I was really delighted when punk happened. I was a regular at The Vortex. I just totally went along with it. And it turned me on so much ’cause it was so energetic. [Malcolm Owen, NME 1979-07-14]
Paul Fox, guitar. Malcolm Owen, vocals. Vince Segs, bass. David Ruffy, drums. A line-up to treasure and a band that was hard to beat in terms of melodic, energetic, reggae-tinged punk. Formed out of pub rock band Hit & Run, they spent their early creative years throwing demos at record companies and sharing the stage at Rock Against Racism gigs with reggae bands such as Misty, who ended up financing their debut on People Unite, In A Rut (FF 1979 #11, 1980 #19, 1981 #31 and All-Time 1982 #35). A plea for reconsideration of suicidal tendencies, it sold 200,000 copies after JP played it on his show, though it never charted nationally. The murderous bass that underpins Malcolm’s savage and cutting drawl (and this from a man who turned up for a rehearsal not knowing whether he could sing or not) is hard to get out of one’s mind on hearing it for the first time.
It was enough, however, to spark record company interest. Babylon’s Burning (FF 1978 #47) is nothing less than a classic. Those expecting a reggae number from the title were brought up with a jolt on hearing a tearing, burning riff, sizzling hi-hat and passionate lyrics about what seemed to be urban Armageddon (‘Babylon’s burning, baby can’t you see/Babylon is burning with anxiety.’) It made number 7 in the UK singles chart, thus winning the band their TOTP appearance, with just a sample of Malcolm’s vibrant stage presence.
I was asleep one night when the lyrics just came to me; those words, “the spark of fear is smouldering with ignorance and hate”. I woke up and wrote them down. [Paul Fox]
A later single, which turned up on the compilation album Grin And Bear It, West One (Shine On Me) (FF 1980 #54) is the Ruts’ swan song. It was recorded during the band’s Back To Blighty tour, but was shelved after Malcolm’s health problems and heroin addiction took their toll (even though Love In Vain and H-Eyes had both been anti-drug songs). The band sacked him for his own good, but, just when he seemed to be getting it back together, and his relations with the rest of the Ruts was improving, his wife left him and he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 26.
Their three sessions for Peel are among the jewels in the BBC’s crown, featuring as it does the band’s best work in microcosm: the version of Give Youth A Chance made it to the B-side of Something That I Said. After Malcolm’s death, they decided to continue with Segs doing most of the vocal work, and became Ruts D.C. (a musical reference to Da Capo, meaning from the beginning). Their sole session for Peel is good enough to disappoint only those expecting Ruts Reborn. Alas, despite some occasionally gripping material and some interesting excursions into dub reggae, Malcolm’s absence was all too obvious, and they stopped working in 1983, only for Ruffy to back Zion Train on a session ten years later (and for that band’s remake of Babylon’s Burning to enter the Festive Fifty). Paul Fox’s death from lung cancer in 2007 drew a line under the career of an exciting and highly influential group.
Ruts, Second Peel Session
3. You’re Just A…
4. It Was Cold
5. Something That I Said
Ruts D.C., Peel Session
1. Different View
3. Fools Lead The Fools
4. Mirror Smashed