Hot on the heels of Sex Pistols-mania, brothers Alan and Paul Apperly knew they had to form a punk band. After placing an ad in the paper and turning down a few vocalists, they settled on Robert Lloyd. He had carried a few of the Ramones amps on their first UK tour and followed the Pistols around, which was punk experience enough. In early ’77, Birmingham’s very first punk band, the Prefects, were formed. Their lifespan was brief and existence unheralded, but somehow they managed to attain the type of punk to post-punk experimentalism only seen by the likes of Joy Division and Wire. Early tracks like the 7 second “VD”(John Peel’s favorite) and “Escort Girls” would be Class of ’77 Punk Rock classics, if anyone ever heard them, but that was only a starting point.
Development was quick. Artrock and Krautrock influences begin combining with their punk rock roots. As Paul Morley would write a few months later, “The Pistols/Clash are the dinosaurs they’re reacting against…” First, there was “The Bristol Road Leads to Dachau”, where the Prefects usual terseness and humor were left behind for an intense, repetitious, blistering 10 minute account of a pub bombing. By their 1979 radio sessions, they were balancing creatively arranged and produced taut punk numbers, with what must be some of greatest post-punk of the era. But before any proper records could be released, they imploded and reinvented themselves as the Nightingales, blazing trails similar to the Fall and Mekons, and the Prefects were largely forgotten.
Acute Records is excited to present for the first time ever their complete studio recordings plus two live tracks for the definitive Prefects collection. With this long overdue reissue, the Prefects place amongst the most significant UK bands of the era will hopefully be restored and you can hear what Hyped2Death’s Chuck Warner called “the best unsigned ’77-78 punk band in the UK.”
The Prefects – Faults
New Musical Express December 3, 1977
Punk/Etc as a sub-culture had split into unequal parts even before any sort of nationwide net dropped.
The vast part got soaked by the establishment (both old and new) – big fish, little fish, Xerox copies. What a mess. It’s easy to be bitter about the rapid abandonment of early principles, but don’t be. This initial chaotic evolution, in the long run is neccessary.
What was quaintly termed “New Wave” in 1977 is just the start. The hard core alternatives are a lot stronger than they were this time last year – it’s just that they’re camouflaged by the amount of dross that fed greedily off last year’s hard core.
Wire, Sham 69, The Fall, Worst, Manicured Noise, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Subway Sect, Prefects, Slits – they are strong bands, especially in their attitudes. The Pistols/Clash are the dinosaurs they’re reacting against…
The Prefects have been together since March this year. Ted on bass, Roots on lead guitar, Paul on drums, Rob on vocals. From Birmingham. Wary animals.
They’ve been shoved under the carpet. From where, muffled but intent, they giggle and accuse.
Our first meeting was cold and taut, the group unable to belive that I liked them, gradually accepting – just.
“It’s just that even people behind us, like you, ask all these dim questions, like ‘What is The Prefects about?’ Nobody asked Elvis what his songs were about!”
Okay, so I admit it, in vain attempts to set some indignant ball of conversation rolling I asked the dumb one. What kind of group are The Prefects?
“You tell us. You’ve seen us. We’re just it. I think we’re good. You tell us. You’re the writer.”
But don’t you think you should tell people what you’re about?
“People should come and see for themselves and make up their own mind!”
Roots and Paul are brothers, and into “fast rock”. Pink Fairies, T Rex, Motorhead. Roots has absorbed reggae over the last few months too. Rob and Paul have a taste for the avant-garde limb of rock. Beefheart, Faust. It’s a curious mixture that causes a certain amount of dispute within the band, but also a pulling tension.
A lot of what they play is free-form, improvised; they play to suit themselves. The most telling result of this attitude is a vindictive, powerful piece of music, “Going Through The Motions”, born to plug a ten-minute gap in a set. It’s overpowering, and a little frightening.
“If people think we’re just another punk band to clock on the calendar then who gives a shit about them? We were never really into the ‘punk scene’ anyway. That sounds hypocritical, because we wear straightleg trousers and have short hair, but there are very few new bands who have impressed any of us, Full Stop!”
They epitomize sublime-to the ridiculous. Some songs are seconds long, they have been known to do a “Leader of The Pack” routine (“Are you really going out with him?” – “What’s it to you?”) and a bizarre “Bohemian Rhapsody” – genuine cartoonery.
“Yeah, we sing serious songs, but that doesn’t mean you’ve to geet upset about it. We just throw ‘Rhapsody’ in for a laugh.”
A laugh…but there’s more to it than that. “The Bristol Road Leads to Dachau” is another strong piece, challenging and tragic.
“In Birmingham we had some really heavy pub bombings,” Rob explains. “There was this pub where I used to meet this girl regularly, and once I didn’t turn up. The pub got bombed and she was fucked up…so I wrote this song. Bristol Road is a big street in Birmingham – ‘The Bristol Road leads to Dachau, don’t ever believe that you’re safe”.”
The Prefects’ motto is play it by ear. They have to. Real outsiders – no manager, no agent, too outspoken/set in their ways to keep either.
Few people care. Richard Boon, king sax honker, shrewed observer of the pop scene and manager of the Buzzcocks, does. He’s given the Prefects more gigs than anyone, and unwittingly helped keep the band together when they supported Buzzcocks on four Scottish dates recently. The reaction there was fulsome enough to halt The Prefects’ gloomy plans to split.
“People have offered to make a record with us, but they just want a quick cash-in. Anyway, we’re not ready to make a record. We haven’t got a stable set – we’ve got about five songs, and the rest are made up or changed!”
The Prefects are a very suspicious bunch. They’ll hate this piece. They’re worth keeping an eye on, not so much for what they are now, but for waht they could be in a few years’ time.
“We’re trying to express ourselves, but to laugh about it – not cry.”
New Musical Express January 1978
POP WORLD MOURNS AS PREFECTS SPLIT
The Prefects, along with Subway Sect, Birmingham’s finest contribution to modern day rock exploration, have finally buckled in the face of ignorance and resistance.
Their intelligent, humour-streaked, often scary progressive rock (a dash of weirdness on our own shores) bore little relevance to mainstream punk; their difficulty in relating to the business and their uncompromising tactics resulted in their music reaching very few open ears. Those that were reached usually loved them. They were different, they really did experiment, they were fresh.
The Prefects in their present line-up play their last ever gig at Colwyn Bay Pier on Friday, February 17. They’re top of the bill, but it’s a long way from early last year when, somewhat incongruously, they performed to such a cold response at the Rainbow with The Clash, The Jam and Buzzcocks.
Perhaps with a little adaptation and weakening of ideals they, like those three bands, could now have a string of records and a tour of Britain behind them. But that isn’t, or wasn’t, The Prefects.
Rob and Ted, vocals and bass respectively, aim to continue in some form, maybe using the name Prefects. They will retain such astrong new pieces as “The Bristol Road Leads to Dachau” and “Going Through the Motions”. Guitarist and drummer Roots and Paul go their own way, probably forming a group with a more orthodox rock sound.
But the original Prefects are no more, and Thrills, if now else, mourns.
New Musical Express June 1978
NME June 1978 Paul Morley Subway Sect Prefects Manchester Two groups, both of whom have to some extent followed their instincts. Prefects have always been aware of the area they were aiming for; Subway Sect have developed through numerous incarnations testing almost by a process of trian and error.
Neither have ‘compromised’, neither can ever be said to be confident with their product, neither play easy music. Both have a small audience both at the present and potentially.
This is a tragedy, but only artificial additives plus facets like ‘marketing’ and ‘exloitation’ generally introduce consumers to a product, so Subway Sect and Prefects must suffer and struggle.
Rock audiences and listeners are notoriously reluctant to contribute much effort to a performance, to meet half way, to assimilate. A lack of curiosity , a downright lack of shame.
The Prefects have been together for 15 months, with one major personnel change in March which settle tensions of direction within the band. Since their early days they have matured totally; no longer are they a shambles, at cross purposes perhaps, humorously slaphappy.
The process of discovery obvious in November of last year, when their music was developing effectively and healthily, is still alive.
They use ordinary rock isntruments; two guitars, bass, drums, vocals, occasional mouth organ. The calculated elements of Prefects composition are movements, direction and speed of sounds, plus spontaneity with its ultimate power, expressiveness and creation of atmosphere(s).
The music is simplistic, repetitive, peculiarly ‘tight’, alienating, with subtle variations within a movement altering it’s mood. It can be vague, intense, unnerving. It relies loosely on orthodox rock techniques like harmony, rhythm, melody, but somehow strains these techniques, swallows them and spews them up slightly changed, so that the music is only distantly recognisable as a “rock’.
The length and width of songs is indeterminate; there is fast music, slow music and fast-and-slow-at-the-same-time music. A very fluctuating, liquified state of noise is created, rock rhythms used but somehow submerged so that the confines of a rigid framework are evaded. The drumming is rock drumming, on a kit, relatively fast, limited, but percussion is used as a sort of interruptive noise, for fracturing, propelling, texturing.
All this is indicative of the way The Prefects use orthodox rock instruments unnaturally, almost giving them new found roles. They have established their own natural techniques for playing, proving the emotional and musical prossibilites present within minimal orthodox technique.
Significant of new found depth and maturity from The Prefects is the way they now slide their ironical and cynical view of popular rock music into their set. The previously straight humorous 46-second deliveries of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ have now gone. During a doomy, lumbering improvisation, vocal phrases float to the top of the music, just out…angels with dirty faces…” then slide back into the music…”shot by both sides”…an evocative, disdainful use of references.
They need more discipline and control before any thought of records – at times the music music became an endurance test – but such thoughts are a long way off. At their most concentrated and intense, they trancended all barriers and played some of the purest music I’ve heard. On the edge of madness and room for a smile.
Subway Sect are quite an enigma. From the early days, when Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols, Subway Sect played the 100 Club punk festival, lead singer Vic Goddard is the only frontman not to have mad a name for himself (unlike Rotten/Strummer/Devoto/Shelley).
Because of this obscurity he’s probably had more room than those others to indulge and experiment, and certainly it’s hard to deny that he himself is a strong, individual writer and performer, as unique as the four who have ‘arrived’.
Compared to the likes of The Prefects, Subway Sect have to some extent had things ‘easy’. They’ve had comfortable access to gigs, and have also made a record – “Nobody’s Scared”, a sub-standard recording from a vague period in their existence.
The band have passed through many distinct periods; early basic minimal aggressive punk, through blank, flatly improvised rock, then, as their control of instruments became sturdier, into tough, strong, coherent rock songs.
Now, fully technically able, they have arrived at a music that is unpredictable only in the surprising orthodoxy of its components. The cool, very American style is probably obvious when Goddard’s lyrical and musical pretentions are taken into account. He fancies himself as some sort of modern balladeer – a role to which he could do justice.
The Subways’ set now relies on drive and exhilaration; they play compact, accessible, emphatic songs, short and self conscious, with just a dash of discordancy and some absurd tinges of country rock.
Goddard’s Dylan influences surface to incongrous prominence. He is now a strong and versatile performer. A guitar toughly slung over his shoulder, he occasionally played some excellent solos, sweet picking full of pull and mystique. His vocal delivery is casual and laconic, and he uses it in much the same way as Dyland sometimes does to construct a melody; not fluently, but in a sharp exaggerated manner, relying on length of sounds, rising and falling.
Occasionally he would round off a phrase with a disconcerting sheep warble reminiscent of very early Bolan. Very Odd.
Subway Sect are very odd. Ultimately, they are all about growth. How they enhance their curretn particular stance, one of a very obvious rock basis with a strong recognistion of – though not reliance on – much communicative rock from Dylan to Verlaine, will be intriguing. What Goddard has shown so far hints that once he has shaken off the borrowed mannerisms, he could be very important.
Zig Zag No. 91 February 1979
“I honestly can’t understand why world isn’t bazoomi about the Prefects” -Rob Lloyd, The Prefects
The only time I ever saw the Prefects on stage, they were a chaotic shambles – and I immediately fell in love with them. Superficially they seemed to be a typical punk outfit – limited technical ability combined with a desire to play gigs and get famous. In fact, someone remarked to me that they were the most unmusical band he’d ever seen, but he missed the point about their attitude, and that’s what was important.
It wasn’t an “I don’t care” stance, more an an “I do care, and I want to change things” attitude that stems from boredom with conformity, boredom with apathy, boredom with rock ‘n’ roll…perhaps even boredeom with punk. Musical anarchy was the Prefects’ way that night – songs lasting just seven seconds, kazoo solos, a gross version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and all through this hotch-potch of a set, ran that special quality – humour.
Not that the Prefects are in any way a joke band, but often their perverse parodies attacked and ridiculed more than outspoken criticism ever could. On the strength of on half-hour set, the Prefects had become one of my favourite bands. Unfortunately they seemed to adopt a particularly low profile – I even heard rumours that they had split up.
Not so – recently while on tour with Skids, I met singer Rob Lloyd again, and after bringing each other up to date, we agreed to go back to his flat to do an interview, desptie the fact that he seemed certain I would never actually submit it for publication. Well here we go, Rob, ya cynical bastard…the Prfects story!!
Formed in March 1977, the band played 47 gigs at the time of the interview (November ’78), but only four of these had been in the previous six months. Original founder-member, Paul the drummer had been sacked earlier in the year, and when Ted the bass player left on the eve of a gig at Liverpool Eric’s, the band were down to just a nucleus of Roots and Joe on guitars, plus Rob on vocals. Rob maintains, though, that there will be five Prefects on stage at their next gig…whenever that might be.
For a band who have achieved so little in concrete terms (no manager, no gigs planned, no single, no deal), the Prefects have attracted a certain “cult” following, and have been compared with other dogmatic new wave rebels, but Rob doesn’t quite see it that way. “Bands like the Fall and Subway Sect are all dead serious…and we’re a laught.”
“We’ve got a following that applauds us for not playing or making records and being street-credible, but they don’t realize that given a chance we would make records and play lots of gigs.”
The Prefects are lucky enough to be totally unique – the Prefects music ain’t original, no wave – though it’ll break Paul Morley’s and Jon Savage’s hearts to admit it – but the Prefects attitude is totally unique. As far as attitude, the only band remotely like us is the Residents. The Residents and Prefects both have humour, great music and a great attitude to things.” As an after-thought, Rob adds “Th Slits, too…make that the Residents and the Slits.”
“I honestly think that the Prefects are the only band who have anything to offer…good looks, big dicks…oh, I can’t put it into words.” About this point in the interview, I’m beginning to get disillusioned – for a guy who professes to have a great sense of humour, he’s remakabley cynical and seems to think everyone has it in for the band, but I believe hiim when hy says softly “I honestly can’t understand why the world isn’t going bazoomi about the Prefects.”
In fact, one of the main reasons is that even the band’s fans don’t regard them as commercial candidates for popularity, as Rob explains, “everyone wants us to be a cult band. I really like Paul Morley – he’s a great bloke, but when it comes to writing, he goes over the top – but even he wants us to be that way.”
The main problem at present is lack of gigs, coupled with the Prefects’ assertion that they’re not prepared to lose money just to go on stage. They have no money for PA hire, and can’t afford to buy their way onto a tour.
“We’re not gonna pay to play”, is how Rob sums it up. “we don’t mind breaking even, not making any money, but no way can we afford to do it if we can’t be guaranteed enough to cover all expenses.”
There then followed a heated discussion with me and Richard the Skids singer (who was also present) maintaining that relatively unknown bands always have to put up with a lot of crap early on and should expect to lose money, while Rob refuses to consider this possibility. For someone to whom money is supposedly unimportant, it seems to be a major stumbling block to his group’s progression. Eventually swayed by Rob’s despair, we agree to disagree, and Richard offers the Prefects a support slot at a Skids gig the following week, with a guarantee to cover all expenses.
On the subject of gigs, Rob mentions there was a possibility of the Prefects supporting Public Image at the Rainbow, “but how can you converse over the phone with two – pences? It’s ‘well look, we can…pip, pip, pip…’ -ridiculous!”
Bad luck seems to dog the Prefects. PIL thing fell through (a blessing in disguise, perhaps), the proposed deal for a single also seems unlikely now, and that Skids gig in Leeds was called off due to a brewers’ strike, leaving an agitated Rob phoning me up for an explanation.
It’s all rather depressing, here’s a band i KNOW are great, and no one else realizes it. What’s worse is that the Prefects themselves won’t go out on a limb to gain attention. They’re not even local heroes – “Birminham hates the Prefects; therey’s certain Pubs we can’t go in, otherwise we’ll get glasses thrown at us.”
It hardly seems like a rock ‘n roll dream to me, and no easy solution springs to mind. I don’t know, Rob, I feel there should be something else…I’ve written the article, it’s someone else’s turn now.
click to collapse
Posterity can be a fickle mistress. When the sleeve fell from the padded brown envelope, I saw the name. The Prefects? ‘Amateur Wankers’ is the name of this compilation. And listening to it, I wonder how they escaped me for so long. ‘Going Through the Motions’, for example, is a weary-sounding attack on the blandness of the punk scene it’s The Fall’s ‘Repetition’, with a hint of The Doors. There’s a couple of duff join-the-dots numbers on here, ‘Barbarellas’ is fastsimpleshoutcrap, ‘VD’ could have done with a bit more time being spent on the name. But ‘Total Luck’ rises from a hazy experimental workout into a sax-twiddled snap of a song; ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ is, despite the dodgy title, tremulously sinister with scratchscratch guitar overtones, while a simple bass drum lumbers beneath. The amateur wankers are the punk spit-offs erroneously remembered. It’s The Prefects who are top of the class.
In the annals of post-punk, there are many names that are instantly conjured; The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Fall, Buzzcocks. One name, however, has been suspiciously overlooked throughout the years: The Prefects. As it stands, it seems the only folks who knew about the Prefects were those who saw them during their brief but glorious appearances as a brilliantly raucous live act. The Prefects embodied the entire spirit of the late 70s post-punk scene, yet managed to never properly record any of their output. Legendary radio DJ John Peel recorded two sessions with the band a year after seeing them play at the Rainbow Theatre in London, alongside the Clash, The Jam, Buzzcocks, and Subway Sect. Seemingly, they were among good company, as the Clash’s ‘White Riot Tour’ is a now the stuff of legend (The Slits had refused to play, which gave the Prefects an opening to get onto the bill).Although they shared the stage with many of the biggest names in punk at the time, including the Fall and Warsaw (which would later become Joy Division), The Prefects were not necessarily liked by their fellow tour mates. At one notorious gig, roadies and band members of the Clash ganged up on Prefects bassplayer Graham ‘Ted’ Blunt, and split his head open during an ambush.
The Prefects began when brothers Paul (drums) and Alan Apperly (guitar) had an epiphany of sorts. After seeing the Sex Pistols in Birmingham, the two cut their hair, went to thrift shops for some new clothes, and started the search for a lead singer. Ultimately, they deemed Robert Lloyd as the perfect fit. Not only did he look the part, but he also had the experience the brothers lacked, having toured as a roadie with the Ramones. The resulting musical fusion was an oft under-rehearsed blend of T-Rex, Captain Beefheart, Ramones, and free improvisation, and it was almost always fueled by copious amounts of liquor. As Lloyd sings in the opening track on Are Amateur Wankers, ‘we stumble and blunder for better results.’ These lyrics, from the song ‘Faults,’ symbolize the major aesthetic of the band, which lived fast, played furious and died early from boredom and lack of direction.While bands like the Sex Pistols were able to use controversy to their advantage, The Prefects were never able to capitalize on their miscreant off-stage tendencies in quite the same way. Their music does little to belie their abhorrent behaviors. The guitars are quick and peppy, full of metallic-tinged power chords with plodding detuned bass-lines and slick, buoyant drums. This is hardly the music of angry anarchists; rather, Lloyd’s vocal stylings are more akin to the gothic theatrics of bands like Bauhaus or the Fall. Think of it as art-rock for slackers.
‘Are Amatuer Wankers’ brings to light a majority of the sparse catalogue of Prefects songs that exist. The songs are culled from two actual sessions, one on John Peel’s radio show, the other done posthumously on request of Geoff Travis of Rough Trade. Also included are two live tracks, ’625 Lines’ and the 10-second barrage that is ‘VD’, which was recorded during a 2001 reunion concert. This will be the first proper release by the Prefects. Akin to their playing style, the band imploded before anything (save a few random 7′s) could be released. Several of the members went on to form critically acclaimed post-punk group the Nightingales. Easily as important as anything on the No New York compilation, The Prefects have long deserved their place among the annals of late 70s frantic punk antics; it’s satisfying to see the band finally get the widespread exposure they deserve.
The Prefects’ sole recorded legacy at the time of existence consisted of two John Peel sessions, but it’s that plus a couple of extra tracks that makes up this really enjoyable overview of a band that was at once somewhat high profile and perhaps one of the most obscure punk-era acts in the UK. It might be a stretch to say that the Prefects would have been the natural rivals/counterparts of Wire, but there’s enough evidence here to show that had they continued they might well have made their own Chairs Missing eventually. The two sessions are mixed together, in a nice change from the usual method of presentation, and sequenced to make a brief but memorable listen. The opening rips ‘Faults’ and ‘Escort Girls,’ both under two minutes long, demonstrate how the band were very much a product of their era, with quick, slogan-chorus arrangements and unbridled energy, but the disc hits its stride with ‘Going Through the Motions.’ Perhaps as much commentary on the activity of band life as anything else, the slow, deliberate majesty of the track (Alan Apperley’s guitar in particular is this mesmerizing, looped glaze) manages to balance out experimental impulses with focus just right. From there there’s counterpoint declamatory call and resigned response vocals gliding over crisp thrash (‘Things In General’), saxophone-skronk over calm guitar intros (‘Total Luck’) and their own contribution to extended rock epics with ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau,’ a ten-minute riff/jam that might not be ‘Marquee Moon,’ say, but keeps the tension building all the way to the end. Two live tracks – the brief ’25 Lines,’ recorded on the night of the legendary Short Circuit show and the hilarious ringer of ‘VD,’ taken from a 2001 reunion date but last only ten seconds long, fill out this great peek into the past.
According to John Peel, The Prefects were better than The Pistols or The Clash. Musically, they sat somewhere in between them, and on the strength of this very exciting release from Acute, which brings together their entire recorded output, one can see why he thought so highly of them. Angular, intelligent and experimental, they wove varied influences into the punk ethos and came up with a music that deftly bridged the narrow gap between punk and post-punk. In leadman Robert Lloyd, the band had a true, creative original, whose importance to both scenes has yet to be fully realized. From the 1:31 punk anthem Faults to the ten-minute epic Bristol Road Leads To Dachau, this is a collection of songs that shows the extraordinary range and depth of Lloyd’s vision. Support slots for The Clash, The Slits and Joy Division ensured that they were well known within the scene at the time, but they have since relied on a cult following. This release, complete with essays from the band members and two blistering live performances, should redress the balance. It begs just one question, is Peely ever wrong?
Acute Records returns with another collection of almost completely unavailable punk rock music from the 70′s, this time from UK unknowns the Prefects. The huge booklet included in the package takes care of the ‘unknown’ status of the Prefects: turns out that these guys played with the Clash on the White Riot tour, as well as playing tons of other shows with lots of other great bands. Clash manager Bernie Rhodes is credited with uttering the title of this collection sometime around this period, when he claimed that the Prefects ‘abuse (the arts).’ Barry Cain of the Record Mirror also had little need for the Prefects, offering the criticism ‘Too fast, too new’ in a review. Lucky for all of us that Acute exists to re-evaluate this band that flew a little too high over people’s heads the first time around.
A lot of these songs offer up exactly what you would expect from a UK punk (or post-punk, or DIY, or whatever) band: 2 or 3 chords, shout-along choruses, furious 4/4 drumming. But there is an incredibly prescient and self-effacing sense of humor at work in songs like ‘Faults,’ ‘Things in General,’ and ‘Going through the Motions.’ The Prefects satirize the commodification of punk with clarity, precision, and humor long before anyone else had even realized the limitations of the so-called movement. The 10-minute ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ indicts everything that they see around them in a more progressive style than most punk bands would dare in 1978, though it’s not quite the collision of Beefheart and the Ramones that guitarist Alan Apperley claims. The drumming never really moves beyond competent (although it is certainly fast) on any of these tracks. There aren’t any polyrhythms lurking in these rants.’Ä®
One thing is confirmed by the testimonials of the band members and friends in the liner notes: The Prefects never took themselves very seriously in the face of all the self-righteousness and egomania of the punk movement. The band dissolved before they really had a chance to let anything like that sink in, really. It’s clear from Helen Apperley’s essay (she was the tour-van driver) that this group represented youth, joy, and rebelliousness in total sincerity. The seven-second track that ends this disc, ‘VD,’ also supports that sentiment. People who thought they knew everything about the UK punk and post-punk scene owe it to themselves to pick up this disc, because the ‘Prefects Are Amateur Wankers’ is probably the most representative release of that era. In hindsight, of course.
Rolling Stone.com Nov 11, 2004
British punk footnotes the Prefects may have been amateurs – they officially recorded only half an hour of music, all for John Peel’s BBC show in 1978 and 1979 – but they weren’t wankers. ‘Faults’ and ‘Escort Girls’ are short, hot lashes of angular malcontent, and the ten Bo Diddley-via-the Fall minutes of ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ feel like they could go on forever – and should.
THE MASSES ARE ATTRACTIVE
Possibly the only true punk band, ever. A gaggle of skint brummies who went a bit bonkers after seeing the Sex Pistols play in ’76. This compilation represents the sweet salvage from The Prefects brief and gloriously fucked non-career. Inevitably, they were picked up on by Peel’s producer, then Peel and most of the tracks here were recorded as Peel Session tracks at Maida Vale, the rest are live. See, this band never had a recording contract, or a proper manager, or a publishing deal, or money. They did it because they wanted to and when you’ve got something like “Barbarellas” drilling out of the speakers for exactly ninety whacked out, pure punk seconds, you’ll realise just how much The Prefects wanted to do this. This is a set that’ll serve you as very sharp snapshot of the punk sound in the late 70′s, an essential momento from a genuine band and it’ll also serve you as a cracking record to bounce around to. Go to it.
Tinymixtapes.com Nov 12, 2004
In the late 70s, the Prefects were a promising band. They got good press in New Musical Express and other publications, producers of other punk bands had their number, and they were playing alongside some of the punk community’s biggest names: The Fall, The Buzzcocks, and The Clash. However, while we look back at bands like The Clash and see them as part of the music underground fighting against the mainstream, from the Prefect’s perspective, The Clash were the mainstream, the ‘dinosaurs’ the Prefects were fighting against. The Prefects were a truly indie band. They were never signed, and by 1979 they were disbanded, never having recorded a proper album. Perhaps nothing else attests to their independence better than the length of this release, a complete collection of every recorded Prefects song known of today, amounting to 10 songs. But these 10 songs assure us of two things: One, that they were not signed because of lack of constraint, not lack of talent; and two, that the world would be a better place if they had been.
Not once through out the album does the music fall flat, as it captures the same rage captured by their fellow British punk bands in the ’70s. More importantly, the music reaches complexities that may not be expected from such a band. For example, ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ features complex strumming patterns beneath singer Robert Lloyd’s sneering singing. Somewhat complex melody interplay can be heard on other tracks, including ‘Things in General.’ Are Amateur Wankers does have less complex songs that lack anything more that a fast chord progression and monotone vocals, and that is where The Prefects stumble. But I don’t think Lloyd was being entirely egotistical when he told NME, ‘I honestly can’t understand why the world isn’t bazoomi about The Prefects.’ It’s doubtful that the world will go ‘bazoomi’ now either, but at least they have an album, and an enjoyable one at that.
The Village Voice
Are Amateur Wankers (Acute ’70s post-punk reissue)
Other Music Nov 17, 2004
Their story is almost too perfect. Turned on to punk rock after seeing the Sex Pistols, Alan and Paul Apperly put out an ad in the local paper to look for a singer and bass player. School chums PJ Royster and Robert Lloyd are picked to join the band over the likes of Nikki Sudden. By their fifth gig, the Prefects are on a bill with the Clash, the Jam, the Buzzcocks, and Subway Sect. Then John Peel invites them to play two sessions for his BCC radio show. In spite of all this, the band never scores a proper recording contract and doesn’t release its first and only Rough Trade single (‘Going Through The Motions’ b/w ‘Things In General’) until it has disbanded. Later, the line-up regroups as the Nightingales and earns considerably more attention. The Prefects wrote great, catchy, aggressive, and unusual punk songs occasionally made from out-of-the-ordinary instrumentation including saxophone, clarinet, and harmonica. The song ‘Going Through The Motions,’ based around a Velvet Underground-esque one-chord piano dirge, is particularly inspired. This collection of their material includes both sides of their single as well as six other previously unissued studio recordings, a live track from a gig at Manchester’s Electric Circus in 1977, and another live track recorded during a 2001 reunion show. Simply put, The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers is an absolutely essential punk reissue. Don’t miss it.
Bandoppler Magazine Nov 18, 2004
The Prefects were an early Birmingham post-punk band (in era/in sound) made up of two glam-metal fans and two avant-prog types, and would later be somewhat rearranged into the more well known Nightingales, who are reunited and appropriately touring this winter with Jon Langford (as they bear some similarity to the Mekons’ scrappy avant-punk).
I don’t think I have ever heard them before receiving this ten-track compilation of singles and demos and live tracks, though their name has been bunted around my ears for a while. As someone who likes screechy saxophone skronk rock they have often been run past me as a test to see how deep my historical appreciation is, and I have failed that test till this lean but consistent Acute reissue.
There is a no-bullshit feel to the Prefects’ songs that reminds me of early North American hardcore in the repetitive tension on tracks like the queasy ‘Going Through The Motions’ and the loping, splattering, screaming account of a pub bombing in the prog-rock length ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau.’
Songs like these have very specific political effect as well as intent. They are creating a soundtrack mirroring destruction occurring around them, and are willing to use harmonica, keyboards, toys, and horns to fill out the descriptive melee, not to enforce melody or make the tunes more attractive to listeners.
I guess a better comparison would be Pere Ubu, seeing that somehow in a dreary industrial Northern England city not unlike Akron, OH, Captain Beefheart fans collided with T. Rex kids, which sounds very familiar.
Whatever the comparisons, the Prefects opened for the Fall, the Slits, and Magazine, even standing in for the Buzzcocks when that band fell out of the Clash’s ‘White Riot’ tour, and that’s exactly what they sound like – a perfect opening band for bands like those.
Ultimate track: ‘Total Luck,’ with its gorgeously grimy update of the Velvet Underground in its instrumental opening of churning guitar changle and squealing clarinet, soon battered by tom-toms and made utterly captivating by Robert Lloyd’s perfectly ennui-stricken vocal observations about fate and damage.
www.noyz.co.uk Nov 29, 2004
Only really John Peel could find something to love about an eight second slab of searing post-punk nonsense known as ‘VD’. Perhaps The Prefects’ most (in)famous moment despite a brief career panning the glorious depths of rancorous punk-rock (and getting on the tits of The Clash) this momentary blast of terse punk aggression speaks volumes about the antagonistic attitude of one of post-punks forgotten trailblazers. ‘Amateur Wankers’ (Acute) is a collection of the band’s entire studio recordings that’s a mere 8 tracks and a couple of live songs from the band’s short touring history.
Epitomizing the uncompromising essence of punk or as frontman Robert Lloyd puts it ‘we argued, got bored and split up’ by their fifth ever gig The Prefects were shambolically opening the London leg of The Clash’s now-legendary ‘White Riot’ tour. Elsewhere their edgy, metallic explosions of art/ post-punk had them cast alongside the likes of Warsaw (later Joy Division), The Fall and Magazine as a band looking beyond the confines of 1-2-3-4 punk rock and deep into a new realm. Inevitably and perhaps in too true punk fashion – things quickly fell apart at the seams, but not before post-humously releasing the stirring, dark rattle of the exceptional ‘Going Through the Motions’ on Rough Trade. It’s how punk should be remembered.
Plan B Magazine
The True Report
It seems sadly appropriate to lead The True Report this time with two John Peel faves.
First, The Prefects – a forgotten Birmingham punk band who supported The Clash on their 1977 White Riot tour. Singer Robert Lloyd was a downbeat, sardonic, illicit lyricist of a teenager (later to form Peel Eighties mainstays, The Nightingales). His band played gritty, repetitive, minimalist punk. Their one release, a seven-inch single, ‘Going Through The Motions’, was a dark slice of Brummie despair and teen ennui that mixed Beefheart with two-chord simplicity and a squalling saxophone, equal to early Slits and Subway Sect. The fact it’s taken 27 years for their album, The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers (Acute), to appear doesn’t detract from its snarling appeal.
Sunday Times December 5th, 2004
Pigs on Purpose *****
Pigs on Purpose, The Nightingales’ 1982 debut, is the CD re-issue of the year. The Gales evolved from Birmingham proto-punks the Prefects, becoming John Peel favourites without achieving the approval of latterly lionised near contemporaries such as Gang of Four or Wire. Aspects of the period’s signature sound remain – scratchy guitars and pummelling rhythms – but the Nightingales’ uplifting songs had more in common with the bargain-basement Bohemia of Captain Beefheart than they did with the post-punk polemicists, and Robert Lloyd’s deadpan, elegantly hilarious lyrics make Sistine Chapel shapes of mundane provincial minutiae.
After a 15-year lay-off, the Nightingales are back, trailing two excellent new singles, while Prefects’ complete output is newly available on Acute. Lightning strikes twice.
I have loved punk for many years, vehemently and passionately at times. I loved it enough to spend a chunk of my late teens playing in a punk band and I even wrote a paper on its history and ethics once. I therefore thought I had a pretty good Knowledge of the subject. If that’s the case then how could a band as good as the Prefects never surface on my radar?
For those who like me have never previously had the pleasure of the Prefects before a brief history may be in order. They were formed in 1977 in Birmingham and over the space of only a few years they mutated from an above average punk outfit into the purveyors of post-punk songs as good as anything from the Fall. Before releasing any records proper they pushed themselves further and were reinvented as the Nightingales. It is now thanks to Acute Records that we get to hear all the Prefects sessions plus a couple of live tracks to boot.
This collection of tracks proves many of us may have been missing out on hearing an important and brilliant band. From the earlier more traditional punk sounding numbers like ‘VD’ (Peels favourite apparently) an ‘Escort Girls’ to the early post punk tracks which show there want and need to be more than just another punk band by utilising more angular complex songs structures and experimentalism (saxophones anyone, or maybe guitar and clarinet duet solos). This is shown on two of the best songs you probably never got to hear, the slow almost stoner-esque ‘Going Through the Motions’ and the superb ‘Total Luck’. But perhaps the crowning glory of this record is the wonderful 10 minute masterpiece about a pub bombing ‘The Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’, a song that should be heard by anyone who truly loves and respects music.
The prefects were a band who deserved more recognition when they were making this music and who definitely deserve your time and attention now.
UNCUT January 2005
Complete recordings of Robert Lloyds pre-Nightingales punkers In the wake of the Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, a whole punk pandemonium was born. In Birmingham there was just The Prefects, and across these Peel sessions, singles and live tracks they seem to be trying to remedy the situation singlehandedly. Faults and Escort Girls are droll spurts of Buzzcockian spite, but their bathos was balanced with an existential edge. Total Luck is a skronky, Slitsy hymn to contingency, while the epic The Bristol Road Leads to Dachau, a bout the IRA pub bombings, is the only punk song ever to allude to the holocaust without being glibly provocative.
MOJO January 2005
First reissue of legendary Birmingham group’s total recorded catalogue. The Prefects were always one of the most hermetic and confrontational groups. They spared no one, least of all the public. However, thanks to John Peel their work was preserved in the two excellent sessions released here, which showcase the group’s sad, sarcastic songs about everyday life in the late 1970s. They wrote about Escort Girls and Things in General, about trying to perform when you didn’t feel like it: Going Through the Motions. And, in the epic Bristol Road Leads to Dachau, they tackled the worst mainland IRA atrocity of all: the November 1974 Birmingham pub bombing. Taking full advantage of post-punk’s experimental imperative, they mixed wildly pounding drums and hyper-trebly guitars into compressed song structures that fused punk, dark side psychedelia, free jazz, reggae and even prog. Check out Agony Column’s three parts or the sheer, elegant sweep of the Beefheartian improvisation that begins the climactic Total Luck This is the authentic sound of 1978/9 and a contender for reissue of the year.
Exclaim November 10, 2004
When post-punk was at its peak in the late ’70s there were a number of bands making a splash that would be referenced many years later. Unfortunately, the Prefects were not one of those bands. They played with all of the right bands – the Clash, Wire, the Slits and Joy Division – yet they failed to make an impact in their short time. Amateur Wankers is a compilation of their complete recordings, which up until now were never available, largely because the band split and became the Nightingales before a proper Prefects record was readied. Their terse, choppy guitar riffs recall the work of bands like Wire and Buzzcocks, while their ambition to be different was venerable, as they went as far as using the unconventional clarinet on selected tracks. Robert Lloyd’s vocals wandered between scratchy hollers one minute and punkfully melodic another. While it’s impossible to predict if they would have been as successful or influential as their peers, the Prefects were definitely in the right place, playing the right music at the right time, just not long enough for anyone to notice. Keeners for late ’70s UK punk scene should take note.
Scheming Clash manager Bernie Rhodes dismissed the Prefects as amateur wankers, which implies the Clash were professional wankers. So who was more punk? After many years the Prefects compile all their recordings onto one album that deserves a place amongst the likes of the Slits and the Adverts in the second tier of the punk rock 1977 era. They would eventually mutate into the Nightingales, but there are songs here ripping off the Velvet Underground years before the Jesus and Mary Chain made a career of it, and the awesome doomed epic ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ writes the martial beat that Dead Kennedys would later hijack for ‘California Uber Alles.’
The Prefects created a glorious, seminal, new wave noise, that was a forerunner in creating a path for the more talented of the supposed one chord wonders of that era to move on to an ether of experimentation. Their sonic stance went beyond a guitar, bass and drums thrash, and the introduction of piano, saxophone, and clarinet in to the proceedings placed an element of Beefheart in to their buoyancy.
The boys shared stages with cacophony contemporaries like The Fall and The Mekons, who shared similar ground. The live process also involved playing alongside Magazine, The Buzzcocks, The Clash, The Slits, Joy Division, Subway Sect, and Ultravox.
The Prefects only managed to get five songs on vinyl, so it is with great delight that Acute Records¬Ýhave just released a ten track retrospective of The Prefects featuring the family faves, as well as even more obscure rarities, and a couple of live cuts.
From the ten minutes plus of the seminal, Bristol Road leads to Dachau, (think Keith Levene PiL meets Captain Beefheart) to the ten seconds plus of the vehement, VD, (A John Peel favourite) there is so much to admire on this raucous ride. Scratchy and catchy circa the seething late seventies best describes this DIY ethos. There is a maelstrom of mellifluous mayhem courtesy of the up tempo guile of the likes of: Escort Girls, Faults, Things in General and Agony Column. Going through the motions goes through the motions, and its five minutes drums its feel of ennui into overdrive. Lloyd and his likely lads are in the trenches alongside Mark E, Smith and his sonic soldiers, in the battle to fight against the traditional perimeters of pop performance.
The 2004 album, Amateur W*****s, deserves to put The Prefects on to a pedestal. A quarter of a century has passed but fans of Franz Ferdinand could do themselves a favour, and check out these awesome, aural, art attacks of a quarter of a century ago.
Times were different back then and I only know them from hearing and reading. I was never a punk, because I couldn’t afford a leather jacket. Those grown up on punkrock in the Eighties and Nineties (forget about punkrock in our time) find themselves confronted with a completely different kind of music, ideology and behaviour. The Prefects may only be a minor footnote in the history-book of Punk, though a more interesting one. And at times, footnotes give rise to interest far beyond that into the other parts of the text. With the Prefects deservedly so.
Is there really need for another release of yet another weird punkband from the late Seventies?
Well, the Prefects are not yer regular Punkband from late Seventies, which comes quite clear right there in the first 90 second-trasher ‘Faults’, when that squeaky, creaky sax sets in between the 3-chord-melodies. Or it is just two chords, as the next track proves right away, this time 100 seconds in straight forward 4/4-rhythm. Bang bang bang goes ‘Escort Girl’ and is over before you can say ‘blink’. But this record will by no way satisfy those people, who write ‘Punkrock ’77 forever’ on their dirty jeans-jackets or ripped leather jackets. Because The Prefects also have some special give-aways, that stand up to a sort of underdog-Velvet Underground, seedy The Slits (if that is possible), dirty Wire, or a carnivorous The Fall (who they opened up for during their short existence-span). Not to speak of the post-post-punk-hype that starts to spread right here right now (with Bloc Party, The Faint, Q and not U, and the like great stuff, by the way). Which answers the question in the opening sentence quite well, I guess.
Manchester back then had a blooming scene, with bands of all different kinds of styles starting everywhere. This mixed with the atmosphere of a primarily working class city, with cold and rainy nights, dirty streets and lots of bricks-and-steel-architecture, still gives a certain ring to me, that I can feel deep inside of me. Vienna has that same atmosphere at times and in special places, like walking in the 10th district after midnight in winter. Rarely ever will a ‘punkband’ open one of their songs with a scary and lonely saxophone squeaking its way like a lost soul, to next strike into song that owes as much to Joy Division (who back then still called themselves Warsaw) and The Pogues in a complete Jonestown-manner. Only to next offer a song that sounds like rotten old streetpunks trying to play Minor Threat-like hardcore. Maybe the main word here would be ambiguity.
It is hard to say from our post-millenium viewpoint, where the widely varying style of The Prefects came from. Was it a desire to incorporate all kinds of new ideas and to come up with a few original ones by themselves, or did they just suck up new stuff done by other bands faster than the rest? Was it a serious attempt hidden in the back then all too common ‘fuck-all’-attitude or vice versa? And were such thoughts of any importance to a young band from Birmingham, who got spit on by the audience half of their few gigs (a common tradition in the early days of punk. Gross, I know, but way better than being mowed down by a maniac with a machine gun, innit?) and even had to play an encore, once?
This CD offers the complete studio-recordings of The Prefects, some liner notes plus two live tracks (one of them clocking in at an exaggerated 10 minutes. The show was a live-recording of the Electric Circus in Manchester and the band is still wondering they didn’t make it on the record?) The other live track,¬Ýtherefore is only 10 seconds long. Actually only seven, if you count the real music. This track, ‘VD’, allegedly was a favourite of John Peel and thinking that he used to track the timing of every track himself, never¬Ýtrusting the printed labels on CDs, this sentence before gets a truly new meaning overall. Rest in peace, old chap. I never met you, but I listened to you. So, a nice package all in all, only one question remains? What is an ‘amateur wanker’ as opposed to a ‘professional’?
Unsung heroes. Forgotten ones. Out of favours pioneers. Music history is full of people who for some reason failed to be remembered. Thanks the Lord, there are people and labels who dedicate themselves to bring back to life distant memories. Acute records is one of those, and a few month after Glenn Branca’s Lesson no. 1, they allowed me to discover a band that I had never heard of: The Prefects.’Ä®
The Prefects got together in 1976 in the Birmingham area. The band fell apart round 1979, releasing shortly after their only single on Rough Trade. In other words, you had to be there at the time to hear about them This Cd’s features the 8 tracks The Prefects ever recorded in studio, plus two live cuts. This is the only thing you will ever hear from them.
The Prefects where part of the post-punk scene, sharing bills with the Slits, The Fall, Buzzcocks and Magazine. They even opened for The Clash on their White Riot UK tour. They left quite an impression: bassist Graham Blunt got beaten up by The Clash and their roadies for not showing enough respect.
Let’s forget the anecdotes and focus on the music. Early tracks are pretty much straightforward punk songs, reminding me of The Ramones (Ohohohooooh’s and hey ho’s included), although a little more experimental since they added ‘exotic’ instruments such as sax and clarinet. Their music is pretty bleak, on the verge of being frightening, but at the same time quite fun. While Faults and Barbarellas are straightforward, songs like Escort Girls and Total Luck have something droney, repetitive, and trance inducing. A kind of stuff that wasn’t very common in those days, especially in the punk scene. The best track on Amateur Wankers is without the shadow of a doubt the ten minutes long Bristol road leads to Dachau. Incisive guitars, utterly bleak mood, industrial-like rhythm, a voice somewhere between Ian Curtis and Peter Murphy. This is a truly indispensable song, one that any fan of the era should at least hear once in his life.
The last track is 60 time shorter: 10 seconds. Apparently it was John Peel’s favourite. It has something of a ‘fuck off we don’t care about you’ statement. But I do care for The Prefects, and I thank Acute for releasing this stuff. Better late than never!
The Daily Copper
The Prefects are anything but what they are referred to in this compilation’s title. It draws together a number of seventies-era recordings of the band, as well as a track (all of thirteen seconds long!) from their 2001 reunion. This is working class punk, rough hewn to be sure, but exuberant and filled with a number of pleasing musical surprises – clarinets, saxophones, and the occasional toy instruments liven up arrangements with variety and whimsy. Breakneck paced minute-and-a-half-long songs such as ‘Escort Girls’ and Barbarellas’ stampede your psyche, but the Prefects also craft an extended slow tempo rocker, ‘Going through the Motions.’ It’s a pity that the group doesn’t have a more sizeable recorded legacy, but what’s here crackles with an exciting energy.
The Onion January 19, 2005
It didn’t take UK punk long to evolve from its initial political-minded spin on garage-rock primitivism to something more abstract and arty. For four years, from the dawn of 1977 to the end of 1980, a cultural explosion occurred, with bored teens, angry dole claimants, and university brats sharing stages and ideas. Though largely forgotten now, The Prefects was right in that mix, running in the same circles as Mekons, Ultravox, and The Slits, helping to forge the disjointed, danceable noise that became known as post-punk, though punk hadn’t really run its course. The Prefects broke up with only a single and a couple of radio sessions to show for its time on the scene, and now the band’s complete recorded output – plus the 10-second jingle ‘VD,’ taped at a recent reunion concert – constitute the whole of Amateur Wankers, the post-punk classic that never was.
About half of The Prefects’ songs stay in the jumped-up shout-and-rumble mode of Buzzcocks and The Damned. ‘Faults,’ ‘Escort Girls,’ ‘Barbarellas,’ and the like sound energetic and catchy, though not too different from what was going on at the time. Amateur Wankers’ more arresting songs are slower and stretched-out, indebted to the atonal drone of The Velvet Underground’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties.’ Over five tense minutes, ‘Going Through The Motions’ layers piano, sax, tribal drums, and monotone vocals to create the mood of its title. The 10-minute epic ‘Bristol Road Leads To Dachau’ bounces two guitars off each other in patterns of scrape and slash, while an unsteady beat drives the song on and off the path. Had The Prefects made a dent at home or abroad, its signature song – its ‘Teenage Kicks,’ or ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ – would probably have been ‘Things In General,’ a dreamily violent inquiry into a young punk’s state of mind. It’s ferocious, but profoundly compassionate.
The Monitor January 21,2005
The Prefects sit comfortably as harbingers of new wave
‘Again I’m pissed. Destroy!’ As typewritten into pop music history, that last savage line of the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’ has served to kindle more juvenile curiosity and creation than drunken destruction throughout the past few decades. Young Americans and the pierced and petulant youth of England’s not-so-swinging ’70s answered John Lydon’s disaffected call by forming countless punk bands of their own.
The Pistols bred seminal British bands like the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Joy Division, and Wire and inspired American talents like the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, MC5 and Social Distortion (while fanning the Ramones’ already blazing flames.) Just as a legion of talented underground bands are inspired by punk’s forefathers today, their late ’70s bretheren were just as potent. One of the best relatively unnoticed bands spurred by the Pistols’ stage antics was Birmingham, England’s the Prefects.
Formed in Birmingham by brothers Paul and Roots Appereley in 1977, the Prefects never recorded a proper album in their short time together (less than two years) or even toured the U.S. Instead, the group of working class punk amateurs fell luck backwards into opening shows for the Clash and playing alongside legendary avant rock acts like the Slits, the Fall and Subway Sect. Record label Acute recently released a single disc collection of seemingly every song ever recorded by the Prefects.
Are Amateur Wankers isn’t solely for punk addicts. Fans of Wire, New Order, the Talking Heads and even Interpol will enjoy the sound of these four playful working class Brits unknowingly providing the template for the new wave.
Unlike the Sex Pistols and the Clash, the Prefects distance themselves from the anarchy. Instead of a call to arms, the songs on Wankers serves to mock governmental institutions as well as those who rebel against them. The Prefects were more interested in humor than revolution. Their faux arrogance and perverse humor is punctuated by singer Robert Lloyd’s snarl and infrequent kazoo solos.
The opening track on Wankers, ‘Faults,’ is a backwards anthem for a band that saw itself no better than its fans. ‘We got faults!,’ singer Lloyd militaristically hums as guitars clang behind him. Things can turn on a dime, though. On ‘Going Through the Motions,’ Lloyd drones like Ian Curtis singing the chorus of ‘Love will Tear us Apart.’ Instead of a bouncy guitar and pulsing beat behind him, the band supplies a hypnotic mesh of untuned guitar. As the songs progress, it becomes clear that the Prefects were helping spawn an undeniably inventive version of art rock without really trying. Are Amateur Wankers would sit on the shelf in harmony next to any anthology of punk or new wave rock.
Dusted Magazine February 1, 2005
Let me suggest two ways of viewing this career-spanning compilation of the Prefects’ entire recorded output. First, as an exhaustive history of the work of an innovative band, one that worked alongside the likes of Magazine, Wire, and Joy Division, but one that for one reason or another was subsequently overlooked by history. Second, as a document of the vibrancy of the punk and post-punk years in the UK, where bands like the Prefects formed through the classified ads, toured with future legends, and made their way onto the radio despite having little musical aptitude. The liner notes to the album suggest both views, and each is correct in its own way. As the title – lifted from a description of the band by Subway Sect’s manager, Bernie Rhodes – suggests, amateurism pretty much was the Prefects’ contribution, even as they moved beyond three-chords-and-the-truth to become one of the first bands to explore moodier and more understated post-punk songwriting styles.
The Prefects formed in Birmingham in 1976, shortly after brothers Alan and Paul Apperly saw the Sex Pistols perform and put an ad in the Birmingham Daily Mail looking for bandmates. PJ Royston and Robert Lloyd, friends from school, answered the ad and made the band. (They were chosen over Nikki Sudden, among others.) The band then went through several line-ups during the next three years, played a number of shows in London and Manchester with the Clash, the Jam, the Buzzcocks, and others, and broke up in 1980. While several members of the Prefects later formed the Nightingales, who recorded on Rough Trade in the early ’80s, their work was pretty much forgotten, at least until this reissue.
The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers isn’t a true reissue, though, because most of the material on it was never issued in the first place. The Prefects released only one single, ‘Going Through the Motions,’ and even that didn’t hit the market until after the band broke up. Eight of the songs on here come from two radio sessions, one in 1978, the other a year later; one song, ’625 Lines,’ was recorded on the last night of Manchester’s Electric Circus, and was supposed to be included on a commemorative album of the concert until the band refused to have it released; and a final song, ‘VD,’ a mere 10 seconds long, recorded at a reunion concert in 2001. So, as far as everyone knows, this is the Prefects’ entire recording history.
While they’re certainly not mutually exclusive, I’m partial to the view that The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers finally gives the band a long-overdue acknowledgement. ‘Things in General’ and ‘Escort Girls’ stack up against anything that the Jam or the Sex Pistols released, while more complicated pieces like ‘Going Through the Motions’ and the marathon ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ were early examples of the fully-formed style that art punks would develop throughout the early 1980s. Despite their amateurism – maybe even because of it – the Prefects still did work worth remembering. Acute’s invaluable reissue series has made that possible for one more band.
30music.com February 1, 2005
Acute records has dug up a little history lesson for all the punks, post-punks, and indies out there. The Prefects, a band formed during the intial British punk explosion (March of 1977 to be exact), were a fairly prominent band on the scene, even scoring gigs with the Clash and the Buzzcocks. Only lasting a couple years and never putting out an album, the Prefects eventually became the Nightingales, another post-punk band of some prominence. In any case, Acute has dug up the fruits of two separate recording sessions and a couple live songs for a compilation, stating that the Prefects Are Amateur Wankers. Without really bothering to get into the merits of such a title, we can say that this record can be placed in two different contexts. The first is a historical one; the second is how it sounds regardless.
So first, let’s get into how it sounds. There are some straight-up punk songs on here: fast, short, with energy, very much in line with the Ramones. Under this headline would be the effective opener, ‘Faults,’ and the ode to the bar they played in frequently in Birmingham, ‘Barbarellas.’ They even stayed within this framework while adding a stronger melodic sense on ‘Things in General,’ which is catchy and punky and good all together.
But there are also those post-punk messings around the Prefects apparently prided themselves on. ‘Total Luck’ features a drawn out instrumental intro, a slower tempo, vocals that seem to be filtered in from afar, and some sound effects throughout the background. ‘Going Through the Motions,’ a song spawning from the Prefects needing to prolong their live set one night, is murky and heavy, with a loop persisting throughout. ‘Agony Column’ features a finish with some different vocal harmonies and rhythms, again showing some versatility. And the ten-minute ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ symbolizes the whole approach and combination for the Prefects: Punky (and as close to political-minded as they get) while featuring some instrumental freeform with unusual sounds and improvising, almost a punk jam.
Historically, well, it seems like the Prefects fit well in the punk/post-punk years of ’77-’79. Comparisons to Wire seem like as good a reference point as any. Really, there’s not much more to it than that. If they stuck together, maybe they would have emerged with a great album, maybe not. All the same, the Prefects perform well enough that we can say they are, or would have been more than amateur wankers. In any context, they’re definitely worth some attention.
The Prefects are the real thing – circa-’77 punk performed by a quartet of lanky Brits with plenty of attitude and an adequate amount of skill. Too anarchistic (read: disorganized and indifferent) and contentious to complete an album during their brief heyday, they vanished into the mist of history with a handful of unreleased masters and a posthumous single to their quickly-forgotten name.
Fame eludes promising bands every day, but as Amateur Wankers demonstrates, The Prefects deserved better. Their music is familiar – working-class vocals, workmanlike guitars, Ian Duryish horn-skronk, relentless drumming – but somehow more melodic, more ‘finished’ than a lot of songs from the same period that went on to earn greater acclaim. ‘Escort Girls’ anticipates much of ‘Pay To Cum”s seminal two-chord ferocity, while single ‘Going Through the Motions” slovenly pace, slurred vocals and collapsed glam-rock foundation suggest a Bowie tune strung out on cough syrup and pain pills. ‘Barbarellas’, all rumbling drums, chorused vocals and sharpened two-ply melody, would draw kids into the pit as easily today as it doubtless did almost 30 years ago, and ‘Total Luck”s twisty guitar workout reminds us that The Prefects actually knew how to play their instruments (for all the good it did them). And if you still have doubts about The Prefects’ cred, stick ’625 Lines’ on a mix CD before a vintage Wire song and see what happens.
In its final minutes, Amateur Wankers highlights the stylistic extremes of The Prefects’ oeuvre. The ten-minute ‘Bristol Road Leads To Dachau’ is a grim, clamorous, uncompromising proto-goth/punk assault, with stabbing guitars and ominus bass and a harmonica solo (!) so incongruous it works. The infamous ‘VD’, recorded in 2001 at a reunion show, closes the disc; it’s 10 seconds long. Amateur Wankers reminds us, not for the first time, how spoiled we are in 2005: bands far less skilled, and even less committed, than The Prefects can amass a global fanbase, tour the world and spit out a profitable album every nine months. In The Prefects’ day, most of the spitting started in the audience and was aimed at the stage. Touring was difficult, fame was at best unlikely, and the sums of money involved would barely buy a decent dinner. It’s no surprise that The Prefects broke up – but based on Amateur Wankers, it’s a damn shame.
Or perhaps it’s never too late. Most of The Prefects went on to form The Nightingales, made another modest splash in the early eighties, and will finally make their American touring debut in March. Better late than never.
The Yale Herald
It wasn’t just that he owned a 29-piece drum kit in his basement. The Neil Peart-obsessed Nick Andopolis of the late great ’90s TV series Freaks and Geeks was a man after my own heart: tall, dense, handsome, and an amateur rock critic in his own right. Andopolis once said of The Ramones, ‘They only use, like, three chords.’ He had good cause to be skeptical, but had Freaks and Geeks outlived its brief wonderhood, he might’ve been even more skeptical of The Prefects. If The Ramones were the epitome of punk’s three-chords-and-the-truth rule of thumb, The Prefects were three chords and wonderful, floundering somewhere in their wake.
Self-proclaimed ‘amateur wankers,’ The Prefects formed in Birmingham in 1976 when they were brought into bona fide being by a life-altering Sex Pistols’ performance. For years, they played with the big boys – The Clash, Buzzcocks, Joy Division. A 1978 issue of NME sums them up like this: ‘Their music is as bleak, cynical, and loveless as their personalities, with a perverse humour. Their relationship to orthodox rock music is tenuous, at the closest a horrendous doppelgˆ§nger parody. At its best, their music can have a frightening intensity. Suspicious and arrogant, they have no friends, want none and despite creating an evolving sound, their potential for recognition is limited.’
As the liner notes are first to admit, Amateur Wankers, recently ‘reissued’ by Acute Records, is the first and last Prefects ‘album.’ With 10 songs and the truth, it is all we can really know of The Prefects – part Joy Division, part Sex Pistols, and entirely worth remembering. Singer Robert Lloyd saw them as ‘a rare punk band – genuinely young, really ‘working class,’ honestly arseholes and properly discarded in the the history books. They argued, got bored and split up.’ Granted, they were never musical geniuses destined to go down in the annals of punk history, but I’ve no complaints – only kudos for Acute for nudging them back into the limelight. Roughly 30 years later, The Prefects are still as good to go. Half an hour of amateur wankerism never sounded so refreshing.
Flux Magazine February 1, 2005
Clash manager Bernie Rhodes dismissed the Prefects as amateur wankers, which implies the Clash were professional wankers. But here the Prefects compile all their recordings onto one album that deserves a place amongst the Slits and the Adverts in the second tier of the punk rock 1977 era. There are songs here ripping off the Velvet Underground years before the Jesus and Mary Chain made a career of it, and the awesome doomed epic ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ writes the martial beat that Dead Kennedys would hijack for ‘California Uber Alles.’
Chicago Reader March 11, 2005
Thanks to an unending stream of CD reissues, music by obscure bands from the late 70s and early 80s – New York punk-funk outfit ESG, for instance, or British postpunkers A Certain Ratio and 23 Skidoo – is finding its way to listeners who weren’t yet born when it was made. One of the latest beneficiaries of this trend never even put out an album during its existence. The Prefects formed in Birmingham, England, in 1976, and soon got busy as a supporting act distinguished by a shambling attack and unusually droll lyrics. Released late last year, The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers (Acute) collects everything the band recorded – all 31 minutes of it – before splitting up in 1979 and reemerging as the Nightingales. The reissue makes it clear that while the Prefects were good, they’re of most interest now as a precursor to that better known and more significant band, which has joined the crowd of reunited postpunk outfits. As heard on the classic Pigs on Purpose (recently rereleased on Cherry Red), the Nightingales’ best material was delivered with a driving, manic intensity that made them sound a bit like the Fall covering Captain Beefheart – the drumming was spastic and twitchy; the guitars were trebly, abrasive, and frequently out of sync; and Robert Lloyd’s vocals were wordy and lacerating, yet oddly croonerlike. Last year they released a handful of new singles, and a live recording I’ve heard from last fall suggests that though their execution is sharper now and their energy level a bit lower, they haven’t lost their nervy edge. This is one of only three U.S. performances. The Waco Brothers open. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433, $10 donation.
Resonance Winter 2005
Witness the glee that underpins ‘Total Luck’ as it careens from cacophony into something between punk and jazz. That balance between frivolity and just making noise sums up the Birmingham band’s brief career. This too-short collection – just ten songs, barely cresting 30 minutes – comprises the Prefects entire recorded output. Bright bursts such as ‘Escort Girls’ follow the ’77 punk party line: a few chords and a shouted chorus. But the tense ‘Bristol Road Leads to Dachau’ and the intentionally maddening ‘Going Through the Motions’ show off an experimental side. Wankers documents a band surprised by its own capabilities.
click to collapse
thanks to Rich Kidd for these…
The man himself, on Myspace
Prefects founder and guitarist, current Nightingale, on Myspace
Prefect and early Nightingale, responsible for the sublime Compulsion 7″ on Cherry Red. Compulsion can be found on the LP and CD of the classic Cherry Red comp ‘Pillows and Prayers’, the b-side is on the CD comp ‘Our Brilliant Careers’.
Interview with Robert
‘Questions of Doom’ interview
Robert talks to trackMARX’s Jean Encoule.
Alan and Helen’s notes taken from the old Nightingale’s site.
Cherry Blossom Clinic
So a few days after making the Nightingales walk miles to get to Veselka on their first visit to NY, I took them out to Jersey City to visith WFMU. How, as someone who was born and raised in NJ and who’s appeared on WFMU a few times, I manged to take them to the wrong PATH stop, I’ll never know. It was also the coldest day ever and horizontal frozen rain was darting off the Hudson. It’s a miracle we got there at all. Anyway, the Nightingales were troopers and still managed a stirring set, including an impromtu ‘Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl’.
New, official web site.
On myspace too!