Two Sevens Clash
Manchester punk diaries 77 / 78
Despite Sniffin’ Glue exposure and endorsement; despite a decayed-but-legendary status in New York’s glittering rock legacy; despite dating David Bowie and, not least, despite a ferocious stage presence, a tight business-like band and powerful set of songs”Â¦despite all these positives, Wayne County seemed to suffer at the hands of the less-than liberal UK audiences. Most famously suffering hail of sodden sods at a Reading Festival still clinging to the loon-pant. However, even on the punk circuit, the sheer attack of this hugely entertaining cabaret persona seemed strangely jarring.
Not so, however, in Manchester. Two”Â¦three gigs at The Electric Circus in ’77 and two blistering shows at Manchester Poly seemed enough to see a bond form”Â¦.well, there were a few detractors, but they stood respectfully to the rear, sheltering in the shadows.
Despite his New York credentials”Â¦maybe, just maybe Wayne County seemed to reflect the downbeat Manchester drag acts -Frankie Foo Foo Lammarr and bolshy feminine attack of Bunny Lewis. Deeply engrained in the Manchester psyche? Not sure, nut I did discover that Wayne felt extremely comfortable within Manchester’s miniscule punk circle.
Years later, when firmly locked in the female and as Jayne County, she would spend periods at the Worsley council house belonging to low-brow impresario and promoter, the late Warren Heighway, whose Heighway Robbery label had unleashed a number of County offshoot albums.. When I met her in this unlikely location in the 1990’s I was proudly staggered to be told: “I never forgot your name”Â¦you were the only critic in England who defended me when I became unfashionable. Without that, I may never have come back.”Â
Whether that was actually true or not, I can’t be sure, but it certainly made a change.
“Well most Manchester musicians can’t stand my guts,”Â I informed her. She seemed to enjoy this thought.
“I like outsiders,”Â she smiled.
Back in ’77, and back in the other sex ”â although I argue that a journey across the sexes is as much intellectual as sexual, as it challenges a primal chain of thought ”â Wayne County had toned down his appearance, preferring to clasp his blonde locks in firmly anti-glam woolly hat, along with baggy trousers and sexless shirts. It was a truly asexual appearance”Â¦perhaps because of this deliberate lack of obvious glamour, his onstage persona seemed all the more shocking. Behind him, the band growled and slammed like some weird offshoot of Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers. Wayne, however, was Sally Bowles and beyond”Â¦tearing mercilessly into the crowd with such gems as . ”ËIf You Don’t Want to Fuck Me Baby, Fuck Off,’ (well, we have all been there), ”ËRock’n’Roll Resurrection’ and the timeless ”ËAre You Man Enough to Be a Woman’. All pulled directly from embattled tenements of The Lower East Side”Â¦from a deep, dark and reckless glamour. No wonder it connected so urgently with Manchester”Â¦and had seemed so existential in the Reading mud.
Backstage at The Electric Circus”Â¦.three times”Â¦Martin Ryan and myself allowed ourselves to be swamped with sharp-tongued New York banter. The band and roadies ”â and wandering Heartbreakers’ manager and photographer Leee Black-Childers ”â entrancing us with heady rock’n’roll tales.
“Yeah, so we spent time with Sid Vicious, man”Â¦Sid is about as vicious as a fucking fly and ”â darkly portentous, this – he wouldn’t last a day in New York, maan. Lovely guy though”Â¦think Wayne fancied him,”Â
“Hey, fuck you, maan,”Â County replied levelly.
“Sid was all matey and didn’t seem sexy, maan. He seemed pretty fucking lost, to be honest. You English dudes are far stranger than us”Â¦I mean, we wear it upfront. Especially me. You know exactly where you stand and it might not be pretty but at least you know. But I can’t read you at all. What are you thinking?”Â
What were we thinking? How fabulously decadent this all seemed. To be lost in hip banter with six hard bitten New Yorkers, one of which was an actual legend. Of course, we had little doubt that Wayne County revelled in this legacy and would take every opportunity to push it to further limits. Perhaps that was the reason that UK audiences honed on insular blues based bands of the early seventies, found the transition somewhat overbearing.
Nevertheless despite the showbiz overtones, Wayne County seemed to convey warmth that seemed rare in punk-time England.
“So where’s the action in Manchester?”Â
“The action! The fuckin’ action. There must be some fucking action, man.”Â
”Â¦.tentatively”Â¦ “…there is a gay scene.”Â
Well there was. Not a gay scene in the overground, in-your-face sense of today’s Manchester, but a somewhat clandestine network, centred around The Union pun, Napoleons, Dickens on Oldham Street and”Â¦well, maybe a few more. It was faded, somewhat seedy and rather heartening. So much, in fact, that we had indulged in punk infiltration. Not in the ”Ëaction’, so to speak”Â¦but the gays always seemed warm, welcoming, flamboyant….
Arrgh maan, this sounds like my kinda town,”Â stated County.
“Next time around, will investigate. You up for that? Haha”Â¦am gonna break you guys in, maan.”Â
I never discovered quite what Wayne County meant by that. Or how serious? During the next 25 years we would occasionally see him”Â¦and then her. Turn up at shows. I recall telling him about the writer Jan Morris, to whom we had become acquainted and Jan’s book, ”ËConundrum’, which famously traced her own journey across the sexes in the early sixties. County was transfixed”Â¦and then with a knowing smirk,
“Always knew you English were fuckin’ hard core, maan.”Â
“Who wants a plum? It’s a suede one.”Â
The owner of the voice was John Cooper Clarke. Black spidery and Dylanesque, he was sitting next to my mate, Ghast Up man, Martin Ryan, in a minibus driven by Kevin Cummins. The brown bag of plums unselfishly offered around in an attempt to suppress the tedium of slog the down the M6. A tiny cross-section of Manchester punks en-route to the Capital.
Later that day, Cooper Clarke would perform as support to Buzzcocks and The Damned at the first night of London punk venue, The Vortex. He was nervous to the point of terror”Â¦and with good reason. For his machine-gun Salfordian delivery might have effortlessly found its niche in the liberal enclaves of Manchester”Â¦but could he similarly seduce the already distanced cockneys?
“You’ll be fine man.”Â
He was regularly comforted in such a way during the journey.
“Just give ”Ëem ”ËBeesley Street, they’ll lap it up.”Â
Inevitably, the evening only served to accentuate the divide between the London and Manchester punks”Â¦a divide that had spilled into idiotic violence at one of the supposedly energising Sex Pistols’ gigs at the Lesser Free Trade Hall and, one recalls, the day Chelsea- the band- came to The Electric Circus. Distrust and disrespect in every corner.
And for Cooper Clarke?
“What the fuck is that guy doing?”Â screamed an indignant and Westwood clad Cockney.
“Eeeeees reciting fucking poetry! Fuck off yer poncy twat. Fuck off back to Manchester.”Â
One may have reasonably called John Cooper Clarke many things”Â¦and many of them may have been perfectly true. But ”Ëponcy twat’ would certainly not be one of them. No matter. Within two years, queues would stretch down Wardour Street for the chance to catch him in action at The Marquee. Julie Burchill and Nick Kent, among many others, would lavishly champion the ”ËBard of Salford’ at every given opportunity, the latter travelling north to interview the man, intent on providing some insight into the Cooper Clarke mind and muse. As a result of this came my favourite Kevin Cummins photograph of the period. Clarke and Kent on the pavement. Poise and pose. A world apart. I am not knocking Kent, at all. Is just that, within that perceptive photograph, the north/south punk divide had never seemed so blatant, so naked. .
The decision to ditch the mohair, turquoise and orange alike, hadn’t dampened my apparent fondness for all things garish. My black leather motorbike jacket had suffered in the midst of an Electric Circus scrum and I searched for a suitable replacement. A trip to the Sounds office on Long Acre appeared to provide the answer. For there be one Pete Silverton, esteemed features editor of said organ, talking to me while resplendent in a ”Ëblue’ bikers jacket. What a revelation. What unbridled glamour. Well, to my eyes it seemed like a way forward. Should I don a similar item of apparel then I, too, would be strutting as glamorously as the Sounds’ features editor.
Returning to Manchester, I made it my business to seek out such an article. This wasn’t difficult. Since the days of the Crombies and Doc Martins, the most productive venue for the purchase of Manchester ”Ëstreet clothing’ was, without question, the ”ËOasis’ underground market. Despite the distinct possibility of a ”Ëmugging’ in and around the vicinity ”â in my case by a group of leery Salfordians ”â ”ËOasis’ provided endless stalls that stood on the edge of downbeat. Indeed the finest ”Ëcherry reds’ in the whole of Mancunia had been purchased from within there as well as, in a violently contrasting fad, a pair of Neil Young style patchwork Levis.
There was always a feint hint of danger within Oasis. On Saturdays it would often be swarmed about by rival football gangs and hammer wielding examples of somewhat disaffected youth. The infamous street shop, Stolen from Ivor ”â originally Ivor’s, in Stockport ”â had a stall in there and this seemed to sweep across the trends with consummate ease. When punk arrived it simply added a further dimension to an already complex network of stall serving the spectrum of youth genre.
To my delight, the innovation of ”Ëcoloured’ motorbike jackets, with or without contrasting collars, had made it into ”ËOasis’, where an impressive array of the things lay in wait. Having no idea that they would soon become de-rigour on a forthcoming genre to be named ”â by Geoff Barton at Sounds ”â the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Not a scene that gained great weight in Manchester.
Well”Â¦I proudly sported it on the 210 bus which carried me most of the way home, depositing me on a lonely junction at Gee X. On a positive note, no one on the bus had physically attacked me during the journey, although there were a number of suspicious sniggers from typically obnoxious schoolies. Not surprising really, as the jacket was so glaringly”Â¦well”Â¦yellow.
Over the following months, a fiercely defensive relationship existed between myself and my yellow leather jacket which, I now sense, probably attained a level if infamy and scorn that I never fully appreciated. Its finest moment, however, came at Rafters.
Without ever capturing the club-like nature of The Electric Circus, Rafters soon became the leading punk venue in town by playing host to so many infamous gigs”Â¦.Elvis Costello, Magazine, Buzzcocks, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Adverts, Bauhaus, Sad Cafe, Doctors of Madness, Dire Straits”Â¦.such a heady conveyor gained the venue a regularity unparalleled in the city. So regular, in fact, that one could just head on down their on any given Thursday, regardless of who might be appearing. This level of regularity would prove my downfall and, indeed, severe the relationship between myself and unwise jacked. For came on Thursday when I dutifully trundled along Oxford Road the said venue and hopped gaily down the steps, resplendent in primrose leather.
Once beyond the pay booth, and while sidling to the bar, I noticed a somewhat unusual ambience in the club.
“They are a funny lot in here, tonight,”Â I mused as I edged towards the stage.
Only when the lights dimmed did I realise that this was not, in any sense, a punk gig at all”Â¦but an apparently private function revolving around the talents of a gay stripper. He provided an intriguing, if rather aggressive routine that existed as a pre-echo of the Chippendales/Full Monty which was yet to appear on the horizon. At the ”Ëclimax’ of his act, he launched into the crowd and ”â yes, I know you can see this coming ”â took a liking to my jacket.
“Hey ”ËFlash’”Â¦come and join me”Â¦”Â he taunted and then, grasping my wrist he dragged me to a stage upon which he performed a variety of simulated sexual antics before squirting me with copious amounts of grey fluid which, only later, I discovered to be a soap based substance.
A touch of soul in the black night of punk. A glimmer of light in the Factory dawn.
Emerging into post-punk Manchester, the unlikely Distractions became the best dance in town, adding songs and a touch of the old to a disparate mess of a local scene. They became the perfect counter-balance to the introversion of Joy Division, the stubborn aloofness of The Fall. A most un-Mancunian ensemble. Then again”Â¦maybe not.
It was Mark E Smith who first alerted me to the charms of this band. Although not one to overtly praise those he would find in his support spots, he warmed to the sexual frisson of their infectious simplicity. They reminded Smith of the finer edge of Merseybeat. There was, he said, a ”Ëtouch of The Everly’s’ in there”Â¦’a bit of Orbison’.
Catching them for the first time at Manchester’s Band on the Wall in 1978, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Mike Finney, as anti-cool, anti-star vocalist, blessed with a voice of dark honey, a cheeky dance stance and the looks of a geography master. Behind him, orchestrated by the band leader Steve Perrin, the Distractions bobbed away in precocious style. Adrian Wright’s steely guitar. The shy ”â Tina Weymouth-style ”â bass stance of Pip Nicholls and the solid rhythm of sticksman Alec Sidebottom”Â¦who I had encountered before as a member of ”Ë60s Stockport psychedelics, The Purple Gang. This was home grown bunch that had been quietly emerging since ’75, I have been latterly informed. But best of all”Â¦.best of all”Â¦they arrived at the Band on the Wall, fully armed with an album’s worth of nuggets. Pure classic gold that had yet to be discovered. Within a year, they would emerge as the most promising band in Manchester. Initially emerging with the raw and modest ”ËYou’re are Not Going Out Dressed Like That’ EP on Tony Davidson’s TJM Records, (Which included the bare bones of ”ËIt Doesn’t Bother Me’, set to resurface in polished form as the band’s first single for Island Records.
Indulge me, for a few short paragraphs, and let me zip briefly into the present”Â¦or almost. It is the evening of March 26 2011. A Saturday and the raucous explosion of Oxford Street sees knots of revellers stretching from Cornerhouse and down to the university and Academy trio of venues.
But I am here, not to revel too messily in the youth surge of the present”Â¦I am here for the old…the old”Â¦the very old!
Fitting, it seems to me, I am sitting in a hotel. Not just any hotel either. I purely aesthetic terms, just about the antithesis of Premier Lodge uniformity. For this is The Palace Hotel, better known by Mancunians as ”ËThe Refuge Building’. A magnificent pile. A dark, moody, dominating presence which leers menacingly over Cornerhouse and, given it’s solid clock tower, casts that presence for a quarter of a mile down Oxford Road. From there it was immortalised by Valette, whose 1910 painting, ”ËOxford Road’, sees the tower under construction, rising eerily in the distance.
And this is relevant in a punk diary because?
Well, it was an evening where the ancient and glorious flickered into the now. By 9pm, I reluctantly leave such grandeur and, ignoring the surrounding revelry, was wandering a one mile stretch of Oxford Road that bustles with ghosts and echoes. To the left, the old offices that housed the New Manchester Review ”â where many editorial meetings would argue ferociously over the precocious writing style of Paul Morley ”â and, beyond, the office of Music Force, complete with Martin Hannett and Susanne O’Hara”Â¦.past Academy Two which, as the old Manchester University venue, quietly provided so many spirited evenings from pre to post punk”Â¦and into the modern rectangular Academy. Not a building of history or grandeur. Smart, effective and purpose built”Â¦it seems to evoke all the fast-buck values of the contemporary live circuit. Nevertheless, a decent enough place and, despite police warnings of pick-pockets, a somewhat safer place than ever the fondest memories of The Electric Circus might allow.
Tonight”Â¦stuffed with a thousand bedenimed examples of ex-punk. For once, I feel ageless in the midst, even if the aromatic effect is not wholly pleasing. The Stranglers will perform, later and, despite absence of Hugh Cornwall, will help to send me spinning back to those precious nights at the Circus”Â¦and The Stranglers who, despite their fearsome reputation as ”Ëhard ”Ën’craggy oldies’ ”â even back then ”â were actually the most approachable of all the bands of ’77, even if their punk credentials seemed rather dubious. John Robb’s interview on this site, conducted tonight, suggests that little has changed.
But before that I am lost to the delightful swagger of Wilko Johnson and band. There was a moment, at The Free Trade Hall in 1975, when Doctor Feelgood unleashed the most bombastic set chick-full of paired-down, fired-up R’n’B nuggets”Â¦and the crowd so edgily gathered from across the ages and genres”Â¦sparks at every corner, with Wilko machine gunning his Telecaster and the late, great Lee Brilleaux’s machismo attack”Â¦and yes”Â¦even in 1975 you could feel the flash of change. I always felt that The Feelgoods were the first strike of punk. So much a broadside to fattening prog!
And in The Academy”Â¦close my eyes and out comes ”ËRoxette’, ”ËShe Does It Right’, ”ËBack In The Night’. Standard Feelgood glory. Old and cragged now, although recently energised by Julian Temple’s ”ËOil City Confidential’ film.
Later I drift back to the hotel, energised once more.