If you weren’t there at the time and have only been exposed to the dominant narrative of the popular press, books and BBC music documentaries, you could be forgiven for thinking that the British punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s was almost exclusively focused on London and Manchester. But away from those epicentres, other places developed their own distinct punk subcultures, Cardiff being one of them.
Curated by David Taylor of the Cardiff Music History archive, and scheduled to coincide with this year’s Llais Festival and the virtual reality film and installation Battlescar: Punk Was Invented By Girls, the excellently-named exhibition Wasteland Of My Fathers sets out to tell the stories of the disaffected youth who were energised into action in Wales through artwork, photos, archive TV footage, lyrics and more.
As was made clear when photographers Chalkie Davies and Denis O’Regan exhibited their work in Cardiff in 2018, the music press was instrumental in lighting the spark in people outside London, and the Sex Pistols had a similar (if less widely mythologised) impact in Newport and Caerphilly as they did at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. Wasteland Of My Fathers rightly acknowledges the inspirational visits of touring bands including The Ramones and Crass, but its focus is largely on what emerged as a result: a thriving independent scene in which people were driven not merely to passively consume but to actively create.
That scene consisted of bands, of course – Anhrefn probably the most celebrated, as well as the likes of anarcho-punks Icons Of Filth and Bridgend mob The Partisans – but also homemade fanzines and labels such as Z Block Records, whose 1979 compilation Is The War Over? documented the varied forms in which punk had taken root in Cardiff. It was never only about the music, either, with many of those involved visibly and vocally engaged in various political causes including animal rights, nuclear disarmament and Rock Against Racism.
Times may have changed, but there’s plenty still to be angry about. Wasteland Of My Fathers not only pays tribute to the past but also points to the perennial value of music as an expression of dissent and protest, and of creating your own culture rather than having to digest what you’re spoonfed.
Wasteland Of My Fathers, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Mon 25 Sept-Sun 5 Nov.
Admission: FREE. Info: here
words BEN WOOLHEAD