London, West One.
Where the action is. ..
london w.1. A tale of growing up in the Seventies, bad haircuts, Punk Rock and sleeping dogs.
copyright © Mike Slocombe 1998
London, West One.
Where the action is. ..
Where the popstars roam the streets and the famous and infamous collide in an exhilarating crash of fashion, youth and, most of all, energy. Or at least that's how it appeared to a 15 year old aspiring rock drummer living in the less than fashionable suburbs of Cardiff.
I can remember school lunch hours feverishly pouring over the latest Melody Maker, eyes enviously gazing down at the huge lists of bands listed under "London, W1." I'd look longingly at the exotic sounding clubs - the 100 Club (where the Rolling Stones played), the famous Speakeasy (where all the stars hung out), and, of course, the legendary Marquee where Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin had played!
Somehow, my hometown's offering of Man at the Cardiff Top Rank's "implosion" and Lone Star at the "New Moon Club" just didn't seem as enticing,
It was so rare to find any good bands playing that sometimes we travelled up deep into the dark Welsh valleys for rare one-off's by London bands, who clearly hadn't realised what they'd let themselves in for.
For most bands, the experience of one night at the Tonypandy Naval Club was enough to deter them from ever crossing the Welsh border again,
It was 1975 and I was heading down to the big city lights with a friend who'd saved up to buy a guitar. Not any old guitar either, he'd come to London to buy a Fender Stratocaster, the very same guitar that Eric Clapton played!
We arrived early at Paddington, my friend buttoned up against the winter's chill in his fashionable army greatcoat while I was resplendent in my matching patched denim outfit, complete with defiant cannabis badge.
Twenty minutes later we were at Tottenham Court Road station, our platform boots forming an uneasy alliance with the icy pavement as we tottered off towards the famous Tin Pan Alley - the street where the stars bought their equipment!
Of course he didn't buy the guitar. He didn't have enough money in the end and reluctantly decided to come back in a few weeks that turned into years. We did manage to find the exact spot where David Bowie posed for the back of the Ziggy Stardust album, though. And we walked past the Marquee swearing blind that we'd be headlining there one day.
Punk was happening. I can remember hearing "God Save The Queen" for the first time and wondering why I had ever bought an Eagles album. Here was something real. This meant something. They were angry, I was angry too, and what's more my mum hated them.
As soon as I'd seen Johhny Rotten's sneering face outraging the tabloids, I knew that I could no longer get my kicks out of drumming along to the Doobie Brothers.
I'd half heartedly cut off my long curly hair and had ended up with a hideous compromise that looked like a cross between a failed 1960's footballer and Mick, the presenter from 'Magpie'.
I'd been one of the first to walk through Cardiff Queen Street with shiny PVC trousers and ripped clothes, regularly running the gauntlet of taunts and violence from the nine button disco smoothies and wannabe Welsh Hells Angels, and it felt good. Suddenly people were taking notice.
The NME and Sounds became my bible. My world started to revolve around London, where it seemed the eyes of the world were looking on as punk started to rip up the nations youth. Even better, it seemed that just so long as you could put together a few songs and look the part, you could join in too. And I wanted to be there.
Up till then, I'd been drumming in vaguely likeable 'covers' bands, mainly playing Cardiff pubs and clubs with the occasional terrifying trip up to the Working Men's Clubs of the Rhondda and Rhymney Valley's.
Here was a different world where you soon learnt the value of playing whatever songs were asked of you - no matter how awful - or face a sea of flying bottles or the soul-destroying 'pay-off' (this is where the promoter will come on mid-set to the cheers of the crowd and pay you a percentage of your fee to get you off the stage. Although I never suffered this fate, I'm sure it must have psychologically damaged musicians for years).
I joined a band from the Valleys who seemed to possess all the right ingredients of a good punk band - limited musical prowess, a pile of attitude, some vaguely hummable choruses and a suitably aggressive 100 mph approach to every song.
I think our twelve song set used to come in at around 20 minutes, each one belted out at maximum speed - apart from of course, the obligatory heavy-handed attempt at white boy reggae mid-set.
We started out with a couple small pub gigs around Cardiff where punk was just starting to take a hold and the crowds did their best to reproduce an authentic 'punk' environment. Spotty youths pogoed to our basic, but insistent repetoire, while the singer did his best to avoid the snowstorm of stage-bound phlegm. As a drummer, I soon learnt the advantages of setting up my kit as far back as possible and tilting my cymbals to form a useful mucus shield.
And then we finally managed to blag a gig at the famous Roxy Club in the heart of London. The Roxy! Where the Pistols had played! Where X Rays Spex and the Lurkers and the Cortinas and The Banshees and the rest of them had played. And we were going to play on the same stage!
We picked up our equipment from the disused garage in the Valleys that served as a rehearsal studio and set off for the bright lights. Someone had brought along some lighter fluid and we all tried to sniff it during the long journey down. The van smelt awful and we all had thumping headaches by the time we arrived in London. Still we were here and this was it! The Roxy! London!
We bundled out of the van, leering and trying to look tough at baffled passers by, before walking up to the club, trying hard to conceal our obvious excitement. Outside was a list of forthcoming bands and our initial enthusiasm was dampened somewhat by the discovery that we'd been booked into 'Gay Night' supporting a band ominously called Handbag.
The sound of an extremely camp singer echoing up the dark stairs added to our discomfort, causing two members of the band (from the none-too-cosmopolitan Valley town of Mountain Ash) to start talking loudly in deep voices as we brought the equipment in.
In the shared dressing room backstage, the bass player confided that he was worried about changing as - and apparently this is common amongst the bass playing fraternity - he wore no underpants (well, this was the unenlightened 197O's where homophobia was sadly rampant).
The club looked like it had been squatted for years - there was graffiti everywhere, the toilet doors were hanging off their hinges, and your feet stuck to the floor. But this was punk and it was all about attitude and we had that by the truckload. Playing the Roxy was proof that we really had arrived and were ready to take the scene by storm.
At 9 o'clock, when we walked onstage we realised that the scene had in fact been, happened and moved far, far away.
To an audience of seven men and the club owner's dog, our songs fell silently into the substantial chasm between the stage and the crowd. Even the dog fell asleep in front of the stage.
During the gig, the singer ran to the edge of the stage only to find it was merely a piece of drink-hardened carpet jutting outwards. The carpet snapped and sent the singer stumbling onto the empty dancefloor, his amplified "oof!" causing some amusement in the shadows.
After twenty minutes of unappreciated social sloganeering we left the stage to the same total silence that had greeted our arrival.
"Perhaps there was an A&R man out there", optimistically offered the bass player, cautiously changing his trousers behind his guitar case. The three members of Handbag looked at us in disgust, They knew we were crap too,
We packed up our gear in silence, loaded up the van and went back to the club for payment, "quiet night tonight, lads" offered the promoter, handing us three pounds fifty in loose change.
We headed back to the Welsh valleys in the early hours, over thirty quid down on the venture,
"Can't wait for the next London gig" muttered the singer.
We all agreed,
© Mike Slocombe 1998
Punk — Live In London
Summer, 1976. Punk, live punk, is about to explode in the capital. Tap rooms, Poly bars and sweaty clubs will host its unwashed greats. Look back in anger....
1 — Battersea Park, SW11: Following a GLC ban on their live gigs, the Stranglers managed to organise an event in Battersea Park on 16 September, 1978, supported by Spizz Oil, the Skids, Peter Gabriel. Men in blue were seen jostling for position at the front of the stage when strippers joined the band for "Nice' N'Sleazy". No charges were ever brought. The occasion was captured (in sound only) on the "Live (X-cert)" album.
2 — Victoria Park, E5: After a massive Anti-Nazi League march from Trafalgar Square on 30 April, 1978, the Clash, Steel Pulse, Tom Robinson Band and X-Ray Spex played to 80,000 fans from the main stage. The back of a truck sufficed for the Ruts.
3 — Central School Of Art And Design, Southampton Row, WC1: "A lousy set up" according to former student Joe Strummet, the Central was also the scene of many early punk gigs including the debut of Generation X on 10 December, 1976.
4 — Charing Cross Pier, Victoria Embankment, WC2: The fabled Sex Pistols boat trip to 'celebrate' the Jubilee, on 7 June, 1977, featured the band playing live on board the pleasure boat Queen Elizabeth for the entertainment of a large contingent of media liggers. The rumpus attracted the river police, who cut the power and forced the boat to dock, after which 11 passengers were arrested, including Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. The event was caught on film and included in 'The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle'.
5 — Electric Ballroom, 184 Camden High Street, NW1: Scene of 'Sid Sods Off' on 22 August, 1978, the final live extravaganza by Mr. Vicious before heading off to New York, where he OD-ed. The legendary line-up: Sid (lead vocals), Rat Scabies (drums), Gien Matlock (bass), Steve New (guitar) and Nancy Spungen (backing vocals). The audience included Elvis Costello, ex-Pistol Steve Jones, the Slits, Captain Sensible, Blondie and Joan Jett.
6 — The Greyhound, Fulham Palace Road, W6: The Jam's first London gig, 1974, supporting Stackridge and Thin Lizzy. The Stackridge fans pelted them with turnips. Another Greyhound debut (January 1977): the Only Ones.
7 — Hope And Anchor, 207 Upper Street, N1: A venerated if grubby pub rock gig. Future Stiff Records mogul Dave Robinson ran a recording studio here. The pub's musical policy is well illustrated by the "Hope And Anchor Front Row Festival" album, which documents a three-week live event held in November 1977, including 999 and the Stranglers. The Clash did fund-raising gigs for the venue in 1984.
8 — 100 Club, Oxford Street, W1: Immortalised by the Clash in "Deny", The 100 Club was formerly a jazz venue, but flourished as a punk gig through the late '70s. The Damned debuted here in July '76, supporting the Pistols, but the 100's days of thunder came on 20/21 September,1976, with the Punk Festival which not only brought the Pistols, Clash, Buzzcocks, Damned and Subway Sect together under one roof but saw the first gig by Siouxsie & the Banshees, featuring the performing debut of Sid Vicious on drums and future Ant Marco Pirroni on guitar. On 21 September, Sid was arrested following an incident in which a 17-year old girl lost the sight of one eye when a glass was thrown across the club, Vicious was found innocent, but fined £125 for carrying a knife.
9 — The ICA, The Mall, SW1: When Patti Smith saw the Clash here on 23 October, 1976, she was sufficiently carried away by the music (and, apparently, by Paul Simonon's bone structure) to end up dancing on the stage. By describing their musical style as "country", Adam & the Ants blagged their debut gig at the ICA restaurant on 10 May, 1977. When Adam donned a leather mask to sing "Beat My Guest", the management had the band unceremoniously removed.
10 — Man In The Moon, 392 King's Road, SW5: Adam & the Ants played some of their earliest supporting gigs here. When they finally headlined, on 25 May, 1977, the punters walked out after two numbers, but the set was seen by Jordan (who had previously sold Adam a tasteful Cambridge Rapist T-shirt in Malcolm McLaren's nearby Sex boutique). She was impressed enough to go on to manage them.
11 — The Marquee, 90 Wardour Street, W1: The Marquee largely avoided punk acts after unruly crowd behaviour when the Sex Pistols supported Eddie & the Hot Rods on 14 February, 1976. Nevertheless, Neil Spencer of the NME considered the sight of a thigh-booted Siouxsic worthy of mention in a review which also used the term "punk rock", was applied to the English New Wave, for the first time.
12 — Nashville Rooms, 171 North End Road, W14: Long-time favourite pub rock venue which, come 1976, embraced punk with gigs by the Pistols, Stranglers, John Cooper Clarke and others. When the Stranglers were having problems with bookings because of their reputation, they chose the Nash as venue for a "secret" show under the name the Old Codgers.
13 — The Rainbow, 232 Seven Sisters Road, N4: With punk's popularity established, the long established Rainbow opened its doors to the new breed, but soon fell into conflict with the artists. Strangler Hugh Cornwell induced GLC hysteria on 30 January, 1977 by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the word 'Fuck' (parodying the Ford logo) and, soon after, Siouxsie was arrested for "obstruction" after a Heartbreakers gig. The Clash asked to have tne venue's seats removed for the final date of their 'White Riot' tour on 9 May, 1977. and, when the management refused to comply, the band encouraged the audience to perform the seat-ectomy. A near-riot ensued, to the strains of "London's Burning".
14 — The Roxy, 41 Neal Street, WC2: This former gay club was revamped by Andy Czeczowski as London's first significant punk venue. Generation X ushered in the Roxy's period of fame by playing there on 14 December, 1976, followed by Johnny Thunders & the Heartbreakers on 21 December. From 1 January,1977, with the Clash, the club went totally punk, putting on such bands as the Buzzcocks, X-Ray Spex, Wire, the Adverts, Slaughter & the Dogs, the Unwanted, Eater and Johnny Moped (featuring unknown guitarist Chrissie Hynde and Captain Sensible on backing vocals). The club closed with Siouxsie & the Banshees headlining on 23 April, 1977, and the following day saw the release of the "Live At The Roxy" album.
15 — Screen On The Green, 83 Upper Street, N1: On 29 August, 1976, the Sex Pistols were supported here by the Clash and the Buzzcocks. Record company A&R men were reportedly too intimidated to even enter the cinema. Sundry fearless rock scribes did venture in but were unlmpressed, describing the Clash as "the kind of garage band who should be speedily returned to the garage, preferably with the motor running" and the Buzzcocks as "rough as a bear's arse".
16 — St Martin's College Of Art, 109 Charing Cross Rd, WC2: Stuart Goddard, later Adam Ant, was in headliners Bazooka Joe when the Sex Pistols played their first concert as support in November 1975. A horrified social secretary pulled the plug after five numbers, but Goddard was sufficiently impressed to quit his band on the spot.
17 — The Vortex, 201 Wardour Street, W1: The Vortex opened on 11 July, 1977 with Siouxsie, Adam, the Slits and Sham 69, whose Jimmy Pursey was singled out and fined £30 for breach of the peace, While playing two shows at the Vortex in November 1977, the Heartbreakers decided to call it a day. An LP "Live At The Vortex", was released in 1978.