Ruts DC: "There are people whose heads I would like to see on poles at the Tower Of London"

Ruts DC
(Image credit: Graham Trott)

During an earlier incarnation known as The Ruts, these politically charged Londoners notched several anthemic hits including the classic Babylon’s Burning in 1979. 

Reborn as Ruts DC following the death of frontman Malcolm Owen, they ran until 1983. Below, guitarist, bassist and frontman John ‘Segs’ Jennings, who reunited the band in 2007, talks about the band’s new album Counterculture?.


Last time you spoke to Classic Rock (for 2016’s Music Must Destroy) you said of governments: “I used to believe that who you voted for made a difference, but not any more.” 

The only thing that’s changed is that we weren’t given the chance to vote for a prime minister. Not this one, nor the one before, or the one before that. Worse still, we weren’t given a chance to vote against them. 

Counterculture? wants us to rebel against what’s going on, not sit on the sofa. In the press release you invite: “Come and borrow my lighter.” 

That’s an allegory for: “Wake up!” What’s happening now is like forced fascism. There are people whose heads I would like to see on poles at the Tower Of London. 

Do you believe that politicism in music really changes anything?

No. But these are my personal politics, and although I’m sixty-six I still feel really angry. Our right to peaceful protest has been taken and away, and if it all goes wrong we won’t be able to rebel. They can turn off all our phones and computers.

Stylistically, Ruts DC are not simply punks. Tracks such as Born Innocent confirm an appreciation of reggae.

Last time out you also acknowledged the influence of Pink Fairies, Nirvana, Killing Joke and even The Who. We could hear Hawkwind in the song The Question Is…

Yeah, there’s a lot of Hawkwind on the album. But then if Hawkwind are not a counterculture band, who is? [laughs].

While your 2016 album Music Must Destroy had cameos from Henry Rollins, Captain Sensible and Adam & The Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni, among others. This time you’ve gone it alone. 

Well, James Warburn from The Pretenders plays a guitar solo on Faces In The Sky, we just didn’t make a big deal of it. Marco [Pirroni] really wanted to be on the album, but being in lockdown made it really difficult. 

Ruts DC’s UK tour in November and December had former Adverts frontman TV Smith as support. Presumably he’s an old friend of yours? 

Well, TV started out before us. The Adverts’ Gary Gilmore’s Eyes [1977] was already out there. I had the privilege of playing that song with him a few years ago at the 100 Club, though because [ex-Adverts bassist] Gaye Advert was in the crowd I got nervous and fumbled the bass line. 

Are you still doing this for Malcolm Owen, lost to a heroin overdose, and Paul Fox, the guitarist who died of cancer in 2007? 

It’s all for those guys. Foxy’s on one shoulder and Malcolm’s on the other.

Counterculture? is available now via Sosumi Recordings.

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.