From the late '70s to the late '80s, Anglophile guitar rock went through a strange period of adjustment following the Year Zero history eradication brought on by capital-P Punk and its subsequent slaying of the Guitar Hero. All the same, in a sort of reprisal of the way Hays Code–era directors would sneak subversive content past the censors, many Brit-styled bands of this period smuggled plenty of rad ax slinging past the tastemakers at the gates of UK pop rock. A perusal of the Church's catalogue reveals oodles of complex guitar workouts, courtesy of Marty Willson-Piper and Peter Koppes. Aware that overt shredding was verboten, they instead wove intricate webs of guitarchitecture that were too elaborate and song-centric to draw accusations of showboatery. (The earliest and best example of this is on "Tear It All Away," from 1981's Of Skins and Hearts.) Here are three — okay, four — other unsung guitar heroes of the early-'80s UK:
VIDEO: The Church, "Tear It All Away"
VIDEO: Adam and the Ants, "Antmusic"
MARCO PIRRONI [ADAM AND THE ANTS] | When Adam Ant's band were appropriated wholesale by then-manager Malcolm McLaren to form the back-up band for McLaren's latest Monkees-esque creation, Bow Wow Wow, Ant licked his wounds by hooking up with Marco Pirroni. Pirroni looked amazingly dorky in a pirate outfit, but he more than made up for that with a madcap style that mixed Morricone-esque spaghetti-westernisms, '50s rock fun, and post-punk nihilistic pedal hopping. Once he threw in a Burundi drum beat, the sound was set. Pirroni and Ant went on to sell 18 million records worldwide during the '80s with the "Antmusic" blueprint they'd created. See: "Antmusic" from Kings of the Wild Frontier (1980).
VIDEO: Echo and the Bunnymen, "The Back of Love"
WILL SERGEANT [ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN] | Although he's often overshadowed by vocalist Ian McCulloch, Sergeant's work in the Bunnymen is versatile and song-oriented, and he frequently plays guitar parts that strive to sound as un-guitar-like as possible. Like Willson-Piper and Koppes, he can combine, in the same song, dulcet chiming melodicism, pick-scraping aggressive dissonance, and Eastern exoticism. His out-of-the-box eclecticism, often the result of non-rock influence, is always the perfect counterpoint to McCulloch's surrealist yearning. See: "The Back of Love," from Porcupine (1983)
VIDEO: The Chameleons, "Paper Tigers"
REG SMITHIES AND DAVE FIELDING [THE CHAMELEONS] | The overt lyricism of so much late-'70s/early-'80s UK rock made it easy to overlook the genius of the playing, especially when the guitarists resorted to a style that was, to quote the title of one of the Chameleons' best tunes, "Looking Inwardly." Smithies and Fielding were masters of mood, angling their beguiling guitar melodies off Mark Burgess's dark vocal presence and lyrical preoccupation with childlike innocence and nostalgia. The band eschewed the stereotypical two-guitar-band division of labor, using chorus and delay pedals to create dueling melodies in place of the usual rhythm-and-lead format. See: "Paper Tigers," from Script of the Bridge (1983)