Throughout 2014, I maintained a daily Twitter feed giving extracts from my old diaries as a music fan. These cover the period from 1975 to 1981, an era which included the heyday of UK pub rock, punk and ska.
I started the diaries as a callow 16-year-old and ended them as a mature sophisticate of 23. Along the way, I saw many of that era’s best bands playing live in sweaty little clubs, bought a great many of their invigorating records and drank a ocean of beer. When I couldn’t get to the gigs themselves, John Peel’s nightly radio show and the ever-acerbic NME kept me up to speed.
The Twitter feed containing this material never picked up a lot of followers, but I enjoyed doing it and I think other old farts of about my age may find some nostalgic pleasure in it too. That’s why I’ve decided to give Moshpit Memories a more permanent home here. This version allows me to present the tweets in proper January-December chronological order, reinstate some of the missing punctuation which Twitter had forced me into and add whole host of bonus material too.
Twitter allows for no more than the briefest snippets recalling each gig, but here I’ve been able to add full write-ups of concerts I attended by the Clash, the Rolling Stones, Kilburn & the High Roads, the Ruts, the Specials, Eddie & the Hot Rods, Eric Clapton, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Slade, Elvis Costello, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers, the Undertones, Sam & Dave, Kevin Coyne, the Stiff Records revue, Richard Hell and a good few others.
As you’ll see, I leapt around pretty freely from one year to the next when choosing what to tweet about. The beauty of this format is that it allows me to pack a full seven years of events into just one year’s tweets, which makes my life at the time look seven times more fascinating and fabulous than it really was. Seinfeld’s George Costanza once remarked: “If you take everything I’ve ever accomplished in my life and condense it down into one day, it looks decent” – and that’s exactly the principle I’ve followed here.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should also add that squeezing the diary’s original observations into the strict 140-character limit demanded by Twitter often required some rewording and cuts. Where you see quotation marks surrounding a tweet, it’s been subject to no more than these minor tweaks. If there’s no quotation marks, then that means the original remark rambled on so much I had to rephrase it from scratch to make it tweetable.
What I haven’t done is rewrite the past to make myself look any cooler than I really was. It makes me cringe a bit now to remember some of the bands I loved in the first half of the seventies – Uriah Heep and Budgie spring to mind – but there it is. My listening during this period ranged all the way from the Gang of Four to Joseph & his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and I’ve included my embarrassing choices here right alongside the NME-approved ones. Feel free to laugh and point, but spare a shudder for your own teenage lapses in taste too.
Jan 2, 1976: Great British Music Festival at Olympia: Bad Company plus Nazareth, Ronnie Lane, The Pretty Things, Be-Bop Deluxe & Charlie.
Jan 2 (supplemental): “Be-Bop Deluxe’s bassist cartwheeled his way onto the stage. Doesn’t he know bassists are supposed to be the quiet ones?”
Jan 2 (supplemental): “Nazareth came on in a cloud of scented smoke – so much you couldn’t see the band half the time. Got two encores.”
Jan 2 (supplemental): “Bad Company were out of this world. Lots of stuff from Run With the Pack + Youngblood & all the old favourites.”
Jan 3, 1977: “If I ever invent a new musical instrument I shall call it a p’sart. Person who plays it would therefore be called a p’sartist.”
Jan 4, 1979: “Bought new Elvis Costello album, Armed Forces. Very fancy packaging for only £3.19. Radar’s really trying to break him here."
Jan 5, 1978: Kevin Coyne & Zoot Money at Nashville Rooms. "Dashed fine stuff. NME called it ‘an evening of commitment, humour, wit & drama’.”
Nashville Rooms in London: January 5, 1978.
“Though many at The Nashville had evidently expected to find [Coyne] oppressively intense, the humour that frequently surfaces in his songs and his banter helped to engage the affections of the audience.”
“Let loose on Johnny Ray’s Cry, Coyne recalled no-one so much as Joe Cocker in his assault on Bye Bye Blackbird. John Martyn is another reference point, in the use of gadgetry (in Coyne’s case backing tapes and use of echo) and of voice-as-instrument.”
“Coyne’s grasp of melody, rhythm and narrative is such that his many vocal idiosyncrasies only rarely upset the structural applecart. His guitar technique is Richie Havens-style, thumb-as-bottleneck, the instrument tilted well back into his stomach. He played solo, briefly with Money and sang several accompanied only by his partner’s electric piano. Whichever, Money provided texture and swing, slightly mellowing Coyne’s raw presentation of his songs.”
“A larger public for Coyne seems no nearer, unfortunately, even though the tunes are immediate and the vision humane rather than bleak. Most people simply prefer something a bit easier on the ear (Elvis Costello, for instance). But if you want an evening of commitment, humour, wit and drama, all directed outwards rather than in, Kevin Coyne’s your man.” Extracts from NME review, January 14, 1978.
Jan 8, 1980: "Blue Collar was excellent & very funny. A lot of middle-aged matronly and besuited couples walked out after the first 15mins."
Jan 8 (supplemental): Blue Collar was Paul Schrader’s formidably gritty 1978 crime movie, starring Richard Pryor & Harvey Keitel. Good stuff.
Jan 9, 1980: “Called Taunton venue about NME-announced Clash gig there on Jan 13. Turns out they don’t know anything about it.”
Jan 10, 1980: “All I recall of this evening is a pleasant few hours spent in the company of a bottle of wine, London Calling and the NME.”
Jan 11, 1979: “Party planned for when [friend] gets out of nick after possession term. Possession being, as Paul said, nine-tenths of the law.”
Jan 12, 1980: “Elvis Costello was on Tiswas this morning, showing his legs & joining in the fun. What happened to death & revenge then, El?”
Jan 14, 1977: “I can’t get the Stones’ Sister Morphine off the turntable at the moment. I must have played it a dozen times this evening.”
Jan 15, 1981: “Watched Top of the Pops. John Lennon’s got three of the top five singles at the moment, which I’m starting to get sick of.”
Jan 15 (supplemental): Lennon's 3 Top 5 singles that week were Imagine (at 1), Happy Xmas (at 3) & Starting Over (at 5). Died month before.
Jan 16, 1976: “Fiesta's promised those of us who bought tickets for Ian Dury’s cancelled gig ‘a little something extra' at his replacement date.”
Jan 16 (supplemental): Original tickets were still honoured for the replacement gig. The "something special" turned out to be a 20p refund.
Jan 17, 1977: “We had people round tonight and one of their little kids kept laughing at me for no apparent reason.”
Jan 17 (supplemental): Kid's amusement may relate to my dashing appearance at the time: long greasy hair, Joe 90 specs & bumfluff moustache.
Jan 18, 1977: “Sir said ‘shit’ in maths today.”
Jan 19, 1978: The Pirates at Polytechnic’s main hall, supported by Alive & Kicking. “MICK GREEN IS GOD!”
Jan 19 (supplemental): Mick Green invented trick of playing lead & rhythm guitar simultaneously. That's where Wilko Johnson learned it from.
Jan 20, 1976: “Teach let us bring in our own LPs today. General English pitched Bowie's Aladdin Sane against Paul Simon's Still Crazy..."
Jan 21, 1981: “Yet another failed attempt to tape John Peel’s World Service show using my new timeswitch. Bugger!”
Jan 22, 1981: “Tonight’s Top of the Pops included Bad Manners playing Lorraine. They’re getting almost as many hits as Madness these days."
Jan 23, 1978: Damned & Nipple Erectors at Castaways. “The Nipple Erectors were good, but got gobbed on a lot & had glasses chucked at them.”
Jan 23 (supplemental): Nipple Erectors were Shane MacGowan's first band. Future Pogue James Fearnley joined in 1980. (Pogues formed 1982).
Jan 24, 1978: Glen Matlock’s Rich Kids at Fiesta. “Usual idiots shouting for Anarchy & God Save The Queen. They did Pretty Vacant instead.”
Jan 25, 1979: “Spent from 11:00 o’clock last night till 5:00 o’clock this morning reading old NMEs. Kept on finding interesting stuff.”
Jan 26, 1978: Ivor Cutler at Arts Centre. “The Earth meets the sky just over that hill, I was told by a sparrow with a lump on its head.”
Jan 27, 1981: One tabloid paper's Star Joke today comes from Ian Dury:
"Q: What's green and got wheels?
A: Grass; I lied about the wheels."
Jan 28, 1976: “Had to unwind half my Goat’s Head Soup tape to find the twist in it. Now got half a mile of tape in a heap on the table.”
Jan 29, 1979: “Sue: ‘Bloke I know called Malcolm only had one testicle.’
Me: ‘How'd you know?’
Sue: 'Oh. it soon got passed round class'.”
Jan 30, 1978: Slaughter & the Dogs at Castaways. “Singer fills hair with talcum powder then shakes head really hard. Who needs dry ice?"
Jan 31, 1980: “Bloke renting next room went nuts last night. Ran naked into street & smashed several windows. Police then carted him off."
Jan 31 (supplemental): Irene, our shared cleaner, breathlessly confided that this chap had been washing in urine & “eating his own secretions”.
Feb 2, 1978: “Tried to save NME for tomorrow’s long bus journey home. Cracked at 6:30 to read ‘just one article’ & finished it 90mins later.”
Feb 3, 1976: “Whistle Test was brilliant tonight. Lots of bands I saw at Great British Music Festival (Charlie, Pretty Things, Ronnie Lane)."
Feb 4, 1980: 999 at Fiesta. “Nostalgia night for those who mourn the passing of 1976. Pure 100mph Rama-Lama-Dole-Queue stuff. Loud but dull.”
Feb 5, 1980: “Nationwide’s just soundtracked a report on black Brixton with 10cc’s I Don’t Like Reggae. Only reggae track they knew, I guess."
Feb 6, 1977: “We all went back to Paul’s place after the pub tonight for coffee & a nice drunken singalong with [The Who’s] Meaty Beaty Big & Bouncy.”
Feb 7, 1980: The Blues Band + the Dance Band at the Poly. "Featured huge, chaotic, Stiff-style multi-band encore. I always love those."
Feb 7 (supplemental): “Amazing how much extra punch even a tiny horn section (like the Dance Band’s 1 trumpet & 1 sax) can give the sound.”
Feb 8, 1975: Went to see Chesty Morgan’s notorious soft porn movie Deadly Weapons at Regal Cinema. “It was really horrible.”
Feb 8 (supplemental): Deadly Weapons was this 1974 movie: http://tinyurl.com/qy7v245. Even viewed ironically, it's pretty depressing stuff.
Feb 9, 1980: “Watched Tiswas. Chris Tarrant poured a bucket of revolting gunk down the front of Annie Lennox’s trousers on Compost Corner.”
Feb 9 (supplemental): Lennox was not amused. She later stalked off the show when targeted by the Phantom Flan Flinger.
Feb 10, 1980: “Irene told me a bit more about my mad neighbour today. Seems he whipped out his todger in court and declared ‘I’m a man!’.”
Feb 11, 1977: “Got half a dozen old 60s singles in that Allhalland St junk shop for 50p the lot. Turns out one of them might be quite rare.”
Feb 11 (supplemental): Rarity was the Who’s Substitute backed with Instant Party. Flip-side lawsuit led to disc’s withdrawal after just a week.
Feb 14, 1981: “Slade were the guests on Tiswas. It’s great to have them around again. Don Powell’s still got the same bit of chewing gum!"
Feb 15, 1980: “Decided I definitely couldn’t afford Gang of Four LP but bought it anyway. Produced first noise complaint I’ve had for ages.”
Feb 16, 1977: “I keep listening to that Groundhogs best of all the time. It just gets brillianter and brillianter.”
Feb 17, 1977: Discover the Lovin' Spoonful’s 1966 B-side Night Owl Blues. “It smashes into your head then just lays there and burns!”
Feb 18, 1980: “Phoned Colston Hall in Bristol. Before I quite realised it, I’d bought tickets for Sunday and Monday’s Clash gigs there."
Feb 18 (supplemental): Three days later, Topper Headon tore a ligament in his hand, so the Bristol gigs had to be cancelled. I was not happy.
Feb 19, 1981: “Roger the hippy is now sporting a ‘Nuclear Power? No thanks!’ badge written in Chinese. Why do I find that so irritating?”
Feb 20, 1980: “City council’s private viewing of Life of Brian rules we ARE allowed to see it, but with an X rating rather than the national A.”
Feb 21, 1981: "Wandered round Tescos in my ‘If It Ain't Stiff ...’ T-shirt. Feel it's my best bet for tonight's punks and schoolgirls theme."
Feb 22, 1977: Tom Robinson Band, supported by Squeeze, at the Nashville Rooms. “I thought they [TRB] were extremely good."
Feb 22 (supplemental): Tom on Sing If You're Glad to be Gay: “Here’s the song the people who threw glasses at us last night were waiting for.”
Feb 23, 1978: Ian Dury at Fiesta. “They did all of New Boots & Panties, all the songs were superb and it was damn fine gig. Oy oy!"
The place was already pretty crowded, but the dance floor hadn’t filled up yet, so I went to the bar at the back of the room and got myself a pint while I waited for Ron. There was still no sign of him by the time I’d finished that one so, seeing a few people were now moving in to sit near the front of the stage, I decided I’d better get up there and stake out a spot of my own. It was just as well I did, because about 20 minutes later the crowd made one of those weird collective decisions and everyone else suddenly decided to sit on the dancefloor too. What none of us knew was that it would still be another 90 minutes before any musician appeared on stage.
Soon, the crush behind me was so bad that we were all being forced forward and the Fiesta’s unsecured stage started sliding back under the pressure. I’d seen it do that before when this place drew a big crowd, but never quite so far or so fast as it was moving now.
Things reached a head when the drum kit collapsed, prompting a chap from the venue’s management to come on stage and insist that all of us in the first five rows SIT DOWN again. Everyone else needed to STOP PUSHING, he said, adding that we certainly wouldn’t be hearing any music until order was restored. He then posted enormous bouncers to keep everyone back from the front of the stage and the roadies set about some emergency repairs.
In the long wait that followed, the little group of four fancy-dress punks next to me began passing a massive spliff around and the idiots just behind amused themselves by shouting “Oy, oy!” every five seconds. Never gets old that, does it, lads? (1)
When the Blockheads finally came on at about 11:00pm, Dury and Davey Payne (his old sax player from the Kilburns days) looked as strange but charmful as ever. They opened with Upminster Kid from Handsome, then did I’m Partial to Your Abracadabra. The sound was great – well mixed, ballsy and not so ridiculously loud that it caused the tinny distortion I’ve heard at some recent gigs.
The next song was Wake Up & Make Love With Me, which gave Dury a chance to start fooling around with the microphone stand, draping and teasing it with scarves and some of the other interesting little oddments he’d brought on in his plastic carrier bag. Whenever an instrumental break rolled round, he’d stick his face right up against the mike, stare at it in appalled fascination and poke it suspiciously as if investigating a dead animal. His contorted expressions at these moments suggested a mixture of fear, puzzlement and innocent, childlike joy. It’s impossible to describe Dury’s stage presence if you haven’t seen him, but he’s immensely charming and always hugely entertaining – charisma is the word that comes to mind.
It was roughly at this point that he zeroed in on a very attractive girl in the front row, asked her what her name was and then launched into a bit of mildly mocking to-and-fro. “Oh, Monica!” he said, pretending not to have heard her reply. “Monnn-iccc-aaa. Monniccarrrggh!” The band then kicked into If I Was With A Woman, with Dury inserting her name in every other line “If I was with a woman, Monniccaa,” he sang, shooting her an evil glance, “she’d have to learn to cherish / The purity and depth of my distain.” It’s quite a threatening song in parts, but Monica herself seemed to take it all as spot of harmless musical banter. (2)
She wasn’t off the hook yet, though. Dury sang You’re More Than Fair straight at her too, taking particular relish in the song’s many sexual lines: “I’ll fondle your clitoris as we step into the toilet, Monniccaa,” he sang, staring her straight in the eye. Perhaps this is how he picks up his audience bedmate for the night?
Also in the set were Clever Trevor (my favourite song of the night), Sweet Gene Vincent (with a lovely audience singalong in the quiet bit), Blackmail Man, Billericay Dickie and What a Waste (then a new number). We also got a great version of I Made Mary Cry, which prompted a great deal of menacing stage business with a knife Dury produced from his bag of props.
As the applause for this last number died down, we were offered a little bit of hard-won wisdom: “Life after 30 is an ocean of piss with little islands of joy,” Dury confided. And then, to himself, “What the fuck does that mean?” By now the band had the intro to Plaistow Patricia underway, so our answer was obvious. “Arseholes, bastards, fucking cunts and pricks,” came the chant. When that song was done, Dury introduced the band, who powered through Blockheads before everyone on stage dashed for the dressing room.
As we yelled for more, someone who appeared to be the band’s chief roadie came on to whip us up a bit more and raise the frenzy count. Suddenly, everyone was back on for My Old Man followed by Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll as a grand finale. The house lights snapped on to confirm it really was all over this time and a few minutes later the whole band filed back on stage without their instruments just to say thanks and goodnight. Awwww…. (3)
1) By “fancy dress punks” I mean the ones who seemed just as interested in the costume as the music. Punk’s dress code was already hardening into the bumflaps, bondage strides and vaseline-spiked hair which we’re all familiar with now – an outfit which eventually got pushed to the cartoonish extreme you see on London postcards. Most of the people going to punk gigs in the 1970s took no interest in this nonsense whatsoever. Once we’d had our long hair cut off and switched from flares to straight-legged jeans, no further sartorial adjustment was required.
2) Dury could do no wrong for me at this time, but now I wonder how comfortable Monica really would have been with all this stuff. Every version of Dury’s biography – book, stage or film - makes it clear he could be a thoroughly unpleasant little bully at times and now I can’t help seeing the Monica business through that lens. Then again, maybe she was delighted by the attention and really did shag him that night.
3) I still don’t know who our mystery cheerleader was, but I guess the leading contenders would be Peter Rush (aka The Sulphate Strangler) and Fred “Spider” Rowe. Both men acted as a combination minder / assistant / nursemaid for Dury at one time or another.
Feb 25, 1980: Orchestral Manouvres in the Dark at Castaways. “Tartan bumflaps everywhere. We decide diehard punks are the Teds of tomorrow."
Feb 26, 1980: Bad Manners support the Ruts at Poly. “Ruts’ Malcolm Owen ‘too ill’ to perform. Roadies & punters pitch in to sing instead."
February 26, 1980.
The lead singer [Buster Bloodvessel, of course] is enormously fat – Willie Whitelaw fat, Robert Morley fat, that kind of fat. He’s got a gut-accentuating torn T-shirt, a bald head, a massive tongue and a propensity for mooning the audience. The music was kind of rocked-up ska and there’s no doubt this guy could prompt a whole new Fat Pride movement. “Yeah, but you haven’t got tits, have you?” he taunted one would-be tubster in the audience.
After Bad Manners, I went off out to the bar for a chat with Jon, who was on the door. He told me that, as the original support band had blown out, the Ruts had just brought a load of their mates down – Bad Manners, a band I’d missed called the Gas and a solo performer called Auntie Pus. (1)
At this point, a woman from the Ents Committee came over and asked if we’d heard the rumour that Ruts vocalist Malcolm Owen was so pissed he couldn’t sing. Ten minutes later, it was so pissed he couldn’t walk (Jon began trying to lose his security badge at this point). Next we heard, the singer was out cold and they’d fetched a doctor to him. (2)
Jon went up to join the line of people sitting on the edge of the stage in case of trouble and I stood around a row or two back wondering what to do next. People had been told the news by this time – the official line was that Owen was “very, very ill” – there was a brief pause after Auntie Pus’s set, an offer of refunds for anybody who wanted one and then the remaining Ruts came on.
They bashed out a couple of numbers on their own to frantic pogoing and jolly good they were too. Then they brought on one of their roadies to sing a few – a tall black guy who turned out to be great. He did Sus and a couple of others, then gave a pleasantly-surprised little grin and remarked to no-one in particular, “I’m pretty good, inni?”. Next the band asked for someone from the audience to come up and sing Babylon’s Burning. This inevitably turned into half a dozen punky punters sharing the vocals, including our own Jamie in his trademark kilt. There were a couple of pint jugs – glass ones not plastic – hurled overhead at the stage, but fortunately these didn’t hit anyone.
Bad Manners came back on too, amps were clambered over and at one point the only actual Rut visible on stage was the drummer. Total chaos, lots of encores and a few standards here and there when the Ruts ran out of their own songs. All sorts of fun. I don’t know how it happened, but this turned out to a great gig – one to remember, a real “I was there” gig.
1) I misheard this chap’s name on the night and for years I thought he was called Arnie Pus. “Poor sod was always sent on first as a gob magnet to give the headliners a more pleasant working environment,” Ad Jetsonic later told me. More info here.
2) This was about five months before Malcolm Owen’s sad death from a heroin overdose, of course. According to the band’s Wikipedia page, this particular date "turned out to be the last Ruts gig with Malcolm".
March 1, 1978: “Economics was even duller than usual. Andy and I quietly sang [The Adverts’] Bored Teenagers at the back.”
March 2, 1978: Alberto y los Trios Paranoias at the Poly. “Best bits were the piss-takes targeting Elvis Presley and Lou Reed. Great stuff.”
March 2 (supplemental): Albertos’ routine 1: “We’d like to offer our tribute to the late … great Elvis Presley.” Whole band then drops dead.
March 2 (supplemental): Albertos’ routine 2: Roadie brings insensate Lou Reed on over his shoulder. Installs him at mike like a piece of kit.
March 3, 1979: “Jon turned up at the flat, saying I was the only sucker he could think of who might buy him a pint. How could I refuse?"
March 4, 1980: Stiff Little Fingers at the Poly. “Band was OK but somehow missing that certain spark. Probably my own fault for being sober.”
March 4 (supplemental): “‘We all know ska’s not going to last,’ says SLF’s Jake Burns from stage. Feeling a little threatened, are we, Jake?”
March 5, 1981: “Louise has a new favourite joke.
Question: ‘What turns black and claws at the door?’
Answer: ‘A baby in a microwave’.”
March 6, 1978: “Simon’s been told there’s a song about him at the end of Dury’s NB&P. Does he know the last 3 cuts are a stream of insults?”
March 7, 1980: “Jon tells me the Ruts settled for 75% of their agreed fee after last month’s disrupted gig. Poly got a real bargain there."
March 8, 1980: Swinging Cats, Bodysnatchers & Selecter at Poly. “Easily the best gig I’ve seen since the 2-Tone tour. Can’t be a co-incidence.”
If I’d had any sense, I’d have got myself a ticket for this one ages ago but I never got round to it, thinking there were sure to be a few left on the night. What I was forgetting, of course, is that loads of people who never normally go to gigs show up for the Rag Ball one and, sure enough, tonight was officially sold out.
In the end, Paul and I sorted things out with the Ents Committee by each donating a couple of quid to the Rag fund and getting ourselves put on the guest list. As it happens, it probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, because Security just kept on letting people in no matter how many turned up till the hall was packed way beyond its legal capacity. By the time the Selecter came on, Nigel was just stuffing his pockets full of fivers from everyone who wanted to get in and taking them over to the Ents Committee tin whenever he got the chance. The bands had a roadie on the door to check they got their percentage on any crowd beyond 800 punters, but from what I could see he’d given up trying to count everyone too.
First band on were the Swinging Cats, who I thought were rather good. They suffered a bit from erratic material, but their best numbers were terrific, particularly The Swinging Cats itself, their theme song, which would make a great single.
Off out to the bar for another pint after this set, where somebody told me that the Ents Committee was paying £1,500 for tonight’s whole package and actually looked like making a decent profit for once. All the cash goes to the Rag Week charity fund this evening, of course.
Time for the Bodysnatchers, so I struggled up to the front again. I must admit, I hadn’t been expecting too much from this mob – a seven-piece, all-girl ska band just seemed like one gimmick too many – but it turned out they were really great. I got back to lots of silly, sweaty dancing again, lots of alternate foot running-on-the-spot stuff. My favourite Bodysnatchers number was The Boiler, a harrowing rape song with a spoken-word bit at the end that’s really quite chilling. We all danced on regardless, of course, which I suppose was inevitable. But what a great set!
Back to the bar then for another pint with Paul, Sue, Jon & Clare, where I spotted a guy made up as the white-faced 2-Tone man. I followed his progress through the evening from that point onwards, watching as his immaculate facepaint slowly sweated itself into a drippy mess.
Soon as we’d got the beer down us, Paul and I shoved our way back up towards the front again to stake our claim for the Selecter. We got to a spot about eight feet back from the lip of stage, squirmed over to the middle and set up camp there just as the band strolled on. Pauline Black was as sharp and elegant as ever (I’ve always been a fool for a women in a trilby) and even if you’ve got two left feet like me, the Selecter’s music is hugely danceable. I managed to stop leaping about for a few minutes here and there, but only when I felt sure my first heart attack was coming on. It’s times like this I wish I was fit.
What else can I tell you? They did just about every song in their repertoire, my heart (and certain other parts of my anatomy) still belong to Pauline and we got a huge massed-ranks encore at the end with every single one of the evening’s musicians crammed on to that stage somewhere. This was easily the best gig I’ve been since last year’s 2-Tone tour and surely that can’t be a co-incidence.
After a brief, exhausted chat back at the bar, we all headed home. I was dripping with sweat (as was the ceiling of the hall) and, as we all flooded outside, a great curtain of sweat-steam rose in the cold night air around us. All the way home, I was still singing the Selecter’s Carry Go Bring Come and doing Chas Smash routines in the gutter with a big daft grin on my face. Ska: it’s music to grin to!
March 10, 1981: “Idiot dancing to One Step Beyond in my room. Turned ankle on the door jamb just as full weight came down. God, that hurt!”
March 11, 1977: “Spent the evening drinking at home & listening to some VERY loud music – Raw Power, Uriah Heep Live, Led Zep One.”
March 12, 1979: “Mail’s Eurovision pic shows the Nolans in various national costumes. Shame about that typo in the caption.”
March 14, 1980: “Lunchtime pint of Directors in Kings Head. Good beer, sun streaming through window. I very nearly didn’t go back to work."
March 15, 1979: “Under [course bigmouth’s] name on the rugby team list, someone’s added ‘Knock out his teeth & put in a row of seats’."
March 16, 1979: “Tagged along on [shopper]’s supermarket trip. Surprised to discover he swaps prices on the chickens to save cash. Not the type."
March 17, 1977: “Scored 7 excellent 25p singles from ex-Jukebox store. Artists include Bob Dylan, Labelle, Steve Miller Band & Bryan Ferry.”
March 18. 1981: “Mate of Conrad’s turns up with a bag attached to his belt. It’s labeled, ‘Dangerous drugs – keep out of reach of policemen’.”
March 19, 1981: “There’s a house round our way called Ben Dova. Everyone claims it belongs to a doctor.”
March 19 (supplemental): I wonder if that house was named after the great vaudevillian comedian & acrobat Ben Dova? http://tinyurl.com/2fye74.
March 20, 1979: “Saw The Last Waltz. Muddy Waters was great (heartwarming in fact). Even Dylan's set was less boring than it is on the LP.”
March 21, 1979: "Jon's kicking himself for skipping Wild Horses' post-gig party last night. Proper rock & roll excess at the Holiday Inn."
March 22, 1979: Tom Robinson Band at the Poly. “Initial rush of the first 3 numbers was great, but rest of their set lacked any real spark."
March 22 (supplemental): “Tom bemoans fact that we all happily sing along with Glad To Be Gay but still cringe if he kisses a man on stage.”
March 23, 1981: “Met a Cornish fisherman in the Union, who was singing some great old fishing and drinking songs. He really could sing too.”
March 24, 1981: “Quick blast of George Thorogood at 9:00am to get me out of bed. Leaves me singing One Bourbon One Scotch One Beer all day.”
March 25, 1981: "Find new pub called the Railway. Courage Best at 38p a pint, good jukebox at 5p a play & a barman who likes the Specials."
March 26, 1978: "Spent today listening to Wailers Live, Exodus, My Aim is True & Out of Their Skulls [by the Pirates]. All good stuff."
March 27, 1979: “Watched that amazing plasticine animation for Zappa’s City of Tiny Lites on Whistle Test.” [http://tinyurl.com/985k49u]
March 29, 1978: “Scored 36 points watching Mike Read's Pop Quest. Episode’s winning contestant managed just 24 points.”
March 30, 1977: Go-go dancer tackles Cozy Powell’s Dance With the Devil on live lunchtime TV. “Her top kept lifting and exposing a nipple.”
March 31, 1978: Punk band the Fruit Eating Bears have somehow made the Song For Europe finals. “Watched their TV performance agog.”
March 31 (supplemental): “FEBs finished last, of course (well, equal last), but what I can’t figure out is how they got shortlisted in the first place.”
March 31 (supplemental): FEBs’ Song for Europe performance on YouTube: http://tinyurl.com/ojn542f. Band’s own story: http://tinyurl.com/px3xu6s.
April 2, 1978: “We need someone with a car so we can get to Elvis Costello’s Penzance gig next week. Think I've talked [car owner] into driving us."
April 3, 1978: “Did you hear about the guy from the Socialist Workers Party who broke a copper's kneecap? He was wearing a steel jockstrap.”
April 4, 1977: “The good news is that Peely’s back to two hours a night again at ten till midnight.” [Had been 1hr from 11pm since 29/9/76].
April 5, 1979: “Pestered the DJ at Tantons. Even now, he told me, they’re ‘not allowed to play Sex Pistols records’ there. Idiots.”
April 6, 1978: “Scored 92 points in the Pop Quest final.” [The fact I bothered to write this down tells you how pleased with myself I was.]
April 7, 1980: Iron Maiden at the Fiesta. "Went along purely for a chance to observe meathead heavy metal fans in their natural environment.”
April 7 (supplemental): “Lots of air guitarists in the crowd. My favourite one paused now & again to adjust his invisible guitar strap."
April 7 (supplemental): “When the DJ played some Ted Nugent, all the air guitarists dropped to their knees and continued playing from there."
April 7 (supplemental): “One guy wore patches for Tubeway Army, AC/DC, Blondie, Def Leppard, Queen, the Clash & Pink Floyd. Odd combination.”
April 7 (supplemental): “At one point, Iron Maiden set each half of the hall trying to sing louder than the other. It's heavy metal panto!"
April 8, 1977: “I particularly want to hear Peely's repeat of his Hot Rods & Stranglers sessions tonight, so I’m not bothering with the pub.”
April 9, 1977: “Scoured “Recent Chart-droppers” box in Boots. Found an EMI copy of Anarchy in The UK there priced at just 29p. Bought it."
April 9 (supplemental): EMI sacked the Pistols after just 3 months, & that Anarchy 7" single was their only EMI release. It's worth £50 now.
April 9 (supplemental): And here's the treasured object itself. Probably still the only truly rare record I've got.
April 10 (supplemental): Sounds daft now, I know, but your chosen musical tribe really mattered back then. Punk was especially polarising.
April 11, 1978: Elvis Costello in Penzance. "[Car owner], Simon & I drive down to the gig, entertained by a few tapes on my little radio cassette.”
April 11, 1978.
We got down to Penzance just after lunch, found the venue and wandered inside to see if the box office was open – which it wasn’t. We’d only been able to buy two advance tickets for the gig instead of the three we needed, but we’d heard there were going to be 250 on sale at the door. Someone in the Garden’s lobby warned us they were expecting a coachload of fans around mid-afternoon and that most of them would be queuing for tickets too. (1)
The roadies were humping all Costello’s gear in by this time, so we hung around for a bit and tried to lend a hand. When one particular roadie started swearing at us for being “too fucking slow”, we took that as our cue to let them sweat their guts out while we adjourned to the pub.
After a few pints and a lively exchange of our favourite “great piss-ups” stories, we returned to the Garden with a few cans to listen to some more music and chat to the eight or ten punters now queuing outside. This kept us amused till about 5:00pm, when Simon and I left [car owner] to hold our place in the line while we went off to fetch some fish & chips.
When we got back 45 minutes later, he was lying asleep on a wall with one lens of his glasses missing and blood all over his face. Someone had put a plaster on a cut above his eye and he was clutching an empty half-bottle of scotch which he’d evidently knocked back while we were away.
We got [car owner] just together enough to walk and bundled him into the car. Neither Simon nor I had a driving licence at that time, but Simon was at least taking lessons, so he got the job of driving the three of us out to the hospital. The only sense we could get out of our casualty was that he’d made some kind of lunge at one of the girls we’d been talking to in the queue. Whether she’d lamped him or whether he’d simply fallen flat on his face remained a mystery – not least to [car owner] himself.
A nurse at the hospital cleaned up the cut, confirmed there was no glass in his eyes and then sent us packing back to the venue. [Car owner] was sobering up a bit by now and shame-faced enough to insist Simon and I go on in with the two tickets we’d got while he joined the queue outside again. So that’s what we did. Simon got us a couple of pints in and we staked out a spot near the front of the stage. It was very hot and very packed – the most crammed-together audience I’ve seen since the Stranglers, in fact. (2)
Elvis Costello came on alone for his first number, performing it with just his own vocals and guitar. He then beckoned the band on stage, explaining that Bruce Thomas, the Attractions’ bass player, had cut his hand so guesting on bass tonight we’d have … Nick Lowe! (3)
That little bonus produced a welcoming cheer as Lowe ambled on stage, which he acknowledged with a quick “thank you’ wave before plugging in his bass. The whole band turned out to be on great form tonight and we got two encores, including Lowe’s own Heart of the City.
Heading towards the exit, we found [car owner] again, who told us he’d got in with no problem and had been enjoying Costello’s set from just a few rows behind Simon and I. He seemed as sober as anyone else present by then, so Simon returned his car keys and [car owner] drove us back home. He spent most of the journey squinting at the road through the one remaining lens of his glasses, but we were all too knackered to care. We got home about 2:00am.
1) Despite Penzance being one of the most remote towns in the UK – less than 10 miles from Land’s End – the Garden scored a couple of coups in the punk years. Elvis Costello played his first-ever gig with the Attractions there in July 1977 (when they supported Wayne County & the Electric Chairs) and the Sex Pistols played one of their secret SPOTS gigs there in September the same year. Judging by this YouTube footage, the SPOTS gig was a good ‘un as well .
2) This comparison appears elsewhere in the diary too, so it had evidently become my personal yardstick for ridiculously packed dancefloors. I'd see the Stranglers in October 1977, but my diary was miles behind at the time so I never wrote up the gig properly. All I have is a later note saying how good they'd been that night.
3) Until writing this in 2014, I’d assumed that Penzance was the only gig on that tour lucky enough to have Nick Lowe guesting with Elvis. In fact, ours was just the third of seven gigs where he substituted for Thomas in April 1978.
April 13, 1979: “Good things about today included John Peel and Debbie Harry on R1’s Roundtable. Peel was suitably scathing throughout.”
April 14, 1981: ‘News still full of Brixton riots. They’re coming more frequently now: the Brixtons & the Bristols & the Notting Hill Gates.”
April 15, 1976: “[Thin Lizzy’s album] Fighting arrived from the record club today. Taped it and sent it back.”
April 16, 1975: “Today consisted of one Hamlet essay, about half the maths I had to do and twelve hours of Deep Purple.”
April 17, 1980: Glued this (unidentified) press clipping in my diary. For some reason, it seemed to amuse me.”
April 19, 1978: “Bought Kevin Coyne’s Majorie Razorblade in the market for £2.50. Simon got the TRB EP in Woolies for just 30p.”
April 20, 1978: Steve Hillage at the Metro. “Boring. After a few numbers, we pushed back to the bar & spent the rest of the evening there.”
April 21, 1981: “Paul & I did some tapes for the party. Top picks are the Clash (8 tracks), Stones (7), Madness (4), Ramones (3), Bowie (3).”
April 22, 1980: The Members at ??????. “Really crappy turnout – place was three-quarters empty. Band gave it their all nonetheless. Lots of new material.”
April 22 (supplemental): “Bogs were full of punks buying cheap pills. One waited till I was mid-piss to ask ‘Got change for a quid mate?’”
April 23, 1976: “This week’s NME crossword was just the right level of difficulty - a right bugger but I eventually managed to finish it.”
April 24, 1979: Joined protest at a local NF meeting where chairman John Tyndall was due to speak. The cops turned him away without doing so.
April 24 (supplemental): “All the city’s punks were out dressed to the nines. NF side was a mix of simian skinheads and baffled old ladies.”
April 25, 1980: “Got a letter from 2000AD saying they’d be using my Gnarl drawing & enclosing postal order for £3. It’s a start, I suppose.”
April 25 (supplemental): That drawing was the first work I ever got into print. Visit PlanetSlade’s press archive to admire the thing itself
April 25 (supplemental): I wonder how many now-famous UK comics creators had childhood drawings published in 2000AD? Someone should check.
April 26, 1980: Private Eye reproduces this small ad from the Leeds Evening Post. "Made me laugh out loud in Arcadia."
April 28, 1977: “Lots of smart arse stuff in Gasbag this week. It’s the NME with Muddy Waters on the cover.” http://tinyurl.com/qzcwf8j.
April 28 (supplemental): Gasbag was NME’s very feisty letters page. One reply to a reader’s stupid letter read (in full) "Oh ... piss off".
April 29, 1980: Bought the issue of 2000AD containing my Gnarl drawing. “I was chuffed & spent most of today staring at him.”
April 30, 1978: Caught unawares by radio play of Paul Jones’ Pretty Vacant parody – soaked in strings with soulful sax solo. “Yikes!”
April 30 (supplemental): Pistols' original had charted in July the previous year. Hear Jones' syrupy reply here: http://tinyurl.com/nhkcmdn.
May 1 (supplemental): The Face began as a music mag rather than a style one. Issue 1 features Clash, Specials, Dexy's, Madness, PiL etc.
May 1 (supplemental): First issue’s contributors included NME folk like Julie Burchill, Tony Parsons, Anton Corbijn, Ray Lowry & Pennie Smith.
May 1 (supplemental): NME’s absence that week was due to an NUJ strike. I assume The Face timed its launch to exploit that fact.
May 1 (supplemental): And here’s that first issue of The Face itself. Founding editor Nick Logan was an ex-NME man too, of course.
May 3, 1978: Bought Five Live Stiffs, The Last Waltz [by The Band] and Neil Young’s American Stars & Bars. Total cost was £10.29.”
May 4, 1977: “Bought Diamond Dogs and [Mike Nesmith’s] Rio for 30p each. The B side of Rio is called Life The Unsuspecting Captive. Boogie!”
May 5, 1981: “A new couple's just taken over the King’s Arms. They already seem to dislike its regular punks-hippies-&-freaks clientele."
May 5 (supplemental): A punk accidentally smashed his glass in there a few days later. Landlord used this excuse to ban everyone en masse.”
May 6, 1978: “Rissole’s bought a load of singles, including Ku Klux Klan [by Steel Pulse]. Time for a taping session, I feel.”
May 7, 1978: “Lunchtime at home sitting in my window in the sun, chanting along to Linton Kwesi Johnson through a mouthful of tuna fish roll.”
May 7 (supplemental): Love of LKJ's discs + white boy from Devon = me chanting along in best approximation of a Black British accent. Dodgy.
May 8, 1977: “[Tony Palmer’s] All You Need is Love was very good last night. It had some fantastic old Elvis Presley footage on there.”
May 9, 1980: “Bought a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s The Great Shark Hunt on the way home from work and spent all evening reading it.”
May 9 (supplemental): … and all weekend too for that matter. Shark Hunt’s so good I completed its 622 pages over my lunchbreak on the Monday.
May 10, 1977: "Spent all morning reading my new comics. I swear Tomb of Dracula 56 will be seen as a classic one day."
May 11, 1978: Pirates at the Metro. “Superb gig. I was up the front (of course) and I went apeshit as did everybody else. What a great band."
May 11 (supplemental): “I shook Mick Green’s hand & pinched the beer bottle he’d left behind on stage. Carling Black Label. Half full too!”
May 12, 1981: “Paul and I got in from the pub last night just in time to see news of Bob Marley’s death on Newsnight. Another good one gone."
May 13, 1980: Went to see Dave Allen live in Plymouth. “It was great stuff with perfect timing. He’s much dirtier than he is on telly.”
May 14, 1980: Bodysnatchers at the Top Rank. “They were great – leaping around was rife. Two rather sweet lesbian skinheads up the front.”
May 15, 1978: “Big boat trip party. Our contribution to the drunken sing-songs was to teach everyone the Pogues’ version of Worms."
May 16, 1978: “I forgot to mention what a good TOTP it was last week: Thin Lizzy, Sham 69, Blondie, Patti Smith, TRB & X-Ray Spex. Not bad."
May 17, 1980: Portsmouth weekend. “Paul & I drive out to Porchester Castle, first Clash LP blasting out of the cassette player over & again.”
May 17 (supplemental): “Pub DJ cut off my 2-Tone juke box selections. Made up for it by playing them on his own massive speakers instead.”
May 18, 1978: “I finally got the TRB album today and screw you NME, ‘cos it’s great. I’ve played it twice through now with more to come.”
May 18 (supplemental): I was a huge TRB fan at this point, & evidently felt the NME's review had been unduly harsh. I wonder what they said?
May 19, 1980: George Melly at Marjohns. “I managed to lose my ticket last week & it’s a sod of a place to get to. Didn’t have the heart to buy another.”
May 20, 1980: “Heard the excellent new Clash single on Peely last night. I’ve been singing ‘My daddy was a bank robber’ to myself all day.”
May 20 (supplemental): In fact, Joe Strummer’s father worked for the Foreign Office. But ‘My daddy was a dip-lo-mat’ lacks that rebel ring.
May 21, 1980: “Pub for lunch. Hit new personal best on Space Invaders while singing along flawlessly to Going Underground on the juke box."
May 22, 1976: “Taped the Stones' In Concert, which was pretty good. Rissole’s sister has a ticket for one of next week's Earl’s Court gigs.”
May 23, 1980: “Had a brief chat with Gilbert Shelton at his Virgin Megastore signing. Got him to sign my copies of Freak Brothers 1-5 too.”
May 23 (supplemental): I asked Shelton to sign one comic “in the gap there”. Thinking I’d said “gutter”, he assumed I was a fellow cartoonist. Bliss!
May 24, 1978: Last day of exams. “Failed to persuade anyone we should celebrate by seeing Steel Pulse at Woods tonight. Up the pub instead."
May 25, 1980: “Jon says if he ever had to caricature me, my speech balloon would read: ‘Hey! Have you heard Psycho-Chicken by the Fools?!’”
May 25 (supplemental): He wasn't far off either. I was always enthusing about some bizarre record back then - often ones that made me laugh.
May 25 (supplemental): That Fools’ Psycho Killer parody is (as Jon spotted) a perfect example. And here it is: http://tinyurl.com/ybt2poy.
May 27, 1979: “Really enjoyed tonight’s South Bank Show about Rough Trade. They had some great footage of Stiff Little Fingers playing live”
May 28, 1975: “Pipedream [by Alan Hull] is such a brilliant album. The only time I’ve taken it off the turntable is to flip it over.”
May 29, 1981: “Bill will have his little joke in the law exam questions: ‘Fred was employed by LIMP Ltd as a finisher in their wooden leg factory …’.”
May 29 (supplemental): Question continued: “Fred was seriously injured while making a wooden leg for his mother-in-law’s Christmas present.”
May 29 (supplemental): “Law papers refuse to include the 2 or 3 topics I’m actually OK on. ‘He’s just not questioning my answers,’ I told Stewart.”
May 30, 1980: “Last day at work. Leaving present (£6 in record tokens) goes on LKJ’s Bass Culture and a Gene Vincent compilation.”
May 31, 1978: “Played Pistols’ album while working down the shop. Amused myself by mouthing Bodies’ lyrics at some baffled customers.”
June 2, 1977: “Got Mum to pick up my copy of [Muddy Waters’] Hard Again while she was in town. She brought me back me some beer too!”
June 3, 1977: “Rissole much amused by new Pistols interview. Half-asleep Sid interjected ‘He wants a fucking kicking’ at every name mentioned.”
June 4, 1977: Silver Jubilee mania much in evidence. This letter from today’s Express happened to come from a couple in my home town:
June 4 (supplemental): Not everyone was taking the Silver Jubilee so seriously. Here’s a small ad I preserved from that week’s NME:
June 5 (supplemental): I didn’t write that Hollywood Brats thing in my diary, but whoever did had good taste. Here’s proof: http://tinyurl.com/mhfezok.
June 5 (supplemental): “Bought Snowblind by Robert Sabbag. It’s VERY Hunter S. Thompson and damn fine stuff. I’m well stuck into it already.”
June 6, 1980: Customer requests fags, I ask for 70p.
Him: ‘Christ! 70p? Think I’ll go back where I came from!’
Me: ‘Where’s that?’
Him: ‘The nick.’
June 7, 1977: “Purged some old LPs at the market. Swapped the Kinks, Elton John & Caravan for a blues compilation & some Brinsley Schwarz.”
June 8, 1980: “Woke up early. Got the day started off right with a blast through the Specials album and the new Costello one [Get Happy!!].”
June 9, 1977: “Trip to London. Stallholder next to the Comics Collector’s Bookstall was telling everyone he’d been held up at gunpoint yesterday.”
June 10, 1976: "Johnnie Walker spent his Radio 1 show today playing all the LP chart's heaviest tracks then topped them off with a banned single."
June 10 (supplemental): Walker then had just 3 wks left on his R1 contract. He'd fallen out with the Beeb after refusing to play daytime pap.
June 10 (supplemental): Most likely, the banned single was Donna Summer’s Love To Love You Baby, which the BBC felt was too sexual to broadcast.
June 11, 1978: “Played Clash album down the shop. Spotted couple of OAP customers happily tapping their feet & humming along to White Riot.”
June 12, 1980: "Went into Barnstaple, where I bought the NME. It's back again after six weeks on strike! Thank God for that."
June 13, 1979: “Asked Strathmore's DJ for I Fought The Law from Clash’s chart EP. 'Nah, we haven’t got any rubbish like that,' he replied."
June 14, 1981: Paul & I throw a big party at the flat. Our chosen dress theme is ‘Conspicuous Injuries’.”
June 14 (supplemental): “Steve arrives in an old white shirt he's decorated with blood-stained bullet holes. ‘I’m John Lennon,’ he explains."
June 14 (supplemental): “Collette & her sister squeezed into 1 big shirt. Band-aid on each chin to show they'd once been conjoined there too.”
June 14 (supplemental): “Hugh came in a lab coat with a real lamb’s heart fixed to the breast pocket. It ended up in next door’s garden.”
June 14 (supplemental): [Female guest] hi-jacked my diary at the party & wrote a long drunken account of her sexual adventures. It’s a good read.
June 15, 1978: “Got the new Stones album [Some Girls] and it’s dashed fine stuff. I particularly like Girl With Faraway Eyes & Shattered."
June 16, 1978: “Spent all morning in bed listening to Some Girls – 6 or 7 plays. Record actually felt warm when I took it off the turntable.”
June 17, 1977: Eddie & the Hot Rods at Chequers. “Small-town audience produces strange hybrids. One old hippy wears a dog collar. A hippunk?”
June 17, 1977.
“Quick intro then: Wham! The Hots Rods are on. The noise hits you like a kidney punch and you’re giving all your energy and it’s not enough so you have to find a little more from somewhere so you can pogo a little higher, clap a little louder. We’re all packed in like sardines, being pushed every which way, dripping sweat, everyone’s going apeshit. First number over, clapclapclap. “Thank you”. Wham! Straight into the next one. Get down, jump, shout, move, faster, louder, higher, more! More!
“During On The Run’s instrumnetal break, some idiot leaps up to Barrie Masters’ mike, grabs it, gets it as far as ‘I just want to tell you something…’ then: Pow! The roadies are on him. He won’t let go, so they have to drag him off stage, swearing and spitting.
“Just after this bloke’s been dragged off, the drummer disappears and doesn’t come back. A roadie dashes on, whispers/shouts in Masters’ ear, Ricky Rocket [from the Automatics] takes over drums, end of number. “Sorry, goodnight!” Clapclapclapclapclap. “More! More!” Scream louder, they’ll listen, they’ve got to! “Hot Rods! Hot Rods!” I start the chant. “Hot Rods! (clapclapclap) Hot Rods! (clapclapclap)”, everyone picks up on it. They’re back!
“Roadie drumming, Satisfaction. Clap, scream, yell, leap. Hands on the shoulders of the guy in front so you can jump higher, yes! Yes! They’ve finished again, they’ve gone off. “More! More!” But now they’re dismantling the gear.
Ah well, time to go home. Feel how wasted you are, the effort of the last hour catches up with you all at once and you’re suddenly knackered. No more adrenalin, no more nothing.
“The set, as near as I can figure it out, was Teenage Depression, The Kids Are Alright, Horseplay, Schoolgirl Love, Keep On Keepin’ On, Hard Drivin’ Man, Do What You Wanna Do, Double-checking Woman, I Might Be Lying, Been So Long, Show Me, On The Run and Satisfaction. If It hadn’t been for that silly incident with the drummer, I’m pretty sure we’d have had a longer set, because they didn’t do Wooly Bully, Gloria or Get Out Of Denver. (1)
“Dick, Ollie & I wandered as far as the park, flopped out exhausted in the bus shelter there and talked about the gig over the ringing in our ears. What a brilliant night!”
1) I still don’t know what the drummer’s beef was that night, but I suspect it may have had something to do with the gig being so badly-organised. There was no stage for the band to play on – just a section of the club’s dancefloor cordoned off by monitors - and no attempt at any kind of crowd control either. At this point, the Hot Rods were just a couple of months away from their first Top Ten hit, so perhaps drummer Steve Nicol simply felt they shouldn’t be playing half-assed gigs like this any more. If so, I can quite see why the stage invasion I mentioned might have been his last straw.
June 18 (supplemental): “They did a great blues tribute to Robert Johnson, plus some big band R&B. The brass section was out of this world.”
June 19, 1980: London trip. “Off to the Marquee. Neil Innes has cancelled for some reason, so I ended up seeing the Oi Band there instead.”
June 19 (supplemental): "[The Oi Band] weren't up to much - sort of fastish heavy metal. Still, they're young & they've got lots of songs."
June 20, 1980: “Saw The Great Rock & Roll Swindle which is (& let me emphasise this) a real piece of shit. No redeeming features whatsoever.”
June 20 (supplemental): “Failed to persuade Paul we should go see Blast Furnace & the Copyright Infringements tonight at the Hope & Anchor."
June 20 (supplemental): Paul’s objection was that he had to be at work for 6:30 next morning. Seemed a ridiculous excuse to me at the time.
June 20 (supplemental): Blast Furnace was NME's Charles Shaar Murray. Band was BF & the Heatwaves till legal threats from US disco's Heatwave.
June 21, 1980: “Tube to Holloway Road cinema supposed to be showing Rude Boy. It was on yesterday & it's on tomorrow, but not today. Bugger!”
June 21 (supplemental): Rude Boy was the Clash’s (rather good) movie. Details here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rude_Boy_(film)
June 22, 1977: Exeter trip. “We wandered round mocking all the shop window chart displays with a gap where God Save The Queen ought to be.”
June 23, 1978: "Tuesday's Whistle Test was cancelled for some reason. Tried Peel instead, only to find Paul Gambaccini sitting in for him."
June 24, 1978: “Playing Ian Dury’s NB&Ps in the shop when a very straight-looking housewife said how much she loved him. Knew her stuff too."
June 24 (supplemental): We talked about Dury for ages. Did I mention to her that I'd seen the Kilburns live back in August 1974? You bet I did!
June 25, 1979: “Serving in the shop when a water-pistol war broke out between 2 groups of Malibu’s staff. Happily sold arms to both sides.”
June 26, 1980: “Tonight’s Bodysnatchers gig at Chequers has been cancelled at the last minute. The drummer’s quit to finish her ‘A’ levels!”
June 27, 1980: “I’ve just noticed, there’s no Top of the Pops these days, is there? Must be the Musicians’ Union strike at the Beeb.”
June 27 (supplemental): MU kept TOTP off-air for 5 weeks. Show can't have been much cop then as it took me a month even to notice it was missing.
June 28, 1977: “Played nothing but [the Stranglers’] Rattus Norvegicus all day today. Shouted happily along to Peaches, Grip, Ugly etc.”
June 29, 1980: “Splashed out on the Splodgenessabounds single [Two Pints of Lager …] and gave it a good going over this afternoon.”
June 29 (supplemental): Years later, I met Max Splodge in Melody Maker’s old Endell St pub. First thing he did was scrounge a drink off me.”
June 30, 1981: Saved this press clipping from (I would guess) the Daily Telegraph:
July 1 (supplemental): “Album reviews? Stones: OK I suppose, but basically not up to much. Beat: Fine stuff, no doubt about it.”
July 2, 1981: “Large scotch & a blast on the hi-fi to celebrate getting my 2:2. All the usual suspects: Pistols, Clash, Feelgoods, Ramones.”
July 3, 1980: "Got bus to Exeter with Chivers’ & his Spanish students. 'Very appropriate,' he said of my all-black garb. 'The Franco look'."
July 3 (supplemental): "Went round the Exeter record shops. Chivers was trying to find that free Joy Division flexi-single. No luck, though."
July 3 (supplemental): I'd evidently got one earlier, as I've just found it stacked away with all my other 7-inch singles in the garage.
July 3 (supplemental): Tracks are Komakino, Incubation & As You Said. Record shops were used to distribute 10,000 free copies in June 1980.
July 4, 1978: “You know what’s sad? Singing along to Teenage Lust, Bored Teenagers etc, then realising you’re not a teenager any more.”
July 4 (supplemental): I’d have been 20 for about a month at that point. Still a lot younger than the guys singing on those records, mind!
July 5, 1977: "Finally managed to buy God Save The Queen & it's GREAT!" [Copies must have been hard to find where I was in deepest Devon.]
July 6, 1981: Hong Kong trip. First glimpse of real poverty abroad. The line ‘A cheap holiday in other people’s misery’ haunted me for 2 weeks."
July 7, 1980: "A day of watching old films on TV. Morning: Earth vs The Flying Saucers. Afternoon: My Six Convicts. Evening: Chato's Land."
July 8, 1977: Got my first passport (for a coming trip to France). “In September I’m off to Leetle Beub Steury land”.
July 8 (supplemental): Little Bob Story was that rare creature: a Frenchman who made good records in the '70s. Proof: http://tinyurl.com/psgl47d
July 9, 1981: "Lying in room 1821 of the Hong Kong Excelsior watching the English-language news. Sixth straight night of riots in the UK."
July 9 (supplemental): "Latest to burn are Wood Green (Tuesday), Moss Side (Wednesday) & Lewisham (tonight).”
July 10, 1977: “I’ve just made up a joke.
Q: ‘What do you get it you cross the Ramones with the Fonz?’
A: ‘Gabba Gabba Heyyyyyyy’.”
July 11, 1978: “Listening to Peely. Might just be the mood I'm in, but he seems to be playing an amazing number of really excellent records.”
July 11 (supplemental): “Blast Furnance & the Heatwaves session. Peel: ‘Wouldn’t life be unbearable if Charles Shaar Murray became a star?’"
July 11 (supplemental): I don’t think Peel held any malice towards CSM – just a healthy suspicion of all rock journalists’ egos.
July 12, 1976: Saved this (now rather tattered) clipping from The Guardian. It’s a bizarre little tale:
July 13 (supplemental): I never saw the Bricks live, but tales of Viva’s antics reached us from time to time. Profile: http://tinyurl.com/pjh6skv.
July 14, 1972: It’s pre-diary, but this was the date of the first real gig I ever went to: Slade at Barnstaple Queen’s Hall. Wot a grate nite!
July 14, 1972.
Slade were the first band I ever saw live, at a July 1972 concert at the Queen’s Hall, Barnstaple, about ten miles from where I lived on the North Devon coast. Noddy & co had scored three top three hits in the past year at that point, with another two years of peak success still in front of them and I loved them more than any band except Marc Bolan’s T. Rex. (1)
I was only 14 at the time, but off I went to our town’s one and only record shop to buy a ticket. The guy working behind the counter treated every customer with studied boredom, but when I explained what I wanted he did eventually deign to produce the shop’s ticket book to take down my details.
“Name?” he asked.
“Slade,” I replied, with simple honesty.
He gave an infinitely patient sigh: “No,” he said. “Your name.”
My single strongest memory from the gig itself is of watching the Queen’s Hall balcony above my head bounce violently up and down as the fans seated there stamped rhythmically along to Coz I Luv You, Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Look Wot You Dun and every other number in the band’s set. It seemed certain that the whole structure would collapse on my head at any moment, but I wouldn’t have left the hall for anything.
Slade Alive had been out for only a couple of months at this point and Take Me Bak ‘Ome had been Number 1 just a fortnight earlier, so this was a band in top form. I was too timid to join the knot of people dancing at the lip of the stage, but I had the time of my life anyway and decided that live music was the best thing ever.
Bob Crampton, a North Devon Journal hack sent along to cover the concert for that week’s paper seemed a bit baffled by the rituals on view and later described them in the tones of a highly-shockable maiden aunt. “A series of 30 speakers screamed out sounds that must have have shaken the very foundations of the Queen’s Hall,” his review began. “It was an evening for the fans who revel in extra loud guitar sounds, stomping and hand-clapping. The four-man group encouraged audience participation and soon had the hundreds of youngsters responding with rhythmic clapping and stamping. It was very much like a fotoball crowd.”
Indeed it was, Bob: for most of us, that unruly atmosphere was precisely the point of attending the gig in the first place. (2)
1) It was also this gig which gave me my first understanding of what you might call pop music’s class system. Slade’s down-to-earth image allowed them to keep right on playing smaller venues even at the height of their success without anyone thinking the less of them. The ethereal, other-worldly Marc Bolan sold no more records than Slade, but if he’d ever turned up for a gig somewhere as humble as Barnstaple Queen’s Hall, his mystique would have been fatally punctured. I couldn’t have articulated any of this back in 1972, but I understood instinctively even then that while a Slade gig at the Queen’s Hall made perfect sense, a T. Rex one there was unthinkable.
2) About 18 months after this gig, Let It Rock sent the American critic Lester Bangs along to witness a Slade show for himself. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” he reported. “When they come on it’s like a combination of Beatlemania in full bloom and the early MC5.” You can read Bangs’ full piece on the Guardian website here.
July 16, 1976: “Tonight’s Heavy Metal Kids gig is cancelled. Gary Holton’s broken his leg by jumping off the amps & through the drum kit.”
July 17. 1979: “All up to Rissole’s after the pub. I seem to recall drawing a chaos symbol on his parents' bathroom mirror in toothpaste."
July 18, 1977: "Tony Blackburn says Olivia Newton John's Sam lyrics ‘have more relevance to the state of things today than any punk stuff’.”
July 18 (supplemental): Sam is a mawkish love song. This was around the time of Blackburn's divorce & he was famously maudlin on-air then.
July 19, 1980: "Caught chanting Ranking Roger's Hands Off She's Mine toast in apparently empty street. Woman appears from nowhere & glares."
July 20, 1978: “Finally got my hair cut to approved punk rock length. First reaction? ‘It makes your face look fatter’.”
July 21, 1978: “NME reports record industry is close to developing a spoiler signal to put on all vinyl records. Idea is to block home taping.”
July 21 (supplemental): “Chivers recalls recent party’s huge banner reading 'HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CLINT'. Not the best name for an all-caps font.”
July 22, 1980: “Post-pub session at Jon's with the first Ramones LP. Those songs sound so slow now compared to the live album’s versions.”
July 22 (supplemental): The band later said: "Our sets used to be 37 minutes long. Now they're 31 minutes long. We're getting faster all the time."
July 23, 1976: NME carries the Hip Young Gunslingers ad that ended up recruiting Julie Burchill & Tony Parsons.
July 24, 1976: “I ordered [the Stones’] Exile on Main Street from Braddicks, & it should be here in a week to ten days.”
July 24 (supplemental): That’s what it was like before the internet, kids. Particularly if you were stuck out in the middle of nowhere like I was.”
July 25, 1981: “Anne’s 10-yr-old is a big Clash fan. He can’t believe you could still see them playing little UK club gigs just 4 yrs ago."
July 25 (supplemental): The Clash had then just finished 17 nights at Bonds Casino in NYC. Anne’s kid saw them as huge, unreachable stars.
July 26, 1980: “Mass outing to see Rude Boy at the Plough in Torrington: Chivers, his brother, his brother’s mate from Germany and me.”
July 26 (supplemental): “Best bit was Mick Jones in the studio doing Stay Free. German kid was glad of the movie's lessons in English swearing.”
July 27, 1975: Chris Farlowe & Friends at Hove Town Hall. “The friends include Albert Lee [from Heads Hands & Feet] on guitar.”
July 28, 1980: “Devon shopkeeper has stopped selling 'a well-known brand of shoe restorer' because kids were buying it to sniff & get high.”
July 28 (supplemental): “Radio 4 says the penny dropped for this bloke when he saw his normal 1-a-week sales had risen to 36 in a fortnight.”
July 28 (supplemental): That shoe restorer story reminds me of Lenny Bruce's Airplane Glue routine. See it here: http://tinyurl.com/mdgrfdx.
July 29, 1978: “Buzzcoks, Ian Dury & Siouxsie on Revolver. Too many fancy camera tricks for my liking. Distracts attention from the band.”
July 29 (supplemental): “The HTV announcer before Revolver was hilarious. ‘The Buzz…cocks? Ian Dru …Dury. See-ouks-ee & her Banshees’.”
July 29 (supplemental): “Last run of So It Goes got rock telly right. Just bung a camera near the front at a real gig & let the band play."
July 30, 1975: Went to see a production of Joeseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat in Brighton. “It was absolutely brilliant.”
July 30 (supplemental): Naff of me, I know, but I really did love that show. I went to see it again two nights later & even bought the LP.
July 31, 1975: Blues John supporting the Spangled Mob at the Alhambra in Brighton. "Damn fine pub and a fuckin’ brilliant band."
July 31 (supplemental): No sign of the Spangled Mob on the web, I’m afraid. But this must be where they got the name: http://tinyurl.com/o6wfea5.
August 2, 1978: “Drove ourselves mad trying to remember the bass part from [Thin Lizzy's] Cowboy Song on our walk home from the pub."
August 2 (supplemental): “Rissole deliberately kept singing the bass line from Lizzy's Dancing in the Moonlight instead. Oh how we laughed!"
August 3, 1976: Eric Clapton Band at the ABC in Plymouth. Much to everyone’s disgust (including ours at the time) he refused to play Layla.
August 3, 1976.
The support act, Mr Pugh’s Puppet Theatre, bemused the audience right from the start because – contrary to all our assumptions – it really was a puppet theatre.
Mr Pugh began proceedings by standing on a chair with his arms outstretched playing planes, which produced a slow handclap punctuated by various bits of heckling. Even when you could hear what he was saying, it didn’t seem particularly funny. Suffice to say that the biggest round of applause during his whole act came when some wit in the third row of the stalls shouted “Shit” at the top of his lungs. Soon after that Mr Pugh took the hint and headed for the wings. (1)
Clapton’s set started with a couple of new numbers which he played acoustic on while George Terry played electric. These were pretty good, but throughout both of them Rissole was mumbling something about not coming “all this way to hear George Terry play guitar”. That reaction was pretty well universal, I think. Clapton went on to do quite a bit of older stuff, including a blues medley of Ramblin’ Man, Have You Ever Loved a Woman and Stormy Monday. The song everyone wanted do hear was Layla, of course, but he still hadn’t done it by the time he left the stage for the first time. (2)
We did the old ‘clap clap, stomp stomp, more more’ routine for a while (quite a long while, actually), during which time several people simply gave up and went home. When Clapton did eventually return to the stage, he launched into a great long rambling tease about how he’d meant to play this next song, but he’d forgotten and so he’d better play it now. Much to no-one’s amusement – except perhaps his own – he then played Key to the Highway.
Pretty clearly, that was our lot. After a not-very-hopeful attempt to get a second encore, everyone started to file out. We decided to let the majority of the crowd clear before we moved, so we settled back to watch the roadies dismantle the equipment. One roadie picked up a guitar and played an only slightly stumbling version of Layla’s introduction which had half the crowd turning round and wondering of they should dash back to their seats again. With just three more lessons under his belt, that roadie could have produced a ‘Many Deaths in Rock Stampede Tragedy’ headline for tomorrow’s papers.”
1) I wish we’d paid more attention to Mr Pugh now, because I’ve since discovered he was Ted Milton, who went on to form Blurt. His admirers down the years have included Tony Wilson, Ian Dury and Terry Gilliam. More information here.
2) This review provides shaming proof that I wasn’t nearly as hip as I thought I was back in 1976. Punk was already on the rise at this time, after all, but our little gang clearly hadn’t yet reached the point of rejecting Clapton worship.
Me: “I had a two pints at lunch, does that make any difference?”
Nurse: “Yes. It makes me very jealous.”
August 6, 1980: “I’m told I was singing along to The Beat’s Can’t Get Used to Losing You rather loudly at two o’clock this morning. I was?”
August 7, 1978: “Stayed up for BBC's repeat of Graham Parker’s Sight & Sound. The stupid Pope’s snuffed it so they had his obit on instead."
August 7 (supplemental): That would have been Pope Paul VI, who’d popped his clogs the previous day. Sheer selfishness, I call it.
August 8, 1975: More Brighton gigs. Flatfoot at the Alhambra last night, Freeway at the Buccaneer tonight, Procol Harum in Hastings tomorrow.
August 8 (supplemental): “Flatfoot were very good. Not quite as good as the Spangled Mob last week, but still very good.”
August 8 (supplemental): Flatfoot's drummer Steve Harris went on to lead the acclaimed jazz boffins Zaum. Obituary: http://tinyurl.com/lftdkeq.
August 9, 1976: "Listened to John Peel's special records show on the Who. It was so good it actually got me out of my Stones mood."
August 9 (supplemental): Somehow, I managed to miss the Stones' own Peel special 4 days later. But it's not too late: http://tinyurl.com/ohe9pkt.
August 10, 1978: “Long wait in the optician's gave me time to read the NME’s Pete Townshend interview. Good piece, that.”
August 10 (supplemental): Who Are You was just a few days from release at that time. Keith Moon had less than a month to live.
August 11, 1981: Saved this news story from The Guardian. It seemed to amuse me for some reason.
August 13, 1979: “Just noticed the chorus of [The Boomtown Rats’] Mary of the 4th Form also fits Steppenwolf’s Born To Be Wild."
August 14, 1975: Krakatoa at the Alhambra. “Found myself sharing a table with a rather gorgeous woman and a black guy with one eye.”
August 14 (supplemental): “My two tablemates turned out to be Krakatoa's singer/keyboard player [Maggie Ryder] & drummer [Andy Anderson]."
August 14 (supplemental): Anderson went on to play with Hawkwind & the Cure. Ryder later sang backing vocals with both the Eurythmics & Queen.
August 14 (supplemental): I’m not the only one with fond memories of the Alhambra. Here's Venus in Furs' Paul Martin: http://tinyurl.com/mrqdyzv.
August 15, 1979: Price of beer increased in our local pub. Judging by this doodled response I was NOT amused:
August 17, 1979: “Bought the Buzzcocks’ re-issued Spiral Scratch EP. I recall lip-syncing ‘B’dum B’dum’ at some baffled kid while playing it down the shop.”
August 18, 1980: “I’m missing the Q-Tips in Barnstaple this evening. Decided to stay home and listen to John Peel instead.”
August 18 (supplemental): “Peel picked tonight to play a great track from the Q-Tips LP and remark that they’re ‘very good live’. Bugger!"
August 18 (supplemental): Old Peel tape reveals the Q-Tips track I liked so much that night was Keep Your Shoes On. Still sounds good to me.
August 19, 1977: “Bought Looking Through Gary Gilmore’s Eyes [by the Adverts] in Mills Music Emporium [Bideford]. What a great song.”
August 19 (supplemental): Bideford was not only my home town but also that of the band’s TV Smith & Gaye Advert. They’d wisely fled to London.
August 19 (supplemental): Norman Mailer’s book The Executioner’s Song confirms Gilmore’s corneas were taken for transplant. But who got them?
August 20, 1976: Left for Knebworth. This year’s bill is Don Harrison, Hot Tuna, Todd Rundgren, Lynyrd Skynryd, 10cc & the Stones.
Featuring the Don Harrison Band, Hot Tuna, Todd Rundgren and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Rissole, Chivers and I arrived at the site about 5:45am. It was a fantastic vista when we got there: hundreds of tents strewn about and thousands of really weird-looking hairies everywhere. The place already looked like a bomb had hit it.
We followed the general direction that everyone seemed to be going in, stepping over bodies, beer cans, tents and impromptu latrines. Eventually, after stumbling across four or five fields and jumping several ditches, we came to a huge gateway, which was crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with people trying to get through. We waited there for about half an hour, then finally got past the corregated iron fences and turnstiles. We were in!
“In” turned out to be in another large field, this time with a stage being set up at one end. The stage looked like a huge orangey-red circus tent and at that point we seemed to be a very long way away from it. As more and more people poured in behind us throughout the day, however, we realised we were relatively near the front.
We staked out a little spot for ourselves and sat down. There were still five hours to go till the first band was due on – and that was only the Don Harrison Band – so we weren’t feeling too excited. Rissole volunteered to guard our spot while Chivers and I went off for a wander round to see what souvenir stands or food vendors might be on offer. Even this early in the day, you had to thread your way laboriously between bodies to get anywhere.
Eventually, the Don Harrison Band came on. They were competent but dull, especially as the sound wasn’t very good. A few people leapt about a bit, but by and large no-one was in the mood. I mean, who wants to rock ‘n’ roll at 11:30am after sitting in a cold, wet field for several hours? We couldn’t see very well either, beyond glimpsing some tiny figures on the distant stage.
Hot Tuna came on about 1:00pm (as against the programme’s scheduled time of noon). They were pretty standard-issue heavy blues-rock clump, a genre which I’ve always hated. The only memorable thing that happened during their set was that three blokes just in front of us were moved by the music (and whatever drugs they’d been taking) to strip bollock naked and remain like that for the rest of the day. They insisted on dancing naked too which – believe me – was not a pretty sight.
Chivers and I went off for another little wander-round after Hot Tuna. Rissole had more patience for sitting still than us, so once again he guarded our spot. Various circus performers such as jugglers and fire-eaters had appeared by now, doing a quick turn on the stage between bands or wandering around in the crowd. These were the organisers’ only concession to the event’s official billing as “Knebworth Fair”, but they were never more than a token presence throughout the day. We also saw a very strange trio dressed up as a poor-taste parody of the most conventional middle-class family imaginable. Just another group of punters who’d decided to come along in fancy dress, I think.
Next band on were Todd Rundgren’s Utopia. They were definitely the best band so far, but they annoyed me by flat-out refusing to play any of the tracks I told them to. They were very, very loud, with some lovely weird noises from the moog. The best laugh of their set came right at the end: they left the stage (to only moderate applause), then rushed back on immediately to play an encore no-one had much seemed to want. Ten seconds more and they’d have had no excuse for an encore at all.
By the time Lynyrd Skynyd came on the delays had snowballed to about 90 minutes. But that was instantly forgotten because, by God, they were good. They were the first band today to get the crowd on its feet, jumping around, dancing, clapping. Their closing number was Free Bird, of course and that was just fantastic. The triple-threat guitars kept getting faster and higher and louder till you expected the whole band to spontaneously combust. It seemed like that was the only way they’d ever be able to stop. In contrast to Utopia, there was absolute bedlam in the crowd when Skynyrd went off but they (rather stylishly in my view) didn’t do an encore. (1)
All this time, the group of people to our right had been passing round an endless stream of joints, but they decided the end of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s set was the right time to switch to white powders. Chivers and I went off for another wander-round, this time getting caught up in the latest batch of people just arriving. We watched one bloke trying to fight off a couple of security guards before they dragged him away to eject him once and for all. There were lots of little kids around as well, who someone told us the organisers were letting in free.
There were so many joints going round by this time that you could get mildy high just by standing still in the right spot, but the handful of coppers wandering about seemed happy to ignore such minor infractions – and very sensible too. There were no bars on the site itself, but people were bringing in gallons of beer with them. One group of bikers I saw later in the day had formed a long chain from their transport to a spot near the stage and were efficiently passing three-crate stacks of beer from one man to the next along its entire length. We watched this process for quite some time, but their supply never seemed to run out. (2)
It was about this point that some naked bloke (not one of the guys in front of us: another naked bloke) crashed the stage and began masturbating frantically. This sight was projected on to the two giant video screens and vastly amused the majority of the crowd. The security guys understandably decided to wait till he’d finished before they tackled him and he received a sarcastic ovation as they bundled him off the stage. I imagine his antics must have prompted a few awkward questions among the young families attending: “Mummy, what was that man doing?”
When there was still no sign of 10cc two hours after their advertised start time, we saw the first signs of people starting to lose patience. Various groups dotted about the field started bashing beer cans and other implements together in a sort of augmented slow handclap, which eventually grew to a point where it drowned out Won’t Get Fooled Again on the massive PA.
It was starting to get dark by now and people were climbing the lighting rigs for a better view of the stage when something eventually did happen there. The security guards behind us were trying to remove the girls sat on the (rather primitive) toilet blocks’ roof, as the girls genially kicked at their faces and told them to piss off. (3)
10cc finally showed up and started their set with a really crappy version of Une Nuit a Paris, followed by Wall Street Shuffle and I’m Mandy, Fly Me. To be fair, they were always the wrong band to programme between Skynyrd and the Stones at an outdoor event – it’s hard to think of any band that would be wronger in fact – and they were bedevilled by poor sound throughout. The set degenerated into farce when I’m Not In Love’s crucial backing tapes fell horribly out of time with the live vocals on stage. They encored with a boogie-ish take on Rubber Bullets and then fled the field. Sometimes it’s just not your night.
We’d got separated from Chivers by now, who’d announced he was feeling unwell and gone off to find a usable toilet, but Rissole & I managed to move a bit closer to the front. We edged ourselves towards a tree just right of stage centre and, half and hour of patient jostling later, secured ourselves a pretty decent view of the stage.
Irritation in the crowd was continuing to grow. The programme had (foolishly) claimed that the Stones were going to be on at 7:30, but in fact 10cc hadn’t come on till well after that. Everyone who was likely to turn up was here by now. Estimates of the crowd ran from 200,000 to 250,000 and I later read some pundit claiming it was the biggest crowd ever gathered in Britain so far. And that crowd was not happy. Some idiots started throwing bottles and beer cans towards the stage, most of which fell short and just hit innocent punters in front of them.
It was almost midnight and getting very cold when we noticed that – finally – something significant seemed to be happening on stage ...
1) YouTube has some footage of Skynyrd’s Free Bird performance at Knebworth here.
2) Amazingly enough, I don’t think we brought in any booze with us at all. The only things I can remember us consuming all day are our sandwiches and some slightly overpriced cans of Coke.
3) The toilets comprised a plank of wood with a hole in it and a concrete floor about three feet beneath. By the end of the day, they were so overloaded that the accumulated deposits were protruding through the plank’s hole.
Something started happening with the circus tent affair surrounding the stage and we realised it was inflating.
It was now close to midnight. In the poor light I thought at first that the tent was going to take the shape of a devil’s head, with the two white spots I could see against its red surface forming its eyes and the twin corner supports its pointy ears. As soon as the stage lights snapped on, though, it became clear that it was the upper lip of the Stones’ famous logo, with the red catwalk thrusting out into the crowd serving as its tongue. The white spots, of course, turned out to be the lip’s painted-on highlights of reflective moisture.
The band burst on with a storming run-through of Satisfaction, Jagger as hyperactive as ever in his tie-dye jeans and skimpy bomber jacket. Keith Richards’ half-closed eyes and dangling cigarette made me wonder if he was entirely with us, but you sure wouldn’t have noticed any problem from his playing and that’s what counts. From his own wardrobe, the human riff had selected an oversized red and white polka-dot shirt to delight us – and very fetching he looked too.
Satisfaction clattered to a halt and Jagger addressed us for the first time. “‘Ello,” he said in his cockney guttersnipe voice. “‘Ello, Knobworth. Woooo! Thank you very much for waitin’. I’m afraid we’ve ‘ad a lot of ‘assles ‘ere today. I know you wanna leave me, well. But I refuse to…” Billy Preston recognised this as his cue to start the next number and bashed out the opening piano chords of Ain’t Too Proud to Beg as the band kicked in behind him. (1)
Sheer relief that the Stones’ set was underway at last had guaranteed an ecstatic response to those first two numbers. It was only with the third song – a medley of If You Can’t Rock Me and Get Off of My Cloud – that I started to calm down a bit and look at their performance more critically. There was no denying this medley seemed pretty rushed and perfunctory and that made me nervous for what was to come. “Oh shit,” I thought. “They’re on four hours late, so they’re just going to pelt through a token set and piss off out of it.” Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong. (2)
We got Hand of Fate next and then Jagger announced they planned to “go back aways” tonight and that they had a bloody great list of songs to get through. He was as good as his word and the set went on to delve as far back into the band’s back catalogue as 1964’s Around and Around and Route 66. From their most recent album at the time (1976’s Black & Blue), we got Hand of Fate, Hey Negrita, Hot Stuff and Fool To Cry. Their three finest albums of all were well-represented too, with Beggars’ Banquet getting two tracks and Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street given three apiece.
The only live favourites they didn’t play were Bitch and Sympathy for the Devil, but the set as a whole was so strong that even these much-loved songs weren’t really missed. Three of my own personal favourites from the more obscure end of the Stones’ catalogue – Little Red Rooster, Dead Flowers and You Gotta Move – got an airing too. Whatever your own chosen era from the band’s first 12 years, tonight you just couldn’t lose. (3)
Jagger’s announcement about their plans for the set gave him his first chance of the evening to tease Richards a little. “We’re goin’ to do an old one for ya,” he said. “This one’s called Around & Around. D’you remember that? I just abaht remember it.” Then, turning to Richards, he added: Do you remember it, Keef?” In reply, Richards sliced out a single throaty chord on his guitar. Translated into words, it would have said something like: “Yes, I fucking remember it. Don’t you worry about me – just get on with it, you ponce.”
Little Red Rooster came next and Jagger decided to poke Richards’ cage again. “Wos’ next, Keef?” he asked. “We’ve got an enormously long list. Wot? Wot is it?” The guitarist took a moment to reply. “Uhhhn, yeah,” he said. “Stray Cat.” Two-nil to Richards so far, I think.
The song was Stray Cat Blues, of course, followed by a very funky Hey Negrita, one of the night’s undoubted highlights for me and the point where the set kicked up to a whole new gear. From this point onwards the whole band seemed to draw a fresh breath of energy and suddenly everyone’s playing was meshing together into a seamless whole. As Jagger himself said just after Route 66: “Feels pretty good up here now. We’ve warmed up a bit.”
The sound seemed to have sorted itself out too – perhaps because the wind had dropped a bit – and apart from a spot of feedback here and there it gave no trouble at all in the Stones’ set. That didn’t stop Jagger snarling “You’d better get those fucking monitors together, bro’,” at some luckless roadie just after Hey Negrita, mind.
A fast run-through of Hot Stuff kept Negrita’s funky feel going, then Jagger crossed to the piano for a horribly cloying Fool To Cry with syrupy strings piped in on the backing tapes. We soon got up and running again, though, with Star Star, Let’s Spend the Night Together and a smouldering You Gotta Move. For the last of these, Jagger, Richards, Wood and Preston lined up at a couple of adjacent mikes to chorus the lyrics together. Richards added some great sparse, snarling blues licks every time he stepped back from the mike for a moment. (4)
Other highlights included a really beautiful solo from Ron Wood – just recently promoted from Stones salaryman to a full member of the band – during You Can’t Always Get What You Want. He tends to get overshadowed by the matchless Mick Taylor when it comes to this aspect of the Stones’ music, but Wood really can play some gorgeously lyrical guitar when he wants to. Tonight he took up position on the stage’s thrusting catwalk and did just that. “Go ‘head, Ronnie, go ‘head” Jagger urged. (5)
As Wood’s solo concluded and he stepped back towards the body of the stage, Jagger turned to the audience again. “Y’all want to sing?” he asked. “Y’all want to sing with us? Y’all want to sing with us? There’s enough of us, I think. We should be able to get something going…”
The resulting YCAGWYW singalong gave way to my beloved Dead Flowers, then Route 66 and the lovely Wild Horses. Honky Tonk Women came next and I noticed that Jagger had dropped his old extended “Haww-awww-awwwaww-keh-tonk womeehn!” delivery for a less demanding “Honky-tonk, honky-tonk women”. (6)
After Honky Tonk Women, Jagger tried to coax Wood into playing Country Honk from 1969’s Let It Bleed. But even when Jagger sang him a couple of lines – and assured Wood he had played on the original recording - it quickly became clear the guitarist had not the faintest idea how it went. It was evidently a number they hadn’t rehearsed for tonight, so Jagger gave up and everyone moved on to Tumbling Dice instead, immediately followed by Happy. And that brings us to the subject of the day’s souvenir programmes.
We’d all dutifully bought one of these and spent much of the day’s long wait laughing at a risible essay it contained on the Stones’ live pedigree. Later today, this informed us, everyone would jump up and down in the air going ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, woo!’ during Brown Sugar and (just as inevitably) Keith Richards would sing the first verse of Happy off-mike. It’s was partly this essay’s desperate-to-be-hip style which made it so laughable but also the fact that, even at the tender age of 18, we objected to being told how we were about to behave with quite such smug certainty.
My conclusion on the day was that Richards must have read the programme’s essay too and hadn’t liked it any more than we did. I say that because, when the time came to actually begin Happy, he did so by strolling to the back of the stage, sticking his head behind an amp and thus singing the opening verse about as far off mike as it was possible to get. Whether that conclusion’s right or not, I have no idea, but my Knebworth bootleg confirms he certainly took his time before giving the song any audible vocals. (7)
Jagger took a brief break after Happy, leaving Billy Preston to entertain us with his own pleasant-but-forgettable numbers Nothing From Nothing and Outta Space. That hiatus didn’t last long, though and the Stones soon got back to work with a 15-minute Midnight Rambler and all the Jagger theatrics that number entails. On this occasion, he enhanced his stage-whipping and the song’s other antics by wearing a huge, feathery Mardi Gras head-dress throughout.
From that point onwards, it was a balls-out, tear-the-roof-off sprint for the finish line with a unbroken string of the band’s five most reliable rockers: It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, Brown Sugar, Rip This Joint, Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Street Fighting Man. Any one of those numbers would ensure other bands a climactic finish to their set, but being able to blast through all five of them in succession like this proved pretty well unbeatable.
And that was it. Jagger traded one final round of call-and-response “Well, awright”s with us while Charlie Watts provided punctuation behind him, then blew us all a huge flamboyant kiss, yelled “Goodnight Baby” and filed off stage with everyone else.
We knew there’d be no encore, but we spent the next ten minutes clapping, stamping and shouting for more anyway. Against all the odds, the Stones had conjured some real atmosphere from this unpromising setting and turned in a stunning two-and-a-half hour set. As we began our long trek back towards the coaches home, it really was possible to believe we’d just witnessed The Greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll Band in the World (™) at something like their peak form.
What’s more, they’d achieved this not through anything as dull as pristine virtuosity, but rather through their sheer feel for the rough-arsed music they loved and their trademark lurching swagger. Even that quickly-abandoned attempt at Country Honk seemed to mark a band which still had some blood in its veins and was prepared to strike out from the prepared set list at a gig of this size just for the sheer joy of seeing what might happen next.
My verdict in the diary next day was, “I honestly can’t see how the Stones could have been any better,” and revisiting the gig today to polish up this piece has done nothing to change my mind. The first stirrings of punk were already underway, but no-one watching the Stones that night in a chilly Hertfordshire field would have bet on them relinquishing their crown any time soon. (8)
1) Yes, I’m afraid he really did say “Knobworth”. You can hear it quite clearly on the bootleg CD of this show which I bought in New York a few years later. .
2) I never did find out the reason for the day’s snowballing delays. One rumour was that Keith Richards had been absurdly late turning up - or had passed out backstage, or had somehow injured himself. Jagger said something onstage about Richards having injured his finger with a razor blade, though whether that’s relevant is anybody’s guess. Another rumour claimed 10cc had been hoping to record a live album that night and hence refused to go on till all the day’s sound problems were comprehensively resolved – which they never entirely were, of course.
3) The full setlist was: Satisfaction; Ain’t To Proud To Beg; If You Can’t Rock Me/Get Off of My Cloud (Medley); Hand of Fate; Around & Around; Little Red Rooster; Stray Cat Blues; Hey Negrita; Hot Stuff; Fool To Cry; Star Star; Let’s Spend The Night Together; You Gotta Move; You Can’t Always Get What You Want; Dead Flowers; Route 66; Wild Horses; Honky Tonk Women; Tumbling Dice; Happy; Nothing From Nothing (Billy Preston); Outta Space (Billy Preston); Midnight Rambler; It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll; Brown Sugar; Rip This Joint; Jumping Jack Flash; Street Fighting Man.
4) YouTube has some pretty decent footage from the Stone’s Knebworth performance here: Star Star ; You Gotta Move
5) This was the period when Jagger and Richards’ relationship was said to be at its nadir. It was very noticeable that Jagger tended to go to Wood rather than his old friend whenever a spot of stage hijinks seemed in order tonight.
6) He’s sung the song that way ever since, but Knebworth marked the first time I noticed the change. I can only assume Jagger’s voice had lost a little of its elasticity since they first cut the song in 1969. The amended version still sounds all wrong to me.
7) There’s a rival theory insisting that Richards stuck his head behind the amps to throw up from whatever illness or indulgence had delayed his arrival that day. You pays yer money …
8) Just to put the timing of this gig in context, when the Stones played Knebworth we were still a month away from the 100 Club’s breakout punk festival, two months away from the Sex Pistols’ televised encounter with Bill Grundy and six months away from the Clash recording their first album. The first Ramones album was out, mind – that came in April 1976.
August 24, 1978: "Ordered Poet & the Roots' LP in Mosses - their 3rd order for it already. Seems someone in Bideford's got taste after all."
August 25, 1976: “Bought tin of soup. Label reads: ‘Remove lid & stand in boiling water for 20 minutes’. Well, if you say so, Mr Heinz…”
August 26, 1976: "No NME this week, so got Sounds & Record Mirror instead. Sounds was enthusiastic about Knebworth & Record Mirror ecstatic."
August 27, 1976: "Heard some really excellent JJ Cale tracks on John Peel tonight. I'd never realised quite how good Cale was before."
August 28, 1978: "Long dull drive to Newton Abbot saved by finding a cheap 7" of [the Upsetters'] Sufferers' Dub on sale at a cafe on the way."
August 29, 1974: It’s pre-diary, but tonight I saw Kilburn & the High Roads supporting Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers at Hove Town Hall.
I got my first hands-on taste of pub rock in 1974 in Brighton, where my dad took the family for a fortnight’s holiday every year. I was 16 by then and able to get served in pubs, so I built my own holiday experience around the town’s gig listings. The most lager I could drink in those days without being sick was three pints, but I drank so slowly that this ration lasted me through a full evening of live music at Brighton pubs like the Alhambra and the Buccaneer.
The best gig I saw on that holiday, however, did not take place in a pub at all, but in the unlikely surroundings of Hove Town Hall. They had a small theatre in the building which sometimes hosted gigs. The headliners there on Thursday, August 29, were a country-rock combo called Chilli Willi & the Red Hot Peppers, who were already a big name on the pub rock circuit. The support outfit (who I’d never heard of) were Kilburn & the High Roads, fronted by an extraordinary Dickensian singer called Ian Dury.
Dury’s callipered leg, polio-withered hand and genuinely menacing stage presence would have made the Kilburns mesmerising enough. Not content with that, however, they also boasted a black drummer called David Newton-Rohoman whose legs had been permanently damaged in infancy and so had to make his way from the wings to his drum stool on a pair of crutches. All the band were dressed in charity shop clothes. In an era when the charts were dominated by delicate androgynous young men, the Kilburns looked like the last five regulars at the worst pub in town.
They played a fractured, slightly jazzy style of pub rock, all topped off by Dury’s accutely observational lyrics and music hall performance. He pitched his stage persona somewhere between Gene Vincent and Max Wall and most of the bits of business he’d later deploy on Top of the Pops were already in place. .
The Kilburns made a big impression on me and I remember turning to the bloke in the next seat as they shuffled off stage and saying something like “They were great, weren’t they?” He looked at me pityingly – open enthusiasm being a little uncool at the time - and replied: “If you think they were great, just wait until you see Chilli Willi”. (1)
And indeed, Chilli Willi were very good. Their own frontman was Snakefinger Lithman of the Residents, who played guitar and wrote all the Willis’ original songs. There was a strong hint of what I now recognise as western swing in their music and they had great taste in covers too - including Louis Jordan’s Choo Choo Ch’Boogie and Jesse Winchester’s Midnight Bus. (2, 3)
I enjoyed the Willis’ set a lot and I love them dearly to this day, but for me there was never any doubt that this particular night belonged to the Kilburns. Sitting forward in my bacony seat to get a better view as they played, hoping I’d be able to keep that risky third pint down, the only thought in my head was “This lot are brilliant!”
It was obvious that Ian Dury deserved to be a star and I bored everyone for months afterwards with tales of what a great live act the Kilburns were. It was three years before Dury made his breakthrough with 1977’s New Boot & Panties, but I didn’t half feel vindicated when he did. I set off on the rounds of everyone I’d tried to tell about him back in 1974 and this time I had just three words to say: “Told you so!” (4)
1) Richard Balls’ 2014 book Be Stiff reveals that Wreckless Eric was also in the Kilburns’ audience at this gig – and that the experience inspired him to later try his own hand at music. “In a way, they couldn’t play that well,” Wreckless says of the Kilburns. “But it worked. I thought they must have all met in a home or something.”
2) Former Monkee Mike Nesmith was impressed enough with Chilli Willi’s country music chops to produce a couple of tracks for their debut LP. The band’s drummer was Pete Thomas, later one of Elvis Costello’s Attractions.
3) Listening to Chilli Willi again today, the most obvious reference point is Dire Straits. They’ve got got absolutely nothing on Chilli Willi’s fluid, lyrical guitar sound, yet one band goes global and the other barely escapes the pub circuit.
4) Dury once remarked that, if everyone who later claimed to have seen the Kilburns in the early seventies had actually done so, they’d have been filling the Royal Albert Hall every night. All I can say is that, if my own Kilburns story were fabricated, I’d have picked somewhere a damn sight hipper than Hove Town Hall to set it.
August 31, 1980: “The Clash would be perfect Batman villains. He's always fighting colourfully-dressed yobs like them in Gotham's alleyways."
Sept 2 (supplemental): So It Goes was Tony Wilson’s project bringing new punk bands to the masses. Best TV rock show ever, in my view.
Sept 3, 1981: “NME’s got CSM reviewing Tattoo You today. Just another Stones album, nothing to get excited about is the general tone.”
Sept 4, 1979: “Day in London on way to Gatwick and then New York. Saw Quadrophenia & a Who documentary called The Kids Are Alright.”
Sept 4 (supplemental): “Old mod at Quadrophenia was critiquing my clothes: ‘Yer 'air’s a bit long. Yer shirt’s alright. Those Levis?’”
Sept 5, 1981: “Stones’ new song Hang Fire has Jagger declaring ‘I’m a lazy slob’ & ‘I’m on the dole’. Oh, VERY punk rock, Michael!”
Sept 6, 1980: Graffiti: “Life's like a jar of Marmite. No matter how full it is you always find yourself scraping round in the corners.”
Sept 6 (supplemental): “Relayed graffiti to Clare. ‘Yeah, I seem to be scraping round in the corners a lot these days,’ she sighed.”
Sept 7, 1980: “Rissole sings horn riff from of ‘one of those ska things’ in pub & asks me to ID it. Turns out to be the Piranhas’ Tom Hank."
Sept 8, 1979: “Stopped on East 33rd St by mad NYC girl keen to swap T-shirts: My Stiff Route ‘78 Tour for her Lurkers Killer Tour ‘79.”
Sept 8 (supplemental): She sweetened the deal by promising to introduce us to her friend Melissa “who always wears leather”.
Sept 8 (supplemental): Lurkers lass was big on UK punk & so had always wanted a Stiff T-Shirt. We met up that evening & made the swap.
Sept 9, 1978: Hitching in Brittany. Bought Daily Mail for first UK news in a week & found Keith Moon died 2 days earlier. News to me.
Sept 9 (supplemental): Marc Bolan had died during our equivalent holiday in 1977. "It's such a weird way of finding these things out."
Sept 10, 1979: “Spotted on Times Square bookrack: porno paperback entitled Violent Tales of Brutal Incest. Great name for a band!"
Sept 11, 1978: “Tally & I scored a lift from St Nazaire to Auray. Bonded with the French driver over Sweet Home Alabama on car radio”.
Sept 12, 1980: “Reading Richard Neville's Playpower. His Chili Pot recipe calls for ‘1 cup chopped grass’. Adds rider: ‘Stones about 10’.”
Sept 13, 1979: “Paid a tout outside Madison Square Garden $25 for a Who ticket for tonight’s gig there. It turned out to be a forgery.”
Sept 13 (supplemental): MSG surrounded by pushers. One circled endlessly, mumbling “Acid, hash, speed, cocaine, angel dust. Acid, hash…”
Sept 13 (supplemental): Fake ticket got me far enough inside to see drums & guitars laid out on stage. Only then did someone throw me out.
Sept 13 (supplemental): Holding room full of other fans awaiting ejection. Cries of: “You’ll regret this! I’m a friend of Pete’s!” etc.
Sept 14, 1979: “Went to the Jazz Lunch slot at Eddie Condon’s on 52nd St. The beer was expensive, but the Tom Artin Band were excellent.”
Sept 14 (supplemental): "Hare Krishna girl at UN gave me a flower & asked if I remembered The Beatles. Told her I’d never heard of them."
Sept 15, 1979: Trip to top of World Trade Centre. This slogan from their 1979 leaflet now looks rather poignant.
Sept 17, 1979: “Up early & off to Grand Central Station, where I got myself a Clash ticket for (a) Thursday and (b) Friday. Yeeheehee!”
Sept 17 (supplemental): I hadn’t know the Clash were planning 2 NY Palladium gigs when I booked this trip. Saw posters when I got there.
Sept 18, 1979: Albert King at the Lone Star Café. “The support band George Leh & the Thrillers were great. Real dirty R&B from Boston."
Sept 18 (supplemental): “Leh is a fat, blind guy in a suit. Looks like an epileptic teddy bear when he dances, but the man has a voice.”
Sept 18 (supplemental): “King had a brass section. Nice set, many blues standards & a few solos. Got ticket for tomorrow on my way out."
Sept 18 (supplemental): Had my camera that night (but clearly no flash). “I’ve clasped hands with Albert King!”
Sept 19, 1978: Kept this clipping from the tabloids’ coverage of Keith Moon’s death. Shome mishtake?
Sept 20, 1979: The Clash at NY Palladium. “As support, they had not only the advertised Sam & Dave, but also the surprise Undertones.”
As the last chord of Garage Land rang out over the New York Palladium stage, something seemed to snap in Clash bassist Paul Simonon’s head. Grabbing his bass guitar by the neck, he suddenly started smashing it down on the bare boards (1)
Nursing a beer in the Palladium’s balcony, I put this burst of rock star angst down to the rather jolly singalong which even the Clash¹s angriest songs had produced among this American audience. It was Sept 20, 1979 and the Clash were just three months away from releasing their classic London Calling album. Pennie Smith¹s grainy photograph of Simonon smashing his bass that night became not only the album’s cover shot, but also one of the most iconic rock photographs of the whole decade. And I was there. (2)
I'd been able to come to New York thanks to Freddie Laker¹s £73 return fares across the Atlantic on his spanking-new Skytrain service. Suddenly, a trip to America was all very possible. I stayed at a hostel on East 33rd Street which charged the grand sum of $10 a night. Across the street from my shared room¹s first-floor window, a church¹s neon crucifix flashed “Jesus Saves” through the night. I was 21 years old, the crucifix lent flesh to every film noir fantasy of Manhattan I¹d ever had and I could not have been happier.
The fact remains, though, that this was my first trip to New York. And this, remember, was the old sleazy New York, when 42nd Street was still full of porno cinemas and hookers rather than tourist families queuing for the Lion King. The city’s 1975 brush with bankruptcy, its terrifying power blackout of 1977 and the Son of Sam’s mid-seventies murder spree were all still very recent memories. No wonder that - like most tourists of the time - I had swallowed whole the myth that it was more or less obligatory for muggers to strike the minute you got off the plane at JFK. Two weeks into my own trip, at the first of the two Clash Palladium concerts, all the first-time visitor¹s paranoia about New York came back to haunt me. (3)
For support at these particular gigs, the Clash had Sam and Dave - who cut the original versions of classic songs like Soul Man and Hold On (I¹m Comin’) - and the Undertones who had made their debut with the perfect pop of Teenage Kicks just a year earlier. They were both very good, but really I was just waiting for their sets to finish so we could get the Clash on.
The band had played their first American gigs, including a New York Palladium date, earlier in 1979 and were already starting to win some coverage in America¹s mainstream press. Publications like Time and the New York Post applauded the band’s aggression, integrity and wit. All their 1979 Palladium gigs attracted a fair quota of New York celebs, including David Bowie, John Cale, Debbie Harry, Bianca Jagger, David Johansen (once a New York Doll), Robert de Niro, Bruce Springsteen and Andy Warhol. (4)
By September that year, the Clash were at the height of their fascination with American popular culture and dressed accordingly - all drainpipe jeans and perfect quiffs. The Clash were then far and away the best rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet, and 1979 was a time when white guitar rock still mattered in a way it is almost impossible to imagine today.
At their peak, this band had a strong collection of short, no-nonsense songs, a real determination not to play the rock star game by its established rules and a lot of stage flair. They had the knack of mythologising themselves in their own songs - a habit they’d acquired from Mott the Hoople - they always looked great and they kept their rebel credentials fresh with a string of court appearances and rows with their record company. They were also the only all-white band I have ever heard who could play reggae with any conviction.
It has to be said, though, that they found it difficult to locate the vital spark needed to ignite tonight’s gig. They seemed a little tentative on stage – perhaps even slightly overwhelmed by the occasion – and, although they were perfectly good, they never quite achieved the escape velocity required to translate “good” into “great”. Even so, there was a lot to enjoy. (5)
The recording sessions for London Calling were already nearing completion at this time, so the Clash were using this tour to preview several songs from the new album, including its title track, Koka Kola, Guns of Brixton, Clampdown and Wrong ‘Em Boyo. But it was one of their other new tracks that made the greatest impression on me. (6)
At the end of the set, the band left Simonon’s shattered bass littering the stage and retreated into the wings for a few minutes while we all yelled for more. By now, it was getting late and I was thinking nervously of my solitary journey back to the hostel. The Palladium was on East 14th Street. By the time you added in the cross-town journey as well, that meant I’d have more than 20 blocks to walk alone through New York in the small hours.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of movement on stage as Topper Headon ran to his drum kit and started beating out the rhythm of an unfamiliar new song. Simonon appeared a few seconds later, slipped a low-slung bass over his shoulders and added a brooding, dubbed-up bassline. Micky Gallagher, a keyboard player on loan to the Clash from Ian Dury¹s Blockheads, joined in with a jittery, stabbing organ pattern from his place in the wings.
Mick Jones was next to arrive. He ran on the spot at the edge of the stage for a moment, soaking up the crowd’s applause and then stepped back to strap on his guitar and slash out a few sparse chords. There was still no sign of Strummer. Gradually, the music began to build, it’s relentless rhythm now shaking the hall: Boom, boom, bedoom-bedoom-boom-boom, Boom, boom, bedoom-bedooom-boom-boom.”
The tension being so carefully nurtured on stage reflected and reinforced my own. I was now utterly convinced I would not make it back to the hostel without being sliced, diced and - for all I knew - eaten by Manhattan's predators. All the same, I was certainly not going to miss this encore. Something special was happening here. Louder. Louder still.
When Joe Strummer finally sauntered on stage, he was waving a burning torch above his head. He took his time getting to the mikestand. No hurry. Let’em wait. The song, I soon discovered, was called Armagideon Time. Strummer howled the opening words:
A lot of people won¹t get no justice tonight.” (7)
Well, thanks a lot for reminding me, Joe! Ten minutes later, I’d picked my way once more through the drug dealers surrounding the Palladium and was walking home with the kind of quick and purposeful stride a casual observer could easily have mistaken for blind panic. Aside from a perfectly harmless proposition from a charming black prostitute - she really did enquire whether I might ‘want a good time, honey’ - the journey was as uneventful as anyone could wish.
1) There have been many contradictory explanations of why Simonon smashed his bass that night – not least from Simonon himself. You can read a couple of them in the gig “scrapbook” I’ve assembled here.
2) In 2002, Q magazine declared Smith’s shot the greatest rock ‘n’ roll photo of all time.
3) Of course, sometimes the cliché really turns out to be true. A friend who’d made her own first trip to New York at about this time told me she’d stepped off the airport bus in Manhattan, turned away from her luggage just long enough to thank the driver and turned back to see someone legging it down the street with her handbag.
4) Clash roadie Johnny Green has a good Bianca Jagger story from this gig. Again, see my gig scrapbook for details.
5) Just two years earlier, the Clash had been getting covered in gob at tiny UK club gigs, which is what made this such an interesting time to catch them. They were right on the cusp of transforming from Yobbish Troublemakers With Guitars (their English identity) to Proper Professional Rock Stars (the new role America was so keen for them to take on). It was a difficult transformation for the band to make without surrendering their punk integrity and you could see them struggling with it right there on the NY Palladium stage.
6) It’s hard to believe now that those London Calling songs haven’t always been around, but in fact the album wasn’t released until three months after these gigs. the Clash made no concession to the songs’ unfamiliarity at the Palladium gigs, just bashing into them with barely a word of explanation and trusting in the songs’ strength alone to hold people’s attention. For the most part, this faith was rewarded.
7) This bit of business had originated with a candelabra at the band’s Minneapolis gig a week earlier. See Johnny Green’s section of my scrapbook for details.
Waiting to get in for the Clash’s second night at The Palladium, I got chatting to a couple of Scottish lads who’d been hitching round the US, following the band from gig to gig. There were no seats left when we got inside, so we ended up sitting on the aisle steps in the balcony. (1)
As the Undertones’ crew bustled about on stage, we armed ourselves with a few beers and started swapping stories about our past experiences of the Clash. I told them how a friend had turned up at my student bedsit one night in 1977, clutching a copy of the band’s speed-fuelled first album and practically shouting at me to play it right now! I recalled the highlights of Tony Parsons¹ early NME interview with the band and told them all about the Plymouth gig I¹d attended. In return, they related their adventures hitch-hiking around America in the band¹s wake to see Clash shows in Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Boston. I had to admit it: their stories were better.
One thing we agreed on was that the American fans around us simply didn’t ‘get’ the Clash. Treating bands like stars was a cardinal sin under punk¹s rules, yet here was a hall full of people cheering and whooping as if they were watching the hated Rolling Stones. Our version of “cooler-than-thou” on that particular night was to refuse any notion that the Clash were some kind of exalted beings and to mock all the Americans around us for being so eager to worship them.
Several times during the Clash’s set that night, I considered interrupting their between-song banter with a faux-cockney shout of ‘Get on with it!’ I envisaged the band laughing appreciatively in response and recalling for years to come how this salt-of-the-earth interjection from home had helped keep their feet on the ground during a dangerously flattering New York gig. In the end, of course, I didn’t shout any such thing.
The setlist was identical to last night’s, but the Clash now seemed more confidant and settled, with the result that they turned in a much better performance. Last night’s gig had been perfectly good, but it quickly became obvious that tonight I was watching a band in a whole different class. Tonight’s show was being broadcast live New York’s WNEW (or WSHIT as Strummer called them on stage) and that gave the audience energy an extra boost too. (2)
Tonight, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon were all in black, while Joe Strummer roamed the stage in a fluorescent blue shirt. They opened with the triple threat of Safe European Home, I’m So Bored With the USA and Complete Control then Strummer addressed us for the first time. Introducing London Calling, he held up a copy of that day’s New York Post with its front-page headline announcing “THE BEATLES ARE BACK”. (3)
“Has everybody got good eyesight?” Strummer asked us. “You people out there – you see that all right?” He tore the paper dramatically in half, then continued: “This is entitled ‘All that phoney Beatlemania has bitten the dust’!” The band kicked in with London Calling as soon as that last word was out of his mouth and from that point on the gig was flying. White Man in Hammersmith Palais, Koka Kola and I Fought the Law followed, each lifting the energy another notch. Next, we got Jail Guitar Doors, Guns of Brixton, English Civil War and Clash City Rockers.
The set peaked (for me at least) with a string of six consecutive stunners – Stay Free, Clampdown, Police & Thieves, Capital Radio, Tommy Gun and Wrong ‘Em Boyo – which combined to tear the roof off the dump. Quick blast through Janie Jones, Garage Land (with no Simonon tantrum this time) and then a brief break before the usual encore of Armagideon Time, Career Opportunities and What’s My Name/White Riot. Headon sent his drumsticks spinning out into the crowd and the house lights snapped on to tell us it was time to go home. (4)
I left The Palladium a happy man, bidding farewell to the two Scottish lads outside then walking back to the hostel without a care in the world. I’ve felt thoroughly at home in New York ever since. (5)
1) The Clash had completely sold out the 3,800-seater Palladium for both their gigs there, but the promoter seemed to have carried on selling tickets anyway. That’s why my new friends and I ended up sitting where we did. No one worried much about fire regulations at gigs in those days.
2) I later got hold of the inevitable bootleg from this broadcast and I’ve used it to check some of my own recollections here. WNEW’s DJ was enjoyably baffled by the Clash and you can find some of his nervous comments in the scrapbook.
3) This reported a rumour that the blasted moptops were going to reunite at a special concert for the UN – which they weren’t, of course. Rumours like this were becoming increasingly tiresome at the time and ended only when John Lennon was assassinated in December 1980.
4) They did the whole Armagideon Time thing again as well, and this time (unlike the previous night) Strummer’s torch managed to remain alight for the whole song. See Van Gosse’s Melody Maker review of tonight in my scrapbook for a good description of the torch routine.
5) New York greeted the Clash’s visit with a few days of heavy rain and I got soaked to the skin on this second walk home. I know Strummer must have written Koka Kola’s lyrics months before my own visit to New York, but it’s always those September 1979 rainstorms which I think of when I hear him sing “I been walking down the Broadway in the rain”.
Sept 23, 1975: Budgie at Barnstaple Queen’s Hall. “Good gig. Guy by us nearly got his head kicked in for groping his mate’s girlfriend.”
Sept 24, 1976: "Bought 3 old Stones albums at Frank's: Aftermath, Between the Buttons & Out of Our Heads. They cost me £2.99 apiece."
Sept 25, 1980: “Steve won't let us in till he's tidied his flat. Seconds later comes cry of ‘Oh God, the cat's crapped on the table!'"
Sept 26, 1980: “Steve’s girlfriend Suzanne translated Spanish Bombs’ ‘Yot quierro y finito / Yote querda, oh ma corazon,’ lines for me."
Sept 26 (supplemental): “Lines mean ‘I love you without end / I love you with all my heart’. Good to know after a year’s singing along."
Sept 26 (supplemental): “Off with Jon to buy a road map. Learned of John Bonham’s death when I paused to read Peanuts in the newsagent.”
Sept 27, 1978: Kept this picture and caption from one of the newspapers. It seemed to amuse me for some reason.
Sept 29, 1978: "Getting off at the wrong tube station last night made me miss Micky Jupp & Rachel Sweet's free gig at the Nashville."
Sept 30, 1976: “Bought [Dr Feelgood’s] Stupidity on the way home, complete with its free bonus single. But the bloody album jumps!”
Oct 2, 1977: “We've thought of a new name for The Fiesta’s obstructive bouncers. Henceforth, they'll be known as the Fiesta Resistance!”
Oct 3, 1977: The Killjoys at Castaways. “Good pogoing material. They ran out of songs halfway through the set and played them all again.”
Oct 3 (supplemental): The Killjoys were Kevin Rowlands' pre-Dexy's band. I liked ‘em enough to buy their debut single:
Oct 5, 1979: New NME brings word of more celebrity revelers at those Clash NY Palladium gigs. From Thrills:
Oct 6 (supplemental): “Fled tonight’s hellish moshpit for safer ground after the first song. Mind you, that song was Alternative Ulster.”
Oct 6 (supplemental): “Stiff Little Fingers’ encore tonight was 2-4-6-8 Motorway, with TRB’s Danny Kustow guesting on guitar.”
Oct 7, 1977: [Adam &] the Ants supporting Steel Pulse at Top Rank: “Weird-looking girl next to me turned out to be the Ants' guest singer."
Oct 7 (supplemental): I didn’t know it then, but that weird-looking girl was actually Jordan, soon to be a punk icon: http://tinyurl.com/py47lyv
Oct 7 (supplemental): Jordan managed the Ants for a bit. This was the Ants line-up Malcolm McLaren later stole from Adam to form Bow Wow-Wow
Oct 8, 1978: “Watched the Police on Whistle Test last night. Not much cop. (Ha!)”
Oct 9, 1977: Stranglers at the Fiesta. All I wrote about this was a note saying the band were on great form. Venue was packed to the rafters.
Oct 10, 1980: "Union's got a late licence as the Pop Detectives are playing there tonight. Good name, but turns out to be a lousy band."
Oct 11, 1980: “Struggled for ages with an NME crossword clue reading 'Yankee lawman (7, 8)'. Finally sussed answer was Stewart Copeland."
Oct 12. 1976: “Alan Freeman was 'sitting pretty & being witty' on Bob’s Big Box Game this week. That's his last bit of credibility gone."
Oct 12 (supplemental): BBBG was also known as Celebrity Squares. It was a Saturday teatime game show hosted by the oleaginous Bob Monkhouse.
Oct 13, 1978: Subway Sect & Buzzcocks at Top Rank. “Subway Sect were pretty dire but the sound was awful so maybe it wasn’t their fault.”
Oct 13 (supplemental): “Buzzcocks were good if a bit workmanlike. One bloke kept yelling for Oh Shit but calling it 'I'm shit!' instead.
Oct 13 (supplemental): This guy’s confusion led to him repeatedly shouting “I’m Shit” to the entire crowd. No arguments there then, mate.
Oct 13 (supplemental): “Buzzcocks are keeping prices down to £2.50 on this tour. Big deal - £2's the most I've paid for a gig in ages."
Oct 14, 1978: Stiff Records revue at Poly. The Records, Rachel Sweet, Lena Lovich, Jona Lewie, Micky Jupp & Wreckless Eric (who headlined).
(Featuring the Records, Rachel Sweet, Lene Lovich, Jona Lewie, Micky Jupp & Wreckless Eric.)
I got to the student union about ten to eight, where I ran into Jon at the top of the stairs. He’d been helping with the road crew again and told me one of the bands had a special guest lined up tonight. “It’s not a rumour,” he added, placing heavy emphasis on the final three words to indicate he was giving me a clue. After a few minutes of increasingly dim guesses on my part, I eventually realised he meant Graham Parker – whose band is called the Rumour, of course. I like Parker a lot, so this was very good news.
I went on down to the bar for a pint with Paul and Dave then headed over to the hall. There was a sign there saying the hall’s own bar “hadn’t arrived”, so I staked out a spot for myself right against the front of the stage and settled down there instead. Jacket on the lip of the stage, elbows resting on jacket, lots of early Stones stuff on the PA: that’s me sorted.
First up were the Records, a Virgin outfit rather than a Stiff one, but out on loan to this tour as Rachel Sweet’s backing ensemble. They’ve got the Kursaal Flyers’ old songwriting team of John Wicks and Will Birch in the band and do a nice line in the acceptable face of power pop. Highlight of their set for me was a cover of Tim Moore’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Letter, which it was very good to hear again. (1)
There was a pause of two or three minutes after the Records’ set for the roadies to make some minor adjustments, then they came back on again with the very diminutive (and very sexy) Rachel Sweet. Graham Parker joined her for the first number (B-A-B-Y), singing with such gusto that he drowned out Sweet herself from time to time. Sweet also did a cover of Elvis Costello’s Alison, a song I’m usually very protective of because I love Costello’s original so much. But she made it work.
The roadies did a great job keeping everything moving along tonight and needed only a short break to get everything set up for Lena Lovich. She looked great, danced well, played sax, included Devo’s Be Stiff in her set and generally charmed the socks of everyone present. Like all the other acts tonight, she kept her set to a tight five or six numbers, another element of the evening which gave it such hugely enjoyable momentum. “Don’t balls about,” seemed to be the watchword.
Another brief pause, then it’s Jona Lewie. This is the fella behind Terry Daktyl & the Dinosaurs' novelty hit Seaside Shuffle back in 1972 – but let’s not hold that against him. He plays mostly piano-based R&B stuff, surrounding himself with keyboards on stage and quite often using an unorthodox mixture of instruments in his band. For some numbers tonight, the guitar player dropped out together, others used two drummers and so on. Lovich and Sweet came on to help out with a few songs too, sometimes individually and sometimes as a duo. One thing I love about these revue tours is that all the bands muck in together, ensuring you never have precisely the same line-up on stage from one song to the next.
Next up was Micky Jupp, the evening’s only disappointment for me. His old-school rock ‘n’ roll was enjoyable enough, I suppose, but certainly nothing special. He seemed pleased to be there, mind and kept taking pictures of the crowd between songs. (2)
Time for our headliner – and I don’t think I was the only one wondering whether Wreckless Eric had the songs or the stage presence to give this whole evening a suitably climactic finish. In fact, he was really good. He did Whole Wide World, of course, plus a cover of the Stones’ Off The Hook and – although I couldn’t tell you the names of any of the other songs – they all seemed perfectly fine to me.
Wreckless was good fun to have around as well, swapping banter with the audience in between numbers and accepting a bottle of scotch passed up to him by a female admirer. “From your loving fan to Legless Eric,” he read from the card attached. “Awww…” Then he held the amber bottle suspiciously up to the light: “Bet it’s got piss in it.”
As Wreckless Eric revved up to complete his set, the bloke next to me, who’d been pogoing two feet in the air till then, suddenly started to look rather ill. He rested his forehead on the edge of the stage, deposited a small pool of puke there, then stepped back and vomited copiously on the dance floor by my feet. Once the last of it was out, he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and got back to some serious pogoing again. A fine example of what Billy Connolly calls “the casual chunder”. (3)
After Wreckless Eric’s set, we all did the “moremoremore” thing for a bit, then just about everyone from all the bands we’d seen came back on for a wonderfully crowed and chaotic repeat run-through of Be Stiff. I’d been wondering what they’d use as a closing anthem for this tour (Ian Dury’s Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll having served that purpose on 1977’s outing), but I should have guessed really.
Once everyone had filed off stage for the last time, I rescued my jacket from the top of the keyboards (where one of the roadies had dumped it on health & safety grounds), got myself a tour T-shirt and a couple of Stiff badges at the merchandise stand and headed home. I’m not going to argue for a minute that tonight can have matched the legendary Dury/Costello/Lowe Five Live Stiffs tour (which I never got to see), but it was a bloody good night all the same. (4)
1) The shameful truth is that I probably recalled this song not from Moore’s own 1975 recording, but from the Bay City Rollers’ cover version a year later. Still, a good song is a good song, so what the hell.
2) In Jupp’s defence, I should point out that he did write Down At The Doctor’s, which remains one of my favourite Dr Feelgood songs. Maybe he was just having an off night when I saw him.
3) I could still smell this bloke’s puke on my shoes when I wrote up the gig next day.
4) This was the Stiff tour shirt I’d later swap with Lurkers Lass in New York.
Oct 16, 1975: Roger Glover’s Butterfly Ball at London's Albert Hall. Also featured many other members of Deep Purple, a band I then loved.
Oct 16 (supplemental): “Place was packed & the music good. Tony Ashton was a loony. I bought 1 of 50 programmes they’d all autographed.”
October 16 (supplemental): Joined fans awaiting band’s exit from venue. Hobnobbing ensued with Lord, Coverdale, Glover, Gillan, Hughes etc.
Oct 16 (supplemental): “One bloke there was very proud of himself for having nicked Jon Lord’s diary from backstage. Prick.”
Oct 17, 1978: “Heard on Today that Virgin’s sent McLaren $50,000 bail money to get Sid out of jail in NYC. Charge is 2nd degree murder.”
Oct 17 (supplemental): “I feel a bit sorry for Sid. I know he’s a head case & all, but everyone seems determined to crucify him now."
Oct 18, 1977: Phil Manzanera at Castaways. “Good, but not as good as 801 Live. DJ insisted we all sit down on the floor if it were an old hippy gig."
Oct 19, 1981: The Clash at London’s Lyceum. Second of seven nights there for them, first of three for me.
(Extract from Marcus Gray’s The Last Gang in Town: (Fourth Estate, 1995).)
“Melody Maker’s Adam Sweeting […] began his review, ‘Who’d be the Clash? Not me, squire. They can’t win’ and ended it, ‘They’ve had the sense to move on and diversify and in many cases they’ve done it well … Whose fault is it that, however well the Clash play, their fiercest, finest hour has passed?’ After attending two more shows in the course of the [Lyceum] residency, he wrote a second, longer piece, acknowledging that he had warmed to the band more on each occasion and wondering why it was they were now so out of favour with the music press.” (1)
1) I think Sweeting’s on to something here. I saw the Clash play live nine times between 1977 and 1984, but nothing ever matched the rush of that first 1977 gig for me. If I’d been reviewing them in later years, I suspect those memories of their “fiercest, finest hour” would have coloured my reactions too.
Oct 23, 1979: Selecter, Madness & Specials at the Fiesta. "We all sang Happy Birthday to Pauline [Black], who looked extremely embarrassed."
(Featuring the Selecter, Madness and the Specials).
Wandered off to the gig about quarter past nine to find a bloody great queue outside stretching right back past the Comet showrooms – all dressed to the nines, of course. I decided ‘bugger this’ and went off for a pint down at the Newmarket, which was also full of gig people. Back to the queue after a couple of swift ones there for a further ten-minute wait, during which time what turned out to be Madness pulled up in a mini-bus and struggled in past all us lot.
The Selecter started up on stage while I was waiting at the bar to get a pint in and a damn fine band they are too (I fell in live with Pauline). Having quaffed my pint, I struggled up to a spot fairly near the front.
You know how hung-up I usually am about dancing? Well, tonight I danced excessively – and increasingly so as the Selecter’s set went on. It was only during their encore, when I thought ‘Hello, there’s four pints of Bass Special coming up here’ that I decided I’d better give it a rest for a bit. Great music, is ska: really poppy, incredibly danceable and just lots & lots of fun. To quote the Madness T-shirt which I couldn’t afford tonight: ‘Fuck art – let’s dance’.
After the Selecter, I went off to the bogs which were so full the queue stretched out from the stalls onto the dancefloor. This prompted one of the many skinheads about to declare ‘Oh fuck it, I’m going here’, whip it out and piss against the side of the fruit machine – which was, fortunately, earthed.
After my rather more conventional piss, it was back to the bar, then a bit closer to the front than last time for Madness, who were also great. What more can I say? Could just mention the guy they had who did more or less nothing but dance with the band, I suppose. Oh God, what a gig! (1)
I headed for the bar again after Madness’s encore, detouring this time via product stand for a couple of badges (still wish I could have afforded one of those T-shirts, mind). Then it was right up the front for the Specials and more leaping around. Any one of these three bands would have made a great gig and a really good evening out on their own, but all three on one bill?! Wooooooooo!
I can’t tell you much about the individual numbers, because I didn’t know most of them. As soon as I’ve got my hi-fi back here, though, me and my chequebook are going to visit Virgin for a ska binge. (2)
After the Specials’ set everyone came back on for a couple of huge Stiff-style encores with about 30 people on stage (not counting the many punters who kept climbing up there just to throw themselves off again). We all sang Happy Birthday to Pauline Black who looked exceedingly embarrassed at this and then, at about quarter past one, it was all over. This left all of us in the crowd - mods, punks, rude boys, dreads, straights, old hippies, arty types and just plain scruffs like me - all grinning ‘Shit, great wannit?!’ at one another before heading home. Think I’ll buy myself a trilby.”
1) That would be Chas Smash, of course. Sorry, Chas, I didn’t know your name then.
2) Just to put this gig in some kind of context, both Madness and the Selecter had scored only one chart hit apiece by October 1979 and the Specials just two. The highest chart position any of the three bands had then managed was Gangsters’ number 6 slot for the Specials. Madness and the Specials had both just put out their debut albums, but these were records I evidently hadn’t caught up with yet.
Oct 24, 1976: Shanghai supporting Frankie Miller at the Roundhouse. “[Miller] willed himself into a near magical state,” confirms the NME.
The NME’s Angie Errigo wrote:
“Who’d have thunk Cliff Bennett of the Rebel Rousers would come belting back with a tough, heavy 1970s blues and boogie band like Shanghai? Not me and I’ll bet not you. They’re great! […] The pulsating, bumping rhythm section and the tasty guitar work of Brian Alterman really got the place going to a set of loud, rough and weighty, stomping rock and roll. The encore of The Wild One was dynamite. […] Can’t wait to see them again!” (1)
“Frankie Miller’s Full House keep getting better and better, thanks to six months on the road almost non-stop. Unfortunately, the wear and tear has caught up with Frankie’s health. The night before the Roundhouse gig they had to cancel a concert in an attempt to give his voice a rest for London.”
“When they first came on, [Miller] was none the better for obviously having had a few, but he quickly pulled himself together and willed himself into a near magical state.”
“The Hypnotic Moment of the Night award goes to Frankie’s agonised rendering of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, a burning, beautiful interpretation of one of the best guy’s love songs there is. No matter how tough and tuneful his own songs are, there is no question in my mind that Frankie Miller is the best interpretive rock singer in these isles, one of THE great British voices. [...] From the jubilant response, it’s clear that six months on the road have finally helped his audience find him and recognise that Frankie Miller is a star.”
1) My own “review” of Shanghai’s performance was more rather succinct. “Shanghai brilliant,” I wrote.
The Poodles were a great laugh. There were only a few of us gathered on the dancefloor when they came on, so their drummer [Bryn Burrows] stormed over to the crowd by the bar while everyone else was plugging in, pointed them stageward and yelled, “Oy! Over there!” (1)
Having got that sorted out, we were ready to begin. The Poodles’ basic shtick is to deliver one song in every form of rock music you can think of, all with lyrics and playing designed to parody that particular genre. The familiar clichés of the 60s dance hit, the psychedelic guitar work-out, the badass biker saga, the sensitive love ballad and the introspective blues all got a good kicking tonight. Where sophisticated parody failed the band, a bit of sexual innuendo or a deliberate mismatch between music and lyrical content usually took up the slack.
The Wrist, for example, was a reggaefied take on Chubby Checker’s The Twist, rewritten as a paean to … well work it out for yourself. Anarchy in the Old West was a C&W version of the Pistols’ debut, augmented by a very tasty fiddle solo from Bobby Valentino.
Best number of the night for my money was a punk rendition of Lerner & Lowe’s On the Street Where You Live. Valentino stood at the mike delivering the lyrics in the tastefully sincere tones of a Radio 2 balladeer, while the other three played a frantic punked-up version of the tune behind him. Every now and again, the guitarist and the bassist would rush up to their mikes to bellow “Onnastreetwhereyoulive” as backing vocals, then resume barging into Valentino as they pogoed about and gobbed all over him. Naturally, he remained quite unruffled throughout.
1)Later in the gig, when two girls in the crowd dared to exchange a few words in a gap between songs, Burrows simply bellowed ‘SHUT UP!!!” at them. How many other musicians have yearned to do that?
Oct 26 (supplemental): The Damned were the first out-&-out punk band I saw play live. Spotted a bloke reading Sniffin’ Glue in the next row.
The NME sent out two of its biggest guns to cover this gig, with Nick Kent supplying the words and Pennie Smith the pictures. What follows are some excerpts from Kent’s published review, interspersed with a few diary observations of both my own and John Peel’s.
Kent: “Hey now, listen you! Yeah you fella, the one who’s saying there’s still nothing happening here in this town – ‘cause if you weren’t down the Victoria Palace to see these three bands last week then just forget it! A night to remember, it was and for my money it was the best grass-roots, no-hassles thoroughly pleasurable bill I’ve come across since the good old Naughty Rhythms tour broke the Feelgoods big in the first months of ’75.”
Slade: “I had a couple of casuals next to me and, when John Peel sarcastically mentioned ‘Ed Stewart, your favourite Radio 1 DJ’, she half-heartedly shouted ‘Noel Edmunds’ in response. Or, rather, she started to shout it, evidently realised Peel had been less than sincere half-way through and then apologetically let the final syllable fade away almost unuttered. Serves her right: there’s a time and a place for such appalling taste, love, and believe me this ain’t either.”
Kent: “Having once been in a group with three of [the Damned’s] four members and through much personal involvement over the past six months, I’m certainly not in any position to turn out some dutifully objective ‘critique’ on them. What I will say is that the sound they achieved at the Victoria Palace was the best I’ve heard from them so far and that I foresee them having little difficulty adjusting to larger stages. Otherwise, their spot on the bill simply confirmed prior suspicions that they’ll be very, very big.” (1)
Slade: “About eight numbers into the Damned’s set, the drummer kicked his bass drum over, threw his drum sticks down in disgust and stalked off the stage. The singer said ‘Temper, temper” and followed him off. Evidently the set was over.” (2)
Peel: “The Damned were on first: most enjoyable, uncompromising, heads-down punk rock. The audience didn’t seem too taken with them, apart from a small coterie of dedicated followers who booed me when I introduced the band. At the start of the final number, Rat Scabies grew dissatisfied with something, kicked over his drum-kit and left the stage alone. Despite the cries of the remaining Damned, he never returned.
“Took the Tube back to Broadcasting House to do the programme and it was a pretty fair one. I think I must do something to make the programmes more interesting in 1977.” (3, 4)
Kent: “Tyla, when his vocals don’t get too affected, can actually be a damn good rock’n’roller and he can write a neat song too. There was one number about Puerto Rican hoodlum amigos – The Young Lords – that Stiff or whoever should etch onto vinyl immediately. While watching Tyla, in fact, I suddenly flashed on a performer who could, if he keeps on his current path, become Britain’s answer to Bob Segar.” (5)
Slade: “Graham Parker & the Rumour were fuckin’ amazing and I got back to the hotel in time to hear John Peel (who must have left early) mention the gig on his show. Tomorrow’s mission is to locate and purchase a copy of Heat Treatment.”
Kent: “The first and most obvious outcome of the gig is that Graham Parker & the Rumour have not only become a stupefyingly good band, they’re also becoming stupefyingly BIG unless some ridiculous fickle finger of fate malfunction occurs. And that would be one big tragedy, because this combo is H-O-T.”
“The band deal in contagious passion and it was obviously one of those inspired nights when the adrenalin runs rampant and pours through the music in that luscious, utterly refreshing style – as opposed to the horrendous snow-blind cocaine frenzy that’s become a wired-up stock-in-trade for so many jaded big leaguers.
“The pacing was pretty much all fast and hard, with a swing and such a confident swagger that Parker’s patently unphotogenic looks and diminutiveness suddenly didn’t matter in the least. […] Most everything from Howlin’ Wind and Heat Treatment was seized upon and shaken up a treat by the ensemble. […] This is one band that will not be denied.”
1) Sounds, one of NME’s weekly rivals, claimed this gig made the Damned “the first new wave band to play a major London venue”.
2) Don’t judge me too harshly for not yet knowing Rat Scabies’ and Dave Vanian’s names: the Damned’s first single had only been out for four days at the time and their debut album wouldn’t follow until February 1977.
3) Peel not only played the Damned’s New Rose in that night’s programme, but also made Heat Treatment his featured album. The diary quote is taken from his autobiography Margrave of the Marshes (Bantam Press, 2005).
4) Rat Scabies (real name Chris Millar) also figures in one of my favourite John Peel anecdotes. Shortly after Peel gave the Damned a session on the programme, he received a letter from Scabies’ mum thanking him politely for “all your help with Christopher’s career”.
5) Stiff Records had strong ties with all three of the bands on tonight’s bill, so the label sent a big mob of supporters along to lend moral support and help drain the backstage bar. Richard Balls’ Be Stiff (Soundcheck, 2014) reports that Jake Riviera, Dave Robinson, Nick Lowe, Lee Brilleaux, Lew Lewis, Ian Dury, Dave Edmunds and Wreckless Eric were all present.
Oct 27 (supplemental): This was the 3rd & final Stiff revue tour. “Deafening sound of barrels being scraped – only the Equators were any good.”
Oct 28. 1976: My second night running at the Groundhogs’ Marquee gigs. Not a fashionable band (then or now), but Christ they were good live.
Oct 28 (supplemental): My naive young self was disillusioned to see Tony McPhee's "spontaneous" stage moves reproduced to the letter on night 2.
Oct 29, 1978: “John Peel played side 1 of the new Clash LP on Friday, with side 2 to follow tomorrow. Can't say I think much of it so far."
Oct 29 (supplemental): That Clash LP was Give ‘em Enough Rope. It’s grown on me since – particularly Stay Free & Safe European Home.
Oct 30, 1978: Wayne County & the Electric Chairs at Woods. “They should include some Blondie numbers in the set to parody Debbie’s pouty stagecraft.”
Oct 30 (supplemental): Wayne (later Jayne) County progressed through an M-F sex change during his punk career. His gigs were extraordinary.
Oct 31, 1976: Steve Gibbons supporting Eric Burdon at the Roundhouse. “A boozy, strong-arm band,” says NME’s Phil McNeill of our headliner.
The NME’s Phil McNeill wrote:
“The Steve Gibbons Band played an excellent set, but it was pipped at the post by their magic Marquee performance a fortnight ago: this was more laid-back, less intense and with a couple of minor boobs. Gibbons himself enjoyed it more, though…” (1)
“Eric’s vocals tend to get buried in [his band’s] busy playing and few songs were recognisable apart from Animals standards like Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood – taken slow, leaning on snaking dual guitars, bt meandering on far too long – and We Gotta Get Out of This Place.
“Eric also did You Can’t Catch Me, a strange but successful choice and it emphasised more than anything the current relationship between Burdon and his band: punchy, jamming rock singer with strong band slightly in need of a firmer general. […] It’s a boozy, strong-arm band. Eric shakes his inch-long hair all over the place and bounces about and everyone has a right good sweaty time.”
1) The Steve Gibbons Band were another of my favourite outfits at this time. We’ll hear more about them before this feature’s done.
Nov 2, 1977: “RIP Skynyrd”. [UK music press had just reported the Oct 20 plane crash which killed two key band members & injured the rest.]
Nov 3, 1976: Racing Cars at Marquee. "Nutter beside me went absolutely mad after the second encore. He just couldn't accept it was all over."
Nov 3 (supplemental): This guy kept doubling over to slam his open palms on the edge of the stage as he repeatedly yelled for more.
Nov 3 (supplemental): "Blithely assumed I knew my way back to the hotel from the Marquee after the gig. Ended up getting completely lost.”
Nov 4, 1976: “There's a particularly bizarre story in today's NME." [You may recognise the Mr S. MacGowan involved.]
issue of November 6, 1976.
I wasn’t at the October 23 ICA gig which produced this story, but I do vividly recall reading about it in the NME. Here’s how the paper’s Miles phrased his eye-witness report:
“A young couple, somewhat out of it, had been nibbling and fondling each other among the broken glass when she suddenly lunged forward and bit his earlobe off. As the blood spurted, she reached out to paw it with a hand tastefully clad in a rubber glove, and after smashing a Guinness bottle on the front of the stage, she was about to add to the gore by slashing her wrists when the security men finally reached her, pushing through the trance-like crowd who watched with cold, calculated hiptitude.”
The italics there are Miles’ own. It later emerged that MacGowan’s friend that night was Jane Crockford, later of the Modettes. Here’s MacGowan’s own account of the incident, as quoted in Ann Scanlon’s 1988 Pogues book The Lost Decade:
“I was up the front at this Clash gig in the ICA, and me and this girl were having a laugh, which involved biting each other’s arms till they were completely covered in blood and then smashing up a couple of bottles and cutting each other up a bit. Anyway, in the end she went a bit over the top and bottled me in the side of the head. Gallons of blood came out and someone took a photograph. I never got it [the earlobe] bitten off – although we had bitten each other to bits. It was just a heavy cut.
“But I got into the Evening Standard and that made me a ‘face’ from then on. People used to stop me in the street and say, ‘You’re the guy who had his ear bitten off, you’re a great man’. That’s what it turned into.”
That was MacGowan’s first appearance in the NME, but he’d soon be back in its pages. He released his first single with the Nipple Erectors in June 1978 and formed the Pogues four years later. The NME’s own photo of the ICA incident is credited to to Red Saunders.
Nov 6, 1977: Richard Hell supports the Clash at Castaways. Ex-Pistol Glen Matlock guests with the VoidOids on bass.
Nov 6 (supplemental): This was the Clash in what NME later called “their fiercest, finest hour”. First LP just 6 months old, everything to prove.
My diary’s account of this gig is limited to a few scrawled phrases (“The Clash were great” etc), but fortunately I do have another source to draw on. The American rock writer Lester Bangs was along on this leg of the tour to provide some Clash copy for the NME. What follows are some extracts from his description of the Castaways gig, interspersed with a few of my own observations.
Bangs: “The hotel has a lobby and a coffee shop which looks out upon a body of water. No-one can figure out if it’s the English Channel or not. Even the waitresses don’t know. I’m feeling good, having slept in the afternoon, and there’s a sense in the air that everybody’s up for the gig. Last night consolidated energies; tonight should be the payload. (1)
“We wind through narrow streets to a small club that reminds me much of the slightly sleazy little joints where bands like Iron Butterfly and Strawberry Alarm Clock, uh, got their chops together […] when they were coming up and I was in school. This type of place, you can write the script before you get off the bus; manager a fat, middle-aged brute who glowers over waitresses and rock bands equally, hates the music, hates the kids but figures there’s money to be made. The décor inside is ersatz-tropicana, suggesting that this place has not so long ago been put to uses far removed from punk rock. Enrico Cadillac vibes. (2, 3)
“I walk in the dressing room which actually is not a dressing room but a minscule space partitioned off where three bands are supposed to set up, almost literally on top of each other. The VoidOids’ Bob Quine walks in, takes a look and lays his guitar case on the floor: ‘Guess this is it’.”
Slade: “I went along with two other Clash fans from the Poly and spent most of the evening in the club’s heaving moshpit. The support band that night was Richard Hell & the VoidOids, whose set included a brief guest appearance from former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock.
“He came on for the band’s encore, playing bass on both Hell’s own Blank Generation and The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. Matlock’s presence caused a good deal of excitement, because it was already almost impossible to see the Sex Pistols live, but the VoidOids’ set as a whole was patchy.”
Bangs: “Tonight’s crowd is good – they respond instinctively to the VoidOids though they’re unfamiliar with them, and it doesn’t seem at all odd to see kids pogoing to Quines’ Miles Davis riffs. […] Hell and the VoidOids get the only encore on my leg of the tour, and they make good use of it, bringing Glen Matlock out to play bass.”
Slade: “The Clash, on the other hand, were superb. Their scorching first album was then only six months old, they still had everything to prove, and they played a set that passed like a single sustained explosion of anger, passion and joy. I came staggering out of the stagefront chaos at the end of it all, drenched in sweat, ears ringing, and with a bloody great grin on my face. It had been a great night and, for the next five years, my heart would belong to the Clash.” (4)
Bangs: “The Clash’s set is brisk, hot, clean – concensus among us fellow travellers is that it’s solid but lacks the cutting venegence of last night. Even on a small stage – and this one is tiny – the group are in constant motion, snapping in and out of one another’s territory with electrified sprints and lunges that have their own grace.” (5)
1) “The band is taut terror from the instant they hit the stage, everything they’re supposed to be and more,” Bangs writes of the previous night’s Bristol gig. “It was one of those performances for which all the servicable critical terms like ‘electrifying’ are so pathetically inadequate.” Wish I’d been there.
2) As he leaves the club, Bangs has a run in with Castaways’ owner which seems to confirm all these prejudices. (“Instantly, he was up against me, beer and belly and menace: ‘Wot’re you lookin’ for, some trouble, then?’”).
3) Enrico Cadillac was the lead singer of Deaf School, who dressed like a Cuban pimp on stage.
4) In the three years following this gig, the Clash produced Give ‘Em Enough Rope, London Calling and Sandinista. Throughout that whole period, there wasn’t another band in the world who could touch them.
5) You can read Lester Bangs’ full account of his time on this Clash tour– all 16,000 words of it - in his 1987 collection Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung. It’s some of the best rock writing you’ll ever see.
The venue was miles from the nearest Tube station, so I decided to get the train as far as Bromley [in Kent] and see what was available there. It turned out I was going to have to catch two buses to get from Bromley station to the gig.
On the second bus, two girls overheard me asking the conductor to tell me when we’d got to the right stop, and asked if I was going to see the Hot Rods. I said I was, they told me they were too and we got chatting. We swapped gig stories for a bit and the better-looking of the two girls mentioned she’d been at Knebworth in August too, but complained that she hadn’t been able to see properly when the bloke who’d crashed on to the stage started masturbating there. “I didn’t have my glasses,” she explained.
They’d met the Hot Rods several times at previous gigs and, when we found the band boozing at the bar inside, we all shuffled over to join the small crowd surrounding them. After paying for my ticket, I had only just enough money left to cover my fare home, but the girls took pity on me and bought me a pint before the band disappeared to get ready and we all headed stageward.
The support band, who’s name I’ve now forgotten, was shit, but the Hot Rods were brilliant. I had to miss the final encore so I could catch my bus back to Bromley station, but after a lot of mucking about I managed to get back to the hotel eventually. I had quite a long walk on the last leg of the journey, but it was worth it.
Nov 8, 1978: Smokey Robinson at Top Rank. “I’d been thinking about going to this, but I see tickets are £4.50 so I don’t think I’ll bother.”
Nov 8 (supplemental): Even as a student in 1978, it’s hard to believe I balked at £4.50 to see Smokey Robinson. But the equivalent sum today would be £22.52.
Nov 9, 1978: “Nick Kent's NME review of [Give 'Em Enough Rope] says Safe European Home ‘cuts anything the Clash have recorded thus far’."
Nov 9 (supplemental): Safe European Home was one of only two Rope tracks I hadn’t managed to tape from Peely – so I bought the LP later that day.
Nov 10, 1980: “Just realised I’ve got an essay a week to do between now and Christmas. That’s not Christmas time – it’s Armagideon time!”
Nov 11, 1978: “Sorted some old LPs to swap for a credit note at Pete Russell's. Came away with two Robert Johnson albums & £1.50 change.”
Nov 11 (supplemental): Robert Johnson buys were prompted by reading Peter Guralnick’s excellent Feel Like Going Home: http://tinyurl.com/k79hg9o.
Nov 12, 1980: Reluctant Stereotypes supporting Q-Tips at ?????. Stereotypes were GREAT. Ran into their clarinetist in the bog & told him so.”
Nov 12 (supplemental): “Stereotypes cleared Travolta-style circle on dancefloor so singer could demonstate the correct procedure for dancing to their music.”
Nov 12 (supplemental): “Q-Tips were all right, I suppose. Everyone else was going apeshit, but I couldn’t see too much to get excited about.”
Nov 13, 1980: “All back to ours after the pub. We amused ourselves with NME crossword game. One clue each then pass it on round the circle."
Nov 14, 1978: ‘BBC strike means the Old Grey Withering Testicle was cancelled tonight. They cancelled The Devil’s Music yesterday too.”
Nov 15, 1980: Very fine joke from last week's Tiswas.
Q: What's Spit the Dog's favourite TV programme?
A: The Saliva Birds.
Nov 16, 1977: Steve Gibbons Band at Woods. “When the DJ played Anarchy, I tried to persuade Tina to pogo. She seemed to feel it wasn’t for her.”
After the gig, Ron and I spotted an open door leading offstage into a well-lit room beyond. We could hear chattering voices and the clink of beer bottles from somewhere inside. “Shall we go and have a word with the band?” Ron said.
We were both full of Dutch courage, so we dashed across the small stage and down three steps into a tiny dressing room with scrawled grafitti all over its walls. No one seemed to mind that we were there, so I strolled over to Dave Carroll, one of the band’s two guitarists and said, “Good gig”. He thanked me, we talked about guitars for bit, and then Gibbons himself turned round from his own conversation and asked me if I had a light – which I didn’t. He turned away to ask someone else.
“Oh shucks,” I said to Carroll in a self-mocking voice. “A real live rock star asks me for a light and I don’t have one.” I was relieved when he decided to play along: “You should have been in there like that!” he grinned. Gibbons joined us again a moment later. I teased him a little about ditching his old riverboat gambler look for the new more clean-cut image and mentioned I’d been at the band’s Roundhouse gig a year ago. (1, 2)
“You did my three favourite numbers tonight,” I added. “Mr Jones, Natural Thing and Shopping for Clothes. That Roundhouse gig was the first time I heard Mr Jones, and I remember straining to hear every line so I didn’t lose track of the story. I still missed the crucial bit though.” He nodded in weary acknowledgement, and explained it was always very difficult getting the amplification right when doing spoken-word “story” songs like that one live. (3)
All this time, the band’s roadies had been squeezing back and forth through the tiny dressing room trying to pack up the band’s gear, and it was pretty obvious that having Ron and I crammed in there along with everyone didn’t make their job any easier. Rather than getting in the way any longer, we said our farewells and left to rejoin Tina, Hugh and Simon on the rapidly-emptying dancefloor. (4)
1) The Steve Gibbons Band weren’t massive by any means, but they were rated as one of the best up-and-coming bands in Britain. They’d done a couple of legendary gigs at London’s Marquee Club, toured America with the Who and scored a number 12 hit with Chuck Berry’s Tulane just three months before this gig. Imagine early Mott with a touch of Skynyrd’s duelling guitars and you won’t be too far out.
2) Until quite recently, Gibbons had sported long black hair and a beard. Somewhere around the time of their first chart hit, he cut the hair right back and shaved off the beard too. Whatever the look, his appearance and his stage persona both exuded alpha male rock star swagger and, at the tender age of 19, I think I probably considered him the coolest person I’d ever met.
3) The band mixed their own compositions with a smart selection of covers. I’m not sure if I then knew Shopping for Clothes was an old Coasters song or not. You can hear Mr Jones on YouTube here.
4) Probably the band would have far sooner been left in peace after the gig, rather than having us show up uninvited to bother them. Even so, they listened politely to all our babbling praise and – for the 20 minutes or so we remained backstage – treated us with nothing but courtesy. They were, in short, gents.
Nov 18, 1977: Dedicated today’s diary entry to a single thought. But achieving this aim wasn’t as easy as it sounds:
Nov 18 (supplemental): NME ad: “Never mind the bans. Sex Pistols will play December tour 1977.” Diary adds: “Never mind the secrecy. WHERE?”
Nov 19, 1979: “Skipped Allen Ginsberg’s reading at the Guildhall. Stayed in the pub reading [Raymond Chandler’s] The Lady in the Lake instead.”
Nov 20, 1978: Punked-up disco at the Prince Regent. “Buried my head in the speaker cones for PiL. Got dragged onto dancefloor for Motorway.”
Nov 21, 1980: “[Friend] confesses she & her mates were too timid to try speed at teenage discos. Gobbled Pro-Plus tabs in the bog instead.”
Nov 22, 1979: "John Miles arrived for tonight's Poly gig without his promised stage prop of a 40ft Concorde. It’s too big to fit on the truck."
Nov 22 (supplemental): That’s what his roadies told us, anyway. Building a stage prop that’s too big to tour with is a perfect Spinal Tap moment.
Nov 23, 1978: “NME says the new Peter Tosh album [Bush Doctor] will have a scratch ‘n’ sniff sleeve. Got to be scented with ‘erb, surely?”
Nov 23 (supplemental): It turned out to be just a ganja-scented sticker on the album’s front cover. One UK chain banned LP from sale anyway.
Nov 24, 1981: Kept this clipping. “I had no idea you could actually die from head-banging.”
Nov 26, 1976: "Parents away. Chivers & I guzzle my dad's vodka to very loud Eddie & the Hot Rods. Much idiot dancing with pool cues as guitars."
Nov 27, 1977: Wilko Johnson at Castaways. “Thrust out his groin to bring guitar in reach of front row so we could all thrash at the strings.”
Nov 27 (supplemental): “[Car owner] was there too, but he pissed off to the back because it was ‘too loud’ and ‘bad sound’. Pah!”
Nov 28, 1977: Shakin’ Stevens & the Sunsets at Woods. “Ron & I went along but found the gig was cancelled. Retreated to pub full of Teds.”
Nov 28 (supplemental): Shakey was still an old-school rock 'n' roller rather than a pop star then. Cancelled gig for role in Elvis musical.
Nov 29, 1977: Saved local paper profile of Gaye Advert. The baffled hack they assigned hits every cliche in the book:
I got to the Poly about quarter to nine, by which time Randon Hold were already on stage. It was a very odd crowd again: lots of two-years-behind punks, some mods, a couple of rude boys and many, many kids. There was even one guy there in a spot-on Clockwork Orange outfit, complete with the bowler hat and a set of fake lashes on his right eye. (1)
Jon was on the door, feeling quite pleased with himself because he’d just been chatted up by the woman who manages Penetration. We talked for a while, agreeing that thinking how young the audience looks is probably a sign thet we’re both getting old. We also discussed the strange mixed-tribe punters who are starting to appear – punk/mod hybrids seem particularly popular – and wondering where on earth we ourselves would fit into all this complex rock anthopology. (2)
Jon headed off to talk to a mate on the mixing desk and I wandered in to see the last five minutes or so of Random Hold’s set – they were quite good, actually. After they’d finished, I squirmed my was up to two or three rows from the front and staked out a spot to watch the roadies bustling about as we all waited for XTC.
There was a bunch of kids to one side of me, all telling each other what a great night they were having, and a rugby club type with his gum-chewing girlfriend on the other. The girlfriend, who had a voice you could strip paint with, was nagging him to go and punch someone she seemed to have taken a dislike to, but he paid no attention.
When XTC came on, the response they got varied a great deal from one song to the next. There was kamikaze pogoing one minute, and no more than static foot-pumping a moment later. The numbers that got the liveliest reception were Battery Brides (my personal favourite), Helicopter, Making Plans for Nigel (of course) and Meccanik Dancing. They had a great light show too – all black and white slashes, grids and the visual equivalent of “white noise” interference. (3)
They did a couple of encores, and all very enjoyable it was too. Not one of those nights you’ll clutch to your heart for a lifetime, perhaps, but a perfectly good gig nonetheless.
1) I’d have been 21 at this time, and I’m guessing that by “kids” I probably meant anyone younger than about 17.
2) I’m not sure why Penetration’s manager was there, as her band weren’t on the bill. XTC and Penetration were both signed to Virgin though, so perhaps that’s where the link lies.
3) I say “of course” because Nigel was by far XTC’s biggest hit to date. It had reached number 17 in the UK charts just two months before this gig.
Dec 3, 1980: “Jon’s rediscovered Joy Division. Hauled Clare into a boutique yesterday when he heard Love Will Tear Us Apart playing inside.”
Dec 4, 1977: Meal Ticket support Frankie Miller at the Fiesta. “Very few of us standing as Miller came on. Rest of crowd sat placidly on floor.”
Dec 4 (supplemental): “Two numbers in, Miller roared ‘We are NOT a psychedelic band!’ Everyone took the hint & decided to stand up after all."
Dec 4 (supplemental): “Encore was Your Love is Lifting Me Higher with every single member of both bands crowded on to the stage somewhere."
Dec 5, 1977: “Now seen two of So It Goes’ three episodes so far. Loads of great footage filmed at real gigs: TRB, Costello, the Jam, Muddy Waters."
Dec 6, 1979: “I’ve been catching up with all those London Calling tracks I taped from John Peel. Looks like it's going to be a GREAT album!"
Dec 6 (supplemental): “Been singing Guns of Brixton for two days now. Toss up whether that, Armagideon Time or I’m Not Down is my favourite.”
Dec 7, 1977: “All my Rock Against Racism stuff arrived today: a metal badge, 3 issues of Temporary Hoarding & 24 stickers. Not bad for 30p.”
Dec 7 (supplemental): Not only that, but it cost RAR 20p postage just to send it all to me. Remember these stickers?
Dec 9, 1980: “Heard about John Lennon’s murder from Ceri as soon as I arrived at Poly. Should put paid to talk of a Beatles reunion.”
Dec 10, 1980: "John's decided Yoko & Mark Chapman must have been lovers. He thinks they wanted Lennon out of the way but to keep his money."
Dec 11, 1979: VIPs supporting John Otway at the Poly: “VIPs were rather good. If you wanted to call their stuff punk R&B, I wouldn’t argue.”
I’d been watching Fantastic Voyage (which I’d never seen before) on telly, so I was a bit late getting to the gig. This meant I missed most of the VIPs’ set, which was a bit of a pisser, because I thought they were rather good. Obviously having loads of fun on stage, and if you wanted to call it punk R&B I wouldn’t argue with you.
There was no sign of Jon or anyone else I knew there. It was a very poor turn-out, actually, with more than than the average count of irritating twats in the crowd. The Poly had a couple of guys dressed as Santa there, handing out whistling balloons and a lot of crappy free records – most of which just ended up strewn all over the floor at the end of the night, of course. There seemed to be an awful lot of air guitarists about too, with the new Floyd single proving a particular favourite for this treatment with the bloke next to me. All in all he’s just another prick in the hall (ha!). (1)
John Otway was very good, mind: lots of acrobatics, crazy running somersaults, clambering over speaker stacks, hanging ape-like from the roof of the stage and so on. Quite funny too, of course, and surprisingly good musically. Down The Road was his best number for me, I think.
I felt quite sorry for Otway’s personal roadie, who not only had to pick up everything his boss knocked over or broke, but also kept getting guitars and violins thrown at his head. Every now and again, Otway would land a kick on his arse as he scuttled about the stage – just to remind him who was in charge, presumably. I wonder what kind of pittancee gets paid for putting up with all that?
1) Pink Floyd’s Another Brick in the Wall had just been released at the time, and ended up topping the UK charts.
Dec 13, 1979: “CSM gave London Calling a rave review in today's NME. It's the first Clash LP 'equal in stature to their legend', he says."
Dec 13 (supplemental): "London Calling makes up for all the bad rock and roll played over the last decade," CSM adds. "This is the one."
Dec 13 (supplemental): Odd exchange at work.
Me: "I'm off to buy the new Clash album."
Sue: "What do you want a new crash helmet for?"
Dec 13 (supplemental): Clash’s low-price policy meant I could buy London Calling in Virgin for just £3.50. Spent all evening playing it.
Dec 13 (supplemental): Verdict: "A couple of (slightly) duff tracks & Lover's Rock is a bit embarrassing, but otherwise it's all gems."
Dec 14, 1976: “Extracted £5 from parents as an early Christmas present, then dashed straight off to buy the NME Encyclopedia of Rock.”
Dec 14 (supplemental): That NME volume's still on my shelves today. But I’ve never known who the band on its cover is:
Dec 15 (supplemental): “Glad to see the Pistols’ thrashed everyone in NME's year-end poll. I’d feared Led Zep, Queen & co might win again.”
Dec 16, 1977: “Made both Helen & the bloke from Woods swear they’d phone me if they hear any rumours of a Pistols gig here over Christmas.”
Dec 17, 1977: “Turned up for Ian Dury only to find the gig’s been cancelled. Seems his roadies refused to set up the gear for some reason.”
Dec 18, 1977: “Sight & Sound’s on good form. So far this series, we’ve had gigs by Steve Gibbons, Ian Dury, the Feelgoods & the Albertos.”
Dec 19, 1978: Some recent garbled links from Simon Bates' Chart Show: “Number 30 is 999 by Homicide”; “Sham 69 are Hurry Up Harry with 26”.
Dec 20, 1980: Old school friend returns from spell in London with tales of his life on the fringes of the rock/punk scene there. Tells me all over a few pints.
Dec 20 (supplemental): He was full of stories about snorting coke behind the Music Machine with Lemmy. I was madly jealous, of course.
Dec 21, 1979: Amused myself by drawing this over-privileged rock star type. “One of my better efforts, I think.”
Dec 23, 1977: “Completed Xmas NME’s 193-clue crossword in full. Rest of the issue’s a bit disappointing. Too much of a build-up last week?”
Dec 23 (supplemental): This was the NME with a centre spread showing Stranglers' Jean-Jacques Burnel posing nude. Strange but true.
Dec 24, 1977: “Afternoon traipsing round Barnstaple searching for current LPs by Clash, Pistols & Ian Dury. Couldn’t find any of them.”
Dec 25, 1978: Best gag on Radio 2’s spoof panto had Cinderella listing her tasks: “Stuff the turkey, darn the socks - & bugger the ironing!”
Dec 25 (supplemental): Black Cinderella Two Goes East had Peter Cook & the I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again crew. Producer was Douglas Adams.
Dec 26, 1975: “Rutland Weekend Television does Pommy. Aussie rock opera about a kid who goes deaf, dumb and blind watching a Ken Russell film”.
Dec 27, 1980: “Interesting chat with John’s new girlfriend, who's in band management. All crap bands, mind: Judas Priest, Dollar, Tourists.”
Dec 28, 1972: It’s pre-diary, but today featured the best Xmas TOTP performance ever. Alice Cooper’ School’s Out: http://tinyurl.com/q8n8g9x.
Dec 28 (supplemental): I love that utterly unphased audience girl he dances with. Who is she & what's she doing now?
Dec 30, 1977: "US has refused the Pistols' visa applications for their tour next year. Good - might get a chance to see 'em here now."
Dec 30 (supplemental): Just 24 hours later, the American authorities reversed this decision. “Make your mind up, lads!”
Dec 31, 1979: "First drink with Rissole since NYC. Boasted about Lofgren bootleg I got there, only to find he'd bought a cheaper copy in Exeter."