Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing, especially with the trend of looking over one's shoulder at music scenes from 25-35 years ago. Sometimes the music hasn't aged well, the message is crude and slightly cringe-worthy, and it all seems as if it should be left under a rock, covered over forever. However, when I heard that there would be a release featuring Welsh punk bands from 1980-1984, my pulse increased a bit, as for me these were my formative years and I was curious as to what the end result would be.
Fortunately, the result is actually pretty good, although I have to admit that some of the music and messages haven't really improved with the intervening years. But then this documentation of the Welsh punk scene had set out to show what was being produced musically with a warts 'n all approach. Most, if not all, of the tracks featured on the album (20 bands each providing one track) and double CD (57 tracks in total from 11 bands) are demos, highlighting production values that were primitive to say the least, so much so that I could imagine the youth of today being shocked that bands had to contend with prehistoric methods of getting music available, both in terms of recording and the medium, which was more often than not a cassette tape.
Amongst the crude recordings there are a good number of gems included, as the album opens with Welsh speakers Yr Anhrefn, the only group from North Wales featured on the record, yet one of the most well-known outside of the Principality. That first track is quite different from the other 19 on the album, yet is part of the diversity that existed within, but was not unique to, the Welsh punk scene. Next up come the Soldier Dolls, with a guitar sound that owes something to early Misfits as they provide a slightly different take on punk rock.
Following on are bands including Shrapnel, Classified Protest, Death Patrol Icons of Filth, Impact, No Choice and Picture Frame Seduction, all of which manage to inject their own style as they all aim to portray what for many living in Wales in the early '80s was quite a dire and downtrodden existence. The lyrical content is what you would expect from that time: unemployment, fear of nuclear war, boredom and a desire to fight back.
It's no surprise to find that other than the Yr Anhrefn track, it's Icons of Filth that stand out on this release with a thunderous approach and one which sounds ahead of its time and still pretty damn good today. The other surprise is Picture Frame Seduction, a band that come across better than anything to be found on its Sex War album which came out around eight years ago. Perhaps some punks don't improve with age?
These releases really do take me back to my youth and in most cases the songs, although rough-sounding, demonstrate something that is missing from a vast amount of what passes for punk rock these days: the elements of anger and protest, which were foundation stones in the subsequent rise of punk, through to what we and the wider public consider to be punk rock these days. Without that anger, without that youthful exuberance to rebel against the status quo, many of us would not be where, or who, we are today. Wales might be a tiny adjunct to England when viewed on a map, but 30 years ago those growing up there, wanting an alternative to the lifestyle they were being forced to accept, were no different to many other outcasts around the world.
My only minor criticism with Bullsheep Detector is the lack of liner notes that might have added some insight into these times and the bands featured on the record/CDs. There are many photos and photocopies of cassette inlays to be found and all those tell a story, but I'm sure that someone could have produced a useful narrative to accompany this.
So, how does nostalgia stack up in terms of Bullsheep Detector? For me, I find this an enjoyable step back to my youth, but on top of any personal interest this also stands up as a strong collection of music and messages that punks across the globe would be able to identify with and equally enjoy. The LP is wrapped in a Crass-style fold-out cover and features a group of suitably spotty young punks wearing the uniform of the day–a great image indeed.