I don’t suppose I’m the only person who has ever jumped to a conclusion about a band based on their name. I nearly saw External Menace play in Edinburgh at a huge 10 day punx picnic. They were support band at one of the week’s gigs but I didn’t bother to get there in time. Based on their name it seemed obvious that they were some kind of “crustcore” band. There seemed to be loads of these around at the time with their sub-Slayer riffs, dreads and grunted vocals, and I didn’t need to see another. A few months later I actually got to hear External Menace on an 80s compilation and started kicking myself repeatedly. At the risk of getting a savage beating from a certain infamous frontman, I would say External Menace are the best ever Scottish punk band whose name begins “Ex”.
External Menace were originally formed by guitarist Sneddy in Coatridge near Glasgow in 1979. At first they had a learner drivers L Plate instead of a name to emphasise their inexperience – as if the fact that the drummer had cement tubs for drums and a budgie cage for cymbals wasn’t enough. Before Pairubu gets too excited about the musical possibilities, by the time of their vinyl debut in 1982 External Menace were sounding relatively professional.
External Menace signed to the Blackpool based Beat The System label and recorded 10 tracks which were released on a compilation and 2 EPs. The first EP, Youth Of Today, stands as one of the all time classic punk EPs in my opinion.
The title track, the one which first grabbed my attention is an anthem in the vein of the Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. Tuneful, passionate and with plenty of power, the lyrics like many songs of the time reflect the sense of hopelessness felt by many young people as unemployment reached record levels. Meanwhile cult punk anthem Don’t Conform was a straightforward statement of punk defiance (“Make them wish you’d never been born” – hope the youngster never quotes that one back at me!).
The band went on to release their second EP in 1982, No Views, not quite as good in my view – maybe they’d used the best songs up on the debut – but still a strong release. The band never made much impact outside Scotland at the time though, despite going on to play several gigs with their mates and future chart toppers the Shamen. The fact they rarely played outside Scotland may just have been a small factor. Unlike many contemporaries they carried on throughout the 80s, albeit with line up changes. Most significantly vocalist Wullie left in 84, and then tragically died in an accident in 87.
By the early 90s the band were still going, although by now it was under the frankly terrible name of Jett Rink. In the mid 90s External Menace relaunched with Sneddy as the only original member but managed to release a series of records that updated their sound and amazingly (given the history of punk – or any – comebacks) were as good as the early 80s releases, particularly their only proper album, The Process Of Elimination – but this is well outside the period I’m covering here. The band were finally getting cult acclaim, particularly amongst French audiences for some reason! Then disaster struck when vocalist Welshy was beaten within an inch of his life in a random street attack. He couldn’t continue with the band but later did recover enough to do the odd guest slot.
To be honest I have no idea if External Menace still exist. Sneddy certainly soldiered on until quite recently in the face of even further serious problems, but the band seem to have gone very quiet for the last few years. They remain a surprisingly popular cult band around the world.
I’ll finish off with possibly my favourite early track by them Someday. I make no apologies for posting yet another track from the debut EP. Also just a moment to pick up on some comments from Pairubu who has suggested that the problem with 80s punk is that it had been “politicised”. I don’t agree. Of course Crass and their ilk were political but that was only one section of the scene. External Menace were probably typical of the wider scene in that there was a nod to the issues of the day — the band name referred to the threat of nuclear war, this track attacks “high class c**ts” – but there’s no manifesto, just young people venting their spleen to a great tune.