Warsaw Pakt & Needle Time!: 1970’s Punk’s Best Kept Secret

Not Cold War - but Cool Punk?
April 10, 2023

In 1977, a small Punk Rock band named Warsaw had begun to gain a following in the Salford area. Featuring members Ian Curtis, Peter Hook, Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, they recorded their debut EP An Ideal For Living in December and would self-release it the following year. Before then, however, they discovered that there was a fellow punk band down in London named Warsaw Pakt that had been building up their own following, so to avoid confusion Warsaw rechristened themselves Joy Division, and would go on to help innovate a new and developing subgenre known as Post Punk.

But what became of Warsaw Pakt, the band that made Joy Division decide to rebrand themselves? As it turns out they had an interesting story of their own, and its one that is not nearly as well-known as their Post Punk contemporaries.

Formed in 1975 as a Rhythm & Blues inspired group named The Rockets, the group went through numerous line-up changes over the following two years as their R&B roots steadily shifted towards a punk sound that was gaining popularity across the UK at the time. The line-up they eventually settled on featured Jimmy Coull on vocals, Andy Colquhoun on lead guitar, John Walker on rhythm guitar, Chris Underhill on Bass and Lucas Fox on drums.

After building up a following throughout 1976 and early 77, Warsaw Pakt was eventually able to score a record deal with Island Records, continuing the 70s punk tradition of bands getting signed to major labels in the hopes of getting some notoriety like the Sex Pistols. A single quickly hit the stands in October, featuring the songs “Safe & Warm” and “Sick &Tired.”

By now the band’s setlist consisted of a number of original songs that Colquhoun had written with famed journalist Mick Farren, as well as some songs written by Frank Day, back when he had been The Rockets’ manager. The Day tracks, originally written to fit the band’s former R&B style, were given updated grittier lyrics by Colquhoun to reflect their new sound after Day left.

Meanwhile, Island Records were eager to get a record out by the band as soon as possible to capitalise on Punk Rock’s growing prominence as the Pistols and numerous other bands dominated the UK charts, and it was around this time that it seems an idea was formed; to record, press and sell the album in as short a time as possible. Such quick turnarounds were not unheard of; indeed, John Lennon’s 1970 single “Instant Karma” had been written, recorded and released in a three-day timespan.

Though the origin of the plan seems unclear, it was quickly set in motion, and at 10pm on November 26th, 1977, the band stepped into London’s Trident Studios to record their debut album, which was to be called Needle Time!. Both the A and B side of the album would each be recorded in a continuous take, to ensure the recording process was as streamlined as possible. To save time and achieve a better sound for the record, the band skipped recording to tape and cut the album directly onto the cutting lathe that would be used to produce the vinyl records themselves. Around two hours later, they were done, having finished their album in record time.

As the insert included with original copies of the album illustrate, around midnight the cutting lathe was rushed to a factory in Leicester where over the next several hours a stamper was grown to press the records that would go out to the public. By 8am it was ready, and the stamper was then rushed to West Drayton where the records were pressed. Rather than having a proper album cover, the vinyl records were instead packaged in a plain brown paper bag with a number of ink stamps and stickers slapped on the front displaying the band’s logo and likenesses.

Once the vinyl had cooled and was packaged in the sleeves, distribution was started and by 7pm, barely 21 hours since the band had begun recording the album, Needle Time! was on store shelves and the band were out signing copies, achieving perhaps one of the quickest album release turnarounds in the era of pre-digital recording equipment, long before the advent of CDs and the internet were able to shorten the gap even more.

The finished Needle Time! was a tight and infectious 32-minute piece of Punk Rock that rivalled many of their contemporaries in energy. Recording to the cutting lathe had succeeded in giving the record an excellent clarity and sound quality that barely hinted at the great rush the record had been recorded in.

The songs themselves were certainly not an unworthy affair either. Starting with a respectable rendition of The Who song “It’s Not True,” the group tear through thirteen originals at great speed. “Even Money” for example, was a song about wanting to get with a woman, though the lyrics had been changed from the Frank Day original, so it was the woman now giving the “even money” to spend time with the narrator instead of the inverse. Elsewhere, the song “Cut Glass Jaw” paints a picture of a down-on-his-luck boxer in the throes of alcoholism.

An odd detail about the original 1977 pressing of the album is that the labels and paper insert that list the tracks describe the record as being 12 songs long and including the song “Safe & Warm” when in fact the album was 14 songs long and didn’t include “Safe & Warm” at all. A likely reason is that the group changed their planned session setlist after both the labels and inserts were printed in advance, and it was too late to have them updated before recording and pressing began. What little reissues the album has received in the years since would fix this problem and provide a correct list of tracks.

Inaccuracies aside, the album was in stores, and with a solid publicity stunt such as this the band’s fortunes seemed to be on the up and up.

But, as it turned out, it wouldn’t quite work out so well. After the initial roughly 5000 pressing run of Needle Time! sold out, Island Records inexplicably refused to press any more. Whether they wanted to preserve the collectability of the first pressings or just didn’t believe it was financially viable isn’t clear, but almost immediately after being released the album was out of print and the band were unable to properly promote it. It would remain unavailable for many years.

To make matters worse, their live gigs began to dry up as their manager started to cancel bookings. Warsaw Pakt was able to just about limp on for a few more months but by the new year the writing was on the wall and in March 1978 they had broken up, not even four months after releasing their debut album. A cassette of recording outtakes from the Needle Time! sessions entitled See You In Court! would surface in 1979, but that was about it for the band from them on.

The album would remain obscure in the years since, whilst many of the band members went on to new projects. Colquhoun would provide bass on Mick Farren’s second album Vampires Stole My Lunch Money and would continue to play in Farren’s band The Deviants, whilst Fox, previously of Motörhead before Warsaw Pakt snapped him up, would sustain a solid career as a drummer in the following years. Such fortunes sadly did not appear to rhythm guitarist John Walker, who would pass away from suicide in the early-1980s.

However, it seems that Needle Time! may yet be reappraised as it deserves. After remaining out of print for over 40 years save for a couple of independent reissues on CD through labels like Captain Trip and Gonzo Multimedia, the album finally entered the digital age proper with a fully-fledged vinyl reissue through Munster Records in 2020, accompanied by the album’s official arrival on streaming services. The sound is great, as clear and punchy as ever, and as a special bonus the rare “Safe & Warm” single was included as a bonus on both the digital version and as a 7” single with the vinyl repressing.

Not since its original repressing has Needle Time! been so accessible, and even though two of the band members are no longer with us, with lead singer Jimmy Coull having also passed away in 2018, it seems like it might finally be time for Warsaw Pakt’s recorded works to get the reassessment that it’s long overdue for and join the pantheon of great Punk Rock acts from the original 1977 explosion.

Copies of both the vinyl reissue and a digital download of NeedleTime! in both MP3 and WAV can be bought from Munster Records’ Bandcamp, as well as on many major streaming services: