Twenty-five years ago a group of punks from Southampton, Totton and Eastleigh put a tenner each in a kitty and decided to put on a gig. Hundreds of gigs and decades later, the one constant member of what became the S.T.E. (who will insist it was a collective effort with everyone playing a part) and the driving force behind it was, and still is, Rich Levene, a modest, unsung hero of DIY punk, hardcore, emo & so on – in Southampton and beyond.
The first local gig I went to in Southampton in 1984 was by Suicide Pact, tuneful anarcho-punks, and the teenage “formation dance troupe” included future Suspect Device fanzine writers and S.T.E. mainstays.
The tragic death of Suicide Pact/Nox Mortis bassist/singer Simon Gregory (a haemophiliac who contracted AIDS from imported factor 8 blood product) in 1988 and later his then-girlfriend Tracy seem to have been the spur behind the S.T.E. Simon was a talented and charismatic sod who set Wilfred Owen poems to music.
What follows, with his trademark capitalisation of band names, is Rich Levenes invitation to the S.T.E.’s 25th birthday on Saturday 29th June 2013 at the Joiners in Southampton, and then, his account of the History of the S.T.E.’s, which he wrote in 2006, which I would like to dedicate to the memory of Simon, Tracey, Steve Burgess and all of the other S.T.E.’s friends and family who are no longer with us, but who glasses will be raised to on the 29th.(Ged)
The first S.T.E. Collective gig in Southampton was on 29th June 1988 with CULTURE SHOCK/HATE THAT SMILE/CORPORATE GRAVE at the West Indian Club (now the African Caribbean Centre in Trinity Road).
Over the years we have put on hundreds of punk/hardcore gigs in Southampton including GREEN DAY, AVAIL, NOFX, JAWBREAKER, BORN AGAINST, MILKY WIMPSHAKE, HUGGY BEAR & many, many more. Justin Young from THE VACCINES played his ever gig as a 14 year old for the S.T.E. in THE MONEY HUNGRY CLERGYMEN and Danny Leigh’s (co-presenter of BBC1’s ‘Film13’) first band SLEEP played gigs for us too, whilst a young Frank Turner and Graham Coxon from BLUR were gig attendees.
All these gigs were organised along D.I.Y. punk principles of mutual trust and co-operation with no contracts, guarantees and the bands often slept on our floors afterwards.
To mark this 25th birthday we are putting on an all-dayer at the Joiners on Saturday 29th June 2013, which will hopefully be a big party & raise some money for the troubled Southampton venue that was at the heart of the S.T.E. for many years. People are coming from all over the country and mainland Europe for the event.
There will be at least one more band playing & all will have some connection (either past or present) to the S.T.E. but the current line-up is:-
VIOLENT ARREST (West Country early 80s style hardcore – ex HERESY/RIPCORD/CAN’T DECIDE/SPITE etc – record release gig for their latest ‘Distorted View’ 12″)
SKIMMER (West Midlands pop-punk with tonnes of records on Crackle! & other labels)
THIRTY SIX STRATEGIES (West Country DC/Dischord inspired tunes – ex SHUTDOWN/DECADENCE WITHIN/STAMPIN’ GROUND etc & Ian Glasper author of the acclaimed series of Cherry Red books on UK 80s/90s punk)
WATCH YOU DROWN (Portsmouth melodic punk rock reforming especially – front man Russ Bestley co-author of the recent ‘The Art Of Punk’ book)
CIRCUS ACT (Southampton emotive punk – ex/current WRECK OF OLD ’98/SOUTHLANDS/THE GOOD WIFE etc)
THE C-30S (Bournemouth tuneage – ex SELF ABUSE/ZIMMER FRAMES/DEMONIC UPCHUCKS etc)
HUMMUNE (Southampton metallic thuddery – ex OLDER THAN DIRT/CORPORATE GRAVE/PARADE OF ENEMIES etc)
THE SHORTS (Southampton short fast hardcore – ex PILGER/SCREWED UP FLYER/CORPORATE GRAVE/WHOLE IN THE HEAD/OLDER THAN DIRT/’Suspect Device’ folks)
CHEMICAL THREAT – (Southampton street punk – ex THIRST!/UNION X)
Doors 3pm-late £10
The Joiners, 141 St Mary Street, Southampton, SO14 1NS
There will be an exhibition of S.T.E. flyers displayed at the gig too and our long-time cohorts Suspect Device will be putting out a special issue of their fanzine to commemorate the gig.
Rich Levene / the S.T.E
To give you a flavour of what S.T.E. gigs used to be like here is some footage of an obscure American band who played on Rich’s 26th birthday, followed by the full story of the S T E
“Start A Band; Write A Fanzine; Put On A Gig… If We Can Do It, Anyone Can!” S.T.E. Collective
The first S.T.E. Collective gig was CULTURE SHOCK at the West Indian Club (now Afro-Caribbean Centre) in June 1988. The 214th & last was 14 & a half years later in November 2002, at the King Alfred pub with SICK OF SILENCE from Austria. In between time, the vast majority of these S.T.E. gigs were at The Joiners. I (Rich) was a part of the S.T.E. from its inception & (a brief hiatus in 1999 aside) was there for the duration. This is our story…
The roots of the S.T.E. are undeniably in the anarcho-punk scene of the mid-1980s. I was a teenage provincial punk from Eastleigh & my first concerts were the big punk bands at the Gaumont (now The Mayflower) from 1980 onwards, like THE STRANGLERS; THE DAMNED; STIFF LITTLE FINGERS; SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES etc & THE DEAD KENNEDYS at the University. Even though I’d been to some small gigs in Bournemouth, it wasn’t until Christmas 1984 that I went to my first self-organised punk gig in Southampton, when SUICIDE PACT played a benefit at the Joiners to pay “Stop The City” (anarchist day of action in the City of London) fines & it was great. A packed pub, SUICIDE PACT were wonderful & I met several people who would become the crux of the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) punk scene in Southampton for years to come!
The local scene coalesced around that SUICIDE PACT Joiners gig & further ones in early 1985 at the Labour Club & Kingsland Hall, as groups of people met & become friends. THE MAD THATCHERS came slightly later & then SUICIDE PACT evolved into NOX MORTIS. I probably saw both these bands at least 30 times each & they made a huge impact on me both musically & politically. NOX MORTIS in particular were important in that they taught me that it was possible to live a life based on solid ideals but also to have a sense of humour & come across as warm, friendly people. PJ from the band was later a cohort of mine in the S.T.E., whilst Chris London from THE MAD THATCHERS would become the Joiners soundman for years to come! As friendships grew, a few of us formed a loose alliance called the SHFC (South Hants Fanzine Collective) & through 1985-86 put on a few gigs at the West Indian Club & the Labour club. This came to an abrupt end when vandalism/trouble at a SCREAM gig at the West Indian led to us being banned from the venue but the core of the SHFC were the people who would later start the S.T.E.
In Spring 1988, frustrated by the fact that there hadn’t been any touring punk bands in Southampton for a while; inspired by what some of us had experienced of the hardcore scene on mainland Europe & above all determined to do something positive after the tragic death of NOX MORTIS’ Simon Gregory at Easter 1988, the S.T.E. was born. A group of 10 people from bands, fanzines & local scenesters attended a meeting at The Joiners (we all drank there anyway!) & put a tenner each into a starting kitty. PJ came up with the S.T.E. (Southampton, Totton & Eastleigh) Collective name, simply from the places where the bulk of us lived at the time! The first gig with CULTURE SHOCK; locals CORPORATE GRAVE & HATE THAT SMILE drew over 200 people; was a resounding success & more gigs were held through 1988-89 at the West Indian Club, featuring bands from the U.S.A. & mainland Europe. As it became clear the Windy was too big for the majority of the bands we wanted to put on, the decision was made to switch to the Joiners. The first gig we did there was JOYCE MCKINNEY EXPERIENCE with WAT TYLER & Pompey’s WATCH YOU DROWN in October 1989. A cracking gig & for the next 10 years The Joiners became the spiritual home of the S.T.E. & the local punk/hardcore scene in general.
From the word go, the S.T.E. operated by a set of guiding principles & I’m proud to say that although some mistakes were made, these remained in place for our duration. We wanted to avoid big business practises, so there were no contracts, guarantees or major label bands (early on we declined gigs by MANIC STREET PREACHERS & THERAPY? both later did Next Big Thing gigs). Things operated on mutual trust; the gigs were set up directly through the bands, or by friends of ours who were booking tours simply because they were into the music. After our minimal expenses had been covered all door money went to the bands. Occasionally we kept a little money aside to cover future poor turnouts but the S.T.E. was strictly non-profit making. Gig admission was as cheap as possible (with concessions for those who were unwaged) & we endeavoured to promote an environment that was friendly, fun & free from violence, racism, sexism & homophobia. After a while, the core of the active S.T.E. participants slimmed down to myself, PJ & Rob Callen & after all our work, Southampton & the Joiners became established as one of the best & friendliest places to play in the U.K.
We also used to put up the touring bands after their gigs & this involved feeding them a vegetarian or vegan meal, breakfast & providing a sofa or floor for the bands to sleep on. We would often leave for work the next morning & left sleeping punks to let themselves out when they left. Considering the number of people we put up over the years, this caused comparatively few problems. As the S.T.E. House was in a quiet street in Eastleigh, our neighbours became accustomed to strange looking visitors & vans with foreign plates. One German guy inspired by Jack Kerouac slept in his sleeping bag out on our dewy front lawn! One time we came home to a kitchen that had been cleaned from top to bottom by our visitors CIRCUS LUPUS & LUNGFISH. The U.S. DOWNCAST had had a falling out with their guitarist weeks into a 3 month long 1992 European tour. They persuaded him to complete it but he was barely speaking to the others & as Southampton was the last date of the tour & they had a cancelled gig before they flew home, the 3 nights they spent at our house were strange to say the least : needless to say DOWNCAST’s last ever gig was in Southampton! Sometimes people were not as we imagined. In 1993, the American ALLOY played a storming gig & afterwards they plus visiting Germans & Norwegians stayed at our house. A drunken but friendly discussion about U.S. imperialism was suddenly interrupted when the ALLOY drummer stormed out enraged at criticism of his country to sleep in the van! At which point a deadpan Rob asked him if he was going to “sleep wrapped in the Stars & Stripes”! QUICKSAND who had roots in New York’s straight edge (no drinking, no drugs) scene, shocked PJ with their predilection for hash hot knives in 1991!
We were always conscious of the notion that we didn’t want to come across like “just another gig promoter”. To this end, the S.T.E. Bulletin was very important to us. What started out as a one-sided A5 sheet with details of forthcoming gigs, had by 1992 become a monthly double-sided, folded A4 free mini-fanzine with news, information & columns written by us, with contributions from people within the scene. The columns covered music, politics, opinions & issues that impacted on the punk community. Some people bared their souls; others simply took the piss! It was also a useful tool when leafleting other gigs, as people tended to be less likely to throw away something they could read later rather than a simple flyer! Sometimes people said we were too politically-correct, while others felt we weren’t radical enough; we were happy to let our benefit gigs for Hunt Sabs; Rape Crisis; Anti-Fascist Action; Zapatistas; striking Liverpool dockers etc speak for themselves. Occasionally a criticism was levelled that we were cliquey but although we fostered a close-knit scene, we always encouraged people to get involved with us & tried to be friendly & welcoming to newcomers.
In terms of the calibre of bands we put on, probably the 1991-93 period was the heyday of the S.T.E. in most people’s eyes. During this time we put on gigs for several bands that would later become huge. In December 1991, GREEN DAY played The Joiners with JAIL CELL RECIPES & OLDER THAN DIRT (singer Mike put them up afterwards at his flat!) on their first UK tour to around 75 people. As it was near my birthday, they got me on-stage & sang Happy Birthday to me (somewhere it is all caught on video!)! They were due to play for us again in 1993 but the tour got cancelled & by the time they returned they were on a major label & massive. Later they were to tell journalists from the music press that the Joiners was one of their best ever gigs, whilst Kerrang! reproduced the poster from our gig in a feature & mocked the fact that the door admission was the “princely sum of £3/2.50”! NOFX played 2 S.T.E. gigs in the Summers of 1991 & 1992. The gigs were fantastic but at the second, Rob ended up arguing with Fat Mike from the band over £20 : we paid them the remaining door money of £180, Fat Mike insisted on £200. Suffice to say we didn’t pay them the extra (we didn’t have it!) & didn’t put them on again. The next night in London, our friend Selina drunkenly heckled them with “£200 you green-haired bastard!” to bemused looks from people in the crowd!
The mainstream success of NIRVANA & GREEN DAY in the early-mid 1990s,whilst attracting more people into the scene, also had the effect of pushing a lot of bands out of our mode of operating. Some bands that we had earlier put on (SAMIAM; JAWBREAKER; UNDERSTAND etc) signed major label deals, while others went through commercial booking agencies. I remember one particularly heated telephone conversation with a booker who could not comprehend why we had no intention of doing a gig which involved a contract, a guarantee to pay a ridiculous amount of money & provide the band with a hotel for the night. The NME journo Angela Lewis took a shine to us, reviewed our BABY HARP SEAL gig in 1995 (PJ made her pay to get in like everybody else!) & regularly used to phone for info : sometimes we were honest, other times we made up some preposterous tales! Sometimes we were pleasantly surprised though. In 1994, I took a call from a guy who wanted to book a gig for HUGGY BEAR. Now as this was just after the time when the band had caused a furore on the TV show The Word & the press was full of Riot Grrrl hype, I suggested perhaps it would be better to contact someone else. However, he insisted they were happy to play a DIY gig & had specifically asked to play an S.T.E. show! We did it & there were no problems. Graham Coxon was going out with one of HUGGY BEAR at the time & accompanied his girlfriend to the gig, causing one of our regulars (the self-styled Queer Rob) to exclaim that he’d have “decked him” if he’d “known someone from BLUR was here”!
We always felt that local bands were vital to the strength of any local scene & above all the members of these bands were often our friends. We used the Bulletin to promote what they were up to; provided contact details & put them on gig bills as often as we could. The two Southampton bands most associated with the S.T.E. were OLDER THAN DIRT & MINUTE MANIFESTO, who coincidentally both played 17 gigs for us! OLDER THAN DIRT were around in the early 90s & as Mike was an S.T.E. (& SHFC) founder & one of our oldest friends, it was always special to have them play for us. MINUTE MANIFESTO were around at the end of the 90s & as well as featuring our Rob, had Jamie & Matt who were two of the influx of mid-90s newcomers we nurtured, so likewise it made us proud to see them develop into a band who made internationally renowned records & gigged across the UK. Honourable mentions are also deserved by CORPORATE GRAVE; HATE THAT SMILE; WATCH YOU DROWN; FUSION; SMOG (UK); HAYWIRE; THIRST!; POGROM; PORTISWOOD; TROPHY GIRLS; GOOD GRIEF; CHICKEN-BONE CHOKED; THE ZIMMER FRAMES; DISOMA; KILLJOY etc.
As well as the overseas visitors, we built up relationships with some wonderful bands/people from across the U.K. Two bands I have particular fondness for are Harlow’s TRAVIS CUT & SHUTDOWN from the West Country who played 10 & 7 S.T.E. gigs respectively. I named my cat Travis Cat as he turned up as a stray just as they left the morning after TRAVIS CUT played their first gig for us in 1994 & they even credited him on the sleeve of one of their singles ; how punk is that? 12 years on Travis is still going strong! SHUTDOWN’s gigs here were amazing & I’ll always remember the memorial gig they did here for no money after the tragic death of my best friend (& S.T.E. co-founder/THIRST! guitarist) Steve Burgess in 1994.
People always ask what are my favourite S.T.E. nights at the Joiners & I always pin it down to three!
In joint second would be Norway’s LIFE…BUT HOW TO LIVE IT? with OLDER THAN DIRT in 1993. The D.I.Y. punk scene on mainland Europe was always an inspirational example to us, so to see one of the greatest ever bands from the continent here was pure joy. Level pegging with LIFE…would be the second JOYCE MCKINNEY EXPERIENCE gig in 1990, with my Austrian friends TARGET OF DEMAND & Brighton’s SLEEP (bassist Danny Leigh is now a renowned author). As well as being exhilarating musically, it was notable for the textbook way the packed crowd dealt with a troublemaker without ruining the atmosphere of the gig. Incidentally the only other fight I can recall at a Joiners S.T.E. gig was at BORN AGAINST in 1992 , their singer Sam McPheeters ran out of the venue & when it was quelled had to be retrieved from sitting in the grounds of the church up the road in St Mary Street! My top S.T.E. gig though would be Richmond, Virginia’s AVAIL in 1995. We knew the records but had no idea how incendiary they were going to be live. Almost from the get go the place exploded. It was their first gig outside North America & afterwards they told us initially they were apprehensive of the amount of people dancing, as in the States gigs could be very violent. However, when they noticed that there were women stage-diving & that people had huge grins on their pig-piling faces they relaxed! They came back for 2 more S.T.E. gigs but that first one was the stuff of legends! Plus they always raved about my Veggie Shepherd’s Pie!
Inspired by the festivals put on by our friends at the 1in12 club (autonomous centre) in Bradford, we too did an annual 2 day festival at the Joiners from 1996-1999, along with a Christmas all-dayer. Around 9 bands (overseas, national & local & of varying punk sub-genres) would play each day & likewise people would travel from all over to attend. The Sundays would often start slowly as people recovered from the excesses of the night before but overall the S.T.E. fests were brilliant affairs, with people helping us out with equipment, sleeping places, feeding & putting up visitors etc. This spirit of co-operation was something we treasured : likewise the joint gigs we did with the OOMF; Moonrip & other collectives. Our closest collaboration was with Suspect Device fanzine, which still exists to this day & deserves as much kudos as possible for its role in making Southampton a respected punk scene. We wrote for the fanzine; they did benefit issues & tapes for us; we helped them out financially & creatively when they started their label; they wrote for the Bulletin & above all Tony & Gaz were/are great friends of ours.
A change occurred around the end of 1998. Our 10th anniversary fest had been great but overall things had got a little jaded & stale. PJ was getting more into his football (travelling to see Ipswich Town!) & said he was going to quit after the Christmas gig. I had been feeling similarly burnt out & the intention was that we would cease at the end of 1998. However, a new wave of punk kids in Southampton namely Jamie; Ross; Ad & Tom who had been inspired by what we’d done, asked if they could keep the S.T.E. name/spirit going. Trusting their commitment, we agreed & within months, Rob & I were back on board! In terms of it being a proper collective this was probably the best time for the S.T.E. since the very beginning, as when it was myself, Rob & PJ, I had tended to dominate a little.
Our time at the Joiners was coming to an end however, as the venue was getting too expensive & commercial for the smaller, more underground bands we wanted to put on. Our perception that we had been treated badly by another promoter & the then landlord over the shoehorning of our 1999 festival in favour of an A gig, had also left a bit of a bad taste in our mouths & personally I preferred the stage when it was along the side wall, against the back bar which famously John from CAN’T DECIDE ran along & leapt off mid-set! We continued with the occasional Joiners gigs through to the end of 2002, mainly housed at various Southampton pub back/upstairs rooms (& even a health club, cheers Ross!), when we stopped for good. Most of the S.T.E. cohorts are still involved with the punk scene in one form or another in various parts of the world, be it bands, fanzines, attending gigs & there is even the occasional gig promoted under the “Almost The S.T.E.” banner!
Around the time of the S.T.E.’s 200th gig in March 2002, some statto nerd (!) compiled a list of every band (& how many times!) that had played for us! The headline in the Bulletin it was listed in read: “200 Gigs, 14 Years, 333 Bands, 15 Countries, 653 Sets, 100% D.I.Y.!” Now we did another 14 gigs after that, including SOMMERSET from New Zealand so that makes 16 countries in all! That’s not really what is important to me about the S.T.E. though. What is, is people telling me we inspired them to do something similar themselves; or that we changed their lives. That out of nothing, we proved it was possible to build an exciting, vibrant, positive scene, with simply hard work, enthusiasm & ethics.
That friendships made have endured for over 20 years in some cases. That for my 40th birthday gig last December, a band (THE SACK-O’-WOES) whose members played in a band who played the 4th S.T.E. gig 17 years earlier (THE VERNON WALTERS), came over from Holland especially to play a one-off gig. Or quite simply that we put on one or two nights that were a bit special…
All words © Rich Levene 2006