Zounds, the English anarcho-punk/post-punk band from Reading, Berkshire, England, formed in 1977, was a group of musicians that stood out for their political views, their involvement in the squatting and free festival scene, and their music that was both powerful and socially conscious. The name of the band is derived from the old English minced oath “zounds”, a contraction of “God’s wounds”, referring to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, formerly used as a mildly blasphemous oath.
The band was formed around the nucleus of Steve Lake from Reading, Berkshire, and evolved from a number of jamming sessions with other musicians and friends in Oxford, taking in influences from the Velvet Underground to the Sex Pistols. The band began performing gigs in 1977/78 with a line-up of Steve Lake (vocals/bass), Steve Burch (guitar) and Jimmy Lacey (drums), adding Nick Godwin (guitar) at their second gig – adopting the name ‘Zounds’, chosen from a dictionary by Burch. Soon, Burch left the group and was replaced by Lawrence Wood. After this, the band slowly became more politicized owing to troubles with the police and unfolding events of the cold war and became more and more involved with free festivals, alongside The Mob, with whom they developed a close association.
Zounds met up with fellow anarchists Crass when, legend has it, their van broke down on the road. They made their way to nearby Dial House, where Crass were based, who helped them with repairs. The two bands became friends, and although musically very divergent, they shared many common political views. After undergoing several line-up changes, Zounds shortly afterwards released their first EP, Can’t Cheat Karma, on the Crass Records label in 1980. The EP featured possibly their most well-known track “Subvert”, a call to arms against the grind of daily life. The release of this EP and association with Crass led to an increase in the band’s profile in the embryonic anarcho-punk scene, touring with both Crass and the Poison Girls, as well as performing several squat gigs in West Berlin.
The band released their first album The Curse of Zounds on Rough Trade Records in 1981, recording and mixing the LP within five days. The cover art, by anarchist artist Clifford Harper, featured a painting of firefighters apparently trying to put out a blaze at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. However, the picture continued onto the back cover, which showed that, in fact, they are spraying the fire with petrol, thus feeding it. The band released three more singles on Rough Trade, Demystification (a psychedelia-influenced track backed with “Great White Hunter”), Dancing, and More Trouble Coming Every Day, as well as Le Vache Qui Rit (initially intended for a split EP with The Mob for an anti-draft benefit in Belgium).
After the band split up in late 1982, Steve Lake became disaffected with the anarchist music scene in general, and the band was worn out from touring. However, Zounds would occasionally reform for benefit gigs with a line-up augmented by Protag (formerly of Instant Automatons, Alternative TV, and Blyth Power) and drummer Stick (previously of Dirt, Doom, and Extreme Noise Terror).
In 2001, a remixed version of the band’s song “This Land” was released as a CD single benefit for the McLibel support campaign. Four years later, in 2005, the Go All The Way EP was released with tracks from an aborted second album, with songs that commented on the USA’s War on Terror.
Zounds reformed in 2007 when Steve Lake recruited Paul O’Donnell (bass) and Paul Gilbert (drums) from The Evil Presleys, a “primal rock n roll” band that they were in together (with guitarist Andy Parker). The reformed Zounds played sporadic gigs over the next two years, including “The Feeding of the 5000” at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London and the Carling Academy, Birmingham (both with guitarist Dominic Dominion).
In 2010, the band began playing more extensively across the UK and Europe, completing two short European tours. The first was for a week in April, visiting the Netherlands and Belgium, and the second was from 17 September to 3 October, mainly in Germany, plus gigs in the Netherlands, Poland, and Italy.
In 2011, Zounds completed a new album, The Redemption of Zounds, which was available for download from 10 July, on CD from 26 July on Overground Records, and on vinyl in the US on Brokenrekids from September that year. The album was praised for its powerful and insightful lyrics and hard-driving, post-punk sound that had become the band’s trademark.
Despite their sporadic activity and long hiatuses, Zounds have remained a cult favourite among fans of anarcho-punk and post-punk. Their influence can be heard in the music of many contemporary punk and alternative bands who have been inspired by their political consciousness, raw energy, and inventive approach to songwriting.
Overall, Zounds’ contribution to the punk and alternative music scene has been significant, and their legacy continues to inspire and challenge musicians and fans alike. As the band themselves proclaimed in the title of one of their most famous songs, “Can’t Cheat Karma” – their music and message have left a lasting impact on the world of punk rock and beyond.
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