2 7²s clash, part 2 of an epic diary of the punk years – by Mick Middles

The Buzzcocks

Mick Middles (whose books on the Stone Roses and many others are well worth seeking out on Amazon) was the key documenter of Manchester music in the punk years. He watched as the city took punk and turned it into post punk. he was there for the growing pains of the Fall, Joy Division, Buzzcocks and the Smiths. This epic diary details what seems like a long lost time as distant as Victorian England but as still as exciting and revolutionary.

Two Sevens Clash

Adventures in punk Manchester, part two

We had heard of The Fall. Seen their shadows at the corner of student bars. Dressed as drab as anti-stars could be. Anoraks and shapeless jeans, straggle hair and distant smirks. We had initially approached guitarist Martin Bramah”¦.literally door-stepping him at the Virgin Records store on Lever Street. He proved suitably aloof, shrugging away our request for an interview. Shuffling out onto the street, closely followed by a earnest French music writer, over in Manchester to glean material for a book that we knew would never surface.

Admitting that Bramah had been stolen from our grasp, we stalked the dank, darkly-lit store, settling down on the aircraft seats to the rear, listening  to The Stooges ”˜Raw Power’; through giant headphones. That was the Virgin vibe, back then. Low lights, high music, sullen punters gathered around the rear. The hippy vibe continuing from the mid-seventies when we would be gently sold the hip albums of the day ”“ Little Feat’s ”˜Feats Don’t Fail Me Now’, Dr Feelgood’s ”˜Down By the Jetty’”¦.hell, we had even purchased our ”˜Led Zep at Earl Court’ tickets from the loon-panted croon at that very counter, his ironic smirk all that was needed to inform us that ”˜Led Zep’s’ hip credentials had started to fade.  You had to be careful in Virgin, in those days, for it was the very essence of downbeat cool.

Punk, it must be stated, had thrown this empire into a state of considerable confusion. Now that we spike tops  had stormed the palace, the counter staff retreated from the defiance of their pro-Gong and Henry Cow stable.  Tables had been turned. We demanded Stooges, Patti, Ramones and whatever English punk singles had started to leak out”¦Buzzcocks ”˜Spiral Scratch’ was stuck on eternal play”¦.and, to our astonishment, Buzzcoks too had become regulars on the Virgin seats, spilling stories here and there about encounters with The Sex Pistols and The Damned, holding court and enjoying the energising flash of   recognition”¦of  celebrity. Naturally, having conducted just one inept interview with the band, we gathered them up and placed them within our expanding ”˜mates’ box.

Two hours prior to meeting Buzzcocks for the first time, Martin and myself had been downing double-scotches in a  Deansgate pub. The arrangement was to meet the band at 2pm in a similar establishment, The Abercrombie, within lurching distance of The Free Trade Hall,               .

The abrupt whisky session had been an attempt to summon forth a little Dutch courage”¦for this was to be our first interview for the first issue of Ghast Up. As such, it didn’t actually exist. Beyond a  vague notion at the back of our heads.

Up until this moment”¦for us, this precise moment, pop stars had lived lives on a different level of existence, wholly aloof from any recognisable trace of reality, jetting hither and thither; skipping from hotel to gig”¦allowing only the highest ranking music scribes an occasional glimpse of that rarefied air. Punk, of course, famously shattered this illusion, bringing the stars of the day down to the bar, lumping them deeply within the crowd. The flaw in the levelling was, of course, that (secretly) most members of punk bands yearned for a pre punk high life, while expressing the pretence of being firmly and happily ”˜on the streets’.

However, we were to meet Buzzcocks. They had, for godsake, performed with ”˜the Pistols’ in Manchester and London”¦they had even featured on the pages of ”˜Sniffin’ Glue’ and, albeit by Paul Morley, within ”˜lives’ section of the NME. Obviously”¦obviously our naïve pre-conceptions were to be duly shattered. We had anticipated a meeting with four examples of super-cool glitterati!

Eventually meeting Buzzcocks proved instantly sobering. Sitting in The Abercrombie pub deflecting jibes from a clearly insane landlady and lost in the realisation that we were just about to spend two hours with a band”¦.well, we had seen them in The Ranch, at the Band on the Wall”¦ but the notion of sitting purposefully opposite a band of some fame”¦well that was an all new concept.

And so we sat nervously”¦.and as the doors burst open, four ungainly lads stood before us. Pete Shelley,  inconceivably  garbed in pink flared corduroys and an orange Cagoule.  .

Steve Diggle, oikish and bubbling with schoolboy giggles, wore a blazer, jeans and Dunlop Red Flash pumps. John Maher”¦polite, faintly sullen, thoughtful”¦looking for all the world as if he had just attended a Maths O’Level exam.

And then came Garth! Who the hell was Garth? We had no prior warning that Buzzcocks had added a new bassist, let alone one of such unlikely poise, stature and attitude.

He was, indeed, a grim faced and blessed with rugby ”“ player girth. What’s more and,  as he would repeatedly demonstrate during the interview, a somewhat less than liberal attitude towards people from Yorkshire. (“White rose bastards”¦”), Buzzcock producer Martin Zero (Hannett) (“A twat. That’s the last time HE produces Buzzcocks”), Paul Morley (“A wanker. Gonna batter ”˜im”) and, indeed, fans of the band (“Cunts! All of them”).

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it  but something told me that Garth might not become a long-term member of  this band.

“OK then” said Shelley, settling before his Coke on ice.

“Ask us some questions.”

Questions?

I glanced nervously at Martin.

He stared blankly back.

Questions?

WE hadn’t thought of that. Of the fact that a rock interview would require”¦erm”¦questions. Well, obviously we HAD, but we just kind of expected them to naturally flow.

“Well”¦.” I shuffled nervously on my seat..what the hell was a good question to ask a band?

“Are you a political band?” I blurted.

To silence.

And then”¦a Shelley answer.

“Well, I live, therefore I am,” came his reply”¦and somewhat smartarse it was, too, I recall thinking.

We allowed that to swill around for a while.

“OK”¦.erm”¦.what are The Sex Pistols like?”

“Ordinary guys.”

“Well, no they are NOT ordinary are they,” said Garth.

“They are a bunch of fucking freaks.”

We  eventually bundled out of the pub and darted, like a small school of unruly fish, hither and thither through the streets towards Albert Square. Martin, adopting his role of ”˜official Ghast Up’ photographer, held the Ghast Up Polaroid  aloft,  snapping and peeling away rough, blurred images, half a Buzzcock head here”¦John Maher’s left arm there, Garth’s stomach there.

“Don’t matter if the pics aren’t in focus. I’ll make a drawing of them,” he stated, leaning mildly on his art school past. It was a curious trick of his, to demote a photograph to a roughly hewn pen and ink drawing. (When he made the same remark in front of Paul Morley and Kevin Cummins at The Oaks, Cummins ”“ no doubt somewhat insulted by the fact that someone might make a ”˜drawing’ from one of his photos ”“ creased with laughter.  Surprisingly, Morley leapt to our defence.

“No, that’s good”¦that’s artlessness” he stated.

I liked that. We liked to feel ”˜artless’.

“Yes, it’s a deliberate artless state. That’s what punk is. Tearing down the traditional walls and aesthetic structures. Creating a  rubble. Punk is the rubble.”

I recall staring blankly at Martin. “What the fuck is he talking about?”)

Half ”“ caste Paul stood by the roadside. Forlorn. Lost in a trance, Swathed from head to toe in white bandage. Yellow hair. Light bulb dangling from earlobe. Looking like he had crawled from a swamp. It was Pennine Moreland, swirled about by mist rather than drizzled upon. Paul was complaining that no one would stop and offer him a lift. Who, we wondered, in their right mind would do anything other than immediately speed up while slamming shut the door locks”¦the sight of living-dead punkdom stretching towards your car door, as if in some downbeat horror flick. Of course, we knew Paul”¦an Electric Circus regular trudging slowly towards Sheffield. Steely intent on catching The Drones in proud support of The Stranglers at the Top Rank. A link had been forged between Drones and Stranglers”¦.the Finchley chaps seen partying in Stretford and Chorlton alongside MJ Drone and brother Peter. Falling down Barlow Moor Road afterwards, Hugh Cornwell lurching towards shivering punkette in true Stranglers pro sexist fashion, falling through gutters of Chorltonville, laughing in the corners of darkened bars telling tales of bands on the run. The Stranglers seeping into Manchester..never truly punks, of course, but we forgave them and basked in the shadows of their celebrity.

MJ Drone, Drones bassist Whisper, Steve Shy and, now, Paul, now crammed into my Ford Escort”¦raucous carriage, flashing speed about, swilling and beery banter. At the Sheffield burger bar, MJ would flirt with unimpressed waitress, informing her that “I will have to perform later”. Not entirely sure that she realised it would be on the Top Rank stage.

Good that night, though. New song, ”˜City Drones’ slotting next to the surly ”˜Look-alikes’. MJ, locked in a back-arched limbo, allowing his fly zip to spring open, two punkettes licking lips and glowing. The scene would flow through to John Jacques Burnell’s machismo posing throughout The Stranglers set.

“Not sure about this sexist slant” I Told MJ.

“Not to punk”¦you know”¦punk is pro-women.”

“So am I, maan,,,,so am I,” claimed MJ, though none too convincingly.

We picked Bernard up at 7pm in Failsworth. Clad in a purple T-shirt, artfully ripped in the Richard Hell tradition, safety pin hanging precariously from his left ear”¦the back door of our car swinging open, slamming closed with Bernard sprawled on the rear seat”¦””¦quick go”¦go”¦GOOOO” he screamed in the manner of one who had just held up the local Trustee Savings Bank. He hadn’t actually attempted such a thing although, thinking back down the years, we were not fully convinced by his tale to the effect that a loose knot of ”˜skins’ had been chasing him down Oldham Road, flashing knives and cherry reds. We didn’t actually SEE these alleged punk baiters although Bernard’s state of agitation certainly suggested some kind of genuine escape.

The occasion was a trip to catch The Damned at the cubic Middleton Civic Hall. Hardly the archetypal punk venue and somewhat lacking the peeling downbeat splendour of The Electric Circus. Nevertheless, the sixties brickwork would soon rumble to the familiar ferocity of The Damned”¦arguably the most adept of punk thrusters and regular visitors to Manchester since that unholy night at, of all places, The Electric Circus in December ’76. (Curious gig that, stepping in as last minute replacements for willowy proggers ”˜The Enid’ (who had mysteriously gained a passionate reactionary following in the Manchester area), The Damned found themselves performing before a baying mob”¦a swaying mass of swirling long hair, greaser belts and clenched fists, all seemingly intent on kicking punk ass”¦and indeed, who better to attack than the unusually tentative Scabies, Varian, Sensible and James, who trashed as swiftly as possible through a set while glasses smashed onstage with terrifying regularity? That only Rat Scabies sustained serious injury ”“ blood gushing from stitch able cut in his hand, was little short of a miracle. One of the ”˜quaint’ features of The Electric Circus was that, to get from dressing room to stage and, more interesting, from stage to dressing room, the artists had to leapt directly through the crowd. In this case, and beneath an inglorious chorus of ”˜SHIT SHIT SHIT’ . The Damned shunted through a gauntlet of crashing fists, spit, glass and splintered items of furniture.

“Backstage, a deeply inebriated Captain Sensible was found collapsed in a fit of demonic laughter while, not entirely tuned in to the Captain’s absurd irony, Rat Scabies, red faced and seething, seemed more than ready to return to the fray armed with the sizeable metal bar he had conveniently discovered by the dressing room door. Downstairs the latent hippies scurrying around the dance-floor to the sound of Black Sabbath’s ”˜Paranoid’”¦to my ears, this fabulous rumble sounded not unlike”¦well..The Damned)

No such risible angst at Middleton Civic Hall. Manchester had forgiven The Damned and, it clearly seemed, vice-versa. The mood remained ferociously light-hearted, the swirling stage-front mush remaining joyously rampant. We ”“ literally ”“ hurled into and found ourselves sprawling across the floor with a stick-thin alien glam fiend named Stuart. This strange-thing-by-night turned out, and much to the surprise of Martin and I, to be one Stuart Grimshaw, one time rather nerdy pupil at our old school in Bredbury. Through a series of unlikely and rather wild youth fads ”“ Man U hooligan in spray painted boiler suit ”“ lounge lizz in double breasted suit of the Bryan Ferry school among them ”“ he had arrived at a garish and arresting punk/glam hybrid, his legs clasped in electric blue spandex topped by sparkling yellow leather jacket. Even in a room full of  examples of extreme punk apparel, he managed to look curiously defiant. Men in leather and studs would eye him suspiciously. Stuart had been following a dream by hammering out basic chords on his Woolworths guitar. Soon his eye-catching appearing would add verve and spice to Alien Tint, a kind of  extension of his post Bowie vision. They would flicker briefly ”“ alongside the equally glammed V2 ”“ of more later ”“ and spawn the heady young Martin Moscrop, later to emerge suitably funked within the ranks of A Certain Ratio.

The Middleton Civic gig concluded not with a defiant repeated chord, but an ungainly clatter, as our new friend, Bernard, was  hurled himself from balcony to dance-floor in an act of abandon so reckless that, thirty three years later, it still seems to verge on the insane. Whether he was expecting to be cushioned by the crowd or not, I couldn’t say. Naturally they parted instantly, allowing him to crash horribly onto the wooden floor.

Brushing himself down and, glowing with bravado, he ran towards us.

“That was fantastic, wasn’t it”¦.are we off to The Ranch now?”.

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