❉ Fast, punchy songs, catchy hooks, it’s all here.
It’s worth noting that The Vibrators were one of the earliest punk bands to explode onto the London scene in 1976. This 4-disc box set contains their first two albums (with bonus tracks), a disc of Peel sessions/Old Grey Whistle Test Material, as well as a live recording from the Marquee in 1977. This is the definitive collection covering the first couple of years of this great band’s career, and many of the classic songs that remain in their set until the present day hail from this era.
Formed in 1976, frontman Knox was already over 30 when the The Vibrators started out, himself a veteran of 60s psychedelic bands. The other members were younger, but the sheer energy and passion of these recordings is beyond any doubt. Disc 1 covers their debut album Pure Mania, and it’s powerful stuff. Fast, punchy songs, catchy hooks, it’s all there. For me, Whips and Furs is the standout track on here. A great pop song, played by a band firing on all cylinders and out to make a name for themselves. Baby, Baby became one of their more enduring tracks, and it’s a corker, but in many ways it’s quite unrepresentative of the band’s output. There are lots of fast, punky songs here. It’s easy to see why the Northern Irish band chose to name themselves after their track Stiff Little Fingers. There’s plenty of crossover appeal here too. But for their eyebrow-raising name, this is punk that the average 1977 parent would have tapped their toes along to.
Disc 2 offers more of the same, covering their second album V2, as well as their sole UK Top 40 hit single Automatic Lover in the bonus tracks. It’s a great track deserving of a place on any first-wave punk compilation, and it gave the band their one and only Top of the Pops appearance. The follow-up single Judy Says (Knock You In The Head) is also here, and definitely deserved to chart higher than Number 70. Troops of Tomorrow is another track that really stands out, and showed the band were versatile and brave enough to experiment with different styles of song. The Exploited were impressed enough to opt to cover this one themselves.
Disc 3 contains three Peel Sessions as well as 4-tracks from the Old Grey Whistle Test. A couple of tracks feature here that aren’t on the first two albums, but mostly these are alternative versions of the same songs. For hardcore Vibrators fans this is priceless material, but for the more casual fan these probably won’t be played as much as the album versions. Still, it’s good to hear how these songs developed and changed between the different recordings.
Disc 4 is a live recording of The Vibrators in their prime, live at the Marquee in 1977. The booklet makes a point about the Vibrators that is often overlooked, namely that they were such a hard-gigging band that for many gig-goers around 1976-78 they would have been the very first punk band they would have seen. It would also explain why they hold a special place in the heart of so many people who continue to support them in 2017. They’ve always been one of the great live punk bands and that’s more than obvious from listening to this gig. The Vibrators are on top form here, playing like their lives depended on it. Live material can often be hit and miss, but this is well worth repeated listens.
Is this a great roundup of entire back catalogue of The Vibrators? No, because it only covers their first couple of years, and they carried on writing and recording some brilliant songs over the following decades (1984’s Amphetamine Blue may be the best song they ever recorded). But as an introduction to the band it ticks sufficient boxes for me to be able to recommend it to anyone with an interest in the early punk era.
The Vibrators never became a big chart success, but the fact that they’re still touring over 40 years on is a testament to their work-ethic, songwriting, and stagecraft. Drummer Eddie may be the sole remaining regular original member, but they never fail to deliver the goods live. Go and see them. You won’t be sorry.
❉ ‘Vibrators – The Epic Years 1976-1978’ (CDPUNKBOX161) is out now from Cherry Red Records, RRP £19.99