One of the best books in the Underground library has to be In the Gutter by Val Hennessy.
Published in 1978, it is a real-time account of Punk as it happened. As a newspaper columnist, Val Hennessy presented a series of TV shows which were labelled as a “chaotic disaster”. Entitled “Punk and Acne Go Together”, his iconic programme encapsulated the anger and the pathos of punk. The book drew on that programme and Hennessy to describe the punk movement, often through the words of the “punk fans”.
What is so exceptional about In the Gutter by Val Hennessy is that it was written and published at the time of Punk’s giddy ascendency to the top in 1978. The contemporary nature of the book ensured that the contributors were the genuine Punks of the time – the originators and the creators rather than, as can be the case in later books, fringe participants who staked the claim to be at the very heart of the movement.
The originality comes across in the content, the style of writing and the selection of photography. Here you have for the first-time photographs that credit the source of inspiration for Punk style. Sure, there are some rare and compelling photos of punks and the club scene at the time, but it is the way that they are cleverly juxtaposed with the influence that they drew from.
The text is full of quotes from the scene makers and it is apparent that when their names are quoted, they did not carry any of the bearing and relevance that later years would justly reward them with. There are short interviews with “Mark P, punk prophet and one-time editor of the fanzine Sniffin Glue”, as well as some words from his “pal” Danny (who we know better as Danny Baker).
In the Gutter by Val Hennessy references the disdain of Punks towards the music establishment of the time. Mick Jagger gave plenty for the Punks to rally against, interviewed in the NME in October 1977, “If you don’t go for as much money as you can possibly get, then I reckon you’re just stooped […] Don’t you think the Stranglers are the worst thing that you ever heard? Christ, I do. They’re hideous, rubbishy, so bloody stupid.”
The Beatles, the Stones and Elvis are all on the end of a bashing with punk fans complaining about queuing up for the privilege to buy a high price ticket to see Bowie or Dylan, only to be served up with distorted sound and a “mangled live version of your favourite number” before the superstars flee the scene in a Rolls Royce. The words accurately portray the anger and energy that abounded at the time and could only be accurately recorded in a contemporary output.
Val Hennessy manages to get hold of “punk fan, Don Letts, the DJ from the Roxy Club “and records him saying “Let’s get this over quick, right? I ain’t got time to waste talking on TV. The reggae thing and the punk thing, it’s the same thing. We’re just regular kids. It’s the street culture, the black version and the white version. We’re angry people. We want change, we want opportunities. Something’s gotta happen “
In the Gutter by Val Hennessy is out of print and rare to find. It is available for loan from our library for research.
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