“Donna, where’s your troosers?”- the band Strangeways plus female acquaintance in 1977
On October 22nd 1977, Barnsley’s one and only punk rock gig took place at the Centenary Rooms on the top floor of the Civic Hall. The gig was stopped early by a police raid, the venue was cleared and five people were arrested. No other major punk band played the town after that date. What justified this reaction: genuine concerns or tabloid hysteria?
Months before the ill-fated gig in question, there were signs in the town that trouble was brewing. In an interview published in the Barnsley Chronicle only the day before the events to be described, Gary Bower, bassist of local punk band The Restricted, complained that the new band were facing unexplained obstacles. They had played one gig at Hoyland Youth Centre and had had other dates lined up- including one at the Centenary Rooms- but all had been cancelled without any justification being given. The band were not overly discouraged, though: he told the reporter that they planned to record their own first single, which could be done for about £150, he said (we see here a good example of the DIY spirit which bands like Buzzcocks had instilled into the punk ethic.)
If Bower had paid attention to the Chronicle that summer, he might have better understood what was going on. On August 5th the paper had reported that the licencees of several town centre pubs had taken steps to ban punks from their premises. This was because, apparently, their ‘disorderly conduct’ was scaring other customers away. The White Hart, Temple Inn and Shakespeare Hotel had excluded punks completely from their bars. The Old Number Seven and The Cornerpin said that they were “exercising discretion and judging each case on its merits.” John Lindley, landlord of the Old No.7, said that he and other licencees were “trying to nip it in the bud.” The ‘it’ to which he referred was those “with big dog collars round their necks and who are chained together.” The attire caused “unrest,” he said, and it was dangerous for drinkers to be chained together when the pub was busy. You might see his point in this respect, especially if you wanted to get out of the pub’s cellar bar in an emergency, but the real motivations were revealed when the newspaper went on to observe that “Punk rockers are opposed to the accepted standards and values of society today. Their clothes are ripped and torn, held together in the majority of cases by safety pins. Some wear plastic dustbin bags and others collars and chains.” Mrs Constance Senior of the Shakespeare Hotel said she had lost regulars because punks had thrown beer glasses against the door of the bar and had attempted to smash her juke box. They may have had their reasons, of course- probably it was endlessly playing ‘I am sailing’ by Rod Stewart and Brotherhood of Man‘s Eurovision hit’Save all your kisses for me.’
What was going on here in this small mining town? I’d say it was pretty plain that the popular panic about any new youth cult had taken hold and people reacted in undiscriminating fashion. This was the legacy of the notorious Bill Grundy interview with the Sex Pistols in December 1976. They swore at him (fairly harmlessly and justifiably) on tea time telly; the tabloid press exploded and their record company dropped them. Overnight punk became a threat to the morals of the nation’s children. The Sex Pistols themselves had to appear anonymously, the so-called ‘Never Mind the Bans’ or ‘SPOTS (Sex Pistols on tour in secret)’ tour taking place earlier in 1977. Things probably weren’t helped by the fact that punk was already, to some degree, becoming hide-bound and standardised. Bin bags and safety pins were the ‘uniform’ of punks in the provinces trying to identify with and catch up with what was happening in the bigger cities.
Back to October 1977- a small ad appeared in the Chronicle on the 14th, announcing a ‘New Wave Nite’, a double bill of Strangeways and The Jerks. It was 75p to get in. I, for one, was definitely attending; I’d not heard of either of the bands but at last punk had reached our little town and I could experience it for myself. I have described my recollection of the events that followed in my novel, Freak or smoothy (or, my life as a teenage rock star). My subsequent research indicates that my memory of the evening was pretty accurate.
The night started uneventfully. There was a decent crowd and it was very mixed. There were plenty of teens like me, but also quite a few older men in their twenties and even thirties. A few kids were in punk gear, but most of us were still in our standard seventies denim flares and cheesecloth shirts, with plenty of long hair and beards. Lots of us had grown up with heavy rock and yet to be fully converted. As far as I can recall, the support set by Strangeways passed uneventfully.
The main act, The Jerks, a Leeds band who were in fact playing the first night of a national tour, came on about 9.45pm. They played only two or three songs, there was some pogoing at the front and the height of the bacchanalian frenzy that I witnessed was the vocalist throwing talcum powder over the front rows. It was then that things went wrong.
The council staff on duty that night became concerned that beer glasses were getting broken. Apparently some had fallen- or been dropped- from the windows that opened out over Eldon Street. The police were called and, at 10pm, twenty officers arrived. They forcibly unplugged the equipment, removed the band from the stage and set about clearing the venue. We were all herded down the several flights of stairs to street level, where we milled around for a while. Most of those ejected were aggrieved- we had paid a whole 75p for the event and it had been cut short; we felt cheated. We stood and grumbled until a police officer advised us to be ‘on your way, lads.’ We complied reluctantly, muttering about the rumour that some older heavy metal fans at the back had deliberately made trouble by smashing the beer mugs. We had little idea that the police orders were being backed up by actual arrests only yards away from us.
The full story was revealed in the Chronicle for the following Friday, October 28th. The council were planning to reconsider their lettings policy following the event, which had culminated in five arrests being made. A council representative said there had been no alternative but to summon the police after the audience’s behaviour became “intolerable” and the four security staff present had been unable to contain things. A considerable amount of glass had been broken and chucked out of the windows, they stated. Pete Deakin, who had attended the gig, alleged that glasses were broken accidentally by dancing and also by some trouble makers who didn’t like punk. The paper had also spoken to the organiser of the event, a Wakefield school teacher and entrepreneur named Richard Lamborn. He confirmed what Deakin had stated and felt that the damage that occured was largely the fault of the council. He had previously arranged events in the Civic Hall itself and said that attendees had been prevented from taking glasses from the bar into the auditorium. This had not been done on the night of the 22nd. (Those of you who knew the two venues at the time will understand perfectly why: there was the landing at the top of the main flight of stairs separating the Civic Hall from the bar, so staff could easily supervise who crossed this space; in the Centenary Rooms the bar let directly into the concert area and, as a much smaller and more crowded venue, it was a lot harder to control- though, frankly, I never went to any event there where anybody tried to prevent the free passage of drinks. In fact, there were tables and seating in the area where the bands played…)
Lamborn went on to acknowledge that a few fans “got bolshie” after the gig was rudely interrupted. Nonetheless, he defended them: “A lot of emotional nonsense is talked about punk rock. In actual fact, all it is is fast exciting music, not particularly brilliant or creative, but good fun.” The bands that Lamborn had promoted may have balked at his description of them, but his assessment of the evening was very probably correct. High spirits were the greatest offence of most of those in attendance.
As far as I was concerned, that was the end of that. It had been an interesting experience and a notable chunk of my pocket money had gone down the drain. As I’ve said, no punk bands with a national profile played in the town subsequently, so that it appeared that the council did indeed clamp down as promised. Some months later there was a sequel, however, to which I shall return in a future posting. (Continued here: ‘I fought the law & the law won’: nonsense & insecurity in 1970s Barnsley (Part 2 of 2))