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The Prefects - The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers

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Artist: The Prefects

Album: The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers

Label: Acute

Review date: Jan. 31, 2005

Let me suggest two ways of viewing this career-spanning compilation of the Prefects’ entire recorded output. First, as an exhaustive history of the work of an innovative band, one that worked alongside the likes of Magazine, Wire, and Joy Division, but one that for one reason or another was subsequently overlooked by history. Second, as a document of the vibrancy of the punk and post-punk years in the UK, where bands like the Prefects formed through the classified ads, toured with future legends, and made their way onto the radio despite having little musical aptitude. The liner notes to the album suggest both views, and each is correct in its own way. As the title – lifted from a description of the band by Subway Sect’s manager, Bernie Rhodes – suggests, amateurism pretty much was the Prefects’ contribution, even as they moved beyond three-chords-and-the-truth to become one of the first bands to explore moodier and more understated post-punk songwriting styles.

The Prefects formed in Birmingham in 1976, shortly after brothers Alan and Paul Apperly saw the Sex Pistols perform and put an ad in the Birmingham Daily Mail looking for bandmates. PJ Royston and Robert Lloyd, friends from school, answered the ad and made the band. (They were chosen over Nikki Sudden, among others.) The band then went through several line-ups during the next three years, played a number of shows in London and Manchester with the Clash, the Jam, the Buzzcocks, and others, and broke up in 1980. While several members of the Prefects later formed the Nightingales, who recorded on Rough Trade in the early ’80s, their work was pretty much forgotten, at least until this reissue.

The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers isn’t a true reissue, though, because most of the material on it was never issued in the first place. The Prefects released only one single, “Going Through the Motions,” and even that didn’t hit the market until after the band broke up. Eight of the songs on here come from two radio sessions, one in 1978, the other a year later; one song, “625 Lines,” was recorded on the last night of Manchester’s Electric Circus, and was supposed to be included on a commemorative album of the concert until the band refused to have it released; and a final song, “VD,” a mere 10 seconds long, recorded at a reunion concert in 2001. So, as far as everyone knows, this is the Prefects’ entire recording history.

While they’re certainly not mutually exclusive, I’m partial to the view that The Prefects Are Amateur Wankers finally gives the band a long-overdue acknowledgement. “Things in General” and “Escort Girls” stack up against anything that the Jam or the Sex Pistols released, while more complicated pieces like “Going Through the Motions” and the marathon “Bristol Road Leads to Dachau” were early examples of the fully-formed style that art punks would develop throughout the early 1980s. Despite their amateurism – maybe even because of it – the Prefects still did work worth remembering. Acute’s invaluable reissue series has made that possible for one more band.

By Tom Zimpleman

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