1. Vox Teardrop
3. Mighty Soldier
4. Back Biter
5. Dangerous Minds
6. West One (Shine On Me)
7. It Was Cold
9. Music Must Destroy
10. Something That I Said
11. Peace Bomb
12. Jah War
13. Kill The Pain
14. In A Rut
15. Babylon’s Burning
16. Psychic Attack
Love In Vain/Police and Thieves
Staring At The Rude Boys
John “Segs” Jennings – vx and bass
David Ruffy – drummer
Leigh Heggarty – Guitarist
After 41 years and multiple line-up changes, The Ruts, or Ruts DC as they’re now known, finally made it to Hong Kong. In response, the city brought its warmest welcome, with a packed room and plenty of original fans in the crowd. Earlobes were repierced, bovver boots donned and ancient band tees dug out of the drawer in honour of this most auspicious night in the city’s concert history.
Banker, lawyer, accountant, teacher; it didn’t matter, as punk brought everyone together to celebrate one of the cornerstone bands of the second-wave British punk scene. Rarely heard at gigs in the city, heckling was rife throughout the show, especially as certain punters grew increasingly inebriated. Chopping and changing genres at the drop of a trilby hat, the band sailed through more than four decades’ worth of music with flair and fun.
The reggae-styled songs, like Mighty Soldier and Jah War, proved some of the highlights of the set, spotlighting Leigh Heggarty’s swaggering guitar, David Ruffy’s locomotive drumming, and John “Segs” Jenning’s strutting basslines beneath his Londoner-goes-Jamaican-accented twang. Each member was fun to watch, bringing variation, skill and character to their individual performances without destroying the decibel level, letting the lyrics – too important to be drowned out – speak for themselves.
“Age against the machine! We still rock, we just ache more the next day,” the singer quipped ahead of Music Must Destroy, which featured tightly wound, ascending guitar and an almost heavy metal sound in its low, staccato rhythms and high fretwork. An ending chant of “we are not your property” rang true to The Ruts’ unwavering, indignant socio-political stance on issues like war, policing, drugs, racism and nukes.
Segs introduced It Was Cold as “People think this song is about nuclear apocalypse but it was apparently about (late founding member) Malcolm’s wife leaving him.” Chiming guitar gave the song an early post-punk vibe, evoking Joy Division and Public Image. Several crowd members obliged to an instruction to jump for Surprise, a shouty, spoken word piece – like Ruts’ version of Parklife – which decried social injustice.
Far too diverse in sound to be considered straight up punk, the band sprinkled in genres from across the musical spectrum, with each member switching styles with expertise. Ruffy’s remarkably laidback demeanour underplayed the precision and dexterity of his drumming, while Heggarty produced the kind of noise that made you wonder if there was a secret extra guitarist hidden somewhere on stage.
Something That I Said had an essence of The Who about it, with a jaunty beat that inspired dancing. Meanwhile, S.U.S., Kill The Pain and Back Biter were some of the heavier songs of the set, delivered with vigour and motoric rhythms that elicited calls of “Gwarn boys!” from the floor. Dangerous Minds blended ominous melodies with an anxious beat and skulking bass to conjure a feeling of paranoia. “No one deserves to be a victim,” Segs said at the end.
It was time for a Mark E Smith anecdote: “When he tried ecstasy, he went round hugging everyone and hated it,” said Segs. Then came Peace Bomb, a downbeat slice of 90s alt-rock Americana that had echoes of REM. Centrepiece In A Rut made itself known with a big drum roll followed by a shuffling beat and looping bass. Segs’ Cockney vocals took on a snarl as he sang the iconic lines: “We’re in a rut, gotta get out of it.”
Babylon’s Burning, what everyone had been waiting for, was delivered with a gusto that belied the track’s age, before a revving bassline and triumphant guitar flourishes brought Psychic Attack to life. The band exited the stage, only to be drawn back with hollering and stamping from all corners of the room.
“Before you all get the ferry home, we’ve got another for you,” smirked Segs, dedicating Love in Vain/Police and Thieves to the group’s fallen members, Malcolm Owen and former guitarist Paul Fox. Twinkly guitar led into another soulful, reggae-inflected number, Police-esque in its leisurely, meandering pace, reverby chords and a shrieking solo.
The energy in the room hit the roof for Staring At The Rude Boys, with the crowd shouting “Never surrender” as Heggarty’s guitar careered through the classic 1980 track. It was time to say goodnight with Society, but the band weren’t about to end things on a soft note. Fast, frantic guitar and frenzied snare bashing defined the speed punk track which signed off a stellar show by having everyone moshing their way out into the night.
– El Jay