It was the summer of ’68, a year after the summer of love reached it’s inevitable, squelchy conclusion and a good 12 months before the five and dime started selling budget guitars to Canadian midgets, so it was a quiet summer by comparison. Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, The Equals were No1 in the UK charts and life was peachy.
However, in a dingy ward in a Salford hospital, a young boy was born who would go on to change the world.
At the time, my mum was a few beds down from him, screaming at me to get the fuck out of her womb. I did as I was told (possibly for the last time) and slithered out into the calloused hands of the midwife, who proclaimed “it’s a boy” (out of the corner of her mouth without the cigarette) slapped me on the arse and gave me to my mother (my Dad was stood in the corridor waiting to light a cigar as was the practice in those days), I lay there, my scales glistening under the cheap NHS lighting, took stock of the situation, and had a little poo. That was pretty much all I did for the next few months so I’ll skip forward a bit.
I was a handsome child, but unlucky, I nearly died three times in my first year, once when my pram rolled down the ridiculously steep hill we lived on into traffic with my slightly overweight Grandmother chasing after me screaming, once because of a severe bout of gastroenteritis, my Dad rushed into casualty with me in his arms, they said another hour and I would have been dead. The third time, my mother came outside to find my pram upside down, I’d slid to the bottom of it with a blue face, she opened my mouth and found it was chock full of headless Jelly Babies, my sister was sat in the kitchen biting the heads of the rest of the packet, it didn’t take a genius to work it out, we became instant enemies.
I didn’t listen to a great amount of music, and when I did it came out of a plastic duck whenever you pulled a string, eventually I grew bored with the duck and started paying attention to the other sounds in the house.
Chapter 1 "In the section labelled "shirts"
Beatles – Beatles for Sale
Buddy Holly – That’ll be the Day
Elvis Presley – Blue Hawaii
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band – Tadpoles
I spent the next few years trying to avoid near death situations, when I was two I fell out of our living room window, eight feet onto my head into a rockery, because we lived on such a steep road the garden was well below floor level, I survived anyway, and learned a lesson, I’ve hardly ever fallen out of windows since. After that things were uneventful for a while.
It was the early to mid 70’s so you can probably guess what the music scene was like, Television was an evening thing so my Mum and Dad used to have the radio on during the day, I heard a lot of crap, there was some good stuff about at the time but my parents had quite mainstream tastes. Their record collection was quite a good one though, starting at the end of the fifties and stopping dead in the mid sixties when my sister invaded my mum’s womb, with a child on the way, anything recreational was scrapped to pay for it, buying records was a luxury they couldn’t afford, it was a shame because the sixties were just starting to come into their own.
My Mum loved the Beatles, everybody did, it wasn’t fashionable to hate them til many years later. she had the first five albums, up to “Beatles for sale” which for me was the best of the five, they had their own show on TV so I got a lot of exposure to them, my parents were also big on Buddy Holly and Elvis, of the two I liked Holly’s music more, both in sound and content, but Elvis was just portrayed as the king of cool, I’m not sure if he got so successful because of his charisma or what he represented, I suspect it was a bit of both (and no doubt some clever marketing)
I haven’t got a clue where Bonzo Dog came from, it was surreal as fuck, they came from a comedy show called “Do not adjust your set”, back then, comedy songs were quite a popular, there were always a few in the charts, but this stuff, like Monty Python wasn’t really my parents thing, it might have been a gift, I dunno, I didn’t ask. But I loved the music, even though it was typical upper-class art student stuff, Jazz, Music hall and avant-garde humour, nothing that I’d really listened to before but more than a little bit influential on the sense of humour that I would have in years to come.
Apart from these though, we used to listen to quite a large selection. Eddie Cochran, Johnny Ray, The Everly Brothers, The Animals, Johnny Cash, Bobby Vee, Manfred Mann, Gary Puckett, Lonnie Donegan it was catchy as fuck, I loved the classic Rock ‘n roll stuff and even the more melodic side, I loved it when a song told a story, I already liked reading and a story in a song was enjoying two things at once, eventually my dad gave me his old radio, I’d go to sleep with my ear on the speaker at night, with the volume turned right down so I didn’t wake my little brother in the bunk below, music on the radio at night was completely different and I started to develop tastes other than my parent’s collections.
Chapter 2 "I'll be gettin' lots of tit"
David Bowie – Space Oddity
Queen – Sheer Heart Attack
Thin Lizzy – Jailbreak
Grease – Various Artists
As the 70’s progressed, the echo of the sixties faded, production values went up, guitars started to sound meatier, and Rock ‘n roll stopped rolling and just became rock, it split into heavy rock, glam rock, prog rock and lots of other rocks, I was confused as to why all these different labels were being attached to different bands, as I still am today, but I went with it.
There were several bands that stood out, I saw Phil Lynott on TOTP and thought he was cool as fuck, not Elvis cool, Elvis wasn’t the cool guy anymore anyway, that accolade belonged to the Fonz. As plenty of kids did at the time, I used to walk around in a PVC jacket, white Tshirt and blue jeans just like Arthur, he was the shit, in fact the first time the police brought me home it was a genuine case of mistaken identity because I was dressed the same as one of the local lads who’d battered some kid on the local park, it was obvious it wasn’t me who’d done it, he was twice my size and about five years older than me, unfortunately I had a knife on me so got dragged home by the ear (literally) and battered by my dad.
But yeah, Phil Lynott, cool guy, I wanted an Afro but my mum wouldn’t let me have one, my brother had one, he had a thick head of jet black hair that was completely unmanageable so just grew out in a big bundle, I had a nice head of blond hair that my mother used to have cut into a fashionable 70’s male Bob, (See Dennis Waterman in The Sweeney for details) my brother had exactly the same haircut as me but it still managed to end up as carnage, I envied him until he was 14 and started to go grey.
There were other stars who exuded personality like Lynott, Freddie Mercury was a ladies man, my Mum encouraged me to like Queen because she fancied him (nowadays that would be bordering on child abuse but I’ll let it slide) the age of the Rock Star had come and they were all showing off, on-stage and off, musically, advances were being made, limits were reached and breached, the electric guitar had come into its own, guitar solos were intricate and amazing, I wasn’t bothered by which genre the music came from, heavy metal or progressive, it was all good, I just loved the sound, distortion, delay, feedback, the music was becoming as interesting to me as the vocals.
Unfortunately, this was the Seventies, we were innocent and couldn’t have foreseen the disaster to come as the bowels of the music industry opened, and shat Disco out all over society, it was everywhere, TV, radio, it infiltrated childrens TV programs, stuck in our hair, you couldn’t get away from it, we became instant enemies.
A large smear of it attached itself to (and completely fucked up) Glam Rock, I think sharing sequins made it easy to join the two, but Glam went glittery and ‘orrible, with the exception of course, of David Bowie, as far as I’m concerned the guy could do no wrong, of all the rock stars and personalities I was exposed to Bowie was the one I liked the most, he didn’t seem to give a fuck, he did what he wanted and did it awesomely, I could include Bowie albums in every bit of this post but won’t if only for the sake of space, so I’ll FF a bit to my high school years.
What’s that? I didn’t mention Grease? well .... fuck you! every fucker liked Grease, it won’t appear in Mel’s or Lizard’s posts, but if you were that age, at that time, Grease was the fuckin’ word, Danny Zuko was cool as fuck, Fonzie had “jumped the shark” by then and we needed another pouty American boy to look up to, so yeah, we all liked it, my white T’s got thrown out to be replaced by tight black ones, well, they should have been tight but as I had the build of a racing snake they kind of hung off me, baggy’s always been my thing.
But it was all just a phase, so on to high school
Chapter 3 "You follow me around like a pretty pot of glue"
Sex Pistols – C’mon Everybody
Sex Pistols – Never Mind The Bollocks
I started High School in the summer of ’79, a full decade after a ten year old Bryan Adams was spending his evenings down at the drive-in. High school wasn’t the bright, bouncy place full of smiley people, pranks and spontaneous dance numbers promised to me by my diet of American films and TV, it was a dark, dangerous place, the rules had changed dramatically and there were people there who would fuck you up just for looking at them funny, the pupils were just as bad, the buildings were old and ominous, the teachers ranged from trendy new optimists with socialist values to old fashioned disciplinarians, we found out quickly enough which ones we could fuck with and which ones were best left alone. School, like war, was Hell, we did what we had to do to survive, from a hostile classroom into a hostile playground then back again, alliances were made, gangs were formed, black markets would spring up in the playground, buying, selling and trading anything we could bring in from home, football cards, records, park porn, it was all available for a price, I gravitated to the music (the park porn scared me, some things are best imagined at that age)
I went home one day with a copy of C’mon Everybody by Sid Vicious, it was amazing, the Rock ‘n Roll of my early youth fused with the hard rock sound I’d been recently enjoying, the b-side was a cover of The Small Faces “What’cha gonna do about it” and a classical rendition of God Save the Queen, I was blown away, it was a completely new take on how music was treated, it was both more serious and somehow less serious at the same time, I was hooked.
My mum came home from work and went apeshit, you’d think she’d found me with a needle in my arm or my dick in a chicken, she was heart-broken, I was impressionable, she’d kept me shielded from this great evil for the last couple of years, I hadn’t noticed the TV getting turned over or the radio going off whenever they were aired, the Pistols had scared the shit out of the moral majority (and the majority were moral back then), but it was too late, I’d been exposed, fuck the Afro, I wanted spikey black hair like Sid, my mum said no and told the barber to give me the usual, I couldn’t even mess it up in any decent way. But that was it, the cat was out of the bag and I started tracking down every bit of information I could on them, I gathered a few singles together, started watching different music programs, “The Old Grey Whistle Test”, “Something Else” and a few others, I couldn’t hide my music on an ipod like Chisox could, my parent could work a record box quite easily and stashing anything in the house was impossible for some reason, my Mum found everything I ever hid. I had records snapped and thrown away but I kept bringing them home, eventually my parents gave up, my Dad even bought me a copy of Never Mind The Bollocks and surprised the fuck out of me, they thought it was just a phase and I’d grow out of it, I was still doing ok at school and hadn’t jumped on any old ladies so they chilled a bit.
The Pistols cop for a lot of flack nowadays, I’d never even heard of Pistol hate til I got online many years later, couldn’t get my head around it. At the time they were a major force, they didn’t invent punk (that had already happened earlier in Manchester) but they stuck it in the face of the population, it was the antidote to Disco and the end of the music industry’s smug sense of complete control, no other band of the time could have done what they did.
I’ve heard all the “manufactured boy band” arguments, technically, any band that advertises for a drummer is manufactured at some level, but they were as you saw them, four kids fucking stuff up, they were as manipulated as anyone in the industry at the time, completely unready for the needle filled lifestyles brought in by our cousins from across the pond, and the ones who survived didn’t actually make anything out of the venture for years to come. They get sneered at years later for finally getting something back from their work as youngsters, good luck to the fuckers, not only are they responsible for the impact they had on punk, but for the massive impact they had on the history of music in general.
I know this isn’t a top 50 thread or whatever, but if it was, Never Mind the Bollocks would have to be at number one, end of. I think I’ve asked before, how many original line-ups can fill arenas, thirty years after the release of their only album?
I know gateway bands are held in esteem in these parts, the pistols were mine, I used the front door.
Chapter 4 "The air was thick with a smell of oppression"
GBH – City Baby Attacked By Rats
Stiff Little Fingers – Inflammable Material
The Ruts – The Crack
The Clash – Give ‘em Enough Rope
Peter and the Test-Tube Babies – Pissed and Proud
The Members – Sound of the Suburbs
There was tonnes of that shit out there, I couldn’t get enough, I’d spend all my money (which wasn’t much) collecting what I could, I started buying singles and albums, we’d trade magazines and the music press, NME and Sounds, to wade through the shit and find out the good stuff, I was listening to The Anti-Nowhere league, Chron Gen, The Damned, Buzzcocks, The Exploited (My Mum hated Wattie with a passion, she was almost retching when The Exploited managed to appear on TOTP singing Dead Cities, she banned them from the house, I bought “Punk’s Not Dead” to prove a point) basically we listened to everything. if you buy any generic punk album of the day it was on our playlists, there wasn’t the insane amount of choice you have nowadays, the selection of music above could easily have been any other six albums, I can’t rank them, they all mean something, GBH was the first paid gig I went to, they were considered high octane, Colin had an amazingly distinct voice that just cut through the music, SLF were a firm favourite, they were my introduction to the more political side of punk, the struggle or whatever you want to call it, they were a nudge in the direction of Anarcho for me. Up until then, we were happy just rebelling, we weren’t too sure what we were supposed to be rebelling against, I knew I was supposed to fuck authority, but the only real authority I had to rebel against was school and my parents, fucked up on both parts really, screwed up my otherwise impeccable education and destroyed a happy family life, like a lot of people at the time, we didn’t realise that the Pistols were taking the piss out of the cliché punks with “Anarchy in the UK” (Don’t know what I want but I know how to get it) so we treated it as an instruction manual and fucked with everything.
Eventually the bowels of the Political world opened and shat out Thatcher, we became instant enemies.
The Ruts and The Clash introduced me to how punk didn’t have to be all about feedback, everything I’d listened to was pretty much typical 70’s punk but these bands introduced Reggae and Dub, opened my ears to the possibility of different sub genres, I started listening to Patrik Fitzgerald, Atilla the Stockbroker and other non-traditional stuff. Peter and the Test Tube Babies made me piss, it was a nod back to comedy music for me, turns out they were my first unpaid gig, I literally wandered into an open air freebie when I was on holiday. That Sound of the Suburbs single represents a lot too, apart from it being an awesome song, that particular copy in clear vinyl was the one I had, we didn’t just get home and slap a record on the turntable, the packaging was just as important, I’d sit and read every single word on the sleeve, credits, lyrics, statements, I’d study every part of the cover, particularly if it was hand drawn, I’d even hold it up to the light and read the message scratched into the running out groove, sometimes it was just a serial number or a brand stamp (Porky prime Cuts) but more often than not there was something witty or insightful scratched there.
Punk and New Wave were everything, Adam Ant was now officially cooler than Danny Zuko, he had better cheekbones than Travolta and he taught us how to dance like Red Indians, but New Wave was about as mainstream as we’d allow ourselves to get, there was actually some good stuff about at the time but it wasn’t the done thing to like any singer who wouldn’t spit in your face, Ska was getting big, but brought with it hordes of horrible little mods, squeaking and chunnering and being quite unlikable, I heard bands like the Specials and Madness, no child can resist Ska, put it on and they can’t help dancing, try it, it has a fantastic and compelling rythm, but we hated it on principal, if you saw your best mate wearing a two-tone badge you had to fight them, “Fuck a Mod” and all that, days out to the city centre would be cat and mouse, in and out of the shops avoiding each other, or slowly chasing each other or just generally staring at the rude boys
I continued branching out, and started finding heavier stuff, a lot of it from overseas, I was completely smitten with Dead Kennedys, they led on to me listening to Dayglo Abortions, Black Flag, MDC etc, it wasn’t as easy to get hold of American Punk, it was in record shops but they wanted money in exchange, you couldn’t trade a handful of your little brothers stolen football cards in the playground for it, but I did get hold of a single called “Bloody Revolutions” by a band called CRASS
Chapter 5 "There maybe a title in front of your name, But everybody's shit still smells the same."
Crass – Stations of the Crass
Anthrax – Capitalism is Cannibalism
Conflict – Increase the Pressure
Flux Of Pink Indians - Strive To Survive Causing Least Suffering Possible
It was phenomenal, every last detail, from Ignorant’s anger, to Rimbaud’s almost military drum beat, to Gee Vouchers artwork. It sounded amazing, the crunchy understated guitar grabbed me, the lyrical content completely blew me away, this shit was a lot more focused than the stuff I’d been listening to, it was righteous anger instead of random aggression, I didn’t understand a lot of what it was angry at but I knew it needed fucking fighting, I was encouraged to start paying attention to the shit going on around me, that the boring bits on the news were far from boring but an indication into what the world had become underneath the sugar coating we’d been enjoying for years, mainstream media would only tell us so much so I dove into Anarcho for the knowledge, I started listening heavily to CRASS, Subhumans, Flux, The Mob, DIRT etc, I realised that shit wasn’t just limited to political but social problems, the public was it’s own worst enemy, everything was wrong, the way we conduct ourselves, the whole way we’re structured, from being processed by a mindless education system, producing a generation of drones who’ll work for decades for a pittance of their worth, all to earn enough tokens to purchase the shit that we’re told by the same people we make the stuff for that we need to buy back off them, I realised it was crazy, everything was fucking wrong!
At the end of the day, I was still a kid with all a kids distractions, the girls in my class at school were just starting to get lumpy in an interesting way, I still wanted in on the consumerist society (toys were getting better and better) culture was taking a different turn, ’82 saw us getting a new fourth TV channel, inventively known as “Channel 4”, they’d showcase alternative comedy, the Comic Strip presents etc ... the BBC hit back with “The Young Ones”, life was funny again, the nice safe evening viewing was getting edgy, TV was being made that made you think rather than just sit back and enjoy, but it wasn’t enough, society was screaming at us that we needed more, that we should never be content, so we found more, we found drugs.
Chapter 6 "Innocents raped with napalm fire"
Gong - Camembert Électrique
The 13th Floor Elevators - The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators
Pink Floyd – The Wall
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
“Get in here and shut the fuckin’ door” I’d only gone for a piss, the school bogs were full of smoke and there were a couple of spliffs being passed around, I knew what was going on, there were stories of drugs doing the rounds but I wasn’t sure, I hadn’t heard a single good thing about them other than on vinyl, thrown in at the deep end was a test of character, a couple of tokes later and I didn’t know if I’d passed or failed that test, but more importantly, I didn’t fucking care, it was amazing, it turned out drugs weren’t bad for you after all (obviously some still were but I had years to learn that lesson, don’t burst my bubble). Naturally, we all became Hippies, I know punk told us Hippy’s were all cunts but at least we weren’t mods, we started to delve into the whole drug culture, especially the music, there were records you had to play when you were stoned, all kinds of psychadelia, we started hanging round with all the Metal heads and listening to what they were on, lots of Pink Floyd, Led Zep, King Crimson, we’d heard their music at school but when they were wasted they chilled the fuck out and put the trippy shit on, our music tastes reached back to the late sixties, I was like a dog with two dicks, I finally got a chance to fill the gap in my parents record collection, acquired the rest of the Beatles back catalogue and as much as I could from that decade, we went further back and the stuff that I listened to as a kid was cool again, we were cliché as fuck but didn’t care, eventually anything from the sixties was acceptable, the music, TV, fashions, we looked like cunts but smelt like Arabian Princes, we didn’t care about much, we’d get stoned in school then wonder what the cane was like when you were high (it hurts, a lot) we went out of our way to cause shit that got us caned before we came back down, later on, sitting with a throbbing useless hand, I realised that just smoking weed would have been reason enough, but by then it was far too late for the biology lab.
Naturally we went from weed to more natural highs, like lighter gas and glue, didn’t matter, stoned was stoned, school was a waste of time by then for any of us, just a structured punishment system we’d frequent on week days, the Sixties phase faded out again and we found ourselves back under the influence of punk, the early 80’s was an excellent era music-wise, anything worth saying was said then, the world has moved on too much since, but all the way through school we had that dreaded CRASS countdown, 421984, 321984, 221984 (and so on).
’84 is probably the most ominous year in history, we were promised the world would change for the worst for all of us (it did but people are still buying too many shiny trinkets to notice) life would never be the same, and it wasn’t, in 1984, my high school opened it’s bowels and shat me out onto an unsuspecting society. Shit got real.
Chapter 7 "Teenage crime now fashion's dead"
Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Flaunt It
The Pogues – Red Roses For Me
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five – The Message
Toy Dolls - Nellie the Elephant
I loved The Young Ones, it’s probably my favourite comedy show to date, they were students so obviously that was my next step. I got in at my local college, studying whatever it was I signed up for, I knew the main dealers at the college already, magic mushrooms grew on the field in season and a bunch of my mates were going, but I was having second thoughts, it occurred to me that while the Young Ones were students, they never actually attended, so I thought fuck it and signed up for a place on a YTS, painting and decorating, my parents were horrified of course, they wanted me to repair the fuck up I’d made of my education, I wanted cold hard cash for cigs and weed and music and all the other shit I knew they wouldn’t buy for me, I learned a trade and got quite good at it, I still am and I actually enjoy it, but at the time we just had a laugh, a YTS (Youth Training Scheme) was a government incentive to get school leavers into work, it lasted 12 months and taught you all different basic job skills, it was a way to keep unemployment down, to get old people’s houses painted for free, but most importantly, a place where we could dodge real life for another 12 months, get stoned and have a blast, I started on £27 a week, it was enough.
A few of the lads I worked with started turning up to work with rolls of lino under their arms and spending their dinner break trying to spin on their heads to Hip-Hop blasting out of the stereo, I thought they were hilarious as they put their foot through a wall or walked around with their necks cricked at an angle for a couple of weeks, but the music was amazing, not all of it obviously, but there was enough good stuff to listen to, Grandmaster Flash was always a personal favourite.
Christmas that year brought a gem with it, The Toy Dolls released Nellie the Elephant and it stormed the charts, they reminded me of the Dickies in a way but squeakier, NTE was a serious fuckin tune anyway, serious enough to get us all suspended right before Christmas. Fuck you Mervin if you’re reading this.
Meanwhile on TV, the program of the time was The Tube, we’d sit in my mates house and watch it regularly. When I say “we”, it was a completely different “we”, my mates from school were now students and I’ve seen them a handful of times since then, all but one who I still see regularly, and I gravitated toward him and his mates, they were all older than us by varying degrees, I was the youngest, dumbest and most naive, and was constantly reminded of the fact, the way Chisox gets it here is nothing compared to what I got when I said something without thinking, I got the hang of things and the mates I made then are the same ones I have today, a few have gone and a few have appeared but the core remains the same.
So we’d sit there watching the Tube, it was a bit of a dodgy show but it had some good bands, it was the first time I heard of the Pogues, we sat there in awe as Shane Macgowan smashed a beer tray against his head singing “Waxie’s Dargle”, I went out and bought anything and everything Pogues related after that.
The Tube carried on giving us these musical gems for a while, The presenter Muriel Gray was waffling on between songs, we weren’t really listening but when she announced a band called Sigue Sigue Sputnik, up pricked our ears (Sputnik being our drug of choice at the time), this bunch of weird fuckers with fishnet stocking masks, fur shoulder pads and Mad Max style wigs grinned in the studio and played “Love Missile F1-11” I wasn’t big on electronic music, maybe a bit of synth in an old Gary Numan track but not the full blown stuff, but I fuckin loved what I was hearing, I bought their album “Flaunt It” an innovative album, commercials blended between each track, Looking at their pedigree I realised that the band was a project of Tony James (Generation X) and their work was produced by Mick Jones of the Clash, it explained the appeal to me and further opened up avenues of musical possibilities for me to follow.
Incidentally, this time of my life wouldn’t be complete without mentioning this doozey.
Not even a Chapter "I see no glory"
The Clash - Cut the Crap
No matter how much you love a band, or how highly you regard them as musicians, every now and then they fuck up badly, just shake your head and move on.
jello biafra ..... jello biafra ......... JELLO BIAFRA
Fuckin sex pistols