Clockwork punks? A “street level Joy Division” ? The Oi! Banshees? A band that tried to stretch the boundaries a bit, the Violators emerged from the Clockwork Orange dystopia of …err… Chapel En Le Frith. Some, such as Garry Bushell, were predicting big things for them, which never happened. They came and went leaving a tiny handful of records, leaving you to wonder what they would have done if they’d got as far as doing an album back in 1982.They were possibly also the only punk band of the time to take their name from an article in The Guardian (“Urban Violations” being the headline)
The Violators were signed to No Future, one of the bigger punk labels of the time, and made their first appearance on the Coutry Fit For Heroes compilation with two tracks Die With Dignity, an atmospheric featuring the melodic vocals of co vocalist Helen, and Government Stinks, a thrashier song featuring the growled vocals of band mainman Shaun “Cess” Stiles. This mixing and matching of male and female vocals, and of the more tuneful elements of punk with the more aggressive sounds gave them the potential to reach a wider audience than some of their peers.
The debut single Gangland / The Fugitive came out in 1982. Gangland was a brooding mid tempo song that drew the “street level Joy Division” tag (Oi Division???), and unusually was over 5 minutes long. Slightly too long in fact, but a minor classic all the same. The Fugitive with Helen on vocals meanwhile had definite shades of the Banshees. The single sleeve featured the most famous photo of the band (not a lot of competition for that accolade admittedly) which, with some of the bad dressed in the very height of droog fashion, saw them labelled Oi (which they weren’t really) and Clockwork Punk (despite the droog look only being adopted briefly by the band, and the lyrics to Gangland being based on The Warriors instead).
The second, possibly best known single, featured (the A Listed!) Summer Of 81, not the only punk single of the time about police brutality and the riots, but one of the most tuneful, and the more aggressive, slightly ridiculous but catchy, Live Fast Die Young. Garry Bushell reviewed the single in Sounds alongside the Dead Kennedys Halloween, suggesting that the Violators were the future of punk, not the DKs. Not for the last time Bushell was wrong.
With a couple of successes under their belt a minor disaster then struck when a big gig in London went badly (“cos of technical problems..and the amount of illegal substances taken prior to our arrival at the venue” according to Shaun on the sleeve notes of the No Future Years retrospective CD). I can confirm the gig was a disaster as a bootleg exists, with a set punctuated by continual cock ups and on stage arguments. After this the band lost momentum, split in two with Helen and guitarist Coley forming the more mainstream Taboo and vanishing into obscurity, and the rest carrying on with a new line up. Like several others on No Future Records they were pushed in a more post punk/ “futurist” direction. The label rebranding itself Future Records and even producing a “no swearing” contract for band recordings! The final single Life On The Red Line was definitely in post punk territory, and didn’t go down as well (certainly judging by the number of second hand copies I’ve seen)with the punk scene, although at the risk of destroying any cred I may have I quite like it. After this they relaunched as Ice The Falling Rain. A band that had once talked of mixing synthesisers with punk , now started producing delicate OMD style synth pop, leaving behind the Life’s Illusion single as the incriminating evidence.
The Violators, unlike many of their peers, haven’t jumped on the reunion bandwagon (yet) but the few tracks they recorded stand up with the best of 80s punk. Roll on 2015 (or whenever the almost inevitable comeback gig happens)