The Scene That Would Not Die: 20 Years of Post-Millennial Punk in the UK

Punks of a certain age are nostalgia junkies in spite of what they may tell you. Fond of orating personal experiences of formative years regardless of creative inclinations. Others are record keepers, documenting their scene through a camera lens, fuzzy tape recorder, or Xeroxed fanzine. At the turn of the millennium, the manner of capturing these moments was transformed seemingly overnight as the internet became more common. The DIY community had to evolve with the rise of social media, YouTube, and Bandcamp. 4-track recorders were replaced with laptops, cut n’paste became photoshop, and Facebook invites were favored over street teams posting show fliers. Even though punk remains a highly debated Schrodinger’s Cat, the scene continues to thrive through adaptation.

“Punk is never past tense,” writes British author and UK punk veteran, Ian Glasper. Sometimes known as “Slug”, Glasper has played bass for numerous bands such as Decadence Within, Stampin’ Ground, Human Error, A Flux of Pink Indians, and Suicide Watch– just to name a few. Glasper is also an ambitious historian of the UK punk scene, referring to himself as a “docu-mentalist”. Appropriately so as he started with Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980-1984, published in 2003. Another 4 books followed to cover the mid 80s to present, ending the series with The Scene That Would Not Die: Twenty years of Post-Millennial Punk in the UK. Written factually as an encyclopedia but reading as comfortably as a fanzine, the book delivers 650 pages of 111 bands, 350 photos, and over 200 fliers. Glasper lets the personalities of the musicians he interviews shine through in a comfortable setting. The bands respond by sharing their stories of origin, the impact of social media, and classic drunk-punk anecdotes that come with the territory of playing gigs and touring. 

I was initially intimidated by the size of the book, right out the gate. Knowing nothing of the UK’s hardcore scene aside from a few classic staples. Yet I embraced my education and read The Scene That Would Not Die from cover to cover instead of picking and choosing. At the end of every chapter, Glasper provides a select discography of each band and even links where you can learn more and listen to the featured musicians. Perhaps it took me longer than it should have to finish, but I used these provided resources to properly familiarize myself with each group. Engineer Records and Earth Island Books just announced the release of a 56-track compilation album to accompany the second run of the book, which I snapped up pretty quickly.

Being in awe of his creative gumption, I reached out to Ian to pick his brain about his writing process and bookshelf. He welcomed the opportunity with incredible warmth, just like any old friend from your own local scene.

KR: Everybody sort of has a story of where their creativity first bloomed. How did you get started writing? How did that evolve into your start for Terrorizer back in 1993?

Ian: Well, I always liked reading, and writing seemed to come relatively easily (compared to maths, haha!) I used to love all the James Bond books when I was a pre-teen, and remember writing a story for English class which involved a quite gratuitous torture scene, that prompted questions to be asked about what I was being allowed to read at home. If only they knew… but more on my love for horror later!

Anyway, I got into punk, which was very empowering, and you were encouraged/inspired to pick up a guitar or a pen – or both, in my case – and create your own art. I started doing a xeroxed fanzine in about 1985, called Little Things Please Little Minds, writing off to bands with generic questionnaires and stuff. My friend’s mum would photocopy them where she worked when the boss was out for lunch! I did five issues, before I got too busy with the band and stuff, but it planted the seed, for sure.

Then I was ordering lots of records from Rob Clymo, who ran a CD distribution out of Cornwall in the early Nineties, and I was always asking him for obscure hardcore and metal imports, so he knew I was into the scene. When he started up Terrorizer magazine, he asked me if I wanted to do a hardcore column, and the first “Hardcore Holocaust” ran in # 3. I did my first full interview the following issue, and then contributed to every single issue until it folded a few years back.

KR: Your first book was published in 2003 and there have been 5 other titles that followed in the next 17 years. That’s no small feat, considering your music career and personal life. What kind of writing process or disciplines do you utilize? Do you have a strict writing schedule daily?

Ian: Well, they were all pretty big books, and each took about two years to write, and I had a year off here and there. But you’re right, I have a full-time job, and only write – and play music – in my spare time. As well as the six books since 2003, I’ve recorded six albums and six EPs… the number of the beast, right? On average I probably do two hours a day writing, or thereabouts. Although back in the Noughties, I would get insomnia quite frequently, so I’d be up really early and/or late, and did a lot more than that. But I don’t have a writing schedule as such, yet even when I don’t write anything, I always try to do something every day towards whatever I’m working on, even if it’s firing off emails, chasing up photos… it helps to know you’ve done something positive to progress your project every day.

KR: So what do you have sitting on your bookshelf? What do you like to read regularly or what are some of your influential favorite reads?

Ian: I’ve always read horror fiction, since as long as I can remember, and a lot of my favourite books are from that genre – but I’ll save that for the next question, haha! I’ve kind of grown up with Stephen King though, and his books have evolved away from straight horror, and I’ve followed him on that journey. I pretty much pick his stuff up as and when it’s released and devour that; I love his work because it’s really easy to read – he doesn’t make everything convoluted for the sake of it – and he fleshes out such believable characters. But right now, I’m reading a non-fiction book, Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall, which I like to do now and again, just to feed my head a bit, and after that I’ve got NOS4A2 to read, by Joe Hill, who is of course Stephen King’s son. I also really love to read musical biographies/autobiographies, and have recently finished books on Sick Of It All and Therapy?

KR: I had read that you were a big fan of horror and sci-fi comics as a kid, do you still partake in the genre? Care to name some favorites that stick out in memory?

Ian: Yes! This is pure escapism for me. I love horror films, and I love horror books. I got into horror fiction when I was a kid, devouring all the works by pulp novelist Guy N. Smith, who sadly died very recently. From there, I moved to James Herbert and Shaun Hutson… I was reading a couple of books a week all through my teens, probably hooked in as much by the graphic sex as the gore and violence, truth be told. A few times I would stay up all night reading if I was really engrossed in a book. I’ve already mentioned Stephen King, who is a master story-teller, but some of my other favourites were Graham Masterton, whose early books especially were wildly imaginative, Robert McCammon, H.P. Lovecraft, Brian Lumley, Whitley Streiber, Clive Barker… the list is endless. As far as sci-fi comics go, well, I’m not a massive comic fan, truth be told, but as a kid I consumed 2000AD and Action… gratuitous violence and escapism was my calling, I think.

KR: Considering that 2020 was a lost year for many around the globe, it did provide ample time to reflect and freedom to create. How did you keep yourself occupied during quarantine? Did you work on any new projects, writing or musical?

Ian: Well, the new book, The Scene That Would Not Die: Twenty Years of Post-Millennial Punk In The UK, really came together after COVID kicked in. It gave me something to focus on, and seemed a great way of reminding people why we love underground music so much when there were no gigs… I say that as if it’s past tense, but at the time of writing, there are still no gigs, and I just hope we get back to interacting in that way soon. But needless to say, I had a bit of extra time for editing and proofing and everything, and I got it over the line just the right side of the deadline (I wanted it out before the end of 2020 – so the title actually made sense, haha!)
I also kept myself sane by writing lots of music and lyrics, and a lot of that ended up being used by Zero Again, the new band I’m in, that basically coalesced during lockdown. We bounced ideas back and forth and we were chomping at the bit as soon as the rehearsal studios opened to play together. We did two months of hard jamming and then recorded a dozen songs just before they shut everything back down again. Which was great timing really, because we’ve since released all those songs, as two EPs and a track for a compilation, whilst we’ve been unable to get back together to play. Having that material recorded has helped keep the band ‘active’ whilst we’ve been unavoidably inactive.

KR: The past 20 years saw rapidly advancing technology, forcing DIY scenes to adapt and evolve. What do you think the face of punk is going to look like post-pandemic?

Ian: Hopefully much like it was before, but we’ll cherish local gigs and bands just a little bit more. The thing that’s really in question is whether we’ll be able to gig internationally the way we used to… and that’s partly due to the pandemic, and partly due to Brexit, I suppose. But mainly the pandemic. We’ll have to wait and see, but I hope that upcoming young musicians are still going to be able to drag themselves around the world on a wing and a prayer like we’ve enjoyed doing these last three or four decades.

KR: What advice would you give to novice writers out there looking to evolve their craft?

Ian: I would just say: be yourself, and let your personality shine through, because a few honest words are worth a thousand that are less so. And keep chipping away at it – if you’ve got a book in you, don’t stop until you’ve got it out, because if the last year has shown us anything, it’s to make your own ‘luck’, because you can’t take anything for granted, and you certainly can’t sit back and wait for opportunity to knock. As Nasty Ronnie from Nasty Savage once said, “Life is short at its longest…”

You can get your own copy of Ian Glasper’s latest book at Earth Island Books.