The Ruts - Malcolm Owen

The Ruts' Malcolm Owen - Heroin had the last word.

The Ruts In Concert – 1979 – Past Daily Soundbooth

The Ruts - Malcolm Owen
The Ruts’ Malcolm Owen – Heroin had the last word.

The Ruts – In Concert at Paris Theatre, London – July 7, 1979 – BBC In Concert – BBC Radio 1 –

The Ruts in concert tonight. Recorded by BBC Radio 1 for their In Concert series at the Paris Theatre, July 7, 1979.

The Ruts (later known as Ruts DC) were notable for the 1979 UK Top 10 hit single “Babylon’s Burning”, and an earlier single “In a Rut”, which was not a hit but was highly regarded and regularly played by BBC Radio 1 disc jockey John Peel. The band’s newfound success was cut short by the death of lead singer Malcolm Owen from a heroin overdose in 1980.

The Ruts were formed on 18 August 1977 and played their first gig at the Target pub in Northolt, Middlesex. The band consisted of singer Malcolm Owen, guitarist Paul Fox, bass player John “Segs” Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy who moved from bass to drums after original drummer Paul Mattocks left, and were active in anti-racist causes as part of the Misty in Roots People Unite collective based in Southall, West London, playing several benefits for Rock Against Racism.

Early Ruts songs recorded at The Former Orange studios in London’s Covent Garden on 1 October 1977 were “Stepping Bondage”, “Rich Bitch”, “Out of Order”, “I Ain’t Sofisticated” and “Lobotomy”. The group began to evolve and become more musically adventurous, incorporating reggae and dub elements into their repertoire. Dave Ruffy returned to the drums and a new bassist, ‘Segs’ Jennings, was recruited. The new Ruts line-up debuted supporting Wayne County and the Electric Chairs at High Wycombe town hall on 25 January 1978.

The Ruts’ first single, “In a Rut” was finally released on People Unite in January 1979, having been recorded back on 24 April 1978 at the Free Range 8-track studios. It was backed up with anti-heroin tirade “H-Eyes” on the B-side (“You’re so young, you take smack for fun/It’s gonna screw your head, you’re gonna wind up dead”). DJ John Peel expressed his admiration for the group on air (as can be heard on a retrospective 1978 radio show clip on the In a Can album) and a session for the BBC swiftly followed the same month. DJ David Jensen also showcased the band in a further session recorded for the BBC in February 1979. A second Peel session was in May 1979.

Their debut album The Crack was produced by Mick Glossop and released in September 1979, reaching number 16 in the UK Albums Chart. The two singles “Babylon’s Burning” and “Something That I Said” were re-recorded for the album. Edited from the album, the band’s third single for Virgin at the end of October 1979 was the roots reggae track “Jah War”, about the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group’s violence in Southall disturbances in April 1979. However, the BBC refused to play it, labelling the song as “too political”.

With their latest UK tour sold out in advance and a US tour lined up, the band began work on their second album in early 1980. Having been forced to cancel a number of UK tour dates, the other three band members fired their frontman over his drug addiction, shortly after completing work on their next single, “West One (Shine on Me)”. After negotiations, Owen briefly rejoined the band.

Despite having spent time living at his parents’ house, free from heroin, Malcolm Owen was found dead in the bathroom of his parents’ house in Hayes, from a heroin overdose on 14 July 1980 at the age of 26. Prophetically, the track “H-eyes”, which was the B-side of their first single “In a Rut”, was a song against heroin use, and two other songs, “Dope for Guns” from the album The Crack, plus reggae lament “Love in Vein” (“don’t want you in my arms no more”) were also anti-drug songs.

The band carried on until 1983 before disbanding – the remaining members reformed in 2007 and are still very much gigging around.

For a reminder of the early period and of Malcolm Owen, here is that Paris Theatre concert from July 7, 1979. Crank it up.

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