Back in 1977, one of the hardest-working bands on the live circuit was 999. They also had some of the best tunes. And Emergency was the best of the lot.
Most of their songs were instantly catchy and by the second or third time we saw them we could sing along to tunes like Nasty Nasty, Homicide, I’m Alive and Quite Disappointing.
The best one was Emergency, with its single slash of guitar, its rolling drums and bass, and singer Nick Cash’s petulant whine, like a sarcastic Pete Shelley. I’d put it in punk’s Top 20 singles.
When I watched them on a regular basis, I was unaware that Cash’s career dated back to a previous pre-punk era as the guitarist in Kilburn & The High Roads. Ian Dury had been his tutor at art school.
After the Kilburns broke up Keith became Nick Cash and, like so many others, jumped aboard the emerging new sound of punk.
Teaming up with one of the Kilburns’ occasional session guitarists, his old schoolfriend Guy Days, he formed a new band, auditioning potential recruits that included Chrissie Hynde and Jon Moss – both rejected – before settling on bassist Jon Watson and drummer Pablo LaBritain (who had once played in an early line-up of The Clash).
They made their debut in January 1977 as The Dials and changed their name to 999 in May, though they almost broke up soon afterwards when Cash was offered the job of replacing Wilko Johnson in Dr Feelgood but decided to stay with his own band.
I’m Alive was their debut single, released in July 1977, and this was their third, in January 1978.