companies such as United Artists were doing really well with their New Wave acts. So far Polydor's only major sucess in this field had been The JAM. Once signed SHAM 69's second single was a version of one of their most popular live numbers. "Borstal Breakout" is a strident Punk number with an almost football terrace chant chorus. It was released in the first few days of 1978 and though it failed to chart it was given sufficient exposure for Polydor to stick with the band. In February they put out their debut LP, "Tell Us The Truth". Featuring one side 'live' nd one side 'studio', all the favourites were on board. Although SHAM 69 would never get the same sort of credibility afforded to the CLASH or the BUZZCOCKS, the album is better than many of the long-players that appeared at the time.
Click Image To Enlarge In April the new sinle, "Angels With Dirty Faces" was put out and both and record company were rewarded with a top twenty hit. The flip-side of the single was an equally raucous Sham number in the shape of "The Cockney Kids Are Innocent".
Sham's songs at this stage were all proving to be real boot-boy anthems which didn't help the continuing violence at gigs. Pursey was also a somewhat outspoken front-man and could be mistaken for inciting violence when he desperately wanted to avoid it. Even a Rock Against Racism gig at Brixton with Elvis Costello and others, was completely disrupted bt the Front National. Everywhere Sham 69 went, the fights were sure to follow.
This aside, Sham 69 continued to release a string of commercially sucessful singles. "If The kids are United" , with it's cartoon strip advertising adorning the music press, went to number 9 in the Summer of 1978. Pursey saw Punk as about breaking down barriers. "If The Kids Are United" was not really a call to arms, but more a way of saying that the disco kids should join up with the Led Zeppelin fans, the Skinheads with the Hell's Angels. Needless to say the plea was largely ignored.
Three months later, "Harry Up Harry", followed Kids.. into the Top Ten. "Harry Up Harry" was the lager louts anthem. It's long drawn out cry of "We're going down the pub", was sung in the public bars of boozers across of the second album, "That's Life". This was essentially a concept album which caused some consternation amongst fans and the press alike. However, this aside, the songwriting partbnership of Pursey and parsons was able to keep up the standard of the debut with ease. The difficult second album syndrome had been defeated. The central story of the album concered a bloke who loses his job for bad-keeping, wins some money at the bookies, spends it all on booze and birds and so on. Hardly "Tommy" but not typical SHAM 69 fare.
It was a tragedy that a band so commercially sucessful and popular should be put in such a dreadful position by a few dozen mindless hooligans. But things were coming to a head. In January 1979, Pursey and band played the Friars in Aylesbury and Pursey announced the end of Sham's live carrer. Ironically that particular gig was almost completly free of trouble.
The final straw had come just a few days earlier when a gig at the Middlesex Polytechnic was destroyed by trouble makers. Worse still the whole bloody event was captured by the cameras of the BBC who were filming it for a forthcoming edition of "Arena". Jimmy ended that particular evening in tears. Later, at the Friar's gig, Jimmy changed the lyrics of "Cockney Kids Are innocent", to "Sham 69 Are Innocent!". A midst rumours that the band were to split, Pursey took himself off on a Caribbean holiday to unwind. On his return he announced that Sham 69 would to ontinue to record. And so "Questions and Answers" came out in March followed by their biggest hit of all - "Hersham Boys" - which reached number 6 in August. By that time though, Sham 69 were no more.
Click Image To Enlarge Despite Pursey's earlier reassurances they split up in June feeling more than a little sorry for themselves. However their fans had barely had any time to mourn their departure when Pursey announced that they were to reform to promote the already recorded "The Adventures Of The Hersham Boys" album from which the hit single had been taken.
Tours of the UK and US were watched by much better audiences. The trouble-makers seemed to have either got bored or to have come to their senses. A version of the Yardbirds' classic "You're A Better Man Than I" continued their chart sucess although it peaked at a rather low 49. Things were still not so great in the Sham camp however. The media who had usually supported Jimmy and co. had now started a back-lash against them.
They started to see them as pseudo-punks, Pursey in particular. He had been known to call himself the Tommy Steele of Punk and he did seem to be trying to make a shwobiz personality of himself. I well remember seeing him appear on television late in 1979 on a programme looking back at the music of the past decade. Not the sort of thing Joe STRUMMER would have done! Jimmy wanted to be a celebrity.
That aside Jimmy had become involved with the production of several new bands during 1978 and 1979 including LONG TALL SHORTY, so at least the man's heart was still in the right place. Other side projects inclued writing and production for the ANGELIC UPSTARTS and the COCKNEY REJECTS, and, as mentioned earlier, he had formed his ownlabel.
A new Sham album, "The Game", and single, "Tell The Children", came out in the spring of 1980 but Pursey was getting tired again. He was fed up with playing abroad and many English venues refused to book the band. And so by July SHAM 69 were no more once again....
Biography by Steve Smith