Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980—1984: By Ian Glasper 449 pgs. By Steve Hart

Nov 24, 2014

Growing up in Michigan in the early ‘80s, and not in the “cool” side of Michigan that everybody knows about (Detroit is somehow cool?), U.K. punk might as well have been from Mars. Touring bands didn’t play Muskegon until around 1983. I don’t ever remember a “big name” band from the U.K. playing West Michigan until the late ‘80s. Also, most of the U.K. punk albums I remember seeing at the record store, like the Exploited or GBH, were import-only and were three times as much as a Black Flag album. Therefore, I bought a lot of Black Flag albums. In 2004, Ian Glasper published Burning Britain, The History of UK Punk 1980-1984, which gave a lot of insight to not only the more well-known bands’ histories, but some of the lesser known, obscure bands like Red London or Infa-Riot were featured as well. And in a few cases, some of these bands have compelling stories to tell.

Although Burning Britain is a thick book, and it’s jam packed with band interviews about line-up changes and funny anecdotes, I wished I could the book could have investigated deeper into the creation of some of the seminal records from this time. We learn more about the personalities of the band than we learn about the band’s artistic approach. Perhaps there wasn’t any artistic ethos, but I’m curious why the Exploited used tom-tom rhythms, and I’m still not entirely clear what the hell Discharge was thinking with Grave New World. Whatever, it was, I still laugh whenever I think of the first time I heard that record.

Burning Britain is an excellent book for an overview of a hugely influential, prolific, and interesting punk rock scene. I’m amazed by how normal some of these bands are. Many are a group of friends who got together and wrote some songs, played some gigs, toured around, put out a few records, and broke up. When their photos were printed in fanzines all around the world, they were otherworldly, with long spiky hair and leather pants, black guitars, and snarling faces. Ian Glasper captured those photos and humanized them. Burning Britain is a compilation of the stories behind the pimply teenagers who stared out from the thin newsprint fanzines and record inserts from the early ‘80s U.K. punk scene. This also contains updated discographies. –Steve Hart (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623)