The Purple Hearts are the bad boys of mod. The boys that don't wear suits. The boys that don't smile on stage. The boys that snarl "I get Frustration, I wear it like a suit, But the jacket fits too tightly, And there's lead inside my boots."
In a pub in Hackney The Purple Hearts proved to me that they may not be your run-of-the-mill clean-cut mod band but their (purple) hearts are in the right place. I'd given them a bad review, calling them a "blatant progressive punk band", but they don't hold any grudges against me.
"Look, we're obviously after punk so that's why people call us post punk," explains lively vocalist Bob Manton. "We've been influenced by loads of different styles from The Stooges to The Searchers."
The band's first two singles, 'Millions Like Us' and 'Frustration' on the Fiction label are fine proof of their commercial ability. Both are knockout singles full of searing guitar work and classy hook lines.
And why wasn't the atmospheric anthem - 'Millions Like Us' - a hit?
"Well we were pleased that our first got to Number 57 but if we'd got the airplay that 'Time For Action' did then we'd have been up there with them" comments Bob.
Yet again the lack of airplay for the band's new single, 'Frustration', means that it could disappear into cult obscurity. It's a pity because the single has all the right pop ingredients, and The Purple Hearts really do deserve more recognition because they were in at the beginning of mod.
"In May '78 we did our first gig as The Purple Hearts" says guitarist Simon Stebbing, "We started doing youth clubs playing songs like 'Can't Explain', "Watcha Gonna Do About It", 'Let's Dance', and Wilson Pickett's 'If You Need Me'."
However The Hearts' history dates back further - to June '77 when Bob, Simon, Jeff Shadbolt (bass) and drummer Nick, played a North London technical college supporting The Buzzcocks.
"We only heard about it the gig two weeks before we did it" say Jeff, "None of us could play instruments. But we rehearsed in my garage, calling ourselves The Sockets, and we even managed to get an encore with The Buzzcocks. We did seven gigs as The Sockets, playing the Roxy three times. Even in those days we were doing songs like 'My Generation'".
After Nick (now the roadie) broke his leg, Gary Sparks came in on drums. The Hearts gigged solidly around London building up a loyal mod following.
Of course The Hearts were inspired by punk to form a band. In fact Bob's hoarse vocals and the bands powerful sound have drawn comparisons with punk dinosaurs Generation X.
The band see this as a compliment: "Generation X were a mod band with their bullseye T - shirts and 'Your Generation'. We've all seen them loads of times and Billy Idol has been to a couple of our gigs."
And bullseye T - shirts leads us onto pop art, to which the band feel a strong allegiance. Bob asserts that pop art is making a comeback: "We think pop art's never been used properly by any group. 'Extraordinary Sensations' (the B - side of their new single), is real pop art. And the cover is ripped off Lichenstein, which means that when the kids buy the single, they are not just getting a great single but they are also getting a great work of art."
The Purple Hearts are not trying to ram mod down anyone's throats. Any open minded music fan should appreciate their aggressive brand of late seventies' pop music.
As Bob is so keen to point out: "We're just in the great tradition of British bands like The Kinks, The Small Faces, and The Who, as well as Slade and T - Rex. We're only associated with punk because we're angry and we write about everyday life. If we're a punk group then The Who were the first punk group."
From Record Mirror Approx February 1980
Interview by Philip Hall