My Pop Life #164 : Blitzkrieg Bop – The Ramones

Blitzkrieg Bop   –   The Ramones

Hey ho, let’s go
Shoot’em in the back now
What they want, I don’t know
They’re all revved up and ready to go

December 31st 1977.  My brother Paul and I, punked up on speed, chains, eyeliner and nail varnish are buzzing around outside The Rainbow in Finsbury Park, a large seated venue which is going punk rock for the night.  Our seats are central, about 12 rows from the front.  Ace.  We missed opening act The Rezillos, and caught the end of Generation X whom we didn’t like.  We were there for The Ramones.

I’d gone from hippy long-hair walking around the LSE in a poncho, cowboy boots and stetson to clean-chinned spiky-haired punk overnight, flares were OUT, brothel -creepers were IN, and I’d created a punk garment out of an old dinner jacket I’d found in a flea market, putting paperclips around all the edges, lapels and pockets. It either looked a) brilliant or b) shit.   Can’t remember.  It was a fantastic time to be in London, there was a visceral thrill rippling through the scene and as a dedicated follower of fashion I dived right in.  Let’s see :  I’d already been a wannabe hippie about a decade late, a glam-rocker, skinhead, suedehead, and back to country-rock groover again.  Now I Was A Punk.  A new orthodoxy.  Dyed the hair – purple initially.  Took speed – amphetamine sulphate – in pill form, “blues” which were 4 for a pound.  Read the fanzines such as Mark Perry’s Sniffin’Glue.  Didn’t actually sniff glue – not that stupid.  Went to punk gigs in the correct clothes.   All the time I was a law student.  Having a laugh.  Enjoying myself.   It was a musical and fashion revolution, and like all revolutions there was a pretty regimented code to follow – of music, of clothes, of haircuts.  Some things were OUT and some things were IN.  Us 19-year-olds weren’t about to throw away our record collections because they contained songs that were over 3 minutes long and featured drum solos.  And most of my mates didn’t cut their hair like lil’ old fashion-victim me.  But I’ve always enjoyed dressing up, the more flamboyant and outrageous the better, and I embraced the punk fashion like a born-again Leninist.   Paul and I went gigging, to The Roxy, The Vortex, The Hope, the Nashville Rooms.  Exciting times.  God Save The Queen had been number 1 in the hit parade in June (see My Pop Life #113) then the top singles Pretty Vacant and Holidays In The Sun had graced Top Of The Pops before the mighty LP Never Mind The Bollocks was finally released in late October.   I’d managed to get to see The Sex Pistols at Brunel University in December ’77 on the Never Mind The Bans tour before they left for the States and split up forever.   The publicity and notoriety the band had generated in their short lifetime was quite extraordinary, mainly the result of manager Malcolm McLaren‘s media hijinks and a realisation that controversy sells records.   The Anarchy tour in 1976 had been cancelled apart from a handful of gigs – Manchester, Plymouth, Caerphilly, Leeds, and as such they were a media phenomenon rather than a genuinely popular live band.  But the singles were brilliant.

The reason why I mention all of this is because the Pistols owed a huge debt to The Ramones.  As did The Clash (see My Pop Life #52) who I eventually got to see on Hastings Pier in 1978.  Both young punk bands had gone to see The Ramones play at The Roundhouse on July 5th 1976, while I was hitch-hiking around the USA listening to Pure Prairie League and Wings and buying my cowboy boots. The previous night The Ramones had supported The Flamin’ Groovies there and word had spread.   I think The Stranglers may have been on this gig too.  It ignited the nascent UK punk scene.   And yes I know that the first punk single was New Rose by The Damned (Oct 28th 1976) a band that I never saw live.

The Ramones first single was Blitzkrieg Bop 8 months earlier.  They were from Forest Hills, Queens, New York City and played their first gigs in 1974, then built a gigging following at Manhattan dives Max’s Kansas City and CBGB over the following years.   John Cummings (Johnny Ramone), Douglas Colvin (Dee Dee Ramone), Jeffrey Hyman (Joey Ramone) and Thomas Erdelyi (Tommy Ramone).  They had a PLAN.  A concept. Short, simple songs with a buzzing guitar and a nasal lead vocal from Joey.  All the band changed their surname to Ramone.  This was Dee Dee’s idea, based on the Paul McCartney pseudonym Paul Ramon, used when they toured Scotland as The Silver Beetles.  True dat.  The Ramones all wore white Ts, ripped blue jeans and cut their hair in a bowl cut.   Almost Rubber Soul but more attitude. They all appeared permanently bored and sullen.  The effect was instant gang.

Johnny, Tommy, Joey, Dee Dee on the cover of the 1st LP

Taking bits from The MC5, The New York Dolls and The Stooges, The Ramones were and are the first punk band, and released Blitzkrieg Bop in February 1976, the first single off the first punk LP called simply Ramones in April 1976.  The cover is iconic, a photograph by Roberta Bayley.

The song is fast and short like all their songs, and opens with a chant A-O-Let’s Go.  Like a terrace anthem, apparently inspired by R’n’B singer Rufus Thomas, but see below (!) the song clocks in at 2 minutes 14 seconds.  Like a statement of intent, no guitar solos, no drum solos, just bang and finish, the song describes the feeling of being at a punk gig, the kids are losing their minds…the blitzkrieg bop we sang along as we all jumped up and down like good pogoing punks the pulsating back beat, generating steam heat, and the odd but effective line “shoot ’em in the back now” rewritten by Dee Dee from the original “shouting in the back now“.    There are hints of Nazism in their work, hints of stupid, hints of violence, prostitution, murder. Otherwise it would be pop.  It didn’t sell at all, and neither did the LP.  In fact it’s probably true that The Ramones had more effect in the UK than they did in America.  At least initially.

Their 2nd LP Leave Home – marvellous ! – was released in January 1977 and their third LP Rocket To Russia in November 1977.  Rocket to Russia clocks in at around 33 minutes long, and no song is longer than 2 minutes 49 seconds (Sheena Is A Punk Rocker).  And what fantastic records they are.  Hard to describe perfect music.

But Blitzkrieg Bop does tip a wink to two unlikely 1970s British acts – The Bay City Rollers and The Sweet.  Not the first time The Rollers have appeared in this blog – see My Pop Life #11 – but here they are again under controversial circumstances – the übercool leaders of punk in the same sentence as the flimsy teenypop nonsense of The Bay City Rollers ???  Well, bear with me pop fans :  The bubblegum influence is there in the chords and shapes of the music and the chant which opens the song Blitzkrieg Bop is perhaps an imaginative leap from the Roller’s ‘Saturday Night‘.  Less controversially of course The Sweet had a mighty hit single with Ballroom Blitz.  These things aren’t all in opposition you know.

Paul and I had popped a few blues each, the trick was that every few hours you topped yourself up otherwise the crashing comedown would spoil the party.  Of course you had to comedown sometime, and weed would be the cushion, joint-rolling sessions to puff away and soften the teeth-grindingly edgy  experience of the amphetamines leaving the body.  But the ascent – coming up – was a surge, the veins throbbing with juice, the mouth needing to chew, light cigarettes, inhale constant smoke, the fingers twitching.  All revved up and ready to go COME ON !  As the lights went down and the iconic four Ramones took the stage under their All-American Presidential Seal eagle logo the whole place erupted and we all surged to the front.  Down the aisles at first, then the front fifteen rows of seats simply collapsed, security melted away and punks ruled.

Paul and I ended up on top of a broken seat or two along with hundreds of other punks as the first eye-popping shout “1,2,3,4” from Dee Dee took us into opening song Rockaway Beach.  We bounced we sweated we punched the air.  People spat, threw beer.  Blitzkrieg Bop was the 3rd number.  Our heroes were better and bigger and faster and funnier than we could have dreamed.  WOW.  Tommy Ramone on the drums drove the band, with Johnny Ramone (the Republican!) on motorik rhythm guitar, only playing barre chords, only playing down just like Paul Cook and Steve Jones drove the Sex Pistols.  Dee Dee on bass wrote many of the songs but only played root notes, and Joey was the gimmick : tall, gangling, hidden by hair and shades and affecting a bored stupid glazed persona.  If the album tracks and singles were short, live they were even shorter, they just played FASTER.  It was thrilling.  I just remember bouncing and holding onto Paul to stop us from falling down.  Chewing gum was chewed.  Lager was drunk. Pills were popped.  Definitely one of the top gigs of my life.

It was brought to my attention recently that the whole gig was released as a live album called It’s Alive in 1979.  How I missed this is inexplicable to me, but I did.  It’s the whole gig, almost, that we were at.  There is also a concert DVD in which Paul and I undoubtedly appear, but I haven’t seen us yet, or have I ?

In common with all live albums after a certain date (WHAT IS THAT DATE? – Ed) the guitars, vocals and bass were all dubbed on again in the studio so er….it’s not live is it?

It was then though.  They wished us Happy New Year, showered us with glitter and we spat at them.  At the end of the show, after three encores – the last song was We’re A Happy Family :

Sitting here in Queens
Eating refried beans
We’re in all the magazines
Gulpin’ down thorazines
We ain’t got no friends
Our troubles never end
No Christmas cards to send
Daddy likes men

and off they went whereupon everyone threw their broken seats – the ones they’d been standing on – onto the stage.    It had been, we all agreed, a legendary gig.  They’re all dead now – Joey, Tommy and Johnny from cancer, Dee Dee from a heroin overdose.  They live on in a thousand T-shirts across the world, a logo instantly recognisable and still worn by teenagers and old punks.  They also left behind a permanent legacy.  Whatever anyone says – they started punk.

My Pop Life #153 : Small Hours – John Martyn

Small Hours   –   John Martyn

I met Colin Jones at the London School of Economics in 1976 and remained friends with him until he died in 1997 in a possibly deliberate car crash on the M6 when he drove into the back on a lorry parked on the hard shoulder somewhere in Cumbria.  We were shocked and saddened, but the happy-go-lucky LSE student, music lover, dope dealer, driving instructor and friend had turned into (revealed himself as?) a secretly deeply depressed man who struggled increasingly with his own private torments.  In the late 1980s his flat-mate Dave Moser had found him lying in his bed with slit wrists and a huge pool of blood around him on the floor, but Dave had called the ambulance and Colin had lived.  A cry for help no doubt.  Or was it ?

The London School Of Economics, Houghton St WC2

LSE 1976-79 was full of unreformed hippies, beatniks, groovers and fresh new student punks.  My gang was loosely grouped around the ENTS Room which organised live concerts and suchlike and was where you were guaranteed to score some dope or at least bum a puff of weed, a cloud of which hung like a signpost outside the door of the scruffy 2nd-floor office.  The other room which was near the ENTS Room was the Student Newspaper office – called Beaver, less druggy but still hippy-drenched and groovy.  I spent my spare time (which at university was plentiful) between these two rooms, and two other key groups – the LSE football team and the Drama group.  What a blessed time.  I was studying for a law degree, which I achieved with a lazy 2:2 in the summer of ’79, never intending to use it.  I would have been a good lawyer.  My mind works like a lawyer’s.  But I’d caught the acting bug by then, and regardless of shadow careers and what-ifs, it has been a true privilege to earn a living in this precarious and exciting profession.

The ENTS gang then :  Andy Cornwell, from Lewes Priory like me, the ultimate cool groover with a blond afro, pear-drop glasses and mushroom loon pants.  Permanently stoned, earnest and absurdly relaxed, he booked the bands that we all grew to champion : Aswad, Roy Harper, Vivian Stanshall and others.  He would later run the Legalize Cannabis Campaign, and perhaps still does.  Mike Stubbs, the previous Ents Chief, long wavy orange hair and pop-blue eyes, who stayed reasonably above the fray (he was a little older) but with whom I lived in my 3rd year (see My Pop Life 150).  He became a lawyer.  Pete Thomas, twinkly-eyed Everton fan from Hertfordshire, reggae disciple and expert joint-roller had a keen eye for business and had retired by the time he was 40.  His girlfriend and wife Sali Beresford, one of the only women in the crew, bright as a button, funny as fuck and fierce as a firecracker.  I lived with them and Nick Partridge from  ’78-’80 (see My Pop Life #59).  Their friends :  Colin Jones, Tony Roose, John Vincent.  Colin had frizzy ginger hair and a beard which looked glued on, round John Lennon glasses and a nervous but generous smile. He actually resembled Fat Freddy from the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in an admittedly blurry kind of way.

Fat Freddy and his cat

On closer inspection and the clear cold light of day of course, he didn’t look anything like him, but there you go.   He was warm, vulnerable and funny and he supplied the dope incessantly.  For decades.   Tony and John were a team within the team and they supported the eternal wearing of denim, throwing of frisbee, smoking of weed, drinking of beer.  John was very quiet and shy.  I went to Belfast with Tony on a Troops Out Delegation in 1981 (see My Pop Life #13), and we’re still in touch.  Back then we used to go to Regent’s Park, our nearest green space to Fitzroy Street, and play frisbee golf, a game which we invented.  (not strictly true, but we did : see Wikipedia ).   It involved declaring and indicating the next hole (That tree over there!) then throwing your own frisbee at it in turn until you hit it.  While stoned.  Subsequently I introduced this game to Brighton in the late 1990s, playing with the village gang Andy Baybutt, James Lance, Tim Lewis, Lee Charles Williams and Thomas Jules on a regular basis in the parks and green spaces of Brighton and Hove.  I recommend it to you all as a splendid pastime.

The rest of the LSE possee then  :  Anton who edited the Beaver, long hair down to his waist and a permanently amused lisp.  His team-mate and flat mate Nigel, the only other person other than me who dug Peter Hammill, lead singer of Van Der Graaf Generator who’d made a string of alarming and alarmingly good solo LPs.  Wavy hair down below his waist, Nigel turned me on to Todd Rundgren, for which eternal thanks.  Lewis MacLeod who was studying Law with me, speaking almost incomprehensible Glaswegian who liked a drink and a smoke and watching football so much that he would come down to the Goldstone Ground to watch the Albion with me.  We invented the Beatles A-Level  one stoned afternoon (sample question :  “She was just seventeen, you know what I mean. Discuss.”)  He is now a journalist at the BBC in Reading, specialising in Bangla Desh among other things.  Dave Moser, prematurely balding and brightly benign, shared a flat with Colin then moved to Australia in the mid-1980s.

I was with Mumtaz through all those years, and she would often be there with us, and was indeed one of us, still is, but often she would have to duck out of the incessant revelries because she was studying to be an actual lawyer rather than just playing at it.  And she didn’t enjoy frisbee.  She also became a lawyer.  The standard as I recall it through the haze, was high.  John Vincent was the don, his unerring accuracy gave us all something to aim for and raised our game.

Later Nick Partridge would join this crowd, after LSE finished  and lived in West Hampstead with us, he went on to run the Terrence Higgins Trust from 1991 until 2013 when he resigned, having become Sir Nick Partridge in 2009 to everyone’s joy and amusement.  In those balmy heady years after university the whole gang stayed effortlessly in touch and we still sought each other’s company, played frisbee golf and went to concerts together.  And of course got stoned together listening to Burning Spear (see My Pop Life #10), Spirit, Van Morrison and John Martyn.

Hard to choose a song for Colin, his favourite artist was Bob Dylan, favourite song Tangled Up In Blue.  But that doesn’t remind me of him.  Small Hours by John Martyn does.  A wonderful musician whom we all saw regularly in London at UCH, Bloomsbury and other venues, and he’d come up with a fantastic new LP in 1977 called One World.  It was on the record player a lot.  An early experimentalist with technology, Martyn at that point performed solo (or with just a bass player) utilising a repeat box of pedals which set up a groove for him to solo and sing over, a hugely effective trick which kept us all rapt.  A very original sound at that time.  We all loved the futuristic blues/folk/jazz of John Martyn, as did DJ John Peel.  Martyn’s early albums with Beverley Martyn his wife were subtle and beautiful, but once they’d divided their talents he changed his vocal style to a more slurred jazzy feel and hooked up with bass player Danny Thompson.   He then started a run of amazing LPs starting with Bless The Weather, followed by total masterpiece Solid Air (1973), dedicated to his friend Nick Drake (who died of an overdose of anti-depressants a year later).

Then followed  Inside Out,  and Sunday’s Child, at which point Chris Blackwell, boss of Island records, suggested that John take some healing time in Jamaica.  He did like to drink.   He has a backing credit on Burning Spear‘s Man In The Hills, and spent time with the great producer Lee Perry at Black Ark.   The shared ideas were poured into the One World album.  The track Small Hours was recorded outside at Woolwich Green Farm deep in the English countryside one night.  Engineer Phil Brown discusses the unique set-up around a lake in his book “Are We Still Rolling?“.  You can hear water, and the sound of geese on the track, haunting and wonderful.   Records (or albums, LPs indeed), were to be listened to in those days, and they also supplied us with mini-trays to roll joints on.  The selection of the album to roll on became a part of the ritual.  Joints were to be passed around, a social event.  And then when the brain was stoned, it listened to the music and fell in love with it.

After college we all helped Pete & Sali and Colin’s girlfriend Mary move a reasonably large upright piano into the infamous Huntley Street Squat, just round the corner from Heals Department Store off Tottenham Court Road.  Top floor, of course.  Up seven flights of stairs.  Most of the above-mentioned chaps were there.  It was quite simply one of the worst evenings of my life, and in the joke about visions of hell (tea-break over, back on yer heads) I would substitute an endless spiral staircase with an infinite line of pianos which had to ascend it as a particular torture which I never wished to revisit, even in hell.  A few years later we moved that same piano into a flat in Mornington Crescent, then years later when I got the Housing Association flat in Archway Road, Mary gave it to me, bless her.  About 20 years later I gave it in turn to our friend masseur Anna Barlow because her disabled son had asked her for a piano, and I then bought Andy Baybutt‘s gentler-toned upright.  Recently in the summer of 2019 I gave it back to Andy. The Frisbee piano circle continues.

Colin became a Driving Instructor (as did Mike Stubbs) and although I’d learned to drive (in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in the summer of 1976 in a Beetle), now I had to pass the test (on the wrong side of the road!), which thanks to Colin I did first time despite hitting the kerb on my reverse corner.   Colin also continued to provide most of the dope that we all smoked in copious amounts, either as a first choice drug, or increasingly to cushion the come-down of speed which had now entered our lives thanks to punk and the increased tempo of the music we listened to and watched live.  At some point after this I moved into the Finsbury Park attic room with Mumtaz, Colin met Wanda and they were married.  Later he transferred his talents to driving transport for the disabled for Camden Council, eventually as team leader.  He carried on dealing throughout.  But he never seemed to settle.  Neither did I by the way.  The flat with Dave Moser was a headquarters once again for all of us to gather and smoke and chew the cud, listen to music and solve the world’s problems.  Until the dark night when he slashed his own wrists.  We held a men’s group in the early 80s as a supportive response to the feminist movement, Colin was in that, as was Tony, and my mate Simon Korner.   But despite the suicide attempt Colin always seemed to me to be a together person, a proper grown-up.  I felt like a young soul next to him, he was wise and funny and sad, compassionate and thoughtful and very bright.  When we heard that he’d died in an accident on the M6 and the details filtered through, many felt that it was no accident, that this time he’d managed to kill himself.  We gathered for his funeral and wake near King’s Cross, drank and smoked, shocked and stunned, sad and looking at each other for support and understanding.

I still miss him.  In researching this piece I spoke with Pete, who confided to me that Colin had been sexually abused by his father as a child.  I can only guess at the torment inside him, never shared with me.  Given that burden I feel that his life was a kind of miracle.  He was a terribly kind and gentle man.   Were we all damaged, in different private ways, trying quietly and communally to heal together in the wee small hours, holy music washing over us ?

My Pop Life #140 : The Right Thing To Do – Carly Simon

The Right Thing To Do   –   Carly Simon

And it used to be for a while
That the river flowed right to my door
Making me just a little too free
But now the river doesn’t seem to stop here anymore

Spring 1977.  I’m nearing the end of my first year at LSE.  I’ve got a decision to make, because during the long summer break I won’t be able to stay in my lodgings, the Maple Street flats on the corner of Fitzroy St, London W1, because they are owned and run by the LSE and in the summer we can’t stay there.  Most of my gang are going home to Glasgow, Sussex,  Barnsley, or Bedfordshire.  I actually hadn’t worked anything out, but going back to Hailsham and that sin city council estate wasn’t even an option.  But I was no longer going out with Miriam, so the Ryles wasn’t an option, Simon Korner was going abroad and going back to Lewes somehow didn’t seem right anyway.   Then I spotted a notice on the college noticeboard :


I scribbled the phone number down and called it up and booked an audition.  I cannot remember a single detail of the audition, either where it was, what I had to do, anything. But I got it, and made immediate plans to stay in London for the rehearsals.

Only one pupil from Lewes Priory had gone to Drama School (Drama Centre I think?) – Helen Lane, who was in the year above me.  I knew her because I’d done a few plays at school – rehearsing after school usually with kids older than me.  So many stories there – but – I enjoyed it.  I knew I’d enjoy Edinburgh – although I’d never even heard of the Festival before.  During my first year studying law down on the Aldwych there were a few competing social activities – and after some thought I’d decided to play football on Wednesday afternoons.  It clashed with Drama which was also on offer.  But I’d played football for Lewes every Saturday morning for years, and subsequently played centre-half for the LSE.  The home games were in New Malden so some commitment was required !  But the point was, that I treated playing football and drama as the same kind of thing.  Like playing pool.  Things that you did for fun, in the evening and at weekends.  So a whole summer of that was cool by me.

Anyway, I told Helen about Edinburgh and she was very supportive and offered her floor for me to sleep on for rehearsals.  I think she lived in Camden Town or maybe Kentish Town.  Rehearsals were near Russell Square somewhere in Bloomsbury which was my route to college anyway, familiar.  Weird this – by now I was going steady with Mumtaz, and she was running the student accommodations so why didn’t I stay with her ?  The memory is no help once again.

Carly Simon, London 1972

Now it’s all going to go vague. I think a fella called Murray directed the play.  we did weird stretches and warm-ups in the mornings and played some drama games which I would remember for my National Youth Theatre Days a decade later (see My Pop Life #7).  I was playing a recruiting Lieutenant for the US Army.  The play was called The Death Of Private Kowalski.  The National Student Theatre Company, run by Mr Clive Wolfe was producing it at their inaugural season at Edinburgh.  We were in a theatre or perhaps it was a Church Hall in Broughton St ? York Place ? in Edinburgh.  Near Leith Walk ?  I think we shared it with a deaf theatre company.   I remember an altercation one night, just the silent fury of sign language.  I think an American actor called Tom played Private Kowalski.  I remember little very clearly.  But I’m absolutely certain that every single one of the cast EXCEPT FOR ME was at Drama School – either Rada, Drama Centre, Ealing, Mountview or the Old Vic.  I was an object of curiosity.

“What are you going to do when you leave college?”

I’m going to be a barrister.

“Oh.  Really?”

Yes.  Really.  Why, what are you going to do?

“What do you think?  I’m going to be an actor of course.”


Edinburgh 77

A trickle of an idea started to form in my left ear.  I didn’t dare speak it aloud, so daring , so brave and foolish it was.  One other student from LSE was in the Company, Nick Broadhurst who was studying Sociology.  I was quite impressed that he’d managed to snaggle the beautiful Tibetan student Kalsang as his girlfriend, but he listened to weird music like Elevator Coming Over The Hill.  He was helping Clive behind the scenes and secretly plotting a brave and dangerous idea of his own.   The other administrator was Jane who had curly brown hair and John Lennon granny glasses.  I think my digs were unremarkable, and all I remember of Edinburgh is the constant smell of sweetness in the air coming from the breweries.  Known as “Auld Reekie” Edinburgh was a cornucopia of delights, from the Castle to the Fringe club, to the streets full of actors and clowns and buskers all competing for audience.  This was 1977 remember, way before the comedians took over, and way before it became the commercial event it is today.  It was a theatre festival, and I remember seeing groups from Russia and New Zealand that year.

Edinburgh Festival 1977

Then, one afternoon, after the show (once a day at 3pm I believe) I was downstairs in the toilet having a slash.  Innocent, unformed and alive, I was about to experience what I would later understand was akin to a Damascene conversion.  In an Edinburgh toilet. Beside me a large man who asked me, in a strong Texan accent

“Where are you from in America son?”

Is it strange that I had my cock in my hand at this revelation, as the stars changed course and the earth swallowed my life up and spat me back out ?

I’m from England

I replied, shaking drips and re-corking the underpants.  “Well,” said the Texan,

“Fooled me.  Great Job !”

Thank you I said, covering my earthquake and zipping up the trouser.  It was a bolt of lightning which went to my very core and rewired my entire life.  At that point I realised that I could be like those other kids.  I could be an actor.


Why Carly Simon ?  Really ?  Well, it was ubiquitous that summer.  No idea why – it had been out for years by then.  But music lasted in those days.  This LP, No Secrets by Carly Simon, was an ever-present that summer.  I think Helen had it in her flat in Kentish Town.  Jane definitely had it.  I kept seeing girls carrying it.  It was a girls record.  All the girls I knew LOVED IT.  And I became exposed to it, there was a record player somewhere and on it went.  It is an amazing LP.  Of course I already knew You’re So Vain from Pan’s People dancing to it on Top Of The Pops and finding clouds in their coffee.  No Secrets was her 3rd LP on Elektra Records, making number one in the billboard charts for 5 straight weeks in 1972.  I love every song on this record.  Lovely chord changes on The Carter Family and When You Close Your Eyes and emotional bombs going off all over the place.  The Right Thing To Do is the opening song and has a lazy 70s feel that takes me right back to the joints smoked, the relaxed vibes, the flares, the girls.

Trident Studio (as was), St Ann’s Court

Later I would discover that No Secrets was recorded at Trident Studios in St Ann’s Court in Soho, now a Film Production house where I’ve done numerous voice recordings, ADR sessions and so on.  Transformer, Space Oddity and many other great albums were recorded there in the 60s and 70s.  The studio musician credits on No Secrets now reads like a who’s who of the London Sessions, about which I almost made a documentary a few years back.  Another story.  Andy Newmark on drums, Klaus Voorman on bass, Jimmy Ryan on guitars.  With contributions from my old friend Ray Cooper (from Handmade Films) on percussion (listen for the ripple of the congas after the first line of The Right Thing To Do), Jim Keltner, Paul Buckmaster, Paul & Linda McCartney, Mick Jagger, Lowell George, Bonnie Bramlett, James Taylor, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins, Doris Troy with Liza Strike and Vicki Brown doing the bvs for this song.  Richard Perry produced. Everything clearly just fell into place. There is an ease and a freshness to these songs, both in the writing and the recording.


I’ve often wondered in subsequent years, perhaps on a daily basis whether a career in acting was The Right Thing To Do.  I went back to LSE that autumn a changed man, but I completed the final two years of the law degree and I am indeed LLB or Batchelor of Law. So I have a complex relationship with my ghost career as a barrister, and often peek over to see how he’s doing.  How’m I doing ?  Possibly my least favourite question.  Gemini.  Always needs an option.   I sadly discovered while writing this blurry memory that Clive Wolfe passed away last year.  RIP.  He was at  least partly responsible for where I am today.

Live !!

My Pop Life #113 : God Save The Queen – The Sex Pistols

Featured image

God Save The Queen   –   The Sex Pistols

we mean it maaan…

God save your mad parade.  The Silver Jubilee, June 7th 1977.  I was living in a flat on Fitzroy Street with one other gentlemen, also an LSE student – a Trinidadian indian chap called Mahmood.  I had befriended the LSE Ents crowd – bands, weed, politics, journalism.  We went to gigs, we got stoned and listened to music, we went on marches and demonstrations, we wrote articles in the student rag.  The hair was reasonably long, but by summer 1977 I’d gone punk (see My Pop Life 52 / The Clash / Complete Control) or had I ?  Musically we all had – The Clash LP was played endlessly and we’d all been to gigs by people like 999 and The Adverts, Slaughter & The Dogs & The Vibrators.  When the hair got cut and dyed I can’t remember, but it was that summer.  In fact – that has sprung my memory – I was 20 years old later that month, and I would have felt that big zero number coming like we all do, so I’m pretty sure that once punk was unearthed and discovered from it’s hidden realms – I was surrounded by it in other words – I would have dived in both barrels because this would be my last teenage gang.   A nineteen-year old punk is almost too old, but there were way WAY older than me back then dontcha know.   Anyway – who cares about the age thing, it’s all bollocks, to use a word we wouldn’t see in day-glo colours until late October.  We couldn’t believe how long it was taking the Sex Pistols to release their first album, they’d changed record companies three times and put out four blindingly good singles.  This is the second one, and, although Anarchy In The UK (released 26 November ’76) was a statement of intent and a major punk manifesto of nihilism, God Save The Queen was a more thrilling record.  It’s not a competition anyway, but by May 1977 The Sex Pistols’ notoriety was at its height.

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Posters with the portrait of The Queen with a safety pin through her mouth started appearing on the streets, and many would be vandalised, torn down or spray-painted.   The cover of the single was in silver and blue, the Jubilee colours, designed by Jamie Reid, but it wasn’t planned as a comment on the Jubilee.  In fact the song was recorded in October & March at Wessex Sound Studios with producer Chris Thomas.

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Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock & Steve Jones in 1976

Johnny Rotten wrote the song over beans on toast for breakfast one morning, and Steve Jones and Glen Matlock (before he left) helped with the music and Jones played guitar and bass – Sid wasn’t up to recording anything too musical, being mainly ‘the gimmick’.  He’d replaced Glen Matlock the original bass player.  In fact manager and svengali Malcolm McLaren had contacted Matlock and asked him to play bass on God Save The Queen, and Glen agreed, if he got paid up front.  The money never appeared so Jones got the gig.

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 The single was pressed on A&M Records, but the label then sacked the band ten days after signing them and withdrew the promotional copies. These have become among the most valuable collector’s items in vinyl history – one A&M copy of God Save The Queen sold for £13,000 in 2006.

So when the single was released on Virgin Records in May 1977 it had been around for a while.  The coincidental hoopla of the Silver Jubilee – the constant bullshit of bunting, nationalism, false history and doffing the cap to our betters had fed an anti-royal fervour which was there to be ignited.

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  The record was banned by the BBC and subsequently went to the number One position in the national charts, although officially it remained at number two, behind Rod Stewart.  We all knew it was number one on sales, it wasn’t even conspiracy theory.  No one had ever dared to question the Royal Family so publicly before in living memory and a thrill ran through public life as the British Establishment responded with threats of arrest and the Tower via Traitor’s Gate.  There were  attacks on the band and other punks on the streets by nationalist youth, skinheads and other offended types.

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Jubilee : On the Thames

And then, when The Sex Pistols hired a boat and played the song on the River Thames across from the Houses Of Parliament, a police boat came alongside, boarded, pulled the plug, shut them down and arrested Malcolm McClaren.  It was perfect publicity of course.  Everyone played their role.

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McClaren arrested June 7th 1977

The other half of the country was cheering them on, revelling in the open defiance of the snotty plebs, two fingers up to her Maj.   No Future….

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On that day June 7th when the single was Number One (Number Two officially!) and the whole nation had a public holiday, people were encouraged to organise street parties and genuflect, the students gathered in flat 4:1 where Andy Cornwell opened his windows onto the street, we rolled joints and smoked them out of the window, and we played The Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” all day, off and on, and then at one point for at least an hour, over and over again.  Don’t forget that when I say we “played” the single, we actually had a few copies and a nice stereo, and the needle would be placed back to the edge of the seven-inch circle.    Those present :  Andy Cornwell, Van Morrison devotee;  Norman Wilson, Thin Lizzy fan;  Lewis MacLeod, Flamin’ Groovies appreciation society;  Anton, Neil Young groover;  Nigel, Todd Rundgren acolyte;  Derek, Joan Armatrading lover;  and me, Ralph, Peter Hammill and Gentle Giant collector.  Not a punk among us – although I suspect I’d started posing as a punk by then due to the imminence of my 20th birthday – but we all LOVED this single (although memory tells me that Barnsley lad Norman hated punk rock) and celebrated its timely arrival at the top of the charts, but off the radio, on Jubilee Day.  We became the radio and made up for all the plays the song wasn’t getting on the BBC.  It was a legendary day.  Actually we were White Punks On Dope.  Stoned out of our boxes listening to the Pistols and dub reggae.

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Sid Vicious, Paul Cook, Johnny Rotten, Steve Jones

Later that year I would get word from Stephen Woolley in the Scala Cinema coffee bar where I worked (see my Pop Life …) that the Pistols were playing in London the following night.  I can’t remember how I snaffled a ticket but I did, and went up to Birkbeck College in Uxbridge to see them.  They opened with God Save The Queen.  Mayhem.

Jubilee river boat trip :

My Pop Life #69 : Love Me Always – Dennis Brown AND Angolian Chant – Joe Gibbs

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Love Me Always   –   Dennis Brown

Angolian Chant   –   Joe Gibbs

I wanna dub you, dub you always….

there ain’t nobody else….

Time for a version excursion on my pop life.    Two songs for number 69 –  they are the same song, but they’re not, really.    Lovers rock becomes dub plate tune.   I cycled up to Williamsburg today on a citibike, nice Sunday afternoon, looking for graffitti spots in Bushwick, enjoying the weather.  Called in at an address on N10th St and rang a random bell, and Annie McGann opened the door.   Hooray!  Inside, her son Joseph McGann, Sam Barrett, Chris Ebdon and Imogene Tavares.   Introductions all round, and food is being prepared.  Reggae and dub is playing.   I’d met Joe before, when he was very young (in Los Angeles Annie reminded me!) and then throughout the years, most recently with his dad Paul at a Withnail & I event in Bristol.   I introduced myself to the cat that Annie is catsitting and – suddenly – one of those proustian moments rushed in as this song came on.   I left Annie and the cat Schmo and ran to the ipad.   There was this picture.   Treasure from beyond.

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I’ve been looking for this song for years.  Using the wrong search terms “I wanna dub you” and so on.  The song is called Love Me Always by the great Dennis Brown, and the dub version, which has been stuck in my ear for over 30 years is called  Angolian Chant.  Now that’s not even a word as far as I know!    So, so sweet to hear it again.  What did it remind me of ?  Well : Club 61 for starters – Paulette‘s legendary parties in Clapham (see My Pop Life #60).  And certainly also West End Lane, Pete, Sali, Nick, Colin, Tony (see My Pop Life #59).  This kind of music was for a) slowdancing – at Club 61…  and b) getting stoned to – in West End Lane.   Dub is perfect for smoking marijuana.  And vice versa of course.  And both are great for slowdancin’.   Just how the world is meant to be sometimes.

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The music comes out of Joe Gibbs & Errol Thompson‘s stable in Kingston Jamaica where they were known as “The Mighty Two”. The house band were called The Professionals and had Sly Dunbar on drums, Robbie Shakespeare on bass (also known as Fatman Riddim Section and later to become international hit machine Sly & Robbie & Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar as the rhythm section par excellence.  This team produced over 100 number one hit records, for Dennis Brown, Black Uhuru, Culture, Mighty Diamonds, Althia & Donna, Prince Far-I, Junior Byles, Jacob Miller, Big Youth, Dillinger, John Holt, on and on.                                                                                 Joe Gibbs

And yet beyond all the hit records, Joe and Errol also produced a stream of incredible dub plates many of which are gathered together on the seminal LPs African Dub All-Mighty.  Angolian Chant is from Chapter 3.

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I used to have this on vinyl – and it is one of the LPs that I failed to replace when I lost my whole collection in 1985.  Just a missing piece of my brain.   The thing is – if you’re listening to dub, you’re quite likely to be stoned.  Things get lost in the haze.  But seriously, dub reggae is a huge part of the musical universe, and technologically way ahead of its time.  Lee Perry, King Tubby, Augustus Pablo, Prince Far-I, Errol Thompson, Mad Professor – and all of those other guys – they might have been stoned when they produced this music, but they were on the money, sharp, and knew exactly what they were doing.  The dub plates of 12″ reggae singles go much further than just being an instrumental, a track which can be used, versioned, recycled.  A different melody is put on top, a new singer, a new band, another hit!   As reggae had been doing since the 1960s.   The dub plate went way beyond that into a version which sampled itself and using faders and echoes like musical instruments themselves, created a new song from bits of the old one.   This of course has totally influenced every genre of popular music since then – rock, pop, hip hop, house, as well as grime, Drum&Bass, dubstep, ambient and electronica more generally.

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Dennis Thompson, Errol Thompson, Clive Chin & Augustus Pablo

Errol Thompson engineered at Studio One, and is credited with producing the first instrumental reggae LP in 1970,  before becoming one of dub’s pioneers.   Joe Gibbs learned his trade with Lee Perry, producing the Heptones and others before branching out on his own in the early 1970s.  His first international hit was Nicky Thomas’ “Love Of The Common People“.  Errol and Joe Gibbs joined forces in 1975.

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Dennis Brown

Dennis Brown was born like me in 1957 and started singing aged nine.  He was Bob Marley’s favourite singer – he dubbed him “The Crown Prince of Reggae”.   Dennis cut his first single aged 12 for Coxsone Dodd at Studio One.  He recorded over 75 albums, and had many hit singles of which the most famous internationally is “Money In My Pocket” produced by his close friend Winston “Niney” Holness on behalf of Joe Gibbs.  He recorded with all of the great Jamaican producers in his long career, one notable track with Lee Perry is called “Wolf and Leopard” and is also worth seeking out.  In 1977 he made the LP Visions Of Dennis Brown with Joe Gibbs which was a huge success and contains the vocal track Love Me Always.

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Joe Gibbs HQ

What is great about all this is that I only ever remembered the dub version “I wanna dub you” – try googling that !   Serendipity is a great thing.  So thanks to Annie for inviting me over and to Joe and his gang. (Joe goes out as a grime DJ under the moniker Kahn, his partner is Neek, he also works as Gorgon Sound).  Thanks for playing that damn tune !  Or was it actually Annie ??   Probably.    Annie likes a lot of the same era reggae as me.   I’ve known Annie since 1985 when I shot Withnail & I with Paul McGann, Richard E. Grant and Richard Griffiths, all being conducted under the passionate inspiration of Bruce Robinson, who also wrote it.  Wow, we were all kids really.  I’ll write about that another time, but Paul and Annie have stayed in my life ever since, as have Richard E. and Bruce.  Sadly Richard Griffiths passed away a couple of years ago.  I drove up to Stratford for his funeral.  Life passes so quickly.   Dennis Brown died in 1999.  The Prime Minister of Jamaica, and previous PM Edward Seaga both attended his funeral.  He was an inspiration to a whole generation of Jamaican singers.  This is my favourite song of his, returned to me like the prodigal son.  I have just listened to it eight times in a row.

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Dennis Brown – the Crown Prince Of Reggae

My Pop Life #54 : Art Decade – David Bowie

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Art Decade   –   David Bowie

The first time I met David Bowie I made the mistake of telling him that Low was my favourite LP of his.  Well to be honest I think I may have actually said that I held Low and Heroes and Lodger, all three with Brian Eno collaborating, in very high regard, but that Low was, for me, the best.   Christ I actually said that like a pompous little twerp.  He was gracious and smiled, said thank you, but scarcely bothered with me for the rest of the evening.   Sigh.

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How to pick a favourite David Bowie LP ?  Many people go Hunky Dory and have done with it.  Many others, and I’m tempted here, go Aladdin Sane.  It’s fantastic, but includes a cover of Let’s Spend The Night Together and I wish it didn’t.  Station To Station is perfection, but so is Low in my book.  Heroes is amazing.  Ziggy Stardust is teenage genius music.  And I have a huge soft spot for Space Oddity.  Scary Monsters is outstanding. Many plump for the blue-eyed soul of Young Americans. As for the rest, well they’re simply brilliant, rather than out-of-this-world hyperbole.

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My first real memory of DB was – like most people’s – Starman on TOTP, draping his arm languidly around Mick Ronson and singing the chorus with ineffable cool.  I followed his every move from that point on, though oddly didn’t go to see the Ziggy Stardust show at The Dome in Brighton when I could have – I’m sure I had some fucked-up teenage justification at the time.  Twat.

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By the time I met him, in 1991, I’d seen him three times, all at Earl’s Court on the Stage tour in 1978, which was a marvellous band with Adrian Belew, Roger Powell and Simon House joining Bowie’s rhythm section guitarist Carlos Alomar, Dennis Davis on drums and George Murray on bass.   The show featured the Low and Heroes songs, with stuff from Ziggy and the mighty song Station To Station for a punchline.  He couldn’t have got any higher in my estimation at each stage of his career, from 1972 through to Let’s Dance.  Then he took a few years off from being David Bowie and joined a band called Tin Machine which I wasn’t too fond of, but his legacy was already untouchable, untouched by any other artist I was aware of.

But then to make all of these outstanding albums, then take a sabbatical and come back with Hours, Reality, Heathen and recently The Next Day speaks to a genius at work, a man who can’t help but keep twisting and turning, creating new, interesting, artful work.  And yes Bowie fans, I have’t mentioned Earthling, Diamond Dogs, Tonight etc.  It’s been a long beautiful career.   He’s truly in a class of his own.

In 1988 I’d been cast in Scandal which Stephen Woolley was producing, I had about five days work that summer with John Hurt, Roland Gift, Arkie Whiteley and Joanne Whalley before she met Kilmer.  July 20th of that blessed year I embark on a day the like of which I would not revisit, but which seemed at the time both sweet and natural.  Visiting Bruce Robinson and Richard E. Grant on the set of How To Get Ahead In Advertising at Shepperton Studios, hanging with old mates from the Withnail shoot before I drove back to Soho to the Scandal location, Bridget Fonda said hi from Lee Drysdale an old Scala mate (see My Pop Life #23) and Stephen and I left to find Forest Whitaker at The George public house, corner of Wardour St and D’Arblay St, with Stephen’s American co-producer Kerry.

I had organised tickets to see Steven Berkoff’s Greek at Wyndhams Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, so Stephen Woolley, Forest Whitaker Kerry and myself walked down there to watch Bruce Payne and Steven tearing it up onstage.   I’d worked with both these fellows in Berkoff’s West at the Donmar some years earlier, and this was the best play of Steven’s I’d seen.  Afterwards we went backstage to Bruce’s dressing room to congratulate and pass love.  Some crowd in there !  There was David Bowie.  “Ralph, this is David;  David, Ralph”  said Bruce, as casually as he could, which was pretty casual I’ll give him that.  Stephen and Forest had decided to chip because they were both working early the next morning…I stuck around as a veritable cornucopia of glitterati filled the dressing room with glamour, some kissing and leaving, others hanging around.  After some time dinner was suggested at Cafe Pelican, a French-style brasserie just across the street and my favourite hangout in the West End.

We sat down at the furthest table from the door and DB sat with his back to the room.  I was opposite him and looked around the table.  Iman.  Steven Berkoff.  Clara Fisher, musician, Steven’s partner.  Bruce.  Me.  Gary Oldman.  Ann Mitchell.  Lesley Manville.  David Bowie.  We ordered, we drank wine, we chatted, we laughed, it was relaxed, charming, easy.   I think we were eating when Gary brought up Nick Roeg, film director that he’d just shot Track 29 with, who’d also worked with David on Man Who Fell To Earth.  Common ground.  And that was when chippy me chipped in with my cultured assessment of Low.   Sorry but I flipping love that album.  It sounds like proper science fiction pop music.   I mean, Brian Eno was another hero of mine since the days of Roxy, I’d bought all his solo stuff, now he was collaborating with Bowie??   Anyway back to Le Cafe Pelican ’89.  Ah well.  David had been friendly and interested up to that point with me, now there was a slight but noticeable withdrawal.  I became fanboy.  It was the most glamourous evening I’d ever had, and possibly will ever have and despite my faux pas, I was glowing and happy.

Next time I saw Stephen I told him what had happened.  He’d worked with Bruce and David Bowie on Absolute Beginners, where they’d all met, and he gave me some words of advice.  Good words.  “When you meet people like Bowie, don’t talk to them about their work, it makes them uncomfortable.  Talk about other people’s work – Brando, Lennon, Picasso.  Anyone but him.”  So wise.   But hey.  I’m a young soul on this earth, and I sometimes behave like one.

So.  What is my favourite David Bowie LP ?  Christ knows.  Who cares, right ?  Now, once again, it’s Low, recorded with Brian Eno, produced by the great Tony Visconti, partly inspired by The Man Who Fell To Earth (sci-fi pop!) partly a response to Berlin, Bowie’s new career in a new town, and his coming off and down from a cocaine addiction sustained at least since Diamond Dogs.  This is one of the lesser-celebrated tracks, but my favourite from the windswept moonscapes of side two:  Art Decade.  But the album is, essentially, perfect.

My Pop Life #52 : Complete Control – The Clash

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Complete Control   –   The Clash

…They said we’d be artistically free
When we signed that bit of paper
They meant let’s make a lotsa mon-ee
An’ worry about it later…

In 1976 I was a cowboy, wandering around Bloomsbury and the LSE  in a poncho and cowboy boots, a Lee Van Cleef hat and jeans.   With a belt.  I was 19 and just back from a 5-month hitch-hike around North America with my best friend Simon Korner.   He was now at Cambridge reading English, where I maybe should or could have been and where my dad would have preferred me to be, but that’s another story.   This is how I became a punk.  It took a while.  In the autumn of 1976 I was all New Riders Of The Purple Sage and Spirit, Wings and Joe Walsh.   Not until 1977 and the release of The Clash LP did the trend really impact on me – and my recollection of this era is blurred.   The Sex Pistols had sworn on telly, we’d heard New Rose by the Damned and Anarchy In The UK  but I never really cared about being trendy.  (Said the dedicated follower of fashion victims).  But the energy around central London that winter and spring of 77 was palpable.

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Various venues, many within walking distance of my Halls of Residence in Fitzroy St W1 were now hosting punk or proto-punk bands.   The Vortex in Soho, the 100 Club on Oxford St, the Roxy in Covent Garden, the Hope & Anchor in Highbury and the Nashville Rooms in Hammersmith became my new stomping grounds.  Songs became shorter, hair became shorter, vocals more shouted, cut-up newspaper lettering, spikes, attitude was everywhere.  I didn’t like the spitting.  Neither did the bands, but they encouraged it.   Anyone could be a punk, but the real ones were working class.  Yeah right.  Like Joe Strummer, leader of The Clash whose dad was a diplomat.  A number of us at LSE embraced the new school and safety pinned our jeans and leathers, I stapled and paperclipped one entire jacket, little badges were back, hair gel and colour.  My first hair bleachout became purple.  God knows when but late ’77 I think. God Save The Queen had been number one during the Queen’s Jubilee in June despite being banned by the BBC.  The whole two fingers up to the establishment was a wonderful burst of energy, a breath of fresh air, and that first LP The Clash was absolutely brilliant.

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It was rock, it was reggae, it was anti-police, anti-racist, anti-dead-end jobs, anti Amerikka, I’m a rebel, what are you against?, well what have you got??  Every band in Britain suddenly cut their hair and their drum solos and it became immediately hard to tell who was who.  It was the New Orthodoxy within a year, hippies were the problem, flares and guitar noodling were out, politics was back.   Of course looking back it was nothing like that – plenty of noodly LPs came out in 77,78,79.   Plenty of longhairs at gigs – including me at the beginning.   But it was a new wave of energy – The Ramones, the quickly-established legend of The Sex Pistols, signing then leaving record labels, upsetting a nation, the DIY ethic of Sniffin’ Glue the fanzine produced by Alternative TV geezer Mark Perry, the startling image of safety pins in faces, shaved and coloured hair, torn clothes – it was a street revolution by the kids.

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Complete Control came out in September 1977 in a picture sleeve – another new trend – and immediately became the Clash’s best song.   It still is.   Probably.   They had a new drummer, Topper Headon, who joined Joe Strummer, Mick Jones and bass player Paul Simenon for the classic line up.  A picture postcard from the front line of rebel-band-meets-music-business, the first line is straight in there :

They Said release Remote Control, we didn’t want it on the label…

THEY SAID fly to Amsterdam, people laughed! the press went mad…”

Remote Control was on the LP and then had been the 2nd Clash single, released by CBS without conferring with the band.  The title of the song comes from a meeting the band had with manager Bernard Rhodes in a pub.  “I want complete control” he’d said and Strummer and Mick Jones fell onto the pavement laughing at his cartoon audacity.

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The song also documents the trouble they’d had on the White Riot Tour of that year, getting their mates in the back door before they were ejected again, and the police showing up to any punk event expecting trouble, thanks to the tabloid coverage of the new youth movement –

“All over the news spread fast – They’re dirty, they’re filthy They ain’t gonna last!”

Complete Control isn’t just an angry blast against The Man though – The Clash were always better than that.  They had the musical chops.  As Mick Jones fingers a deadly riff in the centre of the song, Strummer shouts “You’re my guitar hero!” ironically at him, before asking The Man, as a rough beast that slouches towards bethlehem :

I don’t trust you !  Why should you trust me ??   Huh ?!”

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This is Joe Public speaking.  I’m controlled in the body, I’m controlled in the mind.

It’s astoundingly fantastic, trust me.   Why should you trust me ?  Huh ??  Well you shouldn’t.  Keep an open mind kids, most of what you know is blindingly obvious, just cos it’s not in the papers don’t mean it ain’t true right ??  We knew the Royal Family was a total joke, but never really saw it in the media with such passion and rage before God Save The Queen.  All these songs and gigs captured a frustrated young angry nihilism and bottled it.   Speed fags and beer helped too at gigs.  The singles kept you going between gigs, kept the flame burning.  Walking around looking punk was thrilling, the sense of power and sneer on the streets of London and elsewhere was fun, which is partly why lots of kids did it.  Posing down the King’s Road, Kensington Market or Camden Town.   Later in the 70s tourists would pay money to take your picture.  But that’s another story.  This is how I became a punk.   Actually got the hair cut and fucked myself up and started wearing eyeliner and  Doctor Martens from Kentish Town Road.  What was that shop called ?

I didn’t actually see The Clash until 1978 on Hastings Pier – or was that 1977 too?   That’s another story too.   They were completely brilliant.    But no – I’ve misremembered – I saw them first at Victoria Park Rock Against Racism in spring 1978 with Jimmy Pursey and Steel Pulse and Tom Robinson. What a day that was.

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This song is the cry of the artist against the system.  Within two short years punk had been co-opted into the mainstream and eaten by the culture, mimicked, nullified, de-fanged and major-labelled.  They bottled punk and sold it back to us – and America.  Other groups would come and kick it.   Other youth movements would rise up.  This was mine really.  I was nearly too old be to be a punk, having dedicated the majority of my teen years to glam rock with a hippy fringe, Ben Sherman meets platform shoes meets loons, but I was 19 and happy to go drainpipe, day-glo and angry again.  Although of course I was doing a law degree at the LSE.  Hahaha.   I never called myself Ralph Rebel or Ben Bollocks or anything.  But brother Paul and I had some fun in London Town for a couple of years.   We were both “dragged up on a council estate by a single parent on social security” (only kidding Mum).  We could be punks if we wanted to be.   It was a laugh.  It was a thrill.  It wasn’t exactly Anarchy in the UK, but it felt bloody great.

“This is the Punk Rockers !”

My Pop Life #10 : Slavery Days – Burning Spear

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Slavery Days   –  Burning Spear

…do you remember the days of slavery?…

Andy Cornwell was a tall, white, loon-trousered, cooler-than-thou dude with an blond afro and teardrop glasses who ran the London School Of Economics ENTS group in the late 70s.  I was studying Law in between going to gigs, smoking dope and listening to music.  We all lived up by the Post Office Tower in Fitzroy Street in halls of residence and while we listened to DJ John Peel religiously and the punk wave that was sweeping through England, we also found reggae was just as likely to be on the turntable.

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Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey was the big record, and the dubplate version Garvey’s Ghost was even better;  The Gladiators, The Mighty Diamonds, Culture, Augustus Pablo, Marley, Dennis Brown, we couldn’t get enough.  And the local scene was strong too – partly thanks to the championing by John Peel – Steel Pulse, Black Slate and Aswad were all setting the place alight.  There was revolution in the air from all sides, and the musicians tapped into it and magnified it.  So there we were, Andy and I, 2 of the twelve white people in the building, walking down the stalls of The Rainbow, Finsbury Park, clutching our tickets for our hero.  We were in J11 and 12.  There was a man sitting in J12.  We showed him our tickets.  He didn’t even look at them.  A white security guard noticed there was an issue and asked to see our tickets. We showed him. He shone his torch at the black dude in J12.  “OK, wait there, I’ll get Spear’s security”  Off he goes. The place is filling up now. Aswad – our reggae band (they’ve already played LSE twice or three times in my first year) – have played the support slot and gone down very well.  Now the place is expectant and charged for the real thing – the Jamaican reggae – the roots rastafarian from St Annes parish – and here’s two white students standing up – IN THE WAY.  A large muscled rasta with a beard and radio shines his torch down. “Lemme see your tickets please”. He tries to take them but some primal instinct kicks in and we keep hold.  “When you buy these tickets?”  Can’t remember what we said.  “These tickets upsteers, we sold out and sold dem all again”.  No, I said, we’re not moving upstairs, we’re sitting here.  The man in J12 sits facing forward unblinking. He somehow isn’t asked for his ticket.  Then further down the row, Spear’s security turns his attention to – another white couple, sitting down  “You two – you got to move upsteers”.  They spurn this offer and people behind us start to shout “SIDDOWN MAN” as the lights go down and the electrically charged atmosphere starts to prickle and crackle and the noise becomes a tidal wave.  Andy crouches improbably down in front of the me as half of my arse twists onto the seat and onto the stage comes dreadlocked Winston Rodney, Burning Spear himself and the place erupts.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the great great gigs of my life, spiced with that build up and introduction – but wait – Spear’s band : the drummer, the bass player, the guitarist, the backing vocals, the keys – were ASWAD !!  This was so ridiculously impressive that they could play the support slot then, having presumably learned all of Burning Spear’s songs that week, actually play his music as he prowls around the stage, a magnetic righteous figure in red gold and green.

When he growled the words “Do You Remember The Days Of Slavery?” the crowd leaped to their feet and punched the air.  It was the first time in my life that I felt like a white man.  Clearly I’d led a privileged existence up to that point, but in a sea of angry black fists at least we were standing up, and stayed that way for the rest of the show.  J12 man stood too.  Weird thinking about it now, but I guess Spear was his hero too and he wanted to be down the front.  I will never forget that gig, and Burning Spear remains in my top five LP choices anytime someone asks for them.  Garvey’s Ghost since you ask. Why ?  Because it is actually perfect.

the dub from Garvey’s Ghost :  I and I Survive