Skank Bloc Bologna was the first recording put out by Scritti Politti. It was released in November 1978 on their own St. Pancras record label, which was named after a national rail station and area in London, and distributed through Rough Trade. The 7" record contains three songs: "Skank Bloc Bologna" on side A, and "Is and Ought the Western World" and "28.8.78" on side B.
In the spirit of the DIY ethic, the photocopied and rubber-stamped sleeve includes a breakdown of the production costs, including recording, mastering, pressing and labelling. This served to demystify the process of making a record, to show people they could do it themselves, and caused quite a stir at the time. Other details on the sleeve are instructions to "play loud!" and "turn bass right up throughout and treble on 28.8.78." A random scribble on the edge of the sleeve declared the EP a "Socialist Rockers Production." The artwork was done by drummer Tom Morley and features images of the band.
Skank Bloc Bologna was made possible by a loan of £500 from Nial Jink's brother. 2,500 copies were sold in the handmade edition and Rough Trade eventually sold about 15,000 copies, sometimes selling as many as 400-500 copies a week. Skank Bloc Bologna, along with other early Scritti Politti releases, is very difficult if not impossible to find in its original version today. Rough Trade released a compilation in 2003 called Rough Trade Shops: Post Punk 01 that included "Skank Bloc Bologna" and in February 2005, Scritti Politti released Early, a retrospective album which included all of the songs off Skank Bloc Bologna.
Tell her to work at Tesco's
Tell her to stay at school
Tell her what's possible: all day derision
Down at the Bull and Bush
Hopeless in Harrogate
Over and above and she hasn't a clue
Twenty number six and she hasn't an answer
No one wants to listen and there's no one wants to know
Someone's got a question that she doesn't want to see...
...Knocking around at tea time?
Up in her room,
Something she doesn't know - the Skank Bloc Bologna
Keeping us all alive - something in Italy
Stuck around the home and they haven't a clue
Dinner's at six and it isn't an answer
Now, they’ve got a notion and they haven't got a hope
Rockers in the town - the magnificent six
Rockers in the town with an overestimation
Now they've got a notion and they're working on a hope
A Euro-ruled vision and a skank in scope
The lyrics to Skank Bloc Bologna are somewhat ambiguous, but it seems that Skank Bloc Bologna is what the girl in the song dreams of, an idea perhaps, but isn't sure what it is or how to find it. The song appears to suggest that what she is looking for could be found in Italy, and if she succeeds in finding it, she might find a way to break away from the humdrum lifestyle described in the song. As Green Gartside has vehemently disowned all of Scritti Politti's pre-Songs to Remember material, it's difficult to ascertain the exact meaning of the song.
At this stage, Scritti Politti's sound was scrappy, taut, and forthrightly experimental in style, utilizing abrupt changes, rhythmic displacements, and gritty and discordant harmonies tempered by Green Gartside's sweet vocalizing of impenetrably obscure lyrics, vaguely political in sense but temporal and abstract in meaning.
The song itself has a medium-paced, steady beat, a strong bass, and choppy, insistent guitar licks. The vocals are sort of half-sung, half-spoken in an odd, arbitrary rhythm. And there was an instrument featured that I just couldn't identify at first, but now I am moderately sure that it was a toy xylophone. The song is about six and a half minutes in length.
It's unconventional, and an acquired taste, but I encourage anyone who is curious to listen for themselves.
Scritti Politti Overview April 24 2014.
Messthetics1 July 8 2008.