Racism, Mud and New Opportunities

When you’re young the passage of time is a wondrous thing. I started the 70’s as a child, I would enjoy Bernard Cribbins singing ‘Right Said Fred’ as much as Chicory Tip (still do in fact). I liked animals and kept guinea pigs, rabbits and budgerigars and couldn’t really imagine that I would ever play an instrument.

The first part of the 70’s was, of course, pretty much more of the 60’s, we’d lost the Beatles but the Stones and the Who were still quite good. The 70’s only really started to develop a character of their own around 72 with the twin prongs of Glam and Prog . Around this time my life mutated up another level. Realignment of the classes at school meant I developed a new set of friends, Phil, Dunk, Chris etc and, I started to play guitar and later drums. I got my first job as cleaner, Saturday mornings in a steel fabrication workshop. I worked 5 hours for the total sum of £1.50. I really hated this and it put me off work for a long long time. My other interest at the time was cycling and along with Phil I was a member of a cycling club which meant a Saturday afternoon ‘run’ and an all day ride on Sunday. For a while that was my life, school, work, ride with the gaps filled with homework, music television and feeding the rabbits.

1975 and 1976 were interesting years musically. Glam and Prog hadn’t really come to much in the long term (I know try telling that to Yes or Genesis). The Beatles still hadn’t reformed and the great bands like The Stones, The Who and The Kinks were showing signs that they were not unlimited geniuses. In addition to this there was the sense that something new just might be happening, in New York there were the likes of Television, Patti Smith and The Talking Heads. The Ramones were, of course going to prove more influential than we could ever imagine but closer to home there was Dr Feelgood and Eddie and the Hot Rods giving us a glimmer of a new future.

And so my next phase of the 70’s began in 1976 and I can place it’s genesis quite accurately. In my immediate social circle Chris was the most dynamic. He now had a reputation as a bass player around the school and was also playing double bass in the school orchestra. As such he moved in social circles way beyond me and seemed to know a lot of people. We had recently taken to drinking in pubs despite both being under-age, one of our favourite establishments was The Plasters which served real ale which in the 70’s was pretty significant.

While there he ran into an acquaintance called Sucho who I had no memory of but apparently had attended the same school as us but had left at 16 to become a trainee architect. Also with him as far as I can remember was Plainy ( the nickname thing was to prove enduring) who I did at least recognise as being in the year above me.

Sucho (and lets assume Plainy as well) were just back from The Reading Festival and had stories to tell, and this is how I can remember the date and the year. August Bank Holiday 1976.

The Reading festival was quite a British tradition in a time when festivals were pretty few and far between.Its now the worlds oldest popular music festival having started life as the National Jazz festival before locating to Redding in 1971.

The 1976 festival was a mess on every level. Firstly it was held on a British Bank Holiday so it would rain. Secondly festival infrastructures in those days were piss poor, food tended to be burgers and there was no chance of a hot stone massage or even a shower. If you didn’t have your tent set on fire by the Hells Angels you would probably come away happy. So the festival was now attracting the very worst in rock fans, the sort of people who would be happy to sit in the mud drinking Watneys beer for three days with the occasional fight to liven things up.

And finally there was the music, if anything could sum up the musical confusion of the mid 70’s the festival line up serves as a classic example. There was a surprising amount of prog left overs, (Van Der Graff Generator, The Enid, Manfred Man’s Eathband, Camel), Jazz rock (Brand X , Jon Hisemann’s Colosseum II, Gong) as well as the anticipated ROCK (AC/DC, Rory Gallagher,Ted Nugent).Thrown into the mix were a few eclectic choices, The Sadista Sisters and Mallard for example. All this for £6.95 !.

readding2

And then there was reggae namely U Roy and The Mighty Diamonds, and this is where things turned nasty.

Britain in the mid 1790’s was a very different place in regards to racism. Today even the far right wing parties deny they are racist but in the 70’s and 80’s racism was tolerated and pretty much expected. And that’s why at a supposedly alternative event populated by the kind of people who would sit in a wet field and listen to Camel, the Mighty Diamonds were booed and bottled (well canned) off stage. Undoubtedly there were musical as much as racial differences that led to this but The Mighty Diamonds were one of the best Reggae bands ever and their LP ‘Right Time’ is a great record in any genre. The violence they suffered spilled over into the crowd, at least the band were facing in the right direction but the front rows of the audience who presumably were enjoying themselves risked being hit on the back of the head by a Watney’s party four can.

Here are the band a year later in the more select ambience of Randy’s Record Store

Anyway Sucho, who really was no racist, told the story with that sense of teenage awe, it was just a bit of edgy fun as far as he was concerned.

Just 12 months later Reggae would be lauded by the new wave of musicians, it provided a nice respite from the relentless monotony of pure punk but it was still outsiders rebel music not tainted with any hippy history. The Mighty Diamonds incident would go on to inform the anti racist movements such as Rock Against Racism.

Anyway it transpired that Sucho and Plainy were both guitarists and they had a band and they NEEDED A DRUMMER. This was the moment I had been waiting for! We arranged to meet up to play together, I assume we must have done this then and there due to the fact that there was no internet and my house didn’t even have a phone. Due to the size of the drums (relative to their guitars that is) the plan was to come to my house with the bass player who, naturally had his own nickname, Robbo.

I assumed my parents, and neighbours, wouldn’t mind.

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