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The Outsiders - Calling On Youth linernotes (2012 reissue)

date: Apr 16, 2012


The Outsiders – Calling on Youth sleeve notes

While Adrian Borland’s magnificent post-punk outfit The Sound have earned a modicum of the critical re-appraisal their work deserves since his tragic death in 1999, his pre-Sound punk trio The Outsiders have generally only been mentioned in dispatches. Until now, their two long out-of-print albums ‘Calling On Youth’ and ‘Close Up’ have remained unreleased on CD and purely the preserve of enthusiastic bloggers and vinyl completists. But let’s go back to the beginning, because prior to starting The Outsiders, prodigiously gifted guitarist/ vocalist Borland and his two school friends Adrian ‘Jan’ Janes and Bob Lawrence had played together as Syndrome, even if calling it a musical ‘project’ was stretching it a bit. 

ADRIAN JANES: “It was important as the very beginnings of Adrian's (and mine and Bob's) involvement in music.  Syndrome was just a bunch of school friends and playing together was, I think, simply an enjoyable hobby to begin with. It began in February 1973, so Adrian was then 15.  I joined in April 1973 and Bob joined in early ‘74.  Other people came and went, and we did have an on-off keyboard player for the first couple of years, but certainly by 1975 it was down to Adrian, Bob and I.” 

Occupied with their studies, Syndrome played very few gigs, mostly writing and recording their ideas for songs directly onto cassettes at Adrian Borland’s family home. The boys called these recordings "albums", even though they had no means or intention of releasing them at the time. Adrian’s home was in Wimbledon’s Hillview, where the boys would also rehearse, though sometimes sessions took place at their friend Martin Real’s house.  With the alienation of punk in the air, the fledgling band took on a far more appropriate name, The Outsiders, just in time to play their first proper show in London, supporting Generation X at the legendary punk haunt, The Roxy on 21st December 1976. That successful gig was one of about three or four trials that helping to convince the promoter of the viability of the Roxy as a regular venue for punk music before the venue officially kicked off with a show featuring The Clash and The Heartbreakers on 1st January 1977. 

ADRIAN JANES: “We’d decided we needed a new name and I’d discovered that a number of bands (e.g. The Doors) had got theirs from literary sources. I was thinking of Albert Camus’s book ‘The Outsider’, though I admit I didn’t read it until the following year!” 

The newly-christened Outsiders found themselves well-placed to cut their teeth playing a further bunch of Roxy shows opening for punk/new wave frontrunners such as The Jam and The Vibrators during the early part of 1977. Adrian Borland’s love of The Velvet Underground and The Stooges has since been well-documented and The Outsiders’ live sets often featured aggressive versions of the Velvets’ ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’ and The Stooges’ ‘Raw Power’. Iggy himself would jump onstage to sing along on the latter at one such memorable Roxy show. Despite appearing on the right bills, The Outsiders struggled to hook a recording contract in an atmosphere where most of the major labels were fearful of anything labelled ‘punk’ in the wake of The Sex Pistols’ sacking from EMI. The one label that thought seriously about taking a chance on the band was Richard Branson’s Virgin Records, but while two of the songs (‘Hit And Run’ and the title track) that would end up on ‘Calling On Youth’ were recorded in Islington’s Pathway Studios with Virgin footing the bill, the elusive deal never materialized in the end. 

As a result, The Outsiders took an unprecedented step. While history has long recorded that the Buzzcocks’ ‘Spiral Scratch’ EP (New Hormones Records, January 1977) was the first ‘independently’ funded and released 7”EP, The Outsiders would make what has become regarded as the very first independently-released punk album in the shape of their debut ‘Calling On Youth’, released as RER001 on the Raw Edge imprint in May 1977.  However, as Adrian’s father Bob Borland points out, the accepted story that The Outsiders were the first band to self-release an album is slightly wide of the mark.

BOB BORLAND: “I don't think we thought of it in that way at the time. I just thought of it as the 4th "Punk album" to be released (after The Ramones, The Damned and The Clash). The adjective "independent" as applied to a label had no particular meaning for me. However although we were not the first to release a punk album, I believe that we were the first to start recording a punk album. There is a story that has been perpetuated that The Outsiders were the first band to self release an album. That is slightly misleading in the sense that Win (Adrian’s mother) & myself, as Raw Edge Records, were formally independent of The Outsiders. We had an agreement with them whereby we paid all the costs of recording and agreed to pay them a percentage of gross sales. Adrian did a lot of unpaid work for Raw Edge, and it was he who made the first approach to Geoff Travis of Rough Trade when it was merely a shop. 

Adrian designed the cover for ‘Calling on Youth’ and it was Adrian who suggested the name “Raw Edge" for our label. We did not recover all our costs, but we did recover a much greater percentage than I had initially expected, mainly due to an order from Caroline Exports for 1400 albums for the USA. One thing I particularly remember is that when we did a deal with Geoff Travis of Rough Trade, he said to me that he thought we were extremely brave to release an album as our first product. He said that the first release of all other labels was either a single or an EP. I was puzzled since it did not seem particularly brave. It seemed to me a perfectly natural thing to do.” 

Not only would the album be released independently, but it would also (bar ‘Hit and Run’ and the title track) be recorded in the Borland family home with Bob Borland handling the engineering duties himself. Once again, practicality was the key. 

ADRIAN JANES: “I guess the idea of DIY recordings and small labels was in the air in that period, so it didn't seem a completely outlandish thing to do.  When we were recording in the summer of 1976, I believe the idea was to have a demo tape for both agents and record companies, and it was the lack of interest on that score which led us to take a step that was practical rather than ideological.  At least it was something tangible and helped get the name a bit better known.”

BOB BORLAND: “In terms of the recording, it varied in that some of the songs were done "first take" after an initial performance for me to get a satisfactory mix since we were only using 2 tracks of a Teac for these backing tracks. The initial performance also served the purpose of a rehearsal. Sometimes it was decided to do a retake. Adrian always over-dubbed his vocals later as well as his lead guitar.” 

However, while ‘Calling on Youth’ may have been the result of The Outsiders’ pragmatic DIY approach, to classify the record stylistically as a straight ‘punk’ LP seems a little simplistic with the benefit of hindsight. Both the abrasive ‘Hit And Run’ and the urgent title track with its’ lyrical call to arms “to move against all that’s gone before” are recognisable Class of ’77 anthems, while Borland’s love of The Stooges is all too apparent on the nagging ‘On The Edge’ with its’ rubber-burning riffs and screaming, James Williamson-style guitar solo. Yet overall ‘Calling on Youth’ is a lot more complex and ambitious, also taking in introspective balladry (‘Start Over’, the poetic ‘Walking Through A Storm’), the soulful ‘Break Free’ and the moody, grinding lament ‘Weird’: a wise-beyond-its-years commentary on the growing punk movement. Admittedly, The Outsiders couldn’t quite carry the funkier groove of ‘I’m Screwed Up’ and the closing ‘Terminal Case’ is endearingly ramshackle, but even on these tracks the energy and commitment remains infectious. Not bad for a record mostly laid down by three 19 year-olds in a front room, with some tracks dating back prior to punk’s 1977 year zero. 

ADRIAN JANES: “A few of those songs we’d recorded in the August/ September 1976 sessions at Adrian’s house (Raw Edge Studio) made it onto ‘Calling on Youth’, these being 'Terminal Case' (originally written in 1975); 'Break Free'; 'Start Over'; 'I'm Screwed Up'; and 'Walking Through a Storm'.  We re-recorded most if not all of these in the early months of 1977.” 

Ironically, within 18 months of the release of ‘Calling On Youth’, independent labels like Rough Trade, Factory and Cherry Red would be proudly springing up all over the UK, but The Outsiders’ DIY approach was met with at best indifference and at worst outright hostility when their album was released in May 1977.  Julie Burchill’s aggressive put-down in the NME set the tone:  “I went to school with chicks who were more bad-ass than these boys” she seethed, before going on to tear the majority of the tracks to shreds and then concluding: “But I’m just so BORED with these well-bred little students toying with our music like it’s the latest coffee-table conversation piece.”  Jon Savage’s review in ‘Sounds’ proved equally dismissive. “The sound is very monotonous, with even the acoustic songs failing to provide a change of mood, amateurish and ultimately self-indulgent,” he wrote, before noting “I’ve no doubt Adrian Borland feels what he sings/writes, but the result is a mess of clichés adding up to embarrassment. You know: Poetry.”  While Adrian Borland’s subsequent reputation as a first-rate singer/ songwriter speaks for itself, it’s important to set one myth relating to The Outsiders straight for once and for all here. With a few exceptions, drummer Adrian Janes was responsible for the majority of The Outsiders lyrics while Adrian Borland concentrated on the music.

ADRIAN JANES: “In the period 1976-1978 Adrian composed all of the music but only some of the lyrics.  So most of the Outsiders' lyrics came from my feelings and views, but were feelings and views that Adrian could relate to. There are a few Outsiders songs where Adrian wrote the music and lyrics ('Hit and Run', 'Face to Face' and 'Freeway' are examples that come to mind), a few where the lyrics are roughly 50/50 (e.g. 'Vital Hours' and 'One to Infinity'), but the majority were me giving him some lyrics to work with.  Doubtless he had a stock of riffs and other musical ideas which he could draw upon when it came to coming up with something to complement the words. Either way, the critics usually put them down to be honest!” 

Over three decades later, the vitriol the media spat at The Outsiders seems staggeringly out of proportion, especially at a time when punk’s DIY approach was just getting into gear. At last, though, ‘Calling on Youth’ has another chance to be taken for what it is: a highly-promising debut album from three idealistic young lads, one of whom is still very much missed today. 

© 2012 Tim Peacock (Record Collector)

With invaluable assistance from Bob Borland, Adrian Janes and Rients Bootsma (Brittle Heaven)

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