People from the era tell their stories.
» Punk in Weston - 1977-79
Punk in Weston - 1977-79
When asked by to put something together about Punk in Weston 1977-79 I was at a loss to cover the 1977 bit, as ‘Punk', as most people know it, it didn't really reach Weston until 1978 (some might even say 1979). So - if this all seems a bit personal then I make no apology. Punk in Weston in 1977 meant a handful of people who went to Bristol quite a lot, and 1978 - well going to Bristol quite a lot more. So - Bristol is where we start.
I was born in the Inns of Court, Knowle West, Bristol and moved to Weston around 1969. For me this was a culture shock. Not only were we living in a ‘real' house (as opposed to the prefab we occupied in Knowle) the kids at school in Weston would get me to talk just so they could hear the foreign metallic tones of my Bristolian accent. Coming from Knowle West was significant in two ways. Firstly it meant I had family in Bristol and spent much time there in my early teens checking out the shops for Brutus shirts, Budgie jackets, stack heeled loafers etc. Clothes that in Weston you wouldn't find for love nor money, and I had money, as there was plenty of work to be found in the guesthouses and hotels washing dishes at evenings, weekends and the summer holidays. Clobber is a shop name that springs to mind. Secondly, it was significant as coming from Knowle West meant I was a City supporter.
This is significant as well as it was at a city match where I saw my first ‘punk rocker'. City fans always had the upper hand as far as fashion was concerned (I can hear a thousand rovers fans tutting as I type). Bristol Rovers fans - and most of my mates at school in Weston were Rovers fans - had a different take on fashion. That was of course unless it was a donkey jacket, a pair of ox-blood Doctor Martins and maybe a pair of Skinners, it seemed to me that everything else in terms of fashion as far as Rovers fans were concerned was considered suspect or a target for ridicule.
Around late 1976 or early 1977, the fashion then, for a number of fans at city matches was, bowling shirts, Tiger Boots (a specific type of emerald green baseball boot ( I have never met anyone who has ever heard of them since) and Brutus jeans (slightly baggy with a small turn up). Capped sleeve t-shirts were also popular. All very ‘American Graffiti' ( a great film directed by George ‘Star Wars' Lucas) set at the end of the fifties/early sixties and which was on release at the time and was possibly an influence.
The ‘punk' in question on that Saturday afternoon had his work cut out. He was dressed in the usual city fashion but with a difference, he had green hair. The ‘East End' turned on him with a vengeance, in full song, all turning, pointing and singing ‘Martian, Martian fuck off home, fuck off home, fuck off home'. I was intrigued. On the ‘Bakers Travel' coach back to Weston after the match I heard someone say that the kid with green-hair was a ‘punk' and it had something to do with London. Music wasn't mentioned but I was intrigued, by his sheer individuality, and by having the bollocks to dye his hair green in the first place. I wanted to find out more.
Back at school a kid in my class called Ben turned up one day with four copies of Anarchy in the UK by a group called ‘The Sex Pistols' that he was trying to sell. It had been apparently banned and the record had swiftly made its way into the Woolworth's cheap box at 30p a shot. I was the only taker and bought one from him, for what I thought was the cheeky sum of a quid, but as he said, they were ‘the' punk band and it was banned.
There was something ‘wrong' about this record, which of course meant it was good. I didn't know what to expect I took the record home and placed it on the record player in my bedroom. I played it and…. hang on…the intro sounded like the glitter band (my first gig was at the Colston Hall to see the crest fallen Gary Glitter at the height of his popularity). I could go with this, although I was yet to be convinced by the nursery rhyme type chorus and Steptoe like vocals, although strangely my Wish Bone Ash and Hawk Wind records just didn't cut it anymore. They were singing about castles and space ships, this guy was singing about…what was that, Anarchy?
Ben was quite a character, small, cheeky and eloquent, the son of a vicar, who would later that term be sent home from school for turning up with a home made hair cut, DIY drain pipe trousers and a plastic jacket with many fag burns in. The jacket had laminated pictures hanging off of it of The Queen and writing on, words like ‘Anarchy' and phrases like ‘Heavy Manners' and 'No Future'. He was one of the few kids to go to onto college from my school - which was at the time really a holding camp for kids that would end up working on the industrial estates along the Winterstoke Road. It took kicking the head teacher in the balls (and this actually happened) to usually get sent home so his act of rebellion was no mean feat.
Ben had a sister in London who had turned him onto Punk. One visit to his bedroom and all was revealed to me. He not only had all the records of relevance but he also had a shit load of posters for gigs which he had nicked off of walls, record shops, anywhere, usually on visits to Bristol. The vicars son in fact turned out to be an artful dodger and a lot of the records he owned had been nicked. The discs included Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads, The Ramones, Jonathan Richmond and early Stiff Records. The Buzzcocks ( Spiral Scratch) and Reggae 12 inches were also a feature, ‘Cocaine' by Dillinger, Peter Tosh, Prince Fari etc.
Ben introduced me to Revolver Records at the top of Park Street and Virgin Records in the under-pass by the bus station. Ben also knew a few of the older ‘heads' in Weston and by Christmas 1977 he had organised the first punk event in Weston at a hippy hangout called ‘Johns Eating Palace'. This place would later be squatted by my band, Burning Sound, as a rehearsal room in 1979. I will never forget Ben during the Queens Silver Jubilee visit to Weston in 1977. We were sat on The Gaumont steps in Regents Street as the Queens Rolls Royce slowly drove past to the excitement of the crowds. Ben swiftly removed his God Save the Queen badge and threw it at the car, which it hit and bounced off. Luckily for him unnoticed by the hysterical crowd.
The ‘John', of Johns Eating Palace was a Jesus looking type head who had previously run a joke shop in the covered Market in Dolphin Square. Here at Johns Ben took control of the sounds being played, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and much reggae, nothing too fast or furious as he had to keep the Hippys happy as well as the younger guns who were now coming along (all 5 of us). The first Punk Disco at Johns Eating Palace ended in violence as local bikers stormed in and trashed the place -well, tore a few posters from the walls and punched a few people, them there straight legged trouser obviously being an affront to their sensibilities.
I had ‘gone punk' in the summer of 1977, it was a much mulled over decision as you don't didn't do this stuff lightly in a place like Weston, the ridicule, the threat of violence etc but hey - if you were alienated anyway surely it wouldn't make that much difference. Interestingly enough my love affair with Bristol City declined as my love of music expanded.
The records could be ordered from Exons, Hamlyns and GK Card Shop - a card shop that inexplicably had a record store upstairs. GK even had a punk display in their window at one point which featured pictures from a Sunday supplement article on The Clash - one of the ladies in the shop had made a display sign which read ‘Good Clean Punk'. I can remember going up there just to drool over and handle the cover of first Blondie album. Albums being quite expensive compared to singles at the time. I can also remember certain young punks jumping on the counter and nicking singles from the shelves at GK while one of the ladies had been sent out the back on a false errand - I still feel a bit guilty about this to this day and it wasn't even me.
The listening boothe in Hamilyns Record and Musical Instrument store had reputedly been the place where ‘Sounds' journalist Jane Suck (later Jane Solanos) had listened to and reviewed Patti Smiths ‘Horses' in 1975. The sound booth was name checked in the review as apparently she came from Weston. I cannot verify this but why let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Being a punk in Weston around this time in Weston was a fairly isolating experience and moments like seeing The Cortinas on BBC Points West was a shot in the arm. If I remember correctly the next punk (new wave) event on TV was seeing Magazine on the Old Grey Whistle Test in around late 78. Which is why when TV programmes such as ‘Punk at The BBC' come around you would mistakenly thought it all started in 1979 - and for a lot of people it did. Poor ‘Aunty Beeb' missed the boat on this one, but there was of course always John Peel.
In 1979 an original Weston punk known as Scrapper would also appear on this show. He was interviewed in the studio about the rumbles that would take place on Bank Holidays Mondays on the sea front at Weston. These were usually between Skinheads and the Mods (or anyone else) by this point and his appearance raised questions in The House of Commons on whether he was paid for this appearance.
The clothes were a bit of a problem - but not the shoes! The covered market in Dolphin Square had a shoe shop, and for some unknown reason (there were only about 4 Teddy Boys in Weston) stocked a full range of original 1950's Denson leather and suede winkle picker boots and brothel creepers at very cheap (ridiculously low) 1950's prices. I have recently Googled the shoemakers Densons and they have disappeared. I have since been reliably informed they went bust many years back. Compared to the footwear prices in Paradise Garage in Bristol they were a bargain. They also sold the kind of casual shoe favoured by certain ‘Bristol trendies' (as we called them). These shoes were like a brown canvas creeper with four eyelets and thin sponge crepe sole. They didn't last long and soaked up the piss in the toilets at gigs - but hey - they were very cheap and replaceable. Army clothes, shirts and trousers were also obtainable from the Army Surplus shop on Meadow Street and Weston had around 5 charity shops at the time which could supply you with many items that could be individualised. I can rarely pass a charity shop without the urge to pop in to this day. Come to think of it Weston also had about 5 Omelet Bars and to this day no one I have met outside of Weston have ever heard of such a thing as an ‘Omelet Bar'.
More specialised items of clothing could of course be found in Bristol or London. Hard-earned cash would be saved for trips to Paradise Garage. Richard and Bish spring to mind, they worked in Paradise Garage and were very friendly compared to some of the Bristol Punks and Kit Kiddies we came across. To them we were just ‘Johnny come lately' bumpkins, which in fairness we probably were. Can somebody tell me the origin of this term ‘Kit' please - was it Kit from the film ‘Badlands' - I like to think it was. Bony Moroney (which was mainly for the girls) or further afield to Kings Road, Chelsea Antiques Market, Kensington Market, Boy and Sex. Although the clothes in these shops were ridiculously priced and it is hard to argue sometimes that Punk wasn't just a vehicle for Westwood and Mclaren to flog over-priced t-shirts.
Back in Weston a small scene was developing - there were a few - you could count on one hand - who dressed the part and others who were just into the music (you could count those on the other hand). They were older lads who had cars who you could cadge a lift to Bristol with them to see gigs. It was either that or the bus. Paul Tyler (or Scapper) lived down my road and we would walk to school together. When we walked past the Clarks Shoe Factory in biker jackets and drain pipes on Locking Road the whole shop floor would down tools and run over to the window and bang on it and shout abuse at us. Scrapper would go on to form ‘Red Alert' Weston's first ‘three chord' punk band. That was around early 78/79.
Hutchie, the bass player in my band Eye on youth and was quite an influential character on the scene. He managed to mix glam and punk and would religiously go to Bristol to get his hair dyed white once a month. He introduced me to Mark Garvey who was in a band from Winscombe called The X-spurtz. Garvey would play guitar with Eye on Youth for a while. The X-spurtz were the first punk band to play locally, but in surrounding villages and not in Weston. They even had a fanzine put together Garveys brother called ‘The Sin', which of course doctored the banner from ‘The Sun'.
Another mate called Nick Harris, was one of the few who would make the regular trips to Bristol to catch bands. Nick played bass in a band called The Children of Toil, a ‘velvets' influenced band, their guitarist was a guy called Steve Jones, who looked like a goth before goth was thought of. He turned up in Weston with his missus from Northhampton and they did some strange dances on the dance floor to ‘Heroes' by David Bowie at a nightclub called Hobbits Hole. Hobbit's was a real throw back place. It had murals of hobbits and Gandalf etc on the walls but it would let you in no matter what you were wearing, as opposed the other clubs which had a policy that if you didn't look like a block head then you were out.
‘Suzy's' was the worst club for this. None of these clubs would play anything near a punk or new wave record but occasionally they would play the odd storming funk record and I can remember being impressed by the 12 inch version of Galaxy by War - but little else. Hobbits would play the occasional good tune but you had to drink your way through quite a lot of the night to wait for it. The DJ there worked in Exons Record shop and was very miserable, which I could never understand as he was actually paid to sell and play records. Most of the music I liked would be heard in Bristol, The Dug Out, Trinity etc and particularly at gigs before and after the band s came on.
Things began to pan out a little in 1979 as a few of the younger guys were coming forward and doing their thing. A scene developed at a bar called Flanangan's at The Anchor pub in the middle of town. Flanagans was a real melting pot for the post-punk scene that was developing. Skinheads, Mods, nascent Goths, Punks and even a Rockabilly or two would be in attendance (on the run from the police in London). The music here was great and anyone could bring records along. In one night you could hear Blue Beat and Ska, Two-tone, Suicide, The Ruts, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen, The Banshees, The Stooges etc. Bands could also play there, My band ‘The Cassettes' at that time supported The Vice Squad there and The Leyton Buzzards also turned up one night and played a set. There was a lot of energy around at this time but like most small towns it was very insular. With no network of venues, promoters or advice, the scene in Bristol might as well have been in London or the other side of the moon.
But alas all good things come to an end and without Flanagan's most of the different groups who frequented it span off into their small cliques and did their own thing. Theatre of Hate would eventually play at the Old Pier in Weston - I didn't go to this gig but they were very popular in the town. Many years later I met their guitarist Billy Duffy, who recounted the beating the band and their followers took from some skinheads who turned up and trashed the place.
For some people Weston has/had a ‘bad energy', and I shared this for sometime as History and memory don't always go hand in hand. Its only years later that some things, which only seemed relevant to you, turns out also to have the same meaning for others as well. If I have missed out any names from this brief history then I apologise, please feel free to down load and add them yourself, or write your own history. For me Punk was (and still is) a ‘state of mind', an attitude and shared energy not confined to any one music, place, space or period. Da Da, Ken Keesey and Acid House - just add your own to this list…and I hate lists.
Punk for me has very little to do with three chords, but more to do with being open to ideas, ideas that are filtered through a particular critical framework and a shared experience which was lived through by some teenagers in the late to mid 70's (a bullshit detector?). In Simon Reynolds Book ‘Rip it Up' he states that he wrote the book to remind himself of who he is. In retrospect Punk had a powerful influence on the course of my life and still does (probably like many others) and if this all sounds like a load of middle aged nostalgic bullshit, in the words of The Ramones…. I Don't Care.
Dedicated to the memory of Lee Chapman
'Royal Imperial Aerosol Kid'
Gary Palmer 2010