Shivers Inside
Back To Zero – Your Side of Heaven 7”

Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon.  Total nonsense of course.  There was music too.  But the suggestion was that I was missing out.  Total nonsense too.  Products have so much to teach us.  So many stories to tell …

Hey guess who I came across the other day?  Remember Back To Zero?  Well their singer is still skulking around the outskirts of the scene believe it or not.  Brian B we called him then didn’t we?  We had a bit of a perverse soft spot for his group as they were sort of the underdogs at the time.  The funny thing is that I have to confess to buying a copy of their single on ebay the other week. It’s becoming a terrible habit.  Picking up old 7”s for next to nothing which you know you’ve got stashed away somewhere.

I’d sort of forgotten but it’s an absolute classic.  Crashing Can’t Explain teenage angst.  Brilliant guitar sound.  Really trebly.  I guess that was down to the Chris Parry production.  He did a fantastic job on that record.  He did on the Purple Hearts too for his Fiction label.  There was something about the space on his records.  And the drums.

The great thing about Back To Zero was that they really were kids.  17 or 18-ish.  Just a bit older than us at the time.  As the saying used to go they came out of nowhere, made that one single, and disappeared straight back there.  No signing up to another label.  No struggle to adapt.  No growing pains.  Just that one single to look back on.  That’s pretty cool isn’t it?  The essence of a garageband’s dream.

Just thinking about Back To Zero makes me think about the summer of 1979.  Do you remember how dumb we were?  It’s worrying that I can remember that summer better than I can this year’s.  I told you I went to that art exhibition in Manchester Square a few months back where there were all these Kevin Cummins photos of Joy Division, and I knew immediately that they had been taken in July 1979.  Pretty sad.  And while that may have been the summer of Joy Division, Zoo, Factory and all the Rough Trade stuff, where we were living there was no escaping the mod thing was there? 

I still don’t feel any need to make excuses.  The ’79 mod renaissance was an incredible underground thing.  Totally self-contained.  No marketing men thinking up the next big thing.  No media executives indulging themselves.  It was just pockets of kids scattered around London, picking up on the old mod thing, turning away from the punk mainstream, understandably more interested in hearing an old 7” of Anyway Anyhow Anywhere than some of the rubbish around.  The leather jackets and studs and circle A idiots.  There’s still this tendency to look down on the London groups of the time.  The Chords, Purple Hearts, Small Hours.  Some cracking groups though.  And all the people writing about Joy Division supposedly looking down on us, when it was their singer voting Conservative and flirting with some quite unpleasant imagery.  And we were writing YSL on walls, when it meant Young Socialist League rather than a clothes designers’ brand.  Remember we had Hilary Benn to one of the meetings in the Co-Op Hall?  Incredible to see him as a Government minister now. 

And Back To Zero were somehow in there from the start.  Like Subway Sect with punk.  Brian B was a bit of a legend on the scene.  The story used to go about how his older brother was an original mod and had passed his phenomenal collection of singles on to Brian so he knew all about the old soul and psychedelia stuff which the rest of us could only dream about while we picked up on dodgy compilations or at jumble sales.  There was nothing then.  Very few charity shops.  No boot sales.  No internet of course.  Very few reissues.  Just a few signposts.  There was The Creation’s Making Time, which Raw put out.  There was all that stuff on the inner sleeve of All Mod Cons.  There were the old copies of the Generation X paperback.  George Melly’s Revolt Into Style.  Gary Herman’s Who book.  Remember how we used to study those for clues?

Back To Zero always used to suffer from being associated with Maximum Speed.  That was a rubbish fanzine wasn’t it but we used to read it over and over and over.  What was it? Clive, Kim and Goffa?  Well, it wasn’t exactly healthy stuff but then most of the fanzines at the time were completely awful.  It was dangerous though in that it seemed to promote this culture of tribalism and football.  I don’t think there’s any equivalent now.

You got a copy of that Rough Cut and Ready Dubbed DVD didn’t you?  It’s that same era.  Really scary stuff.  The Purple Hearts are magnificent in it.  I’d still kill for that group.  They were up there with the Banshees and The Jam in terms of innovation.  But the violence is frightening.  The tribalism.  You don’t really get that now do you?  Not sure if that’s a good thing or not.  But even years later you got a few goths moonlighting from a Birthday Party bash causing a bit of mischief at a Mary Chain gig and it gets blown up in to the new Sex Pistols when such nihilism was run of the mill.  But you look at that Stiff Little Fingers Rock Against Racism footage and its like armageddon.  It’d be front page now.  But I bet half that audience are company executives now who still go and see SLF for a bit of a nostalgia kick away from the rigours of the boardroom and exec getaways.

You see all the kids hanging round the shopping centres now.  I’m hopelessly out of touch so I’ve no idea what you call them.  Goths.  Emos. Whatever.  But in 1979 in our part of London it was like a death sentence being as heavily into the mod thing the way we were.  You just never knew who you’d be running away from next.  But it was mainly the stupid sad skinheads we had to avoid.  Those guys were not funny.  They were sick.  Sham supporters.  And it got worse.  The whole NF, British Movement thing.  I mean years later it ended in a real riot when thousands marched on the BNP headquarters down the road where the skinheads used to act as security.  Like it was meant to be a bookshop.  But somehow you suspected not many of those boneheads really read the pamphlets they published.  Horrible horrible.  The whole Skrewdriver, Chelsea Headhunters thing, which Bushell and others blundered into.  It’s funny how he was meant to be involved with the far left at one time.

There’s that story of someone stupidly booking the Purple Hearts in to play at Crayford Town Hall.  I mean I loved the Hearts, but there was no way I was going to go.  It was just suicidal.  It was so obvious the skinheads would ruin things.  We just seemed to spend all our time running round involved in Benny Hill style chases just because we wore hush puppies and Fred Perrys.  There wasn’t really time to stand around to try and explain we were more into the Subway Sect than Secret Affair was there?

And Back To Zero were in there, in the thick of it, equally reviled and revered, depending where you stood and the cut of your hair.  They looked pretty awkward, and they had this soul boy drummer, but that single stands up.  I think I made a right prat of myself the other night, after being introduced to Brian, and shaking his hand madly and saying what a fantastic single Your Side of Heaven still is.  He looked totally bemused.  Probably thought I was totally drunk.  I wasn’t of course.  Mind you we ended up talking about Guy Stevens and old British psych singles.  He’s well into all the garage stuff.  Favourite all time single is The Craig’s I Must be Mad or something.  Brilliant.  He, and people like the Purple Hearts were listening to all that, the Eyes and Downliners Sect and Sorrows and the Pretty Things, well, when it was like a secret language, and we were supposed to just be into the Stooges and the MC5 because that was punk’s official lineage.  I bet Brian appreciates the irony of having a legacy that consists of just that one classic single.

© 2007 John Carney