Good lord, I love the Cramps (like any respectable Bad Girl Should). They’re hyper-sexualised, no holds barred, grimy punk perfection. Shit loads of leopard print, shit loads of leather, shit loads of stillettos. Endearingly sleazy. To love the Cramps is to celebrate one’s own filth in all its grungy glory. And what better way to pay tribute to the kings and queen of camp than to traverse through their endless library of excellent album covers? Featuring predominantly the blisteringly beautiful Poison Ivy herself, these covers are some of the most iconic of their genre, and epitomize everything the Cramps are about. Here are ten of their best album or single artworks, from the bootleg to the bikini-clad girls with machine guns in hand…
10 THE CRAMPS / BOOTLEG ALBUM: TALES FROM THE CRAMPS / 1977-79
9. SMELL OF FEMALE
8.LOOK MOM NO HEAD!
7. WHAT’S INSIDE A GIRL?
6. FIENDS OF DOPE ISLAND
5. DATE WITH ELVIS
3. STAY SICK!
2. CAN YOUR PUSSY DO THE DOG?
Ah yes, the magnum opus of Cramps covers. Truly a sight to behold. It has everything one could want from a punk record’s cover really – a badass woman wearing a badass sequin bikini with a badass machine gun in hand. And don’t even get me started on that lush wallpaper. If they sold this in B&Q, that would be well plastered in my living room let me tell you. From the beloved aforementioned Stay Sick, this single cover more than packs a punch and does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s bold, it’s beautiful, it’s bloody cool. I don’t need to say much more on the matter other than that I am simply desperate to be this woman. The Cramps forever and ever, man.
If someone were to approach me for advice on what the best setup for a band is, a lot of options would come to mind, most of which would probably be probably safe or easy to work with. Though, if I were to say something like a jazz trio, or a four-piece indie band I would undoubtedly feel disingenuous. That is because, and I can say this with a lot of certainty, the objectively best setup for a band is a two-piece noise-rock band. From Hella and Lighting Bolt to Belk and Modern Technology, there’s no lack of data that shows it’s a formula that not only works, but leaves so much room for individuality, experimentation, and attitude to shine through. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that when I encountered the music of Manchester noise-rock siblings SLAP RASH there was an immediate compulsion to engage with their music.
Almost as bold and present as their fully capitalised band-name, the duo’s latest single, “Cimmerian,” knows how to utilise atmosphere to its greatest extent. With its eerie synth-laden intro providing a backdrop for singer and drummer Amelia Lloyd’s authoritative vocals, an immediate sense of tension crawls through you that never fades through the tracks three and a half minute runtime. Even when bassist Huw Lloyd barrels through with his fuzzed-up, stabbing performance alongside the power of his sister’s confidence behind the drums, SLAP RASH keep up the atmosphere they built at the onset of the track.
Not letting ego get in the way of their songwriting though, the band are aware that an effective track needs restraint as much as it needs unleashed flurries of sound. As such, while heavy on those moments of raucous noise-rock, the duo wisely know when to stand back and let the sparseness do the talking, as passages of dynamic lows fill the space between furious choruses. The result is an engrossingly exciting addition to the expansive noise-rock canon.
I’m eager to see where the two-piece go from here. I hope like me you’ll be wanting to keep up with the band so you can find them here, here, and here, and listen to them here!
DISCLAIMER: Before we jump in, it’s worth noting that I’m a huge worshipper at the pointed feet of the Good Doctor. I don’t intend to talk about drug addiction lightly, and I’ve used only really his descriptors of it (which as you can imagine are fairly breezy and borderline humorous). I’ve not seen his bank account, so I don’t know how much or how little moo-la he’s raking in. I’d quite like to, mind. It’s all speculative and in jest, baby, but with some (of course) tragic features. He could be a billionaire for all we know, unwilling to throw a few pennies at a hairbrush or merely a detangler. I just wanted an excuse to waffle about JCC and Nico’s cohabitation for a bit, that’s all...
Beloved punk-poet and general genius John Cooper Clarke has (despite his quasi-celebrity status and sporadic sightings in Dictionary Corner on 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown now and then) never really been a man of much wealth. In his own words, “I ain’t waving the victim flag, but considering the massive impact I’ve had on British culture, it’s f*cking diabolical how poor I am.” While I’m mainly struck by how relatable as statement that is (Robinson’s Records is surely a soon-to-be-staple of the UK music journalism scene now that NME is sleeping with the fishes?!), it also occurred to me how that has bizarrely been the case for a chunk of his career. How can it be that such a revered renegade of his field has, for want of a better phrase, perenially been a bit skint? In his younger, more turbulent years, Cooper Clarke was a notorious heroin addict. Perhaps it can almost chiefly be attributed to this, and his perilous living arrangement with Nico of the Velvet Underground in Brixton, during which time his career took a serious blow and the Good Doctor went into hiding of sorts. Or perhaps the Bard of Salford spent his savings on Sugar Puffs (see below. I’ll explain later on). Regardless, this committed fan is dedicated to a detective’s cause – was it this period that bled the Bard dry? Or is money management just not a forte of the weathered wordsmith?
In the late seventies, it’s no secret that punk proudly ruled Britannia. Safety pins adored the lobes of many a spit-soaked skinhead front row at The Clash’s gigs. The Sex Pistols were sneering at Bill Grundy for being a “dirty bastard” after was leering at Siousxie Sioux live on telly. And the Manchester punk scene was thriving – Magazine, Buzzcocks, and even post-punk icons like Joy Division were emerging whom JCC supported himself. This was a world that Cooper Clarke felt at home in. With his shock of Dylan-esque hair and physique that can only be described as an anthropomorphic stick-figure drawing, he looked the part. And with his Manc drawl, acerbic wit and the possession of a sensational selection of swear words at his disposal, he sounded the part as well. At this point, Cooper Clarke’s career was undoubtedly skyrocketing. He had his only Top 40 UK hit in 1979 with ‘Gimmix! (Play Loud)‘. He supported The Fall and Elvis Costello. He worked closely with dub poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. It all seemed to be going so swimmingly for the young pin-legged poet. So what was the turning point? By the sounds of it, it was his decline into heroin addiction. He barely performed after 1982 due to this, which he himself attests to – “I didn’t write for ten years. [I was] lost to heroin.” And this lack of creative content arose around the time of his living with Christa Päffgen, better known as German songwriter Nico.
Their cohabitation was for a short spell, reportedly only a few months, in a poky flat in Brixton. It’s unclear how they met, but given that they hung out in similar celebrity circles at the time, it’s likely that it was a bonding based on mutual interests of drugs and words. Though they admittedly look cool as all hell together, make no mistake, it wasn’t a sexual pairing (“heroin isn’t really a sex drug”, Cooper Clarke attests). The two were never at all romantically linked, rather they were in what he refers to as a “domestic partnership”. Both heroin addicts, Cooper Clarke and Nico lived impoverished at this period of their lives; “it was a feral existence,” Clarke explained in a 2012 interview in the Guardian – “I was on drugs. It was hand to mouth.” The two were close friends, and even considered releasing an album of covers under the (working title) of Nico and Johnnie. But alas, their union was a toxic one, as their addictions hindered any hopes at creative craft and worsened each other’s. Initially, their living together “was as settled and domestic as two addicts living in the same place get.” Then, fellow Velvet John Cale moved in for a spell, living infamously off of “vodka for breakfast and then cocaine all the way.” This was the tipping point of the Brixton abode, when Clarke had somewhat of an epiphany.
News got out of Nico living in the neighbourhood. The NME had snapped a scandalous photo of the pair (only joking, it’s the picture at the top), and as a result numerous other addicts began camping outside of the flat and a “tidal wave of j*nkies arrived”. Though Cooper Clarke is grateful in retrospect for the photo being taken because (as aforementioned) it is the proverbial bee’s knees, it made living there and continually smashing drugs unbearable. Cooper Clarke’s finances were dwindling due to the cost of copious amounts of heroin required to function, not to mention the lack of work he embarked on throughout the 80s. What prompted him to move out and to start working again was the poverty that he was living in, as well as his addiction – he had to feed it, which required what The Flying Lizards longed for most – money. So, Cooper Clarke re-entered the comedy circuit by performing again. He took on gigs he wasn’t that keen on taking. As he told the Guardian, “I needed money more than ever, so I had to work. The glamour was flaking off with every new job. I really felt like I was selling my sorry ass.” He likely was referring here to several gimmicky roles he took on in order to nurse his drug habit, roles he wouldn’t have needed to had his career not sadly decelerated due to addiction. That of a DJ alongside the Honey Monster comes to mind (told you I’d explain it). Gradually though, with time and with rehabilitation, Cooper Clarke stopped working to fund this fatal addiction and worked on his kicking of the drug.
The revival of Cooper Clarke’s career is truly something to behold. One can only marvel at his dedication to recovery, and his hard work at maintaining his cold-turkey approach towards heroin. It’s a chapter of his life he’s glad is over, though his poem ‘Get Back On The Drugs You Fat F*ck’ implies his audience thought he was a bit funnier when he was hooked. He tours regularly (I myself have had the pleasure of having an audience with the Doctor thrice, and he puts on a cracking show, let me tell you). He wrote another book with another library of limericks within, The Luckiest Guy Alive. Most inspiringly, really, is how he can talk about this dark period of his life in jest and in his typical humour. It’s a heavy thing, drug addiction, and quite a taboo to talk about. Cooper Clarke strips away that sensitivity that people skirt around addiction with and confronts it head on. He’s quite the positive person, really, and has even acknowledged the tragedy of Nico, too, fairly lightly. She eventually went into recovery, but by 1988 was sadly gone, due to a bicycle accident on holiday. So, this is all very interesting to hear, isn’t it? And very bittersweet, of course. But we’ve still not solved the matter at hand. His career has been reignited – why is he so bloody skint still?
Maybe Cooper Clarke is bluffing. As I say, he could be sat on a goldmine. ‘The Sopranos’ used a song of his in the credits, a feat he proudly boasts at every show of his. Surely that must have made some hefty royalties. And the man offered his services to the Arctic Monkeys, lending them ‘I Wanna Be Yours’. Surely Mr Turner slipped a tenner in Cooper Clarke’s pocket upon meeting? Maybe even a twenty. In fairness, it’s likely he spent a good sum of it on scran. The man loves his pies (see his poem, ‘Pies’). He’s, if you don’t mind my saying so – and he’s backed me up on this in his scribbles – a man clearly struggling with “piling on the pounds”. Perhaps those piles of pennies are going in the pockets of all of the Greggs in the Salford area. Even the grotty one in the Salford Shopping Centre, he’s by no means a snob. I don’t know. Maybe we need to launch a full enquiry into the expenditures of the sole resident of Chickentown (evidently). Or maybe, I need to stop thinking about such completely futile and useless things at 2 in the morning and let the poor fella have a break. He’s a man of the people, and like many of the people, he’s seemingly skint. Makes him even more loveable, no?
I’d like your contributions in the comments, if you’ve managed to make it to the end of this rambling tyrade. Why do you think Cooper Clarke is penniless ragamuffin? Or do you think he’s sitting on more cash than a Southern oil tycoon with a comically large cowboy hat? And most of all, was this unsolved mystery a total waste of my productivity and energy? Probably. But I love JCC, so it’s alright. I’ll leave you with this little treat – it may be bed time for me, but it’s Tummy Time for Cooper Clarke. I wonder if the Honey Monster paid him appropriately?
Imagine The Libertines (circa their shining self-titled era) – no, wait. Babyshambles, yeah. And imagine Cabbage (circa, well, now really). Picture this. They’ve procreated and had a beautiful albeit unruly Salfordian sonic child that just kicks off all the time. Unrelenting. A bit loud. But nonetheless, bloody irresistible. Oh yeah, and it’s wearing a pig mask. Well, that’s probably the most accurate description that I can offer for the raucous Swinton band SWINE’s recent single ‘No Fightin’ – a Valentine’s Day release that’ll certainly have you falling in love with the band brilliantly baptized with a boar’s moniker.
Clocking in at a mere 2:44 minute runtime, the record is perfectly engineered to be as replayable and catchy as possible, much like the punk songs of the seventies they draw their heaviest inspirations from. In their own words, ‘No Fightin’ is an ode to the most perfect imperfection – that of ourselves, and in our relationships with others. “We, or those who we love, or anyone, are not perfect. It’s self reflection to some extent, as some of the lines in the song are things that have been said to me.” So says Michael Blakemore, frontman of the band. The lyrics portray “an unhealthy relationship for both people involved, and a plead for peace.” It begs the question: in life, is there ever truly ‘NO fightin’? Is there any need for said ‘fightin’ (I’m enjoying not using a g on the end of the word, by the way, it feels very rock ‘n’roll of me.) Well, boxers and pro-military American conservatives would beg to differ, but that’s by the by.
SWINE have softened their sound somewhat from their earlier releases with this number. They are a band that are undoubtedly constantly evolving. This single is sort of like pushing our boundaries a bit. “We’ve got a stigma of being wild and chaotic,” says Michael, the vocalist, “but this tune really shows how we can mix it up and incorporate bits of different genres in to our personal sound.” And truly, they have dabbled in quite the myriad of genres here. SWINE’s debut EP ‘Fools Britannia’ is pure punk paradise start to finish, with ‘Pablo Picasso’ a real standout from the record echoing the likes of The Stranglers. Then followed 2019’s ‘They Hate Us’ accompanied by B-side ‘Diluted’ – both tracks building on their new-wave foundation and treading into ska territory. The songs on this record in particular are topical, they’re fresh. They touch on issues of classism, fascism and sexism that work seamlessly with the ska influences interspersed throughout the verses. Later on in the year, ‘Gazza B‘ was released, a song open to interpretation (before listening, I had presumed this was a post-punk ode to Mr Take That himself. I’m still unconvinced I’m totallywrong.) This record is even more different than the last, with more of a sound of the Fall as it is rich with that same strain of fuzzy feedback ferociousness Mark E. Smith possessed. While the band definitely aim for a everpresent undertone of punk rock noise throughout every song they perform, they make effort to mix and merge into a mesh of different genres. I think that’s what makes them so refreshing and intriguing as an upcoming band, this constant exploration and metamorphosis of styles and substance. They refuse to settle on one constant, and to me this is a clear as can be sign of a true crew of creatives.
So. I’ve got a bit of a quibble with this tune, personally, and I’m going to have to state my case for…well, a fight. My only criticism is that this was released during lockdown. Why, SWINE, why? For you have robbed us of a live reveal! How I would love to experience this for the first time live. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve really listened to a lockdown release and truly hungered for a great gig. And by God, can SWINE put on a great gig. They have somewhat of a legendary stage presence in many Manchester music circles, supporting the likes of Strange Bones in their live outings. I’m yet to experience them for myself, sadly, but I’ve seen videos, and have heard tales from peers of chaotic Lux Interior-level performances. I’d be especially intrigued to see how they would handle this track. It wouldn’t be a typical punk performance, and for frontman who spits spectacularly into a swarm of sweaty sh*tfaced fans behind the mask of a hog, I’d be curious to see how they’d handle a gentler number life. It’s an indie-rock triumph, and while I personally prefer their punky roots, their first foray into indie-rock territory has paid off enormously. Kudos to SWINE, and save me a ticket when things finally recommence so that I can be present to a riot incited by you Swindon lads. Oh to be sweating in a crowd at The Bread Shed, privy to the first live smashing out of ‘No Fightin’. I’ll be fighting to get to the front.
‘No Fightin’ is available on all semi-decent streaming platforms, and the band’s socials are here. Listen to it below: