Singer Jonathan Jamrag: “He left this big goodbye note written in big black marker saying, ‘Proud Scum, you’ll be brought low soon, your name maketh it. If I saw you lying in the gutter I’d shit on you and walk on by.’ ”
“We thought ‘what a brilliant name’ and adopted it. If anything bad happened, it always got put towards Reuben and he became like a legend. I wrote this song, ‘Reuben’s Coming Back’ – ‘He’s got his boots on ... ’ – to feed the legend.”
Jonathan Jamrag, former frontman for Auckland punks Rooter, had recently returned to Auckland and formed Proud Scum with Al Rabbit (Duguid) and John Atrocity (Jenkins), both formerly of The Atrocities, and new drummer Bruce Diode (Hoffman), the younger brother of The Terrorways’ Pete Mesmer.
The furious foursome’s first shows were in the city’s punk heart at Zwines in mid-May: two nights with The Spelling Mistakes, followed by a weekend with The Terrorways and Fire Engines, a reggae group formed by The Masochists’ Spike Bastard and Jimmy Sex. Then it was on to HQ Rock Cafe in Upper Queen Street, a sometimes risky environment, for a week’s residency with The Spelling Mistakes.
Rabbit. “I only ever got attacked once by the boot boys. It was outside the HQ. They were beating some kid. I was pulling them apart and one of the boot boys, Mac, whacked me. I looked at him, said: ‘What’s the matter?’ and he said: ‘Nothing,’ and I said: ‘Okay, then,’ and walked inside. I had a lot of latitude being with the band."
“One time we finished our set to an empty room. It turned out that Twink was downstairs banging some girl up and pushing her through windows. It was brutal and anyone who’d try to stop it, the boot boys were taking care of.”
“We also enjoyed the loyalty of those who came to see us regularly, which included the boot boys. The dynamics were fluid, and it had to come to something the way it was going, and it did. A few guys got jailed, probably for the good, it was building to a crescendo.”
Did the group encourage them? “Kinda. We wore boots and had short hair too.”
Proud Scum entered the recording studio first to tape ‘Suicide’ and ‘I Am A Rabbit’ at Harlequin Studios for the upcoming AK79 Auckland punk compilation. Two of the best tracks on a strong album. Before it was released, Atrocity left the group.
Alastair Rabbit: “John wanted to be more political. He wanted to be The Clash and we wanted to be kinda stupid Ramonesy and Proud Scum always was more Ramonesy than political. We were irreverent. The whole atmosphere was like that. It was more fun that way. We weren’t into the regimented thing.” His replacement was an English Cockney called Sid Rowe (AKA Skid Rowe).
Rabbit: “I don’t know where he came from (it was Hawke’s Bay). He just turned up. I don’t know who knew him. But he was a cool enough guy and he would teach us his rhyming slang.”
In October, they went one better and played on while the Windsor Castle burned.
By mid-year Proud Scum were playing most weekends at the Occidental in Vulcan Lane, the Windsor Castle in Parnell and The Globe. In October, they went one better and played on while the Windsor Castle burned. They were regulars there by then, playing that day with The Superettes – Jed Town and James Pinker’s band before they formed The Features. Town had piled huge drifts of shredded paper on the dance floor and someone couldn’t resist setting the paper alight as Proud Scum played. Jamrag got down on his knees, drinking beer from a puddle on the stage.
It was that last bit that rankled venue owners. Ultimate disrespect and punk high point both. The slow burn set in. Proud Scum weren’t welcome around town. The fallout would precipitate their move to Australia, along with the underage punters and boot boy violence.
Proud Scum saw the new decade in with farewell shows for The Marching Girls (nee The Scavengers) at Liberty Stage in the old Edinburgh Castle at the top of Symonds Street. Rabbit and Jamrag treated the sell-out crowd to one of Proud Scum’s party tricks. Jamrag lifting a still-playing Rabbit onto his shoulders while singing.
Rabbit: “He’d walk to the edge of the stage and lean forward and I’d find myself doing a forward roll onto the dance floor. This time it was Ronnie Recent’s bass and he came storming up to me, and sez: ‘It’s not a toy you know!’ ”
Proud Scum then briefly changed their name to The Beagle Boys for shows at the new Bottom Line club.
They visited Mascot Studios in January 1980 and recorded Jamrag’s ‘Suicide 2’, a song about the departure of John Atrocity, for a Ripper Records single. The producers were former Split Enz and Citizen Band bassist Mike Chunn and 1ZM DJ Bryan Staff, a staunch supporter of Auckland punk.
Rabbit: “'Suicide 2' was a disappointment because we had Mike Chunn and Bryan Staff there and this new studio, but it sounded like it was recorded in a bathtub.” The song emerged in April on a shared single with The Terrorways. Proud Scum then briefly changed their name to The Beagle Boys for shows at the new Bottom Line club on February 5 and 6, 1980.
Jamrag: “We were having difficulty getting work because of the boot boys. So we changed our name to The Beagle Boys and it didn’t really stick, so we changed it back.” The only upside being a neat collection of orange Beagle Boys jumpers with prison numbers on the front.
With Auckland a no-go zone, Proud Scum played two farewell midweek shows on February 13 and 14 at Liberty Stage.
Over the next six months most members of the group drifted to Sydney. Rabbit stayed and played in an early version of Auckland rockabilly group The Wild Matadors before heading overseas himself. In Australia, the Proud Scum rump – Jamrag, Hoffman and Sid – encountered Reuben, who was now with the Sydney skinheads, and regrouped with Vince Pinker on bass for a residency at the Civic Hotel on Saturday afternoons. That was as good as it got. Proud Scum petered out in January 1981.
Proud Scum reformed in January 2008 for Auckland's AK79 reunion shows.
John Atrocity - guitar
Alistair Rabbit - bass
Jonathan Jamrag - vocals
Bruce Hulk - drums
Skid Rowe - guitar
Jonathan Griffiths is a published author. His The Road Behind in 2011 was roughly autobiographical about his days in Proud Scum.
John Atrocity never did jump off Grafton Bridge. Instead he went to London where he joined Rough Trade act The Band Of Holy Joy, with whom he recorded several albums.
'I Am A Rabbit' was covered by US band The Lemonheads in 1986 as the b-side to their single 'Laughing All The Way To The Cleaners'.
In January 2008, Proud Scum edited the Wikipedia entry on Grafton Bridge to reflect the lyrics of their song Suicide 2. It remained up for two months. It read: In January 1980, John Jenkins made history by being the first person to jump off Grafton Bridge and survive. His large ears caught an updraft, and he was blown back onto the bridge. John, a minor personality in Auckland's punk scene, had been depressed for some months, after leaving the band Proud Scum. He said his suicidal tendencies had been encouraged by the band's song "Suicide II", and by his "friend" Warwick Hitler. Apparently John will be making another attempt later this month, in a vain attempt to protest the AK79 revival show.