Bristol Archive Records Blog

Social Security – Album ‘Arley Hill’ – Released August 31st 2009


Simon and myself had met when we were both around 12 years old. We’d both been expelled from local public boy’s schools unable to adhere to the regimes and doctrines of a private education. A career in banking, the military or the city didn’t suit our recalcitrant ways so we were sent to the local comprehensive where we were taught how to be thick.

We loved everything sixties, the clothes, the look, the songs, the bands, the T.V. the films and anything to do with Ealing Cinema.

We loved Mod, The Kinks, The Small Faces, the Who, the rebellion of it all and of course ,we loved the scooters. We were more pod than punk and more monk than mod. All our gear was sixties, AC30 and Selmer amplification, Hofner and Vox guitars, but most importantly Si had managed to get hold of a 12 string Vox pear/tear drop that he’d wanted for years. It made a dreadful noise, but our timing was impeccable.

Yeah we made a record, climbed high in some indie charts and got played by John Peel, but so did every small band in 77 and 78; That wasn’t the point of our journey. We were a tight unit that wanted a laugh and punk was our vehicle, we arrived laughing and we left laughing and we laughed all the way through. We’d always envied the movements of the sixties, the musical genres, the musicians and the memories those pop tunes must have evoked. Little did we realise that the punk movement was going to be our time and that like the kids in the 50′s when they first heard Elvis and the kids in the 60′s when they first heard The Stones and The Beatles, our memories would have equal importance.

…So there we were in the summer of 76, Peter Powell kites, skateboards, stand pipes and drought, the sky was blue and the grass was brown and the winter of discontent was just around the corner. We were kids who’d just left school. These really were the last days of our youth; our salad days. Cider, hash and sunshine, the CSE’s at the local comprehensive had promised us dead end jobs for no money and fuck were they right?

We drifted around getting up to odd bits of mischief, hanging out with other mates who had also failed miserably. Tom was another mate, he played bass and would soon go on to form The Glaxo’s. We spent our time sitting in the sun, smoking hash, drinking cider, drinking tea, swapping riffs off Revolver and waiting for Dan (the Cortinas’ drummer) to get home from school.

We waited for life to become interesting in that hideous purgatory that seemed to exist between the ages of 16 and 18. We seemed to be living in this hideous monochromed, Manichean, world of political and musical stagnation. Boredom pervaded most aspects of our lives. The ennui and the apathy of the everyday seemed to loiter around us like a bad smell. We didn’t want careers and nor did any of our mates. We were desperate for an escape.

Ironically, we’d snuck into Be Bop Deluxe one night, not a great band, way to muso-ish for us, but it was either that or The Good Life on telly. We loved live music and had seen nearly every live band that had come to The Colston Hall since 73. The Small Faces one of the highlights, but that’s another story. The fire exit doors were the weakest in town and we knew the back stage area like the backs of our hands. Tonight though was different. This particular Be Bop tour was projecting Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as a back drop while the band performed their latest album. The music became secondary to the visuals as this intertextual link towards a Marxist representation that highlighted the drudge of the everyday filled us with terror. It became, for us, a huge pre-cursor towards our later introduction to Reid’s agit-prop, God Save the Queen, situationism that apparently existed within early punk. The music was infinitely forgetful, but those dystopic nightmarish images of the underground work force shuffling to work en-masse horrified us.

And then very slowly it started to happen, rumours started coming down the M4 about some weird leather clad nutters into some strange musical genre, not violent, not too musical, just a bit odd. We didn’t really get it at first, it was all hear say based around someone who knew someone else, who had heard or seen something, who had been to a gig somewhere. And then we heard mention of the words Punk rock.

Meanwhile Si had started working in a small independent record shop owned by Bristol’s infamous Tony Dodd. I was sat at home one day minding my own business when Si turned up at my house after work with two singles under his arm; Anarchy in the U.K. and New Rose. He put them on the record player with an evil glint in his eye and a smirk that looked horribly dangerous, he placed the arm of the player on the rotating vinyl and we waited. Is she really going out with him?

And that was it really, from that point on we were fucked.

From the moment Si played New Rose on the turntable we knew what we wanted to do. We’d always had aspirations of playing rock ‘n’ roll and had dabbled with bands in the past, but this genre was different. We loved the idea of anarchy and rebellion, we just didn’t know what anarchy was. Hearing New Rose for the first time was like someone shining a light into a darkened wilderness. The glam rock that preceded punk, only seemed to paper over the cracks of a failing system, a failing government, a failing monarchy and a failing class structure. A French style revolution was unfortunately, out of the question. However, Rotten’s revolution was going to be a movement so powerful even Radio 1 disc jockeys would burn their loon pants. Apparently according to Strummer, the sixties were dead. O’Leary’s tune in, turn on, drop out dogma was to be replaced with a movement of equal influence, if only the punks rode Lambrettas.

And so to form a band. From the early days we played covers from our fave bands: The Who, The Small Faces, The Animals, Van Morrison etc, but we knew in order to take things a little further we’d have to write our own material. We’d read and understood the punk manifesto, we knew what was expected. All we needed were three chords. Some of our songs only needed two, so that saved us a chord for another song where we could use four. Some songs we used minors and others we used sevenths. We were fast becoming punk musicians. Now all we needed was a guitar tuner and most importantly: a gig.

We used to rehearse in this old mansion house over looking Durdam Downs. It was being used as a free school and the kid’s lessons consisted of building dens and smoking hash in the old quarry next to Tiffany’s night club. These kids were feral, middle class kids whose parents still adhered to the free love ethos of the sixties. These flower children of the sixties were junkies, stoners, freeloaders, lesbians and queers. Nutters the lot of them. The head mistress was some freeloading stoner who lived on the top floor of this mansion with her kids. The school cook was keith Floyd the T.V. chef. This was Bristol Bohemia at its height and these kids were bonkers, fucking bonkers. Eco-warriors, vegetarians, tree huggers, flat earthers, feminists and queers and that was just the staff. The parents were worse, this place made St Trinnians look like Eaton. Fuck me, we were rehearsing in Powys square.

There was one ray of light. They employed this old hippie musician that played in a dodgy old hippy band called The Rat Bites from Hell. He lived locally so we bullied him into giving us some guitar lessons at my house, he charged us a quid a week, fucking hippie capitalist. He was a nice guy but he had these porcine features with the sort of chubby face that you wanted to slap. He also owned an old beat up S.G. that we used to drool over. He’d show us how to play songs off our fave albums of the time, unfortunately he left Bristol and went off to London to form another hippie band with his mate who was the drummer from Spooky Tooth. They got signed and released their first single: Lovers of Today. They called themselves The Only Ones or something. We bumped into him after he got signed. He was walking around Clifton with some dodgy blonde on his arm, female as well. We grunted at each other. He clearly didn’t realise what celebrities we’d become!

Our first gig was the back room at the Bear Hotel, the venue must have held at least 30 people, we’d arrived! We did however meet some of the faces that we’d only heard about through local folklore: The kit chaps, Timmy and Lee Williams, Vernon, and Martin. These guys were nutters and we loved them. Tim wrote the local fanzine: Loaded. They supported us a lot they were good people. Check out Vern and Mart’s scream on the Pig’s first single. Possibly one of the finest moments in rock’n’roll history!! Apart from Dan Swan’s drum solo in T.V. families. Dan was 15 years old, outrageous! By chance some journo was at the gig; he photographed us and reviewed the band. We ended up with a photo and review in The NME. Considering how shite we were, this was an amazing stroke of luck. This of course cemented our punk credentials enabling us to crash every worthwhile party in town.

Our second gig was in an old pub in the depths of St Pauls: The B.Q. It was originally called The British Queens, its notoriety exacerbated by its queer clientèle. The Primates were headlining, they were a three piece with two musicians and a drummer. The drummer succumbed to a heroin overdose years later and died. John Shennan and Johnny Britten were two great musicians, they were good blokes too and told us if we turned up with our gear we could support them. So we did and that’s where we met Dartmoor John for the first time. He was called Dartmoor John cos he came from Dartmoor and his name was John. Myth had it that John had been the youngest inmate in Dartmoor Prison.

A Bristolian chancer, poor old John was never the sharpest tool in the shed. With his bleached peroxide hair and his woeful management style, John was doomed from day one. John saw punk as his chance and fancied himself as an impresario. He managed a local band called Verminx with a lead singer who called himself Leon Rebel. The lot of them didn’t last long and disappeared into obscurity. John was an amiable bloke and was happy to let us play as long as we didn’t want paying. We were cool with that, we just wanted to play. We did lots of gigs for John, more through fear than need. The B.Q. really was a shit hole, the sort of place even the hard core punks stayed away from. Suicide got the better of John in the end. What was it with suicide and punks? There’s a song title in there somewhere.

Around this time our singer Pete was offered another gig singing for an outfit called The Stingrays, so he left us. We were a bit dismayed but remained good mates. After a couple of days of soul searching Simon came up with the perfect solution. We recruited Phil who was The Cortinas’ roadie. Things as this point started to get really silly, but progressed in a really positive manner. Thanks to Phil, being in a band became brilliant fun. Phil gave us the confidence to progress to a different level musically though in truth, we were standing on the shoulders of giants who’d stood on the shoulders of giants before them. It was a huge mountain to climb, we knew that from day one. We knew that whatever we were about to achieve or try to achieve we would possibly never emulate our musical heroes; all we could do was enjoy trying and enjoy the journey. Being in the same industry was as good as it was ever going to get and for now that would have to suffice. As a band we occupied that liminal space between insignificance and total incompetence, so we decided we’d have as much fun as was humanly possible.

We tried so hard to write good songs, we robbed and plundered the greats but to no avail. So our agenda was to go to more parties, love more women and laugh more than any other band in town and that is where our success lay, we knew our place and we went for it. We were going to be The Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night. The last thing we wanted was to come out of this party as bitter old has-beens.

In the world of good songwriting we were conspicuous absentees. We knew we had a year to make an impact, as it turned out we stretched our fascination to 14 months, but that really was it. There were other really good bands pushing us out of the way, check out Heartbeat’s Avon Calling compilation. None of these bands had existed when we started, yet all of these bands were equally relevant.

As one reviewer wrote, ‘Social Security, the kind of band your mates are in’, yep, harsh as it seemed at the time, that just about summed us up.

The Pop Group offered us a support at The Anson Rooms. I remember they had all this lovely brand new gear, brand new Fender, and Rickenbacker guitars, Hiwatt amplification, newly designed Sonor drums. All their clothes were brand new that week and there was us with all this beat up and battered gear that we’d dragged through the clubs of Bristol and the West Country as we begged and lied in order to play. Maybe we’d missed the point with all this punk nonsense, we thought you were meant to turn up and do it, to grab the moment by the seat of its pants, to sweat through the toil of graft and to enjoy the company of the other ‘real’ bands like The Pigs, The Cortinas and The Glaxos. Bands who were serving out their own hard fought apprenticeships. The Pop group although good mates of ours were snotty little poseurs and needed a slap, they sure in hell weren’t a punk band, or a working band come to that. The Cortinas had worked their bollocks off putting Bristol on the map, we owed it to them to put the Pop Group in their place. That night in The Anson Rooms was going to be war. It may have been their gig, but we weren’t going to stand aside while some manufactured boy band with shiny shoes, shiny guitars and shiny panties stole our thunder.

The Anson Rooms was a venue we really wanted to play, we lived literally two Streets away, this was our home and our territory. By chance, we’d recently started hanging out with an older woman who lived next to Clifton High School. She used to supply us with copious amounts of free drugs and so we moved in and spent most of our free time getting trashed. Because we lived next to the High School, we became very well acquainted with the borders and then the day girls. As time progressed and when they found out we were in a band the girls assumed we were way more established than we were and became wonderfully ‘friendly’. Because most of them were Clifton girls and the gig was in the heart of Clifton, most of the 5th and 6th formers came along. Yet again, a mixture of luck and naivety stood us in good stead. The first bit of luck was the gig, the second was not having to play first. That privilege went to Gardez Darkx who were great as usual.

We went on second and by now, the Anson Rooms was heaving. The place was packed with Students and what seemed like most of Clifton High School. When we went on stage all the girls who’d made it to the front started screaming and shouting, this created such a buzz of excitement that everyone else in the room thought we must be something special. We played a blinder, did about three encores and walked off stage as high as kites. Of course all the girls left cos they had to be home by 10.30. It was only because the venue had been in Clifton Village and at The University Union that their parents had ever let them attend. The Pop Group came on stage after us to a barely half empty room. A few of Bristol’s weirder characters at the front and that was it. Yeah okay, The pop group won the war, but that night the battle was ours. We never did get another support with them.

We were booked to do a gig on the back of a lorry by the Bristol branch of the Right To Work campaign. Huge irony considering we didn’t work, didn’t want to work and had no intention of working. To be honest, the only employed person on the lorry was the drive and he was probably working for cash on the side. The plan was we were going to drive around the job centres of South Bristol playing punk while some retard, spotty, Eaton educated, landed, left wing, University student broadcast his Marxist beliefs and dogma through a megaphone to a poorly educated underclass of unemployed South Bristolians. Hey, it was a gig! We met this skinny, spotty, radical at the University Union, jumped onto the back of a lorry and drove to St Judes to pick up another band and their gear. We didn’t know who this band was, and they certainly didn’t know us. We loaded up the lorry and off we drove, them at one end of the lorry scowling at us, and us at the other end scowling at them. Myth number two dispelled: The punk movement was not a gigantic, hippy type, happy family.

As we drove through Bristol’s former industrial, working class, heartlands, the spotty student started ranting. Right to work this and right to work that, anti-racism this and anti-racism that, this guy was beginning to get on our tits, the more he ranted the more matey we became with the other band. He was another idiot that needed a good working class working over! His accent couldn’t have been more R.P. if he’d tried, he didn’t so much have a plum in his mouth as a plum stuck right up his arse. (He probably got a first class degree, joined the Tory party, and became a M.P. For Henley-on-Thames). This coupled with the bollocks he was spouting began to make us start taking the piss. Within half an hour the X-Certs were our best mates.

The culmination of the days ‘work’ was the lorry driving down Nelson Street, the epicentre of Bristol’s unemployed, while The X-Certs played live, belting out vile, hideous, extremely offensive punk. Office workers hung out of the windows as the sound of Bristol punk echoed around the narrow, medieval streets of town. We stopped outside Bristol’s premier dole office as The X-Certs thrashed out their message to the unemployed. People piled out of the dole office, kids piled out of Mad Harry’s and the coppers up for bit of Seventies style, sweeny-esque agro crashed out of Bridewell police station. It all went off. Coppers everywhere, kids on the lorry, helmets on the floor, the unemployed fighting, the student protesting, but the band played on. Fucking chaos, it was brilliant. It was just like The Tote End turning over Harry the Dog when Millwall turned up mob handed to take on The Gas.

We timed our exit to perfection, grabbed our instruments, jumped off the lorry and fucked off. At a safe distance we looked back and witnessed the mayhem, what a laugh; this was why we joined a band. Everyone was having a brilliant time. We ran home and waited. The late edition Evening Post carried the story. ‘Chaos on the streets of Bristol’, Rock ‘n’ roll!

So there we had it, The Pigs, The Sex Pistols and The Cortinas split up, the party was over. Humour evaporated into a consumerist nightmare where the commodification of punk had Marks and Spencer and their high street accomplices selling punk ideals to a homogenized never land. Top of the pops played the Pistols and Mohicans sold their identities to the tourists on The Kings Road, Individuality was lost, and the rock steady beat moved onto Mod. Strummer’s didacticism was so pseudo, it started to tarnish what was meant to be good fun. I didn’t need to be preached too, I’d been brought up a catholic and could smell bullshit from a hundred meters. I wasn’t in the mood to have some dodgy cockney junkie telling me I didn’t need to hear the call up, that was just bollocks.


Punk evolved into New Wave and the Boomtown Rats got to number one. Sorry mate, this wasn’t why we got into music. We didn’t want to be associated with some dodgy, pikie, tinker telling us our record was ‘the sound of Birmingham, Manchester and Newcastle’. The fucking cheek of it, we weren’t that good. Besides, rumours were coming down the M5 about some bands in Coventry and a couple of kids on Lambert Li’s all mirrored up started to look and sound infinitely more fun than Doing The Rat. We needed to catch a fast boat to Cairo, cos an earthquake was erupting. If we hung around this town any longer we’d be stuck with having to listen to the Pop Group, Y? I hear you ask, exactly, so we fucked off. We let The Pop Group and The Wurzels carve up The West Country between them.

(Dom and Simon – Social Security – June 2009)

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