In the early 1980s after the punk revolution had being taken over by New Wave, New Romantics and in America by the Second British Invasion. In a slight reversal of this along came a small number of bands from the New York City who wanted to do something more grittier, urgent and more DIY and wanted to do it in Britain.
These included The dB’s, RayBeats, Fleshtones, Bush Tetras, Bongos, and Polyrock. In fact all of these bands were put on a plane and delivered to London to appear in a showcase that was put together by Ruth Polsky, who a booker and music promoter in New York City. She sadly died later on after being crushed by a runaway cab on the steps of the Limelight club in New York.
Held in Finsbury Park’s massive storied Rainbow Theatre on February 21 1981 the Taking Liberties show was something less than an unqualified success: The PA was cobbled together at the last minute, the cavernous theatre was a less than ideal venue (both acoustically and in the size of the crowd), and the management, no doubt due to the unimpressive ticket sales, refused to turn the heat on, so that it was ‘coat’ weather inside.
I remember having to wear my coat inside and it was freezing! However the night before the dBs played a small intimate gig at the Hope & Anchor in Islington and myself and a few friends including Richard Plews, who took the pictures, were living and working near there. We used to go regularly to the Hope & Anchor, it did not really matter which band you were seeing as you were always in for a great night, the stage low and close up…and oh the cider from “the hatch”, cheap and strong and always good.
The dBs had been making waves and the NME had also picked them up and on the basis of their reviews I had bought the single Black & White and so wanted to check them out…they were so good, crisp, funny, engaging and they played 2 minutes pop songs that packed a punch. The band included two people who were to be some of the mainstays of the alternative American scene in the 1980s and 90s, Peter Holsaplle and Chris Stamey.
This is a quote I found from Chris Stamey of The dBs about the event at the Rainbow “Start Swimming is an album of two live cuts each by five New York bands that traveled to London in February of 1981, to play a show at the Rainbow Theatre. The show was (cornily) named Taking Liberties, with a depiction of the Statue of Liberty on the poster, as in the current crop (considered second generation after Ramones, Television, Blondie, etc.) of NY bands invading London, then considered the center of what was new in music.
The show was rather disorganized, lousy PA in a place with lousy acoustics, and the turnout somewhat disappointing. It would have been much better presented in a club. In addition, the management refused to turn the heat on, so it was near seeing-your-breath weather inside. Polyrock (who refused to participate on the album), The Bongos, The RayBeats, The Fleshtones, The Bush Tetras, and The dB’s played, although the exact order is beyond recall. The record was mixed extremely swiftly for release on Stiff. The dB’s tracks are a unique representation of the odder side of what we were doing, if nothing else”
The dBs album Stands For Decibels got a good UK release and the singles Soul Kiss and Black & White were all critically well received but the band never really got the sales they deserved.
After The dBs broke up in 1988 Peter worked with REM and Hootie & The Blowfish and Chris produced some beautifully crafted solo albums the most recent released on Yep Roc in 2015. The dBs did actually get back together for an album, Falling Off The Sky, and tour in 2012.
Feature by Simon Jay Price, Photography by Richard Plews