Mick Middles punk diary – part 5


Two Sevens Clash

Manchester punk diaries 1977/78

Part five


A love affair with mohair. It began, as many things did, with a photograph. Johnny Rotten looning in a mohair jumper. Leather trousers and motorcycle boots completing the unlikely ensemble. It may not, in retrospect, seem like a winning combo”¦but Johnny had a unique panache. Somewhat ironically, the trend for mohair jumpers had evolved from the soul clubs of South London before transposing spectacularly into punk.

Rotten was the ultimate punk model and, from the distance of our parochial outpost, we could only make often rather crass, if not weird attempts to emulate.

But we tried.

With this spirit in mind, I commissioned my mother to begin knitting”¦.and she did. I doubt if Vivienne Westwood would be unduly concerned but, from her front room in Disley she produced two splendid items of startlingly garish punk attire. The most daring being set in orange wool so bright that, within the context of Stockport’s greying backdrop, attained a day-glo effect. It was also oversized and, with the help of any kind of breeze, would billow out before me. Given that my legs were clasped in skin tight Wranglers and feet clumped in ”˜brothel creepers’, I attained the look of some bulbous exotic bird. Needless to say and, for all her supportive intentions, my mother had created a monster”¦turning her son into a magnet for all the reactionary nutters in Greater Manchester. Her second mohair creation, a tight fitting turquoise affair, seemed rather safer.

However, that wasn’t the full extent of Mohair problems. This was, after all, a particularly warm June/July and, in such heat, mohair’s natural prickly nature would range from mild discomfort to raging pain. A pain exaggerated ten-fold if the wearer fell into a stage front pogo. It is difficult to imagine a more thoroughly unsuitable item of attire. I managed two spicy months in mohair”¦indeed, that night at The Electric Circus, when Big Dave grabbed the rear of my orange affair and hurled me viciously to the floor. Within seconds a pile of bodies of varying weights and aromas seemed to take delight in hurling themselves on top of me.

I do not recall wearing the mohair creations in any of the crumbling hostelries that lined the Rochdale Road”¦tempting watering holes for the stream of punk exotica that wandered the two dour miles from the city centre to The Electric Circus. It would be wise, upon entering, to tone down the most obvious ”˜punkisms’”¦flatten the spikes, reign in the verbals, sit meekly in the corner being foaming pints, deflecting glances from locals resentful of the intrusion. There were occasions when these stop off pubs would provide as much entertainment ”“ if not more ”“ than the actual gigs. Country and western bands would often perform, curiously projecting a red-neck dislike of the unexpected colourful crowd sitting before them. Mostly this was played out in an atmosphere of mild contempt”¦ ”˜Blanket on the Ground’ serving only to prise sneers from punks readying themselves for a set from, say, The Jam, later in the evening. Occasionally, an unlikely rapport would be established between hard-bitten, chiselled faced post rock’n’roll country pub singer and the assembled punks. It was indeed a large divide, though when musicians lost to deadening years on the local cabaret circuit, decided to dip back to the harder rock’n’roll of their youth”¦and become locked in impromptu performances of Gene Vincent and early Elvis numbers, a link established on the North Manchester desert.

One of the regulars, in and around the hostelries”¦indeed, a face omnipresent in Manchester punk venues”¦every gig, it seemed, cheered by his presence was the legendary John the Postman. Always one ready to bless or castigate any band”¦always on hand for Buzzcocks and The Fall his post-gig renditions of Louie Louie serving to cement him to the scene, eternally, it seems. John’s rambling warble became tacked neatly to any encore, allowing the Manchester punks a further ten minutes of rather daft revelry”¦several layers of inebriation; a speeding system, clutching to and screaming at the guy ”“ or girl – next you like some unwelcome drunk on the train hall. The joke started to extend with the mild fame granted by Morley incessant reviews until the day at The Squat Club on Devas Street”¦ the day when John the Postman’s heady rant had formed into a band set”¦..Puerile was the name. Yeah. We grabbed the guitarist afterwards”¦.afterwards in the ramshackle toilets, laughing and slapping with him, attempting to share the joke.

“Is not joke, maan,” he told us.

“Puerile are for real. Do you know what puerile means”¦it is what we all are. We are going for it. Going all the way.”

This seemed instantly shocking to us. The notion that John’s cheery chant and rants could have formed into a serious attempt at some kind of career path. Looking back, I am not even sure why, for less charismatic performers had forged a way through the murk. But John, we believed ”“ like The Worst ”“ was one of us. Buzzcocks, by contrast, were obviously hell bent on pop stardom.

“No they aren’t,” argued Kevin Cummins when we made this point.

“Buzzcocks are for real”¦they aren’t doing this for a career”¦”

“Yeah they are,”

“No they aren’t”

“Let’s ask one”¦”

Grabbing the nearest Buzzcock ”“ Drummer John Maher, as it turned out we posed the simple question.

“John”¦do you wanna be a pop star?”

“Yeah”¦yes, of course,”

Hah! What did photographers know?

This tiny intercourse took place down the stair at Rafters Club on Oxford Road. This rectangular room, once a folk club, fleetingly a cabaret venue and, of occasion, a gay disco, had emerged as Manchester’s most adventurous city centre venues, hosting the talents of Buzzcocks, Elvis Costello and, on this occasion, Generation X. Ah yes Gen X”¦.Billy Idol, Tony James and all. Boy how we sneered at them during the sound check. Cockney fucking posers, flashing Westwood threads and leather trews. Hairdresser punk that still rocked. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been so vocal. After all, Generation X ”“ or, indeed, Charisma Records – had actually purchased a full page advert in Ghast Up. Our first, proudly screaming for attention of their debut single, and gifting us a valuable twenty quid”¦.even if we had to grapple their manager to The Rafters floor ”“ this is true ”“ to prise it from his hands.

“That’s NOT how it works,” he pleaded.

“You need to send an invoice.”

“Fuck that mate”¦we aint businessmen”¦give us the twenty.”

Incredibly, he did.

Oh our belligerence was as phoney as Billy Idol’s hair, to be strictly truthful. What’s more, as stated, Gen X actually stormed Rafters on that night, reducing at least two members of Slaughter and the Dogs to a jerky aromatic huddle in the centre of the dance floor.

When punk met hippy. When the anarchic edges of both simply blurred. Could have been at a Fall gig, or down the Band on the Wall during an impromptu set by the Manchester Mekon (Lost Manc song, ”˜Cake Shop Device’). Could have been the loose co-operative element of the Alternative TV/ Here and Now tour”¦could have been The Stranglers. Could have been Johnny Rotten claiming his favourite band to be Hawkwind. Could have been the link between London punk and the Ladbroke Grove Pink Fairies/Deviants/UFO scene of the early seventies”¦a scene paralleled in Manchester by the aforementioned Tosh Ryan fired Music Force promotions of the mid seventies that segued into Rabid Records and Slaughter and the Dogs. Of more later.

 

Up in the north, one festival, held over three days on the four years that ranged from pre to post punk seemed to most perfectly capture this largely unwritten link”¦this spirit that actually made punk a continuum rather than a revolution. The festival, Deeply Vale, was held in the Pennine Moreland above the eccentric town of Rochdale”¦indeed some would claim it to have exploded directly from that idiosyncratic town.

At its pre-punk inception, Deeply Vale managed to entice the genuine Nomadic hippy trail up from scattered enclaves of France and Morocco. It was edgy rather than chilled, although the hippy aspect did cause consternation in our Woodley punk enclave.

“Don’t know about this Rochdale festival”¦bloody ”˜ippies, maan”¦.like Woodstock.”

“Yeah”¦thought we had moved away from all that peace and love shit, “

“Well”¦will be ok”¦will be a day out. Hippies wont bother us”¦don’t think.”

Thirty years later, Deeply Vale organiser Chris Hewitt took me back to the Deeply Vale site. In retrospect, the site seemed miniscule”¦a tiny glade cut ”˜deeply’ into stark. Pretty, utterly remote and, given its almost comic inaccessibility ”“ a mile down a ragged track ”“ completely unsuitable for the staging of festivals. Can’t imagine today’s health and safety Mafioso allowing a festival in a site where ambulances and helicopters would find access difficult.

I attended Deeply twice”¦’77 and ’78 and my memories are jagged snapshots rather than deep fond memories. I recall myself and assorted spike topped mate queuing at the ”˜hot knives’ tent, while not quite understanding what a ”˜hot knife’ was. I am not going to delve too deeply into that”¦suffice to say, that was partly the reason why memory is so clouded.

However, 1978 was a whole different set of circumstances. On the Sunday, I was picked up from my Disley house by Tony (TJ) Davidson. Tony was nothing if not fascinating blend”¦.good looking occasional football hooly and, most famously, owner of the TJ Davidson rehearsal studies on Manchester’s Little Peter Street. (Two doors away from the eventual site of The Boardwalk). TJ’s was a set of dank rooms, largely painted a deep brown”¦this sombre setting proving bizarrely perfect for Kevin Cummins iconic photographs of Joy Division, initially taken for Sounds magazine. But beyond Joy Division, the growing blend of disparate bands would be locked in a state of murky practice”¦just hanging in the building would see you in conversation with members of Linder Sterling’s extraordinary Ludus, with glam rockers V2, the soulful, power pop band The Distractions, The Fall, Private Sector, Ed Banger and the Nosebleeds”¦indeed, many of the acts that would troop to Rochdale, excited to be performing at any kind of festival. Sitting centrally in this hugely evocative building, would be TJ himself, literally amid the bands that would start to cluster on his own TJM label.

 

Tony was ”“ and is ”“ likeably roguish”¦and something of a paradox. Back then, he lived with his wife in a lovely house in leafy Marple….what’s more, he would spout punk ethics while driving his Lotus Eclat. To my delight, he also took me for regular trips to Manchester’s Playboy Club. Not, it might latterly seem, the most PC of evenings, but back in the seventies”¦.almost the best fun one could have in a comparably austere and still soot-blackened city centre. I didn’t complain.

I didn’t complain, either, when Tony picked me up in Disley and headed for the hills of Rochdale; literally hurtling off Barton Bridge at 110mph, the Eclat powering on, laden with freshly minted copies of The Distractions’ soon-to-be-legendary ”˜You Are Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP.

I had visited the festival site on the previous day”¦soaking in a ramshackle set from The Fall, among others. My little Fiat had struggled as it bounce along the farm-track, suffering two impromptu police drug searches (Quite absurd, considering the amount of chemical consumption taking place, unchecked, in the lower field).

Because of the previous foray, I was quietly confident of guiding Tony and his Lotus serenely to the heart of the festival site. Mulling on this, I instructed him to turn left on to the farm track.

That day, I discovered a great deal about a top of the range Lotus. Being aerodynamic and low slung, it is not the perfect vehicle in which to traverse a rock laden farm track. Especially, as the farm track in question slowly snaked for two worsening miles, loosening and, eventually, snapping the Lotus exhaust clean away from its holdings, scattering a loose array of piping across the rocks and mud.

“Tell me,” said Tony”¦.calm as you like.

“Tell me, Mick that you haven’t brought me down the wrong farm-track.”

Somewhere, in an adjacent vale, The Distractions were taking the stage.

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