Manchester punk diaries, part 3 – by Mick Middles

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Two Sevens Clash.

Part 3 of Mick Middles epic punk diaries from the Manchester punk frontline in 1977

Part three

The dog collar was a mistake. We purchased it from the pet store on Stockport market. Tartan, it was and, as it would eventually grace the neck of my sister’s Scottie, ”˜Mac’. It was indeed apt. In fact, that destination was probably at the back of my mind during the painful purchase.

“What kind of dog is it?” asked the store owner.

“er”¦.one with a big neck.”

The dog collar may remain my personal most embarrassing item of apparel. Narrowly nudging the yellow leather jacket into second place (or the electric blue wedding suit, purchased under the influence of acid”¦word of advice. Never take acid two hours before buying a wedding suit). But the collar was pretty much a disaster; wearable only, really, while actually inside The Ranch bar. Most punks understood this and, as a matter of course, would feverishly ”˜de-punk’ if, for example, visiting the local pub. That was my main mistake. Wearing it on a Sunday evening in The Boot and Clogger, in Woodley. A pub which, as luck would have it, contained one of my ex girlfriends”¦Yvonne. Explaining to her that “Captain Sensible wore one” didn’t really get me off the hook. Yvonne, like most girls”¦most youngsters during that period, was rather lost in the glamorous swirl of disco, by a long distance, the dominant music force of 1977. I didn’t actually mind this”¦in fact, am still fond of disco to this day, but this rarely worked in reverse. Yvonne and her chortling mates ”“ one of whom had just been crowned ”˜Disco gal of the month’ at the local Bredbury Hall ”“ did not carry any fondness for the edginess of punk. I tried”¦.lord knows I tried”¦but The Ramones album, The Damned’s ”˜New Rose’, The Saints’ ”˜I’m Stranded’, The Vibrators ”˜Whips and Furs’ and The Stooges ”˜Funhouse’ in succession did nothing to speed along the seduction process. Quite rightly, the girls preferred Marvin Gaye. Which perhaps is a clear indication of how we lagged behind them in so many ways.

I did try and gently introduce the odd girl into the punk fray”¦and always with profoundly embarrassing results. On two random occasions I recall a female acquaintance of mine hurling unexpected insults at a startled Pete Shelley.

“What did you say that for”¦Pete’s really nice,” I quizzed.

“Hate The Sex Pistols,” came the reply.

“Well, Pete’s not”¦.oh never mind.”

Problem was, most of the girls who DID get into punk seemed to adopt that aforementioned Siouxsie Sioux sheen of icy detachment. This, at once, excited and terrified me. I stayed well away. Safer to chat about the dubious merits of The Lurkers album with a mate over a pint of Robinsons than attempt to scale the cultural canyon that divided the sexes at this precise moment.
Particularly while wearing a tartan dog collar.

Incidentally, the S and M associations attached to this sad item of apparel were completely lost to me at that point. Had that not been the case”¦had I been a smidgeon more ”˜worldly’, then I may have gleaned more enjoyment from introducing it to the unsuspecting locale.

We met Steve Shy in the Woolworths café in Piccadilly. It was a favoured punk haunt. Cheap coffee. Plastic tables. Cragged wiry faces munching on fish chips and mushy peas. Women in checked woolly coats and headscarves would wander in, demanding afternoon tea and a packet of Ginger Nuts.
People smoked.

We would hit the apple pie. It seemed to accelerate the amphetamines. Our mind zipped back and forth. Chatting about some article in ”˜Sounds’ that claimed Penetration to be northern punk’s new hope. Steve didn’t mind that although he had just started to manage The Worst. Aptly named indeed”¦ and with no trace of musical aptitude at all, and ferociously proud of this fact, The Worst would hammer out an ear-splitting and wholly random cacophony. Weirdly, this very fact ”“ and that the drummer play a children’s Chad Valley kit ”“ seemed strangely attractive to music press journalese. Indeed, a full page article in ”˜Sounds’, written by Jon Savage, had preceded this meeting. More than that, it had actually created its own problem. For The Worst had started to gain a following that, frankly, held expectations rather above the band’s musicality. Oddly enough, you can trace a line of influence from The Worst that meanders through Crass, Discharge, a whole swathe of Californian punk ”¦indeed all the way to trash bands of recent times. Their very stance”¦one of dogged and self-destructing uncompromise, can be viewed as hugely influential. We didn’t understand this at the time, of course. Neither did Steve. Neither did The Worst. A young bass player, Woody, had just joined”¦.his initiation being the lopping off of his hair during a gig at The Oaks. If nothing else, The Worst would retain their purity. Perhaps the only punk band to do so, as they decided to split the very moment that a certain cohesion crept into their practice sessions. Basically, if they actually started to play music rather than merely bash around”¦they would be finished.

In Woolworths, over apple pie, Steve was being quizzed by a cabaret club MC.

“This band of yours”¦are they any good?”

“No” snapped Steve.

“They are shit.”

“Then why are you managing them?”

“I am managing them BECAUSE they are shit.”

“Huh?”

This level of credibility was difficult to convey. Particularly to a man who, by night, wore gold lame and introduced country and western acts and singing dogs in working men’s clubs in Middleton. Nevertheless, right there in the Wooly’s café , The Worst were duly booked to perform ”˜before the dominoes’, on the following Sunday eve.

By default, we had become followers of The Vibrators. Felt a bit sorry for them, actually, as most people regarded them as ”˜bandwagonners’”¦.but their leader, Knox, wrote some great songs, so what the hell? They were very nice to us when we interviewed them at The Oaks”¦then again at The Electric Circus. The Brass Tacks BBC 2 team had been following them about ”“ as well as filming Pete Shelley and Steve Shy, tapping away at his Moss Side typewriter. We felt pleased for him. Vibrators bought us beers and talked about ”˜moving to Manchester’ although, as far as I was aware, they never did. Knox was cool and heavily shaded. Guitarist John Ellis, a great rolling stream of jokes, Eddie the drummer and Gary Tibbs, later to ”“ and rather more famously ”“ join Adam and the Ants and Roxy Music.

We had first sighted them when they supported Iggy Pop (and Bowie on Keyboards) at Manchester Apollo. Lovely gig that”¦and , in so many ways, it seemed to mark a falling together for the punks of Manchester”¦punks and glams rolling into one. Pretty much the entire Ranch packed into the Apollo’s upstairs bar”¦many missing The Vibrators, though I enjoyed ”˜Whips and Furs’ and ”˜We Vibrate.’ They obviously had a musical ability way beyond most punk outfits, but why hold that against them? Strange thing happened, too. We interviewed them on a Sunday eve in The Electric Circus’ crumbly dressing room. Ourselves, Knox, Gary Tibbs and Kevin Cummins chortling at the guy who has ”˜Sten Guns in Wilmslow’; stencilled on the back of his leather jacket’. Obviously a northern echo of Joe Strummer’s ”˜Sten Guns in Knightsbridge’ scream from the Clash song ”˜1977′. All seemed a bit cartoon, somehow. Mickey Mouse politics, my mate Brinner said”¦he was a funny one, old Brinner. Looking like Johnny Ramome, he steadfastly refused to cut that hair as well as remaining loyal to AC/DC and, for god sake, Ted Nugent. Bit of a rocker, for sure, and locked in a black leather jacket and Levis. OK by us. By day he worked for a TV repair company and, by night, his van would ferry us to gigs across the north west. Many times to see The Vibrators.

Oh yes”¦that Sunday, speeding like crazy and asking Knox how he wrote songs. Paul Morley was throwing his weight about in the corner, delivering his NME vitriol. I though he was funny but Knox just snapped, “Listen Cunt, we talk to these fanzine guys because we understand them”¦not NME twats like you. We are nothing to do with you”¦”

I found that odd, really. Knox was sweet but, Morley was right, Vibrators were pretend punks. Lovable.

String songs”¦.but not punks. Still loved ”˜em, though.

Weird thing was, following that gig we drove straight to London, arriving in Notting Hill on the Monday morning. We all wore Ghast Up badges and roamed the streets, linking up for coffee at The Donut Diner with Sounds writer, Sandy Roberston. He was full of stories about Malcolm McLaren, who he had just interviewed for Sounds. He took us to the Rough trade shop, where Geoff Travis stood, serving up slabs of dub on vinyl and promising to pay us ”“ he did, too ”“ for Ghast Ups sold. Eleven, I believe, to the London punks. Mind you we immediately reinvested it, snapping up the latest Sniffing’ Glue, Ripped and Torn and, out of Sheffield, Gun Rubber. The great thing about fanzines was the level of accessibility. They simply begged you to write for them. I must have had dozens of little articles published in micro-mags across the country”¦.but we were speeding like crazy that day and, after re-visiting The Roxy and dumping down in The Kingsley Hotel for the night, we slowly trundled back towards Manchester. This is where it becomes strange. As it was 9pm, we pulled off the M6 and randomly dived into the first pub we encountered on a side road, near Stafford. It was actually a hotel”¦.and sitting there, in the bar, we started to relax”¦indeed no sooner had we started talking about our encounters with The Vibrators, than one of them wandered past. Eddie the drummer. Then Knox. Then John Ellis. I noticed them first and said to Martin”¦”You are not going to believe us but The Vibrators had just walked past the bar, behind you.” Sure enough, Eddie walked back in the room and bounded up to us.

“You guys down for the gig?” he asked.

“Err”¦yes, yes, of course,” we lied.

It was a completely random choice of pub”¦and town (Stafford). We had only interviewed the band 48 hours earlier and had absolutely no idea they were playing Stafford, let alone staying at that very hotel.
Strange moment. And then Knox asked, “Well guys. We are short of roadies. Do you fancied humping gear for us? We will pay”¦well, CBS will pay. Fancy it?”

So began a night of roadie dream. Rockbiz for the eve. Of course we immediately lapped it up”¦loving the way the tour manager made remarks like, “Hey maan, let’s dig the eve.”

Nobody ever spoke like that in Stockport. You would have got battered in an instant.

Not sure what that meant, really but it felt somewhat glamorous. Especially as we filed into the van and fell into the vibe as we wound our way into Stafford and towards The Top Rank Suite. Loading the gear onstage. Standing around and looking kinda important in a roadie kinda way. Sharing backstage reefers. Swapping football chat.

Eddie: “My perfect moment would be watching Match of the Day, drinking beer while getting a blow job. Those three things. Beer. Footy. Blow job. Is that sexist of me? Is that a punk think to say? Probably not but I would defy any man not to be turned on by that thought. ANY man. Even Johnny Rotten.”

I didn’t know, to be honest. I had never actually experienced those three things at the same time”¦well, two out of three maybe. I thought the dream was worth more than the reality”¦.which would surely end in an argument. I didn’t know”¦and suddenly I was leading the band out onstage before diving to the rear of the Top Rank”¦.which was, of course, a chrome and mirror disco and entirely unsuitable to a rock gig. I sat back a little”¦.watched the crowd. Very plastic. Full of sunglasses and tight blue pants. Painted sneers and carefully coiffured spike tops. All pogoing too”¦all very fashion. All so sheep. And while Knox’s songs (”˜Baby Baby’”¦glorious English take on the New York Dolls) did genuinely thrill me, something kind of died that night.

I passed this thought across as we drove back to the hotel”¦.all huddled in post-gig glee”¦.and the band didn’t seem to appreciate my ramblings.

It seemed an awful long way from The Worst”¦or even The Fall.

And I knew where I belonged.

One The Circus floor, awash with splintered plastic glasses.

Not at Stafford Top Rank.

“Fuck me, that was weird,” stated Martin. As I drove him back to Bredbury in the early to middle hours.
I had three hours sleep before returning to rather more sedate role as the worst insurance agent in the world.

“Yeah,” we told Steve Shy.

“We spent the day with Sandy Robertson from Sounds”¦..he told us all about Kim Folwey. All about Malcolm McClaren. He was a great guy.”

Steve Shy: “Who, Kim Fowley.”

“No. Sandy Robertson.”

“Sandy Robertson is a girl.”

“No he aint”¦hard bitten Glaswegian, actually. Fascinating guy. Has his own take on everything. Even Crowley”¦”

Steve; “Could have sworn he was a girl.”

We were tumbling along”¦through Manchester city centre, skirting Piccadilly, down past the library and along Oxford Road. Three punks”¦joyous in a mission to locate and interview one Martin Annett or, as he was fleetingly known, Martin Zero. Hannett’s work with the Buzzcocks ”˜Spiral Scratch’ record had yet to gain the immense credibility shot it would enjoy in later years. Indeed, at this precise moment, he better known for his production work on the raggedly infectious Slaughter and the Dogs single, ”˜Cranked Up Really High’. Being a phenomenon of the Wythenshawe overspill estate, Slaughter and the Dogs, their label- Rabid- and the associated Music Force promotions company actually had all retained a proletarian edge that seemed to effortlessly skirt the divide between the anarchist hippy fringe of the early to mid seventies and punk. We weren’t, at this point, particularly aware of the roots of Music Force, Hannett, co-founder Tosh Ryan and the degree in which they had guided the Manchester music scene in pre-punks days. Indeed, if you had informed us of Hannett’s previous bass playing duties in the Manchester band Greasy Bear ”“ one of the outfits who we would often encounter in dope thick , hairy cellars in the early seventies- and Sad Café, we would have surely regarded him as the hippy enemy.
He certainly looked like the ”˜hippy enemy’.

This thought crossed out my as he summoned us into the Music Force office…head lost in a waves of curls, profoundly bedenimed in the ”˜flared’ sense of the word”¦the room was awash in circulating waves of blue smoke”¦a mountain-range of cigarette dimps stretching across two pub ashtrays and the sweet aromatic sting of dope”¦Red Leb, probably”¦if not Moroccan. The vision was disturbed by the clanging phone and Hannett’s subsequent forceful rant”¦and rant which concluded with three perfectly executed ”˜fuck offs’.

“Fucking reggae twats”¦always want more fucking money”¦”

“Now lads, how can I help you?”

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2 comments on “Manchester punk diaries, part 3 – by Mick Middles”

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  1. charlie the labrador

    Mick.. I’ll let you try on my dog collar but you know what I expect in return….

  2. I love it how everyone who ever wore a safety pin through their lapel in 1977 thinks they own punk rock. It was easy to be a punk in 1977 (while everyone else is at it, while it’s fashionable), not so easy in the 80s when punk went underground, and yet, that was the period that produced the more relevant punk bands – Discharge – Crass – Conflict – Icons of Filth – Anti Sect and on and on and on…

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