Purple Hearts interviewed by Gary Bushell for SOUNDS
magazine March 1979

Parka's And The Rumour (of a mod revival, that is)

Gary Bushell, Kick-starts his lambretta and gobbles four purple hearts.

A tatty roneoed handbill lays inky side up in the mush, screaming out it's message to all and sundry. 'Purple Hearts' it proclaims 'The Sound Of The Eighties' and underneath in a semi punk lettering a roar of youth explosion hovers over the heads of Mods on the march, a sixties snapshot embellished by a Lichenstein pistol-in-fist design, the words 'Pop Art' and the details of a forthcoming gig at the Moonlight Club (See below right).

purple hearts mod flyer 1979

    Another advert for another group ... yes and no, 'cos something is happening here and I'm not quite sure what exactly is gonna come of it. Last month i wandered in to the Bridgehouse and I thought I'd stepped through some sort of time warp - all these kids mulling about in parka's sporting Jam badges, Who badges, union jacks, short neat hair cuts, collars and ties ...

    Talk of a 'mod revival' has been in the air for a while now and you might well cringe at the prospect of another business manufactured fad, but truth is, like the skinhead rebirth of late '77,'78, the current resurgence of aspects of Sixties modism (and like ex-skins, ex-mods can already be heard bemoaning their latter day equivalent's alleged superficiality) is coming from the bottom up.

    Open your eyes, it's everywhere. Count the scooters at the south coast resorts, tot up the growing number of 'mods' at gigs from spotty kids to 'reforming' skinheads, even at the old Chicken Run at Upton Park has been re-established. And on the music front in the wake of Paul Weller's open affection for the period, scores of bands who in many and varied ways feel a degree of affiliation with 'mod' have grown up : The Jolt from Glasgow, The Teenbeats from Hastings, The Indicators and The Fixations from London, The Ricky Tics from Nottingham, The Purple Hearts from Romford , innumerable groups called The Scooters.

    And at the moment it's healthy, from the streets if you like, but it won't stay like that. Entrepreneurs will latch on to it, and mod paraphernalia will start retailing at ridiculous prices, sociologists will latch on to it and serious thinkpieces will appear in colour supplements. Like everything else it'll be taken away from the people who created it and turned against them. Worst of all the music press will probably react with catch-all Power Pop style overkill, drowning the group's individuality in cheap and easy sensationalism. The Purple Hearts realise this.

    "We wanna get this straight right now about mod revival and all this shit." The speaker is Hearts vocalist Robert Manton. Rob is excitable and right now he's excited. "Obviously we think of ourselves as mods, and that's like a state of mind, but it don't mean we gotta sleep in our mohair suits, we don't wanna be tied down by an image, we'd rather be thought of as a group for teenagers, for anybody."

    Point taken, Rob, but how, why, and wherefore the mod bit?

    "When i was at school i was into mod - just the image of it, I didn't know much about it, but i liked the image. When punk came along we were all in to that - went out and bought 'Anarchy' the day it came out, blah, blah, blah. Early '77 we saw The Jam and we formed a punk band, and after the first gig we said well, we want to be like The Jam and all wear suits, 'cept we couldn't afford it."

    "Personally i got pissed off with punk by the middle of '77, I went down the Vortex and, I dunno, the sense of community, everybody together having a laugh, that'd all gone. I just drifted out. By early '78 i weren't calling myself a punk anymore, but for a time it was a real split personality thing."

    Guitarist Simon Stebbing takes up the story. " Yeah, so last year we thought let's be what we've always wanted to be and be a mod band, so we became The Purple Hearts in May '78, but let's face it the only thing that stopped us before  hand was the fact we couldn't play our instruments..."

    A true. First time i saw them was at Barking College in June '77 when my old mate, part time RAR promoter Mel Biggs did his good Samaritan bit and let this week old mid teen punk band tag on the bottom of  the Buzzcocks bill. Only then they were called The Sockets (aka Jack Plug and The Sockets) and they were, umm, basic. Spirited but basic.

    Times change. I saw them last October and was well impressed by their tightness and developing ability, anchored to unsurprising Jam, Who, Small Faces reference points. Since then gig have slowly but steadily , tonight's appearance supporting the tarantismic  Tickets being just average but indicative of their strengths.

    Onstage Manton holds the attention, standing all cocky in his silly plastic shades and bellowing in to the mike with rough conviction, while Jeff, bass, Gary Sparks, drums, and Si on lead make for a competent together unit. And though they throw in numbers like 'Steppin' Stone' and 'Thinking About Me' (a David Bowie And The Lower Third oldie) they don't play 'sixties' music. There are sixties influences but the feel and overall sound is definitely a serious , Seventies post punk t'ing.

    Their own songs have songs have character and something to say. In particular 'Jimmy' about the paucity of sheep-like fashion following with it's 'A-Bomb'-ish riff, 'Beat That' about marrying too young, and the up-tempo teen confusion anthem, 'Frustration':

'I'm going round in circles

Just a thinking of this mess

My mind goes in to spirals

I don't know I'll have to guess

I get Frustration!

I wear it like a suit

But the jacket fits too tightly

And there's lead inside my boots'

    Though in reality when it comes to their career they're anything but confused.

    "I don't think we're good enough to make records yet," Rob confesses, "we want more experience - we're pretty young y'know" (under 19, all).

    Gal: "The next big thing really is to get in and make a demo - that's as far ahead as we're thinking, and that's for gigs rather than record companies."

    In conversation their one recurring concern is youth - as in state of mind.

    "You get teenagers who act as if they're middle aged," Rob gets excited again, "and aspire to everything their parents aspire to. They see a kid pissed singing 'Wild Youth' on a Saturday night they'll say 'Look at that prat'. But you gotta enjoy yourself when your young. The Purple Hearts stand for youth, though on the other hand some of the things teenagers do is pretty sick. Youth is just split up into gangs all fighting each other and it's all fucking stupid y'know. But see the potential is there for mod for it to be really good - for there to be more mods than any other youth culture and for all them to be together."

    Simon: "Yeah, as long as they learn from the past rather than just copy everything, and make the same mistakes.".

    Rob: "Society is geared towards conformity and not having fun. Just do yer job and that's it. And youth is being is being shit on, kids come out of school and you're working twice as hard for half as much money.".

    Something they know about as they're all still doing dead end day jobs, which, despite exotic claims of male prostitution and vibrator manufacturing, turn out to be messenger, carpenter, carsprayer and warehouse hand. Still I'd have thought many of the above complaints were about class rather than age, but:

    Simon: "We stand for rebellion, but it's not political. We're not into politics."

    OK, last question Rob, what do you mean by 'The Purple Hearts stand for Pop As Art"? (Sounds 21/10/78).

    "Well our art is pop and our pop is art. We fill the gap between art and life."

    Jeff: "I bet you didn't think of that, where d'you get that from?"

    Rob: "Look, if you don't know, he won't know, listen just put it down, we fill the gap between art and life."

    Jeff: "He's got it twice, he don't want it three times.. come on lads, all together now..."

    Jeff, Simon and Gary in unison:

"WE FILL THE GAP BETWEEN ART AND LIFE."

Hey boys, you said that without moving your Vespa's...


From Sounds - March 79

Interview By Gary Bushell


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