Although ordinarily I would be shamefully hard pressed to name more than a handful of mackem punk bands, let alone any that flirted with the fringes of reggae, I was recently reminded of a rather substantial Sunderland-shaped hole in the SBB tapestry I had meant to sew up many moons ago. No, it’s not a hidden dancehall effort by Kenickie (though in some ways that would be equally as grand), but the fourth single from Houghton-le-Spring’s new wave ravers, The Carpettes.
The lads touched on a number of musical bases during their career, from shouty ‘77 punk and proto-hardcore to watertight power pop, even, at one point, a spot of Elvis impersonation (!), so it’s perhaps unsurprising that some skanky material found its way into their repertoire also.
Johnny Won’t Hurt You, from 1979’s Frustration Paradise LP, really should have been the theme to some forgotten neo-noir detective show; aired only during the small hours on early 80s BBC2, and for which no evidence exists but a couple of unanswered ‘does anyone remember…’ posts on now-defunct blogs. And I mean that as a sincere compliment.
Ska-tinged, and with shades of The Ruts in its exigency and slight chilliness, Johnny is a fine example of punks weaving skanky elements into their existing sound as opposed to penning a more straightahead ‘reggae number’ for their set (not that there is theslightest thing wrong with that of course!).
The single was produced by one Bob Sargeant, himself no stranger to the punky reggae party, having previously manned the mixing desk both for The Beat and the aforementioned Ruts, and who eventually went on to work with everyone from Haircut 100 to Tricky.
The Carpettes gave us one more album before their split in 1981 (they eventually reformed in 1996 and continue to gig and record to this day), the polished Fight Amongst Yourselves, which contains yet another skanky outing, The Last Lone Ranger. Pleasant enough, if decidedly less inspired than Johnny, the track borders on lovers rock, which sadly The Carps don’t wield quite so well.
And speaking of which, Silly Game from this same album is not, fortunately, a de-pluralised cover of the Janet Kay classic.
For now though, ladies and gentlemen – heeeeeeeere’s Johnny:
The Last Lone Ranger:
From The Old Grey Whistle Test: