Ruts DC

100 Club, London - 8 January 2015

"More than any of the first wave punk bands like The Clash or The Pistols, the Ruts were MY band"

More than any of the 1st wave punk bands like The Clash or The Pistols, the Ruts were MY band, one of the first bands who really spoke to me; I bought all their records and lived with the sound of them, playing them over and over throughout my early adolescence.

When singer Malcolm Owen died, I was genuinely upset, the first time a death had touched me in that way, because I really felt like I knew him (even though I understood intellectually that I didn’t) just through the lyrics and the way he sang them. I’d avoided any of the re-formed Ruts gigs until this event, refusing to go to the Rollins fronted gig on the basis that it was going to be 'rubbish karaoke'. Despite the fact that everyone I knew who went (and YouTube footage) afterward told me different, still I resisted. Because The Ruts were SO crucial to my teenage self, SO important to me that I couldn’t risk the possibility of a sub-standard pantomime like the last Steve (Crass) Ignorant gig. And in the end, was this really The Ruts that I knew and loved?

I would’ve dismissed any other band playing with just the original rythmn section and a guitarist I’d never heard of out of hand. I mean, you wouldn’t go to see the Dead Kennedys without Jello, would you? So it was with mixed emotions that I walked into the 100 club, and cast a cynical eye over an audience that mainly consisted of (let’s be honest) fat bald blokes, pretty far gone in years and looking to get pretty far gone in every other way possible by the end of the night. The first half of the set passed me by on the whole, being more on the reggae end of the rock/reggae axis that Ruts DC occupy these days (and let’s be clear, we are definitely talking ‘rock’ as opposed to ‘punk’). Although the sound was pin-sharp, with Segs’ bass dominating and judicious use of heavy dub echo on the vocals, it wasn’t really my thing, despite minor high points like Different View and a new song Second Hand Child.

[Ruts DC]
[Ruts DC]   [Ruts DC]

Photos: Rhiannon Ifans

The pace picked up as they started to pepper the set with old Ruts material - It Was Cold and Backbiter warming up the crowd before what was always going to be a flurry of classics at the end. It was strange experience to hear songs I knew so well without Malcolm’s throaty rasp, and the pace has slightly slowed in the intervening 35(!) years, but they really held their own. The guitar could’ve been a bit higher in the mix for the older material, but it was still pretty fucking great.

So what did we get? We got (in no particular order), Something that I Said (the whole place goes mental at the first three notes of the intro), Staring at the Rudeboys’(everyone drunkenly roars the “speeding like a jet” line), Love in Vain (they segue into Police and Thieves and you’d swear Junior Murvin was in the room), Society (the whole place goes mental all over again), Jah War (mass outbreak of bad skanking), Shine on Me (just… fabulous) and obviously, inevitably, In a Rut. All the way through the gig, I had been struck by how Segs’ bass sound and the echo/flange-heavy guitar pushed them towards early Public Image territory, and I had been idly wondering what would have happened if the Fox/Segs/Ruffy rump of The Ruts had joined PiL when Wobble left.

They certainly could have played both the post-punk attack and the dub-influenced groove, but I doubt they could’ve put up with Lydon or Levene (or the drug use) for long. It would’ve made for some great gigs and at least one blinding single though. As if picking up on these musings, In a Rut detoured into PiL’s Public Image midway through, but despite my previous speculation, the inclusion of Lydon’s post-punk calling card didn’t really work, creating (in a song so iconic in its own right that it needs no embellishment) more of a distraction than an enhancement.

They could have easily played for another hour without exhausting the back catalogue and I was disappointed that they didn’t do H-Eyes or Give Youth a Chance - their finest hour - but the weekday curfew cut them short, leaving everyone wanting to hear more, and many people (Segs included) more than a little teary-eyed. Manfully avoiding any nostalgic weeping myself, I left as soon as it became clear they weren’t going to play another song and made my way home via the the fuckshit bastard cuntery of London Bridge station which ruined my mood entirely. But that’s another story. 5/10 for the Ruts DC songs. 8/10 for The Ruts stuff.

Review: Nick Hydra