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.
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.
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.
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.
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.