Punk Drunks

GBH is by no means a complicated band. Both musically and personally, its members seem to subsist entirely on a diet of punk and drink, as both items have been not only the thrust of 80 percent of their subject matter, but also one of the main reasons they continue to make music nearly two decades after the band's inception.

Yes, strange as it may seem, GBH is still a band. The eight-week North American tour in which the band is entrenched is not a reunion tour. Although this is its first trip to the continent since 1993, the band has consistently toured Europe and recently released a record, 1997's Punk Junkies. More surprising than GBH's mere existence is the fact that the fans are still coming out in droves. Public reaction to Punk Junkies has been largely favorable, with some critics actually saying it is GBH's best record since 1983.

Having formed in Birmingham, England, in 1980, GBH is one of a handful of bands from the "second wave" of British punk rock who still actively perform and record today. Comrades including The Exploited, Peter and the Test Tube Babies and English Dogs are all kicking around and showing far more relevance and energy in the contemporary punk scene than their analogs from the "first wave" (the Damned and Sex Pistols come to mind). Differentiated from their predecessors by faster rhythms, louder guitars and a far more guttural response to the world around them, the bands of the "second wave" are still finding themselves embraced by the fringes because, at a time when it could have gone either way, they made punk rock ugly again.

City Baby Attacked by Rats, GBH's debut LP, was released in 1982 on the now legendary Clay Records label. Though the band's approach was somewhat cartoonish, and the music was certainly faster and louder than most pop audiences were accustomed to, the record struck a chord with British fans and entered the Top 20 of the UK album charts. The subsequent LP, City Baby's Revenge, was also a commercial success, and soon the band found itself headlining concerts in front of 5,000 British malcontents.

Revenge, however, would be the band's last LP on Clay, and its next two releases, Midnight Madness and Beyond and Oh No It's GBH Again!, created a bit of dissension among the group's die-hard supporters. Longtime fans and even publicists for the group noticed a shift in direction that was widely regarded as an attempt at a crossover with heavy metal. While the band has never agreed with this criticism, it nonetheless spent the better part of the next decade ghettoized as yet another punk band who'd gone down the speed-metal runway.

Though this period did see a decline in record sales, GBH still played to packed, if more modest, houses and, even more miraculous, remained intact. Three of the four original members -- vocalist Colin Abranhal, guitarist Jock Blyth and bassist Ross Lomas -- are still in the band today, and two years ago they teamed with new drummer Scott Preece to record Punk Junkies. It is the purest hardcore record they've made since their City Baby days, even down to song titles such as "Shakin' Hands with the Machine" and "Lowering the Standard," which inspire raised-fist salutes from teenage street punks everywhere. Punk Junkies has not only brought back the band's slowly shrinking credibility, but it has enabled it to embark on a sold-out tour of the States. While it may prove the theory that GBH's success lies entirely in the embrace of punk and drink, it also ensures that as long as there are 18-year-old kids, GBH will have a voice.

GBH performs Sunday, March 7, at Number's, 300 Westheimer (between Taft and Mason), (713)526-8338. Tickets are $13, and the show is open to all ages.

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David Wilcox