In The Bleak Midwinter

In 1845 Sir John Franklin mounted an expedition to chart and navigate the Northwest Passage. Potentially a source of glory not to mention financial rewards from trade if indeed the passage could be navigated. Unfortunately Franklin probably picked the worst year of several decades to make his journey. No one knows for sure what happened but his boats became stranded in the pack ice. In order to feed his men in such an eventuality Franklin had packed many tins of food which due to the speed of the caning process meant that the cans were slowly leaking lead into the food. We don’t know how long the sailors survived but it seems probable that lead poisoning affected their minds which along with malnutrition and scurvy makes it probable that the survivors actually turned to cannibalism. There are poignant stories of the remaining sailors wandering the icy wastes slowly losing their minds until they succumbed to the elements.

Fast forward to the winter of 1959 the Winter Dance Party began its tour in an under heated bus criss crossing the coldest parts of the mid-west. On board were Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. “The Big Bopper”and Dion and the Belmonts. The bus was to prove the weakest link with an unreliable heater which actually resulted in Holly’s drummer Carl Brunch sustaining frostbite and needing hospitalisation. By the time the tour rocked into Clear Lake Iowa to play the inaptly named Surf Ballroom Holly had decided that he had had enough of life on the bus and chartered a plane to take himself and his remaining bandmates, guitarist Tommy Allsup and bass player Waylon Jennings, to the next gig in equally wintery Fargo in North Dakota . Here he hope to visit a laundrette to appear clean and warm for the next performance. Allsup lost his seat to Valens on the toss of a coin and also, at the last minute, Jennings gave up his seat to the big bopper who was ill with the flu.

Of course we all know the plane crashed soon after take-off and we lost one of the true creative forces of early rock and roll. What is less well known is that the tour actually continued, Brunch came back from hospital to find himself backing the likes of Frankie Avalon and Fabian (Bobby Vee having covered for Holly in Fargo). What it must have been like for the remaining musicians we can only imagine, to add insult to injury they ended up not even being paid for their work.

And so, in December 1976 the Anarchy Tour travelled up and down Britain in search of a gig. Ok so it wasn’t the Arctic or even Minnesota but it was Britain in winter. As regular readers will be aware the first date at the University of East Anglia was immediately cancelled following the Grundy incident saving me £1.50 (on the door that is only £1.25 in advance) the reason given by the chancellor was “on the grounds of protecting the safety and security of persons and property”. A few students rather touchingly held a sit in to protest. (bear in mind this was the 70’s). And so the tour collapsed like a row of dominoes once one venue had decided not to hold the gig all subsequent venues had to make a decision. At the time none of us knew what to expect, it felt like punk bands might do anything, spit, swear, have sex on stage, smash the place up, engage in cannibalism. overthrow capitalism; anything seemed possible. So only three of the gigs actually went ahead. A further four were rearranged but in reality the bands didn’t really know what was on and what was off until the last minute. The musicians spent most of their time hanging about in hotels which initially was a novelty but soon began to pall. Cracks were starting to show immediately. The Dammed actually had a record company behind them albeit a company that was surviving from release to release. Because of this, and probably due to the fact that he didn’t like the band’s manager Jake Riviera, Mclaren insisted the band pay their way. The Dammed therefore would not get to travel on the EMI sponsored bus or stay in the EMI sponsored hotels, instead opting for a minibus and B&B. Meanwhile on the bus the Pistol’s Glen Matlock and the Clash’s Mick Jones were getting on famously strumming guitars together and swapping Mott the Hoople stories. The Heatbreaker’s from New York were a bunch of wise guys trying to turn the others on to heroin but still managing to turn in competent sets whenever they got to play. In fact the Pistols were struggling to maintain their top dog status despite their notoriety. The Heartbreakers were experienced musicians as were The Dammed. The Clash had a stand in drummer, Rob Harper, but were getting better and better with each performance. Things soon reached a head with The Dammed when the tour reached Derby the local council wanted The Pistols to perform to make sure they were safe for the locals. The other bands were not subject to this and word leaked out from the Dammed camp that they might be willing to play anyway after the Pistols refused to ‘audition’. This was in fact probably a case of misinformation but the Dammed, already estranged from the other musicians in the tour bus’ were now kicked off the tour for their lack of solidarity (and possibly for the fact that they were turning in better performances than the Pistols)

In Manchester at the Electric Ballroom the atmosphere both inside and outside the gig was violent, punk had been fermenting there since the summer and battle lines were being drawn. Local lads Buzzcocks were back for one gig only. What had been an underground movement was suddenly highly vivible.

At Caerphilly’s castle cinema, rearranged after a Cardiff gig was cancelled, some of the locals stood outside singing hymns to stave off the darkness about to descend on their town. Local counsellor Ray Davies support the locals which he was to regret as when the fans started to arrive he realised that they reminded him of his own youth as a Teddy Boy. Most of the people going to any of these events would still be the long haired denim clad youths who might just as easily have been going to a Status Quo gig but every audience contained a few punks and one of those at Caerphilly was Steve Strange.

The tour finished in Plymouth and then it was back to reality. Only the Pistols had record company support and for the rest the tour was, at least, a chance to have a bed to sleep in and a supply of sandwiches.

Joe Strummer, always a man unlikely to don a Santa Hat, leaving the security of the bus walked home refusing to button his coat against the biting wind wanting to feel the chill of his uncertain future. Worse was to follow, his squat had been burgled and most of his possessions taken. Mick Jones could rely on his Gran to take him in but Paul Simenon was of no fixed abode and with Strummer ended up at the bands rehearsal studios, at one point reduced to eating the flour and water paste they had been using to stick up gig posters.

1977 was to be different, it would be the ‘year zero ‘for rock music. Punk would briefly flourish and there would be an undignified scrabble to sign up bands by the same record companies who only a few a weeks earlier would have publicly expressed distaste at the Pistol’s antics.

But for those of us of an impressionable nature we had had a glimpse of how society really works. The establishment with the media had almost shut down the Anarchy Tour in a matter of days and all because Steve Jones had said some rude words on Television. If they could do that for swearing imagine what they could do if you really did pose a threat.

And so I approached a new year a little bit enlightened I wasn’t going to trust the establishment again (I didn’t trust them anyway but now I had seen what they can do at first hand). 1977 promised some great music, a lot of excitement and a fair degree of bullshit.

But first I had to get my A Levels out of the way.

I feel quite exhausted after months of punk here’s something different as we approach the winter solstice and I fancy a bit of folk ….so here’s a song about Lord Franklin (who wasn’t a lord actually).

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