|NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
June 10th, 1978
THE DRESSING room of the City Hall, Newcastle:
Penetration have just finished their 45 minute support set on the Buzzcocks tour and singer Pauline's nerves are totally shattered.
Not used to the rigours of a full scale tour and the large stages and seated venues such an outing entails, Penetration, like the bridges over the nearby River Tyne, are taking the strain.
The extra pressures of playing in front of a critical "home" audience for the first time in six months coupled with the pain and worry that a malignant abscess has been causing Pauline all week hardly ease the stress.
Close to tears, she sits motionless in the dressing room, her angular features buried deep in her matchstick thin arms.
But, like those five Tyne bridges, she's bearing up determined not to crack.
The other three Penetrators - bassist Robert Blamire, drummer Gary Smallman and the band's most recent recruit, guitarist Neale Floyd are less tense as they knock back their cans of Skol, reasonably happy with how the homecoming gig has gone.
Well, they hadn't made any glaring cock tips from where I was standing, but it came as a surprise to me later on that, of the four, only Pauline was prepared to admit that Penetration had not delivered one of their most memorable three quarters of an hour.
Matters weren't helped, though, by the over officious City Hall bouncers, who were determined, it seemed, to stop the kids' enjoyment by keeping them planted firmly in their seats and they succeeded in doing so for most of the set. (I noted later that the venue had been one of the many to scrub itself from the date sheet of The Sex Pistols' fabled Anarchy tour).
Penetration, in fact, present one of the most invigorating batches of songs around. Their main problem seems to be that at times they fail to do their material full justice on stage. In Newcastle, for instance, even the down tempo songs, of which there are certainly a good few "Lovers Of Outrage", "Vision" and Patti's ."Free Money” – were racey, while some of the faster numbers were castrated in the nervous rush to finish.
Still, The Jam, for one, have staged a remarkable recovery from such a state of affairs in the space of little under a year, and there's no reason why the pride of Real Butter Country should not do likewise.
For down at the roots there's always promise and there's always potential. And this band could do something else altogether.
In relation to her two most obvious contemporaries, Poly Styrene and Siouxsie, Pauline is certainly a more orthodox singer with superb range and vocal character in abundance.
Her stage persona, meantime, lies . somewhere between that of the two aforementioned ladies: she emits some of the former's solid Good Time vibe a real show woman as she skips, footsies and marches in a controlled frenzy across the boards but glosses the Sheer Enjoyment over with a hint of the Germanic chill of a Siouxsie.
Imitators, however, Penetration most certainly are not Pauline's haunting vocal phrasing, which seems to stretch miles into the distance, over the slick, shifting bass and drum patterns woven by Blamire and Smallman give the sound an almost surreal, transcendental edge.
THE GROUP hail from Ferryhill, a former pit village, 20 miles from Newcastle. Its two pits closed ten years ago, as the mining centres of the industrial North East moved closer to, and eventually under, the North Sea. Nowadays it remains a busy town only on market days.
Pauline, Robert and Gary have lived there all their lives and known each other since school. The three formed Penetration at the tail end of 1976 with local guitarist Gary Chaplin. When the erstwhile Chaplin left earlier this year the band now maintain that he never really fitted their get up a replacement was drafted in almost immediately.
A fluent guitarist, the gawky Neale Floyd, for it was he, had been a fan of the band since the outset. He also lived only a few miles down the road in Bishop Auckland. More to the point though, Floyd's heart was where it mattered in the band.
A Penetration feature would be incomplete without mention of the band's hard working personal manager Peter Lloyd, a fellow Ferryhill lad; Pauline's childhood sweetheart and, since March, her husband.
The couple live in a modest one bedroomed flat above a pet shop in a grimy street, of red bricked terrace houses.
The small sitting room with the tele in one corner and various parent bought ornaments on the shelves might be the dream of most young newly weds. It's only when your eyes are drawn to the "Bollocks" poster above the fireplace and the Pattipix that adorn one wall that the unsuspecting visitor would begin to twig that perhaps the couple maybe aren't quite as, er, normal as you might have thought at first.
I'm greeted politely by Pauline as we arrive at the flat on Friday afternoon, the day after the City Hall gig.
She looks faintly ridiculous in her zippered bondage strides and fluffy mauve slippers as she leads us upstairs to the cosy sitting room where the rest of the band are waiting.
She brings to mind the image of Tina Turner in Rock Dreams; by day a housewife, cleaning the apartment and cooking up her specialities, but fulfilling a secret ambition by night hitting the road as a singer in the band.
A few hours later as Springsteen's "Born To Run" plays distantly on the stereo - an agreeable backdrop -Penetration settle down to talk.
Apprehensively at first, but becoming more relaxed, they explain themselves in thick Geordie accents.
Their outlook is a positive one; things aren't quite as bleak as they might sometimes seem. They still get off on the very thrill of actually playing in a rock band. That alone gives them a freshness of approach.
They also do not regard it as a disadvantage living well outside The Smoke.
“I wouldn't like to live in London,'', says Pauline between sips of a cup of steaming coffee. "We like going there and doing our gigs and then disappearing. We're detached in that way - out on a limb. "But it's our own choice." Up here, it's a real close community. Like it's market day today and all the same people are down at the market doing the same things. In London, you never see the same faces twice. Here, you see the same faces all the time.
In very much the same way as The Buzzcocks developed last year, Penetration have been able to grow at their own pace. And while Pauline may not be strictly correct when she asserts that the groups that take the longest to "make it" also last the longest, there is little doubt that Penetration's lengthy apprenticeship, is serving them in good stead.
"I'm prepared to wait. We're probably not ready yet anyway . . . but we will be. We're developing all the time. I think the worst thing that can happen is heavy overkill on a band; they just burn themselves out straightaway:
But life in the Slow Lane has its drawbacks.
"People have a different mentality up here," reflects Neale. "They let things go by, they'd rather let someone else do it than do it themselves:
When I was trying to get my own band together I put loads of adverts in the papers and got
no reaction whatsoever."
"We're lucky though, coming from somewhere like this," Pauline continues, harking back to the old Joe Strummer theory that a band must experience hard times before they're really worth their salt: if things aren't easy, you get to appreciate them more.
"You can't just sit on your backsides and wait for the breaks to come. You've got to make your own. A lot of London bands, like X Ray Spex and The Ants, didn't really come out of London and play clubs at first. We've just about covered everywhere."
A solid following nationwide and a great bunch of real Hard Core fans-the Hounslow contingent - are evidence of the wisdom of going out and playing the dives for all they're worth.
"We always try to treat our fans as real people," says Pauline emphatically.
"They're not the scum of the earth. We're just normal people. We're not up herewith the fans down there, she gestures.
Then again, the band themselves all still remain True Fans: Pauline and Peter used to regularly spend the hard-earned wages of their office jobs on the five-hour rail trek down to London to see bands: Bowie and Harley in '74, Springsteen the following year and the Pistols, Clash. and Patti Smith.
"When Springsteen came over, we thought that everything was still only happening in New York. We thought that we wanted to go to New York- that was where it was at! Then, six months later, things suddenly started happening over here."
I'd been going to see bands for years and I'd often thought `I'd like to do something like that.' But I'd never really considered it seriously. It's only when we saw that you don't need all the lights and equipment that we became ,convinced that we could do it."
"Our first gig was at the Roxy Club," she recaps fondly. (They supported Generation X last February back in the halcyon daze of that Neal Street cellar).
"We all got in the back of a furniture van with all the gear. We spent a fortune in getting down there. We thought it was great. Then when we got there it was such a dump. I don't know what we were expecting, but it wasn't quite that."
"But we did get our first real publicity from doing it so it wasn't that bad."
So Penetration care a lot about their fans, but their lyrical/musical stance is an uncompromising one: they don't pander to an audience.
"We don't want all the songs to be wallopy loud bangs," grins the stocky Gary, leaning forward to ruggedly emphasise his point. "We try to complement Pauline's singing in our playing by not being too heavy."
"A lot of groups do different paced songs, but usually it sounds forced," adds Robert.
Pauline, who writes all the lyrics, takes up the thread.
"A varied set doesn't mean you have to take one song from somewhere and another from somewhere else. Our songs are varied, but they all have a meeting point - you always know it's us.
"Someone said I sounded like Grace Slick, but I've never listened to any Grace Slick records in my life."
Patti seems to be the only acknowledged influence.
"Yeah. But I've only been singing for a year. It takes a while to find your own style. There's a difference in being influenced by someone and ripping them off totally. The songs are personal to me. I leave it open for anyone to interpret them as they want. I think words should be left open for people to read into them what they want. A lot of them are abstract . . . not, always direct stories."
Isn't there a danger that they could become too abstract meaningless drivel?
"I don't think ours get to the meaningless state. They're not that abstract. I like people to read into songs themselves. It doesn't always have to be laid straight on a plate. . ."
She tails off, irritatingly self -conscious when talking about her intensely personal (though never overbearing) songs.
Of the new English bands, The Only Ones, The Buzzcocks and The Fall come in for praise, but the recent Patti Smith Rainbow gigs receive a unanimous thumbs down even from Pauline:
"After seeing her at Hammersmith the last time around, maybe I was expecting too much. I don't really know what it was, but this time the gigs were disappointing. I still like them, but she did come over really pretentious.
"We were all disappointed," interrupts Neale, another fan. "You got some people at the gigs who would applaud everything she did - anything at all, if she had just stood there and farted; they'd think it was great. She just had nothing to say."
A final anecdote from the band - in some respects one of the most significant and unexpected points to come out of the interview.
See, whatever they might read to the contrary, Penetration thankfully do not go along with the ugly rumour currently in circulation that wait for it - Punk Is Dead.
"Right now, we've got the healthiest music situation we've had for a long time," says Pauline, her tack becoming positively aggressive.
A lot of the press doesn't realise that many of the punk bands are simply just very young bands. I mean, give some bands two years and what will they be like?"
"Give bands the chance to develop instead of slagging them all off and saying punk's dead.
There was all that shit about Power Pop. How long did it last? The papers were full of it, then two months later it was cast aside. The thing is, it was never really there to start with. Why take ten steps back when we should be taking ten steps forward."
Punk has given a lot of people a chance they would never have had and it's brought a lot of talent out that people didn't know they had.'
Next month, smack in the middle of the traditional summer period of music biz inactivity Penetration go into the studio: with producer Mike Howlett to record their debut album for Virgin. The resultant platter is due to hit the racks sometime in the early autumn. After that, then are plans-vague at the moment - for the possible addition of a second guitarist.
Whatever, the album will hopefully confirm Penetration's status as one of the best models currently on show, and a force for the '80s.
Even right now, even with the rough -edges, this callow bunch are already a convincing band.
You may have heard their sentiments before, but sneer contempt at their naivity, and it's you, not them, that's the jaded party, mate.