‘I fought the law & the law won’: nonsense & insecurity in 1970s Barnsley (Part 2 of 2)

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In my recent post ‘White Riot’ (White Riot? Prudery and prejudice in 1970s Barnsley (Part 1 of 2)) I described the events of the evening of October 22nd 1977 when the police intervened to close down a gig by two punk bands, Strangeways and The Jerks.  For most of us in the audience that night, the matter ended with a return home than we might have anticipated.  However, five people had been arrested and, in the New Year, those cases came to court, allowing a further review of what went on at the Centenary Rooms tat autumn night.

The Barnsley Chronicle for January 13th 1978 carried a report entitled ‘Sequel to the first punk concert.’  The piece covered the hearing of the cases at the Magistrates’ Court against four of those arrested.  An 18 year old apprentice from Cudworth was fined £20 having pleaded guilty on a charge of conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.  He told the court that he had been cross that he’d paid 75p only for the gig to end a few songs into the main act’s set.  After the venue had been cleared a group of those ejected gathered in the foyer at the foot of the main stairs.  They apparently attempted to stop older customers leaving another function that had taken place in the Civic Hall itself.  The accused was alleged to have refused to leave the building when asked to do so by a constable and to have cried out “Punks unite! Don’t move.”  He was arrested.  A bricklayer from Gilroyd had also refused to leave the foyer and had chanted obscenities at the police, calling them ‘pigs’ and declaring that “Punk rules.”  He was fined £20 and his girlfriend was bound over to keep the peace.  Lastly, an 18 year old miner living at Stainborough had been arrested some time later at the traffic lights at the foot of Market Hill.  He had sworn at officers in a police car, for which a fine of £15 for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace was imposed.

The fifth arrestee, called Wright, chose to defend the prosecution brought against him.  His hearing was reported at some length in the Chronicle for February 2nd 1978.  Because Wright’s solicitor challenged the police case, we learn a good deal more about their view of events that night.  The officer examined stated that the audience numbered between 100 and 150 people, “not packed in” to the Centenary Rooms.  The crowd, he told the court, was composed of “people in torn shirts” and “clothes like you see in the daily papers.”  The defendant had been wearing a shirt that was in tatters and spattered with yellow paint.  He remained alone on the dance floor as the crowd was removed and had refused to leave, becoming abusive and chanting “Punks rule.  Fuck off fuzz.”  Wright’s version of events was very different.  He said he had left the Centenary Rooms themselves and had been waiting at the top of the stairs for his cousin when he was grabbed from behind, manhandled and arrested.  He said his shirt was ripped in large part because the police pulled off the badges he had pinned on it.  They in turn admitted that badges were removed before he was placed in a cell, to prevent him harming himself but repeated that the shirt was shredded already.  Wright contended that, if he had been seen on the dance floor shouting, it was simply because he had been calling for an encore.

Wright’s solicitor suggested that the police case had been fabricated after the event.  He was told at the time that he was suspected of being drunk and disorderly, but the eventual charges were quite different.  The magistrates, perhaps because they read those same daily papers as the constable giving evidence, chose to believe the police account and fined Wright £20 for conduct likely to cause a breach of the peace.

With that, the sorry episode concluded.  Reviewing matters after nearly 40 years, you cannot help but suspect that the council and South Yorkshire Constabulary overreacted, judging what was happening as much by the preconceptions of punks that they had derived from the tabloid press as by what they actually witnessed.  I was there, and as I wrote in my last blog and as I described in my book Freak or smoothy, the most outrageous garment I saw was a Led Zeppelin sweatshirt with the band image crossed out with two strips of gaffer tape.  Neither I nor my friends attended wearing torn shirts- our mums wouldn’t have let us!

strangeways

What about the bands who precipitated this white riot?  Strangeways had formed in Wakefield in late 1976/ early 1977.  Previously some members had played in a band called Sidewinder playing songs by local heroes Be-Bop Deluxe, Golden Earring, Santana and Status Quo (much like the bands I was in).  As Strangeways their initial career showed considerable promise: they turned with The Ramones, Johnny Thunder, The Rumour, The Pretenders, Suzi Quattro and (bizarrely) Judas Priest.  Their first single, ‘Show her you care’ was released by Real Records in 1978.  However, it did not attract much attention and things stalled for them after that.  They split in 1979.

As for headliners, The Jerks, they starting rehearsing in a West Yorkshire garage in late 76/ early 77 and soon became one of Leeds’most successful punk bands.  Their first single was released by Underground Records in 1977- ‘Get your woofin’ dog off me.’  It is alleged to be the fastest punk single ever recorded.  You can judge for yourself here- it’s certainly pretty short (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHXSWXnQUYM ).  They toured with Penetration, Generation X, The Adverts and Sham 69 and were actively involved with the Rock against Racism movement.  

In 1978 the band moved to Lightening Records and produced  second single ‘Cool;’  a third single ‘Come back Bogart’ was issued in January 1980 but it flopped and they split very soon afterwards.  The live album We hate you was released in 1999 by Overground Records (http://www.overgroundrecords.co.uk/we-hate-you/).

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A Portuguese fanzine featuring The Jerks

I’ll conclude with a further mention of local punk band, The Restricted, who featured in my first article on The Jerks gig debacle.  I’ve discussed their evolution into Danse Society in other postings and pages (see Punk and new wave), but I’ll just note now that, on February 3rd 1978, they played in the Centenary Rooms (along with a range of other less controversial non-punk acts such as Orion Rise, featuring the current author- A Barnsley rock family tree).  I record this simply to observe that, despite any Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council ban upon booking punk bands at their venues, The Restricted managed to sneak in under the radar.  Punks rule, after all?

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3 thoughts on “‘I fought the law & the law won’: nonsense & insecurity in 1970s Barnsley (Part 2 of 2)

  1. […] 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)) […]

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