Punk Rock Memoirs

Anti-Vogue anarcho style culture – post-punk Situationist – Hunter S Thompson
Burroughs – Ballard – Bangs – Burchill pop criticism travelogue – speed history psychogeography
far-out left politics – cult films – football – reggae rap
riots – revolutions – conspiracy theories – pub anecdotes and prophecies

PUNK ROCK MEMOIRS: MERE ANARCHY 1976-79

‘Things fall apart: The centre cannot hold:
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.’
WB Yeats

As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a vagrant – unemployed, on the road, unattached, unaligned, undomesticated, etc. I left school aged 16 in July 1976 during the heatwave, on the 200th anniversary of American independence, at the time of the Israeli special forces raid on the hijacked plane at Entebbe to free the hostages, the Montreal Olympics, and punk rock. ‘Bliss it was in that dawn to be alive but to be young was very heaven’; albeit nearly a hundred miles away from the action. I was there in 1976, as much as I was in 1966 when I broke my arms swinging from a tree after England won the World Cup.

I lived in Mere in Wiltshire, on the A303 20 miles west of Salisbury and Stonehenge. My dad was from London, my mum from near Bristol, and that’s where I ended up. I went to Gillingham Comprehensive School in Dorset, where I was known as Tom, rather than my real name Stephen Thomas, so as not to be confused with the other school team defender Steve (Light); in Mere they called me Tonto after the Indian friend of the Lone Ranger. My main TV influences were The Avengers, The Champions, The Persuaders, Star Trek, Time Tunnel, Flashing Blade, Monty Python, Kung Fu and Happy Days. The first reviews of my early 70s music criticism were: ‘grasp of facts but shows little interest in the actual music… not very enthusiastic… shows little enthusiasm.’

When I went to tech college in Salisbury in September 1976 there was already a punk rock scene in existence at the adjoining art college; featuring the legendary Richard and Nancy, green hair, Oxfam suits and plastic sandals. Originally they were known as freaks rather than punks. Richard and Gareth (who looked like Alex Harvey) were photographed at the front of the queue for the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club punk festival and brought the word back to Salisbury. There was a poster up the stairs to the college common room advertising a trip either to the 100 Club or the banned Bournemouth gig on the ‘Anarchy’ tour. I remember the Pistols swearing on the Bill Grundy show being generally approved of in my tech college Bowie-fan group and having some grudging admiration for the art collage freaks.

At this stage I was a football hooligan soul/bootboy, with glam rock, prog and soul records; mostly Bowie, some Who, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder and Supertramp. The first gig I went to was about as uncool as it gets: a performance of ‘The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Round Table’ by Rick Wakeman at Bournemouth Winter Gardens in 1975; and I missed out on a chance to see Kraftwerk in Yeovil. The first band I ligged with (helped with their gear to get in for nothing) was the slightly hipper Real Thing, in the summer of ’76 when they were number 1 with the disco hit ‘You To Me Are Everything’ – and stuck with a gig at Gillingham Sports Centre. Well into punk I was still a football fan/hooligan and playing for the Mere town and Gillingham youth club teams. The highlight of my playing career was a Salisbury college charity match against a showbiz XI including Dave Dee and Bill Oddie, in which I hacked down the drummer of the pop group Kenny (of ‘The Bump’ fame). Rick Wakeman was due to play but didn’t make it.

1975 February 11 Margaret Thatcher became Tory leader. April 24 Unemployment went over a million. April 31 The Vietnam war ended. November 6 The Sex Pistols played their first gig. 1976 March 16 Harold Wilson resigned as Labour Prime Minister. April 5 Jim Callaghan became the new PM. June 26 A record temperature of 95 degrees F was recorded in London. July 14 Water rationing was introduced. The Grunwick strike began. July 2 I left school and worked picking tomatoes. July 3 Borg beat Nastase at Wimbledon. July 4 200th anniversary of US independence. Raid on Entebbe. July 10 British mercenaries were executed in Angola. July 15 Jimmy Carter won the Democratic nomination. July 16 The Real Thing played Gillingham Sports Centre whilst number 1 with ‘You To Me Are Everything’. Montreal Olympics.

August 24 Unemployment was at 1.5 million. August 31 Notting Hill Carnival riots. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ by Elton John and Kiki Dee was number 1. September 9 Chairman Mao died. September 13 I started at Salisbury tech college. September 20/21 100 Club punk festival. ‘Dancing Queen’ by Abba was number 1. October 22 ‘New Rose’ by the Damned was released. November 2 Jimmy Carter became US President. November 26 ‘Anarchy in the UK’ was released. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ by Chicago was number 1. December 1 Sex Pistols swore on the Bill Grundy show. December 2-25 ‘Anarchy’ tour. Films Taxi Driver, Rocky, Marathon Man. Dixon of Dock Green ended.

My first punk rock gig, in the broadest sense of the term, was the Pink Fairies, the Ladbroke Grove freak-punk crossover group, at Salisbury tech college in March ’77. I can only remember it being a pub rock experience. The only other punk-related gigs in Salisbury were the Pat Travers Band and Doctors of Madness at the City Hall, which I missed, and the art college group Eliot Ness and the G-Men, who were more Monty Python than punk, at various locations including the college canteen and the George Mall. Before my day Salisbury rocked, with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Titch, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Stones, Led Zeppelin, etc, etc, but not much continued to happen there throughout the punk period. The scene largely consisted of hanging out in the college common room playing cards, frequenting the Star pub and Katz punk/vintage clothes shop run by Nick, the west country Malcolm McLaren.

The jukeboxes of the common room and the Star featured Lynryd Skynyrd’s ‘Freebird’/‘Sweet Home Alabama’, Genesis, Supertramp, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but also the Ramones’ ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ and ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’, the Eddie and the Hot Rods and Count Bishops EPs, and ‘Silver Machine’ by Lemmy’s Hawkwind. My first proper punk moment was playing ‘Anarchy in the UK’ at a predominantly James Brown soul party. I acquired my copy from my school football mate Tim’s sister, the actress Jane Gurnett (of Casualty fame). My first copy of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine came from my biker mate called ‘Skin’ (Derek Skinner), who got it at a gig by John Cale of the Velvet Underground, Count Bishops and the Boys at Bournemouth Winter Gardens. Skin also had a New York Dolls album.

On Jubilee night the coolest soul boy/punk Coke (Keith Dukes) was going to beat me up for ‘wasting tax payers’ money’ by dropping out of college to work in a factory. But the older football hooligan brothers, Doug and Den Knox, interceded on my behalf and took me on a flag collecting expedition around Dorset. On another occasion, I ended up bloodied but unbowed outside the Gillingham Sports Centre disco, with Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ playing, after attempting to attack the Radio 1 DJ Simon Bates on a rum and black session. The punk hairdressers Deb and Chris got the Unwanted to play their party at the Phoenix pub in Gillingham, but I was banned for being implicated in another hooligan incident which caused the closure of a village hall disco.

In the summer of ’77 I dropped out of college to work for a year in some of the worst jobs in history; 2 weeks working in a fibreglass factory – when ‘Pretty Vacant’ came out – and the rest in an abattoir. How about that for punk credibility? In Gillingham in Dorset, where I went to school and worked, some of the older soul boys were wearing peg-top trousers and plastic sandals; Dogs (Colin Doggerel) had been to northern soul discos; and after I brought the word back from Salisbury my football drinking mates went punk. This consisted of spiked up hair, big punk badges, ripped T-shirts and blazers with crisp packets and beer mats attached by safety pins, straight jeans and baseball boots, drinking at the Queen’s Head and Red Lion, pogoing at the sports centre and village hall discos, spitting at the DJ and each other, and rite of passage recreational rural vandalism.

Following the Jubilee and my split with Deb and Chris, I drifted away from my football mates and teamed up with the other punk rockers in my village; Christine Nugent, a former Carnival queen T Rex fan who had seen the Damned supporting Marc Bolan; Jane Austin (not Austen), with whom I had a west country punk literary romance; and my workmate Howler (Richard Howell), the punk butcher turned artist. Our first forays into the outside world were to the Frome Hexagon Suite punk nights in Christine’s Mini, listening to tapes of the Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the ‘New Wave’ and ‘Live at the Roxy’ compilation albums. I remember the Frome lot being particularly into Patti Smith’s ‘Piss Factory’ and the pub jukebox featured ‘Oh Bondage Up Yours’ by X Ray Spex.

November 9 1977 The Storming of the Winter Gardens: Our first proper punk gig was a Clash ‘White Riot’ at Bournemouth Winter Gardens, also featuring Richard Hell and the Voidoids and the Lous, on the ‘Out of Control’ tour. We went in a youth club disabled kids minibus, much to the embarrassment of Coke who insisted we park some way from the venue, and Ditcher let the side down by not having a haircut or taking in his flares. I was wearing a Fonz-style black leather bomber jacket, ripped and safety-pinned T-shirt, big punk badges, turned-up drainpipe jeans and baseball boots. Sniffin’ Glue and the Salisbury art college fanzine were being sold outside. My main memory of the gig is the bald Voidoids guitarist Robert Quine playing with green gob on his forehead. When the Clash came on there was a punk (Ted revival) mini-riot in which a few rows of old seats collapsed from being pogoed on. This caused ‘Clash fans havoc in Bournemouth’ press headlines that contributed to the Pistols’ late ’77 tour being banned.

December 5 The first punk gig Mini trip was the Jam at the Bournemouth Village Bowl, at the time of ‘This is the Modern World’, with the New Hearts (later Secret Affair) and the Jolt. We were told of the Pistols’ Bristol Bamboo Club gig on the SPOTS tour (subsequently cancelled) at the disco bar, and I did my first ‘How’s the tour going?’ interview with Bruce Foxton. The Jam were more punk/speed r’n’b than mod revival pop at this stage. I was dressed accordingly in black school blazer with badges, black tie, drainpipe trousers and baseball boots. December 17 The best gig for punky, pogoing, spitting, drunken teenage kicks that I took part in was the Damned and the Dead Boys (of ‘Sonic Reducer’ fame) at the Village Bowl, the last of the Damned second album tour. We duly missed the Pistols in Bristol after the venue burnt down, and they were banned from playing Bath and possibly Salisbury in March 1978 before they split. But over the next few months we saw the Clash a few more times and most of the other punk bands; Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, Eater, the Buzzcocks, Penetration, the Adverts, X Ray Spex, the Members, Sham 69, Siouxsie and the Banshees and the Slits, mostly at the Village Bowl.

At it’s height, the Bournemouth punk scene was the hippest outside London; featuring peroxide hair, leather jackets, Sex/Seditionaries T-shirts and bondage trousers, speed (in the form of French ‘blues’ pills from Southampton) and heroin, the punk/vintage clothes shop Katz, Armadillos and Setchfields record shops, and the Double 0 Egg caff Vague office in the Triangle punk quarter. I had a pair of peg-top trousers from Katz that Coke approved of but said I didn’t wear properly. The Bournemouth nightclub complex, incorporating the underground car park Chelsea Village Bowl venue, the Maison Royale disco and the Badger Bars punk rock hangout, was owned by Jimmy Saville of Radio 1 and Jim’ll Fix It fame. Punk gigs were attended by the notorious England football and cricket mascot Ken Bailey; and the equally renowned glam rock drummer Mickey Finn of T Rex was on the scene.

1977 January 7 Gary Gilmore was executed. March 16 Pink Fairies at Salisbury Tech. Lib-Lab pact. April ‘White Riot’ and ‘The Clash’ album were released. May Clash ‘White Riot’ tour. June 4 ‘God Save The Queen’ was released. Scotland beat England at Wembley. The Queen’s silver jubilee. Mass picketing of the Grunwick factory began. ‘Exodus’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers was released. July 8 Left college and worked at fibre-glass factory in Gillingham. July 9 ‘Pretty Vacant’ was released. ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer was number 1. August 13 Lewisham anti-National Front riot. August 15 Started work at Oakewood’s abattoir in Gillingham. August 16 Elvis died. Another Notting Hill Carnival riot. September 16 Marc Bolan died. October 8 ‘Complete Control’ by the Clash was released. October 18 Mogadishu raid to free hostages. October 22 ‘Holidays In The Sun’ was released. November 9 The Clash at Bournemouth Winter Gardens. December 5 The Jam at Bournemouth Village. December 10 ‘Jamming’/‘Punky Reggae Party’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers was released. December 17 The Damned and the Dead Boys at the Village. December 25 Charlie Chaplin died. Vietnamese boat people. Star Wars, Saturday Night Fever.

1978 January The Pistols split. February 7 XTC at Bristol Locarno. February 16 Eddie and the Hot Rods, Radio Stars and Squeeze at the Village, though not strictly speaking a punk rock gig, was another great punky teenage kicks night, during which Andy Ellison of Radio Stars (formerly of Marc Bolan’s John’s Children) clambered about the Village ceiling ripping out tiles. Eddie and the Hot Rods’ ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ was the most punky pub jukebox record of the time. ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ by Althea and Donna was number 1. March 22 At the Sham 69 gig with Straitjacket from Southampton/Bournemouth and the Jolt at the Village, I led the ‘What have we got?’ – ‘Fuck all’ chant before Sham came on. March 26 Elvis Costello at Bristol Locarno. ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush was number 1. April 7 Generation X, the Jolt and Straitjacket at the Village was another drunken punky halcyon night. April 30 In the NME picture of the Clash at the Rock Against Racism Anti-Nazi League Carnival at Victoria Park, Hackney, I’m about 20 heads back in front of Mick Jones.

May 1 I went backstage for the first time at the Village ligging with Eater when they played with Slaughter and the Dogs and Blitzkrieg Bop. There was a half-hearted sit-in afterwards in protest at a threatened Village punk ban organised by the Slaughter and the Dogs roadie. May 9 Buzzcocks and Penetration at Bath Pavilion. May 13 The Pirates at Salisbury City Hall. May 15 Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Matumbi and Whirlwind punk/pub rock/reggae/rockabilly package tour at Bournemouth Winter Gardens. June 4 The Sham/Menace/Straitjacket gig at Southampton Top Rank turned into a Southampton v Portsmouth football riot that Jimmy Pursey managed to quell with an ‘If the Kids are United’ speech. Straitjacket were billed as Strate Jackets. June 24 ‘White Man in Hammersmith Palais’ by the Clash was released. June 29 Bowie at Earl’s Court. July 5 In another memorable moment in Bournemouth punk history Bob Geldof complained of “an asshole element in the audience” spitting at the Boomtown Rats (in disgust rather than punk enthusiasm). ‘You’re The One That I Want’ by John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John was number 1.

August 19 Chelsea v Everton King’s Road trip. August 23 The Jam at the Village. August 25-7 At the ’78 Reading festival riot, I was pictured in the local press at the front of the stage when Sham 69 came on in football hooligan mode. After getting caught up in the kids united euphoria of Sham, the Jam, Penetration and the Pirates, we sat out Status Quo uneasily in a pub full of skinheads, and ended up in a suitably existential state for Patti Smith. September I quit my punk job at Oakewood’s piss factory in Gillingham, got a part-time job as a petrol-pump attendant at Willoughby Hedge on the A303, passed my driving test at the third attempt, and went back to tech college to do a building course. September 7 Keith Moon died. September 18 Returned to Salisbury tech. September 20 Radio Stars at Yeovil Johnson Hall cancelled. September 22 Adam and the Ants bikers’ riot at Salisbury Tech College. See VAGUE 5

October 12 Siouxsie and the Banshees at Bath Pavilion. When tours didn’t stop off in Bournemouth, we went on punky west country expeditions to Bath Pavilion and Bristol Locarno/Colston Hall etc. My punk Mini was grey and yellow with the ceiling covered in badges. October 5 The Stranglers at the Village. October 19 I took speed (blues) for the first time at the Banshees’ Bournemouth Village gig on the ‘Scream’ tour; with Spizz Oil and Gang of Four replacing Nico of the Velvet Underground. In the inaugural Vague fanzine editorial meeting afterwards, I remember talking rubbish about punk rock with Chris Johnson into the early hours and a terrible comedown but continued the rock’n’roll habit on a part-time punk basis. October 20 999 at Bath University. October 24 XTC at Salisbury City Hall. Iggy was hit in the car park. October 26 Sham 69 at Bournemouth Village. October 28 Fabulous Poodles at Bath University.

November The first issue of Channel 4 fanzine came out. November 10 The Adverts at Bath University. November 11 Sham and the Cimarons at Taunton Odeon. Chris sarcastically asked Jimmy Pursey for his autograph outside. November 22 At the Clash, Slits and the Innocents’ Village gig on the ‘Sort It Out’ (‘Give ’Em Enough Rope’) tour, I ended up on stage singing ‘White Riot’ at Mick Jones’s microphone with 30 or so others. By then we had got in with the Bournemouth lot at the Badger Bars (along from the Village) and in the Triangle; Big Paul, Bobby McKay, Black John, Little Paul, Benny Snot, Bradford Chris, Jane, Clare, Cherry and Roy. The Bournemouth punk scene ended violently, with Bobby glassing Iggy for fighting with Sharon during a Cure gig at the Town Hall, and a drugs bust.

November 23 X-Ray-Spex and the Members under the plastic palm trees at Bristol Tiffany’s. ‘If the world turned dayglo, chances are it would look like Tiffany’s,’ wrote Mark Ellen in his review of this gig. November 29 Jim Jones cult mass suicide in Guyana. December 12 The Clash at Bath Pavilion. December 26 Public Image Limited and Aswad at the Rainbow. December 29 Elvis Costello and Richard Hell and the Void-oids at Bath Pavilion. The rest of the time we spent in the Ship pub in Mere, at Christine’s or Jane’s, Howler’s to go through the music papers, and jumble sales. The punk years were mostly about clothes/shopping – for winkle-pickers, brothel creepers, mohair jumpers, leather jackets, bondage trousers and Seditionaries T-shirts. On our first Seditionaries expedition Chris Johnson got a mohair jumper, which became the most prized item of clothing on the west country punk scene. I got a ‘Vive Le Rock’ T-shirt which I lost at an Ants gig in Durham.

 

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