The Pack – ‘Dead Ronin’ vinyl release

The Pack – ‘Dead Ronin’ vinyl release

When I first heard Theatre of Hate in 1980, they seemed to appear from nowhere.  Nobody sounded like Theatre of Hate then and no one ever did after.  However, Theatre of Hate did not spring up from nothing.  I found out much later that before Theatre of Hate was The Pack.  When I interviewed Kirk Brandon in 2013, I asked him about how Theatre of Hate was formed from the ashes of The Pack.  He said:  “The Pack’s break up was a strange mix of… personalities, treachery, ‘religious differences’, late night drug abuse and weirdness. There is a story to it though somewhere… I have recently been in touch with bassist John Werner and am trying to piece it together as to what actually did go on at its demise, and the whys.  As a post script, the guitarist Simon Werner is sadly now dead, but his guitar playing legacy still lives on in The Pack’s ‘Post Punk’ recordings.”  And now, you can finally get to hear on vinyl the missing link in the story and I have to say it is better than I ever imagined.

The album ‘Dead Ronin’ is a collection of 10 songs recorded in 1979/80 and originally released as singles/eps through Rough Trade and SS.  But sadly eclipsed by Brandon’s later work and not given the full recognition deserved.  Six of the songs were made available on a TOH singles collection in 1995, but shoehorned onto the end.  The album has also been released before as a CD but now at least all ten songs are available in all their vinyl glory, including limited edition colour vinyls as well, just like in the golden days of punk.

On listening to these songs again for this release it is clear how the voice of Brandon was already almost fully formed.  His signature vocal style, described as almost medieval church singing, but more like a Gregorian monk chanting mixed with a screaming banshee, is clearly evident here, but the guitar lines recorded by Simon Werner are so much more violent and raw, compared to Brandon’s own style later on.  It is no surprise then that Brandon describes Pack gigs at the time as bordering on mini-riots: “one night we played Deptford, South London at The Crypt, I recall thinking to myself great everybody’s dancing – but only when we had finished our set everybody was still dancing – in fact they were all trying to kill each other. We left the stage as The Crypt was being deconstructed.”

It is interesting to hear an early version of “Legion” here, which was to become a staple in the Theatre of Hate shows in the next few years.  It is different and the same.  Lyrics were later  changed and reduced, but the structure is almost the same apart from the sections where the tempo cuts to half time.  It certainly gives this original version great power but I can see why when the song was rerecorded, these sections were removed and John Lennard’s stunning saxophone given centre stage.

There isn’t a bad song on this collection, although I can imagine some would criticise the basic production values, which although not perfect, fulfil their need to capture the energy of a band that no major record label would touch.  It is a fascinating document of a truly original band, at a time when so many plastic punks were being snapped up to appear on TOTP to scare the grans of the UK before being dropped as quickly.  Nobody had the foresight to spot Brandon’s genius and he has spent too many years without the recognition he really deserves. 

This vinyl release ties in with a limited four date tour where Kirk Brandon will be joined by John Werner and Warren Wilson on guitar and special guest on drums, Steve Grantley from Stiff Little Fingers.  I just hope that further venues and dates are added later in the year alongside Brandon’s other obligations with Spear of Destiny and Theatre of Hate.  He is such a massive talent and I hope he returns to the Midlands soon because the audiences love him here.

Dead Ronin is now available as a limited edition vinyl through Overground from 25 January.


Reviewer: Alan Neilson

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