Raw Energy: “Punk: The Early Years” documentary chronicles the London punk scene circa ’77

By on September 28, 2016

The hour-long documentary film Punk: The Early Years – The Origins of the Punk Rock Phenomenon — originally titled Raw Energy and rarely seen until 1997, when its was apparently first distributed on DVD — chronicles the London-based punk rock scene circa ’77-’78 as seen through the eyes of director Martin Baker and cameraman Piers Bedford, who captured early club performances by the X Ray Spex, Generation X, the Slits, the Adverts, Eddie and the Hot Rods, along with interviews with Billy Idol, Siouxsie Sioux, Marc Bolan and others. You can catch the first wave of the mid-70s English punk scene on Night Flight Plus.

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UPDATE: Martin Baker sent along the following comment (read it below) on February 24, 2018, letting us know that he was the film’s actual director:

“I was working at Eyeline Films with Piers, and one day went down to the Marquee to see The Damned. I was very excited to see the punk rock scene, and given that it was 1977 and punk was getting barred from TV, I decided to finance a documentary. I met Virginia Boston, who was writing a punk book at the time, and over the course of one week we filmed. However, given the times no TV company would touch it, so it remained on the shelf until the early 1990s, when the rough cut edit was distributed on VHS.”

Shortly after this footage for this documentary was shot, Bedford apparently directed the Cure’s video for “10:15 Saturday Night,” which is collected on The Cure: Staring at the Sea – The Images (1986), which is the only entry he’s got listed under his name over at IMDB.

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Sometimes not being able to connect all the dots about the origins of a film like that makes watching it that much more mysterious, and so that’s what we’re left with, a mysterious punk rock documentary film, shot in the years 1977 and ’78.

Then, it was likely patched together, somewhat crudely, in an editing room and then languished on a shelf for years, although 16mm prints were likely available through rental houses stocking from the 1980s until the more recent digital age. We honestly didn’t know about it until everyone else did, in the late 90s.

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What is apparent is the fact that Bedford was right there at the clubs (the Roxy, the Marquee) and punk clothing boutiques of London (possibly McLaren’s SEX shoppe), pointing his camera at bands onstage and backstage, and their fans, on the streets and in the crowd.

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One of the best parts of the film is footage shot of a very young looking 21-year old Billy Idol and his band, Generation X, at the Marquee Club, on August 12, 1977.

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We found a note online saying that the band’s appearance that night set a new attendance record for the Marquee, although it doesn’t really look too different that most crowded club footage, particularly at punk shows.

The band are heard performing “Your Generation,” their first single, which didn’t appear in record bins until September ’77. We also understand that there’s additional footage spliced into the scene of the band performing the same song the very next day, August 13th, in front of a gaggle of British rock journos.

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Wikipedia also notes that Generation X played the song on Marc Bolan’s short-lived afternoon variety show, “Marc,” that same month, and here we have Bolan backstage at the Marquee, being interviewed, talking about punk rock.

We need to point out here that only six episodes of the TV show were produced in the autumn of ’77, and Generation X appeared on the very last show, which was filmed on September 7th, but didn’t air until September 28, 1977, which was twelve days after Marc Bolan died in a automobile smash-up on Barnes Common, a fortnight short of his 30th birthday.

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Idol and the band are interviewed backstage — credit for the interviews goes to Virginia Boston, also credited with “research,” interviewing other bands and others who appear to be hanging out, the so-called members of the “Bromley Contingent,” like Siouxsie Sioux, who were the early London punks.

Boston also wrote highly-regarded Shock Wave book, published in 1978 and generally regarded as the first definitive book on punk music (it’s called Punk Rock in the UK).

By then, Siouxsie had already infamously appeared on Bill Grundy’s TV show with the Pistols (in December 1976, the same month that Generation X formed as a band), and she was still solidifying the band she’d put together, Siouxsie and the Banshees, who at the time of this documentary had a new guitarist who had joined in July ’77; they wouldn’t see their first single released, however, until the next year.

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We get to hear Siouxsie talking about how she was sometimes considered a fascist merely because she “liked to wear a certain badge.”

We’re also treated to an early performance of “Oh Bondage Up Yours” by the band X-ray Spex, led by the ever-adorable Poly Styrene, who is also interviewed at length.

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Also, the Slits are seen performing a few songs and obviously they were still working out the details of the band they’d become.

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There are also assorted interviews with the record execs explaining their dealings with The Pistols, The Clash, The Hot Rods and looking for the “next trend” (which is funny to hear since punk had barely even traveled over to America by this time).

There’s a interview with a young fanzine writer, Danny Baker (possibly related to the film’s producer/director, Martin Baker, if we had to guess), who was one of the key people behind an early London punk ‘zine, Sniffin Glue.

He’s interviewed along with Mark P of the band Alternataive TV, and also of Sniffin Glue (he may have actually invented the concept of the photocopied punk zine too).

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He sums up his frustration with London life at the time by saying “…all you’re trained for is to be in a factory at the end of twenty years, and that’s the biggest insult…”

There’s a commical scene where members of the Adverts interrupt each other while explaining the story behind their song “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes.”

Eddie & the Hot Rods — not truly a punk bank, but they often appeared on punk compilations and were obviously members of the same feral rock club scene — slam and slash their way through their cover of Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver.”

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There are other surprises along the way in this 60-minute documentary which honestly doesn’t attempt at all to do anything more than capture what was happening, without flash or flair, in London circa ’77/’78.

Watch Punk: The Early Years – The Origins of the Punk Rock Phenomenon now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Martin Baker

    Hi, while I credited my friend and cameramen Piers Bedford as director of Raw Energy, I actually directed the film. What happen was that I was working at Eyeline Films with Piers, and one day went down to the Marquee to see The Damned. I was very excited to see the punk rock scene, and given that it was 1977 and punk was getting barred from TV, I decided to finance a documentary. I met Virginia Boston, who was writing a punk book at the time, and over the course of one week we filmed. However, given the times no TV company would touch it, so it remained on the shelf until the early 1990s, when the rough cut edit was distributed on VHS. Virginia Boston also introduced me to Don Letts, who was trying to get finance to edit his Punk Rock movie. I introduced him to Peter Clifton, and as they say the rest was history. Don later asked me to produce his first Clash videos, “London Calling”, “Bankrobber” and “Train in Vain”.I went on to direct “Smash it Up” and “Palm 9 Channel 7 for the Damded, which Piers Bedford was cameraman.

  • Munkiman

    Thanks for the update!

  • Kliff

    Martin, interesting information. Is there anyway we can discuss the Marc Bolan contribution in a bit more detail? I need a bit more hard info for the new edition of my book.