On this day 41 years ago, Menace released their debut single, ‘Screwed Up’ b/w ‘Insane Society’.
Menace had formed at North London’s Hope & Anchor in 1976, emerging from the ashes of a pub rock band with the Spinal Tapesque name Stonehenge. They were a bunch of Irish kids who’d grown up in the seedy area around Kings Cross decades before it became gentrified. Like Sham, Sparrer and to some extent Chelsea, they were one of those transitional punk bands whose grittier ‘street’ stance pointed towards Oi.
Many first generation punk bands had argued that work was shit (see Sex Pistols ‘Seventeen’, The Clash ‘Career Opportunities’) – but for the second generation, unemployment became something worth criticising.
Chelsea’s ‘Right to Work’ had come out in June. On the face of it, a self-explanatory title and lyric. According to guitarist James Stevenson, though, it was “actually an anti-union statement. [Vocalist Gene October] had been trying to get into Equity and acting and couldn’t… so it was the right to work without joining a union”.
Without going into the finer points of Equity’s ‘closed shop’ policy, it’s fair to say that Thatcher fulfilled October’s dream when outlawing the practice with her anti-union ‘Employment Act’ of 1990.
Menace’s take in ‘Insane Society’ was more straightforward: “if we’re working class, why ain’t we got jobs”. Two years into Blair’s ‘cool Britannia’, the reformed band would return to the subject with their comeback single, ‘Society Still Insane’ (1999): “Half of us are scratchin’ our arses, the other half are slaves to work”. By then, it had sunk in that you’re fucked either way.
Menace roadies included ‘Hoxton’ Tom McCourt and ‘Millwall’ Roi Pearce, later of 4-Skins and The Last Resort, and their shows were noted for attracting a mixed punk and skinhead audience. Menace are sometimes cited as possibly the first punk band to achieve that feat: “Sham were more overt in their leanings towards skinheads,” vocalist Noel Martin recounted later, “we had that crossover thing. We liked that idea”.
Word on the street was that the band members had all been skinheads the first time round. And indeed, here’s a picture of future Menace guitarist Steve Tannett in 1970: