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Seven-inch anthems that shaped a generation

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: September 25, 2012

Just a few of the 45rpm singles provided to eager teenagers by Penzance's premier punk emporium, Chy-An-Stylus

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When Johnny Rotten sneeringly asked the capacity audience at The Wints on September 1, 1977 if anyone there was from Penzance, he seemed genuinely surprised by the barrage of shouts. Yes, we were from Penzance, writes Simon Parker.

For a semi-rural town on the south-western toe of Britain it seemed inconceivable to the Sex Pistols singer that there might be a large population of Cornish punks.

However, as with today's D&B and dubstep adherents being more thickly populated west of Bristol than in the capital, so in the late-1970s Penzance, Redruth and Camborne were hotbeds of the new music.

In the case of Penzance, this passion was fuelled by the existence of one of the most forward-thinking and fun record shops in the land. Run by Mike and Liz Sagar-Fenton, it stocked all the most vital seven-inch 45s of the era.

Teenagers flocked to Chy-An-Stylus in Market Jew Street, spending entire days during the summer of 1977 hanging out on the pavement or inside listening to the latest low-budget, independent punk singles.

These seven-inch masterpieces were unlike anything the teenagers of the town had ever heard before and they soon became the soundtrack of a year that would change attitudes to almost everything, for ever.

Played to death in bedrooms and at parties, their elaborate picture sleeves and homemade labels, crude recordings and razor-sharp lyrics defined the era, inadvertently communicating to the youth of the day: if they can do it, so can we. Or, as The Desperate Bicycles put it: "It was easy, it was cheap, go and do it."

Before long, several early punk bands were spawned in Penzance. First and foremost were The Cramp, followed by An Alarm, Septic and the Sceptics and The Vendettas.

Self-penned anthems and protest songs were recorded not in the cooler "garages" of the more urban parts of the UK but more typically in barns, village halls and even, in the case of The Cramp, downstairs at the town's Conservative Club. Far from being just about music, these songs – delivered fast and with uncompromising lyrics – created a generation's Year Zero. From that summer on, the establishment in all its forms, from politicians and religion to teachers and employers, were forces to be wary of.

Gigs were equally homespun, promoted with cheap stencilled fly-posters and played in the back-rooms and basements of pubs, youth clubs, disused chapels and even, on occasion, Penzance's famous Wints.

Today, of course, the events of 1977 are regarded by most people as merely a part of music history. Yet the repercussions of rebellion continue to be felt – at least in the hearts of those who lived through it. A website featuring bands and venues of the era is regularly being updated. For more details visit: www.kernowbeat.co.uk

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