999 in session for John Peel – Recorded October 25, 1978 – Broadcast November 1 – BBC Radio 1
999 in session for John Peel to end the week. Their first (and only) session, recorded on October 25, 1978 and broadcast on November 1st over BBC Radio 1.
Named after the UK’s emergency telephone number, 999 was founded in London by singer and guitarist Nick Cash, and Guy Days. Cash and Days are brothers. The former was a member of the pub rock band Kilburn and the High-Roads, and the latter was a session guitarist who played on some of the band’s demo tapes. In late 1976, they placed an advertisement in Melody Maker for band members and ended up turning down Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Jon Moss (Culture Club) and Tony James (Generation X). They recruited Jon Watson on bass and Pablo LaBritain on drums, LaBritain having briefly played with the Clash. The band that eventually became known as 999 performed their first concert at the Northampton Cricket Club in January 1977. After experimenting with several different band names, the band became 999 in May 1977.
999 soon established themselves as a powerful live act on the London punk scene and became regulars at the Hope and Anchor, Islington. On the strength of their well received, self-financed debut single, 999 were signed to United Artists Records around the same time as the Buzzcocks. “I’m Alive” became a firm favorite in the punk clubs. The band’s second single, “Nasty Nasty”, was cited nearly 20 years after its release as a seminal punk single.
Their self-titled debut album, produced by Andy Arthurs, was released in March 1978. One retrospective review claimed it “demonstrated their limitations as well as their strengths. The 45 cuts like “Me And My Desire” and “Emergency” demonstrated the latter, but the album lacked that special ingredient, uniqueness or originality to make it stand out from the crowd.” The album reached No. 53 in the UK Albums Chart. The following year, the song “Emergency” from the album appeared — alongside songs by bands like The Jam and The Stranglers — on the punk compilation 20 of Another Kind. That album reached No. 45 in the UK chart. Years later, “Emergency” was included in Mojo magazine’s list of the best punk rock singles of all time.
The band’s second album, Separates was produced by Martin Rushent. One reviewer lists it as one of the best punk albums of all time. In the United States, a slightly altered version of Separates, re-titled High Energy Plan, became the band’s first American release. In October 1978, a month after the album’s release, 999 recorded their only session for John Peel at BBC Radio 1. 999 also played at Front Row Festival, a three-week event at the Hope and Anchor in late November and early December 1977. This resulted in the band’s inclusion, alongside the likes of Wilko Johnson, The Only Ones, the Saints, The Stranglers, X-Ray Spex, and XTC, on a hit double LP of recordings from the festival.
999 toured widely in the United States and the band was rewarded when their albums The Biggest Prize In Sport and Concrete charted on the Billboard 200. In the US, “Homicide” and “Hollywood” garnered frequent rotation on Rock of the 80s format radio stations like KROQ in Los Angeles. According to Dave Thompson, “For many Americans, they were the first to actually bother with the backwoods, playing places which other Brit bands hadn’t heard of, and returning to them again and again. And while no one knows how many American bands were first inspired to take up arms by 999, those that did still wear their loyalties loudly.”
Despite a number of minor hit singles, the band’s critical appeal in Britain had begun to wane. Their stock was lifted temporarily with the arrival of the self-released Face To Face. 999’s popularity continued to decline steadily, leading to the group disbanding twice in the 1980s, reforming soon afterwards. They have since released several albums and continue to tour, including playing at the 11th Antifest in 2005. Bassick also plays for The Lurkers.
Despite having formed in 1976, 999 have only experienced two permanent changes to their original line-up and has continued to record and play live, leading AllMusic to describe the band as “one of the longest-lived groups of the punk era.”
Hit the Play button and crank it up – get ready for the weekend.