Freelance writer from the northeast coast of England with a fondness for vegan food and punk rock.
As far as I remember, my first encounter with the phenomenon of punk rock came via a sensationalist story in one of the Sunday tabloids. "This is What Young People are Doing to Themselves Today," read the headline, above a photo of a young girl sporting a sleeper through one nostril, a second sleeper through an ear lobe, and a connecting chain hanging loose on her cheek. Now, I had only recently been to see Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel at Newcastle City Hall, so this new, rather bizarre fad was never going to be for me. Or so I thought.
My younger brother had a compilation album that was released by Sounds music paper, and among the likes of Santana and Aerosmith, there was a track by the Vibrators called "He’s a Psycho." Curiosity pushed me into giving it a spin—and my head was turned. It wasn’t just the power, energy, and snarling vocals that got me. This was 1977, the year of such blandness as "Save Your Kisses For Me" (Brotherhood Of Man), "The Floral Dance" (Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band), and "Under the Moon of Love" (Showaddywaddy). Yet, here was this guy repeatedly barking, "He’s a psycho!" Count me in.
Talking the Talk
Not long after this I was at a party at a friend’s house, where I came across the recently released Vertigo Records compilation, New Wave. While others were in the front room getting down to George McCrae's "Rock Your Baby" (great song), I was in the dining room, enthralled by these fresh new sounds on an old Dansette record player. I slept on an armchair, and the following morning the guy who’d thrown the party told me I could have the album, as he wasn’t keen on it. Oh joy!
I came into contact with a couple of local punk aficionados, one of who loaned me a clutch of singles. My good friend, Rob, also joined me in exploring this exciting new world of music. I recall that his mother was somewhat dismayed to see that, beneath the stereo in their living room, Linda Ronstadt’s face no longer stood at the front of the queue in his LP collection; she had been usurped by an unwelcome intruder called Live at the Vortex. With the addition of Live at the Roxy and later the Streets compilation, Rob and I were spoilt for choice when it came to punk songs to play.
But talking the talk was one thing. The time came when we had to walk the walk.
Walking the Walk
One Saturday afternoon we decided to get some proper punk clobber together to wear around the bars that night. We didn’t have bondage pants or even a Clash T-shirt in those embryonic days, but we were determined to look the business. I salvaged a pair of my dad’s old suit jackets from the loft which, with the addition of a few safety pins, lengths of chain, and punk badges procured from a local record store, made as good a punk uniform as could be bought on the King’s Road. Accessories included cheap plastic sunglasses, a loosened tie for Rob, and I finished off my look with a stylish studded dog collar around the throat.
This was all well and good when larking about in the bedroom with a can of beer and the records playing, but we had no idea what kind of reception we’d get from the rather staid regulars in the lounge of the Red House, the bar we’d be visiting to await our bus into the town centre. Our plan was simply to brazen it out, with the on-our-way-to-a-fancy-dress-party get-out clause if things got tricky.
We needn’t have worried. Apart from the odd glance, no-one paid any attention to us other than kids who were interested in following suit. I got quite a buzz from dressing in a way that was so different from everyone else (apart from the sprinkling of other punks in town). The following Saturday afternoon, Rob and I ventured confidently into the town centre in the same punk get up, and someone took Polaroid shots of us standing at the doors of the Market Inn. Those photos are long lost, but what I’d give to have one to view now.
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We Create and then We Destroy
On another Saturday afternoon a while later, I was back in the loft, where I found two identical khaki long-sleeved shirts. The Sex Pistols’ album, Never Mind the Bollocks had just come out, and Rob had fetched his copy over with the intention of somehow transferring the (already iconic) lettering onto these shirts.
In the proper do it yourself spirit of punk, we used tracing paper, an old Corn Flakes box and a razor blade to create a stencil (cont’d Blue Peter). I stippled the design onto the front of the shirts using a black marker, remembering to put a sheet of card under the front of the shirt so the ink didn’t go through to the back.
The finished result was far better than we’d expected, and we were delighted. A few rips here and there, held together with safety pins, badges in the flaps of the pockets, and we were off to swig beer at a bar where "Peaches" (Stranglers) and "Gary Gilmore's Eyes" (Adverts) were on the jukebox.
A good night was had by all, and several people asked where us we’d got our shirts, even though we'd knocked them up ourselves. On the walk home, somewhat under the influence, we began trying to make the rips bigger in each other’s shirt. It started with Rob's curled index finger pulling one of the rips in my sleeve, and pretty soon we were at it like fighting cats, shredding these things we’d put so much effort into creating, while laughing hysterically. I got home with only a cuff left.
Old Punks Never Die ...
As time marched on, ready made punk clothes became more accessible through outlets like Phaze and T.I.T.S (Tell It T Shirts, if I remember correctly) in Newcastle. Everything was off-the-peg, so there wasn't so much need for the DIY aspect any more.
And I continued on the great punk adventure for many years (I’m still on it) during which time I attended some great gigs, did two issues of a punk fanzine called Aural Nightmares, and briefly sang in a punk band, those heady days of 1977 had a wonderful freshness and raw excitement that will never be replicated.
In the title of this post, I chose the word ascent, rather than descent. For despite the negativity of the genre, epitomised in the phrase No Future, amid the snarling and the swearing, there was actual substance, and my punk experience was an edifying and uplifting one.
... Our Safety Pins Just Rust
Punk camaraderie was very strong in those early days (it had to be), and the whole DIY philosophy regarding clothes, gigs, and fanzines (but not haircuts) was one I took to immediately, and which still influences me today, in some regards. I heard some amazing music and made some terrific friends. And I never spat at a band in my life.
All these years later, the whole thing is still dear to my heart. The internet gives us access to some of the most obscure punk tunes ever. I currently have a Hüsker Dü badge on the lapel of one of my jackets, and I recently bought a Crass T-shirt, a Flux of Pink Indians T-shirt, and another from the Sunderland Bunker, which bears the legend from posters of the day, No Glue, No Glass Bottles.
You see, we old punks never die; our safety pins just rust.