Classic albums: ‘Voice of a Generation’ by Blitz

It’s my great pleasure to discuss Voice of a Generation with Neil ‘Mackie’ McLennan, the man who played the bass on one of history’s most legendary Oi/punk albums – perhaps the most legendary one, and a strong influence on everyone from Templars and Criminal Damage to the more recent Mess.

When I was 17-18, I played a cassette tape of Voice of a Generation every day until it died (from memory, From Chaos to 1984 by the 4-Skins was on the other side – my two new favourite albums after years of G.B.H, Discharge and Daily Terror). But that’s just on a personal sidenote… Over to Neil ‘Mackie’ Mc Lennan!

Matt Crombieboy

Voice of Generation was recorded in Stockport just outside Manchester in August/September 1982. What are your memories of that recording session?

We were booked into Strawberry Studios for a week, which seemed like a long time to us. We were used to bashing the songs out one day and mixing the next. But the No Future label were happy for us to go in and take our time to get things right. We had demoed the songs a few weeks before in a small studio called Revolution in nearby Cheadle, so we were ready to go.

Many Blitz songs are carried by your distinct basslines – the Motörhead-like ‘Never Surrender’ and the post-punk bass of ‘Bleed’ spring to mind. What were the biggest influences on your playing style?

When I started out, I had a shitty Telecaster copy guitar. I couldn’t play chords so easy, but I was ok to hold a rhythm down and moved along to bass. I had a shitty Futurama bass with a piece of dowel for the bridge. The action was about an inch off the fretboard – good for finger muscles. The bassists I admired from the punk world would be JJ Burnell of The Stranglers and Bruce Foxton of The Jam, but also Steve Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees, who played simple stuff but really drove the songs along. Peter Hook of Joy Division was another favourite of mine.

Voice of a Generation wasn’t as straightforward as your earlier singles and EPs, and there were some unexpected elements: the chorus effect on ‘Bleed’, a strange little track called ‘T.Q.’, the dub influences in ‘Closedown’ and the intro to ‘Nation on Fire’, a Lou Reed cover… Did you already have an urge at the time to transcend the basic Oi punk mould?

Absolute fucking icons: Blitz

The thing was, we were doing an album – that’s 10-15 tracks. We didn’t want to just bash out fast stuff because we realised you need different flavours on a full-length. We were all into stuff like Joy Division and post punk, so I suppose that’s where the chorus effect stuff came in: to fatten out the bass sound and change the dynamics of a song.

‘Bleed’ was actually a Nidge bassline. ‘Nation on Fire’ was mine – we had already done one version of the track and wanted to stretch out the intro, again just to make it a bit different. We also wanted a cover, and Carl suggested a faster punk rip through Lou Reed’s ‘Vicious’, which I think it came out really well. Songs like ‘Your Revolution’ and ‘Closedown’ are quite different from the early stuff we did on All Out Attack, but I think they are great songs and help keep the listener interested. ‘Propaganda’ is just a fantastic song – great lyrics from Carl.

‘Time Bomb’, ‘Voice of a Generation’, ‘Scream’, ‘Escape’ were all older songs, we had demoed them a few times and knew they were great punk bangers, so there would be a good variety to listen to. It wasn’t about transcending the basic mould, it was just a natural progression. We loved Discharge and Crass, we loved The Clash, Stiff Little Fingers, and we were also into the Banshees and Joy Division, so that’s where it all came from.

How happy were you with the results when the album came out in 1982?

I remember at the time we were happy with it. Maybe the production is a bit polished and could do with a bit more grit – but yeah, we were happy with it. I think I remember Nidge saying he would have liked to add some more guitars, but that never happened.

And how do you feel about it when you hear it today?

I don’t really listen to it. I’ve heard bits now and again, but I’ve not sat down with headphones on and gone through it – it just makes you freak out a bit if you do that.

Your recent cover of ‘New Age’ turned out really well. The original recording was like a bridge between the punk period of Blitz and the later post-punk material.

‘New Age’ is one of my favourite Blitz tracks. I’m sure I’d messed around at Nidge’s flat when we were writing stuff and played on the riff, but I can’t be certain. The cover was a lockdown project. I asked my mate Greg from The Violators and our first drummer in Epic Problem to record me the drums to ‘New Age’, and I’d play bass and guitar on them at home – just a little laptop recording. I went into Pressure Drop studios in Stockport to do the vocals. Will the engineer said: this is turning out pretty good, let’s redo the drums and guitars in the studio and get it sounding massive – so that’s what we did.

You left Blitz before the original ‘New Age’ single was recorded in 1982, though – why was that?

Yeah, I left after the album. It’s pretty well documented we had a fall-out after a gig in London that was supposed to be filmed for No Future. Carl was pissed and the gig was a shambles, I thought. So we had a band meeting the next day, and I voiced my opinion, and me and Carl ended up fighting on the floor. So I figured this might be a good time to leave. I was pissed off at trying to sort everything, and once the album came out, I thought: well, I’ve done an album, that’s all I set out to do – in fact, more than I ever thought we would do.

In hindsight, this wasn’t my best ever career choice. I should have had a break from it all for a week or two and then carried on, but you can’t change the past. I’ve been offered loads of gigs, tours and money to do the Blitz thing. But although I’m happy to play the odd Blitz song in Epic Problem, I never wanted to go out under that name. I’m happy to sell Blitz merch and stuff ‘cos that’s all my artwork, but to cash in on the nostalgia thing without Nidge doesn’t sit right with me. Just move on.

Do you regret not sticking around for the Second Empire Justice album?

Second Empire Justice was basically Carl and my replacement Tim, and I think Charlie did bits of drums on it. It was different, not well received at the time – but I hear some people like it now [oh yes, they do – Editor].

Any other projects that you’ve recently been involved in?

My last band was called Epic Problem. We did loads of gigs all over and released a fair few records. We were active for 7-8 years, and we were a great band. Check Epic Problem out: All Broken 10”, Lines EP, Grace EP – there’s loads of stuff out there. There might be bits of Blitz in there, but we were definitely our own band.

I also played guitar and wrote a few tunes for City Miles, who were a great street punk band – check out the album Social Upheaval. I’m currently doing stuff with Mark from the Down and Outs, I plan on putting an album out, and who knows what after that.

What about the famous skull on the cover of Voice of a Generation – whose artwork was that?

I drew the image for the album, but a friend of ours, Howard Oliver (RIP), painted it for us.

And the skeleton riding a bomber in the lyric sheet?

The image was supplied by Chris Berry of No Future Records. He found it in a book and thought it might look good [if anyone knows who painted the original, let us know – Editor].

Say a few words about the individual tracks, ok?

Sure. I already commented a fair bit about most of the songs, so I’m just gonna rush through them and tell you whatever I can remember from my fast-fading memory….

We are the Boys:
First track and straight in with a banger. Tim suggested the intro part where we were messing about before the song comes it.

Time Bomb:
This had been recorded a couple of times. One for our first songs after the All Out Attack EP. Great drums by Charlie and a great intro.

Voice of a Generation:
Carl came up with the title and wrote all the lyrics to every song. Music by Nidge, different version than the Pure Noise EP.

Bleed:
Nidge had the bassline, and I thought it was ace. Real driving stuff. The guitar is a bit of a Public Image Ltd type riff. A favourite to play live.

I Don’t Need You:
A fast one in the mould of ‘Never Surrender’ – you need a few of these in your set to blow the cobwebs away.

T.O.?
The early demo version had no singing at all. My guitar riff was just an idea, and we couldn’t fit a verse-chorus structure around it, so Carl just sang something and it seemed to work. I’m not sure why he’s singing “what do you think your doin’ touching me there?” I’m sure it was a fuck-about, but we decided to leave it in.

Propaganda
The song was both about the National Front and the tabloid press, I suspect – although the “fascists in the letterbox” line was obviously about the NF. For me, the best lyrics that Carl wrote.

Criminal Damage
An early one from our first demos. Fast, succinct, and to the point.

Vicious
Lou Reed cover. Great, driving drums. A version I think me made our own. Lou’s was ok, but ours is better, haha!

Warriors
A single from the album. This one was my bassline, Nidge’s arrangement, and again Carl’s lyrics. I heard a podcast saying the Judge version is better ‘cos it does the “warriors” shout in the chorus instead of the Adam Ant type style Carl sang. I like the Judge one, but I prefer the Distillers version.

Nation on Fire
We had done a version of this for the Carry on Oi! album and decided to redo it with a more dub reggae feel on the intro. Charlie was a great drummer who loved reggae and The Ruts, so we did our take on that.

Your Revolution
Again, fantastic driving drums from Chas. Every band needs a good drummer, and listening back he was great. Not just simple, heads-down 4/4 punk stuff, but all styles.

Scream
Carl came up with this one just before we were due in the studio. Can’t remember much about it. Great song, though.

4.Q.
Another early song – catchy and singalong. For trivia fans: I met Lars Frederickson, and he showed me his 4Q tattoo on his knee.

Escape
Another early one. I like the echo of the words on the chorus. One from first practices in New Mills – a good, solid track.

Moscow
Probably the strangest lyrics on the album. The thing was, Carl came up with all kinds of stuff. Check these out: “The men eat babies and the boys love Elton in Moscow; the girls are innocent and the mothers stab lovers in Moscow. The tanks roll in and the people want more; my father was sure that my mother was a whore in Moscow. Lenin was a lover and the dogs eat each other in Moscow…”

Closedown
A bit different for us. A good singalong with woo-ooh chorus and outro. In my head we are playing, say, Rebellion – and we’ve all walked off, and the crowd are still singing the woo-oohs as they slowly shuffle out of the venue. Kind of like bro hymn style.

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2 thoughts on “Classic albums: ‘Voice of a Generation’ by Blitz

  1. The i

    The inner sleeve skeleton on a bomber is from a WW2 German blackout poster: “Der Feind Sieht Dein Licht”, nice article by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great interview, always loved this LP and appreciated the diversity of it. One of the very few records where every track is necessary to the complete experience, even “Vicious”!

    Like

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