Punk bands rotate members, file lawsuits, argue over money and break up. Those that stay together mellow with age or transition into other, more lucrative, genres.
Not Charged GBH.
The Birmingham, England-based GBH decided they were the type of degenerate hell-raisers that belonged in punk music for the long term. They doubled and tripled down on the anger, speed and power of their original sound. Thirty years on, GBH continues producing original punk music that keeps getting better.
On June 3, GBH assaults Northeast Florida’s genteel sense of decorum along with local thrash masters, F.F.N. and California-based Total Chaos, at Jack Rabbits in San Marco.
When the band’s original bass player was charged with causing “grievous bodily harm” to another individual, the band’s name was born.
Charged GBH (the official name; rarely used) started blowing amplifiers and assaulting the sensibilities of Brits in 1979. By 1982, they were recording disturbing hits like “Necrophilia” and “Sick Boy.”
GBH’s style of music has been labeled “street punk” or “U.K. 82.” Along with GBH,
other street punk bands evolved, like Discharge and Chaos UK. The genre was a movement to differentiate first-wave British punk music from bands like the Sex Pistols and The Damned.
Rather than focusing on institutions like the British royalty, GBH wrote songs about the working class and poor neighborhoods, including “City Baby Attacked by Rats,” “Junkies,” and the romantic love ballad, “Slut.” As a genre, street punk music featured heavier chorus singing and multiple guitar players.
On their early albums, GBH’s guitars rip like buzz saws and bagpipes run through distortion effects and megawatt amplifiers. The intensity was tangible and the lyrics were pure rebellion. During the second wave of punk music, GBH rode the crest.
When a band reaches such heights, there is usually only one direction to go: down.
But GBH refused to let the rules of physics apply. After an aborted flirtation with metal, the band returned to form with the release of Punk as Fuck in 1998 and the ’02 release, Ha Ha.
The result of GBH’s uncompromising ethos is their latest, and arguably best, recording, Perfume and Piss. The first song, “Unique,” begins with a sustained power chord and explodes into a mushroom cloud of musical anarchy. Order is restored as the music straightens out, with distorted guitars blasting at full tilt, the beat of a runaway freight train and lead singer, Colin Abrahall, growling, “You’re not unique, you’re obsolete, you won’t last a week!!”
The 13 tunes on Perfume and Piss ripple with the passion and a complete disregard for common decency. The recording will not be featured at your neighborhood cotillion or corporate insurance seminar. But it will infect the listener, inspire the concertgoer and infuse every punk fan’s soul.
Perfume and Piss was the result of a collaboration with Rancid’s Lars Frederiksen and Tim Armstrong’s label, Hellcat Records. Frederiksen’s relationship with GBH dates back to 1983 when, as an 11-year-old,
he sang “Sick Boy” with the band during
a live show.
Throughout their musical lifespan, the main focus of GBH has been to perform
live. Lead singer and founding member Colin Abrahall has said, “It’s what we live for … the raison d’être.” Since inception, GBH has performed in shows as big as Vans Warped Tour and as small as a public housing complex.
Folio Weekly conducted a coast-to-coast, cell-to-cell interview with Abrahall, who was between gigs in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Though the failing reception was hilariously atrocious, we were able to translate this much.
Folio Weekly: How was last night’s show in San Francisco?
Colin Abrahall: It was brilliant. I think it was sold out.
What songs should fans expect to hear on June 3 in Jacksonville?
Every song off Leather, Bristles, Studs and Acne in order. Then all of our 7-inch singles, and the B-sides. Also, a few songs off Perfume and Piss.
Songs like “Dead Man Walking” and “Unique” shows you still have a lot that pisses you off and you still have a lot to raise hell about. Where does that passion come from?
It’s just events in everyday life, like someone cutting you off in traffic. Plus it’s good to have things to complain about. It keeps you alive.
It seems like the band performs nonstop when on tour. How many dates do you play a year?
Just under 100.
Is the song “Perfume and Piss” about economic inequality or more of a general reflection of the struggles against the powers that be?
It originated on a plane trip when our drummer returned from the bathroom and said it smelled like “perfume and piss.” And I thought about that as a metaphor for life, the good and the bad.
Some have said the band adopted a more heavy metal sound in the past. It’s a label you reject. Why?
Because I don’t think we are. When I think of heavy metal, I think of Spandex pants and falsetto singing, and we’re not like that. We’re a punk rock band.