Exactly thirty seven years ago tonight, a Monday night, Michelle was waiting in a queue to witness the two day punk festival held at the 100 Club in Oxford Street in the centre of London. Below are written memories of that night and of the era. The text immediately below is written by Michelle herself and the text below Michelle’s was written by Caroline Coon for a review of the festival which was published in Melody Maker a week or two after the punk festival had taken place.
The two photographs of Michelle in the ‘leopard skin’ jacket at the front of the queue for the event are courtesy of the Caroline Coon collection. All the photographs of the bands at the actual festival were taken by, and are part of Michelle’s collection. Also the photograph of Michelle in 1976 that heads this post and the photo booth shots from 1977 to 1979 are from Michelle’s collection. Thank you to her for letting KYPP use them.
Fast forward a handful of years from those nights in September 1976 and Michelle would front the band Brigandage and live amongst the Puppy Collective in and around the squats of Hampstead. Michelle’s band, Brigandage, was a firm favourite of the Puppy Collective and to a much younger Penguin.
Previous to forming Brigandage in 1979, Michelle was in the band V.D.U that put out one 7″ single ‘Don’t Cry For Me’ on Thin Sliced records. Sadly I do not own this artefact but if and when I do I will place it up on KYPP.
Michelle is still involved in the scene in no small way after all these years. She has never really been away. Brigandage have not reformed (although that might be nice at some point in the future). What Michelle has been doing for several years now is to create lovingly screen printed replicas of some of the original Seditionaries stock, original stock long gone now. Michelle also creates her own clothing inspired by the Seditionaries brand from 1977 which are equally beautiful and well made for both men and for women.
For more information on her business Sexy Hooligans you may follow this link HERE.
Six examples from the huge range of Sexy Hooligan clothing may be viewed below the 100 club punk festival post.
Please support Sexy Hooligans if you can, and no there is not a free shirt in it for me!
SOME MEMORIES FROM MICHELLE
My boyfriend Bruno and I were a little different at school in that we loved Roxy Music. I think we loved them more than Bowie although we saw him on the 1976 ‘Thin White Duke’ tour. We loved Lou Reed and the Velvets and the Rocky Horror Picture Show, Bruno had a massive record collection for the time. We just liked things that weren’t long hair and flares and dull like Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Genesis. This made us odd at school.
He read the Melody Maker and when we were about 15 we started going to gigs, even rock and roll gigs. It was fun but there was a feeling in the air that something was about to happen, about to explode. Then one day we read about a band called Eddie And the Hot Rods and they sounded exciting. We did not make it to the gig, we had tickets for Doctors Of Madness instead. Then it happened: Sex Pistols front page of the Melody Maker. The fight from the stage of the Nashville club in Kensington. That was it, straight up to London to see them perform. They seemed so exciting, out of the ordinary. They looked like us, were young. They did not have long hair it was short like ours.
People do not realise how absolutely boring and tedious Britain was in the early 1970’s, how the sixties dreams of revolution had died and left a vacuum. Also it was a lot easier for me to get to gigs because I lived in a suburb of London.
The atmosphere at the 100 Club punk festival was electric. We had seen Sex Pistols several times before, and The Clash. They had five members then, Keith Levine was the third guitarist for a while.
Dreadful bands like The Suburban Studs used to support them. They were dreadful. We nearly walked out before Sex Pistols came on! They brought a pigs head out on stage, so you see people were already trying to latch on to this new feeling of punk shock but getting it dreadfully wrong.
It was an incredible two nights but it was marred by the glass throwing incident which Sid, then the drummer of Souxsie And The Banshees (or Suzy And The Banshees at that festival) got blamed for. My cousin and I got small bits of glass showering over our face but it was a friend I’d met at Blitz, Cherry (I think that was her name) who got glass in her eye. It blinded her in one eye and I think she was and wanted to continue to be, an artist. The incident put paid to that. Obviously the atmosphere changed suddenly. There was blood, screaming, crying and ambulances and police. It calmed down after she was taken away but everybody started to leave. Souixsie stood on the stairs and asked people to stay and support The Buzzcocks. Bruno and myself could not as we needed to get the last train back to the suburbs. Should have stayed to see them, as it was Howard Devoto’s band at that time.
All I can say about seeing Sex Pistols was that the first time Johnny stepped onto the stage I practically fell to my knees, it was like a life changing religious experience. Here was someone who understood what I was feeling inside. I now longer felt alone. We were individuals shoulder to shoulder with other individuals. Not some mindless gang but a group of people who had finally found their way to a home.
MICHELLE BRIGANDAGE / SEXY HOOLIGANS
First punters in the line Michelle & Bruno in leopard jackets & Nick Haines behind them both, looking downwards.
SOME MEMORIES FROM NICK:
It had been a strange few days, too much to process when you’re seventeen.
Three days earlier I had been a Metropolitan Police Cadet. In my defence, I lasted only 36 hours before getting the hell out of Hendon.
In January I had allowed my folks to bully me into applying for a ‘proper job’.
To my surprise, my application lead to an invitation to interview then, to my utter horror, a few weeks later an envelope arrived. It welcomed me to the Met Police.
I spent Friday night wandering the streets, Saturday night in a hotel room with an American guy who claimed to work for The Commodores. I suspected his intentions towards me weren’t strictly honourable after his third amorous approach, so fled and slept rough the next night. My life seemed to have gone down the toilet spectacularly.
I walked, then walked some more getting nowhere slowly.
Dawn’s grey light became sunny morning, and I was hungry. I find a cafe advertising sausage sandwiches at reasonable prices. Nearby is a newspaper stand, I buy a copy of Melody Maker order a sandwich and a cup of tea and read the latest news on the only subject that had ever truly interested me, music.
The Melody Maker was the Daily Mail of the music press. Firmly rooted in tradition, it had no truck with fads and phases. Blues, rock and jazz were its staples, and its editorial had a patriarchal tone. It was surprising therefore to find on the paper’s cover a lunatic. Don’t get me wrong, rock has been full of madmen, yet none as leering, deranged and disturbing as the demonic figure on the paper’s front page that day. The story inside on page three was short on detail, long on condemnation. There was something happening in London, and the Melody Maker wanted to make it clear that it did not approve. I still wasn’t much clearer having read the article about a group of n’er do wells called the Sex Pistols. Apparently, they were scruffy, encouraged violence at their gigs and worst of all, the most heinous crime in the eyes of the rock establishment, they couldn’t play.
Sounded interesting I remember thinking as I turned the pages, ploughing through endless reviews of band like Ducks Deluxe, the Gerry Mulligan Quintet and Yes’ new uninteresting direction.
At the back of the paper were the events pages, live gigs around the country. In the London area there was an advert for a ‘Punk Festival’ at a venue called the 100 Club on Oxford Street. What caught my eye was the fact that the aforementioned Sex Pistols would be playing.
I left the café at a little before 11am and started to walk. Walking helps me think, sitting down I lapse into inertia and indecision. As I walked some clarity informed my thinking. Going home wasn’t an option, not yet, if ever in fact. What was there to go back to Portsmouth for? No job or a shit job if I played the game, a council flat that would only be home for as long as my folks allowed me to stay until they could decant me into a bed and breakfast. For my own good of course.
With no no future, I resolved to kill myself. I knew little of death or its banal realities. I also knew that traditional methods such as hanging, leaping from a tall building etc seemed unpleasant, messy and above all, painful. An overdose was the obvious solution, and so it was I visited the nearest pharmacy and purchased a 100 tablet bottle of paracetamol. Looking back, I now know this wouldn’t have provided me with the gentle, painless almost romantic death I wanted. In my defence I was seventeen and didn’t know any better.
Finances were an issue, even if I only had a few more hours to live. I had around eight pounds in my pocket and knew that London’s pleasures don’t come cheap. So, it was I continued walking, eschewing the convenience of the underground in favour of saving money. I wanted to die, just not quite yet.
My knowledge of London’s geography is poor now and was worse in ’76. To compensate, nature imbued me with a carrier pigeon’s innate sense of direction. I knew that whilst London may be big, it can’t be that big, and Oxford Street was pretty central, wasn’t it? So it was that I meandered, sauntered, and slowly graduated towards the venue arriving on Oxford Street at a little after three.
I’m not sure what I expected, but somehow, I recall being underwhelmed by the exterior of the 100 Club. Maybe it’s because I had never been to a ‘club’ before. I had been to gigs of course, Leo Sayer, Sparks at the Bournemouth Winter Gardens, Elton John and the Beach Boys at Wembley Stadium, Its unremarkable awning, a board announcing upcoming events and a locked outer door was somehow disappointing. Setting my sports bag on the pavement I leaned against the club’s doorway and waited for time to pass.
I re-read the Melody Maker and listened to one of the cassette tapes I had made prior to joining the police, I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure it was either Genesis or something by Stackridge. I sat for a while, stood for another while and watched people as they passed me by.
Sometimes you feel like an extra in your own film, part of yet removed from the action. Cognitive inertia set in once more and I only slowly realised that some of the strangers passing me by were now stopping, forming a queue behind me. The newcomers were predominantly groups of two or three nondescript, unremarkable London youths chatting about inconsequential things. I feigned a complete lack of interest, staring at the pavement and hoping none of the gathering spotted just how out of place
The remarkable thing about those in the queue was just how unremarkable, how ‘straight’ many of them were. Popular opinion has it that the gig was filled with wildly exotic creatures and tough New York street fighters. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and in fact, with my shortish but bushy hair, I was no different to many there that night, apart from a small group of teens who appeared suddenly, and immediately garnered attention.
I only became aware of said group after the street doors opened and we moved forward into a covered area, with the actual doors to the club still locked. Having studiously avoided eye contact, I can’t be certain, but I’m sure that the gaggle of extravagant youths hadn’t been behind me in the queue earlier on. Cameras started to flash, and I figured that there must be some magazine holding a fashion shoot. There was a girl with severe make up and equally severe clothing, she reminded me of Sally Bowles from the film Cabaret. Accompanying her and taking second billing was a male with peroxide in his hair. He wore a drape jacket and tried to look cool, I thought he looked a little lost. There were others dressed in faux leopard, but it was these two who caught my attention furtive glances as I feigned invisibility and indifference.
I loved Roxy and David Bowie and wondered if there had been some kind of fans’ convention they had just come from. The club doors opened, and we started to file in. Nervous, I sensed I needed to look as if I did this sort of thing all the time. I recall being asked for a sum of money, paying £1.50 I think and descended into the 100 Club.
The interior was gloomy rather than dark. There was a stage to my right, a clear space in front which might be described as a dance floor, then around its perimeter tables with three or four chairs around. The chairs were occupied by small groups of people who eyed the newcomers with a mixture of boredom and suspicion. There was a small bar which I didn’t bother with, I didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t have the money even if I did.
At the far end of the club there seemed to be something of far greater interest, and a smell drew me over. Incongruously there was a Chinese takeaway counter. Chicken balls, pancake rolls. These were of great interest since I suddenly realised, I was ravenously hungry. I bought two pancake rolls and moved to the back of the club.
Leaning against the rear wall was a sad looking girl in a trench coat. She had dark hair and deep set eyes and an innate sense of loss about her. I thought I knew what was going on in her world and to empathise I offered her one of my rolls. She fixed me with a bored look that shouted, ‘passive aggressive’. She muttered words along the lines of; “No thanks”, Being able to take a hint, I ate both my pancake rolls and waited to see what would transpire.
I find myself tired and bored, which was odd because at no point in the last three days had I felt that particular emotion. Fear, panic, anger yes, but not boredom. Maybe it was because I knew that when the evening’s entertainment was over, I would be heading off to some quiet corner to kill myself. I guess I rather hoped for something more exciting than standing against a wall in a club full of strangers with nothing to do.
My ennui ended with the arrival of Siouxsie, for a while.
A drum beat. Nothing flashy, a repetitive rhythm that was joined by the sound of a bass and guitar inexpertly played. What really caught the attention was a girl’s voice singing, or rather intoning over the backing:
“Our Faaaver, who art in He-vun!” she sang hitting notes both sharp and flat; “Twist and SHOUT” she exhorted. It was fascinating and challenging for a while, interesting for a little longer, then became rather tedious. Interest amongst my fellow patrons seemed to wane too and the conversations around myriad tables took over as Siouxsie’s debut descended into indifference.
I remember watching the performance from afar, seeing Siouxsie’s white face and black clothes, not making the connection between the girl on stage and the girl in the queue a couple of hours earlier.
Shortly afterwards there was a bit of a ruck. At a nearby table a glass smashed, and some people stood up. The table was overturned, and a few people gathered round. The whole event was over in barely more than a minute. Still, it broke the boredom.
Onstage next, according to my memory were Subway Sect.
I have to make it clear that I recall Siouxsie playing first, followed by Subway Sect. Many claim that in fact Subway Sect played first. I’m happy to accept I might be wrong, but this is how I remember things.
I had never seen or heard anything like the Banshees since I had been into music, and they weren’t as I classified it anyway. Subway Sect emerged like pale faced refugees from a Kafka novel. They wore their guitars high like the Beatles and made a churning noise similar to nothing I’d heard before unless it was a Kenwood Chef food processor. What made them catch my ear and capture my heart was the songs. They were rough but had recognisable verses and choruses, and the choruses were memorable. They sang about chain smoking and how “everyone’s a prostitute, we sell our souls for money.” I thought back to Saturday night at the hotel where I had demanded £50 from the American in exchange for my silence on the matter.
I smiled at the memory and remembered how he’d laughed at me.
It’s easy to judge bands using hindsight. I had never heard of the Velvet Underground, and yes there are similarities in retrospect. What struck me most was that there were no “rock pyrotechnics”, the singer didn’t present himself as some stallion. The songs, as far as I could tell weren’t complicated compared to the fare I had previously consumed. Bands I had listened to previously were impossibly good and the role of audience, to applaud and venerate was clearly established. Even though I had never touched a guitar before it crossed my mind that playing in a band might just be possible. Unfortunately, I would never find out since in eight hours I’d be dead.
Next up were the Clash, and the mood in the club changed perceptibly. There was a noticeable air of anticipation. The small dance floor became more densely populated and something told me to move forward. I left the safe enclave of my place at the back of the club and moved ten paces nearer the stage.
The band took the stage. They looked good, looked like they knew what they were doing and launched into their first song. Within maybe forty six seconds the singer broke a string and remained unphased and unabashed They sang about riots, someone called Janie Jones and how London was burning. Whilst the Banshees had been obscurest, Subway Sect neurotic outsiders, the Clash were enthusiasts. Rebel rousers certain that what they sang and said was right. The bass thumped through your chest, the guitars played off each other, the drummer hit every beat perfectly and the singers, Strummer with his snarl, Mick Jones with his higher pitched whine, told about life as we all instinctively knew it. They were a rock band, they played by rules we all knew. The description is not intended to be disparaging, simply that they were recognisably rock’n’roll.
As they stood at the front of the stage like three dogs straining at the leash, I felt a connection. Maybe life was worth living after all?
Sometimes you just know know that something is about to happen.
For a couple of hours, the club had been populated by maybe 300 people.
The mood had shifted between boredom, appreciative interest to enthusiasm. Things changed in the period between the Clash ending their set and what came next. The atmosphere became noticeably tenser. Suddenly it seemed that the club was more crowded. Whereas before there had been a drone of conversation, now there was an undercurrent of something ill-defined. I guess it was anticipation, excitement, people waiting to see if what they had read and heard about would happen. And so it was that the Pistols took the stage.
Tables and chairs seemed to have disappeared and it was standing room only. Standing against the back wall I struggled to see the stage, catching only random glimpses. Lydon came onstage to a cheer and cackling; “Aw-right my chuckies.” as a greeting. Jones had a handwritten piece of paper on his amplifier. It bore the words; “Guitar hero.”. There was a thud of drums, the sound of guitars being plugged in and…
The band started to play, and unlike the Clash they weren’t great to listen to. Steve Jones’ guitar was sloppy, and it seemed like the singer wasn’t quite sure of the words. The drummer and bassist were good enough, but I remember feeling. Underwhelmed. They played some songs and I started to feel restless again. The bottle of paracetamol was calling me ever more loudly. The Pistols launched into a Who song, ‘Substitute’. I had loved the Who since discovering their first album in my brother’s record collection a few years earlier. The Pistol’s version was sacrilege, diabolical and I considered leaving immediately. I hung around until what turned out to be their penultimate song. Then made my way through the crowd and headed for the bar, apologising more than was strictly necessary. The Pistols carried on playing, which seemed slightly insensitive since I was on such an important journey towards self-destruction. I ordered a bottle of lemonade, something to wash the paracetamol down with. As the bottle was passed to me by the girl behind the bar, a ribald comment came my way, from someone who’s mind wasn’t entirely on the Pistols either; “F**k me mate, you’re on the hard stuff!” he jeered.
Content in the knowledge that I was about to swallow something far harder than he had,
I smiled and muttered something innocuous. I walked to the exit, a member of staff asked me if I was leaving already. I told them that I had something important to do and exited into the cool evening air. My ears were ringing, mind racing. Instead of making things simpler, the evening had merely made matters more complicated.
I realised that for the first time in too long I was happy, I sensed some sense of purpose. Throwing the bottle of painkillers in a bin, I started my walk back to Portsmouth.
There was someone I needed to talk to.
I got back to Pompey on Thursday, met with my best friend, and told him about what I’d seen.
Over the next months we made up some songs on a borrowed guitar and formed a band. The Fence.
Life had changed utterly.
100 CLUB PUNK FESTIVAL 1976
Monday, September 20th: The Sex Pistols, the Clash, Subway Sect, Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Tuesday, September 21st: The Damned, Chris Spedding and the Vibrators, the Buzzcocks, and Stinky Toys (from France).
The first mass exposure of Punk Rock to the music press and record industry. On the second day, after an accident in which Dave Vanium’s friend lost her eye, Sid Vicious was arrested. When I tried to find out why, I too was arrested. During most of Chris Spedding’s set I was in the police station with Sid but I was released (and later given an absolute discharge) in time to see the festival end.
Monday September 20th
Nothing quite so collectively out of context as last Monday’s queue outside the 100 Club has gathered on Oxford Street for nearly a decade. When the Hari Krishna chanters stopped rush-hour traffic in their saffron robes and bald heads and started pinging finger cymbals, there was no denying that the hippie era had arrived.
The six-hundred strong line which straggled across two blocks waiting for the Punk Rock Festival to start was again indisputable evidence that a new decade in rock is about to begin.
Two eighteen-year-olds from Salisbury were at the head of the queue. ‘I’ve been waiting for something to identify with,’ says Gareth enthusiastically. ‘There’s been nothing for years. I just want to be involved, really.’
Michelle and Bruno are both sixteen. Their hair is short and neat. Their attire, shirts and ties, ‘leopard skin’ jackets, stilleto heels, pointed toes and dramatic make-up, is echoed down the line – in various home-made and inventive variations.
‘They’re the best bands around,’ says Michelle, who’s a seasoned fan already. ‘They’re playing the music of the people.’
Over the last eight months, a generation of rock fans has been developing an extraordinary sense of belonging together. Excited by the blast of direct energy in the music of the bands playing on the Punk Rock Festival bill, they are creating a new cultural identity for themselves. They have their own clothes, language, ‘in’ jokes and fanzines. There is a healthy comradeship and competitiveness in equal doses. The established bands share their equipment and rehearsal space, and most of the established musicians are encouraging friends to form bands of their own. Apart from the thirty musicians actually playing in the Festival, the audience itself is seething with new talent.
Tim, Pete, George and Bill – all seventeen – are from North London and Southend. ‘We listen to everything from Weather Report to MC5,’ says school boy Tim. ‘But we come here to pick up tips. Our band’s called “1919 Ulterior Motive Five” ’cause there’s four of us, see.’
Johnny Moped is there looking to find musicians for his band The Morons. Chaotic Bass is on the loose. Fat Steve of the Babes says he’s rehearsing. Fourteen year old Rodger Bullen, Rat Scabies’ protégé, has just joined Eater.
The creative buzz and exciting feel that something is ‘happening’ is infectious. There is a continual stream of criticism and rude abuse poured over each other’s favourite enterprise, but having and giving back that kind of attention is part of the fun. ‘Do It Yourself’ could be the motto down at the 100 Club. Everyone wants to get in on the act. Everyone can.
The Subway Sect. It’s their first-ever gig. There’s Vic Godard (19) and Paul Myers (bass). Paul Smith (18) has played for five weeks and Robert Miller (lead guitar) for three months. They are familiar faces, having been in the audience at many Pistols gigs. It’s been tough for them to find rehearsal rooms, but after a weekend at the Clash’s spacious studio, their set is debut ready.
They stalk purposefully on stage and without looking at the audience start a lengthy, foot-finding, tuning-type warm-up. Already they look like they belong together.
‘We’re the, er, Subway,’ pause ‘Sect’ pronounces Vic, turning at last to the audience.
The Clash planned to let Siouxsie and the Banshees use their equipment at the 100 Club festival, but when their manager, Bernard Rhodes, saw Siouxsie wearing a swastika arm band (which she refused to remove), they withdrew their consent. Why?
‘I felt she wasn’t aware of what she was letting herself in for’ said Bernard. ‘Our equipment is very distinctive we’ve painted it luminous pink. If she used it, we too would be associated with the swastika. I felt she was mucking about with a loaded gun and we didn’t want to have anything to do with it.
‘The whole swastika thing is quite funny really. When I was working with Malcolm he went up North and came back with a whole load of bits and pieces with swastikas on them which someone had given him. Eventually Siouxsie wore one of the shirts, more because it was there than anything else. She said that as a symbol of shock, the swastika was the only thing around. I don’t think she thought very much about it. As a symbol, or an emblem it was a random choice. A bad accident. A bit of a red herring. But the Clash are into specifics, not red herrings. If we’re going to use emblems, then they should be nearer the mark. People can do what they want. But we don’t think the swastika means anything relevant to us.”
Siouxsie and the Banshees. It’s never the same at a Pistols’ gig nowadays if what is known as the ‘Bromley Contingent’ isn’t there. This inseparable unit are Steve (21), Bill (22), Simon (19) – he sells hot-dogs off a mobile stand during the day raspberry-haired Debbie and Siouxsie herself.
They first heard the Pistols at their local Tech in January, and they’ve been faithful followers ever since. They made the trip to Paris in a ropey old car to see their heroes’ first overseas performance, and Siouxsie, shocking in her semi-nudity, got punched on the nose.
She is nothing if not magnificent. Her short hair, which she sweeps in great waves over her head, is streaked with red, like flames. She’ll wear black plastic non-existent bras, one mesh and one rubber stocking, suspender belts (various), all covered by a polka-dotted, transparent plastic mac. Over the weeks the Bromley Contingent’s continuous parade of inventive dress (it’s rarely the same two weeks running) has set the fashion. It was only a matter of time before they took their street theatre to the stage.
Apart from Siouxsie, membership of the band was not settled until the day before the festival. Everyone thought, though, that they’d carry out their much advertised plan to sing ‘Goldfinger’. It was not to be. At the last moment, in an orgy of rock iconoclasm they decided on The Lords Prayer spiced up with ‘the most ridiculous rock songs ever written’.
Two-tone Steve (his hair is black on top, white at the sides) was on a bass he picked up for the first time the night before. Sid Vicious, Johnny Rotten’s friend, and inventor of the pogo dance, was on drums. He had one rehearsal. A mature gent called Marco was lead guitarist.
The prayer begins. It’s a wild improvisation, a public jam, a bizarre stage fantasy acted out for real. The sound is what you’d expect from, er, novices. But Sid, with miraculous command, starts his minimal thud and doesn’t fluctuate the beat from start to finish of the, er, set. Against this rough corrugation of sound, Siouxsie, with the grace of a redeemed ghoul, rifles the senses with an unnerving, screaching recitative. ‘Twist and Shout’ and ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ creep into the act. Sid flickers a smile, Marco, his guitar feeding back, rolls up his sleeves, and Two-tone Steve two-tones.
The audience, enjoying the band’s nerve and audacity, eggs them on, gets bored, has a laugh then wonders how much more it can take. Twenty minutes later, on a nod from Marco, Sid just stops. The enthusiastic cheering is a just recognition of their success. If the punk rock scene has anything to offer, it’s the opportunity for anyone to get up and experience the reality of their wildest stage-struck dreams. The bar-flies are horrified.
‘God, it was awful’ says Howard Thompson, an A&R man from Island. But Siouxsie is not interested in contracts.
‘The ending was a mistake,’ she says. ‘I thought we’d go on until they pulled us off.’
The Clash. ‘They’re Great!’ shouts a bespectacled youth half way through this band’s set. ‘I used to listen to Yes and Genesis.’ At last, after three months intensive rehearsals and three gigs, the Clash hit close to top form. We see a glimpse of their very considerable potential.
They have reduced their line-up. Rhythm guitarist Keith Levene is off forming a new band. This has left Joe Strummer (lead vocals and guitar), Mick Jones (lead guitar), and Paul Simonon (bass), more room to move. And this they do, powering through their first number, ‘White Riot’. The audience is instantly approving. The band is fast, tough and lyrical, and they’ve mastered the way of dovetailing Joe’s mellow approach with Mick’s spikey aggression. They blaze through ‘London’s Burning’ with raging intensity. Terry Chimes (drums) uses the opportunity to undercut his solid bass drum surge with candescent splashes over the high hat. They play eleven of their eighteen songs including ‘I’m So Bored with the USA’, ‘Protex Blue’ (with Mick on lead vocals), ‘Deny’, and ‘Janie Jones’. They end the set with ‘1977’.
Later, I ask Paul Simonon, who has played bass for only six months, how he feels about the set. ‘I’ve got to get better. I’m never content. I know I can do a lot with the bass. Most of them stand still like John Entwistle. I want to move around and give the audience a good time. And give myself a good time too.’
Joe Strummer, who’s last band was the now-fabled 101’ers, has played with very experienced musicians. What was it like playing with someone like Paul who’s learning as he goes? ‘It’s really great,’ he says. ‘When a musician knows all his oats it gets boring. It’s not exciting for them and they start playing for playing’s sake and the emotion disappears. It’s really exciting playing with Paul because there are no rules. My guitar style is really rudimentary and Mick’s is great, so the combination is really interesting.’
The Sex Pistols. The atmosphere in the club is feverishly high pitched. This is the band everyone’s been waiting for. Not everyone, however, is happy about the Pistols’ growing success and notoriety. The private party is over. The band is public property. It had to happen. But with mixed feelings the band’s throbbing nucleus of fans are holding their breath as their champions start a steady climb to the ethereal reaches of stardom and rock immortality. Will the businessmen spoil them?, is the anxious question.
Already the band has changed – especially Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones. Once Rotten would poke his pretty mug into any camera lens and leer. Now he’s likely to sweep his arms across his face with an Ava Gardner gesture of exclusivity.
Jones, once the brooding loner unsure of his sex appeal, is now exuding a magnetic confidence which guarantees a screen of exotic women around him. Glen Matlock and Paul Cook, perhaps because they’ve been less ‘visible’, have yet to zip into their rock star mantles. They will, once their partnership – Glen’s driving fluid bass lines and Paul’s billowing drum storm – is recognised as the superb bed-rock of taut rhythmic structures it is.
The band’s fanatical following is growing fast. Fans follow them all over the country from gig to gig. They are the unquestioned stars of the Punk Rock Festival and as they step on stage they are greeted with lung bursting cheers.
‘We’ve got another Underground at last,’ shouts an ecstatic youth, ‘I’ve waited seven years for this.’
Over the nine months that the Pistols have played together, Rotten has developed his stage presence beyond the realms even his most ardent fans imagined possible. He is still prying open the nether reaches of his personality and presenting audiences with yet another dark fragment from his psyche. Once he moved over the stage squirming and jiggering around like a spinderly, geigercounter needle measuring radio activity. Rarely was he motionless. Lately, he rarely moves. He can be quite sickeningly still. This deathly, morgue-like stance sets skin crawling, and his lyrics are as suffocating as the world they describe.
He wears a bondage suit for the festival. It’s a black affair, dangling with zips, chains, safety pins and crucifixes. He is bound around the chest and knees, a confinement symbolising the urban reality he sees around him.
The set begins. The band hit their instruments in unison. It’s the fanfare intro to ‘Anarchy in the U.K’. SMASH – and their instantly identifiable, careering, evisceral splurge sears the air. The fans go wild. Johnny strains at his jump-suit prison. He breaks loose and burns into ‘I Wanna Be Me’. The crowd sprawls at his feet, a struggling heap of excited bodies.
‘Alright,’ says Johnny calmly disengaging his feet from the melee, ‘all off the stage, chuckies…’
The photographers fight for better shots, the pogo dancers leap above the crowd, sweat pours and the crush rolls forward and back from the stage like a tidal wave.
The band, lifted by the positive vibes, delivers pin-perfect versions of ‘Seventeen’, ‘I’m a Lazy Sod’, ‘New York’, ‘Pushin’ and A Shovin’’ – the fans call out for ‘Sub-Mission’ – ‘next number’ drawls Johnny. It’s the Monkees’ ‘Stepping Stone’. Then ‘I Love You’, their cynical anthem to suburbia.
Steve breaks open, flinging his guitar diagonally across his chest and slicing up his fret, he leads the band with power and imagination through a breathless one hour and fifteen minutes of thunderous rock ‘n’ roll. They play ‘Sub-Mission’, ‘Liar’ – a favourite with the audience – ‘No Feelings’, ‘Substitute’, ‘Pretty Vacant’ and they finish the set with ‘Problems’ and ‘No Fun’. They are called back for a triumphant encore.
The Sex Pistols were terrific. Compulsively physical. Frightening in their teenage vision of world disintegration. And refreshing in their musical directness and technical virtuosity. Whether their music will make the Top 20 or not is irrelevant. They’re doing it for a new generation of rock fans who think they’re fantastic.
Tuesday, September 21st
The audience on the second night of the festival is conspicuously longer haired and more denim clad. The atmosphere is competitive still but without the reigning kings there’s not the same buzz.
Stinky Toys. Ellie (20), the Stinky Toys’ singer, has calmed down. The night before, when she realised there was no time for the band to play, she’d made a not-too-successful prima-donna exit – kick, push, tut-tut at tables as she ran out into Oxford Street where, it is said, she was saved from wounding herself under a bus.
Her band is very French, i.e. very, very serious. They’ve frowned for two days and they frown even more when, after three very short numbers, including ‘Under My Thumb’ they get nil reaction from the crowd. There’s Bruno Carone (lead guitar), Jacno (rhythm), Oswald (bass), and Harve on drums. They play completely out of tune even though they spend minutes between numbers ‘tuning-up’.
Ellie’s voice, a high pitched whine, has 90% of the older male population diving back to the bar. And yet? Well, even though she sings in English and not one of the words from songs like ‘Pe Pe Gestapo’ or ‘Kill The Pain’ are intelligible, she has presence. You have to watch her. As the band liven-up with petulant anger at the impassive crowd, Ellie, frisking her blond hair out of beautiful blue eyes, does a frenzied dance before the mike. If only the rest of the band didn’t give the impression they want to get off the stage as fast as they can.
Which singers, I ask Ellie, before she dashes off after the set to catch the last train to Paris, have influenced her most? ‘Brenda Lee,’ she says ‘and Glenda Jackson…’ Umm.
The Damned. There’s something very special about this band. They’ve come a long way fast from the night, three months ago, when they played their first gig at the Nashville. Not that they actually played together that night. Each one of them did his own number in a private daze. Out of time, out of key, the cacophony was terrible enough to be great. The band took to the stage like famished maggots to an over-ripe cheese. They are all born performers, without a shred of inhibition. They are more voluptuous, both musically and physically, than the Pistols, and less classically musical than the Clash. But, with these two bands they are the third key-stone to emerge and they are holding up a corner of the canopy loosely covering the punk rock scene.
Rat Scabies is already being tagged a nubile John Bonham. He drums as solid as an express train. Ray Burns, whose lips always glisten with Woolworth’s best pearly pink Tu lipstick, plays bass as if he were Marc Bolan on lead guitar. He’s articulate and sensitive but he chooses to fool everyone with a front as benevolently mad as a village idiot’s. Bryan James (lead guitar), the band’s ‘elder’, is likely to look up from his guitar, catch Rat and Ray acting out their star trips, and crack up with spontaneous laughter.
Their lead singer, Dave Vanium (he gave up his daytime job as a grave-digger last week), looks as if he’s immaculately risen from Dracula’s crypt. On stage he hisses like an angry bat. And, for one so new to the game, he can keep a show going through appalling obstacles.
As they steam blissfully through ‘Neat, Neat, Neat’ and their soon-to-be-released single ‘New Rose’, the sound is atrocious. Vanium’s mike keeps crackling and cutting out, but the show goes on with the minimum of fuss.
Half way through ‘Fan Club’ they take off, pile-driving and crazy fierce, with Bryan pounding the coagulation with a fine treble texture. They are having fun but after their non-revivalist version of the Beatles’ ‘Help!’ the music staggers to a halt.
‘Who’s come here tonight to listen to music?’ challenges Rat as he spars with his drum-sticks on Ray’s bass. It is always difficult for Rat to keep sitting at his drum kit for more than a few numbers at a time. Bryan, meanwhile, has broken a string. After ten minutes the roadie still hasn’t fixed it. Chaos on stage. The show starts again.
‘We’re sorry to sound just like the last band,’ leers Dave, ‘but we can’t help it,’ and he rips into the Stooges’ ‘1970’. He leaps and scrabbles at the torrid air and flinging back his glossy black head he spits out lyrics in a style which is developing into a show-stopper.
Suddenly he jumps into the audience. O.K. that’s par for the course. But when he gets back up on stage again he screams with a conviction which transcends a stage act, ‘Someone has just hit one very near and dear to me’. The show goes on, but Dave is on the verge of freaking.
Minutes later three people appear at the back of the club. There is no commotion but they are bleeding. The atmosphere chills perceptibly. Onto the stage leaps Mr. Hunter, the club’s manager. ‘If there’s any more glasses thrown,’ he yells, ‘you’ll all have to go home.’ The show starts again for ‘So Messed Up’, the last number. The band screams through it, black and moody, slamming out the last riffs before they make a dash to the dressing-room. Dave, whose girl-friend was one of the injured people, heads straight for the street in time to sit in the ambulance as it heads for hospital.
A glass lobbed at the stage, hit a pillar, shattered and sprayed the audience instead.
Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols’ manager, tries to buy a drink and is refused because the barman doesn’t want any more missiles flying through the air.
‘Why don’t you serve drinks in plastic cups,’ asked Malcolm.
‘Who do you think we are!’ is the reply. ‘We’re civilized down here.’
The Vibrators – and Chris Spedding. The show goes on. The first time the Vibrators, John Ellis (lead guitar), Knox (lead vocals) and Jon Edwards (drums) played at the 100 Club, their manager-cum-bassist, Pat Collins, told me, ‘We don’t really go along with the Punk Rock thing, but it’s the fashion isn’t it?’ Since then they’ve cut off their long hair. However, they still play very few original numbers. They’re a punchy little R&B outfit. And since Chris Spedding hasn’t managed to form a band they are the ideal bunch for him. He wants to play it safe. They know all the old classics.
Their first number (Spedding joins them later) is a bluesy carnage of ‘I Saw You Standing There’. Then they spew into ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’.
By this time, policemen, plain clothes and in uniform, are mingling with the audience. Everyone feels uncomfortable. People have been hurt quietly. There wasn’t a fight, and nobody knows exactly what happened.
Suddenly, with no more impact than a moving dark blue flash, five uniformed police surround a figure by the bar. He looks surprised. Blank. He’s guided to the exit and arrested. It’s Sid Vicious, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ drummer.
The Vibrators play on. Spedding joins them. He’s dressed in black from head to foot and his eyes are like coalholes in his white face. He humps into ‘Motorbikin’’. Ray Burns, who’s standing at the side of the stage, can resist no longer. Up to the mikes he leaps. They are turned off until he reaches the other side of the stage. Spedding’s cool. Ray sings the choruses and the audience seeing that Spedding is trying to slip away cheer him back again. They all mash into ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ and for good measure – with half the audience groaning ‘boring’, ‘old’, and the others leaping about – they wring life into ‘Let’s Twist Again’. Well, they did it! In the dressing room, dripping with sweat, Spedding is actually grinning. He enjoyed himself.
The Buzzcocks. This Manchester band was formed less than two months ago. The front line – Howard Devoto (vocals). Peter Shelley, who plays a chopped-in-half, second-hand ‘Starway’ and Steve Diggle (bass) are pint-sized. Howard, who doesn’t speak to the audience much – has just dyed his mousey hair orange. All the band’s energy implodes around John Maher’s drum kit. But like sparrows in a sand bath, they throw up a gritty cloud of sound. Through numbers like ‘Breakdown’, ‘Orgasm Addict’, ‘Boredom’ and ‘Oh Shit’, their sound is quaintly compact. But their approach, though very energetic is unnecessarily defensive and calculating. Devoto insists that he is only in a rock band ‘temporarily’ and his self-conscious lack of commitmentcomes across. He doesn’t laugh much and he hates being on stage.
The festival ends with the Buzzcocks fluttering into the audience and Peter Shelley’s guitar still on stage feeding back. It pounds out a gut-wrenching lub dub, lub dud like the no-feeling sound of a robot’s heartbeat.
It was a bitter-sweet two days. There was a fine display of inventive music, plenty of hope, a lot of fun, and revived spirits. The star bands gave their best, and the newcomers were very entertaining. But, echoing the black spots in almost all festivals this summer, someone was badly hurt by an alcohol container.
Thus the optimism of this otherwise milestone event was undercut with sadness. Nobody wants to see the fiery, aggressive energy in the music diminished. But, promoters, increasingly eager to book punk-rock bands, must take a few elementary precautions (like plastic mugs) to protect their very young audience. It’s the only sensible way to present their scene.
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