This Penetration article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse
Penetration are gigging to promote their first album in 36 years — more than a generation — ‘Resolution’. The Garage is a fairly intimate venue just off Highbury Corner, and the band have decided to play on the same night as an Arsenal match up the road, so it’s a bit of a struggle through crowds and around safety barriers to get into the venue. But the mood is good. Arsenal have won, and Penetration will go on to win over the Garage, despite playing a lot of new songs.
New material is not really what you expect when seeing a legendary punk/post-punk band, especially one that’s been away so long. Singer Pauline Murray enters to applause, after the rest of the band have started, just in time to add the final wordless chant to the new album opener, the instrumental ‘Instrumantra’. They race through four more of the first six tracks from ‘Resolution’ —Murray says some of us “might have heard of it”.
She and bassist Robert Blamire are centre stage, flanked by their two guitarists, Paul Harvey and Steve Wallace. Behind them in the shadows is John Maher, who made his name as Buzzcocks’ drummer. Murray sports jet black hair and eye shadow, a smart hat and jacket, all black, looking tiny and vulnerable next to the tall and dapper Blamire.
Murray’s jacket is off by the time the second and third songs — ‘Betrayed!’ and ‘Guilty’ — are over, as the venue heats up and the crowd thickens. Her diction is crystal clear on ‘Just Drifting’ and ‘Aguila’ is punkier than on the album. She often looks up to the ceiling, as if for heavenly inspiration, and her voice is as powerful and tuneful as ever.
Most of the band’s jackets come off as they tear into three songs from Penetration’s classic 1978 debut, ‘Moving Targets’ — the poetic and theatrical ‘Lovers of Outrage’, the syncopated ‘Movement’, and their excellent version of Buzzcocks’ ‘Nostalgia’, which appropriately starts with Maher’s face lit up, highlighting the decades-old link between the two groups. Murray’s voice is deeper than Pete Shelley’s and it’s one of the few times she seems to be pushing it a bit too far as her enthusiasm grows.
By this stage, the band is in its element; driving through the subtle changes in key, volume and pace that set them apart from simpler practitioners of post-punk. ‘Sea Song’, ‘Beat Goes On’, ’Makes No Sense’ and ‘The Feeling’ complete the main set’s contribution from the new album and a mini-mosh breaks out as Murray sings “when I lose myself, what a feeling”.
But the crowd really gets going when Murray explodes from the slow and whispered intro of Patti Smith’s ‘Free Money’ into the song’s soaring workout, then straight into Penetration’s classic sing-along anthem of defiance, ‘Don’t Dictate’. The main set ends with two songs from their last studio album, their second, 1979’s ‘Coming Up For Air’ — ‘Come Into the Open’, with its brilliant middle eight and machine gun drums, and ‘Shout Above the Noise’, with Murray really taking the song’s title literally, as the band crank up the volume.
The first encore triggers more pogoing and moshing as Maher gets to unleash a second ace Buzzcocks cover, ‘I Don’t Mind’, before Murray cutely and cleverly ends with ‘Calm Before the Storm’, another new one, which finishes with the words “goodnight, goodnight, goodnight”, to which she waves and exits. The problem is the crowd wants more. “We’ve exhausted our arsenal,” Murray apologises, when the group comes back on stage for a deserved second encore, “and they’re gonna chuck us out.” They repeat ‘Beat Goes On’, the poppy single from ‘Resolution’, sharing a tender moment as Blamire rests his big head on Murray’s little shoulder.
Teenagers young enough to be Penetration’s children cheer and mosh alongside middle-aged paunchy punks and punkettes who’ve seen better days. The young ones explain why they love it — they’ve been brought up listening to great music by their parents. That’s why “the beat goes on”, through the generations, because it has the power of “nostalgia for an age yet to come”.