ALBUM REVIEW – The Drones – The Albums boxset (Captain Oi!/Cherry Red Records)

Formed in 1976 after seeing the Sex Pistols, The Drones were one of Manchester’s earliest punk bands, but never achieved the fame of contemporaries like Buzzcocks and Slaughter And The Dogs.

A leading attraction at the city’s Electric Circus venue as the movement grew, they soon became regulars at the Roxy in London, supported The Vibrators, The Only Ones and XTC, and touring with The Stranglers.

This 59-track, 4CD boxset (available from Cherry Red Records HERE) gathers everything worthwhile which they released between 1977 and 1999, when they released their second album 22 years after their first!

Their debut, Further Temptations, released in December 1977, is disc one of this set, and it features 13 tracks of decent enough fast-paced punk.

Further Temptations, The Drones’ 1977 debut album.

It was perhaps their misfortune that Generation X, the band I’d draw the closest comparisons to, did it far better, and had star-in-the-making Billy Idol as their frontman.

Re-recorded versions of Corgi Crap, Just Want To Be Myself, Lookalikes and Bone Idol, which had been released on singles, were included, along with a cover of The Ronettes’ ’60s classic, but the album sold poorly, and although they regrouped and released a new single in 1980, it didn’t have the punk edge of old, and the band fizzled out.

That wasn’t the end of the story, however, and in the summer of 1996 The Drones were asked to reform for the first Holidays In the Sun festival (now much better known as Rebellion).

That stirred interest in the band, which featured three original members, and after releasing a new single, Sorted, in 1997, they played some shows in Japan, one of which is disc four of this set.

The Drones – Take Shelter, recorded live in Japan.

Take Shelter, recorded at Tokyo’s Club Shelter, is basically the first album played live, plus the new single, and gives a good idea of how they sounded, playing to a small but enthusiastic crowd.

They finally got round to releasing a second album proper in 1999, with nine new songs, a remix of old track Johnny Come Home, and punked-up covers of Don McLean’s American Pie and Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine.

Captain Oi! released the comeback album on CD in the UK as Sorted, while Finnish label Alternative Action called the vinyl release Dirty Bastards, after one of its better songs – a no-holds-barred condemnation of paedophiles.

The Drones’ 1999 comeback album Sorted, aka Dirty Bastards.

Again, it’s a spirited if unremarkable slice of ’77-style punk, which sounds a little out of place at the turn of a new millennium, but the slightly tinny drum sound ruins it for me. It’s disc three of this set.

Disc two, entitled Rarities, is the most intriguing, gathering all their early singles and B-sides, some of which are tricky and fairly expensive to find, as well as demos from across their original lifespan (including a 1977 take on Search And Destroy) and a previously unreleased four-track session done for John Peel in 1977. As often happens, I prefer these versions to the recorded versions.

Rarities collects non-album tracks, demos and a John Peel session.

Sadly, singer MJ sadly died in 2013, and his drumming brother Pete last year, but original bassist Whispa continues to play with a new line-up of The Drones, who have released new music (not included here).

They were never a big-name band, but played the music they believed in to a devoted fanbase. If you’re new to the Drones, an old fan, or, like me, only knew them from a couple of tracks on compilations, this is a good catch-all collection. 7/10.

Gary Welford owner