(post) punk gems v. 16 — The Cortinas

Welcome back to Radio K-SAT, where all things are in bloom — finally!  I’ve got year-zero of punk on my mind, and Legs McNeil’s fascination with The Dictators in particular: “I hated most rock and roll, because it was about lame hippie stuff … There really wasn’t anyone describing our lives—which was McDonald’s, beer, and TV reruns. Then John found The Dictators, and we all got excited that something was happening.” Then he caught The Ramones at CBGB—“the best eighteen minutes of rock & roll that I had ever heard”—and Joey & co. agreed to an interview with Punk. “They were like us,” McNeil remembered. “They talked about comic books and sixties bubble-gum music and were really deadpan and sarcastic” (Please Kill Me, p. 203, 206).

Across the pond, the same impulse took hold in a bunch of young Bristol lads (average age = 16), who signed to a new label run by Miles Copeland (of IRS fame, and brother to Stewart, of course) and Mark Perry (of Sniffin’ Glue). In a chat with NME, drummer Dan Swann reported, “we chose the name because it represents something cheap and nasty.” The Cortina, you may recall, was a Ford model produced through 1982.

(In December 1991, Chris Salewicz interviewed Joe Strummer about life as a Pogue, and he noted, about post-Clash life, ” … it all gets murky and people have to get to move on and have wives or partners and children and buy and sell Ford Cortinas.”)

For their debut single, which bubbles over with the energy of ’77, The Cortinas take on the fantasies of puppet governments (“Fascist Dictator”) and execs at the BBC (“Television Families”).

I love the youthful angst, which of course is tempered by the joy of finding a collective groove, of tapping into something greater than the repetition of the loathsome teenage voices filling up your head. The vocals are rather high in the mix, and seem to be inspired by the harmony (?) vocals lent by Paul Simonon and Terry Chimes (and even Keith Levene) on The Clash debut (April 1977). The connection is more than fortuitous, as The Cortinas’ rhythm guitarist Nick Sheppard secured employment in 1983 with The Clash, following the dismissal of Mick Jones.

I hope you’ve seen the pix from the Met punk gala–there are two words I never thought I’d string together. Yikes.
Have a joyous, riff-filled week!
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2 thoughts on “(post) punk gems v. 16 — The Cortinas”

  1. In 1975, when I passed my driving test, my first car was a 1962 Ford Cortina Mk I bought for £100. Whilst not at the luxury end of the market, it came with leather interior as standard and had those wonderful last vestiges of 50’s American style in the form of those gorgeous little fins at the back. That car took me and the rest of the Subway Sect far and wide…clubs in and around London, bank holiday weekends to the coast; our horizons widened and we ventured out to ‘Sutton Scamps,’ the ‘Bali Hai’ in Streatham, Wimbledon ‘Tiffany’s’, and the ‘Toby Jug’ in Tolworth, to name but a few clubs. Our little group traveled across London in search of clubs and parties, with me at the wheel of my Cortina. I didn’t mind driving, as those were the days when you could still drink and drive and not get nicked. Petrol was cheap at 40p a gallon and life was carefree back in those innocent times. We seemed to have much greater fun back then, before music muddled the waters and made everything serious. I was your typical working-class ‘Saturday Boy’, with a Ford Cortina, and an eye for the birds and booze

    It was during 1975 that we started recognizing other small crews that were frequenting many of the clubs; the Bromley contingent being the most visible and flamboyant (although they had yet to gain that name). We gave our own names to many of the faces that we recognized, and years later, I now wonder if we ever got named in similar fashion by them. Unbeknownst to us, this was the coalescing of the London club scene that would eventually transform into the punk scene a year later. Many of those that we saw nightly on the soul scene would eventually spike up their hair and become punks. They were already pushing fashion further and the organic, unconscious, cross-mixing of genres continued to grow. Eventually we ventured to early Pistols gigs and the rest is history.

    For many, that first car is always unforgettable – like a first romance. So it is with with my old Ford Cortina. Alas, I have no photos of that first car to show but it was identical to your caption photo, but in dark blue. In the mid-sixties, Ford ‘upgraded’ the Mk I to the Mk II – not even close to the style or panash of the Mk I….I hated the Mk II. The Mk III became even worse.

    So it was ironic that Joe Strummer referenced the Ford Cortina in the song ‘Janie Jones’ and the car became synonymous with a type of home-grown, working class lad as seen by popular culture back then.

    The Baker.

    1. Mr. B.,

      Thanks for checking in, and for the lovely comment. Birds and booze beats wine and roses any day. As other folks may know, the “Bromley contingent” included followers of the Sex Pistols–Siouxsie S., Billy Idol, and Steve Severin (an original Banshee) among the more familiar faces.

      And, while I’m not familiar on the fine points between the MK I and its successors, that decorative chrome arrow along the side of the vehicle really makes the look.

      I am grateful that you’ve taken an interest in my writing, and hope that your comments in toto serve as a dress rehearsal for your own take on this great history.

      all best, randal

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