Two Sevens Clash. Mick Middles Adventures in Manchester punk 1976/77/ 78, Part four.
A brick exploded at my feet. And another one”Â¦ and another. We turned sideways to be greeted by impassive police sneers. Beyond them, contorted angry faces. Sneers and rants. Insults hurling through the air, random as the brick.
“WHHIIIITEEEEE NEEEEEEGGAAAAARSSSSSS”Â one of them sneered. I caught a full-on glance at his features. They were shocking. I had expected the shaven headed tattooed, booted and combatted norm. But he was besuited and sunglassed”Â¦chinos perhaps. He seemed moneyed and relaxed. True enough, those around him seemed more in keeping with out vision of the fringe elements of the NF. Bleached Wranglers, Harringtons and cherry reds. But his was the face I carried with me, inexplicable as it was”Â¦and lost in a cycle of hatred that threatened to engulf the city, the country. Sad to say, the divide continues still. Perhaps it always will, always did.
“Know warrah mean.”Â
People all around me were spinning in that sad cycle. We were down in Hackney, down in Bethnall Green for the hugely hyped Rock-Against Racism rally. Back in Manchester, we had attended many RAR gigs. Falling in line to the reggae of Lancaster’s China Street, or laughing to the vitriol of John Cooper Clarke, our Salfordian bard who, more than any of the artists we would see in Hackney’s Victoria Park, who deliver a more holistic view.
Not that we were anything less than committed. To accentuate this, our punk gigs were surrounded with heavy dub.
These were the punk wars. We were naÃÂ¯ve and rather too easily led although our hearts ”â most of us ”â were still in the correct place. For that reason, the 100,000 strong ”â reports vary – march through East London largely served to swing the youth majority away from that appalling right wing extreme.
For a while, as the crowd swung vociferously past some of the most notorious ”Ëboozers’. in East End folklore, it seemed as if the police cordon would splinter, allowing the rival factions to surge into full-on street battle. Two or three times this scene exploded before our startled eyes. Two or three times the police, and to their credit, manage to force their way into the heart of the trouble… two or three times it fizzled to nothing.
In Victoria Park, amid the hoards, we settled before the clanging reggae of Steel pulse, the flash polemic of Tom Robinson and, most famously, we rocked before the fire of The Clash; The Clash! Filmed at the occasion for the loose-but-worthy Rude Boy flick. The press reports would be conclusive. A victory over the dark heart of the London right.
Well maybe… maybe. I sat soaked in the Tom Robinson Band. To the front there was chanting; around us, clenched fists.
“Consternation in Mayfair”Â¦ rioting in Notting Hill Gate”Â¦ Fascists marching on the high street”Â¦”Â sang our Tom.
My mind flashed back five full years. Another field. Another stage. A rain soaked, mud splattered scene on a Lancashire slag heap. Before the straggle-haired, damp, look-panted hoards, a figure hunched over a Martin guitar. His hair swept back from his high forehead. His set was enjoyable- strong melodies, deep polemic, his banter affable.
“The best things in life are free”Â¦if you steal them from the bourgeoisie”Â he sang, to resounding cheers. He was indeed fun.
“Give me an F”Â¦ Thank you,”Â he screamed, recalling his glory moment at Woodstock. He was Country Joe MacDonald and, while I warmed to his cheery banter, his set seemed just-that-tiny-bit forced, skimming so effortlessly, so naively across the full spectrum of youth protest. I all seemed so neat, so compartmentalised, and so wholly unrealistic. The strange thing was, in a notice in Sounds magazine and, in defence of the new punk vision, I had referred to that days spent beneath the leaden skies of Bickershaw.
“No rent-a-cause Country Joe Macdonald’s here,”Â I had claimed.
And then, in Victoria Park, I soaked in the sounds, the banter, the thinly spread polemic of the TRB set.
“Nothing’s fucking changed,”Â I told Martin.
While he nodded in agreement, from behind came the back-snapping rush and rush, a full-on punk surge, legs, arms, fists flailing all around as we were lifted off our heels and hurled to domino effect into the backs of those in-front, badly dressed aromatic men scampered over our heads, boots crashing into our ears.
“I tell you, it were foocking crazy,”Â I explained to Big Bad Brinner, back in a Bredbury pub.
“We thought we were gonna die.”Â
“Yeah, right,”Â he sneered.
“Killed by patronising bastards and Mickey Mouse politics.”Â
“Maybe,”Â I shrugged, “Maybe so.”Â
“Was a fuckin’ blast though, man.”Â
Ed Banger was a wag. A punk wag. We knew this even before he emptied the pint of lager over my head. How amusing that was, and his assembled band of Nosebleeds, giggling away like schoolchildren. One of them, Vini Reilly, even dressed as such, taking on board the Angus Young chic. Well, as their Rabid Record single had been entitled, ”ËAint Been To No Music School’, perhaps the image was apt.
I had, I think, angered the Banger by suggesting that the song had been written about Manchester’s Sad CafÃÂ©. Sad CafÃÂ©, solidly backed by Kennedy Street Enterprises, were groomed for America and, to punk ears, firmly represented the old school. I secretly liked them, and still do, although to admit as much in this company would be positively suicidal. After all, Ed had a fearsome reputation to nurture. To this end, the moment he leapt from the stage, screaming “So Paul Morley writes for the NME, so what, SHIT SHIT SHIT”Â before leaping from the stage and chasing the scribe to the Electric Circus’s crumbling walls. The crowd had followed suit, half-heartedly baying for blood, if such a thing is possible. For The Electric Circus crowd were not so fearsome. Not in reality. Not in the dark and certainly not when faced with a deranged and angry vocalist.
Perhaps he was also an unwise choice of interviewee. Rob Gretton didn’t think so and dutifully turned up, pen and pad in hand.
“I want to learn how to do it, how to interview a band,”Â he stated, slowly pushing his glassed up to the bridge of his nose.
Rob was an enigma. He looked like an insurance clerk and yet he, too, carried with him an unlikely reputation as football hooligan, often travelling to Manchester City away game”Â¦hurtling through city centres on Saturday afternoons, chasing or being chased, lost to the heady exhilaration.
“It’s fookin shite, yer mag anyhow,”Â he taunted.
“Shit photos, I can do better than that.”Â
“They are Kevin’s, he a REAL photographer,”Â we countered.
“Yeah, but can’t fucking see them, can you, yer printing’s so bad.”Â
“Hey!”Â screamed Ed Banger.
“I thought you were supposed to be interviewing me, not fucking arguing among yerselves.”Â
He was right, of course. The problem was, what did one ask a man called Ed Banger?
“Are you a political band?”Â
“Oh for God’s sake, we are a PUNK band.”Â
It was a good enough answer. Ed’s vision of punk was, it seemed, an extension of his own personality. Flamboyant, certainly. A loose cannon? Perhaps, if the Morley incident was any indication. More so, perhaps, tales of pub fights in Didsbury served only to cement Ed’s fearsome reputation. His band, less so, Drummer Toby was as affable as it was possible to be, in the Manchester of ’77 and ’78. Likewise, guitarist Vini Reilly, who fought hard to disguise his virtuosity within the band’s rough cut musicality.
As a band member, let alone guitar hero, he seemed ill-fitting, ill-fitting within the entire punk maelstrom, perhaps. For he crossed his legs and assumed the detached demeanour that would one day flavour Durutti Column. Following the abrupt conclusion of the interview, Martin, myself, Vini and Rob tumbled awkwardly into HMV on Market Street. Up the stairs and flicking through the new twelve inchers, procuring U-Roy’s mesmeric version of Bob Marley’s Small Axe from the bookish assistant named Clive Gregson. All around us, it would later seem, future musical luminaries would hover, though not necessarily in the most obvious places.
“I don’t know about the Nosebleeds, but Ed is a star,”Â I concluded. Difficult to imagine how I could have been so wide of the mark, as The Nosebleeds would go on to feature, not just Reilly but The Cult’s Billy Duffy and, most famously, Morrissey.
“That kid from Stretford has written another letter to Shy Talk,”Â stated Steve Shy.
“He keeps doing it, writing more than me.”Â
That was odd, we agreed. At The Buzzcocks/New Hormones party in Chorlton, the ”ËStretford kid ”â Steven Morrissey – sat silently in the kitchen, grimacing only as we continued to press Howard Devoto for a post-Buzzcocks interview. Devoto was devious and cryptic.
“I don’t know, I don’t say, I don’t do, I have no words”Â¦”Â
“Hahah no, and he doesn’t,”Â mumbled Steven from Stretford, somewhat curiously.
“I like Ice Cream New.”Â
That was his response to Shy Talk.
Little of this made any sense.
I scribbled Martin’s name and number on a fag packet.
“Give us a ring if you want to do an interview,”Â I pleaded.
“Will do,”Â he replied.
I am still waiting, as it happens. I would only meet him on one more occasion and that would be 31 years down the line, backstage at a Magazine gig at Bridgewater Hall. A universe away.
As we left the Chorlton party, with Devoto deflecting the attentions of the beautiful and punky Linda Sterling, I swear I felt Steven from Stretford’s gaze burning into the back of my neck.
“I bet he goes on and becomes a fanzine writer,”Â I joked.
Outside, in an otherwise empty street, Paul the punk was laughing alone and for no apparent reason. Chortling in Chorlton.
“Can I cadge a lift?”Â he asked.