All Skrewed Up
An Examination of Skrewdriver’s Earliest Release
All Skrewed Up has endured. Skrewdriver, the reviled oi of RAC ilk, are no more. The inventor and sole member, Ian Stuart Donaldson, died in a car crash in 1993. Ideally, you won’t find White Rider in a friend’s record collection, but you may find All Skrewed Up. I’ve always wondered why.
Simply, “it’s not racist” is a likely answer to our question.
It’s a common answer, and too often a flawed one. We’re listening to waves of one-to-five minutes of hateful sentiments. Scrutinize the artwork, the lyrics; Discogs the label and the other artists they’ve released; ask your friends about whatever gossip they heard about that band – it’s an ordeal. Fortunately, Skrewdriver provide clarity.
1977’s All Skrewed Up lies on an ideological fault. The album was released prior to Skrewdriver’s restart in 1983. Gone was the blokish candor and punk costume, traded in for unmistakable boots and braces done up in monochrome, leering like thugs.
Their hit, “I Don’t Like You,” from the debut was re-contextualized on the their single Back With A Bang (1982) preceding their thesis and single, White Power (1983). Early antagonism had a new motive.
All Skrewed Up hasn’t been duffed because it’s an “alright” record, just short of solid, poised between early punk and the sparks of oi. And yet, one thinks after All Skrewed Up’s twenty-six minutes that its significance is thanks to the group’s future, rather than any outstanding quality. It’s bought for shock.
Skrewdriver was Chiswick Records’s ploy to meet the growing skinhead phenomenon of Sham 69 and Angelic Upstarts. The label chose a couple of lads from the ancient Poulton-le-Fylde now granted free entrance to the Roxy in exchange for agro ditties. The label named them too.
The Chiswick boys opened for Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Damned, even Motörhead. Stuart fondly recalled a drink with each as he did so often in interviews.
Then they came to a flashpoint: politics. Skrewdriver wasn’t political (Stuart describes having never seen a black person until moving to London). Their friends were political. But the band hadn’t thought to move into that territory, not yet.
The issue was that gigs were turning into riots between whites-only National Front and the leftist, even red, skins. Bands were being asked to take a stance. Sham 69 turned against the National Front. Chiswick asked Skrewdriver the question and Skrewdriver turned from Sham 69 to the ultra-nationalism. They were soon dropped from the label.
There is a photographic shift in Stuart’s expression from cheeky snarl to resigned pride. His physiognomy retains violence throughout: the frenzy of his eyes.
The punkier origin of Skrewdriver depicts Stuart cocky. His head is tilted back despite the rest of the unit’s morbid gaze.
Stuart has flare. His shirt reads “1977” and “Skrewdriver” down the bottom line. He is the one in light.
Then they go close-cropped at the behest of Chiswick Records but one still dresses like a ted, recalling Combat 84’s “Poseur”:
You was a punk in ‘77
And you was a skin in ‘78
You tried mod but you were too late
Changing, changing all the time.
For Stuart, sartorially, here it stayed, if not for the coda-like biker phase for the “Built Up Knocked Down EP.”
On All Skrewed Up, the band is a bunch of brute wankers shaved and ill fit against a neon green background (the record came in yellow, pink, and orange). Ten years later, one might have mistaken All Skrewed Up for a Happy Mondays album.
Moreover, the members look uncomfortable against Stuart, a burl in the punk cloth. He is the one that “made it,” while the others receded into nine-to-fives, even a Radio One Breakfast Club DJ.
In a press photo, he is almost shunted aside by the new guitarist, “Dirty Doug,” who barks at the camera, but Stuart placates with a snarl.
Rock’s foppishness enters the songs. Stuart croons on about stardom and his disdain for normalcy, its inherent violence cleansed by rock music. His bluesy hollering owes a lot to Mick Jagger and, generally, the blues.
“Where’s It Gonna End” is hushed. Stuart’s growl is submerged. The weight of the melody is placed on the acoustic guitar rather than the electric standing back in the mix. The introduction celebrates the concert. Rock music. All else is waste.
They roar back in that restrained ’77 manner that is more pop than punk with tinseled gristle. “Back Street Kids” acknowledges those despairing and destitute. It is the futureless existence, that is, the repetition of the urban humdrum and the catalyst for writing rock music.
Stuart repeats these themes ad nauseam.
The hit “I Don’t Like You” putters about placing targets on the masses and the faceless “boss.” It’s staying power credited to the count-off, “1-2-3-4; I don’t like you.”
It’s counterpart, “An-ti-so-cal,” enlightens the image of barbarian Stuart acting up Tim Roth in the TV special, Made in Britain, though retaining a bit more fuzz on top, “I ain’t gonna cut my hair; Gonna wear boots a short-haired crop.” There is no interest in betterment for the skinhead. Once the aesthetic is bought, the symbol of class, the aim is to maintain that inherent character. All else pales and the rest is filler.
There is the odd conclusion – the cover of The Who’s “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” but the rest is okay punk. Skrewdriver was signed to cash in on a niche and the violence of those early gigs.
England had bigger fish to fry, and that is no pun. You can imagine today that Skrewdriver was just another punk band entering the fray as the first wave wound down. They’d have been forgotten as soon as Chiswick dropped them.
Stuart as politico was as any National Front braggart with enough talent to write a song. The questions posed to him in interviews are a recital of tired rhetoric. He was a man caught up in the times and his convictions were based on what was comfortable. The violence that came when Skrewdriver returned was just another aspect of the skinhead’s lifestyle, except for American fans it was removed and across the pond.
I was biking in New Orleans and noticed a news crew alongside a statue of Jefferson Davis that had been tagged: WHITE PRIDE. America is grappling with racism many thought was long gone. Stuart played in The Klansmen, having released Fetch the Rope and Rebel With A Cause, fetishizing this past some call “heritage.” It’s the violence at sleep on All Skrewed Up, conceived by a man swayed by some notion of a white tradition. Racism is not confined by geography, and the racist uses all racism to justify his belief.
All Skrewed Up is notable for what it precedes – a career of hate. For an American audience willing to delve past an incendiary item, there is the Ku Klux Klan and the Stuart’s rockabilly side-project, The Klansmen. The trend hopper, poseur – be careful, for what you give credence to may be something you fear.
 The company is a subsidiary of the British Ace Records, a label famous for its reissuing, whose Cheswick is still reissuing All Skrewed Up.