Album review: Ork Records - the ground zero of indie rock

Various artists - Ork Records: New York, New York (Numero)

Alex Chilton photographed in The Bowery, southern Manhattan, in the late 1970s.

Alex Chilton photographed in The Bowery, southern Manhattan, in the late 1970s.

HOW TELEVISION ever were considered punk is bewildering, given they loved unleashing epic guitar solos, prided themselves on their technical prowess on the instrument, and thought nothing of stretching songs into 10 and 14 minute territory.

All this was, and remains, anathema to punk - or rather to British punk. Television was an American band, more specifically a New York band, and New York in the mid 1970s, where punk originated, had none of the orthodoxies, restrictions, or pretentions of British punk (ie, "No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones in 1977!" declared Beatles fanatic Joe Strummer ). Hence Television's debut single, 'Little Johnny Jewel' is a seven minute guitar workout, looser and more wayward than the tighter, more focused songs on their landmark Marquee Moon album, but the above mentioned qualities are all present.

The single was released via Ork Records in 1975, an independent (note, two years ahead of the official date for the first independent release, the Buzzcocks's Spiral Scratch EP ), founded by Television's manager Terry Ork. It would be the start of a five year enterprise, along with Charles Ball, that would see singles from NY punk legends like Richard Hell (included here is an early version of 'Blank Generation', with an extra verse - an essential song just became more essential ), and Television's Richard Lloyd, solo releases from Big Star's Alex Chilton and music critic Lester Bangs, and songs by obscure bands now deservedly resurrected through Ork Records: New York, New York, a 49-track compilation from the excellent Numero label.

What comes across so clearly is that New York punk was a broad church, welcoming all styles and approaches, from raw r'n'b to garage to left-field pop to funk - the only stricture was artistic, rather than commercial, considerations, be given preference. New York punk was never afraid to look back, and unlike British punk was honest about the debt it owed to the Rolling Stones - check Richard Lloyd's energetic take on 'Get Off My Cloud' and Mick Farren's ominous rereading of 'Play With Fire', while Link Cromwell's insanely catchy r'n'b number 'Rock Me' would not sound out of place on an early Stones' album.

More important was how visionary New York punk was, how much of the music on this compilation anticipates 1980s indie and indeed how much of it still sounds contemporary. Alex Chilton's solo sides continue where Big Star's Radio City and Third/Sister Lovers left off, and showcases qualities still important to indie today - melody, power with delicacy, melacholy; The Student Teachers' 'Channel 13' is one of the great keyboard driven post-punk pop numbers that deserves to be played in every indie club going; and Chris Stamey's 'The Summer Sun' - musically and lyrically - is indie pop par excellence, before there was even such a thing as indie-pop.

There are some delightful curios - Prix come across as the greatest Big Star tribute band ever, while The Erasers' lead singer does the best Patti Smith impersonation going. Above all though, while Ork Records may be nominally punk, this compilation is an essential, compelling, history of the first shot across the bows of what would become indie - and what rich entertainment it is.

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