The Ruts – Babylon’s Burning and the 1981 British Riots.
Above Photo: Police walk through a riot-torn street in Toxteth, Liverpool in 1981.
The Ruts were responsible for one of the best songs of the whole Punk period, when they released Babylon’s Burning back in June 1979, although I’d been into them as soon as I’d heard their first single, In A Rut, which was released earlier that year (You Tube links to both tracks below).
Babylon’s Burning got into the British singles chart, reaching Number 7 in June 1979, which was an astonishing achievement back then. But it was – and still is – an iconic Punk song, and the band receive a number of mentions in my Punk and New Wave Memoir, Bombed Out!
I even got to see the band at Erics Club in Liverpool on 29th September 1979, and as a live band they were loud, full of energy and just fucking outstanding. At that time The Ruts consisted of singer Malcolm Owen, guitarist Paul Fox, bass player “Segs” Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy. I was (and still am) a massive fan of Jennings’ bass playing.
In A Rut’s B-side was an anti-heroin song called “H-Eyes”. Some of the lyrics, especially: “You’re so young, you take smack for fun/It’s gonna screw your head, you’re gonna wind up dead” became tragically relevant when singer Malcom Owen was found dead of a heroin overdose in the bathroom of his parents’ house. He was just 26 years old.
I remember the shock of hearing this news; I could hardly believe it. His death in July 1980 came not even two months after Ian Curtis, frontman of Manchester band Joy Division, had committed suicide in Macclesfield, northern England.
Two massive losses to Punk and New Wave in two unusually suburban places.
Ruts Guitarist Paul Fox then took over singing duties and the band continued in different guises and with different members, on an off, until they reformed to play a benefit gig in July 2007 for Paul Fox, who’d by then been diagnosed with cancer. Sadly he died three months later.
I don’t believe the Ruts have ever received the widespread respect and appreciation they deserved for their music, nor for their influence on the Punk/New Wave scene back then.
When I hear Babylon’s Burning today (I often still play it) I think of the social and economic upheavals of the 1980s under Margaret Thatcher’s government and the tough lives people led in unemployment-ravaged cities, long after the Ruts single came out.
These grim conditions culminated in the outbreak of rioting in Liverpool and other British cities in 1981, and they also form the backdrop to my Punk and New Wave memoir, Bombed Out! although this time written from my own perspective, facing a dismal prospect of a lifetime of unemployment after my period playing in Liverpool’s New Wave bands had finished. I’m pleased to say the book continues to receive rave reviews from readers and it can be bought below.
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php
The You Tube video of Babylon’s Burning, below, is superb and captures this feeling perfectly.