In 1977, Martin Ryan (AKA Martin Martin) edited the short-lived but influential Ghast Up fanzine from a Manchester base. It was one of a number of fanzines that served the city, running alongside Shy Talk, Out There, Penetration and Paul Morley’s one page affair, Girl Trouble.
As we go to press, Martin is in the process of completing his book on the heady days of Manchester punk, provisionally entitled ‘Friends of Mine’. To provide a flavour, here are three short excerpts. The long-awaited book should arrive during 2017.
Thursday 9th December 1976
There was only one place I should have been. The Sex Pistols’ “Anarchy in the UK” tour had been savagely censored following their tirade at Bill Grundy on the Today programme, but one of the few surviving dates took place at a venue I knew well. Moreover it was a package that included The Clash and ex-New York Dolls’ Johnny Thunders in town with his new band the Heartbreakers. The Damned should have completed the line-up but the band had been dismissed from the tour, apparently for their willingness to audition before the upholders of the moral high ground.
But this was a Thursday and I had assented to check out a mate’s older brother, who were this week’s turn at The Phoenix. The sibling in question Rick Henshaw played keyboards in the band Eclipse behind a vocalist, who seemed surplus to requirements during the lengthy instrumental intros of most numbers, but was ultimately allowed to join in for the closing minutes of each song. A few years later their music would be evaluated in New Manchester Review, whose assessment of Eclipse suggested, “If you like Yes and Genesis you’ll like this lot.”
To the chagrin of some of our party who had at least acknowledged the competency of the band we had witnessed, it was onwards into the shadows of Collyhurst and the Electric Circus to see that band whose followers wore ripped t shirts held together by safety pins, or string vests held together by chewing gum. The shock was less that such unruly clobber qualified as fashion but that a Chelsea shop was apparently charging megabucks for such gear.
Approaching the Electric Circus the usual tranquillity had been replaced by an anxious edge with Greater Manchester Police obviously viewing what remained of the tour as a likely powder keg of trouble. The line of Policeman along Collyhurst Street seemed intent on questioning whoever approached the door as to why they would want to go in there. A few were swayed by the force’s argument motioning to the sound emanating from within, “well just listen to ‘em.” What we were listening to was David Bowie singing, “It’s not the side effects of the cocaine“. Not the Sex Pistols and appropriately not a sound you would traditionally hear at this or similar venues, the DJ obviously still wrestling with the dilemma of what to play to a punk audience.
In fact such was the deliberation before paying on the door, the main band had already taken to the stage and were poised to launch into the opening chords of “Anarchy in the UK” under a drenching of beer thrown from the front rows. The support acts including Buzzcocks, who had been invited to step in for the dispensed services of The Damned, had played and retired whilst I was scrutinising Eclipse at The Phoenix, along with any of the reported skirmishes between the punks and the rest of the crowd that had long subsided at this point.
Given the tabloid hype that preceded this event, there was an edge of confusion and bewilderment to this band and its charismatic frontman. Are these really good or really awful?
I would like to say that I was instantly converted to the cause but the Pistols’ laudable and surprisingly competent musical performance left a few questions. As each number followed, an element of sameness crept in despite the band’s approach rising to the hostile gauntlet thrown down by a sizeable element of doubters within the audience, whose attendance seemed to be borne more of sullen curiosity than any devotion to this group of outsiders. And they covered the Monkees of all people. Was that a stroke of genius or complete absurdity?
Either way I could finally claim that, however belatedly, I had been there to witness The Sex Pistols in Manchester. For whatever doubts remained, particularly the playing of “Stepping Stone”, their spikey hypnotic performance made Manchester’s “pub rock” circuit, whose furrow I had ploughed in recent months, suddenly seem shallow and redundant.
I could at least now defend The Sex Pistols honour to any Genesis or Eagles (or Eclipse) fan if I felt so inclined, although I sustained a muted indifference on the drive home as I was forced to endure a spiteful tirade against the band we had just witnessed, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the evening began as a journey to check out a group of “prog rock” wannabees.
The exasperation felt by these fans of “proper” music was stated not to be due to the Pistols’ ostensible inability to play, but to the Pistols custom of writing songs around bawled lyrics proclaiming such gems as, “I’m a lazy sod”. Unlike progressive bands who of course sang about wizards and lawnmowers! And the final affront, echoing claims that would subsequently emanate from at least some attendees at the Lesser Free Trade Hall gigs, was the banal, “If they can get away with that, why not me?”
Sunday 8th May 1977
And for the first time that I could recall, accessing the Electric Circus involved standing in the famous/infamous queue that reached down the side of the venue and, depending on the draw of the band, behind the iconic building. Despite the average Mancunian punk looking far from outrageous the queue drew an audience from a handful of the kids in the neighbouring flats who appeared each Sunday to watch the curious patrons stand in line. The term, “feral youth” had yet to be coined by politicians and in fairness, on the one occasion the youths created the slightest of conflicts, the distressed minor returned in the company of his mother who remonstrated with the adversary.
The queue was more a ritual than a necessity as even the possession of a ticket would not fast track your entry. For those who preferred a cosier wait there was a pub just around the corner on neighbouring Rochdale Road where you could sit and wait for the queue to abate whilst being entertained by an organist whose act seemed to consist mainly of playing Opportunity Knocks winner Bernie Flint’s current breakthrough “I Don’t Want To Put a Hold On You”. Although it was a traditional pub with family entertainment we did encounter a friendly gentleman who had presumably deduced that this particular watering hole was a stopover for fans on route to the nearby rock venue and who offered to sell us some “gear”.
The visit of The Clash, who had previously appeared as part of the “Anarchy” tour, also attracted the return of the police again lining up to monitor the situation. The sight of uniformed police around the building was somehow fitting for the occasion.
The queue tonight was at least apposite for one of the top Manchester gigs of all time. I had seen The Who in 1975 when they generously bequeathed the cream of much of their back catalogue and the earth shattering appearance by Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers earlier that year. I was to witness the double bill of The Ramones and Talking Heads later that month and David Bowie’s post Heroes showing at Stafford the following year. Whichever of those occasions was the gig of my lifetime still varies daily but the appearance at The Electric Circus of The Clash on their White Riot tour remains an abiding memory.
For what seemed like the first time, the Circus DJ played an exclusively punk soundtrack mixed with early stirrings of the obligatory dub reggae that would become punk’s brother in arms courtesy of Don Lett’s role as DJ at London’s Roxy, reinforced possibly by Mark Perry’s command in punk bible “Sniffin’ Glue” to, “try to listen to Reggae”.
The Slits short set confirmed Pete Shelley’s description of the all-girl band. There was none of the restrain that women in rock tended to engage with the solid guitar bass drum sound supplying a potent force behind Ari Up’s equally uninhibited vocals. The singer roared her musical preference whilst returning via the crowd to the dressing room with a cry of, “Reggae reggae reggae.” Steve Shy candidly described them as, “amazing.”
There was a suitable congeniality to Subway Sect. Less direct than most of their contemporaries, singer Vic Godard emphasised their unpolished approach by referring to a piece of paper before announcing each number. Despite the lacklustre presentation, there was clearly a level of sophistication to this band. Like fish out of water, the exuberant response to the structured arrangements seemed almost to mystify the band and their deadpan approach.
Unlike both support bands whose sets I had to learn on the night, The Clash set had been pre burned into my memory with the “White Riot” single, debut album and the NME freebie “Capital Radio” ensuring there would be no musical surprises that night. The question mark over their decision to spout their political dogma via the international set up of CBS was still a hot topic and their contemptuous re-reading of “London’s Burning” as “Manchester’s Burning” for the opener should have raised further questioning of The Clash stance. But at this point in time The Clash seemed untouchable with the music press collectively assessing them as the only band that mattered.
Once the band hit their stride, which was almost instantaneous, it was quickly obvious that they were firmly in the driving seat of the punk revolution. The Clash had certainly benefited from the notoriety that the Sex Pistols had sown but the latter’s refusal, or probably their overbearing manager’s refusal to exploit them as a live act, left the way clear for The Clash to rise to the top of the pile. The Clash’s standpoint as people’s champions may have been compromised by their choice of a major record label and their manager’s personalised CLA5H number plate on his limousine, but their willingness to deliver their music to the masses in all its power and glory, both in the flesh and via their quickly released debut album, seemed to earn them clemency from the judgemental punk audience.
Whether there was much truth in Malcolm McLaren’s claimed obstacles to displaying his band live remains questionable given that both The Clash and Johnny Thunder’s Heartbreakers had been quarries of the self-righteous indignation that annihilated much of the Anarchy Tour. Plus tonight’s venue had hosted the Anarchy Tour twice and would surely throw the doors open to a further showing as would many venues across the nation. Either way it was The Clash who fired the warning shots and sent us back to our cosy existence in a state of delirium. I am not sure I had yet come to regard any punk band as the greatest band in the world but on tonight’s showing, maybe it is The Clash.
Saturday 30th April 1977
The Roxy, Neal Street, London WC2
“The palace of untold legend and hidden promise” was how Ripped and Torn fanzine described The Roxy on Neal Street in London’s Covent Garden. My one visit to the theatre of punk was to establish whether The Drones could affect a London audience the way they recently had in Manchester.
Although London was hardly awash with punks, my first encounter with a couple on the tube left me somewhat embarrassed by my lack of adventure in the sartorial stakes. Although I could not now recall the precise articles that made up their punk attire it was fair to say I suddenly felt timid and conservative in comparison.
Like any proverbial tourist I checked out all the predictable haunts the big city had to offer. The Kings Road was always a stopover, although I never got as far as Seditionaries, as McLaren and Westwood’s shop was then trading, having gained previous notoriety as Sex. I also somehow missed any skirmishes between teds and punks, despite events later being described as a near civil war.
The one essential punk hot spot was the Rough Trade shop. It actually took some finding as I assumed, despite its punk HQ reputation, that it was in the upmarket Borough of Kensington, rather than the then more modest neighbourhood of Notting Hill. Having located the shop in the vicinity of Portobello Road rather than the Victoria and Albert Museum, the hosts were as genial as the London based fanzines had advocated. Geoff Travis thanked us for sending Ghast Up down and made an unforced offer to pay us from the till. The one artefact that stuck in my mind in this museum of modern culture was an original photograph of Lou Reed as used on the Transformer sleeve.
The Roxy was easier to locate and provided possibly the most confusing fashion conflict of the visit. Another punk looking couple clad in what appeared to be designer gear and looking every inch the Roxy regular approached to enquire, “what sort of people go in there, are they a leather lot?” The question was later qualified with, “are they punk?” Downstairs the Roxy was pretty much as expected including the exorbitant prices or, to put it in a 1977 perspective, one pound fifty admission and over fifty pence a pint for draught beer with cans offering a slightly cheaper alternative! A murky basement club with limited décor – the ambience being provided by the music and the modish punters.
Dee Generate the ex-drummer with Eater was present and someone mentioned Glen Matlock the ex-Pistol, but the famed roll call of punk royalty that was said to frequent The Roxy was conspicuously absent. A young woman sat scribbling was identified for me as journalist Jane Suck and NME writer Tony Parsons admits to having been present although he has repeatedly denied the accusation that he was the disgruntled patron who smashed a table towards the end of the night.
There was at least a smattering of Mancunian characters with Steve Shy and Paul Doyle, another punk regular who somehow managed to hitch a ride to many English towns and cities despite his punk attire having a limited semblance to actual clothing, in attendance alongside The Drones entourage of girlfriends and manager. We were quickly acknowledged by Drones’ singer Mike who was genuinely grateful for our making the journey south.
In true music journalist style, Paul Morley’s initial greeting was to recount the events of the previous night, having caught The Jam at The Royal College of Art in Kensington, West London. The Jam drew few if any plaudits from the band’s manager, unlike the support band, UK based reggae outfit The Cimarons who, “blew them off stage”.
The original management of Andy Czezowski, Susan Carrington and Barry Jones who had built the club’s not inconsiderable reputation as a punk nucleus, had recently vacated the premises that were now under new management. Paul Morley was particularly unimpressed with the new management’s suggestion that he should pay to get in. Don Letts had retained his post as resident DJ and it was the rattle of dub reggae that reverberated around the club, in between the growing punk releases. The Clash had a whole album to choose from with Paul Doyle declaring he was going to ask Letts to play “Janie Jones”. Another loud guitar driven track was identified to me by Steve Shy as The Adverts new single “One Chord Wonders”. Paul Morley, true to his description of the music as “77 Pop” or “music that you can dance to” performed a jig to DJ Letts’ playing of Buzzcocks’ “Breakdown”.
The Drones’ performance ran smoothly this time sound wise as the band gave a rehearsed delivery of their original set supplemented by The Stooges, “Search and Destroy” and their take on Patti Smith’s take on “My Generation”. The Mancunian exuberance that would give way to dancing and spitting was clearly absent from the London punk persona that demanded an icy cool lack of emotion. The level of applause suggested modest approval, but there was no evidence that this crowd had been enlivened by The Drones set that petered out to an indifferent finale. Perhaps I was placing myself in the role of away supporter as was Morley who was flummoxed by the tepid response to his lads and in his bewilderment asked, “What exactly do they want?”
In fairness the XTC set that seemed to follow much later and included a cover of Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”, which surely lessened any punk credibility, elicited only a little more reaction, although their less forced delivery and disjointed rhythm perhaps demanded a less frenetic response than The Drones.