INTERVIEW: Penetration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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To make the choice to produce a new album 36 years after your last is a pretty monumental decision, and it’s one that local punk icons Penetration haven’t taken lightly. In fact, it very nearly didn’t happen at all. “The first two were so iconic I didn’t know how we’d make an album to compare.” Says singer Pauline Murray. After bassist Rob Blamire suggested a PledgeMusic campaign to release a new record, the decision was suddenly taken out of the band’s hands. “We launched the campaign in January and the response was amazing so we had no way out of it! It’s all been very organic and it’s gone at the right pace.”

Having reformed the band back in 2001 (after splitting at the height of their success in 1980) they released a handful of stand-alone singles in between fairly regular tour dates, and it’s clear the band’s fan base were clamouring for a ‘proper’ record, enter: Resolution. “I’m not sure financially we’d have been able to do it without their support. That’s really given us the confidence that people are waiting for it.”

Ardent fans will be pleased to hear subtle nods to previous material – the double guitars and Pauline’s distinctive voice all hark back to celebrated tracks, like the raw urgency of Don’t Dictate from the band’s seminal debut Moving Targets, but Resolution isn’t a retro record and the band were keen to move forward. “We didn’t just want to make an album that people thought was just a punk album. Punk was always about self-expression and not being afraid to express yourself, so we didn’t want to drop into making a predictable punk album. It sounds fresh and of the moment, it’s not stuck in the past.”

From the faintly menacing sounding instrumental opening to the fast and furious three minute blast of Makes No Sense, Resolution is a vital and emphatic record. Betrayed!’s punctuated by handclaps and Pauline’s ardent vocals amidst wavering guitar lines, and the juxtaposition of sweet sounding harmonies clash with the vehement lyrics; Just Drifting’s paean to procrastination is accented by dreamy vocals; The Feeling’s wistful chorus of voices manages to be both claustrophobic and euphoric while the spacey synths on Sea Song are moody and atmospheric, the melody evoking a watery journey with dazzling effect.

penetration ian west 2

“Punk was always about self-expression and not being afraid to express yourself, so we didn’t want to drop into making a predictable punk album. It sounds fresh and of the moment, it’s not stuck in the past”

It must be difficult for any band who have been away from the process of making music as a cohesive group to find their groove again; Pauline’s insistence that the record was produced in the same way that their previous material came together has been its real triumph, and it seems the band have rediscovered their own identity in the process. “It’s difficult after all that time to know what a Penetration album is. It’s been written as a Penetration album would be written. The members of the band would come in with ideas and I’d take them away and put lyrics to them. It’s difficult to get back into that zone, things have changed – we’ve changed – but the process of the writing makes it Penetration.”

Nods to the past come not just in the music but in the cast of musicians too. Buzzcocks drummer John Mayer (who Rob and Pauline worked with on the Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls record in 1980) was drafted in alongside guitarists Steve Wallace and Paul Harvey, while original guitarist Fred Purser took on mixing duties alongside Rob’s production. Even the artwork was designed by old school friend and influential 4AD sleeve artist Vaughan Oliver. There’s the feeling that this record was almost inevitable for Penetration, and that everything from the production down to the choice of songs included offers a sense of completion for the band, without it feeling forced. “It’s quite calm and controlled and really it’s all of our experience coming to fruition, in a way.”

The album’s instrumental introduction and the closing spoken-word Outromistra – a reading of EM Forster’s short story The Machine Stops – offer balance to the weightier content within, and the decision to conclude the album in this way also harks back to the past. “I’ve always loved that story. Right at the beginning of our career when we did our first demos there was a song called Duty Free Technology which was influenced by that story, so everything seems to go in a circular pattern. We wanted it to be a proper old school album.”

Other influences have crept into the fore too, with a Spanish influence keenly felt in some of the tracks, from the weaving acoustic guitar of Aguila to the lyrics of Two Places (Dos Lugares). “It wasn’t intentional.” Pauline admits. “Two Places was written a while ago but I never liked that phrase ‘two places at once’ to sing. I tried different languages and just as we were doing the recording Steve found the Spanish phrase and it fit perfectly.”

Given that Pauline was recently named one of the most influential women in rock music by a BBC 4 documentary, and considering the success of the band’s Pledge campaign, it’s clear that Penetration continue to be the inspirational and vital band they set out to be. “I’m very underground really. I never really pushed myself to be out there, I just did what I did.” Says Pauline modestly. “As time goes by you see you have had an influence on people because I’ve always done my own thing, but we’ve always been a bit obscure, you know? But I think we’ve made some very good records and it’s time to be proud of that.”

Penetration release Resolution on 2nd October. The band play Stockton’s Georgian Theatre on Friday 18th September and Playhouse Whitley Bay on Friday 16th October.

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