Sunday Old School: Discharge
Stoke-on-Trent is an English city which might not be well known outside of Britain, but they’ve produced some outstanding talent, such as legendary England goalkeeper, Gordon Banks and Phil Taylor, perhaps the greatest player in the history of professional darts. But it’s not just sport that Stoke has contributed to. The world of punk rock, and indeed all heavy music, was changed forever in the city when five young Stokies got together in 1977 and formed Discharge. The seeds of the band were sewn by vocalist Tezz Roberts and guitarist Royston "Rainy" Wainwright, who quickly added Tezz’s younger brother Anthony, aka “Bones” on guitar, as well bass player Nigel Bamford and drummer Anthony "Akko" Axon. Like most punk bands starting out at the time, they were influenced by the likes of the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, the latter two they would go on to support following the release of their first demo.
Their style was soon to change however, after Bamford and Axon quit the band and they hired vocalist, Cal Morris, leading Tezz Roberts to take up the position of drummer, while Rainy switched to bass. The new addition saw them shedding their Sex Pistols style in favour of a much more aggressive sound, influenced largely by Motorhead (whose frontman, Lemmy, was also born in Stoke-on-Trent) and their lyrics began to take a form as harsh their guitar tone, focusing on the fear of nuclear destruction and the evils in society that was caused by Capitalism. Although this change was made of their own accord, several other bands in Britain had also begun to perform a more abrasive style, such as Amebix and Chaos UK and the new second wave of punk was ready to unleashed, eventually referred to by rock historians as "UK82," which takes its name from a song by The Exploited.
Discharge took their new sound into the studio after signing with Clay Records and recorded their first single in 1980, entitled, "Realities of War," which entered the UK Indie Chart after being aired on John Peel’s radio show, peaking at number 5. They recorded and released two more EPs in 1980, "Fight Back" and “Decontrol,” which both entered the top five in the UK Indie Charts, before Tezz Roberts quit, eventually going on to join UK Subs, and was replaced by Keith Haynes, who was also to depart in favour of Dave "Bambi" Ellesmere in time for their next EP, "Why?" which topped the UK Indie Charts, although another change was to take place behind the drum kit, when Ellesmere left and Garry Maloney of the The Varukers entered the fold. Their EPs gained them one of the largest followings in the punk scene and were hailed as revolutionary by such names Celtic Frost mainman, Tom G. Warrior.
Following the reputation they had built up, the time seemed right to record and release a full length album, which hit the shelves in 1982 under the title, "Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing." It has gone on to be hailed as one of the greatest punk albums ever made, even topping a list of such albums by extreme metal magazine, Terrorizer. The record also faired well commercially, reaching number two in the UK Indie Charts and number 40 in the UK Albums chart. They promoted the album by teaming up with other UK82 heavy hitters, such as The Exploited and Charged GBH, as well as performing outside of Britain for the first time, embarking on a series of shows in Canada and the United States, as well as such European countries as Italy, Holland and Sweden.
Another single, "State Violence State Control"/"Dooms'day," was released in 1982, once more to critical acclaim, before Anthony Robertson decided to leave the band and join Tezz in Broken Bones. His replacement, Peter "Pooch" Purtill, was to change the band significantly, as he brought a guitar style more influenced by heavy metal music than punk. His recording debut came on their next EP, "Warning..." which featured a slower tempo than their break neck punk riffage, metal drum beats and a change in vocal style which sounded akin to football fans on the terraces at times. After the release of another single, "Ignorance," Purtill and Maloney left the band to form a new outfit, HellsBelles, leaving Discharge to recruit Les "The Mole" Hunt and drummer Micky Gibson, with a second guitarist, Stephen "Fish" Brooks joining soon afterwards.
This new incarnation of Discharge recorded their most controversial album to date, although the controversy stemmed from their musical direction, rather than lyrical themes. Their third album, "Grave New World," released in 1986 contained a sound in the vein of mainstream metal music, including some glam influences. It has been labelled as "bad metal" and was panned by fans and critics alike. The troubles they faced when supporting the album led to a falling out amongst band members and led Morris to quit the band. He was replaced by former Wrathchild frontman, Rob "Rocky Shades" Berkeley in 1987, though Discharge decided to call it a day soon after.
In 1990, Morris decided to resurrect the Discharge name and recruited an all new lineup to tour across the world and record the first live Discharge album, "Live at City Garden, New York City," before a new studio album, "Massacre Divine" was released in 1991. The new album kept the metal sound, albeit with a harder edge to it. Morris debuted a different vocal style on the record, where it appeared he was imitating AC/DC frontman, Brian Johnson, a trait he kept for the 1993 album, "Shootin' Up the World," though the music itself on this record was much heavier. Discharge would not release another album in the nineties, although they did continue to tour to mixed reactions until Morris decided to disband the group once again in 1999.
Two years later, the "classic" lineup of the band met up at a party being held by original bassist, Nigel Bamford, and they decided to bring the back once again, this time reverting back to the d-beat sound which they pioneered. The result was a self-titled album, released through Sanctuary Records in 2002, although the fan favourite incarnation was not to last long, as Morris refused to tour in support of the album and Discharge decided to bring in a new vocalist instead. They decided on Rat Martin, the vocalist of another acclaimed British punk band, The Varukers and released a new single, "The Beginning of the End," in 2006, before another full length album, "Disensitise" in 2008. Since then the band has continued to perform shows, with Martin splitting his time between Discharge and The Varukers. Whether or not a new album will materialise remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure, in spite of their controversial foray into metal and their lukewarm reformation in the nineties, Discharge will always be one of the most respected and influential names to ever (dis)grace the stage, having been cited as an influence by everyone from Metallica to Napalm Death.
Discharge - "Free Speech For the Dumb"
Discharge - "Never Again/Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing/The Nightmare Continues"
Discharge - "Realities Of War/State Violence State Control/A Hell On Earth"
Discharge - "Protest And Survive/Drunk With Power/Why?"
Discharge - "Challenge Terror"
Discharge - "You Deserve Me"
Discharge - "They Lie, You Die"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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