‘The Outcasts: 1978-85’ reviewed

❉ A portrait of a band who developed from rudimentary punks into something much more impressive. 

Never was a band so aptly named as The Outcasts. Very much the black sheep of the Northern Irish punk rock flock, less poppy than the Undertones, less righteously furious than Stiff Little Fingers, less cooperative than Rudi, Belfast boys the Outcasts (initially composed of the Cowan brothers – Greg on vocals and bass, Martin on guitar and Colin on drums – and Colin ‘Getty’ Getwood on lead guitar, and by legend named for the fact that they were banned from five clubs in the space of a week) nevertheless managed to bang out two albums, one mini album and a stack of singles and EPs, before finally disintegrating in the mid ’80s. The whole lot is collected in this handy three disc compendium.

Disc 1 is composed primarily of their debut album Self Conscious Over You, a record that demonstrates rather more enthusiasm than competence. It’s endearingly amateurish, with some cracking riffs and some astonishingly inept drumming, but the glimmerings of a serious band trying to shine through. The title track, a classic tale of adolescent awkwardness with an earworm chorus and an MC5 intro, eases into the ominous stomp of Clinical Love. One Day is an oddly off-kilter number where nobody seems to know whether they’re on or off the beat, but the whole thing just about hangs together. Just about. Love Is For Sops, The Princess Grew Up A Frog and The Cops Are Comin’ brim with the trying-slightly-too-hard faux-edginess that typifies many second-wave punk bands, but You’re A Disease, Cyborg and Love You For Never have just enough youthful spark and ideas to keep the interest level up. There’s a slew of single cuts on this disc too, including their first effort Frustration and the genuinely great Justa Nother Teenage Rebel, which with a better production budget might have been a jukebox classic.

In early 1981 the band made an unusual move in recruiting a second drummer, Raymond Falls – less an attempt to emulate Adam & The Ants, more in order to compensate for Colin Cowan’s rhythmic inadequacies – and they proceeded to issue a few more singles, including a surprise minor hit in the form of a cover of The Glitter Band’s Angel Face, but in May ’82 Colin was tragically killed in a car crash, leaving the Outcasts again a quartet. That November they issued their second album Blood And Thunder, which makes up the bulk of Disc 2 here. The improvement over the debut is startling – the musicianship is tighter, the guitar work more inventive, the lyrics sharper, and there’s a sense of tension and urgency over the whole record. It’s an exceptional album, mature and powerful, with opening pairing Winter and Machine Gun leaving the listener in no doubt that the Outcasts had developed into serious contenders.

The album contained the singles issued before Colin’s untimely demise, with the double-drummer onslaught on the likes of Programme Love and Magnum Force proving remarkably effective, while the cover of Angel Face is inspired, powering along on an insistent snare roll and seamlessly making a glam-rock classic into a terrace-punk anthem. There’s a re-recorded and much improved version of debut single Frustration. The tribalistic two-part Beating And Screaming makes the best of the two-drummer setup, bearing a distinct resemblance to prime Killing Joke, as does the ferocious album closer Mania. Of the five bonus tracks on this disc, four of them come from the 1983 single release Nowhere Left To Run, demonstrating a broadened and more experimental direction (although with one track being an instrumental and another being a vocal-less version of the title track, it’s hard to see them as being much more than filler material), but the frantic concluding cover of Kenny Rogers’ Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love To Town) showed that they hadn’t strayed THAT far.

1984’s five-track mini album Seven Deadly Sins showcased an even further broadened sonic palette, with the title track being pure psychobilly and The Chase being a Spaghetti Western inspired instrumental. The cover of Bowie’s Five Years is well-executed enough, but not distinctive enough to stand out. Swamp Fever is a bit more ‘billy, with a Bo Diddley beat thrown in, while Waiting For The Rain takes an unexpected post-punk turn with some lovely bass work. The last official Outcasts release was a three track 12″ single consisting of the Stooges’ 1969 (which by that point had already been thoroughly beaten up by the Sisters Of Mercy, and should probably have been left alone to recuperate), backed with originals Psychotic Shakedown (a Crampsy psycho-blues) and Blue Murder (a vaguely Theatre Of Hate-esque semi-instrumental). Throw in alternate versions of 1969, Swamp Fever and Seven Deadly Sins and a couple of the obligatory Peel Sessions (four tracks each from ’81 and ’82, rawer and harder versions of the Blood And Thunder material) and that’s Disc 3.

Overall, a fascinating portrait of a band who developed from a rudimentary bunch of punk rock upstarts into something much more impressive. The Outcasts reunited a few years ago, still featuring Greg and Martin Cowan and Raymond Falls (along with former Stalag 17 guitarist Petesy Burns), and are well worth catching if you can. They deserve your attention.

‘The Outcasts: 1978-85’ (Captain Oi! AHOYT372) is available from Cherry Red Records, RRP £16.99. Click here to pre-order directly from Cherry Red Records.

 Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 Lee Terry is a regular We Are Cult contributor and a member of The Kingcrows, Leeds’ scuzziest sleaze-punk-n-roll maniacs.

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