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!