F*** The Clash, Gimme The Ruts Any Day

Peerless when fusing punk and reggae, a debut album of unparalleled greatness, top-notch gigs galore and more 'charisma' than you can wave a Tommy gun at. Give it up for The Ruts.
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Peerless when fusing punk and reggae, a debut album of unparalleled greatness, top-notch gigs galore and more 'charisma' than you can wave a Tommy gun at. Give it up for The Ruts.

Better than The Clash?

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Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to the Ruts: a band of brothers who did it so much better, and with more skill, panache and suss than Joe and Co could ever muster.

Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated?

But for the dirty, stinking, filthy heroin that ultimately destroyed them, the Ruts would’ve left the so-called 'last gang in town' reeling on the ropes.

Stick these in yer crack pipe : the haunting desolation of It Was Cold; the pent-up frustration of Staring at the Rude Boys, the foot stomping fury coursing through Babylon's Burning; the explosive anger of Something That I Said; and Malcolm Owen's finest hour: the wonderfully majestic Love in Vain.

If you don’t think these cast-iron corkers match, or even surpass, anything the boys from Westway churned out, well, quite frankly, you’re an idiot.

Many a ‘great’ band has a weak link, not so with the Ruts – sparkling musicians to a man. The intelligent, minimalist drums of Dave Ruffy; the menacing versatility of Paul Fox's guitar; rootsy, intuitive bass lines from Segs Jennings, and singer Malcolm Owen; a poetically perceptive lyricist with a striking turn of phrase, and a charismatic stage presence full of brooding attitude and repressed rage. This boy walked tall.

Raised on a healthy diet of reggae, ska, jazz and funk, there was nothing contrived or formulated about the Ruts. Their love of reggae, in particular, wasn't faked. They had a better feel and understanding of the genre than, arguably, any band before or since.

1979 saw them go from gigging in dodgy old boozers to selling out the Marquee in 20 minutes-flat: no mean feat for a band largely ignored by the media, and who had gained the committed allegiance of punks, skins, borstal boys, herberts, mods and pogoing Pakistanis purely by word of mouth.

What makes the Ruts’ legacy so remarkable is that everything they achieved, everything I love them for, all happened within the space of 18 months. These boys didn't dawdle.

The chaps began honing their craft at the arse end of 1977, hitting the stage with a vengeance via Rock Against Racism gigs; supporting the likes of close friends Misty in Roots, and a bastard of a work ethic that would have put James Brown to shame.

The Ruts peaked as the country bordered on the brink of collapse - much like it is now. Unemployment was sky high, the far-right threw their weight around (as did the left), not to mention inner-city riots, gig violence, Margaret Bloody Thatcher, police brutality...

All well and good, if you were in a band. Plenty of grist to the song writing mill, so to speak, and who better to highlight the decadence and decay of the western world than the Ruts?

1979 saw them go from gigging in dodgy old boozers to selling out the Marquee in 20 minutes-flat: no mean feat for a band largely ignored by the media, and who had gained the committed allegiance of punks, skins, borstal boys, herberts, mods and pogoing Pakistanis purely by word of mouth.

They recorded a Peel session, quickly followed by the release of debut single, Ina Rut: a raw and spirited, timeless anthem, soon to become an encore favourite.

And then it really was foot to the floor: a relentless gig schedule; contracts signed with Virgin; a riotous tour with the Damned; finishing touches to The Crack: the band’s remarkable debut album, recorded in about five minutes compared to today's standards; Top of the Pops; a headlining tour and their first gigs in Europe.

Barely pausing for a breather, it was as if they had a premonition about what was soon to happen.

The new decade was gearing up to be a corker. The gang of four were on the cusp of real success, fame and (a little) fortune was within their grasp, and critical acclaim was imminent.

The Ruts died on the afternoon of July 14, 1980, when Owen, recuperating at his parents’ house, decided to have a bath while smacked-up silly. It was the last thing he ever did. He was 26 years old.

But, as is often the case, it all turned to shit. Step forward Mr Brownstone.

Having already conquered a heroin addiction pre-Ruts, Owen succumbed once more to the drug that would destroy his and many other lives around him.

The Ruts died on the afternoon of July 14, 1980, when Owen, recuperating at his parents’ house, decided to have a bath while smacked-up silly. It was the last thing he ever did. He was 26 years old.

And that was it. Story over.

Thirty years later, I wish Malcolm was still alive, I wish there were more great songs, more gigs to watch on YouTube, I wish their one and only album wasn’t being reissued to buggery and I wish Dave Ruffy lived in a great big fucking mansion simply because he’s a gentleman and a scholar.

Yet, better a brief and prolific existence than lingering on like a cancer-stricken relative - nothing worse than that. After all, it didn’t do the Clash any favours.

And let's nip one last thing in the bud: The Ruts were never a punk band. Forever slung in to that ropey category of ‘second wave’ by lazy music journalists, the band were too original to ever be categorised. They had more in common with the likes of Joy Division and, dare I say it, early days Who, than clowns like the UK Subs.

They catered for everyone’s musical palette: generous slices of reggae, balls to the wall punk, moody menace, subtle power, pop, rock, goth - you name it, they had it. Chances are we’ll never see their like again.

Perhaps the final word should go to bassist, Segs. Once asked why the Ruts are still regarded with huge affection more than three decades on from their last gig, he replied: "We were a fucking great band".

Well said, sir.

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