BOXSET REVIEW: Vice Squad – The Albums 1981-84 (Captain Oi!)
Formed in Bristol in 1979 as part of punk’s second wave, Vice Squad’s initial line-up was teenage singer Beki Bondage, Dave Bateman (guitar), Mark Hambly (bass guitar) and Shane Baldwin (drums).
Their first single, 1981’s Last Rockers, sold more than 20,000 copies, and spent 10 months in the then-important indie charts, reaching No 7.
It’s the standout of their debut album, No Cause For Concern, the first of five discs making up this boxset, which gathers pretty much everything they recorded before splitting in 1985.
The record was originally released on EMI subsidiary Zonophone, prompting accusations of ‘selling out’ from some, but that didn’t stop it reaching No 32 in the UK Album Chart.
The Siouxsie and the Banshees influence is strong, particular on tracks like Young Blood and Summer Fashion, with their tribal drumming. Generally the record suffers from weak production, with fuzzy guitars low in the mix, and Beki’s voice struggling to be heard above the bass and drums.
Even a cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changing can’t save it from being more than an average first offering.
By the time they recorded their second album, 1982’s Stand Strong Stand Proud, Vice Squad had been on tour with the UK Subs and recorded two sessions for John Peel, and their increased confidence shows in a much-improved record.
They sound much tighter as a band, and improved production makes this their best album, featuring songs like the title track, Humane, Rock ‘N’ Roll Massacre, Freedom Begins At Home, Deathwish and the single Out Of Reach.
On returning from a US tour, Beki dropped the bombshell that she was leaving. She went on to front Ligotage, but without their singer, who had become a bona fide punk pin-up, Vice Squad were quickly dropped by EMI.
Undeterred, they replaced her with a new vocalist, Lia, and released third album Shot Away in 1985 on Anagram Records. To be fair, she does a decent job, and tracks like New Blood, Killing Time and You’ll Never Know pass muster alongside the band’s best. There’s also a very passable cover of The Sweet’s glam classic Teenage Rampage. However, much of the punk edge had gone, as Lia’s voice seemed better suited to rock. Not surprisingly, sales dwindled, and the band split up in 1985.
That seemed to be that, until 1987, when Link Records issued Live and Loud, recorded in 1982 on their successful debut tour of America. It’s disc five in this set, and is an enjoyable enough romp through the high spots of their first two albums, plus a spirited cover of the Sex Pistols’ E.M.I.
Disc four here is where the real interest lies. Entitled Odds ‘n’ Squads, it’s a collection of 25 non-album singles, B-sides, and demos, though sadly none of the BBC sessions recorded for John Peel and Kid Jensen (though they were compiled by Anagram back in 1997).
It includes the Avon Calling compilation version of Nothing, the first song they ever committed to vinyl, as well as non-album single Resurrection, and the 7in versions of Last Rockers and Out Of Reach.
Bondage formed a new version of Vice Squad in 1997, though she was the only original member, and they continue to tour and record to this day. But this is the band as they were originally conceived, and while they certainly had their moments, this collection is probably for the diehards, or those who missed them first time round. 6/10.