Degenerate – Del Blyben

DEGENERATE

DEL IN 1979

VJ discovered there was an old abandoned mental hospital a couple of stops down the line in Kilburn called St Monica’s where Jake Heretic and his friends were squatting, I knew I had to find it.

On the way VJ told me stories of how haunted the place was. When we found the place, walking into the derelict building almost felt like coming home.

We found the large ward upstairs at the front of the asylum where people congregated. The older punks, Aussie Bob, Wank Stain, Jake Heretic and some others weren’t hostile, they just ignored us.

Mitch and Ruthless were kind although VJ kept his distance. He was more into Tubeway Army and wearing makeup by then.

Ruthless was the first girl I’d seen with a mohican, and you couldn’t miss her bust. I thought she looked magnificent and while I was trying not to stare Sniper entered the ward.

THE HERETICS – SNIPER / SI / JAKE / SAM

VJ asked Sniper about the ghosties, and he performed magnificently. He was speeding off his tits standing in the middle of the ward surrounded by rusty old bed frames. In the fading light, back hunched, fingers clawed and wide eyed as he recalled in a gravelly Yorkshire accent all the eerie supernatural events, and he went on for hours. He punctuated all the loud bumps and impregnated all the pauses until we were convinced we could hear them ourselves. His facial expressions told the story of the horrors that awaited us in the dark hours and we were engrossed. He put VJ’s tales to shame and by the dead of night we’d scared ourselves silly. But I still remember sleeping soundly that night.

VJ woke me early next morning wanting to go home. I didn’t want to but left anyway.

I returned when I could on my own. One day I found Mitch with a bottle of Indian ink and a needle. I couldn’t back out so let her tattoo my name on my arm. That was when I decided my name had only one L.

One night at the Marquee I started chatting to George another punk who liked to wear makeup. He was with his mate Kirk. Eventually I got round to asking George, in hindsight the stupidest question I’ve ever asked; “Are you gay?” He looked on me with pity and instead of calling me a twat or worse he explained he was human and sexual, and the question was irrelevant. It all made a kind of sense.

At this time my father decided that I should go to college and get a trade. I think he needed to salve his conscience so he could later say “well at least I tried”. I was enrolled in Middlesex Polytechnic which later became the University. I was taking technology, industrial history and maths to eventually get my City and Guilds certificate. Apart from the field trips to look at beautiful old buildings, I hated it. I’d already had a good taste of freedom and going back to school wasn’t what I wanted.

After enduring two months of it I gave my bondage trousers to a classmate and left. I had better things to do.

CHAOS

Back in Harrow Dino had formed a band called Chaos. One of their first gigs was at Unit One in Uxbridge.

All the local punks, the Woodstocks and the Hillingdon, Womble, the Hayes and the Harrow punks turned up. Most of them I already knew but by the end of the evening I was getting on with the drummer Scarecrow who told me about the squat where he lived in Kennington.

After the gig I went back there with him and met Mad Dog, Liz, Brummy Mark and Scrubber who I shared a room with. Although Scrubber was my first proper taste of sex, with others in the room, it didn’t feel much different from my first time. I never thought she was a girlfriend. I didn’t think she even liked me.

I was just sixteen and didn’t go ‘home’ for a month.

The squat was opposite Kennington tube and to the right a bit. It was an estate ready for demolition due to subsidence.

Pygmy was a six foot three skinny black fourteen year old with a mohican and a glue bag constantly attached to his face. He taught me not to put round things on the floor or they tended to migrate to the fire, staggering in the middle of the room had much the same effect.

One night Scrubber, the worse for tuinol and Merrydown cider, succumbed to the subsidence and magnetic pull of the fireplace. She narrowly missed taking the squats prized possession, the record player with her. The Ramones scratched as she went rear first into the fire and her jumper went up in flames. As the smell of singed hair filled the room Scarecrow jumped to the rescue, putting the Ramones back on as Scrubber grudgingly wasted good cider on the flames.

Getting up the staircase to bed in the dark was difficult enough without the drugs, the lack of an even line or straight edge in the building made it an almost Alpine experience.

There was no water in the place so we were appropriately filthy. The toilet didn’t flush but laziness saw its continual use until even we were disgusted at the size of the pile and the stench. We found a hammer and nailed the door shut with some rusty six inch nails we’d found so we couldn’t use it any more. It reduced the smell too.

We then opened another place three doors down just for its flush-less loo which was almost immediately overwhelmed. Eventually if we got caught short we spread newspaper in the bath, took a shit on that then rolled it up into packages.
We then aimed over the balcony at one of those big round bins five or six floors below.

Scarecrow let one drop one day without noticing the man walking his poodle. The wind caught the package and I nearly looked away as it narrowly missed the dog. The splatter radius was like a bomb blast. We both had the decency to wretch before we ran and hid.

One day Michelle brought her boyfriend Russ home. He’d had all his hair shaved off and turned skinhead. At some point he decided he wanted my leather jacket and that he was going to rob me. Back in another circle facing another fight I didn’t want, I looked to my new friends for support and was told in no uncertain terms to stick up for myself. It was a lesson I’d already learned, but he was bigger than me so I was beaten and lost my jacket anyway.

Next day my friends took me out on the tube to rob someone else of theirs, and I got a better one.

We took whichever opportunities arose and begged borrowed and stole our way to the Kings Road, gigs, parties, other squats and subway four at Piccadilly tube where we got our tuinol, a heavy barbiturate which went easily into syringes back in the squat. I hadn’t started fixing yet myself but was already being asked to do needle work for others and was becoming quite good at it. I was never encouraged to fix myself and one of the first rules I learned was that you never fix anyone who hasn’t fixed before.

One day I’d just swallowed my tuinol when there was a knock on the door. Pygmy disappeared to answer. He soon returned with a grave expression on his face, stared at me from the door and said round the ever present glue bag, “your dad’s at the door”. I turned to stone.

He’d come down to south London with his mate in the work van. My mother had used the situation to berate and blame him so he was there to take me home.

I was unceremoniously thrown in the back of the van on top of some plaster boards which were on top of a bucket in the middle of the van so continually unbalanced. As we weaved through London the tuinol started to hit. I was thrown around the back of the van like a rag doll, bouncing off one wall and then pitched into the other, to eventually be placed in a bruised, semi-conscious heap at my mother’s feet. My father and his friend, job done, promptly vanished to leave me again in the cold misery of my childhood. I was thankful for the drugs. The next morning when they’d worn off I went straight back to the squat.

By then Scarecrow and me had swapped beds and I didn’t need to risk the Alpine staircase any more.

Sometimes after a gig we’d get stuck in the city. There were a few places to go until the trains started in the morning. One was round the back of Wardour Street, in Wardour Mews. This place was called the Eagles club.

It was a dingy basement at the end of an alley with Baby, the fattest black man I had ever seen sitting on a drum stool at the front door. It was a basement half full of comatose punks waiting for sunrise, and the other half speeding off their tits. A bloke came up asking what I was after. I said tuinol. He knew I was skint but said he’d introduce me to some friends round the corner. I went along and up into a room above a shop where two blokes shared their tuinol and wine.

As the drugs started to take effect I was told to make myself comfortable, take off my jacket, then my boots. I sat and went with the flow. I was pulled back to semi consciousness by them removing my belt and trousers. The thought ‘they must be gay’ entered my mind but these weren’t like gays I knew.

They cuffed my hands behind my back and both raped me on the floor.

The next morning I had to plead for release. When they let me go I was still wasted, barbed out and stumbling towards the station trying to beg my fares. I didn’t get anywhere. I eventually ended up in the Music Machine and bumped into Costa and Pinki. Costa was one of the gays on the punk scene which overlapped with the gay scene at the time. He took the time to help talk me down.

I already knew ‘they weren’t all like that’. By the end of the night I remember feeling comfortable enough to sleep in the same bed as him, with Pinki in-between us both of course.

The next day I found myself stumbling up the Kings Road still a bit dazed. I bumped into George and got talking. I told him what had happened to me and he was angry. He asked me what they looked like and where it happened exactly, which I couldn’t pinpoint. He talked to me as a mate and took me to the Chelsea Potter and fed me. I remember sitting there and not really saying anything, just eating, and the normality of it all kind of cured me.

It would have been so easy to turn bitter and hateful. I was so lucky to have good people around me.

On one of my odd visits ‘home’ a girl called Tracy from the other side of Harrow with a biker brother called Basher gave me a mohican in her kitchen. I couldn’t help notice how every time I went back there were more and more punks. All the youngsters round the edges of the local scene were getting hooked and becoming a community.

We’d got to hear that Spizz Energy were doing a TV show and wanted some punks to come up. We filled the coach they’d put on for us to Hatfield where Daly Thompson the athlete was hosting the ‘young persons’ debate show. Of course we’d all got off our heads on the coach and by the time we arrived there were serious discussions about letting us in. Spizz being the diplomat soothed the ruffles while we sniggered our way through the door hiding our bottles and cans.

Before the show Daly was trying to be nice. He asked me from a circle of admiring giggly teenage girls how I made my mohican stand up. Despite being on a debate show I didn’t feel all that talkative at that particular point, but Spizz had asked us all to play nice so I smiled inwardly and made polite, while Daly took the piss to impress the girls. During the show he started to lose his cool after all the swearing kept ruining the takes, but being offensive little bastards we continued. We were spread throughout the crowd in little groups, trying to sneak swigs without the camera noticing.

Wobble had a bottle of Merrydown cider under her jacket with a straw which was cunningly attached to the side of her face. After a well worded reply by a smug young Christian Tory, Wobble shouted ‘bollocks’ to everyone’s loud approval. Daly Thompson was not impressed.

He ended the debate and fluffed his lines several times introducing Spizz Energy.

CHAOS

Chaos were playing at the Kings Head Deptford. The pub was known to be a bit boisterous in there so Dino’s brother Frog decided to come along for support. When we arrived the place was full of skinheads and Frog the rockabilly became a focal point.

While Chaos were on stage a fight broke out and it seemed like all the skins in the pub took turns on him. His throat and face were cut but we managed to get him out alive. He refused to go to hospital and decided to get the train back home to Harrow instead while the band stayed to sort out the mess. I caught the tube back with him. On the way I convinced him to pop into Northwick Park hospital which was at our stop anyway. I phoned his parents while the nurses stitched him up and waited for them to arrive before I left.

Sarah used to follow the Ants and was squatting at Cato Road in Clapham a few stops down the line from us in Kennington. She took me back to Clapham with her one night after a gig. Being sixteen I followed my instincts and moved in.

Clapham seemed to be full of Belfast punks from both the Catholic and Protestant communities. They had all come to London to settle in the squats.

There was another Jake, Deirdre, Siobhan, Gordy and Curly who told everyone he was asexual in the campest Belfast accent I had heard. Other punks and runaways from Birmingham and the Home Counties were also around. Leah, large Donna from Hackney, and Cliff who played drums for the Straps.

1979 was coming to an end and 1980 was fast approaching.

That New Years Eve the Ants were returning to the Electric Ballroom in Camden. I’d seen them there earlier in the year and couldn’t wait.

Poncing at Camden tube before the gig I got talking to a bloke from up north. He’d looked at me, then turned to his mate and said “Ere look, ‘e’s got green ‘air”. Actually it was faded peacock blue but before I could point this out he’d caught sight of Scrubber, Sarah and Michelle poncing spare change in boots and leathers in the station behind me. He said earnestly “I don’t know how you can touch those punk girls” and at that moment out of the corner of his eye he noticed Angel march up the escalator and through the station. She had long white shaggy hair a beautiful face, ample cleavage, thigh boots, mini skirt and stockings, studded leather jacket and a bull whip in her hand. The bloke’s head did a slow but complete 180 degree turn watching her as she strode passed, then snapped back to me slack jawed. I didn’t say a word. I just folded my arms and smiled smugly. It may not be the best example but at that moment I felt so proud of punk women.

I loved Ants gigs and all the squats in London seemed to turn out for this one.

It was as if everyone was there, tall skinny Tony D weaving back through the same crowd flogging his new fanzine ‘Kill Your Pet Puppy’, copies of which would later on be found in all the squats, and the means by which a load of us discovered what was happening on the wider scene we were a part of.

There was such a good atmosphere that night and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face, the Ants really performed as well. After a brilliant gig some people walked up to Trafalgar Square. I was drunk and happy and just generally partied through London that night on a slow roundabout walk back to Clapham with the rest of them.

It had been a year since Sid Vicious had died and Pat Marx had organised a march from the Kings Road to Hyde Park to commemorate him, and all the punks from all the squats turned out for it. Along the way Pat had carried a bucket collecting spare change which he said was for Sid’s mum.

By the time we reached Hyde Park the bucket was getting heavy and, like us, Pat noticed the line of skinheads marching parallel to us and shadowing us like a shark. The mood of the punks became quietened and people started to disappear.

As we neared the Serpentine lake Pat said his piece, declaring the day a success and making sure to remind any skinheads listening that the money wasn’t his.

Pat hastily disappeared leaving a park full of skinheads and punks to sort it out themselves.

One punk went through the roof of the Serpentine restaurant, another couple ended up in the lake as fights broke out all over. The police were having the time of their lives chasing anything that ran but most people managed to escape in ones and twos while all hell broke loose.

After the park I’d moved in the opposite direction to any skinheads I saw and eventually found myself looking in the window of Great Frog.

I’d started to relax then walked back round the corner onto Carnaby Street just in perfect time to be confronted by a wall of skinheads the width of the street coming straight towards me. I was like a rabbit caught in the headlights, but I knew if I ran I’d be chased down so instead I nonchalantly sauntered to one side looking at the skins I knew in turn, and to my amazement I was left alone.

The squat was becoming a bit over full, excellent fun but tempers frayed in close quarters, so Sarah was moving stuff to a new place in Brixton.

She’d lived in Villa Road before and Michelle and skinhead Russ were living there too. There were a load of punks squatting in Brixton at the time from the front line to the barrier block. The Glasgow punks, Zaza, Fibro, Rab and Jimmy, Jock Strap and Irish Tom. They were easy enough to find, you just walked up the frontline and listened for Slaughter and the Dogs.

Sarah packed up her stuff and with mattress on her back, said her ‘see you laters’ and set off for Brixton on the bus. A few days later She came back with Michelle.

Their new place had been petrol bombed by rockabillies and Russ had been burned to death. Sarah had been out at a gig but Michelle and Russ were both there and barbed out of their heads.

Michelle told us how she’d tried to wake him up but couldn’t, and how she’d tried to drag him out, right up until she had to get out herself to save her own life.

She was in a real mess crying and still coughing from the smoke, she blamed herself and skinhead friends of Russ blamed her too.

Sarah called for a squat meeting one morning. A collective inward groan was heartfelt by all.

Previous meetings to discuss the relevant issues which affected us all had descended into pitch battles and people got hurt at these things, usually by Sarah and the girls. She’d screamed over the din at the first meeting that from now on you could only talk if you were holding the rolled up newspaper that she had in her hand, and she’d got the last word. Of course the next squat meet everyone brought their own rolled up newspaper, which also make handy weapons and our second attempt at democracy ended with Belfast Jake and Perry needing to visit St Thomas’s.

By the meeting after that one I’d acquired a postman’s hat, placed the band across the top and a skull and crossbones on the front. Sarah had called it the Adolf hat and decided she could make a better point with it than a rolled up newspaper. To be fair that meeting resulted in us organising the supermarket skips between us and what gigs and parties we were going to. Sarah was quite proud of herself, but despite the hat I think we all agreed simply because we all wanted to eat, go to gigs and not get hurt.

This particular morning we all thought we knew what we were doing already so to be summoned for a meeting was quite disconcerting for everyone. I just hoped it didn’t end in hospital again. An ominous air of dread you could almost taste descended as we all slowly filed into the front room and sat, Sarah was stood, her back to the fire place, hands on hips in her leather and boots, the Adolf hat was already firmly secured to her head and a grim expression on her face.

A resigned and apologetic Belfast Jake was last to meekly enter and be seated. He looked up at Sarah’s face and whispered “oh shit” almost to himself.

She waited for silence then waited some more for effect then in a deep stern but matter of fact tone informed us all that at the Martian Dance gig the previous night, Grant from Wood Green had told her that he had the clap. The implications were obvious, she hadn’t seen him for a month and in that time half the squat had probably caught it.

The dread sank in as it dawned that we’d all be visiting St Thomas’s on mass that day.

Belfast Jake started to regale us with stories of little metal hooks, needles and umbrellas that they like to poke down the eye of your dick and torture you with.

Like lost sheep Sarah rounded six of us up and after we’d consumed all and any drink and drugs we had stashed at the squat and a subsequent visit to the local off licence on the way, she herded us off on the tube to the clap clinic.

Large Donna was last up the escalator at Waterloo station and nearly got caught as we all bunked through so we had to leg it from the tube. A bit puffed out but in newly buoyed spirits we stumbled into the hospital. Strangely a porter seemed to already know where we were going before we did and silently pointed us in the right direction without a question being asked.

In silent contemplation we walked through the clap clinic doors, two of the prettiest nurses I had ever seen took over from Sarah and shepherded us off to little cubicles to do their experiments. I thought it was all relatively painless but I could hear through the curtains another pretty nurse trying to hide the irony as she told Perry in an understanding voice “it’s OK, it happens” as he dripped discharge over the floor. He had point blank refused one of the procedures and in another cubicle Belfast Jake had come over all faint and heaved at the sight of another.

Then we had to sit and write down all the names of people we’d had sex with in the last month. Various versions of Mickey Mouse made it down on paper but in our heads it became clear that we’d have to send out diplomatic emissaries to several other squats in London.

After a handful of antibiotic on top of the drink and other drugs and a round of knowing pitiful smiles from the nurses we left to lick our wounds back at the squat.

THE WALL

The squat was over full so eventually the Belfast mob, me, Leah, Cliff and a few others found a place opposite side of the High Street in Edgley Road upstairs to Rab Fae Beith, the drummer from the Pack and the Wall.

The cycle of sex and drugs, begging and gigs, parties and punk were balanced by the ever present hunger and poverty. We’d all take it in turns to do the bread run in the mornings, prowl the streets for the odd pint of milk on a doorstep and sometimes butter and a block of cheese. We even sometimes got eggs and bacon if we caught a milk float unattended, then to local bakers before they opened and after a delivery of warm fresh baked bread, we’d shoplift and ponce our way up the High Street and outside the tube.

Of an evening we’d take turns doing the rounds of the skips behind the local supermarkets where apart from the ever present yoghurt soaked bread rolls in the bottom sometimes you could get lucky and the whole squat ate, we always shared but usually after we’d eaten our fill.

We were all runaways from something. I don’t think anyone in the squat was old enough to sign on the dole except Cliff, and desperation always nagged. Mickey the Noo was Siobhan’s boyfriend, an I.R.A. supporter from Glasgow with a green Mohican. He’d prowl the underground and rob people as a supplement to begging. Sometimes he took me with him for backing but he always came home with goodies.

The local copper nicked me while poncing for spare change outside Clapham North tube. Being on a two year bender I gave them an alias and they threw me in the cells. They told me I’d been arrested for mugging on the underground, they kept me there for a few days but had to let me go because my accent wasn’t Glaswegian and my mohican wasn’t green and the victim refused to say different. I got back to the squat and warned Mickey who promptly cut his hair off, and the next day he went robbing as a skinhead. He came back that night with two tickets for Siouxsie And The Banshees at the Music Machine. When asked where he got them from he said he’d robbed a couple of punks on the tube, which didn’t go down well. We all refused the spare ticket and the night of the gig we let Mickey go in alone, which was lucky because the people who he’d robbed were waiting in the foyer with the police to point him out. He was dragged off to the nick and we never saw him again.

One morning before Cliff set off for band rehearsals with the Straps, he sat and ate his Frosties in front of us without sharing. After he’d locked his door and gone, Belfast Jake decided that as punishment for being a greedy bastard Cliff deserved to lose his cereal, but instead of breaking Cliff’s new lock Belfast Jake decided to take a hammer to the wall between Cliff’s room and mine. Plaster and lathes lay in rubble on my mattress under the hole, which was big enough to pull the Frosties box through, Belfast Jake ate his fill, then put rubble in the box and returned it through the hole.

When Cliff came home from rehearsals that night he was already in a dejected mood. Apparently he’d been kicked out of the band for always having a glue bag in his face. He sat down and told us the sorry tale of the day’s events without seeing the hole in the wall behind him. As his story petered out we all agreed his luck was truly dire, as he went to unlock his door we all waited, but no hollering. A dejected Cliff just looked at the hole and said “figures” then a big beaming grin took over his face as he sat down with his bowl and milk and said “all a man can do at a time like this is eat his Frosties” and smiled again.

We watched him pour the rubble into his bowl, we tried to suppress our upwelling sniggers, which just made it worse. Cliff didn’t see the funny side and the obvious eruption of boots and fists ended in Belfast Jake nursing a broken bloodied nose on the floor. At that point Rab from downstairs came in to complain about the noise again, being older and more sensible than us and seeing the hole in the wall and the state of Jake he took the opportunity to berate us all for being a useless bunch of cunts and ordered us to shut the fuck up.

The next few days were quiet.

A few days later Siobhan and Deirdre decided the subdued Belfast Jake needed cheering up. He’d been moping in the mirror over his newly bent nose but eventually joined in the rough and tumble wrestling on the floor. It wasn’t long before he yelped again in pain. Siobhan had clumped him in the face, but as his hands left his nose he began smiling. She’d unwittingly knocked it back into place. Belfast Jake hugged her in sheer delight and gratitude.

Staggering up the stairs in Clapham one night I fell and banged my knee. Over the next few days the ache got worse and I had to see a doctor. Balham hospital didn’t know what was up with me but put me in bed in skin traction anyway.

People like to complain about hospital food but when you’re used to bugger all it tasted good. I stashed what I didn’t eat and the visits from the squat dwellers tended to coincide with one meal time or another so others could get a feed as well.

While Michelle stuffed her face with leftover peas and gravy Sarah tried to curb her enthusiasm about all the gigs I had missed, and her excitement about the ones I was going to miss.

The doctors took me into theatre, sedated me and took some fluid from my knee. I dreamed I was back in college, on a field trip to an old church. I felt the same need to escape I had in college but the old church was beautiful, the class entered to look around at the architecture. From the old beams in the roof hung a huge chimney type circular structure almost bell shaped, the bottom of which hung at chest height in the middle of the room, from inside light poured out. The class all bent to look under the rim to see where the light was coming from. The teacher warned too late not to go under. I became weightless and started drifting upwards backside first. I started slowly spinning as I looked down on the faces around the rim as they grew smaller, then spinning faster the higher I was drawn, and faster still into the light. I woke shaking my head back and forth back in traction in bed.

When the doctor made his rounds I told him I was all better now and could I go home now please. The next day they gave me the big plastic bag they’d sealed my clothes up in and a pair of crutches. My clothes were already rotten but as I opened the bag I gagged, I’d left a pot of curry sauce in the donkey jacket pocket which had turned to mould and grown through everything else. I rinsed what I could and dressed.

As I hobbled on crutches out of the ward I was sure the squat could smell me coming.

THE STRAPS – MUSIC MACHINE

That night in the Music Machine those crutches got used in various and imaginative ways by several people there, they didn’t last long.

Siobhan and Deirdre needed a bath and didn’t want to use the locals so with a couple of others we set off to my mothers. We walked through the council houses to the large looking house set back on a bend in the road. My father had built it up to look impressive on the outside, but inside it was still the same old building site. The girls had hoped for hot water and maybe a feed but got neither.

I was going back home to Harrow less often, usually to take stuff back that I’d collected, records, clothes and so forth, and to get cleaned up and then see some local mates. I hadn’t been back in a while but when a stranger answered the front door and told me my family had moved I was a bit surprised. He said he didn’t have a clue where they’d moved too and closed the door. My mother had told me on the previous visit that she’d finally agreed to sell the place but I didn’t think it was that long since my last visit.

Her brother lived about a mile up the road so I went knocking on his door to ask if he’d seen them, I discovered they’d moved just round the corner from him. From the sale of the house my father and mother had both paid off their debts and bought this house out right, my father taking a smaller cut he said so myself and my sisters would always have a roof over our heads. My stuff was piled up in the box room but I managed to make a little nest for myself which didn’t feel like home but made a nicer short term escape than the previous house at least for a while away from the squats.

On the phone my dad had told me he and Sue had bought a big house in north London that still had three sitting tenants. He said he’d pay us a hundred quid to squat in it for a week to get rid of them, Five of us moved in, Large Donna, Elaine, Michelle, Curly from Belfast and myself. We had to share a bathroom and toilet with the tenants and totally took the piss. The police were called, I gave a Mickey Mouse name but we were allowed to stay after my father made a show of taking pity on us.

A couple of days later when all was quiet I noticed my dad was there and chanced a knock on his door. He let me in and left. I sat down at the table to wait and Sue came in through the other door behind me, plonked a baby on the table in front of me and said ‘meet your sister’, then also left. The baby looked at me with incomprehension and started to bawl until my father came back to retrieve her and take them both home.

Back in the rooms next door the party continued. The smell of glue permeated the house as strongly as the toilet and the noise, and by the end of the week two of the tenants had left.

Siobhan came back from a gig that night and looked uncharacteristically pensive, then with an innocent face that only an Irish Catholic can pull off said “they just sort of followed me home”. I looked outside, and on the doorstep were nine tenths of the Dusseldorf punks, the more the merrier I thought, and let them in.

At weeks end it was time for Sue to move in with the baby and for us to go, we piled all of our stuff in the back of my father’s van.

Elaine from Blackpool and Sarah had scouted out a couple of possible places back in Clapham so my father dumped us and our pile of stuff by the side of the road on an estate opposite Clapham North tube, gave five of us twenty quid each and left.

The first place we were kicked out of by the police within an hour, the second place though the police left us alone.

It didn’t look too promising to start with, no gas, electricity or water, but I’d been in a dive or two before and soon had the water and gas back on. The electricity though was a problem, there were just two wires sticking out of the wall in the cupboard where a meter should be. We went to a wrecked empty place we’d seen earlier and took the meter then I wired it up in our new place, as the evening grew dark the lights came on to everyone’s approval, before long I had the hot water on too, we all took turns in the bath and settled in.

We saw George with his mate Philippe in the Kings Road and he told us about some exhibition or other and party. He also told us how the artists thought it would be wonderful if some punks came along, George expected us to take the piss and we duly delivered. We ate their food and drank their wine and behaved as degenerates are expected, pockets full and a quarter wheel of Edam in a roll in my hand we set off, next day the whole squat ate and drank.

Next night I bumped into Heidi and some of her mates from Dusseldorf in the Marquee and told them we had a new squat, they came back. Heidi didn’t speak English and I don’t speak German. All we knew about each other was what her mate translated for us, and Belfast Jake had just managed to pull the translator. It didn’t seem to matter, we enjoyed each other immensely and when we could drag ourselves from the bed I showed her the Kings Road.

It started to rain; we took shelter in the doorway of Boy. Heidi was stunning, tall and slim, fit, beautiful and blonde, a kind of German Debbie Harry.


Jock Strap who worked in Boy had clocked her and zeroed in. He started his fast raw Glaswegian patter not knowing she couldn’t speak a word of English. Seeing my growing amusement she smiled sweetly, which just encouraged Jock all the more. She certainly kept us out the rain that day.

A few weeks after she’d gone back to Dusseldorf the postman knocked on the door. Heidi had sent a food parcel to the squat and we all remembered her well.

I came back one morning after a gig and party to find Belfast Jake in the street outside the squat smoking a dog end and looking unusually pensive. He was acting odd but only said “you should have been here last night, Leah was off her head” and tried to laugh. He came in with me, walked in the front room (mine and Leah’s bedroom) and sat down.

He had an awkward smile on his face as he asked Leah “do you remember last night?”, she looked at him coldly and said “I remember you all fucked me” and stared straight at him some more. Belfast Jake’s head hung in shame and his red cheeks tried to pull a smile as if it were a joke.

Leah reminded me of my youngest sister. I actually got on with Leah and I felt guilty for years that I wasn’t there to stop them from abusing her on that night.

Out on the ponce I bumped into Mitch. She said her, Ruthless, Aussie Bob and a few others had a new place. I went back with her to a severe Victorian looking block on an estate behind Lambeth North tube station.

Campbell Buildings were being pulled down due to them being old infested shitholes that were already crumbling, but Ruthless was very accommodating so I stayed. The place was filthy but Ruthless and Mitch had found ways to combat the pile up of rubbish by sweeping it into the corners and under the carpet.

Apart from the smell this worked fine for a while, until one fine sunny day when light found its way into the corners of the room as well. At first my eyes noticed but my brain didn’t register that the carpet was moving all by itself in the sunlight. While my brain caught up Mitch noticed me staring at the gently undulating carpet in the corner of the room. She got up and beckoned me over then she pulled the carpet back to reveal a thick layer of maggots. There must have been thousands of them, but apparently they got rid of the rubbish so were left alone ‘for the time being’.

As the council emptied the next block in line for demolition the squatters started to move in and the quicker they did the quicker the remaining tenants moved out.

It was early 1980 and the punk squat community had spread. Campbell Buildings would soon became an over spill for all the squats in London and the surrounding areas, runaways from family and childrens homes, asylums, estates and suburbs from all over Britain, Ireland and beyond.

I saw Scarecrow in the Marquee, I hadn’t seen him for a while, he was looking well, back with his folks, clean and healthy, I said to him “you’ve got to come back and see where we’re living now”. The gigs and parties were almost endless by then and acquiring drugs for free had become an essential.

Dr Manch was the local GP in a dingy little ground floor office come surgery. He was a short chubby, pasty faced Greek looking man who sweated profusely. He had a haunted hangdog expression etched into his face, as if he’d been carrying his deflated pride around in his tatty fake leather bag with his whiskey for too many years. His surgery smelled of musk alcohol sweat and urine, or maybe that was just him, but he knew his job and wrote prescriptions endlessly for us all.

I’d told him that I couldn’t sleep, and at first he’d tried to explain the wonders of a good days work, but seeing only incomprehension and bafflement he soon gave up and palmed us off with mogadon or dalmane, but after one of the girls from the squats had sat in front of him with a handful of tuinol and said “if you don’t give me something stronger I’ll swallow the lot” he kind of gave in to us all.

For a time it seemed like half the punk squatters in London went to him.

I bumped into Slut out on the ponce one day, She used to live with Slag and Scrubber in Brixton before I knew them. The film ‘The Great Rock And Roll Swindle’ had just come out and it was showing at a cinema at Piccadilly Circus. Slut had some money from ‘working the ‘dilly’ that day so she took me to see the film.

Afterwards we got off our heads, and she came back to the squat. Next day she went to see Dr Manch.

Police raids were a regular thing that we’d all become used to, so to prevent our stashes of pills from the good doctor being regularly confiscated we’d started to hide them in more inventive ways. The police were stumped for a while, until one night the squat caught fire. This was nothing new for Campbell Buildings, but when some extremely stoned punks refused to leave a burning squat in favour of removing all the ceiling tiles, it didn’t take long for the police to figure out and inform the fire brigade, that we weren’t doing it because we were only trying to be helpful.

We’d began to push the pills one by one into the large polystyrene ceiling tiles that were to be found in every squat there, and if we didn’t get them out we’d lose our collective stash. The fact that the tiles were inflammable, and once alight dripped fire on everything below, was the reason many a squat was lost to fire in the first place, that and us finding varied and colourful ways of ‘accidentally’ igniting them.

UK SUBS

We went to see the UK Subs support Generation X at the Lyceum. The place was packed, but most of the ‘proper’ punks were there for the UK Subs because Generation X had become ‘Top Of The Pops’ sell-outs by then. There were loads of trendy poseurs there to see them though. There were also loads of the Whitton punks there. They were a part of the Subs crew in the early days and now the Subs were getting a bit more recognition so were the Whitton.

As the UK Subs set came to an end all you could hear from the crowd was a continual chant of ‘Subs Subs Subs’ interspersed with ‘Whitton Whitton’. When Generation X came on the chanting continued. For the first four numbers all you could hear from the crowd was ‘Subs Subs Subs’.

I was walking up the stairs at the side to the balcony when I noticed a beer can sailing, in what seemed like a slow motion perfect arc. Through the air and lights it flew to the stage and hit Billy Idol straight and hard in the head. He staggered off stage leaving the band to play to the chanting crowd by themselves. When the song finished there was a minute of silence from the stage, and all that could be heard was the chant.

CHARLIE HARPER – UK SUBS

Eventually Billy Idol came back on stage with his arm around Charlie Harpers shoulder; Charlie took the mike and implored the crowd to “give them a chance, they’re a good band really” and left. So did most of the crowd.

Campbell Buildings early one evening without a gig and still long hours before the soup kitchens arrival Ruthless had the idea we should try to fend off starvation by eating the local feral cats. That night out on the scrounge we kept our eyes open, there were plenty to choose from.

As I tried to coax one closer, instinctively on some level, one vicious little fucker recognised another, and even let me pick him up before turning into something like the Tasmanian devil in my arms. It flew straight at my face all four paws and teeth, a spitting hissing ball of ginger fluff and mange. I desperately tried to unhinge him but the bastard sliced my face and nearly had my eye. He gouged my hand and my arm through the leather jacket but I finally managed to untangle us, lever the bastard off and eject him up the street where he landed on all fours running, balls and tail in the air, before turning the corner he looked back, sprayed in my general direction then disappeared.

As we checked the bins on the way to the soup kitchen my cat allergy set in and I thought ‘there are easier ways to get a meal’.

On the way to the soup kitchen at night the cobblestones always looked wet; the smell of rot was greeted by decay the closer you got until the last street lamp before the arches faded.

The viaducts under Waterloo station were like red brick cathedrals to the damp filthy and stinking remains of the streets. Winos, tramps, beggars, thieves, junkies, lowlife and punks all crowded around dustbin fires or in queue at the old van with its two milk urns full of soup.

When a train wasn’t rattling over us or one of the other viaducts, the sound fell enough to hear the odd spit from the fire or curse from a dosser, just to be covered again by the next rattling train.

After standing in line for a paper cupful of soup and a bread roll the fire looked tempting.

Sometimes you could squeeze between the dossers and up close to the fire, then try to fend off hunger with the piss weak soup while watching the rats around the edges who fed off the rot, and the feral cats who fed off the rats.

Of an evening in Campbell Buildings it was sometimes necessary to escape to the roofs, not only from the police, or the noise, or another burned out squat, or the increasing tribes of invaders who were always on the prowl for punk squats to wreck. But just because it was nice up there.

There was something very comforting about listening to the Kinks playing ‘Waterloo Sunset’ and ‘Lola’ on Ruthless’s little cassette recorder, while watching the sun go down over Waterloo station. I never saw the river from the roofs of Campbell Buildings but I’m convinced I smelt it.

Campbell Buildings had now become an overflow for all the dregs of all the squats in London. For runaways from children’s homes, asylums, council estates and broken suburban nightmares. I’d known for a while that I had to get out of there.

I left one night and went back to Harrow and bumped into Tony A, who was squatting in Hounslow with the Whitton punks and I decided to join him. The next morning I went back to Campbell Buildings to get my stuff and say my ‘see you laters’.

I found Indian Keith crying. He told me he had gone up on the roofs that morning and found Scarecrow dead on his back. He had called the police who’d arrived, and abruptly told Keith to fuck off, he said. While they were waiting for the mortuary van to arrive the two coppers were flicking little stone’s from the roof at Scarecrows face trying to land them in his open mouth.

Later that day Keith lead the toast to Scarecrow with tuinol and Merrydown cider, I left them to it.

DEDICATED WITH RESPECT TO SCARECROW / RUSS / SNIPER / BARRY / RICHARD / KEITH / COSTA / PINKI / LISA – MAY THEY ALL REST IN PEACE.

DEL BLYBEN

THANK YOU TO DEL BLYBEN FOR SHARING THIS ESSAY FOR THIS SUMMER SOLSTICE KYPP POST.

THIS ESSAY IS ONLY A SMALL PART OF A HEFTY TOME THAT DEL HAS WRITTEN ABOUT HIS LIFE WHICH I AM HOPING I WILL GET TO READ MORE OF IN THE FUTURE.

THANK YOU TO THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE WHOSE COLLECTIONS OF PERIOD PHOTOGRAPHS I HAVE USED TO HELP FILL UP THIS SUMMER SOLSTICE KYPP POST;

JOHNNY GRANT / ANDY HALFORD / SAM MORROW / TONY D / LEAH DURKAN / FAUSTO ORTENZI / KATIE KITKAT / SANDRA CLARKE / PHIL RITCHIE / DAVE C.B / SI HERETIC / GERRY FORD / DEL BLYBEN / ANN WOBBLE / HILDA MCMAHON / SHIV GALLAGER / MICKEY PENGUIN / LISA KIRBY (R.I.P).

MOST OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS HAVE BEEN ARRANGED IN SUCH A WAY SO THEY ARE RELEVANT TO THE TEXT BELOW THAT ACTUAL PHOTOGRAPH.

MOST – BUT NOT ALL.

SOME OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE OF PEOPLE NOT MENTIONED IN THE ACTUAL ESSAY. I FEEL THAT THESE PEOPLE ALSO HAVE A REASON TO BE FEATURED WITHIN THIS SUMMER SOLSTICE KYPP POST AS THEY WERE AROUND THE PEOPLE AND THE PLACES THAT DEL DOES MENTION IN THE ESSAY.

MICKEY PENGUIN

Published by

Penguin

1985 - 1988 All The Madmen Records and Distribution 1988 - 1991 King Penguin Distribution 1989 - ???? Southern Studios / Southern Record Distribution

31 thoughts on “Degenerate – Del Blyben”

  1. Wow Del, this has got to be one of the best as in ‘as it really was’ memories of punk I’ve read. A couple of times I tried to jot down some of Pinki’s stories, but they were never so detailed as yours, more random and confusing. What I do remember is her saying that it was in Trafalgar Square after that New Year’s Eve Ants gig in 1979 that she realised she had to get out of Campbell Buildings/ London or the ‘punk lifestyle’ would kill her, although she was still only 18. So she went back home, went to college, joined CND and ended up at Greenham Common Peace Camp in 1981. But the darkness (as I call it) was always there in background, like a wound which never really healed.

    Although KYPP the fanzine was a colourful and ‘positive’ take on punk, it had its roots in that darkness, in places like Campbell Buildings, in the drugs and the deaths and the experiences of young people/ teenagers ‘old before their time’. That is what gave KYPP its intensity, that something creative and optimistic could be born -had to be born- out of the squats and the wreckage of punk.

  2. Powerful stuff and very well written. I remember last time I saw you at the Adam gig you told me you were thinking of doing something like this. I think you should carry on, mate. Nice one.

  3. Awesome blog Del. Great you got such a good memory for those days. Its really interesting to hear what it was like for Punks in London back then. I think you lot had it a lot tougher than most.

  4. Great memory for details, written in such a credible way makes this so powerful. More, please.

  5. thanks for posting this amazingly honest piece of punk history. I would love to hear more of these stories. you describe the highs and lows of the time incredibly well.

  6. As it was Del, I wonder how Ruthless is? Haven’t seen her since ’86. Dr Manch! He put me on to Dr Nickolades in Islington (for a small consideration) when I moved north hope there’s more to come Del…

  7. so what happened after ‘the punks’ in the squat abused their pal leah? life just went on, did it?

  8. Great read Del. Remember so many of the places/people/happenings that you describe. A real trip down memory lane. I was crazy about Barry Howard when I was at Campbell Buildings for a short time and seeing his photos brought a lump to my throat. Thanks for bothering to do this. xxxxxx

  9. Thank you everyone, there’s still more to come as this is just about eight month out of a lifetime. @nolzers. Life does tend to go on. The alternative is death.That incident split the Clapham community and made us move on. What would you have preferred, more fists and boots?

  10. maybe some description of the fall-out. and not having my comment censored to read “abused” instead of “gang-raped” above. both minimise what they did because people find it too uncomfortable to deal with, and that’s how it keeps happening.

  11. It was I that moderated your comment not Del, as I did not want the person in question to read those words when she eventually sees this post thirty four years after the event. What’s wrong with you?
    Also why exactly should or would Del have to answer to you the finer details exactly? He wrote his essay and the essay is on KYPP. Any refunds may be collected on your way out.

  12. what’s the problem with describing the incident that was already described in the post? do you think it makes a difference to her if you choose a different word?
    del doesn’t have to answer to me, there’s a comments section so i left a comment.

  13. Del never mentioned the word you used in his essay. You choose gang rape, I moderated it to abused. None of us know which term is entirely correct apart from the person in question and the occupants of the squat. The person in question has talked to Del prior to Del placing up that paragraph so is fully aware of the post and a lot of it’s contents. Both your comments seem to have been written out in an aggressive manner (in my opinion) and Del replied very well to your original comment. I replied to your second.
    Del will, or will not, reply or engage on letting you know ‘what happened next’ if he wishes but no need to be so pushy. There are ways to engage on comment boards, or indeed verbally in real life. I am sure Del will be back here at some point soon.

  14. Nice one Del and thanks for the pics Peng. I think you have Russ’s death early on. Sequence is probably unimportant but he was at CB and I think I heard about it after everyone had moved out. Interesting that you say it was rockabillies. I heard bikers and I heard that nail varnish was poured onto his face. Your version seems more likely (or maybe it was just a clumsy cigarette) but also interesting how sick the Chinese whispers got. Again, if Mitch could be found – she had pictures of ALL of these people as she took photos compulsively as long as I knew her.

  15. Regarding the incident with Leah. I didn’t know about that but she was, and certainly is more than capable of speaking for herself.

  16. Amazing stuff DEL well done. well written and riveting story, flowing together nicely. Last time I spoke to you, you told me you had been writing but it wasn’t to be read by anyone but you. So glad you changed your mind. I have similar tales to tell as do most of us old punks. I was pretty lightweight in comparison in some ways but I have had to change a few names in my own books, which hopefully I’ll have the courage to publish too. I always remember you as ‘Del the bouncer at the 100 club’ xx

  17. correctly modded pengs. i didnt know about the incident but its more amo to why i hated tuinol. saw so many mates turn into complete tossers from it. and just to note, if this thread carries on, i aint ‘irish jake’. great piece del, brutally honest yet compassionate. hate to say it but it works better then mine somehow. look forward to the rest mate 😉

  18. Sam your right about the chinese whispers around Russ’ death back then, all sorts of stories were flying about. I thought he died end of 79 but found out he was on the Sid march so had to change it, but iv put down what Michelle told us and what I remember, we were in Cato Rd at the time. CB was later for me. Nolzers, as it goes I didnt use the word ‘abused’ I said ‘guilty I wasnt there to stop them’. That was Penguin being a very naughty boy for all the right reasons x

  19. That’s a really fantastic piece of writing, Del. Look forward to reading more. All the best.

  20. Great, I highly enjoyed this bit of writing and the pictures!. More like this please!! cheers.

  21. Excellent stuff. I really enjoyed reading that. A great insight into what it was like back then. I only discovered this site six months or so back. Late on the scene, as usual. It’s been great reading all the different posts here. At the time I had dreams of heading up to London myself. But, ended up staying ‘safe’ back home in Bristol. It’s good to see people posting here who I regularly swapped tapes, fanzines etc with back in the early 80’s. Graham Burnett, Robin Bazak, Andy Martin.. Good times!

  22. Absolutely riveting stuff Del and I can’t wait to read more…I guess I was lucky livin with some of the Whitton as some of those places you were in sounded mental…Glad to know you made it through. 🙂 xx

  23. I’m glad I finally got around to reading some of your stuff Del. Now really looking forward to the rest. Hope to see you when I’m better. x

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