Friday, December 15, 2006

Punk in South London

I wasn’t sure about reading ‘Punk Rock: an oral history’ by John Robb (Ebury Press, 2006). Sometimes your love for things can be ruined by them being over-mythologised and analysed, and I’ve rationed my reading of punk books on this basis. This book is quite refreshing though as it is entirely in the words of people involved in British and Irish punk up until about 1984. Along the way, some of the myths about punk are quietly demolished. For instance the notion of punk emerging in opposition to all previous musical trends doesn’t hold water when you find out that most of the key players were obsessively involved, if only as fans, in all kinds of pre-punk scenes – not just Bowie and Pub Rock (the approved influences), but also the 70s underground of Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies.

So what about South London connections? Well the Bromley Contingent of Siouxsie, Billy Idol and co. has been well documented before, as have the Croydon connections of The Damned, but I hadn’t realized that the latter’s Rat Scabies and Captain Sensible met while working at Croydon’s Fairfield Halls, taking in everything from Jerry Lee Lewis to Mrs Mills. The Damned rehearsed in a Bermondsey warehouse owned by their early manager, John Krivine (who was also behind the shops Boy and Acme Attractions)

The Sex Pistols first proper rehearsal was upstairs in the Rose and Crown in Wandsworth (John Lydon had earlier made his way to the Crunchie Frog pub in Rotherhithe for a rehearsal in August 1975, but the rest of the band failed to show up). A key early gig was the following February at Andrew Logan’s Valentine’s Night warehouse party at Butler’s Wharf in Bermondsey, featuring Jordan jumping on stage to have her clothes ripped off by Lydon, who then started smashing up the equipment. The gig had an electrifying effect on Mick Jones and Brian James, seeing the Pistols for the first time and inspired to follow suit (eventually forming The Clash and The Damned respectively).

TV Smith and Gaye Advert of The Adverts started out in a flat in Clapham when they first moved up to London from Devon, while Colin Newman of Wire lived in a ‘very rough squat in Stockwell’. Don Letts, a key figure in the punk-reggae crossover as DJ at the Roxy club ‘lived in a house in Forest Hill with five other rasta brethren: Leo Williams who was later in Big Audio Dynamite and Dreadzone, JR, Tony and my brother. We were really the staff, the doormen at the Roxy’. Mark Perry of Sniffin’ Glue and Alternative TV gets his say (‘We were working class kids from Deptford. We weren’t middle class ponces from Bromley or Chelsea’).

The book follows through to second wave of punk bands and its various sub-genres such as anarcho-punk. It also attempts to rescue the reputation of Oi bands, misunderstood as right wing skinheads when they were actually working class socialists if the book is to be believed. In this category come Deptford’s The Business, whose guitarist Steve Kent recalls ‘I was living in Deptford in the early punks days. Some friends of mine found out that punk groups were playing at the famous Kings Head in Deptford, which later went on to be the subject of the Conflict song. We had a punk gang down there on Friday and Saturday nights, which was the punk night, and there would be bands in the punk room’.

Above all the book conveys the excitement of rapidly expanding possibilities, of Do it Yourself mayhem and violent reaction from shocked patriots and passers-by.

1 comment:

scared of chives said...

One of John Lydon's favourite bands was/is Wishbone Ash - a 70s rock/folk/blues twin-guitar led band.