A favourite of the late great John Peel, The Ruts emerged from Southall, a heavily Asian-populated west London suburb.
Their anti-racist stance fused punk and reggae with street politics, as in their biggest hit – 1979’s anthemic Babylon’s Burning. But it was the angst-ridden, dub-tinged experimentalism of tracks like In A Rut that set them apart from the emerging Mohican brigade.
Sadly, what could have been a Clash-style success story for these west London punks was cut short on 14 July 1980 when singer Malcolm Owen drowned in the bathtub at his parents’ house in Hayes, Middlesex, following a heroin overdose. He was just 24.
Grin & Bear It was released posthumously, rushed out by Virgin and regarded at the time as a rag-bag of singles, B-sides, session and live tracks. In retrospect, the album stands up as the strongest Ruts compilation.
The remaining band members (guitarist Paul Fox, bassist ‘Segs’ Jennings and drummer Dave Ruffy) re-emerged as Ruts DC – short for da capo, meaning ‘back to the beginning’.
They recorded the progressive post-punk album, Animal Now, with vocals shared between them, but, following its release in May 1981, in the middle of a European tour, Virgin pulled their support for the band, leaving the group in unimaginable debt.
Under such drastic conditions, Ruts DC cut 1982’s Rhythm Collision Vol. 1, a heroically upbeat Afro-reggae affair, with South London dub master Mad Professor. They called it a day shortly thereafter.
Fox, Ruffy and Segs left their grief and grievances simmering malevolently in the back of their minds for 25 years, until Fox’s diagnosis with terminal lung cancer prompted a one-off Ruts reunion, with Henry Rollins standing in for Malcolm Owen, at Islington Academy in July 2007.
Fox passed away three months later.
Segs worked with Joe Strummer, The Chemical Brothers and Alabama 3, while Ruffy toured with Aztec Camera, The Waterboys and Dexys Midnight Runners. The pair (who are married to twin sisters) eventually reunited and resumed live work as Ruts DC, with Segs moving to centre stage.
John ‘Segs’ Jennings