Pauline Murray – Small beginnings

It’s over 40 years since Pauline Murray entered into our collective punk conscience. As the vocalist in early punk band Penetration she delivered a strident line in lyrics and attitude. Video clips show her dealing with beer throwing crowd members by grabbing the still frothing vessel from their hands and removing it to the back of the stage, without missing so much as a beat. When we had the chance to talk to Pauline for Blogzine 3, we couldn’t help but be impressed by how down to earth she still is. We started off by asking her how it all began for herself, and for Penetration …

“We saw the Sex Pistols at the Screen on the Green. When I was about 16, we travelled about, saw them about six times … the attitude was so great that you think ‘I don’t care what anyone thinks, we’re gonna do this and who cares if we can’t play?’ And that’s how we started … doing covers of New York Dolls songs, Roadrunner and stuff like that and then we realised that we had to start to write our own songs … there were no other punk bands in the area so we used to ring about and get supports and go to Manchester. We supported Buzzcocks, The Stranglers, we got three nights at the Marquee with The Vibrators and that’s how it all just started to roll … and The Fall, you know – it was really really early, right back at the beginning of punk and we were right up for it, you know?”

“Right up for it” seems to be a phrase that could also describe the teenage Pauline’s early onset gig going habit that had begun several years before …

“When I was 10 we moved from where I was born to a new place; I didn’t know anybody, but I was still into music, like Motown.  I met this guy who was four years older than me and started getting into music. He used to buy all the latest things, and we used to start travelling around, I mean, when I was 14, I went to see Lou Reed at Crystal Palace. We used to follow bands … I saw Bowie at a quarter-full City Hall. We used to get the bus. Night buses that take forever … mostly we’d come to Newcastle City Hall – that was an hour and a half bus ride. I saw loads of great things; I saw the New York Dolls at York University. I had a tremendous insight from the age of 14 … and then we’d meet other people locally. We hired a coach to take people to City Hall to see Roxy Music …

… which is where she first encountered original Penetration guitarist Gary Chaplin. Before long, Pauline had taken up residence in Gary’s band, and Penetration recorded their first demo tape, Pauline explained;

We made a cassette at youth club. We had a reel-to-reel tape recorder, set up billiard  tables as a sort of sound booth and made a cassette. Gary took it up to the local Virgin Records shop in Newcastle and they sent it to Virgin Records. Then we got to do some demos which were what formed the basis of the ‘Race Against Time’ album. We went to do a gig in Warrington one night. We were supposed to support The Jam, but the Jam didn’t turn up … we did the gig anyway and the promoter rang up a management company in London and said, ‘you must see this band – they’re really good’ so we ended up signing with them.”

Pauline was still a teenager when Penetration began, and the band formed part of punk’s early line up – so we asked her about punk’s egalitarian ethics, and whether those ideals stretched as far as a camraderie between the bands?

I think at the beginning it was quite competitive. Everybody wanted to make a mark … people would think that bands like The Jam were a retro band doing cover versions, or like The Police were old men. They thought The Vibrators were quite old, but there was some sort of hierarchy, I think. What started out as everybody in it together, became quite competitive.

What happened was when everybody started to get signed, everybody started looking after themselves – actually they were in the machine, they were part of it then so how can you kick against something that then you’re a part of? So there was a lot of conflict between ideology and reality – disillusionment if you like. Like The Clash, who were quite good at the start, signed to CBS … once people got signed and went into it, that’s when punk lost its identity.

How did the major labels themselves manage to cope with this high octane injection of youthful energy?

“The record companies needed it because at that point it was very stagnant. It was all flares and moustaches. When punk arrived, it really rattled their cage and they didn’t like it. But I think they realised that the energy and creativity was going on – they had to take it on. I think without it, the music business was creatively dying. Punk actually filled up the music business with new-found energy.

This is an excerpt from the full exclusive interview which is available in punkgirldiaries Blogzine 3 – where you can also find interviews with Lesley Woods and Gaye Black – who also did the cover art, alongside Zillah Minx, Miki Berenyi and Fliss Kitson. It’s an issue that we’re really proud of and the last few copies of Blogzine 3 are available HERE

2 thoughts on “Pauline Murray – Small beginnings

  1. Pauline and Penetration 1979/80 interviews p. 12 + p. 16 Pauline’s hand-written Silent Community lyrics on p. 11 Pauline wrote them for Dutch punk band Ivy Green, who, like her, were from a village, Hazerswoude. I gave Pauline the lyrics of Stupid Village, the Ivy Green song about Hazerswoude.

    1. PENETRATION’s “Don’t dictate” a true punk anthem by which I attempted to live my life (sometimes unsuccessfully) will always be one of my fave tracks from 1977.

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