Tribes

According to local lore Norwich used to have a church for every week of the year and a pub for every day. Despite the clear preponderance of licenced establishments, even if it wasn’t 365, I would only visit a handful.

There were a couple of reasons for this, nothing to do with me, I was a very enthusiastic drinker. Most of the pubs in Norwich were pretty horrible, Watneys were virtually the only pub chain although occasionally you might come across a Whitbread’s establishment. Nowhere provided food, not a problem in itself because there was no way I would waste good beer money on sustenance. The issue was more that pubs were for drinking which meant two or three grumpy men in a corner cheerlessly making a pint last for as long as possible and giving any new pub visitors the evil eye. It wasn’t just the locals though, there were pubs you could go in where the landlord would do anything short of spitting in your beer to make you feel unwelcome.

There was another more even more unpleasant reason for avoiding a visit to a strange pub because there was always a chance that it had been occupied by some potentially dangerous subgroup.

It’s difficult to imagine today the amount of fear and loathing that existed in the 70’s. Things are far from perfect now but if you are black or gay or transgender there is a fair chance that you can get on with your life. 40 years ago racism really was casual and institutionalised ‘Queer bashing’ and ‘Paki bashing’ were unofficial sports. Today even the BNP denies it is racist, for a lot of people racism was a badge of honour in the 70’s.

But hey, I was white and heterosexual, what had I got to fear? Well in 1977 I was wearing a great coat, jeans and had shoulder length hair. Generally if you had long hair you trusted other people with long hair as long as it wasn’t too well coiffured but to outsiders I was marked out as the sort of person who spent my time smoking dope and listening to King Crimson albums while burning a joss stick. Pretty harmless activities in themselves but worthy of a bit of intimidation or even a good kicking from a number of other subgroups.

The scariest group and one that needed to be avoided at all costs were the skinheads. They had calmed down since the early 70’s but a group of three of them could clear a pavement. It wasn’t a big issue in Norwich but you didn’t want to go into a skin’s pub by mistake.

skinheads

Even bigger throwbacks were the teddy boys or teds. Again not a huge issue in Norwich but there are still parts of the British coast that were it is forever 1956 and a trip to Great Yarmouth was risky for these reasons. Like the skins they just mistrusted everyone who wasn’t part of their group. Teds were, in fact, still alive and kicking in London in the late 70’s and a major source of aggravation for punks.

teds

Bikers were the group who I most intersected with, I had quite a few friends who had motorbikes but they weren’t really bikers. The serious bikers tended to live together in crumbling houses where they ate chips, drank beer and cooked up amphetamines. This serious neglect of their gut health meant they were notoriously unstable, someone who might be your best mate one day would punch your lights out the next.bath-70-wolves-angels

 

At one end of the spectrum the bikers overlapped with the country boys who owned a motorbike but weren’t going to commit to the lifestyle because they still lived at home with their parents. They tended to ride a bike called FS1e’s or fizzys. I think you could ride them on a provisional licence as they were pretty underpowered. This meant that fizzy owners tended to hang around the centres of towns and villages rather than travelling too far. They would disrupt the futility of their lives by revving up their little bikes and baiting outsiders.

The countryside was a risky place I assume these days they are all on X Box’s and never have to go out but in the 70’s I just kept on going through country towns, and you didn’t want to stop.

The city had more people and plenty of them wanted to pick a fight. You could fall out because you lived in a different place or went to a different school or even were in a different class in that school. City boys would wear ‘baggies’ and stacked shoes, like everyone else they didn’t trust anybody who wasn’t like them.

baggies

And this was Norwich, Rod knows what it must have been like in Glasgow or Manchester.

As far as music went us, the greatcoat wearers had it all, bikers liked heavy rock but I never got the impression they discussed Deep Purple b sides. The country boys liked hard rock as well, pretty much the standard diet of Purple, Zep, Quo and Sabbath. The city boys liked disco or pretty much anything in the charts.

The one group who had a passion for music were the Teds. In reality they were a pretty regressive bunch disliking almost anything that wasn’t Gene Vincent but they were passionate enough about their music to beat you up for not liking Elvis. The more liberal bikers might accept a bit of rock and roll and the more accepting teds might consider listening to a bit of country but everyone kept themselves confined in their musical ghettos.

 

But a strange thing happened from the mid 70’s onwards. Rock and Roll music started to make a comeback, new bands started playing the pubs and clubs and by the end of the decade even some of the punks were moving on to rockabilly or even inventing a new term, psychobilly.

 

And that, dear reader, is what we will be looking at next week.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Wave

By 1976 I had established an excellent relationship with a second hand record shop and my vinyl collection began to multiply. I don’t know what it was with the good people of Norwich but it seemed that no sooner had they purchased a record than they were selling it off at half price. Any week browsing through the bins I might pick up anything from Jefferson Airplane to The B52’s. It was notable that Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music remained unsold for months but generally there was a very healthy turnover.

And so I came to acquire a copy of the compilation New Wave originally released in July 1977. This was a remarkable record for many reasons. Firstly it was a recognition from the record industry that there was money to be made from that there punk thing. The formula was simple, cobble together a few new sounding tracks and push it out to the punters who were eager to gobble it up. Secondly the title was a formal recognition for a new genre, ‘New Wave’ was more inclusive than punk and, let’s face it, far less threatening.

The record seemed to be rather having its cake and eating it. On the cover was what we all recognised as a ‘punk’ spitting some fluid at the camera but the contents within were barely punk as we knew it.

new wave 2

So what did we get for our money? Well little British punk for starters. The record opens with The Boomtown Rats and their first single ‘Looking after No 1’. Strange but true the band were regarded as punks for a while. Bob Geldoff had maxed out his charisma in befriending anyone from NME journalist Charles Shaar Murray to Thin Lizzy’s Phil Lynott and the band were generally liked and tolerated for a while. The only other British contemporary act was The Dammed with their immaculate ‘New Rose’ which was worth the price of admission in itself.

On the other hand the Americans were well represented due to the fact that they had been at this for longer. We had a brace from The New York Dolls and The Ramones as well as, rather inexplicably, The Dead Boys’ whose main claim to fame this side of the pond is being on this very record. From the slightly artier side there was ‘Love Comes in Spurts’ by Richard Hell and the Voidoids, ‘Piss factory’ by Patti Smith and ‘Love Goes to Building on Fire’ by Talking Heads, all fantastic stuff.

After that it’s increasingly scraping the barrel. ‘Cherry Bomb’ by the Runaways and ‘Shake some Action’ by the Flaming Groovies are fine but a bit unnecessary. ‘All or Nothing’, the Small Faces hit covered by French R&B band Little Bob Story is also pretty pointless but the worst track by far is ‘Horror Movie’ by the Australian Skyhooks. I still can’t actually remember how that track sounds as I was impelled to get up and move the stylus after the first few bars whenever it came on (just after the other Runaway’s track ‘Hollywood’ in case you’re interested).

In the age of the Spotify playlist this LP would amount to nothing but in the days of limited radio coverage it gave us the chance to actually listen to artists who were apparently ‘New Wave’. This was a big selling record and graced many record collections and subsequent bargain bins.

But, possibly by coincidence, the tide was turning. If ‘New Wave’ could encompass American and Australian glam bands and Irish R&B punks it would also encompass the new British bands XTC, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Elvis Costello and the Attractions and even The Knack and The Police. By 1978 Top of The Pops would be full of skinny young men with skinny trousers and skinny ties, jerking around to the angular rhythms of the new wave.

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Glad to be Gay

Until 1967 homosexual activity was illegal in Britain.

That doesn’t really surprise me, it may as well have been illegal in the 70’s as far as the general public were concerned. I can’t imagine anyone at my school ever admitting to any gayness, their life would have been over. The usual derogatory terms for homosexuals (‘benders’ being the most common) was common currency. With a lack of willing volunteers suspects were identified and if the label stuck for long enough life would be hell.

It was the culture rather than the individual. Take my mate Dave for example who remembers, with shame, turning down a potential chance to see David Bowie with the words ‘I’m not going to see that bender’. Dave’s not anti-gay today, far from it, but in the early 70’s that was a common response. He also got to see Bowie a couple of years later so it’s all ended well.

When I was about 13 I went to my first wedding. The best man’s speech started with a homophobic joke just to get us in the mood, that was common, normal behaviour.

The irony was, of course, that this was the period of glam rock but there lies the rub. No one was in any doubt that, despite their gender bending attire, the like of the Sweet, or Mick Ronson, or Mark Bolan or Garry Glitter (ok bad choice) or even Elton John were normal healthy heterosexual men. When someone did express a liking for the opposite sex it was usually in the context of being bi-sexual i.e. a bit of a phase you were going through, which, in the case of Bowie, was actually correct.

Bowie was an icon not because he might be gay but because he was willing to consider the possibility of being gay along with lots of other possibilities relating to identity. It true though that a nation quivered when, on Top of the Pops, he put his arm round Mick Ronson during ‘Starman’. Yes, we really were that repressed.

And so imagine in 1977, just ten years of legality someone comes forward to the nation and admits to being a homosexual, not because it’s cool or exciting but because he prefers to have sex with men.

That person was Tom Robinson.

Robinson was both a bit posh and a bit old for the punks. If you come from a middle class family from Cambridge then you are very middle class believe me. Robinson has a fine fruity voice which has served him for many years as a radio presenter and comes across as an intelligent likeable guy which must have helped his acceptability among the more enlightened music fans.

Finding himself gay at a time when it was illegal was traumatic for Robinson as no doubt it was for thousands of other young men. After a suicide attempt he was moved to Finchden Manor a community for “delinquent, disturbed or disturbing boys”. Although his feelings were a reaction to the terrible repression of homosexuality Robinson, rather than society’s attitude was seen to be the problem. Finchden was, in some respects and ideal place for someone who found himself out of step with the majority. Alexis Korner was an’ old boy’ of the school, no doubt his bohemian attitudes had not gone down well with mainstream schooling, Korner’s visit, with guitar, inspired Robinson to consider performing himself.

Arriving in London in the mid 70’s Robinson formed the band Café Society. I had always assumed the band were some sort of cut rate Crosby, Stills and Nash but research (yeah that word again) revels a run of the mill mid 70’s band, low on harmonies but packing a bit of a punch thanks to a proper studio rhythm section. The mid 70’s was a boom time for refreshment establishment related bands, we also had Sad Café and Café Jacques, and we didn’t need another. Café Society came to the attention of Ray Davies of the Kinks but he just seemed to waste time, their album only apparently sold 600 copies, Robinson left.

Now he was in the big city Robinson was able to link in with the emerging gay rights movement and decided to form his own band. First recruit and also an ex Finchden resident was guitarist Danny Kustow. With the strangely named ‘Dolphin’ Taylor recruited on drums and Mark Ambler on keyboards the band launched itself into a scene already buzzing with punk energy and audiences populated by A&R men brandishing check books.

The Tom Robinson band had a plan negotiated between Robinson and his record company EMI to project a political band which would make money. The first single 2468 Motorway was a prime chunk of mainstream rock guaranteed to offend no one. 2468 crops up all the time in dadrock drivetime compilations along with ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’, it’s a minor rock classic. Allegedly about some guy trucker the lyrics are so garbled that to this day I still haven’t got a clue as to what most of the song is about, it’s about as gay as Jeremy Clarkson.

Having appeared on Top of the Pops TRB were now ready to start their manifesto. Their next move was a 4 track EP which pretty much summed up their career. ‘Don’t Take no for an Answer’ was more dadrock. ‘Martin’ was sing a long cabaret and ‘Right on Sister’ was pretty much like you would expect it to be. The meat of the matter was ‘Glad to be Gay’. I’m probably wrong but I can’t remember a song that laid out homosexuality so clearly while confronting the police for their openly homophobic stance.

And it had a tune that was easy to remember and, of course, sing along with.

From then on it was downhill.

The TRB was, in reality a deeply flawed unit. Kustow was happy to go along with it but really he wanted to be a star playing blues rock guitar solos which didn’t exist in songs like ‘Glad to be Gay’. Ambler was the musician of the group and could work out a song immediately. He had originally been recruited to be the bass player but when the other members heard him play keyboards (he had studied with Stan Tracey, one of the few really original British Jazz musicians) he switched instruments. Like half of Britain at this time Robinson decided that playing bass really couldn’t be that difficult and took over the 4 string. In fact Robinson really had not got the talent to sustain a career beyond the initial excitement. His songs were ok and his singing was a bit weird, like when you hear a friend sing, it’s in tune, sort of but it’s not quite right it’s just ok.. Luckily due the nature of his songs he was able to spend as much time punching the air as playing the bass but like everything else, his bass playing was ok, that’s a lot of ok for a band frontman to handle.

They could be pretty stirring live thanks to Kustow’s riffing and some chunky drumming it was pub rock on steroids. Lyrically it was apocalyptic stuff as you might discern from the titles, ‘Up Against the Wall’, ‘Don’t take no for an Answer’, ‘Aint Gonna Take it’ and so on. Radical lyrics and conventional music never did any career any harm and their debut LP ‘Power in the Darkness’ was in the right place at the right time. I love this track.

After that things fell apart rapidly, Ambler was the first to leave, he could learn Robinson’s four chord songs in second which left him bored while the others caught up. The next single ‘too Good to be True’ was a dreary recycling of ‘Moondance’ and all of a sudden the band were no longer flavour of the month and split up.

Without Robinson’s incredibly brave gesture of coming out as a gay man in what essentially was a hard rocking band TRB would not have amounted to much but that’s probably true of the vast majority of bands cruising under the flag of punk, the message was as important as the music. It seemed that within a couple of years sexism, racism and homophobia were no longer being accepted as part of everyday life and protest music was back on the agenda. I actually can’t think of any other artist who laid his sexuality bare from the outset until Robinson appeared, I’ll say it again, it was incredibly brave.

Post TRB Robinson formed another band Sector 27 who were allowed to wear better clothes and concentrate on being a band rather than spokesmen. He had another hit as a solo artist, ‘War Baby’ was probably one of his bests songs, marred for me by having to listen Robinson actually sing it.

Strangely, around this period he fell in love with a woman and subsequently became a father. This confused many but not Robinson who continues to identify as a gay man, and why not?

Today he is doing what he does best, having a regular slot on 6 music, filling much the same role for independent rock music as Alexis Korner used to fulfil for the blues in the 70’s. Producing an intelligent show in a fruity radio friendly voice and still being an activist and occasional performer suits him well, long may he continue.

 

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When Punk Comes to Town

My diary from 1977 is a pretty miserable specimen illustrating all too clearly that youth is wasted on the young. Boredom was a pretty constant factor but when I wasn’t bored I would go out with numerous friends to numerous pubs. I saw a band called Dunlop more time than I can remember but then again I can’t remember ever seeing them now. Most striking is how often friends came round or I went to their houses and we just hung out. When did I forget just how to do this?

There was the odd tragedy, my rabbit died, signalling an end to the pet years. The Jubilee passed with virtually no recognition from me whatsoever, I just had so much time and I was in no hurry to use it wisely.

One event I have recorded however and had almost forgotten about was my first punk gig.

In my mid teens I had taken to going to The Kingsway, I think they were called the caves or the cellars but basically the Kingsway was a pub close to the river in Norwich which had a cellar (or cave) which they had converted into some sort of disco. This being pre nanny state I have no doubt at all that it contravened all sorts of health and safety regulations but most importantly it seemed quite happy to let anyone under age purchase alcohol.

In the 70’s there were certainly alcohol drinks which were regarded as non-alcoholic simply because they were sweet and fruity. I could buy cider from the local corner shop virtually as soon as I could walk. In a similar vein, adding lime to lager seemed to render it non alcoholic, pubs were quite happy to serve me this although they wouldn’t let me have a pint of bitter.

The acceptable drink at The Kingsway was rum and black, tasty and quite obviously devoid of alcohol as far as the law was concerned. A night at the Kingsway would consist of eying up beautiful girls which drinking rum and black, by the end of the evening they would be snogging some Neanderthal 17 year old to the strains of ‘Nights in White Satin’ by which time I was maudlin drunk.

The positive thing I remember about the Kingsway was it was pretty much devoid of tribal petty violence nearly all the time, it was mostly grammar school kids with a few outsiders to spice things up a bit but unusually for Norwich no one seemed that interested in beating me up.

In April the word went around school that the Kingsway was about to host a punk band. In retrospect I find this amazing from a logistics point of view. Punk had only been big news since Xmas but somehow, without the aid of social media, a band had formed and concocted a repertoire in just a few months… and this had happened in Norwich!

The band was The Toads and their gig was the talk of the 6th form common room for at least a week. It transpired that I actually knew who one of The Toads were. Bass player Paul C (virtually everyone I knew was called Paul) had been a Thorpe Grammar School boy and had teamed up with a couple of guitarist outsiders. Like virtually all punks bands though they were lacking a drummer and had a gig in a few days’ time. A frisson of excitement ran through my body.. I was a drummer. All I had to do was put my name forward and chances were I could be the drummer with a punk band.

However I had my own band The Rockwell Buzz Company, we were strangely loyal, playing with another band would be like cheating on your girlfriend (not that I had any options there), the other band members liked Gong and Soft Machine, they wouldn’t be happy. The other problem was my shoulder length hair, I want going to make a convincing punk.

Ultimately what stopped me though was my complete lack of ambition and drive. I was going to live forever, no need to cram too many experiences into my life too early, punk could wait.

Somehow the Toads managed without me but it did mean that their soundcheck was the drummer’s initiation into the band.

As we approached the venue we could hear some chords being cranked out, it was ‘stone cold sober again’ a track from Rod Stewart’s ‘sell out ‘LP Atlantic crossing. It wasn’t of course, it was a Toad’s original but it was a preview of the level of originality and innovation we could expect.

I can’t remember huge details of the actual gig apart from being treated to ‘stone cold’ again. My insightful review in my diary reported it as ‘a bit of a mess’ so it probably was. There was actually a handful of ‘punks’ in the centre of the crowd who seemed lively but ok. Things came to a sudden end when someone threw a glass which smashed leaving glass in a girl’s eye. It was the 100 club punk festival all over again, this was clearly what you did at a punk gig, it was the expected way to behave. I was furious afterwards, I name the girl in my diary so presumably I knew her little. I can’t ever remember thinking about it again so hopefully she recovered after a trip to hospital but possibly she was blinded for life, mortality was not exactly something I was preoccupied with, apart from my Rabbit of course. We always assumed it was the punks who threw the glass but it could just as easily been one of the youths dressed in their baggies and their platform shoes at the back.

Violence was waiting around the new music, it was rumoured that Penetration’s bass player had been beaten up when the band came to play St Andrew’s Hall. The Toads survive for a while, I remember seeing them a bit later with yet another punk band called (I think) The Victims. It was a far happier affair, the bands joined together for an encore of ‘I’m Waiting for my Man’ and in a rare extrovert display I joined them on Tambourine. As the bands were packing up a load of bikers came in clearly with trouble in mind and we decided we had better leave.


Believe it or not I do actually do a bit of research for these posts and amazingly there is evidence that the Toads really existed. It is living testimony of the hothouse environment of the times that the band only lasted about a year (Paul C leaving early) and only played a handful of gigs and yet are immortalised on the web. In comparison local bands who I used to see on a regular basis (i.e. Dunlop) do not merit a mention. We may come across Paul C again at a later stage.

It’s likely that the Toads were the first punk band in Norwich. They state that the gig I attended was a private party which figures although they seem to believe that the gig was stopped because the landlady did not like punk, not true, it stopped when an ambulance was called.

The Kingsway has now been demolished but in a way it was our Manchester Free Trade Hall, site of the first punk gig.. And I was there!

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The Adverts…Straight Outta Biddeford

There’s always something rather wonderful about a band that isn’t from London. Perhaps it’s just me but surely there’s a certain romance in a band from Swindon (XTC) or Andover (the Troggs) or even Bournemouth (um.. Al Stewart). There must be something about being away from the mainstream that makes and artist think differently, would Robert Fripp be the same person if he came from Croydon rather than Dorset? Surely our geography makes us what we are.It’s with the same rose tinted spectacles that I imagine Tim Smith and Gaye Black leaving the sleepy/gloomy Devon seaside town of Bideford Devon to make their dreams come true in the big city. Bideford’s other musical claim to fame is that someone from Cradle of Filth owns a guitar shop there, nuff said.

Smith was already a name in Bideford but so was the local butcher. Smith had had a band and written songs, he was a band man with a plan man. Black was quite shy but so in love with Smith she even allowed him to teach her how to play bass.

And so The Advert were born, with the addition of a proper guitarist Howard Pickup and a bloke who had stuck his head into the rehearsal rooms and saw a drum kit, Laurie Driver, the band was born which would quickly become the fourth biggest punk band in London (and possibly the biggest in Bideford).

The band had two big assets, firstly Tim, now TV, Smith could write proper songs with good lyrics and interesting chords. The second single had lyrics having a transplant of mass murderer Gary Gilmour’s eyes, that’s different. ‘Bored Teenagers’ boosts some musical syncopation just like Yes might do, Yes, of course would never write about being a bored teenager or boast about being one chord wonders though. Smith was clever and a little bit funny.

The other thing about The Adverts of course was Gaye, a woman playing bass!!!. In post Pussy Riot days this is not a big deal but in 1977 it was a complete mindfuck. Gaye certainly looked cool, she inspired a lot of women to get involved in music and an awful lot more women to wear black leather jackets. By contrast Smith and Pickup seemed content to dig out their old school uniforms and needed Gaye’s cool to stop them looking like an AC/DC tribute act.

The band hit the ground running, playing new punk club The Roxy every night they could, they soon had a huge following with the new breed punks who had missed out on the golden age of the Clash and the Pistols. Record label Stiff signed them at once and they went on tour supporting the Dammed. I remember that tour well because it really pissed off the musos quoting something along the line of ‘The Dammed can now play three chords, the Adverts can only play one, hear all four at..’(at this point venue is inserted probably Friars Aylesbury or West Runton Pavilion).

‘Gary Gilmour’s Eyes’ is, of course the standout single but the band were more than that, Their first LP ‘Crossing the Rd Sea With the Adverts’ is pretty good by any standards although at one point Gaye does appear to nick the bass riff to ‘Floyd’s ‘Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun’.

It’s been forgotten in the mist of time but there was definitely a feeling around that The Adverts were a punk band too far. We were prepared to tolerate the Ramones, the Pistols, even the Clash but for a while it seemed The Adverts were the scapegoats and we had to show that we had some evaluation process and not just accept anything that sounded punk. The problem, as ever, was the drummer but Gaye didn’t help, her playing plods a bit and the rhythm section effectively stopped the band from being too radio friendly.

The original band ended when they wised up and go rid of Laurie Driver who had got peeved a the amount of media attention Gaye had been getting. Seeing as he was appearing on Top of the Pops just a few weeks after fancying a bash at the drums it seems a bit churlish to complain that his genius had not been fully recognised but that was 1978 for you. For the next LP ‘Cast of Thousands’ Smith introduced Keyboards which at the time I thought was a terrible mistake although it sounds a lot better now. Howard Pickup disappeared and never saw the band again (he died in 1997), there were new drummers and guitarists and eventually Gaye was out.

Like any sensible person Gaye Advert was bored with the mindlessness of touring and, according to her, being cold all the time. A shy person who had become a media punk, she had been drinking heavily and with relief fell into a normal job working for the council. It served her well, like half of the public sector workers of Britain she was made redundant and presumably now she’s passed 60 she’s got her government pension.

TV was made of sterner stuff, fronting follow up bands for a while until he realised he could sing, write songs and play guitar all on his own. So these days he leaves the flat that he still shares with Gaye and catches a train to somewhere else and plays to a few people in a room above a pub. For TV Smith there is no pension plan beyond what he can create with his hands and his imagination.

I don’t usually feature contemporary material but let’s have a listen to what TV Smith is doing today, it is rather good, he’s still a protest singer.

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I’m Gonna Break Out Of This City (or at least the suburbs) 

1977, time to leave school.
As luck would have it I kept a dairy for the first few months of 1977 and so I can pinpoint the exact
date. On 27th June I wrote,

‘Had my last two exams, History-special subject and Physics -Practical. With tears in my eyes I stumbled out into the big wide world’  

I can only assume I was being sarcastic, school and me were drifting apart rapidly. Largely to get
them off my back I had applied to do an environmental sciences course at Plymouth Polytechnic.  

There were a couple of flaws in my plan, Plymouth was on the other side of the country, just getting
there took a whole day and multiple modes of transport. The other issue was I didn’t really have any
interest in science.

Despite my obvious uselessness I was interviewed and offered a place as long as I could obtain
three grade D’s at A level. It was clear at school that I was disengaging, there just seemed a lot more
interesting things to be doing. The school really didn’t like the idea of its students not achieving,  they were no more interested in me than I was in them but they had standards to maintain so  eventually the deputy head summoned me for a talk. he expressed concern at my academic decline  and drew attention to the fact that I needed to get three grade Es in order to go to polytechnic, I pointed out that I  actually had an offer reliant on grade D’s. ‘Oh my God it’s worse than I thought’ he replied.. 

I was sent away to try harder and I noticed from my diary that on the night before my last exam I
did do some revision. 

And so I was free from school, I had no plan beyond the obvious which was signing on. Getting
paid for not working was a given right in the 70’s. Again from my diary I note that my mates Phil  and Robbo both came along with me to register together, there were the inevitable forms to fill but  before we knew it we were officially unemployed. One of the pleasures of being young is an ability to live in the moment, somewhere on the horizon
was the prospect of going on a course I wasn’t really interested in but that was three months away  and in the meantime I literally ‘hung out’ 

And as I wandered the streets of Norwich with no fixed purpose I had a soundtrack in my head.
Eddie and the Hot Rods had been the next big thing only 12 months ago but now they had been almost trampled to death in the gold rush that was punk. Similarly the Kursall Flyers whose comedy
country pub rock had marked them out for greatness were now has beens. Grumpy guitarist Graham  Douglas has seen the writing on the wall and jumped ship and joined the Hot Rods who in turn had  had a re brand and were now The Rods. Douglas being a song writer had brought some decent  songs and a musical maturity to the band and this was evidenced by the Springsteen influenced ‘Do  Anything You Wanna Do’ 

Gonna break out of this city,

Leave the people here behind,

Searching for adventure, It’s the type of life to find,

Tired of doing day jobs, with no thanks for what I do,

I’m sure I must be someone, now I’m gonna find out who
Do anything you wanna do,

Do anything you wanna do
Don’t need no politician, tell me things I shouldn’t know,

Neither no optician, telling me what I ought to see,

No-one tells you nothing, even when you know they know,

But when they tell you what you should do,

They don’t like to see you grow
Why don’t you ask them what they expect from you,

Why don’t you tell them, what you are gonna do,

You’ll get so lonely, maybe it’s better that way,

It ain’t you only, you got something to say

Its all too easy to poor scorn on on the ‘hey man leave the kids alone’ lyrics of the song (actually
written by the band’s manager) but as an 18 year old who might never have to revise about ox bow  lakes again the song spoke to me directly. I was free, thanks to my long suffering parents I had a  place to live and food in my belly, I had friends and money in my pocket. So much money, in fact,  that according to my diary I actually bought the record on 12th September along with a copy of the magazine Zig Zag.

England was mine and it owed me a living. 

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My drug experience with Man 

  

There’s a conventional wisdom with general anaesthetics which the medical profession never tells you about and that is that you should never make any important decisions such as taking out a loan or making a will in the week following treatment.

 

I never quite understood this, I have had a few minor ops in my time and to be honest the last thing I wanted to do afterwards was consult a solicitor, after I had a hernia op just getting out of the bath was enough work for one day.

 

I had however underestimated the brain warping effects of anaesthesia. A week ago I was enjoying walking on the beach at Tenby when a nurse started shouting in my face and I was coming round after day surgery. I was aware that I wasn’t quite OK but coming round after surgery is like recovering from a hangover, you are just happy to be alive and at first it does not really matter that you don’t actually feel that good.

 

And so I quite enjoyed a day in bed with my mind in neutral. This was the first time however that I have been sick with an iPad. In the past I would listen to radio 4 and emerge from my illness better informed. I now had an interactive window on the world which was probably a bad thing.

 

Regular readers will recall that last week I wrote about the band Man, inspired by the death of a friend, a Man fan, and a recent trip to Wales. It appears that my unconscious mind had not finished with the Welsh rockers, I started watching YouTube videos of every performance, I fell asleep during a Mickey Jones guitar solo, I awoke during a Mickey Jones guitar solo for a couple of days it felt like my brain was at least 50% Man.

 

And, worst of all, a couple of days later I took delivery of 10 Man CD’s.


 

And that really demonstrates why you shouldn’t make any decisions after a general anaesthetic. In my previous 58 years I had owned one Man LP, now sold. The LP ‘Man’ was certainly not one of their best but typified what the Man band experience was likely to be, namely a couple of rockers, a pointless country song and a couple of challenging psychedelic explorations.

 

I have a weakness for the Grateful Dead based on the fact that ‘Dark Star’ off Live Dead is one of my all time favourite tracks. Unfortunately in my opinion nothing else they ever did comes close and in my quest for anything else of that calibre I have had to listen to an awful lot of half arsed playing that wouldn’t get them a pub gig in Derby. Where Man score heavily over the Dead is the fact that they have great rhythm sections. Terry Williams the regular drummer was one of the best, going on eventually to play with Dire Straits where he certainly had a better paid but less challenging gig.

 

Like the Dead, Man wrote their own songs which were OK and had a weakness for country and rock and roll. Despite the fact that guitarists Jones and Deke Leonard could trot out rockabilly licks with a skill that Jerry Garcia could only dream about there’s probably a inauthenticity happening there, it certainly seemed a better idea for the Dead to trot out American roots music however half arsed it sounded.

 

And, also like the Dead, Man were at their best live. Their studio records to my ears are pretty so so but live the playing really takes off. As well as the west coast bands and rock and roll Man were influenced by Zappa and even Stockhausen and are willing to go well out there with the benefit of a decent drummer and bass player. Luckily they are well documented live, I can recommend ‘Live at the Padget Rooms Penarth’ just for the title alone.

 

I had thought, for a moment, in my post drugged euphoria that I had missed one of the greatest bands of all time. As the drugs wore off and I worked my way through 10 CDs I realised with some relief that Man are mere men, there’s relatively little in the way of memorable songs, in fact it seems the case that the less tracks there are on a record the better it is which flies against conventional wisdom. If you can sit back and enjoy the ride there’s a huge pleasure in letting the music unfold at it’s own pace as Man jam their way to the outer limits.

 

As a footnote, just to confirm my madness, I have also been reading Deke Leonard’s autobiography ‘Rhinos Winos and Lunatics’. I have read an awful lot of autobiographys in my time from mind blowing( Viv Albertine, Julian Cope) to dull (Phil Collins, Eric Clapton) and Leonard’s is one of the best, read it before you die even if you cant stand Man.

 

As a further footnote, in the early 70,s Man played a gig with David Bowie who was accompanied by Tony Visconti on bass and a conga player. Realising he might need to up his game Bowie offer them a job as his backing band!

 

So back to work next week and hopefully my feverish Man obsession will just seem like a crazy dream.

 

But first I’ve got ‘ Greasy Truckers present Man live at the Roundhouse’ and another 3 CDs to listen to !

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