by Eric Baylies
The Proletariat were one of the best Boston bands of the early ’80s. After just two incredible albums and some songs on the legendary This Is Boston Not L.A. compilation album (with the likes of Gang Green, The FU’s, Jerry’s Kids, and The Freeze) the band ceased to exist. Finally after over thirty years they are coming back to play Boston and Providence. Lumped in with the hardcore and punk movements of the time, partly due to their politically charged lyrics, the band was always a little more like Wire or Gang of Four than Black Flag. I was very fortunate to speak with lead singer Richard Brown and to be able to share that with you now.
Noise: Tell me a little about the early days.
Richard: The band started in 1980 as a three-piece with Peter Bevilacqua on bass, Frank Michaels on guitar and me on vocals and snare drum. While the stand up/ snare drum was successful for the Stray Cats it never left the garage for us. We found Tommy (McKnight) our drummer through Peter’s cousin. We played a few shows in the Fall River/ New Bedford/ Taunton area in 1981 and pretty much managed to shock and offend most of the audiences. Later in 81 we lucked into an opening slot for Black Flag at a club called Simon’s in Pawtucket. (Simons pretty much filled the void in the Providence/Pawtucket area while the Living Room was between homes) which led to a summer of shows opening for Circle Jerks, Dead Boys, Mission of Burma, and Johnny Thunders.
Noise: I know you that one piece of the puzzle is missing, but tell me who will be playing the upcoming shows.
Richard: The line up for the reunion shows will be Peter, Tommy and I along with new guitarist Don Sanders (Idle Rich/ Medicine Ball). Frank won’t taking part in the shows, but has given us his blessing and offered to help Don if there are any questions at all. The reunion shows are being done in conjunction with the reissue of our debut LP Soma Holiday on Ss Records. We had talked about a reunion show(s) a few years back to coincide with the release of the All-Ages HC movie, but it never came to be. In addition, with the advent of social media, I don’t think a month has gone by that someone hasn’t sent me a request or message and told me how well the lyrics/ songs have held up and how they are possibly even more relevant today than they were then. I guess all the horrible things we railed against are still around.
Noise: Speaking of which, I hate to say, but you were prophets of disaster in this insane political season. Will there be any new topical songs?
Richard: I am not sure at this point if there will be any new releases in the immediate future, hopefully but we have been working on some new material and perhaps it can blend seamlessly into the set and not seem too, I don’t know, different.
Noise: Is this a one off thing or will the band continue to write and play music?
Richard: We are playing it by ear, right now. Currently Tommy is living in California and flying back in for the shows and some heavy rehearsing over the course of the next few months. If we can figure out the logistics it would be great to soldier on.
Noise: It seems like everyone has had a relatively low profile for a long time. What has everyone been up to all these years?
Richard: Like I said Tommy is in California, I live in Rhode Island and work for the Postal Service, Peter lives in Massachusetts and works for Shaw’s and Don has been in Medicine Ball of late, really the only to be/have been active in a band in the last decade.
Noise: I know a few of you were in Churn briefly. Tell me about that.
Richard: Churn was around for a year or so. We did a bunch of shows and only played Proletariat songs for encores. The sound was similar to The Proletariat, but was, dare I say, a bit poppy by our standards. We recorded a 6-song EP “Heated Coupling in the Sun” (yes it is from where you would suspect). Churn were not a political band and I think in that way they/we were a totally separate entity.
Noise: Tell me about that movie. Somehow I missed that.
Richard: Around 2013 Drew Stone made Boston All-Ages Hardcore movie–featuring music, videos and interviews with people from the early/mid ’80s scene. Katie the Kleening Lady was involved heavily in it as were most of the HC bands of that time, except us. A few people involved “apologized” for the omission, but it left a bad taste in our mouths and our exclusion was one of the main reasons we didn’t do any reunion shows at the events that were tied in with the films release.
Noise: How about making a movie just about the Proletariat?
Richard: We had thought about filming the shows, but more for our own purposes. As far as I know the only footage of us from the ’80s is two songs recorded at The Channel for a documentary about violence and non-violence in the punk community. We hadn’t considered a documentary – but you may have planted a seed.
Noise: I love the Seeds! But anyway, tell a little about the new music.
Richard: So far the new material (which at this point is in its infancy) does not directly address a potential Trump presidency but rather takes it’s cue from the hate, violence and prejudice that have turned us against each other. The ever widening gap between the rich and the poor–and the insane concept that somehow poverty is a choice.
Noise: Do you remember when the last Proletariat shows were?
Richard: The last Proletariat show with the original line-up was June 30, 1984, at Chet’s with Sorry and Volcano Suns… Peter and Frank carried on and did two shows with Laurel Bowman on vocals and Steve Welsh on drums and they played two shows on the same day at the Living Room.
Noise: Why Now? Is the world ready for The Proletariat?
Richard: Over the past 10 years or so Peter has openly campaigned for some reunion shows. Frank has always been reluctant to do some because he has a super demanding work schedule. We entertained reuniting again about 5 years ago when the Boston All-Ages HC movie came out–the show would have been in conjunction with the film’s debut, but we couldn’t put it together. This time the shows are in conjunction with the vinyl reissue of Soma Holiday on Scott Soriano’s Ss Records. The fact that the world seems to be teetering on the brink of destruction is an eerie happenstance.
Noise: will there be some more shows after the first two, or possibly a tour?
Richard: Based on the reaction after announcing the few shows that we have planned/confirmed–I would certainly hope so. I think I’ve had people in 15-20 different cities offer to book shows for us and put us IF we were ever able to string together a full tour.
Noise: Thank you so much for the great music and being one of my earliest influences.
Be sure to catch The Proletariat on November 3 at Once Ballroom in Somerville and November 4 at The Met Cafe in Pawtucket.