#76 Aunt Sally: Aunt Sally

Before we criticise the gross and indefensible spectacle of the 2022 World Cup – where perhaps billions of people around the world tune in to watch a spectacle so polluted by decaying capitalism that hundreds or perhaps thousands of ill treated migrant workers have forcibly sacrificed their lives in order just to provide us global ruling classes our shits and giggles – let’s at least compare the quality of competitive entertainment to what it was a few hundred years ago. The game Aunt Sally dates back to 17th century and was played at fairgrounds in pub gardens across the middle English counties. It involves participants throwing sticks or battens at a ‘doll’ placed upon a pole. Traditionally, that doll is an old woman named ‘Aunt Sally. It has also been suggested that the doll eventually got its name ‘Aunt Sally’ because it was at one point meant to be in blackface and inspired by the character (sigh) Black Sal in the 1821 novel ‘Life in London‘. So, essentially, it was a game where drunk middle Englanders would throw things at an old black woman. But don’t despair at missing out on such good old fashioned competitive hate crimes – the The World Aunt Sally Open Singles Championships takes place every year in Oxfordshire. The first event in 2011 was attended by David fucking Cameron, because of course it was.

“Take this, you little pickaninny…”

An ‘Aunt Sally’ is also what you’d call an easily disprovable fallacy, so maybe I’ve been really clever and nothing I said in the previous paragraph is true and wouldn’t stand up to even the briefest of research. However, I know I’m safe, as none of you fat lazy slobs can ever be arsed to extend even the most minute of effort. It’s also the name of a 1938 film English film, which given those two pieces of information is also likely to be extremely racist. What I’m saying is: it’s not easy to Google the extraordinary 1970s Japanese punk band Aunt Sally.

That Aunt Sally rereleased their 1979 debut album in 2021, and provided more evidence for my reasoning to fucking hate punk music.

We can argue about boring earlier bands playing boorish pubrock* and debate what the first punk band actually were, but the real phenomenon began in around 1976 and 1977 and was rappelled into the stratosphere by The Sex Pistols. We all know about the 1976 Manchester Free Trade Hall gig attended by maybe 50 people, but those people included two members of The Buzzcocks, three people who would go on to form Joy Division, a young Steven Patrick Morrissey (who would likely enjoy the odd game of Aunt Sally himself), Tony Wilson, Mark E Smith, John Cooper Clarke and, most influentially, Mick Hucknall. In 1977 the Sex Pistols played a gig in London, and by that point their effect had been felt so wide that seventeen year old Hiromi Moritani flew 6’000 miles from Japan in order to see them. Hiromi, like so many others, was inspired to start her own band. “I realised [punk] was not something you were supposed to watch, it was something you were supposed to do”.

(*or The Stooges, I guess. They’re alright. For statutory rapists, I mean. The Ramones are cool though! Shit, apart from Johnny Ramones’ unashamed Republicanism… Hey, punk fans, question why all your heroes are either white nationalist or child rapists, yeah?)

Moritani put up adverts everywhere she could in her native Osaka, desperate to find likeminded souls with whom she could hopefully forge their own 日本の無政府状態. and linked up with a girl known as Bikke. Bikke and Hiromi did a few amateur gigs playing The Who and Ramones covers. Before – in nineteen seventy freaking seven! – realising that Aunt Sally couldn’t just play the same shit as everyone else and deciding to forge their own path. “I realized Aunt Sally couldn’t go on the same way”. This desire to create something different, to take in inspiration from the punk rock scene but not to play dogged reverence to it like they were pathetically attempting to request an interview, but used the musical revolution sparked by punk’s initial arrival as an artistic spark to create something obviously within the scene but at the same time sounding like nothing else. Add a few session musicians, and magic was ready to be made.

And so the self-titled debut was unleashed on the world in 1979, back in print in 2021 after nearly forty years. While the music here is recognisably ‘punk’, the teenage girls making it exhibit a prodigal talent and creativity in stretching the tropes and the genre in astonishing directions. Moritani’s voice alone is enough to set the music aside from the already countless punk pretenders – a unique naturally high vocal often used to sing low and nearly flat notes – but the performance and decisions mark the band as definite post-punks while punk was still a thing. Buzzsaw guitars, cavernous production, and on paper insane choices like appropriating standards like Heart and Soul and Frère Jacques into the wider insanity. The effect is widely different from the standard punk anger and agony (and, yeah, anarchy, I guess), and instead creates a record full of anxiety and creeping dread. It’s an amazing example of what kind of magic the influence of punk could have on truly creative minds. This was a perfect statement, incorporating absolutely everything that the two teenage girls from Osaka set out to achieve. Mere months after the album was initially released in spring 1979, the band shrugged their shoulders and broke up. “Shortly after Aunt Sally formed, The Pistols broke up, and by the time we released the album, the momentum was gone because for me punk was The Pistols”. 

You will never be this cool

Which brings us round to why I hate punk. I’m talking, of course, of the people who make punk music in 2022. Or at any point in the 21st century. Or, honestly, probably every band that did punk music after around 1979. Look at that group of people who were in attendance at that historic Free Trade Hall gig – Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook went on to form perhaps the greatest ever post-punk band and legitimately one of the most influential rock acts of all time; Tony Wilson started the UK’s most important record label ever and a birthed movement that would briefly make Manchester the most important musical city in the world (something that, trust me, Manchester never stops fucking talking about); Mark E Smith would front one of the all time most iconic and esoteric rock bands for more than 40 years (and would definitely approve of Aunt Sally’s music, if not their staying power); Morrissey did his thing (and probably wouldn’t approve of Aunt Sally for, erm, ‘reasons’); John Cooper Clarke would revolutionise spoken word poetry and convince people it was a valid and popular artistic choice (and also play a gig with a full band in Manchester around 2017 that my Dad dragged me to which was fucking awful); and most importantly Mick Huknall would go on to be considered the greatest soul singer of all time and also, iconically, had to eventually shave his dreads after Martine McCutcheon vomited on them. Then there’s Hiromi Moritani, who would later change her name to Phew – for it is she – and become one of the most notable and consistently groundbreaking avant garde artists of the next four decades. To this fucking day, motherfuckers. All these people were true geniuses, they saw the artistic potential of punk rock and used it as a jumping off point to create some of the most important and/or notable music of the next few decades, much of which remains an important influence on musical and popular culture to this day.

Ugh, but punk bands now? They’re still playing dress up as the Sex Pistols in 1977. Or perhaps the Clash, if they’re especially open minded. They’re four white boys in a band, shredding basic risks and shouting about anarchy and –Jesus fucking Christ I hate this so much – shouting fucking ‘Rudy’ all the time like they’re Donald Trump in the throes of passion. It’s gross, it’s pathetic, and it’s stuck in chronic arrested development. The musical equivalent of the guy in his forties who still listens to abhorrent vomit like Muse because it reminds them of being a teenager. Red flags, man, red flags. Forty freaking five years after the birth of punk, we still have grown adults unable to make the acknowledgement that Phew did as a seventeen year old in 1977: they shouldn’t be doing what everyone else is doing.

The same as everyone has been doing for more than four decades now.


2021 #62

2020 #84 

2017 #72

4 thoughts on “#76 Aunt Sally: Aunt Sally

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