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With their unique blend of raucous punk rock laced with reggae and dub, the Ruts were one of the most exciting bands to emerge from Britain's late-'70s scene. Their career was cut cruelly short by the death of their singer in 1980, but still, the group released six crucial singles and a seminal album in their short lifetime. They were also a powerful force within Britain's Rock Against Racism movement, ensuring a political legacy at least as vital as their music.
Formed by four West London schoolmates in early 1978, the quartet of vocalist Malcolm Owen, guitarist Paul Fox, bassist John Jennings, and drummer Dave Ruffy initially gigged around their neighborhood with a fairly unremarkable post-punk/early Oi!-ish set. However, the rise of the neo-Nazi National Front and its deliberate recruitment of young people saw the band members take on an increasingly political stance of their own, adding their own voice to the growing grassroots opposition to the fascist threat.
It was from this grassroots response that Rock Against Racism sprang, informing and raising political awareness via musical events. The Ruts plunged into the organization very early on in their career, playing benefit shows and festivals, and it was at one such event that the group was introduced to the South London reggae band Misty in Roots. It was through Misty's own People Unite label that the Ruts' debut single, the driving "In a Rut"/"H-Eyes," was released in late 1978.
The single barely hinted at what was to come, and when the group performed a radio session for Radio 1 DJ John Peel a few months later, the song didn't even appear in their set. Even so, Virgin Records was one of several labels that recognized the Ruts' potential and signed the band in the spring of 1979.