I was too old to be a punk. I was 23, married and had been too committed to being a hippie for the last 10 years. Through someone’s older brother there were four 16 year old boys who used our flat as a second home/crash pad. They were Bowie/Roxy boys just starting to go to clubs in 1976. It was there that they saw the Damned, the Clash and the Pistols. They loved bringing me this new music after using our record collection for so long.
I loved it as well. Talking Heads, Television and ,of course, The Ramones were all friends to our turntable. I bought “Horses” by Patti the day it came out. The next day my wife cut her hair and bought a leather jacket. My first non-flared jeans were not far behind. Through the punks we knew it was about more than fashion. All this history of the Punk Wars reflected through the media that didn’t get it is misguided. It was about doing music yourself, about cheap amphetamine, about no longer buying your big bro’s worn out hippie shit. A weekend in Amsterdam where the “punks” were an expensive fashion parade showed us how serious our friends were.
We saw Patti Smith twice. She was serious and joyous. She was Art with a heart. A scorching band with a real connection to us.
Throughout the 70s I was very politically involved, mostly through my trades union. I was being fast tracked on to national committees but, as I progressed, feeling separation from the people I wanted to help, my workmates. Punk brought a new force into politics. The National Front, a bunch of perverted neo-nazis , were becoming more prominent. As a reaction to this the Anti-Nazi league formed Rock against Racism. It succeeded instantly. Young punks knew what side they were on instinctively. This was my kind of politics. confront the Nazis with 3 chords and a dub reggae beat as the soundtrack. I was active in the ANL, organizing gigs and fighting on the street. Doing something important.
At one anti-Fascist rally, turning into a riot, we pulled a small boy from the floor. “Hello Miss” he said smiling to my teacher wife. “Go Home NOW” she sternly said to one of her class, as I fell about laughing.
Rock against Racism decided to go national. A march in London followed by a gig in Hackney .X Ray Spex, Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse and THE CLASH .No-one was gonna miss this.
We came down from Birmingham for the weekend. The bunch of merry punks joined us on the Saturday. Boy did we party on that night. My friends in London knew the Birmingham boys and wanted to show them a good time in the big city.The next morning there was no chance of getting 15 people in the same place, in the same shape,never mind walking 10 or so miles to the gig. A decision was made. We would go to the gig in the van, picking up friends along the way.
It was a massive turn out. These were the biggest public rallies since 1840. People were streaming in from every direction. The atmosphere was celebratory. Today the city was ours. A couple of our posse fell under the nearest tree, refreshments had been taken again. We arranged a meeting place for later and went off to have fun.
Any crowd of 100,000 people inspires awe. When they are all there for the same reason, all in it together, it’s the greatest thing. the music started “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, “Glad To Be Gay”, crowd pleasers. I had worked and played football with Steel Pulse’s soundman, Horace. We went over to the sound desk to say hello. He was well pleased to see two old friends and “Bingo” we were sat by the sound desk to see the Pulse, a band we had known about from their start. Best view in the house over 50,000 heads.
It was the Clash everyone wanted to see and the crowd were gonna make it an event whatever. We said our goodbyes to Horace and re-joined our friends. It was time to POGO !
They didn’t let us down. They raged through “Janie Jones”, “London’s Burning”, “Garage Band”, the first album. The whole crowd just went nuts for the anthem of the whole day. All of us there will never forget “White Riot”. The park just went nuts. It was not a riot but the point was there could be if we were not heard. Unforgettable, the soundtrack to 30th April 1978.
For many it had been a long day travelling and marching. Some of our brave crew had never really shaken the morning’s hangover. Lucky we were driving against the traffic and were not far from our friends’ place in Greenwich. The British political world had shifted. All who were there went back to confront and isolate racism. The NF were broken. One – Nil to the good guys.
Those punky boys ? I am still in contact with 3 of the 4. Unfortunately one of them, the only black punk in Birmingham, had a breakdown in the 80s. Three of us shared a flat in London as the self styled “Last Gang In Town”. We were a rubbish gang. For 2 years (until 2002) I lived with the other in Birmingham helping to repair an old house. He was unhappy then but is now a very happy man He lost his children and now, through their choice, he has them back.
C looks after his elderly folks who helped him break a 20 year heroin habit more than we did. M lives with the woman he always loved, just 20 years later than he should have. These two men are the best people I have ever met. I am proud to call them my friends and to have shared so much of their lives.