ALBUM REVIEW: The Outcasts – 1978-85 (Captain Oi!/Cherry Red)

One of the best punk bands to come out of Northern Ireland have all their original releases brought together in a 3CD set by Cherry Red subsidiary Captain Oi!

The late ’70s contemporaries of Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, Rudi and Protex have been compiled before, but this is the first time all the songs their original incarnation recorded have been available in one set.

It consists of two studio albums, a mini album, all their singles, tracks from compilations, their swansong EP, plus two sessions recorded for legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel.

The Outcasts story is one of unfulfilled promise, overcoming setbacks which would have finished lesser bands, and a career spent hopping from one label to another. It didn’t stop them making some great music.

Disc one is their first album, Self Conscious Over You. Released in August 1979, for me it’s never really had the credit it deserves as one of THE greatest punk debuts.

The original 11 tracks are expanded to 17 by the inclusion of all the sides from their first two singles (including different, rough and ready versions of You’re A Disease and Love is For Sops, which were re-recorded for the album), and the first version of The Cops Are Comin’, their contribution to the four-track Battle Of the Bands EP on Good Vibrations Records.

The album, also on Good Vibrations, opens with the glorious title track – an example of how The Outcasts could sing with real conviction about everyday things like falling in love while The Troubles were raging around them.

Love You For Never and The Princess Grew Up A Frog are just as good, while the aforementioned You’re A Disease was their answer to the religious divide which was proving so divisive in their homeland.

Perhaps best of all on the first disc is Justa Nother Teenage Rebel – the double A-side of the Love Is For Sops single. Its insistent, dominant bassline and fuzzy guitar make it the perfect angsty anthem for disaffected youth everywhere.

Disc two is second album Blood And Thunder, which belatedly emerged in November 1982 on Abstract Records, by which time more than half its 12 tracks had been released on singles and an EP.

It was a tempestuous time for the band, who acquired a second drummer for their April 1981 single Magnum Force/Gangland Warfare, then suffered the trauma of losing their original one, when Colin Cowan was tragically killed in a car accident just over a year later.

There’s no doubt this album is better produced than the debut, and that the band had become better players, but it lacked the raw excitement and naivety which made the first so thrilling.

A cover of The Glitter Band’s Angel Face was released as a single, which makes sense when you consider many of their fans would have grown up listening to glam rock. It still failed to give them the commercial breakthrough it was aiming for.

This disc is filled out with five bonus tracks, including the excellent Nowhere Left To Run (whose instrumental version Nowhere would make a great spaghetti western soundtrack), and Ruby, their take on the Mel Tillis song made famous by country crooner Kenny Rogers!

By the time The Outcasts released their final mini album Seven Deadly Sins on the New Rose label in 1984 the fast-changing music scene had moved on.

Their attempts to keep up saw them issue a five-track release whose title track was more rockabilly than punk, and also included a cover of David Bowie’s Five Years.

Disc three is rounded out by their final release, three songs from the 12in version of The Stooges’ 1969, an edited version of the same song, and a couple of alternative versions. Finally, and happily for completists, there’s eight Blood And Thunder-era songs they recorded over two Peel sessions in 1981 and 1982 – the first time they’ve been officially released.

These versions of songs like Gangland Warfare, Machine Gun and Magnum Force are better in many ways than the ‘proper’ recorded versions, but I wish he’d invited The Outcasts in earlier in their career.

It’s perhaps fitting that the final disc closes with the Peel version of Frustration, a track from their very first single, which is represented here with versions from each phases of their career. They never did better the first one – and frustration sums up The Outcasts in a nutshell. 7.5/10.

Gary Welford owner