RIP Malcolm Owen – Vocalist of UK Punk Band The Ruts

Malcolm Owen born under the Sagittarian sun on 12 December 1953 sadly only enjoyed 26 full revolutions of our nearest star leaving this earthly realm during his 27th year on 14 July 1980.

In 2010 John Robb penned an excellent article on Quietus  https://thequietus.com/articles/04432-the-ruts-malcolm-owen-30-year-anniversary covering Owen’s tragic exit and explaining why he thought Malcolm Owen was one of punk-rock’s great forgotten figures.

Owen and Fox

I first heard The Ruts and Owen’s more guttural than dulcet tones on the John Peel show soon after the release of their debut single ‘In A Rut’ in January 1979. The song was slower, more brooding and more intense than the rest of great punk explosion of the time. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was but there was always something unsettling and different about it.

That summer saw the band’s follow up singles Babylon’s Burning and Something That I Said reach 7 and 29 in the UK charts. More importantly these respectable ratings dictated that Thursday evening’s Top of The Pops was obliged to allow the watching British youth to witness the magical sound as flesh. We were not disappointed The Ruts (and particularly the charismatic Owen) looked as good as they sounded and like certain other bands of the time (UK Subs, Angelic Upstarts) it felt to me like they meant it.

Robb states that The Ruts have had a long lasting, if unrecognised, influence that has stretched through the decades and this rings true as I jog around Stanley Park listening to the hooks and melodies which made their debut album such a standout record. The musicianship was never in doubt and I appreciate it even more today than I did as an angsty 14 year old. The superb rhythm section of Segs and Ruffy underneath Paul Fox’s effortless guitar work combines to ensure every verse and chorus is distinct.

My weekly run comes to an end, I prop up my increasingly out of shape frame exhaling profusely wondering why I subject myself to such torture. That said as I regain my breath I reason that it’s not torture at all, in fact it’s probably what I’ve heard referred to as ‘a good hurt’.  The final track ‘Human Punk’ plays itself out on my headphones …. maybe that ‘something different about it’ that I never understood is the raw emotion in Malcolm Owen’s vocals, listening to them nostalgically now over 40 years on also feels not only like a ‘good’ but also a ‘meaningful and energising hurt’.

In 2015 the book ‘Love in Vain the story of the Ruts & Ruts DC’ has a foreword by Henry Rollins in which he concludes  ‘We have the music. That means the music is all well. Act on that. Keep this music going into the future. Turning someone else onto these great songs might be the best thing you do in a day – so do it often’.

Over the past week I’ve been putting together the Rebellion 2020 CD of new bands which would have been playing the Introducing Stage in Blackpool this August. I asked all the 51 featured bands to name three key influences, sadly none mentioned The Ruts.

At Rebellion 2021 I might heed Rollins’s words like a proud grandfather ….. and whilst pointing lovingly to my Ruts tattoo, check if these young whippersnappers understand what this red triangle and four black letters means – if not I will take pleasure in setting them lashings of punk rock homework in the shape of listening to this great band’s great music xxx

10 thoughts on “RIP Malcolm Owen – Vocalist of UK Punk Band The Ruts”

  1. Totally agree how underrated they were. The Crack is a seminal ‘punk’ album that demonstrated what they could do. The snippets that followed later in songs like West One showed how the songwriting was maturing and kept them at arms length from the Oi stuff going on at the time. Sadly missed.

  2. Alan Gallagher

    Really Good article Andy. Keep preaching to the less informed pal. (the Whipper Snappers and me 😊)

  3. I’ve remembered Malcolm and raised a glass to him many times over the years and have The Ruts on as I write. I love this music deeply; at 56yrs old (oh no!) it’s been with me a very long time but I haven’t really said it before by these means. We mustn’t lose this energy, especially not because of the current situation. For Malcolm and the band to have created this music at such an early age and for people to still be listening after all these years makes it very significant artistry. Bands like this have shaped lives and attitudes. Barrie Masters left us last October, a true gent who I met many times and who carried on as long as he could but also left us too soon at 63. I hope somehow that younger people might take up this type of music but I’m thankful that I was very lucky to have been there, as Wilko said, “in the wonderful ’70’s”.
    I do wish Mr Cowell a speedy recovery from his mishap but hope he might now consider a complete withdrawal from “music”… perhaps a bit like allowing fishing grounds to recover… Cheers !

    1. Echo your sentiments wholeheartedly Mick. Your words ‘loving it deeply’ resonates so much as it stirs something deep inside – I get a bit tearful even when I think about some of these songs ….

      Also agree re Barry – he was a good bloke – was fortunate enough to chat with him when supporting Eddie and The Hot Rods playing with SICK56 and Litterbug quite a few years ago. We had a big debate about one of his band’s releases which I bought mail order via NME – the then band members thought I was mistaken as they had never heard of the release but good old Barry put them straight.

      For me the band’s debut album is a classic xxx

  4. ‘Staring at the Rudeboys’ has so much ‘attitude’ and really paints a picture of the late 70s. The way Owen pronounces words with his London twang ‘crowd’ and ‘loud’ etc makes the song iconic. So many lead singer have died of H and the world as robbed a true legend when Owen popped his clogs. John Peel knew his stuff and I regularly listen to his YT tape.

  5. Hi Just read this and it’s a Great Read.I realise it was posted over a year ago.
    Like you I loved the Ruts back then with ‘the crack ‘ and ‘grin and bear it’
    I was lucky enough to see them at Cambridge corn exchange in 1980 a few months or so before Malcolm passed on.
    They have always remained a big influence on me as their Rock/Reggae crossover always appealed to me as it was different.
    My Band KilltheColossi have covered the mighty song ‘jah war’ a few times in our set.
    Cheers let’s hope Rebellion ‘2021 goes ahead

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