You Won’t Fool The Children Of The Revolution

So…the National Women’s Liberation Conference were given a Birmingham secondary school for their gynecomorphous gathering in April 1978. An adjacent primary school was earmarked as a creche & the sisters asked the Communist Party to recruit an all-male crew to administer & amuse their ankle biters while, across the road, a long overdue comeuppance for patriarchy was planned. Martin, a workmate, was a cultured, book reading Euro-Communist. Fresh out of academia & new to inner city living, he was discovering that Antonio Gramsci had not really prepared him for that earthy crucible of the revolution, the Brummie working class. On the basis that I knew a hammer from a sickle he asked me if I would come along & help baby-sit. It seemed that it could be fun or it could be weird. With a little luck it just might be both so I was in.

Women's Liberation – Rise Up! Feminist Digital ArchiveWe, my wife & I, had lurked on the fringes of International Socialism. Shared picket lines, sold their papers. In 1977 I.S. became the Socialist Workers Party  & robust anti-racist/nazi policies were right up our street fight. We were Groucho Marxists who believed that the essence of capitalism was not only exploitative but ridiculous. Those S.W.P. types often lacked a sense of humour, never a good thing in anyone ever. Anyway, we refuse to join any club that would have us as a member…of course ! My wife had wanted to attend the conference but she was unemployed at the time & her budget was tight. No radical feminist worth her sodium chloride was going to let a man pay for the weekend, even if whatever that man had was her’s (& what she had was her’s too !). That same male…that’ll be me then…found a way she could make her contribution to the event.

As New Men we were down with the kid watching but there would be babies too, “mewling & puking in the nurse’s arms”. We would probably need some assistance here, some female assistance.

We both showed out for the Friday night meeting to discuss the weekend’s strategy. It was held in the school assembly hall, a school for the under-11s. Things, especially the chairs, were out of scale. The gathering found this funny & an informal tone, which we liked, was set. Yeah, stuff had been arranged, a division of labour was quickly & loosely agreed upon but the agenda was driven by the fact that the pubs closed at 11 p.m. That’s some right thinking. Come the revolution there will be 24 hour opening…oh, hang on.

The worst place to make a schoolboy error is too near to schoolboys. I walked into the school/creche the following day & a couple of lads ran up to me & asked if I would play football with them. I replied that I needed to at least take my coat off first. Now where is the “Yes” in that sentence ? An increasing number of small persons trailed me to the cloakroom…these pegs are a little low !…It appeared that they had hooked a sucker…that would be me then. The Pied Piper of Ladywood led his new posse outdoors. How had this happened ? No worries. We had a playing field, a big pitch, proper goalposts. A kickabout where I was 3 feet taller than most of the others. I was sure to get a hatful of goals today !

Things started poorly. The bigger kids wanted to use the full pitch & both goals. I was refereeing a rubbish overstretched game where the younger, smaller ones were not getting a kick. Something had to be done. These children all had strong, opinionated guardians many of whom encouraged their offspring to be similarly assertive. It was only after elaborate centre circle diplomacy that they allowed me 5 minutes to back up my claim to know a whole lot about football & just as much about having fun.

This was more like it. We were kicking into one goal while I reffed, played goalie, threw the ball to the older ones, palmed it out so that the little ones got a kick, kept up a commentary on the game & used the eyes in the back of my head to keep the even smaller ones behind the goal safe. I kept these plates spinning & everyone seemed to be having a good time, especially me. The beautiful game wins again. After another fearless plunge at the feet of a startled 5 year old, preventing a certain goal, I was at eye level with a familiar pair of ox-blood Doc Martens who’s owner enquired just what did I think I was up to ? She…that would be my wife then…knew exactly what was happening. Her bemusement was fake, her amusement wasn’t. She was impressed that I could supervise & entertain 25 children with no serious injury to them or myself. She was also loving looking after the babies & suggested that we should have 1 of our own so we could do this every day. Holy Shit ! For the next few minutes the kids were scoring for fun past a slightly dazed goalkeeper.

When tea-time came around I herded my grass-stained troupe back indoors. The familiar sweet smell from the kitchen confirmed that the catering crew had been getting high while they were getting busy with the burgers, chips & beans. Good seventies nourishment in a pre-McDonald’s world. The 150 kids, probably raised on a diet of right-on macrobiotic mush, loved this stuff. We had the full range of sauces, red AND brown, I holstered up a bottle of each, grabbed a quick toke then aimed my condiments in the general direction of some plates. There was a pile of noise, much of it laughter, it was a party. My new friends wanted more football stories & I had a million of them. We handed some grubby, happy kids back to their owners. The men had got the job done. I checked my wife’s bag in case she had decided to keep one of the infants & we headed off to grimy Victorian Aston Cross for a couple of of deserved & needed pints in a grimy Victorian pub.

The Cross & its pubs have gone to gentrification now. This memoir comes from a different time too. The next day there was more fun stuff, more weird stuff only less frantic, at our creche but the National Women’s Liberation Conference ended in acrimonious division between lesbian separatists & socialist feminists (Hey, I don’t want to label anyone & I’m certainly not choosing sides). There were to be no more conferences. Within a twelvemonth the shopkeeper’s daughter was running the shop & we were living in Thatcher’s Britain. The attack on “the enemy within” (her words) began. The idea that council premises could be provided for the frank & open discussion of revolutionary strategy found itself on the losing side of an argument. A random group of men, regardless of political inclination, loosely supervising a throng of other people’s children…well that don’t fly too high nowadays.

The world has changed in so many other ways & I’m not about to take sides about this. A couple of things…in April 1978 the splendorous anthems of Patti Smith’s “Easter” were only displaced from our turntable by newly released debut LPs from the likes of Magazine & The Only Ones. The N.W.L.C. passed a new demand that weekend demanding “Freedom for all women from intimidation by the threat or use of violence or sexual coercion regardless of marital status; and an end to the laws, assumptions and institutions which perpetuate male dominance and aggression to women.” So much has changed but some things remain the same.

I do hope that those lovely, open, energetic children with whom I shared my weekend have passed these qualities on to their children & their grandchildren who, like the comrades before them , have some ideas of their own about affecting the world for the better. That’s it.

The One and The Only Ones.

Peter Perrett has stubbornly remained a cult figure on the British musical scene. The one song of his that has reached a wider audience needed the endorsement of a mobile phone company to extend it’s shelf life. I’m not sure that people who know the song from the commercial know the band who performed it or the guy who wrote it.In 1980 three of us lived on the top floor of a house in Deptford, South London, (living the dream !). Perrett and his group, The Only Ones, along with the Fall, provided the soundtrack to that year. The acerbity of both bands accompanied those early-Thatcher years. If we were gonna meet the 80s head on then we were going to have to toughen up.

The Only Ones released three LPs. “Another Girl Another Planet”, a new wave/pop punk anthem, got them noticed but was not a big hit. The song became somewhat of a millstone. They recorded songs the equal of this but big old jaunty anthems about a relationship with heroin were never their stock-in-trade. There was, rather, a laconic, fatalistic theme to the songs. Perrett, a heroin addict, accepted the weakness of taking a moral stance about others and about living while choosing such a destructive lifestyle. “I’m in love with extreme mental torture. I’m in love with the way you hold your head and cry. I’m in love with all these affairs of the heart” . (No Peace for the Wicked). Perrett chronicled the machinations and manipulation of a relationship better than anyone. In “Trouble In the World” he wrote, “If you do happen to be stronger. It only means you take longer to go under”. The mix of romanticism, cynicism and contempt was the perfect riposte to a decade marked by individualism and ego at the expense of communality.

The group were standing still and facing diminishing returns by 1981. The drug problems within the band were certainly not helping. On the 8th of March we went to the Lyceum in Central London to say our goodbyes at their final gig. They had played the same venue just the year before. It was a great night. The set they played felt like a greatest hits only there were no hits. On the final night they opened with ” A.G.A.P” and “Trouble in the World”. I remember thinking that in some parallel universe it was these songs and the Ramones singles which were toppermost of the poppermost. At the time our drug of choice for a Sunday night gig was L.S.D. (not as strong in 1981 as it was ten years earlier). I got a little down that I was watching this top band for the last time. After the storming opening Perrett told us all not to be sad about it. OK Peter, whatever you say. Susceptible to suggestion whilst under the influence of hallucinogenics…who me ? It was a memorable night. Every song we wanted to hear got played. “Another Girl” got played again and that was it.

It was indeed it for 13 years. Perrett retreated to his home in Forest Hill (just down the road from me) and into his addiction. He showed out irregularly if a junkie friend had a gig. There was an album of demos. We had a bootleg from Amsterdam which got extensive play but really we were left with the three LPs. It was not until 1994 that he began to gig again with a new band, The One. He had been invisible for so long, the band received little coverage. I completely missed the LP, released in 1996. If it weren’t Britpop in 1996 then you did not get to hear it. I have only recently come to appreciate the quality of the “Woke Up Sticky” LP. The 21st century re-union did not interest me. As I heard more of The One I could hear some great Perrett songs and it was 20 years since there had been new ones to listen to.

I love this clip. Peter got cleaner (clean would be going too far) to promote the album. He is looking well, he has a fine new song to play and a good band to play it. There is a trace of a smile on his face throughout the performance which is so good to see. The nudge of encouragement to Jay, the guitarist, is a sign that all is going better than expected. Perrett always liked a classy rock guitarist on his songs. The music, because of this, is maybe less direct or unconventional than his peers. Me ? I think it makes the songs classic and timeless. Watching this video cheers me that Peter got it together enough to do the new song justice. The second clip from the LP is still outstanding but less cheering.

The second fantastic song from the album.Darker than “Woke Up” but a perfect Perrett lyric about a relationship heading for the rocks & little to be done about it. There is love in his songs but it’s usually concerning the difficulty of being so close to another human being rather than a hearts and flowers romanticism.

It is obvious that he is back, at least, on the pipe by the time this was filmed. The shots of him lip-synching with the band look almost unusable. he has said that he smoked crack to prevent returning to heroin but then did both. Hey, it’s not a shock, he is a junkie, it’s what they do. The One could not continue with Peter in this state. We were not to see him again until the Only Ones re-union on the back of the phone ads. The money had bought him a new set of teeth, sunglasses to hide the 30 years of abuse. However his South London, Bowiesque, drawl was shot and his voice sounded like he was on helium.

I rate Peter Perrett alongside people like Syd Barrett, Kevin Ayers and Robyn Hitchcock. He is one of the great British renegades. At that final gig it occurred to me that maybe too many of his fans were too out of it to do things like go to a gig. His junkie outlook, his tough love has always seemed authentic to me. His cynical take on life and everything that goes with it was articulated perfectly and he found some damn fine musicians to help him along the way. In a way I don’t really want him to be re-discovered, re-evaluated and regurgitated. I’m happy enough to re-visit the LPs and to get to know those few songs he came up with in the missing years.