Fixation can be a terrible burden to carry, but it’s one that I’ve been forced to embrace and learn to live with. Due to a slightly devastating combination of personality type and OCD, I’ve a tendency to focus entirely on the things that appeal to me and more often than not have ignored the things that have no immediate impact or influence on my existence. Which is why I can quote the genealogy of obscure eighties Hardcore bands without hesitation, will happily waste hours of your time explaining historical cause and effect, am uncomfortably familiar with the chronology of TSR Games, talk about Moon Knight and Captain America like they’re old friends, have an encyclopaedic knowledge of genre fiction and the mythology of certain Science Fiction franchises, but don’t have the first clue how to wallpaper a room, can’t hang a door, have no grasp of basic DIY and haven’t mastered any of the life skills that would have enabled me to have a satisfying, if somewhat boring, real world career.
Oh sure, I could take the easy way out and blame everything on a succession of head injuries and multiple concussions and wilfully bad life choices which were made because of a stubborn refusal to accept that anyone else might better understand any given situation. Yeah, I could definitely do that and to be honest, both have probably played some part in my need to fixate on things, but at the end of the day I also have to accept that it comes from me being me. It’s just the way I’ve been built, the way my brain is wired and that hard as I might try to shake that particular imp off my back, it’s always going to be there and going to be part of who I am. That’s why I learned to draw it close to me, to attempt to utilise it in a positive way in order to enhance my minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day journey instead of letting it control my every waking moment and by doing so, make me eternally miserable. It took a while, but I’ve finally managed to take the reins and now I’m the one in the driving seat instead of being the stuttering, stumbling, screaming moron stuck in the back of a barely controlled yellow taxi piloted by my gibbering, hysterical cerebellum.
While learning how to become somewhat proficient at human 101 hasn’t been an easy ride, it hasn’t all been bad. Heck, being a slave to fixation has had more than its fair share of entries in the win column over the years with one of the more notable triumphs being my tendency to hone in on, with laser sharp focus, and become more interested than was probably good for my health or sanity in record labels. If a label released a record by a band that I liked, it’d pop up on my radar. If they put out albums a couple of bands that I liked then I’d start actively searching for their releases and if they released three artists or records that featured on my obsessional daily menu, then that was it, game over, I had to know anything and everything about them. Epitaph, Revelation , Combat Core, Fat Wreck Chords, Victory, Lookout, New Age Records, Manic Ears, Peaceville, Earache, Taang, Dr. Strange, the names of labels on my list goes on and on and on, but now that I’m behind the wheel, I’ve been able to track the compulsive route back to the beginning and isolate the label that started this particular avenue of obsessive behaviour. Hawker Records.
In the grand scheme of things, Hawker’s existence was brief. And by brief, I mean, blink and you’d miss it brief, and the size of its catalogue reflected its short life span. Beginning at the last days of 1987 were fading away, or at near enough the stroke of Midnight on New Years Day 1988, depending on which internet rumours you believe or take to heart, Hawker started, and ended, its life as a Hardcore imprint, or sub-label, of Roadrunner Records and supposedly (again, this is entirely dependent on who and what truths you choose to put you faith in) got its name from Cees Wessel’s, the man who founded and owned Roadrunner, inability to pronounce ‘Hardcore’ properly. Picking up on this, some bright spark, an intern or some other lowly cat who was no doubt treated like crap and probably beaten with bootleg Venom albums if he or she didn’t do their job properly, named the label accordingly. I like to think that they did it to spite the bossman, but he was probably in on the “joke” and approved wholeheartedly as he started to imagine all of the extra zeros that he hoped Hawker would add to his already staggeringly huge bank balance. Because those kind of money making insider giggles are the kind of humour that rich people love and wholeheartedly approve of.
Anyway, I’m drifting off point. Where was I? That’s right, Hawker’s fleeting Hardcore life. The label started in ’87 / ’88 and closed its doors and hung up’s converse, which barely had time to see any pit action, at the end of 1989. And in the two years that they chased bands, pressed records and did what all the vinyl purveyors in the music business do, they managed to release six albums. That’s right, six. Right about now, every other obsessive reading this is probably thinking “That sounds about right, the cult aspect of its tenure and the fact that it only introduced a sextet of albums to the world lends credence to the reason for your passion” and I’d agree with, and back, that statement one hundred and ten percent if I liked all six of the records that they released. But I don’t, so I can’t get behind the valid reason my brothers and sisters in crazy have offered up to explain my Hawker devotion. I only like four of the records that Hawker saw fit to release. Okay, no that’s wrong, I LOVE four of the six Hawker records, and the fact that I still get sweaty palms, chills down my spine and the hairs on the back of my arms still stand up whenever I play one of them is almost certainly the reason that I originally went, and am still, ga-ga bat shit mental over, and about, Hawker Records.
Next, the debut long player by the Pagan Babies from Philadelphia was the first time I bumped heads with a band on Hawker. I hadn’t even heard of them before I picked it up and the only reason I did was because of a review I read somewhere by a writer whose word, according to my indomitable teenage logic, was law. I figured if he said it was good, then it must be good and so I grabbed it, took it home and started playing it. In fact, I played the shit out of it. That record didn’t leave my turntable for a fortnight. Bridging the gap between the burgeoning NYHC scene and the more traditional early eighties West Coast Hardcore sound, Next spoke to me like few records had before and apart from their bass player who looked like he could have been a member of Crucifix, the Pagan Babies didn’t look like “punks”. They looked just like every kid who was drawn to the Hardcore scene by bands like Bad Brains, Youth of Today and Gorilla Biscuits did. They looked like I did. And while it seems crazy now, back then that made their music even more important to me. After all if they could do it, it meant that I could, which was the embodiment of the Hardcore ethos. It was an ideal that was perfectly encapsulated by The Spermbirds in Get on the Stage and one that was staring directly at teenage me from the inner sleeve of Next.
The funny thing is though, try as hard as I might, I don’t remember who the critic whose words meant so much to me back then was or which publication it was that I read the review in. This forgotten muse had led me to a band who reinforced my belief in Hardcore and I can’t even recall his name, a fact that was probably pushed out of my head to make room for some trivial piece of useless third hand information that only reached me after it had passed ghost like through a horde of higher up the food chain scene folks. And as well as being the band who introduced me to Hawker, the Pagan Babies were also the first band that made me aware that the label was “cursed”. Oh, you don’t believe in “curses”? That’s cute. Stick around kids, and maybe, just maybe like Luke did after a couple of ball breaking training sessions in the swamp with Yoda, you will. For now though, I’ll stay on target and move on to the second chapter of my Hawker story and come back to the dark Hardcore voodoo that the label wove into its bands’ DNA later.
After a brief sojourn in Philadelphia with the Pagan Babies, Hawker looked East, targeted the home of Hardcore, New York City and set their sights on Token Entry. While they may not be the sort of slam happy household name that Agnostic Front, Cro Mags, Madball and Sheer Terror have become, Token Entry’s members did stints with the Gorilla Biscuits, went on to form Black Train Jack and Redemption 87 and even started Chunksaah Records, a label which became the home of, among others, The Bouncing Souls. Token Entry signed on the dotted line with Hawker for their second album, Jaybird, which is, in my humble opinion, their defining moment. While it’s often, quite rightly, seen as being a record of two halves with the first half (or A and B sides as they used to be called) being considerably better than the second, the songs that comprise the opening chapter of the album are still, thirty years after they were first released, five of the most incredible, hardcore that makes you want to hit the dancefloor songs ever recorded.
Kicking off with The Fire, Jaybird slaps you around like a coked up bouncer with its combination of sing-a-long choruses, infectious breakdowns and high velocity tunes that don’t ease off the gas until the closing moments of The Whip. They turned my teenage brain inside out and made me swear that one day, I’d get to dive off the stage that Timmy Chunks, Ernie Parada and company were smashing to bits with their home grown, Astoria brand of NYHC. Three decades later, I’m still waiting to fulfil that promise, as while they lasted a little longer than the rest of their Hawker brethren and released a final album, The Weight of the World, at the beginning of the nineties, they called it a day soon after. Were they also victims of the “infamous”, and made up by me, Hawker curse? I couldn’t possibly comment ladies and gentlemen and will leave that sort of idle speculation entirely up to you.
After that, it was time for Hawker to bounce, to quote Roger Miret, “from the East Coast to the West Coast”. No For An Answer, the next band to join Roadrunner’s Hardcore offshoot were a Straight Edge band from Orange County whose frontman was the one and only Dan O’Mahony. While they were by no means the first band from their scene to proclaim adherence to the edge, they were the first band that I heard from OC and they had a profound effect on the much younger, and much more arrogant and obnoxious, version of me. They didn’t make me want to turn my life around and abandon cigarettes or alcohol as I was a firm believer in the Bill Hicks and Lee Ving philosophies concerning both, nor did they change my view of casual encounters with the female of the species, as even though they weren’t exactly frequent those dalliances were the highlight of my teenage years. What can I say; I lived in a town that had a Catholic Girls school. And yes, all those things that you’ve heard, all the whispered tales of what happens behind convent school walls, they’re all true. Because girls just want to have fun too.
No. What No For An Answer taught me was this. When Dan growls, you listen. You listen because you’d better believe that he has something important to say as he’s not the kind of person who wastes his words or embellishes falsehoods; and he’s definitely not the kind of chap who suffers fools gladly, sadly or in any other way you, I or any else, can think of. A Thought Crusade was a rough and tumble collision of the music that had influenced its creation. Uniform Choice, the original wave of DC bands, the emerging New York and Connecticut straight edge sound, they were all present in its grooves, all of which were driven forward by Dan’s unmistakable howl and that record, it began my life-long devotion to both the OC sound and the bands that their charismatic, fiercely intelligent and direct vocalist would go on to sing for. And Dan hasn’t let me down yet. Carry Nation, Speak 714, John Henry Holiday, 411, Done Dying, the bands he’s played with have consistently blown me away and it all started with No For An Answer. It all started with Hawker Records.
Then came the fourth, and for me at least, last of the seminal Hawker releases. Having forced me to swear allegiance at the altar of O’Mahony, the no so little label that could (oh come on, they were bankrolled by Roadrunner and their eighties metal explosion cash so they weren’t as small as they pretended to be) then dipped their toes in the raging maelstrom of crossover and plucked a scrappy, energetic crew of misfits and malcontents out of the Boston scene and threw them into a studio. And the Wrecking Crew, for that was what the delinquents from Massachusetts called themselves, handed Hawker Balance of Terror in return. It was a swift uppercut that arrived during the last days of the first wave of Crossover and helped to stoke the last heat from the dying embers of its fire, allowing it burn brightly for just a little longer. Part Agnostic Front, part Jerry’s Kids and with a whole load of thrash attitude, they appeared on the horizon, challenged any and all comers and for a kid who lived on the other side of the big pond, a thousand leagues away from America, they seemed to vanish in less time than it took for me to spin Balance. Yet thirty years after the fact, I can remember first hearing them and feeling that rush of excitement in every nerve ending of my being as they tore out of the crappy speakers of my cheap stereo and how disappointed I was when I eventually discovered that they’d called a halt to their wrecking and disbanded their crew. One record did all that. Hawker did that.
I know that chronologically I’ve almost certainly got the release schedule wrong. I know that and I don’t care. This was the order that I discovered Hawker Records and their bands and records in and it’s the order that’s indelibly stamped in my mind. It’s my order. It’s not necessarily the right one, nor is it in all likelihood, one that anyone else will agree with. None of that stuff matters. What matters is that a slightly obscure label born on an idle whim changed my life forever, sparked something in me in that I didn’t know existed but has driven me in a positive, and at times overhwelmingly negative, fashion ever since. What matters is that it released four records that I’m still obsessed with, and listen to, far more that I really should, three decades after they initially emerged. That, boys and girls, is how legends are forged, myths are born and the key to how immortality is created. Because that music, now that it’s out there and as long as one person is as rabidly zealous and fervid about it as I am, it’ll live forever.
Normally, it’d be at this point where things would be neatly tied up with some sort of pithy closing statement or sentence that regurgitated a tired old eighties cliché about how Hardcore is a celebration of unity, come one, come all and all that other tired old jibber jabber that anyone who’s been around the scene for a while knows is just hot air and rhetoric. The truth is Hardcore is what you make it. The more you put into the scene, the more you’ll get out of the scene and my fixation with Hawker has meant that all the energy I’ve invested in those four records has been repaid tenfold. Not just by the music, but by the things that music has enabled me to do and the people I’ve met because of it.
But the Hawker story doesn’t end there. If you were paying attention earlier, you’ll recall that I mentioned that there were six records released by the label and just because I don’t dig them, it doesn’t mean that you won’t. Actually, that’s not quite true. The fifth Hawker release, by Jones Very the band formed by Vic Bondi after Articles of Faith threw in the towel(s) for whatever reason they saw fit, Words and Days is actually pretty good. It just took me twenty five years to “get it” and actually enjoy it for what it is. A great post Hardcore, post punk, doing your own thing whatever that may be collection of songs. And just because it took me a quarter of a century to get there with Jones Very, it doesn’t mean that it’ll take you anywhere near that amount of time. So go on, be adventurous, give them a spin, I dare you.
Then there was number Six, Free for All. A compilation that featured all of the bands on the label but as I’m kind of locked into the weird, self-induced mind-set that Hardcore compilations begin and end with Where the Wild Things Are and New York City Hardcore: The Way It Is, just like every other Hardcore and punk rock label compilation that’s crossed my path in the last thirty something years, it’s never floated my boat. Or even come close to doing so. Although, I have been sort of tempted by it a number of times, but only because it’s the only Hawker release to feature Rest In Pieces, the only band on Free for All who didn’t release an album on Hawker.
Yes, it is the Rest In Pieces. The one from New York that was born when Armand from Sick Of It All decided that he wasn’t doing enough Hardcore stuff. And, Craig Setari, just like he’s done with every other big hitter from the Big Apple core scene, also, at one point, played bass for Rest in Pieces. Apparently, it’s an unwritten rule of the NYHC scene. Either Craig or Walter has to pass through your ranks or no-one will come to your shows. Don’t blame me, I don’t make the rules, I’m just repeating what I was told. At a secret Hardcore club meeting, held behind the Planet X on show night, presided over by an “official” nominated by Al Barille, appointed by Ray Cappo and sworn in by Ian Mackaye, an official who made everyone who was there that night swear an oath of secrecy that couldn’t be broken until the Gorilla Biscuits returned. I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking that I just made all that stuff about Hardcore Club up. Maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. Maybe the first rule of Hardcore Club is the same as the first rule of Fight Club. Or maybe it isn’t and maybe there’s no such thing as Hardcore Club.
Oh and finally, one thing I definitely didn’t make up was the Hawker curse. I promised I’d tell you all about it and being a man of my word, I’m going to do exactly what I swore I would. So here it is – How many of the bands who put their faith in Hawker went on to achieve everything that they could, and should, have? That’s right kids, none of them did. For reasons known only to themselves, those bands disappeared, fading away like the last light of day, when Hawker folded. Imagine what might have happened if they’d released those records on other labels, how things might have been and how different the scene would be. Now that’s something worth fixating on… Tim Cundle