Pauline at Friars Aylesbury, October 1979. Picture:
Don Stone and at Friars 2009. Picture: Mike O'Connor
Penetration was one of the
great bands at the forefront of punk and played Friars three times
before they disbanded in 1979. Pauline also played in 1980 with the
Invisible Girls. The good news is that Penetration are gigging again and
they will be back at Friars on October 23rd 2009. We spoke to Pauline to
catch up on a bit of Penetration's history and what they have been up to
in the intervening years. Take it away Pauline......
Pauline, welcome to the Friars Aylesbury website. We're all excited to
be seeing Penetration again in October with Stiff Little Fingers. The
other band playing, The Disco Students, first played Friars supporting you
at the October 1980 gig!
I read a great book a
couple of years ago called 'I Swear I Was There' which looked at the
audience of the Sex Pistols gig in Manchester in 1976. It was a who's
who of bands that formed eventually....Joy Division, The Smith, The
Fall, Buzzcocks and as I understand it, Penetration as well!
Ah....I wasn't there....!
Ah...whoops..... I was led
to believe that you formed after the Pistols 1976 Manchester gigs......
I did see the Sex Pistols
about six times, but not in Manchester!
But weren't the Pistols
the impetus and inspiration for Penetration?
We already had a little
band together before that. I did bits and pieces with Gary (Chaplin)
and we did covers of Jonathan Richman songs, New York Dolls, that type
of thing. But seeing the Pistols made you realise you could get up and
do it and we were the right age as well.
Yes, that young raw
energy....and it worked as well didn't it over the following couple of
years culminating in the Moving Targets album being well received.
Yes, but it took a long
time to get to that point. I'd first seen the Pistols in Northallerton in
Yorkshire in 1976.
The press did receive
Moving Targets well, so the confidence in the band must have been quite
high at the time?
We built up to it really.
We did support gigs and then we did one single with Virgin which was
"Don't Dictate" which didn't lead to an album and played live a lot. So
by the time we came to make Moving Targets, we already had played the
songs a lot.
...and building your own
confidence and building up a following...
Your first Friars
Aylesbury appearance was in May 1978 supporting the Buzzcocks....
We did the whole tour with
Presumably you were well
Oh yes, and we did that
tour as a four piece as Gary Chaplin left the band a week before that
tour. We got Neale (Floyd) in who was a fan and knew the stuff.
Although it was two years
(leading up to this), what we packed into that time was
A different attitude to
Yes and with a genre of
music the music business didn't like. Yes, they (record companies) did
sign bands as they knew there was money to be made, but they probably
didn't really like them.
I think there's quite a
bit of truth in that.
You weren't a 'music
business schedule' exactly at the beginning. You were just out there
doing your thing before they got hold of you and put you in the schedule
and even that was very quick moving. Constant touring and sessions....it
was very full on.
But even the most short
sighted music exec must have twigged something (bigger) was going on...especially
with bands with big followings and also having released early singles as
you did that sold well, the record companies had to wake up to what was
Well, they had to. And
they sucked it all in and spat it out the other end. Very fast moving I
The Sex Pistols probably
did the movement a huge favour when EMI and A&M wouldn't touch them with
Yes, it all helped didn't
it? It was an anti-establishment movement in a way
In fairness to the
Pistols, they didn't asked to get sacked by EMI and then by A&M after
two days did they? Great publicity though.
It was...and people's
reactions to them as well. There were other artists on the rosters who
didn't like them. The old guard who were coming out of the 1970s and
Did you ever find
yourselves getting caught up in the backlash....did you ever get banned
No - we were never as
controversial as the Sex Pistols....
I realise that, just
wondered if some tried to tar you with the same brush...
We were just a punk band!
I wasn't suggesting
anything dodgy, just that some councils weren't with the times!
Johnny Rotten had an
incredible mouth on him and he could come out with some great things to
people and he made it possible that people could say things. But we were
younger than a lot of bands and coming from a different place. We were
18. Other bands were in their twenties and The Clash were older. The
American bands who instigated a lot of the punk scene like Richard Hell,
Television and Patti Smith were a lot older still. So we were very
young. And we came from the North East of England which as far as people
in London were concerned was a wasteland.
Yes, they thought it
Manchester was putting
itself on the map and we were linking up with that a lot and Liverpool
It's surprising in many
ways that there was no scene in a place like Newcastle. Other
provincial cities like Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield
Newcastle is a very small
city though. Manchester is huge compared to Newcastle. Musically
Newcastle was full of jazz rock and pub bands. Big bands when touring
were passing through Newcastle and that was turning people on, but there were
very few punk bands at the start.
There was no scene in
No, but there were
independent promoters putting some gigs on. We did a gig with The
Adverts and Warsaw (future Joy Division)
Sorry if this seems a daft
question, but you mentioning the Adverts.....back to around 1978, did
you feel that as a girl in a punk band, the press were being the press
and trying to make for want of a better phrase...something...about there
being you with Penetration, X-Ray Spex, The Adverts, The Rezillos etc
I'm not sure about
that.....the punk thing.....the women in it...I never thought 'I am
woman in rock', I was part of the band and I never saw myself as doing
anything other than what I did
I agree with you, I wasn't
trying to suggest it was anything unusual, because it wasn't, but I saw
some weird press cuttings from that era....
What kind of things were
The headline on one for
example, was simply 'Girl singer' and that's my point....the attitude
seemed to be as if it was some kind of shock. It wasn't and as you
mentioned you were one part of the band.
I suppose some people were
attracted to that (kind of headline)
It's wrong though.....but
later in 1978 you headlined Friars the first time with the Gang of
I don't remember specific
gigs, but I always remember that Aylesbury Friars was a good gig. It was
welcoming and we liked to play there. That tour with the Gang of Four
was a good one and they were really good..
The next headlining
appearance I do remember well, the Coming Up For Air tour in October
1979. That gig was recorded although I know that the Newcastle gig
ultimately surfaced as a live album.
Was it? I remember the
Newcastle gig was recorded and also at Thames Polytechnic, I don't
remember Aylesbury though (being recorded)
This was the last time
Aylesbury or anywhere else saw you as Penetration.....it all went a bit
Pete Tong didn't it?
We split up after that
What gave everybody a
fright in Aylesbury was that music press mentioned just days before you
played Friars that you were splitting up at the end of the tour but
worded it in such a way as to make people think you already had....
We did the whole tour but
had decided to split up and announced it at the Newcastle gig. It was a
bit harsh really and I regret we announced we were splitting up as I didn't realise
how much it all meant......
In retrospect you should
have done the tour then announced it?
Yes. A rock and a hard
Was it the pressure of
second album syndrome or the pressures of an exhausting schedule?
We were working too hard,
we hadn't stopped in three years. When you play gigs like that every
night, you don't realise the toll. We had gone to America (in early
1979) and were playing two shows a night for five weeks and we got back
and had to start our second album almost immediately. Half of it was
written and we were having to write half in the studio, lyrics as well on
the spot and the pressure was enormous. If we'd had a break, we'd have
been alright. Then Neale said he wanted to leave and I though I'd had
enough, I can't be bothered with it any more.
If you'd been able to take
six months off at that point would that have changed anything?
The cracks were appearing
with in the band. When you are with people for so long, you start to
get on each others nerves and all that. We were young and didn't realise
what we had. Had we been a bit older, we might have had a
different view of it and possibly or possibly not have dealt with
things differently. We started to pull in different directions.
You came back to Friars
in 1980 with the Invisible Girls, was that a more enjoyable vehicle?
Well, a different one.
Were you able to work more
on your own terms this time?
Well only Rob (Blamire)
and me existed from the old band who were the only people pulling their
weight. I didn't want to see the others again.
I guess you knew what you
wanted to do and from that a honesty that comes with these situations...
I knew what I wanted to do
and I knew didn't want to carry on with that. We still had a manager and
me and Rob started to write together and there wasn't the five people
(that we had in Penetration). But we didn't have a band and we got
Martin Hannett involved (legendary Joy Division producer amongst others)
and we started to put something together in the studio. Martin came up with the
drummer, the keyboard player and the guitarist.
That was John Cooper
Clarke's band wasn't it?
Yes, Martin had worked on
John's album with the same band. We got Martin to produce. We became one
of the producer bands, we were ahead (of the game) with that in the
How long were you with the
About a year. We did the
single 'Dream Sequence' and the album in 1980. We toured and did another
single and the record company went bust and everything fell apart.
After the Invisible Girls?
I was a writing partner
with Rob and then a personal partner and a lot of personal stuff went on.
We then did some demos to try to get a deal and I thought I didn't want
to do this anymore. I'd spent five years doing this and I was now in the
position again of trying to get another record deal.
So you turned your back on
the music business?
What did you do?
I got depressed. This
happens to a lot of people who come out of this (the music business) and
don't know what to do. I was depressed for about three years and then I
started to write again and Rob and I put stuff out on our own label
and we put another band together and did some gigs through the 80s and
released an album called Stormcloud. But the band we did ourselves, no
support at all. In 1990 I opened up some rehearsal/recording studios
where local bands come and rehearse, so I've done that for twenty years
and had a couple of kids.
How did Penetration start
Some years ago Gary and
Neale got in touch about putting the band back together and they had
approached me before and I had said I didn't want to do it. But
something was haunting me and I knew I wouldn't escape the past. So we
had one rehearsal with the five original members but then Fred (Purser)
couldn't do it as we was really busy, Neale wasn't bothering to come up
from London for rehearsals. But we started getting a set together and
decided to start
playing live again. It's very sporadic (the live gigs) but we have got a live DVD out
but we are still not connected to the music business...
So you now do things
entirely on your own terms?
Yes, absolutely. We've
been together longer this time round.
How have people taken to
They love it!
I was quite young when I
saw Penetration the first time so I am really looking forward to seeing
you again in October! It's going to be a great evening!
It's going to be a great
evening all round.
We've got some new
material, we're getting an album together...we'll do a little bit of it,
but not too much!
....and some classics!
Thanks Pauline, see you in
We're looking forward to
it....see you then!
Official Penetration website
This interview and its
content are © 2009 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.