Two Sevens Clash

Dispatches from punk Manchester, 1977

If architecture is frozen music then what, one might feasibly ask, could be evoked by the stark concrete slabs of Ashton -Under-Line precinct, circa 1977? A deadening air; stifling concrete slabs and a faded sixties modernity. One could only feel a welling sadness, a dour slump in the heart and hark back to five years prior to this, we had been  Crombie clad and clumpingly Doc Martin-ed. And yes,  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).

And, on this occasion,  more violence in the passing eyes. This time,  a matter of our evidently anti-social clothing. A world away from the bondage-clad poseur tribes of  Chelsea’s King’s Road,  the punk wanabees of Manchester and satellite towns were forced to remain true to the traditions of the area, and make-do and mend”¦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 violence from an given passing numbskull) and Brothel Creepers”¦.a suitably confused selection of fad, I decided and my mate, Martin Ryan, was equally lost to the arduous task of ”˜punking up’ his mundane togs. . Perhaps fittingly so, for we where two achingly ordinary kids out of Stockport ”“ 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 ”˜junk-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 £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 ”˜zine, Shy Talk, from that very bar. Clustered around, night by night, would be elements of Manchester big three”¦.Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs and The Drones. Flickering around them”¦faces of the punk night”¦Denise, Allan, Francis, Ian, Sue”¦and Paul Morley, all braving the prevailing ”˜blackness’ of the warehouse district  to skim down the stairs to this cubic cellar bar, famously adjoining Frankie Foo Foo Lamarr’s ”˜hen 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 ”“ curiously aggrieved at punk’s bastardisation of their clothing ”“ entered abruptly with violence in their heads.

This Orwellian demonisation of punks- by and large one of the more harmless of youth tribes ”“ had been so famously fuelled by the Pistol-baiting tabloids in wake of  Thames Television’s ”˜Grundy 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. Today, a network of featureless housing estates and retail parks. Back then a suitably punkish apocalyptic vision of bombsite proportions and peppered with steely ”˜north Manc’ pubs housing, more often than not, a motley cross-section of  locals, lacking in liberal acceptance. The glittery moveable feast of The Ranch Bar would often be seen straggling along this treacherous walk-way like  string 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, Looking at the Light  through the Pouring Rain,  where weary stragglers, lined the unappealing building awaiting entrance. The occasion captured by that photograph ”“ October 2 1977 ”“ would see the second of a two-night closure gig at the Circus”¦and the moment of Kevin’s ”˜click’ would be preceded by an excitable and whirling Paul Morley teasing rather sullen yours truly by exclaiming “What are you doing out here”¦everybody who is anybody is already in.” That hinge moment would echo down the decades”¦and still makes me smile.

We had known Paul Morley for a year or so”¦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”¦dancing with him down at The Oaks pub in Chorlton while Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers’ thumped through a set of striking power chords”¦pulling him away from a disinterested, stunning and gloriously aloof Siousxie Sioux, in the same venue.

Within the tight confines of Manchester punk, Morley would inject a constant stream of unlikely intelligent thought”¦inspiringly so, I would say, although his attentions would soon turn to London. I was in The Oaks that he forcibly grasped Knox, front man of London sub-punks, The Vibrators and hurled him before our feet stating loudly, “Band”¦fanzine”¦INTERVIEW!” And so we did.

By the start of 1977, Paul Morley had already been adding colour to the Manchester scene via his frequent notices in rear pages of the NME”¦an organ that recognised the bubbling north with little more than a token degree of reluctance.

“They don’t give a fucking shit,” Morley bluntly informed us.

In his hand, a copy of the very organ,

“Look at this shite?”

We were riding the hinge moment of the short punk era. Talent and tension, unfolding, exploding in every British city. You almost feel the ”˜edge’”¦.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”¦they got to get rid of writers with fucking afros,” 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”¦Jane Suck”¦Tony Parsons ”“ later seen smashing a chair, presumably in protest at the club’s change of ownership. The occasion was the debut London gig by our own, Drones”¦at this point enthusiastically managed by Morley. The Drones, tacked onto the foot of the bill featuring Swindon sophisticates XTC, would prove shambolic”¦indeed, a rush of songs concluding with a shambolic version of The Stooges ”˜Search and Destroy, during which the Scottish contingent from Ripped and Torn fanzine would fall into an unwise scuffle with Drones roadie, Searge. 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?”, replied Drones guitarist Gus Gangrene, over a pint in Manchester’s Band on the Wall”¦

To be continued in weekly chunks.

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