Retro Action 26: Vice Squad Box Set

Picture the scene—it’s 1976. U.K. punk is brand-new, and bands like the Sex Pistols, The Damned, and The Clash are causing a serious stir. But within a few months, dozens—if not hundreds—of also rans and copy cats begin littering the scene.

You’ve seen it happen in every genre; what starts out pure and ground-breaking eventually becomes watered down when the movement gets overrun and over-exposed. Such was punk’s dilemma–too many bands with too little distinction to stand out in any meaningful way. 

Then, with such high standards set by the first wave of U.K. punk, including the aforementioned Pistols, Clash, Damned, along with The Adverts, Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, The Boys, Wire, The Stranglers, The Undertones, and the Adicts, the second wave paled in comparison and was overfilled with even a larger gaggle of less distinctive offshoots and ultimate ne’er-do-wells.

What could a new band do to stand out? Welp, for one, they could start by drafting a scrappy, teenage frontwoman with the surname of “Bondage” into the lineup.

And such were the humble beginnings of the U.K.’s Vice Squad. Formed in 1979, the group was fronted by the inimitable Beki Bondage, a scrappy, foul-mouthed little minx with mammoth pipes and attitude for days. The band was filled out by Dave Bateman on guitar, Mark Hambly on bass, and Shane Baldwin on drums.

Lacking the subtlety and arthouse pretension of the post-punk sound beginning to emerge during the time, Vice Squad were a loud, fast and raucous affair with big, dumb chain-gang choruses generally accompanied by Bondage’s street poetry.

The sound worked a charm, especially on the band’s early single “Last Rockers” released on the now iconic label Riot City Records, which became a pseudo-hit in the U.K., selling 20,000 copies and staying on the charts for several months.

Beki Bondage 1979

With the success of the single, the band were snatched up by major label EMI and eventually released their debut LP,  No Cause For Concern (1981). The album would do fairly well, charting at #32, even though the band would draw some criticism from diehards for being on a major label.

Second album Stand Strong Stand Proud (1982) did well to further the cause, but didn’t sell quite as well (still high for a punk LP at #47). After a North American tour, Beki would leave Vice Squad and go on to front the ultimately failed power pop combo Ligotage, do some solo singles, and then lead Beki and the Bombshells—obviously looking to capitalize on her notoriety as a tough sex symbol of sorts.

Her mid-’80s output would follow a much more hard pop direction, which, although far different than her early output, is pretty solid musically, showing off her knack for big hooks and melodies.

Meanwhile, Vice Squad would carry on with new singer “Lia,” recording just one more studio album, Shot Away. Another solid effort by all accounts, the band was just not the same without Beki in tow. 

Vice Squad’s recorded output has recently been meticulously collected by U.K. reissue aces Cherry Red Records. This compact-but-killer set includes 73 tracks in total and has all three studio albums complete with bonus tracks, plus a fourth disc, Odds N Squads, featuring a bevy of rarities.

Rounding out the set is fifth disc, Live and Loud, with a set culled from the band’s 1982 US tour. It all comes neat and tidy in a clamshell case with a svelte little booklet. 

Beki Bondage has since been fronting a new version of Vice Squad for the past several years and has been a fixture at major punk festivals across Europe. Her impact on the still-fairly-early punk scene was immense, and you’d do well to nab this limited set while it’s still available.

For questions, comments, or something you’d like to see, drop me a note at Cheers!

-Jim Kaz

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