The Prefects are Amateur Wankers is the latest release from Acute Records, one of a growing number of boutique labels intent on finding and re-releasing lost artifacts from rock’s recent history. This brief collection doesn’t give much evidence as to whether or not the players actually were wankers, but it proves they were amateurs, and gloriously so. In fact, Acute’s theory is that these four hapless chaps from Birmingham inadvertently helped create and define what became known as post-punk, not out of any pre-conceived aesthetic choices but, more refreshingly, simply because of their ineptitude at playing their era’s punk rock.
The band formed in early 1977 as one of countless acts inspired by seeing the Sex Pistols’ legendary “Anarchy in the U.K.” tour. Fortunately for the Prefects, singer Robert Lloyd was well connected with some bookers. At their fifth gig, the band found itself opening for the Clash when the “White Riot” tour went through London. Despite the increased exposure, they were unable to ever secure a record deal. Within three or so years, the quartet broke up, but the members reinvented themselves later as the Nightingales and gained some critical acclaim and a little popularity.
With fittingly poor timing, Rough Trade telegrammed the band after they’d split, but it led to the band’s sole release until now, a two-song single with “Going Through the Motions” and “Things in General.” Apparently, those tracks, taken from two radio sessions, which are included in their entirety on Acute’s release, and a couple of live tracks comprise the band’s entire ten-song output.
The collection’s standout track is the ten-plus-minute, ominous “Bristol Road Leads to Dachau.” Quivering and unusually serious, Lloyd weaves a tale of a pub bombing with references to Hitler and concentration camps. Coupled with guitarist Alan Apperly’s prototypical scratch-y guitar and tribal drumming, the result is powerful and unsettling, sounding not unlike Killing Joke from the same period. “Going Through the Motions” achieves the same effect, and the endless and ultimately annoying repetition of the title becomes a joke unto itself (the band’s admission that the song was written solely to antagonize their audience says much about their legacy as self-proclaimed “true arseholes”).
So perhaps the evidence is there: not only were the Prefects amateurs, they actually were honest-to goodness wankers, too (an insult, by the way, bestowed upon them by Bernie Rhodes, manager of the Clash and Subway Sect, after a particularly ramshackle performance). They also rapidly accelerated from being garden-variety punks to being a band that experimented with sounds, structure and influence. They were a band that, like so many others, suffered in total obscurity for nearly thirty years. This historically important document is commendable in all respects. And maybe, just maybe, the Prefects might get some respect for once, too.