26 October 2017 (gig)
07 November 2017
Penetration, a band originally formed in County Durham in 1976, are currently touring their 40th anniversary tour, their first material being released back in 1977. At the Islington Academy - as on the rest of this tour - the band decided to perform their set in chronological order, footage of performances from across the decades accompanying them on a large screen at the rear of the stage. Sadly, the Academy was only about half full tonight, although it was gratifying to note the presence of a number of younger audience members, as well as punk luminaries from the 1970s such as Lesley Edgar.
Pauline Murray – whose voice is as powerful and melodic as it was back in the day – regaled the audience with tales of how their first trip to London was back in April 1977 where they performed at the Roxy and “who’d have thought we’d still be doing this 40 years later?” Coming from a mining community where punk music was decidedly frowned upon, they travelled down to London at the time in a furniture van.
Inevitably, much of the set was based on their most famous album, their debut, Moving Targets, although the opening three numbers, In the Future, Duty Free Technology, and Race Against Time (“they say time waits for no one” – very much part of tonight’s nostalgic theme) didn’t actually make it onto the album.
This trio of songs was closely followed by one of the best songs from Moving Targets, Silent Community, which segued straight into the punk classic Don’t Dictate, the band accompanied by YouTube footage of the 1977 version of Penetration performing the same song from their Electric Circus gig in Manchester – the extent of the beer being sprayed at her leading Pauline Murray to confront a number of the audience members.
Coming Up for Air was dedicated to Chris Packham, the naturalist, who choose the song, Shout Above the Noise as one of his Desert Island Discs on the radio 4 programme – the alienation he felt from the rest of his peers leading him towards the punk movement, the lyrics to that particular song proving to be what Packham said was “the mantra for my entire life.”
It’s notable that Penetration only chose to play two songs from the Coming Up for Air album – the previously mentioned Shout Above the Noise and Come Into the Open, perhaps the lack of confidence in the material from that record proving a classic case of second album syndrome.
Pauline Murray then explained how the band had a 20 year hiatus before reforming in 2000 and following up 15 years later with the album, Resolution. Two songs then feature from this album, the power poppy sounding, Beat Goes On and Calm Before the Storm.
For encores, they chose to perform two cover versions of songs they’d recorded in 2015 during the Resolution album recording – a version of the Buzzcocks’ I Don’t Mind and Shake Some Action by the Flamin’ Groovies; the two singles released by Pledge Music, which is perhaps a measure of the difficulties of sustaining a career in an era where so little recorded music is actually paid for. The final song of the night was a spirited version of She is a Slave.
Ultimately, this gig was a reaffirmation of the spirit of endurance and about following your dreams – “1977 was a long time ago, but we’re still here.” It wasn’t so much to do with the 40 years which have elapsed since the band started, but was about time and how it threatens to fade us out like a love song on the radio, and why - like Penetration - we should just crank up the volume and keep on going.