(Adventures in Manchester punk, 1977, part one)
Amid a deadening air; blank concrete slabs, stained by graffiti and mould. A suitable back-drop for a ”ËblankÃÂ generation’, perhaps?ÃÂ For those lost to the apparent romance of nihilism. Or so we liked to think.
However, if ”Ëarchitecture is frozen music’ then what, one might have feasibly asked, could be evoked by the fading modernity of Ashton -Under-Lyne precinct, circa 1977? ÃÂ One could only feel a welling sadness, a dour slump in the heart and hark back a full five years. Back then we had been Crombie clad and clumpingly Doc Martin-ed 15 year olds in post-skinhead glory. And yes, in 1972, a similarly attired crew had chased us through this same drab arena. We eventually shook them from our tails by darting past the broken biscuit stalls of the market hall.
Times had changed. Clothing and attitude and yet, still, an undertone of potential violence hung in the air. A violence that lay in the dark eyes of a disapproving public.
Warily they scanned our apparently anti-social clothing, although we remained a world away from the bondage-clad poseur tribes ofÃÂ Chelsea’s King’s Road.ÃÂ The punk wanabees of Manchester and satellite towns were forced to remain true to the traditions of the area, and make-do and mend”Â¦and rip. As such, echoes of a mainstream clubby past could be glimpsed from my personal take on punk apparel, consisting of ripped velvet jacket, flapping sails of a father’s work shirt, straight-leg Wranglers (enough, in themselves, to be deemed worthy of inducing head buts from ÃÂ passing numbskulls) and Brothel Creepers”Â¦.a suitably confused selection of fading fad and fashion. My mate, Martin Ryan, was equally lost to the arduous task of ”Ëpunking up’ his mundane togs. ÃÂ Perhaps fittingly so, for we where two achingly ordinary kids out of Stockport ”â he, a civil servant and myself , for god’s sake, an insurance agent. (I know. To this day I feel shards of embarrassment).
We were on a mission, in Ashton, that day. While sitting amid the grumble of a number 30 bus, we had noticed an item of functional beauty, dominant in the ”Ëjunk-shop’ window. An iron beast; a gargantuan metallic creature that promised to help us carve a niche in the Manchester punk scene.
It was a printing machine. A vast and, to our eyes, iconic device, complete with complex skeletal arms, levers and dials. At ÃÂ£20, it seemed a bargain, even then and we clung to that notion as we stumbled through the stream of startled afternoon shoppers, straining at the weight and spilling here and there, blobs of lurid green ink that, 30 years later, will probably still decorate those pavements.
Of course, we were late to the fanzine scene, even in Manchester, which lagged several months behind the London visionaries. We had made connections though. Drifting down to Manchester’s Ranch Bar on Dale Street of an evening, engaging in light punk banter with flop-hair bartender, Steve Shy, already ahead of our game as he rather forcibly sold his perceptive scene-pushing ”Ëzine, Shy Talk, from that very bar. Clustered around, night by night, would be elements of Manchester big three”Â¦.Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and The Drones. Flickering around them”Â¦faces of the punk night”Â¦Denise, Allan, Francis, Ian, Sue”Â¦and Paul Morley, all braving the prevailing ”Ëblackness’ of the warehouse districtÃÂ to skim down the stairs to this cubic cellar bar, famously adjoining Frankie Foo Foo Lammarr’s ”Ëhen party’ lounge. The air of illicit glam still hanging in the air, adding a frisson that exploded during the invasive moment when the Teddy Boys ”â curiously aggrieved at punk’s bastardisation of their clothing ”â entered abruptly with violence in their heads.
This Orwellian demonisation of punks- by and large one of the more harmless of youth tribes ”â had been so famously fuelled by the Pistol-baiting tabloids in wake of Thames Television’s ”ËGrundy incident’. Unfortunately, indignant public disapproval had filtered stupidly into the provinces and Manchester’s dark city heart only served to encourage this.
Most extreme, perhaps, would be the mile-and-a-half Sunday evening wander towards the Electric Circus in Collyhurst, to the north of the city. Today, a network of featureless housing estates and retail parks. Back then a suitably punkish apocalyptic vision of bombsite proportions and peppered with steely ”Ënorth Manc’ pubs housing, more often than not, a motley cross-section ofÃÂ locals, lacking in liberal acceptance. The glittery moveable feast of The Ranch Bar would often be seen straggling along this treacherous walk-way like strings of exotic tropical fish, garish in their electric blue Mohair jumpers and, yes, ripped green velvet jackets. Glimpsing this world through the now distanced eye of Kevin Cummins’ perceptive lens is possible by glancing at the Electric Circus shot in his book, ”ËLooking at the LightÃÂ through the Pouring Rain’,ÃÂ where weary stragglers, lined the unappealing building awaiting entrance. The occasion captured by that photograph ”â October 2 1977 ”â would see the second of a two-night closure gig at the Circus”Â¦and the moment of Kevin’s ”Ëclick’ would be preceded by an excitable and whirling Paul Morley teasing rather sullen yours truly by exclaiming “What are you doing out here”Â¦everybody who is anybody is already in.”Â That hinge moment would echo down the decades”Â¦and still makes me smile”Â¦and cringe.
We had known Paul Morley for a year or so”Â¦perhaps more, as he had inhabited the same dour pre-punk Stockport precinct as ourselves. See him in pre-spike-haired mode, loon-panted and Bohemian hippyfied, lank haired and gangly, mooching past WH Smiths bass guitar by his side, talking loudly of the MC5 and The Stooges”Â¦dancing with him down at The Oaks pub in Chorlton while Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ thumped through a set of striking power chords”Â¦pulling him away from a disinterested, stunning and gloriously aloof Siousxie Sioux, in the same venue.
“Come and see our band,”Â he pleaded, to Siousxie departing bob, “We are really good.”Â
Her glance suggested a powerful disapproval. Her distance immediately erotic. Untouchable, serene, gloriously disinterested in any kind of punky camaraderie, Within seconds she had fled the pub, a Transit van van ferrying her down Barlow Moor Road, to the M 56 and the comparative safety of a closted and insular London scene.
Back in the north, within the tight confines of Manchester punk, Morley would continue ÃÂ inject a constant stream of unlikely intelligent thought”Â¦inspiringly so, I would say, although his attentions would ÃÂ also soon turn dismissively towards the glamorous allure of London. Nevertheless, he did occasionally provide practical assistance as we struggled to discover material for Ghast Up. ÃÂ It was also in The Oaks pub that he forcibly grasped Knox, front-man of London pretend-punks, The Vibrators and hurled him before our feet stating loudly, “Band”Â¦fanzine”Â¦INTERVIEW! NOW!”Â
And so we did.
For several months, Morley had already been adding colour to the Manchester scene via his frequent notices in rear pages of the NME”Â¦an organ that recognised the bubbling north with little more than a token degree of reluctance.
“They don’t give a fucking shit,”Â Morley bluntly informed us.
In his hand, a copy of the very organ,
“Look at this shite?”Â
We were riding the hinge moment of the short punk era. Talent and tension, unfolding, exploding in every British city. You almost feel the ”Ëedge’”Â¦.you knew, be it at a gig in Leeds, Sheffield, London or Manchester, that you had been lucky enough to experience a moment, and only a moment, that would never happen again.
And yet the NME’s cover story, on that week? A lengthy appreciation of BB King.
“I keep telling them”Â¦they got to get rid of writers with fucking afros,”Â stated Morley,
To universal agreement.
We were standing in Covent Garden’s Roxy Club. Dank, blackened, shadowy centre of London punk. A knot of Mancs, nervously tripping down the stairs, noticing those London faces”Â¦Jane Suck”Â¦Tony Parsons ”â later seen smashing a chair, presumably in protest at the club’s change of ownership. The occasion was the debut London gig by our Manchester’s ÃÂ Drones”Â¦at this point enthusiastically managed by Morley. The Drones, tacked onto the foot of the bill featuring Swindon sophisticates XTC, would prove shambolic”Â¦indeed, a rush of songs concluding with a frenetic version of The Stooges ”ËSearch and Destroy, during which the Scottish contingent from Ripped and Torn fanzine would fall into an unwise scuffle with Drones roadie, Serge. Thankfully the tension settled as the music crumbled to an inglorious halt, singer MJ Drone pleading for the fighting to stop. It did, but The Drones had failed to scale the heights of their recent Manchester gigs and, by the time XTC took the stage, there set had crumbled into memory.
“They were just a drone,”Â came the one-line review in Ripped and Torn.
“Well, they fucking would say that, wouldn’t they?”Â, replied Drones guitarist Gus Gangrene, over a pint in Manchester’s Band on the Wall”Â¦
After the clamour and bang of the Electric Circus’s closing weekend”Â¦.after the sheer dizzying thrust and throbbing of that mass celebration; a postulating, swaying mass that would echo so profoundly down the decades to the rocking Hacienda of if it’s Madchester peak”Â¦.after triumph and ecstasy of those two days”Â¦.after all this, came the void. A Manchester ofÃÂ pitiful venues, spitting and choking into the Autumn, with only the perennial Band on the Wall offering regular evenings. This was the darkness and silence of a city scene that has pushed beyond the thrill of the hype. Even the fanzines ”â Shy Talk, Ghast Up and Girl Trouble ”â seemed to quietly, meekly fold into silence.
In tune with the prevailing mood, Mick Hucknall felt suitably depressed in the wake of The Electric Circus. His only regular musical foray hanging on Monday evening forays to the Band on the Wall, where he would drift to beery somnolenceÃÂ while soaking in the ragged post-hippy dirges from badly garbed pretenders from Ramsbottom”Â¦band’s that would fuse the opulent sartorialÃÂ elegance of Gentle Giant with the punk thrash and thrust ofÃÂ Emerson Lake and Palmer, In short, they had yet to surf any kind of recognisable zeitgeist and remained lost in dirges and head bobbing. Not that Hucknall minded too much. He would hang to the coat-tails of booker and ”â for want of a professional song spinner ”â DJ, Steve Forster”Â¦blonde, intelligent and willing to play slabs of dub reggae for the ears of this precocious red headed Dentonian. And as such, the dreamy semi-consciousness was suitably sound tracked by Augustus Pablo ”â ”ËKing Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown ”â Junior Murvin ”â”ËPolice and Thieves’ÃÂ Cultures mercurial ”ËTwo Sevens Clash’,ÃÂ an enigmatic warping ofÃÂ prophecy and scripture which, unlike most of the Band on the Wall live bands, seemed to sweetly capture the moment,
Hucknall managed to catch a smattering of city centre gigs, most notably at Rafters, a rectangular cellar-bar and ex folk club, run by soul-singing entrepreneur, Dougie James. At Rafters he enjoyed spirited performances by Elvis Costello of ”ËMy Aim is True’ Vintage, Glen Matlock and Midge Ure’s spirited power pop act, The Rich Kids and the suitably warped punk cabaret of New York’s legendary Wayne County, fresh into his own love affair with the city.
However, Hucknall most famous outing as a plain and dowdy punk came via a beery trip to the Elizabethan Suite at Belle Vue. This decaying fairground complex, zoo and speedway stadiaÃÂ was not without its romantic allure. It had boomed in the early to mid twentieth century as a natural magnet for Manchester Bank Holiday trippers. During the early sixties it had even existed as an integral outlet for the bands of post ”âMerseybeat, with Pete Maclaine and the Clan, The Mindbenders and The Toggery Five performing amid the chrome and glitter of the Zoobydoo disco.
In the early seventies, though a dying beast, Belle Vue , enjoyed a last flutter of fame as the fairground set for films ”ËThat’ll Be the Day’ and ”ËStardust’. In addition, the central circus venue, The King’s Hall even challenged the Free Trade Hall as the cities premier rock venue, providing legendary sets from Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, The Who (twice), The Rolling Stones and, most riotous of all, The Osmonds.
Hucknall’s punk excursion, however, was not to King’s Hall but toÃÂ featureless banqueting suits, The Elizabethan. In his defence, it was a wholly innocent venture that, much to his latter-day embarrassment, would see him captured in frenzied mid-pogo by the intrusive cameras of Granada Television. In later years, whenever Granada chose to wheel out some dated punk footage, they would show the same clip”Â¦Hucknall eerily and jerkily frozen in frame, his recognisable features bouncing amid the crazed, sweat-stained faces, leering, screaming , spitting at the black clad figure of Joe Strummer, and strutting the stage in handsome aplomb.
The Belle Vue Clash gig was a punk showcase, organised specifically with the Granada film in mind. The film would be spliced into fractured segments and duly scattered across the second series of Tony Wilson’s ”ËSo It Goes’”Â¦.
There must a hundred”Â¦hundred and fifty vociferous sub-punks huddled like limpets to the outside doors and wall of the Elizabethan. Four hundred already inside. We stood with the limpets. Unholy knot of new wave. Dubious substances and darkening shouts. A scuffle to the front”Â¦two bouncers, ten punks. Scuffle and a surge. Jeff Noon had joined our gang. Out of Ashton-Under-Lyne and urging involvement, Jeff had met us on one previous occasion. Travelling, by bus, from Ashton to Woodley, he met martin and myself in the Boot’n’Clogger pub. Intent on attaining the social heights of ”Ëfanzine’ editor, he came armed with a series of earnest questions on printing, writing, distributing”Â¦he also informed us of his vivid imagination. Inside his head he had created a punk band, a set of songs and, as he drifted to sleep, the band in his head would play out full sets, often ending in a state of riotous abandonment. We might have guessed. On day Jeff would become an internationally recognised writer of warped and magical post sci-fi realism. (a career, literally, triggered by a day job at Waterstones, Deansgate). No such literary twists at Belle Vue. To our delight, Jeff had arrived arm in arm with his strikingly beautiful punkette girlfriend. Full on fishnets and leather mini, broad smile and infectious bubble of personality. Simultaneously, she lightened the mood and darkened the sexual undertone.
And”Â¦at once, something snapped. Two more scuffles and s shout rang out.”ÂTHE FIRE DOORS ARE OPEN”Â.ÃÂ One hundred punks fell into an instantaneous scramble to the rear of the rectangular building. Where two large fire doors gaped horribly, exposing the darkness of the inner ballroom. Scrambling through this bottle-neck, tumbling over the bar and hurtling into the ballroom, swiftly mingling with the crowd, falling, laughing and scuttling among the crushed plastic pint pots.
“This one is called”Â¦..GETTIN IN FER NUTHIN”Â , Joe Strummer would later scream, hurling the band into ”ËLondon’s Burning.’
At the front, punching the air and shrugging-off a pogoing pack grasping his shoulders, the ecstatic figure of Mick Hucknall.