Hey Rock and Roll

 

By the mid 70’s rock was all of twenty years old, it had travelled from Bill Hayley performing ‘Rock around the Clock’ way past Hawkwind and ‘ Silver Machine’. The 60’s had been very forward looking, every few months there would be something new to marvel at, it was as if there was a scorched earth policy with the past being destroyed as the future became the present.

There were period in the 70’s however when it seemed like we had stretched the fabric of time, as if it could stretch no longer and it seemed like we were going to be sucked back into the 1950’s.The 1950’s for us meant America obviously, no one in their right mind wanted to revisit Wee Willie Harris or even Billy Fury. American Graffiti was an amazingly influential film which left the inhabitants of Croydon or Oldham yearning for a soda pop at the drive in. Even more influential was the TV show Happy Days which provided an even more sanitised version of the American dream. For a while it seemed we knew more about America than we did about our own country as so many of the shows were made there. There were only three channels and we had to watch in real time no wonder we have become so Americanised, we were brainwashed for decades.

Surprisingly Glam was partly backwards looking from Marc Bolan’s 50’s imagery to Roxy Music’s adoption of 40’s and 50’s American glamour. When Mud decided to dress as teddy boys (let’s forget the guitarist ok?) it just seemed normal. Let’s not forget that during this time Malcolm Mclaren was flirting with Teddy boy styles and running a shop catering to those tastes, rock and roll really was here to stay.

The apogee of this yearning for the past was encapsulated by the band Showaddywaddy. Sha Na Na without the bad acid. This weirdest of outfits was formed when two Leicester bands simply joined forces in 1973. This meant that Showaddywaddy had two drummers, two bassists and lots of everything else. This would, of course, prove useful when members started to leave but initially they had more people than was strictly necessary but this enabled members to generally mess around and make the band look more interesting than they were. Like so many other entertainers they initially came through the immensely popular ‘New Faces’ Show. From there on it was domination of middle England for the next few years. Showaddywaddy actually had 10 top ten hits though the mid 70’s. It seemed we couldn’t get enough of versions of old hits which were less good than the originals played by men in a collection of lurid Teddy boy outfits. The band was fronted by Dave Bartram whose mid 70’s haircut marked him out as an unlikely Ted despite his drapes and brothel creepers.

This is them at their very best.

Luckily tastes change and post punk there was no place for Showaddywaddy in the charts although, understandably, they remained a huge popular live act round the clubs, Bartram Hung up his drapes in 2013 but naturally the band are still going although with only two original members still remaining.

Punk, of course was aggressively British, we’d had enough of those yanks with their nice teeth and tanned skin showing off their perfect lifestyles. As well as rock and roll the biggest victim was country rock which had to be put into quarantine for a while.

It was a great loss. We survived but the American dream never seemed quite as perfect again.

By way of a footnote..

Showaddywaddy were an unlikely multiracial band. Romeo Challenger must have had the weirdest career of any black drummer having played in occult heavy metal band Black Widow before a lifelong career with Showaddywaddy.

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Rock and Roll will never die (probably)

There are areas of the British coast that time has forgotten. Musically it’s as if they have moved forward at glacial speed. The beat boom is just about acknowledged but psychedelia and all points onwards have never happened. Many of the smaller resorts seem to be living out some version of That’ll be the Day’ the 70’s film which made a name for David Essex but referenced a period 15 years earlier.

Stars that time have forgotten will be appearing at the local winter gardens, it’s probable that a reformed version of the Honeycombs or the Applejacks will be appearing in an oldies package on the pier and the local legion club will be hosting a tribute to the Everly Brothers.

On a visit to Great Yarmouth I came across this poster of a yet to be discovered star posted in the window of a terraced house.

 rocking ronnie

There’s a huge audience still for rock and roll, they are invariably white, working class and inevitably mainly aged.

In the 70’s rock and roll culture bubbled away beneath the surface occasionally making breakthroughs. In 1976 a forgotten recording made in 1958 re surfaced. ‘Jungle Rock’ by Hank Mizell’ was an unexpected hit reaching No3 in the British charts.Hank was 53, he didn’t know what had hit him but we never heard of him again. Someone must have bought his record though, there were a lot of rock and roll fans out there

But if the English seaside seemed backward and conservative imagine what it must have been like in Wales.

Fast forward just a few years and Shakin Stevens is all over the charts. Shaky, as he was known, seemed a pleasant but bland Welsh guy who seldom seemed to string a couple of sentences together and delivered reliable sanitised rockabilly influenced hits. In retrospect it’s hard to really dislike Shakey although the hard core Teds did, they would burn his records. Shaky’s tunes were a bit bland but they were livened by the presence of Mickey Gee one of Wales’s best guitarists. For me Shaky really lost it with with his Christmas song ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ which sound like a piss take or how to write a Christmas song piling cliché upon cliché and concluding with ‘What a nice way to spend the year’. Nice!, only Brian Wilson is allowed to use that word in a song!!.

But Shaky had a past that included playing tough venues including punk gigs and benefits for the Communist party. He had worked and lived in Europe, recorded many records on many labels and lead the premier British roots rock and roll band the Sunsets.

The story begins in the 60’s when Cardiff milkman Michael Barrratt began to attach himself to local band The Backbeats. The band were actually from Penarth which is a seaside town just down the coast from Cardiff. The band were managed by a local character Paul ’legs’ Barrett. If Barrett had operated in London he would probably be up there with the likes of Stiff’s Jake Riviera or the Clash’s Bernie Rhodes as well as being an old style entrepreneur and celebrity manager Barrett was also, unusually, a member of the communist party.

Barratt had his own band and asked Barrett to come and see them. The band wasn’t that good but Barrett was impressed with the singer and managed to lure him away and christened him Shakin Stevens which will make the rest of this article a lot easier to follow.

Shaky’s backing band the Sunsets were cobbled together from the Backbeats and the cream of South Wales musos. Their career got off to a good start in 1969 when Barrett landed them a gig supporting the Stones. The band were not really up to the challenge at this point and matters weren’t helped by the drummer forgetting his sticks and having to borrow a pair for Charley Watts. With Barrett at the helm the career of the Sunsets lurched from inspired to half arsed. John Peel, who had always been a Gene Vincent fan, wanted to record them for his Dandelion label but Barrett considered that the demo’s they made for him were not up to scratch. Guitarist/producer/notable Welsh person Dave Edmunds was also drawn to the band remembering them from their Backbeat days. Much to Shakey’s annoyance Edmunds affection for the past led to him bringing in original vocalist Rockin Louie to sing on some of the tracks and the resulting album modestly entitled ‘A Legend’ did more for Edmunds reputation as a producer than for the band.

From there on an erratic career path followed. The Sunsets were a volatile band with members leaving and returning. At one point a bass player was sacked after smashing a full bottle of whisky over Shaky’s head. A further episode in the band’s history was when they decamped to Holland where they had a recording contract and the promise of a career but being big in Holland was not necessarily a good career move.

Throughout it all Shakin Stevens and the Sunsets were potentially a phenomenally great live band and that was their forte. They were even voted best live band in an NME poll. The band was playing anywhere and everywhere which led to them being in contact with the first wave of punk bands many of whom were impressed at the energy and excitement of a Sunset’s show.

Of course there is a limit to the number of times any bands wanted to play the Nashville Rooms or the Red Cow or the Tally Ho and when Shaky got offered the job to play middle period Elvis in the west end play Elvis-The Musical he was off.

The Sunsets still exist to this day of course in a severely watered down version. The last contact Shaky had with them was when he was sued by various members including old manager Barrett over non-payment of royalties from ‘A Legend’, royalties were awarded of £70,000 but the case cost Shaky and producer Edmunds £200,000.

Today Shaky is a well preserved 69 year old who continues to make records now and again but for a few years in the 70’s he was a genuinely underground figure known only to genuine rock and roll fans and certainly his legacy is better served by the records he made with The Sunsets rather than ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’

 

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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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