The first thing I knew about 77 Sulphate Strip was an email from a friend recommending it. It didn't take long to work out why. Author Barry Cain was a journalist for the Record Mirror back in the day. Now older and battle scarred by life, he sets out to re-discover the greatest year of his life, 1977. He briefly tells us why 1968 was another memorable year for him, but it's 1977 that he wishes to return to. Devoid of original copies of Record Mirror, he begins his quest in the back issues branch of the British Library, and nervously reacquaints himself with his past. In the process he takes us along with him, and it's a chaotic and thrilling ride. His original interviews, gig and record reviews, are all presented as per 1977, punctuated by occasional narrative to keep the action ricocheting through the year. Record Mirror never had the kudos of the NME or Sounds, and therefore most of what's on offer has long been forgotten. Barry had a clear love affair with sulphate, which is reflected in his jerky and paranoid approach to the scene around him. You feel as though he never knows which way to turn; there is just too much going on. This random approach has given us one of the best books ever on punk rock in 1977. The year is revisited by a man who was in the thick of the action, giving it to us as it was no glorious hindsight just pure 1977. Barry is a fan of what he considers the big five; Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, The Jam, and The Stranglers - all of whom get repeated coverage. As do The Heartbreakers (including a trip to Scotland with an unhappy Jerry Nolan who, having left the band, is back as a hired musician). Barry joins The Damned on their first visit to the USA, The Jam in Germany, The Stranglers in Amsterdam, goes to Paris to see The Clash, and sees the Pistols in action in Atlanta and Memphis, bringing this chapter of his life to a close as '77 turns into '78. Sex Pistols fans are well catered for. An encounter with John, Steve, and Paul in a park in the West End in June ( Get out! screams a fat lady attendant), and a report from the secret gig in Wolverhampton during August are highlights. Let's not forget Sid's comment to Barry at Atlanta airport: Cutting yourself is alright at the time, but the pain after is a bind. You'd think he would have thought of that. Fast forward to January 2007 and the author attempts to track down some of the personalities 30 years later. Barry gives the impression he is an outsider, almost unwilling to accept that it was actually himself who experienced all the excitement. He gets knocked back by some of his intended interviewees such as Mick Jones and Paul Weller, and you really feel for him. Thankfully he strikes gold with John Lydon, Rat Scabies, and Hugh Cornwell. I can't recommend 77 Sulphate Strip highly enough. Barry Cain is a man on the edge and on a mission. Mission accomplished. The Punk Rock book of the year is yours, Mr Cain, and ours to share. Review by Phil Singleton (September 2007) Sex-pistols.net --Uncut magazine
77 SULPHATE STRIP - Barry Cain (400 pages) Let s be honest, of all the music press doing the rounds in 1977, the Record Mirror was never one to remember. NME, Sounds, Melody Maker for sure, but wasn t Record Mirror all about pop music ? With that in mind, it seems anomalous that one of its writers, Barry Cain, should pen a book that looks, month-by-month, at that year of massive cultural, musical and social revolution. Cain hit his mid-20s in 77, sported a beard and longish hair but grasped the urgency and sense of change that Punk offered in 77. He wrote about it with a verve and depth of understanding that few of his contemporaries at the more credible broadsheets could only hope to grasp. The book is split into two main sections. The first section delves into the archives of what Cain wrote in 77 as Punk exploded and dragged him in. The year is documented monthly with the hit parade of each month opening each chapter. Cain's writing was insightful; he didn t shy away from asking hard questions. His descriptive work, which channeled his sense of euphoria as he witnessed Sex Pistols, Heartbrerakers and The Jam at their peak, is exceptional. He was often in the right place at the right time - like the Mont De Marsan Punk Festival and being the only journalist at the one-off secret Sex Pistols show at Leicester Square. He wasn t always spot on though - his belief that Sham 69 was some kinda saviour fell way short and he is dismissive of Eater and, incredibly, The Adverts. The second part of the book contains new interviews, conducted in 2007, with some of the main players: Hugh Cornwall, Rat Scabies, Alan Edwards and, most significantly, John(ny) Lydon/ Rotten. Cain throws comments they made in 77 back in their faces and, in general, they still stand true except for possibly Hugh Cornwall who was seemingly tripping when Cain interviewed him in 77! Scabies comes across as the coolest, most down-to-earth of them all and provides the book's main highlight - not least for bizarre karma as, during the interview, Damned guitarist (and, arguably, Jonah) on the Music For Pleasure album, Lu Edmonds, walks past the pub the interview is being conducted in. As for Rotten, well, all he seemed to rave on about was f*cking Arsenal!! I don t recall his autobiography being full of allusions to his loyalty to Arsenal (not on the scale they are here at least). Some of his lines came over as well-rehearsed spiel (like stating Arsenal, 'ran em all and as a mixed breed. Are we dogs? No, we re the future - your future.') while other parts came across as genuine Rotten-isms. His talk of class division and love of being British (while living it up in LA) read slightly sanctimonious. The book is rounded out with some oft-seen photos. Other bands that get favourable reviews from 77 are The Boys, Buzzcocks, The Damned and The Clash of course and, most surprisingly, Demis Roussos. As a history lesson, this is an original read from someone who was there as it happened but who possessed enough world experience to observe each scenario with eyes that could see behind the sensationalism yet still laud this most mutinous and apocalyptic period of cultural change Britain had seen in living memory; a change that is still being felt. (30.03.09) --scanner zine.com/books.htm
A feature length interview with John Lydon appears in the new book 77 Sulphate Strip by former Record Mirror journalist Barry Cain. Using Record Mirror archives Barry takes a look back at the musical events of 1977; and brings the story up to date with a new interview conducted in LA last year. Barry first interviewed John when the Sex Pistols signed to EMI though John has no memory of him! and went onto cover various Pistols live shows through 1977; along with the US tour of 1978. Be warned. The book doesn't solely concentrate on the Sex Pistols but as you well know Mr Rotten is no member of the 'punk pack'. There is the Sex Pistols and there is the rest... And there is Mr Rotten and there is the rest... JohnLydon.Com heartily recommends you check out 77 Sulphate Strip. We guarantee you'll find a truly unique 30+ page interview with Mr Rotten. A heady mix of cantankerous mischief and content. Laced with revelations you won't read elsewhere. '57 varieties of talk soup' to quote the man himself. --www.johnlydon.com
About the Author
Barry Cain started his career as a journalist and spent years working on music papers, including Record Mirror. He then turned to publishing and launched influential magazines including Flexipop, X-Rated and Popshop as well as a huge number of poster mags. He surrently lives in North London with his wife and sons and still writes and publishes.