Flash Metal Suicide: Ligotage

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1983 was the year metal broke. It didn’t really exist as a movement before then. In 1982, it was just the music of teenage dirtbags. Ozzy was the soundtrack for petty crime and pinball, but nobody really considered themselves “metal”. We just said we were into “hard rock” back then. Seemed good enough. But then it hit, like a iron-ore tsunami, the endless wave of leather and studs, spearheaded by Metallica, Manowar, Slayer, Raven, and one thousand over-eager guitar players in eyeliner, and the world changed overnight. For most, the pivot from rock to metal was pretty simple. Usually it just took a zebra-striped t-shirt. But it got a lot more complicated when punk waded drunkenly into the fray. You could just get heavier and hairier, sure. Worked for GBH, Corrosion of Conformity, and DRI. But what happens when punk goes glam? Someday, we’ll chart the hilariously tragic downfall of d-beat champs Discharge when they attempted to out-gun Guns N’ Roses in 1987, but today, Beki Bondage is on the chopping block.

Vice Squad was (and is) a punk band formed in Bristol in ‘78. Beki was all of 15 at the time. They looked, and sounded, like the kind of band you’d see in a movie where a bunch of squares accidentally walk into a club on punk night and faint from the shock and outrage of it all. They were the kind of band you might’ve formed if your only exposure to punk was watching re-runs of The Young Ones. They were great in the ramshackle way everything in 1978 was great. They were loud and senseless and hanging by the skin of their (green) teeth. In 1980 they released their first album, No Cause For Concern. It neatly sutured the bouncy pogo-punk of the class of ‘77 with the burgeoning thuggery of hardcore, and cemented Vice Squad as a kinda-goofy but nonetheless authentic example of “real” punk rock. But here’s the thing: with the possible exception of Generation X, who were gaming the system from the get-go anyway, Vice Squad just weren’t ugly enough for punk. I mean, you really have to trawl through the punk archives sometime and look at the repugnant creeps that were making records back then, rat-faced dead-enders wrapped in rags and safety pins. Nobody wanted an Anti-Nowhere League pin-up for their bedroom wall, that’s for sure. But Beki? That was a different story.

Punk had two princesses back then. Both were from New York and both were (bottle) blondes, but that’s where the similarities ended. Debbie Harry was a glamour-queen, a flawless Hollywood beauty with glass-cutting cheekbones and a voice that dripped with sultry cool. Wendy O Williams, on the other hand, was a hard-bitten ex-porn performer with rock-hard biceps and a voice that was like Popeye the Sailor man gargling glass after a week-long bender. Beki Bondage was sort of the best of both worlds: sexy but a little scary, hot but hard. For the rock press, who were stuck trying to sell papers with ugly stooges like Wattie from the Exploited on the cover, Beki was a godsend. Finally, UK punk had it’s own pin-up star. A teenage one who fronted a band that was mostly two-chords and yelping, but still. And that’s where things started going off the rails. Vice Squad became less about whatever they were yelling about (Tories? I’m an American, I have no idea) and more about what Beki was wearing. The attention clearly got to her, because in 1983, she ditched the Squad and formed Ligotage, the Tigertailz of hardcore punk.

Ligotage (Bondage in French!) consisted of Beki and various dudes from the UK Subs and Billy Idol’s old band Chelsea dressed like the least-cool guys in the front row of a Hanoi Rocks gig. By then Vice Squad had made the auspicious leap to a major label (EMI), who appeared happy to see Beki drop the whole punk angle and tackle the brave new world of flash metal. And who better to produce then Dale Griffin and Overend Watts of Mott the Hoople, who were helping Hanoi craft their magnum opus Back to Mystery City at the time? I mean, what a great fuckin’ world this would be if shit like that just worked out, you know? Unfortunately, the inglorious result was the Crime and Passion EP, which sounds, well, like Vice Squad trying to play Hanoi Rocks songs. That still seems like an exciting/hilarious proposition, but there’s a reason why nobody remembers it. It’s woeful. Woeful is great for punk rock, not so much for glam. They followed it up a year later with a full album, Forgive and Forget, which has to be the most unintentionally prescient album title since Quiet Riot’s Condition Critical. That one didn’t land either. Beki, either panicked or delusional, went further down the rabbit hole, releasing a couple new-wave/disco-rock records as Beki and the Bombshells as the 80’s wore on before coming to her senses and reforming Vice Squad, where she remains to this day. Me? I still pull out the Ligotage records once every few years, hoping they’ve aged gracefully. They haven’t. Neither have I. We deserve each other, but you deserve better.

**Next time: WTF is a Bang Tango? **