“Tell Us The Truth”

SHAM 69 – “Tell Us The Truth” LP (Polydor 2383491) February 1978

Sham 69 “Tell Us The Truth” – A giggle in the night. And I thought punk was kaput, finito, a bubble in the Alka Seltzer – but maybe that’s because I’m a Londoner.

Sham 69 fulfills a 16-year-old’s notion of gutter grit instability (ie) a Saturday night knees-up, a Saturday night piss-up, a Saturday night punch-up.

They’re a good time band with a neat line in social sophistry. Not that kids take too much notice of what’s being said. No, they’re preoccupied with being performers themselves. Extrovert Esso blues wiv boots and astronaut crops enjoying the hospitality of muvver Brown.

Sham’s songs aren’t particularly deep, significant or dotted with politico palpitations. They simply appeal to the susceptible – and that could be you or me.

Jimmy Pursey plays on people’s restricted emotions – and he’ll be the first to admit that. He plays upon them in such a mundane, North Bank way that the crowd can’t fail to find it strangely heroic. Pursey is a hero in the same way as Peter Storey was a hero or Ron Harris.

And we’d all like to be heroes.

Sham are often accused of being a good live. They’re a great live band and this album also confirms that they a decent studio band – though you only get one side of that on ‘Tell Us The Truth’.

The rest is an expletives deleted some holds barred live show with all the faves – ‘Rip Off’, ‘Ulster’, George Davis is Innocent’ etc which gives the uninitiated some idea of what the band is all about, or, more exactly, what the band’s audience is all about.

‘Tell Us The Truth’, or ‘Sham 69’s Greatest Hits’ could well be an epitaph of ’77. The dilemma is – how can they follow that?

I sincerely hope the words Sham 69 won’t be added to the ever increasing list of defunct ’77 misfits. That would be a tragedy.

Record Mirror, February 1978

Really, it all depends on how much trust you’re willing to invest. If all you want from a record is leisure listening which does little to reinforce a cosy rut, read no further. Sham 69 will be anathema. They will make incensed jackals sound like puppies who do naughty things with toilet rolls. And that would be a criminal shame.

Even the title and cover throw a battered brick through the window. The four Sham men stand pinioned in the corner of a kind of interrogation room / detention centre, fists clenched and snarling at an accusing finger that emerges from a pin-striped sleeve. Maybe you think the image is simplistic and naive. But it also sums up what the band are all about: fierce commitment and honesty.

Therein lies the contradictions of head person Jimmy Pursey. Above all, he wants to entertain; but to achieve that end, he has to act directly from his own experience. That means looking directly at his home life in Hersham, where his dad was a plumber and his mam a cleaner, his long periods of truancy from school, Saturday afternoons at football and dead-end jobs.

This isn’t supposed to be some dewy-eyed, patronising, working-class flag day appeal; it’s simply what happened. All the frustration, disillusion, anger, fear, confusion and (don’t ever forget, as a lot of people seem to) the laughs. The band’s enjoyment is the result of the audience’s enjoyment, though the process is fraught.

It comes through loud and clear on the live first side. The more an audience enjoys itself, the more it jostles for a part of the action, and as the dedication indicates (“special thanks to all our mates who appear on this side”), they virtually get equal billing. The side ends with a football chant of “Knees Up Mother Brown”. Once involvement is endured, then questioning can follow. The lyrics are of paramount importance, and though Jimmy has tried to mix them up as far as possible, they are still annoyingly cloudy in too many instances.

They are straightforward catchphrases from off the street:

“Everything we say and do
So many people laugh at you.
You never had no pity
Cos you always take the mickey.”

Out of context, you may think the sentiments are pathetically innocent, but they are applicable as they are vulnerable.

Like the portrait of the kid in “Ulster” who throws potties and ends up in hospital; like the barking sensation in “George Davis Is Innocent”; like the fury behind “They Don’t Understand”.

Naturally, the sound is raw; it would be stupid to expect anything else. The same feelings (a sustained, breeze-block onslaught is the key) carry over to the second studio side, where Sham indicate their willingness, albeit stumbling at times, to experiment. “Family Life” starts off with a typical tussle between mam and son: “Your dinner’s burnt and you’ll stay in till your father comes home.”

Kitchen sink, but the exchange is real. Out of interest, compare it with The Ramones’ “We’re A Happy Family”, and note that Dave Parsons stretches out more.

The most surprising track, however, is “Whose Generation!”. Sham used to do a version of Townshend’s indestructible song, but the kinship between the two is now very distant. It opens with a type of heartbeat bass-line, which is then joined by what sounds like phased vocal cross-currents, grinding feedback, air-raid siren effects and, finally, three ominous tolling bells.

The significance? Your guess is as good as mine. Ringing out the old generation and ushering in the new? Closing the chapter on this phase of Sham? I don’t know.

Tell Us The Truth is bludgeoning and, in the words of Tom Robinson, won’t take no for an answer. Put aside the notions that Jimmy cannot sing in any conventional manner and the band aren’t “properly” accomplished. What matters here is the effect and the excitement.

Anyway, it contains a live version of one of the best punk singles this year, “Borstal Breakout”. The lock’s been picked and they are looking over your shoulder.

(NME, March 1978)

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