The Ruts / Ruts DC

TrackSingle / Album
In A RutPeople Unite RUT 1 single
West One (Shine On Me)Grin And Bear It
Something That I SaidThe Crack
Mirror SmashedAnimal Now
Babylon’'s BurningThe Crack
Demolition DancingGrin And Bear It
Give Youth A ChanceVirgin VS 285 single
Staring At The Rude BoysGrin And Bear It
Different ViewAnimal Now
Last ExitRules (Germany)

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Contributor: Neil Waite

One of the less celebrated untimely deaths in music is that of Ruts lead singer Malcolm Owen in 1980, aged 26, from a heroin overdose. He was followed by guitarist Paul Fox in 2007 from lung cancer. Yet to me the Ruts were punk A-listers. Their visceral, earthy sound, with reggae and dub mixed in, hasn’t been replicated. This and Fox’s pulsing guitar and a tight rhythm section set them apart from their distinguished punk contemporaries.

When you hear Ruts songs it’s easy to assume they’d been around for years, such was their competence and maturity. But their career was short – just nineteen months from their first release to Owen’s death. With Owen they recorded one album, The Crack, and released six singles, and what cracking songs they were.

You have to have The Crack on vinyl. As well as the vinyl sound, there’s the artwork; a painting of the band on a sofa in a red-walled room with Rat Scabies, Captain Sensible, Jimmy Pursey, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Patrick Moore, Jimi Hendrix, John Peel and others. Peel was a Ruts advocate and gave them airtime as with so many bands. He was friends with Malcolm Owen and I remember him announcing Malcolm’s death at the start of his programme, still under the shock of it, saying how he’d seen him not long before.

After Owen’s death, Virgin released a second album, Grin And Bear It, of B-sides, live songs and two Peel session tracks from 1980. After this I thought that’d be it, as surely they couldn’t continue without Owen … or could they?

Not only did they continue but they did so with a masterpiece, now as Ruts DC (DC meaning da capo, from the beginning). Their debut album blew me away. Animal Now demonstrated a more refined Ruts, but without losing their distinctive sound. The Crack was a great album but Animal Now has to be one of the most underrated albums of all time. In fact, the CD release of the album only appeared in 2012, over thirty years after its first release on vinyl.

In 1982, Ruts DC released their second album, Rhythm Collision, in collaboration with Mad Professor, a renowned dub producer. For me, this was a good album but it didn’t touch the superb Animal Now. Ruts DC split in 1983.

Over the years there have been a large number of Ruts compilations, live albums and retrospectives.

On 16th July 2007, the band reformed for the first time in twenty-seven years, and played a special benefit gig for guitarist Paul Fox, following his diagnosis with lung cancer. Henry Rollins stood in for Owen. Sadly, Fox died on 21st October of the same year, aged 56.

The surviving members of The Ruts, Dave Ruffy and Segs, reformed Ruts DC with Leigh Heggarty on guitar, Seamus Beaghan on Hammond organ, and Molara on vocals and percussion. I’ve been to see them twice over the last year and they can still cut it live, and I’m pleased to say that Heggarty manages to replicate Fox’s distinctive sound brilliantly.

For my topper-ten going to start at the beginning with their superb first release In A Rut which was pressed on the People Unite label. This was a tiny independent label launched in mid-1978 by the reggae group, Misty in Roots; a truly amazing way to introduce The Ruts to the world.

West One (Shine On Me) was The Ruts sixth single which was released a month after Malcolm Owen’s death. I was very excited when first hearing this on John Peel, the song really demonstrating how well they were developing as songwriters. Later, Peel played the extended version of the song which appears on the album Grin And Bear It. I wrote to him at the time asking for it to be played again. Amazingly, he sent my letter back with this reply handwritten on the top: Dear Neil, I’m sorry I failed to do this. I did play it again but failed to find your letter. What a twerp!

The Ruts John Peel Letter

That first album, The Crack (1979), produced three superb singles. Something That I Said was the second release from the album. The single version had to be cut slightly to make it more radio friendly. The band produced a great promo video for the single – they all look as if they are having a great time (see main video clip above).

My fourth choice is Mirror Smashed, the opening track on Animal Now, a song about Malcolm Owen’s death. This is my favourite of the Ruts DC songs; the opening guitar riff still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, especially when listening to it with earphones.

Babylon’s Burning was the most successful of all The Ruts songs, their first release on Virgin reaching the heady heights of #7 in the charts. It also enabled the band to make their first appearance on Top Of The Pops. There are many versions of the song but the original single recording is the best; the version that appeared on The Crack kicks off with sirens wailing.

In February 1980, the band recorded their third John Peel session. Two of the tracks, Secret Soldiers and Demolition Dancing appeared on Grin And Bear It. The latter is the best of the two and I just love the guitar sound.

Again, with Give Youth A Chance there are lots of versions. The song was originally called Black Man’s Pinch when first recorded for a Peel session. The version that appeared on the B-side of Something That I Said is definitely the best version. It’s a great reggae track and I love the way the guitar echo moves from speaker to speaker throughout the song. This composition really shows off the diversity of The Ruts.

Staring At The Rude Boys was the band’s fifth single and reached #22 in the charts. Again, the opening riff is just amazing. The single was released in a crossword ‘tear off’ cover. Interestingly, it was covered by Stiff Little Fingers on their 2013 tour. I was lucky enough to see SLF play it live and they made a great job of it.

Different View was Ruts DC’s only single release from Animal Now. Although the album version has a great, extended guitar solo at the end, the single is superior due a much crisper production. I thought this was an incredible single and was always surprised that it didn’t trouble the charts.

My final choice is an unusual one. In 1994, a German record label, Vince Lombardy Highschool Records, released Rules which featured Last Exit, a previously unreleased song. It’s essentially an instrumental although you can hear some faint singing. For me, this typifies The Ruts unique sound.

The original Ruts were with us for such a short period of time but they made a massive impact. I’ve always wondered what more they could have achieved if they had had a little longer.

 

The Official Website for The Ruts and The Ruts DC

The Ruts pictorial discography

The Ruts / Ruts DC biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #277

1 Comment

  1. Keith Shackleton
    May 16, 2014

    I can’t really argue with any of that. I could put Jah War in, but what to leave out? The Peel Sessions on that pretty scarce Strange Fruit compilation are terrific, In A Rut is superb, Society just burns. So at a pinch I might swap a Peel version or two in. Nice work.

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