From the NME, 11th March, 1978
A GOOD TWO HOURS BEFORE THE GIG, ROCK AGAINST RACISM MUSTERS ITS MUSCLE. ALL SHAPES AND SIZES, THEY LINE THE WALLS OF THE LONG LOW CONFERENCE CHAMBER, AND LISTEN.
AN RAR SPOKESMAN, HIMSELF ONE SIZE SMALLER THAN EUROPE, EXPLAINS THAT THE PROBLEM WILL BE SEPARATING THE HEAD CASES FROM THE REST. ALONG WITH THE REGULAR HATE MAIL, THEY’VE HAD NOTICE THAT THE NATIONAL FRONT INTEND TO PUT IN AN APPEARANCE.
“We want a real skinhead on the door to welcome them,” says an organiser, and a big bashful lad shuffles his feet embarrassedly as a steward’s arrnband is tied around his bicep. Everybody’s grinning at him – blokes big as Easter Island statues from the Royal Group of Docks and the Building Workers Union, hairy heavies from the Students Union, a handful of fellow skinheads, and here and there the odd improbability. Catching the eye, a dragonfly among boulders, a pretty ginger girl in an untucked shirt, pink lurex stockings and green artillery boots, nobody’s each-way forecast to whup her weight in guppies, further education in pressure points maybe.
The problem at The Roundhouse and at LSE was because the stewards were left on their own,” says the organiser. “We’re gonna svoid anybody getting isolated here by issuing you with vhistles.”
“What about the flattened water?” whispered sorneone from behind his hand, but nobody reslly felt this council of wsr was an overreaction. Central London Polytechnic- already under student occupation on the overseas grants issue – had bitten off a mouthful . Apart from potential flare-up between RAR and the National Front whose llford march had been banned, there were at least a couple of kerosene dumps in the juxtaposition of punks, skinheads and Indians who would be clocking in for the mlxed musical fare.
Topping the bill was Sham 69, whose occasionally violent skinhead following had already gone over the top at The Roundhouse and hit the national papers with a cossack showing at the London School of Economics. Sham were sharing the bill with Misty, a reggae band from Southall. Whisties seemed the least that one could do.
I toured the emplacements, moving back through the chaos of leads and sockets and feedback in the dance hall-a 40 foot crimson RAR banner moving like the Chinese New Year througb the toiling technicians-and out into the lobby. The shy skinhead was in position beside one of those professional bouncers in a bow-tie who always look like Joe Don Baker, and can move all that matt white overweight in on you before you can clear the holster.
The back door was down to Misty. A group of blacks in bulls-eye woolly hats were unconcernedly playing dominoes, slapping the little rectangles down on the table like firecrackers. “They’re not necesssrily the biggest,” laughed their co-ordinator. “Just the bravest .”
‘Well, I’m not lending my eggcup for Ludo,– I tell him, and glancing out into New Cavendish Street, cop for a line of policemen placed by Polydor. By now there-s a fair-sized queue chomping at the bit in the drizzle. I get comprehensively stamped and go outside to talk to them.
“We’ve come to see a good group.”
“See the band, innit.”
“We don’t cause the trouble. It’s the punks. They spit at us, frow cans. We’re not gonna start nuffink. We’re on trial.”
THEY’RE STANDING about there, Sham’s skinhead following up from Essex, Brixton, Peckham, and I would go bail that they’ve taken Jimmy’ Pursey’s ultimatum to heart: any trouble, and he’ll never play London again. We all file in at the door teamhanded, sell the elderly skinhead in the cola scuttle hat.
“Oo’s gettin’ searched? Just us or them punks an all?” says a skinhead, but the search for weaponry is regardless of race, religion or barnet.
I talk to Tony Barker and Dave ‘Sticko’ Stickson. What do they ask for down the barbers? “I ask for a Number One Crop, ‘ says Tony. “This is me Number Two ‘cos I’ve got a coupla court appearances. Freatening behaviour on the terraces. I only gotts say ‘Gorr-leave it aht, Referee!- they do me. Old Bill nicked me for Watford at ‘ome.”
Both of them live for The Hammers and Sham 69.
“Sham 69 are for the people. They make sure everybody has a good time, not like the punks. Johnny Rotten don’t care, ‘ee loves violence. Jimmy Pursey tries to stop it. Punks are stoopid – earrings froo the marf and nose and that.– They’re wearing a single earring each, a memento of the England-Scotland match.
And the National Front?
“I agree wiv some of it, but I’d vote Conservative. Stop more coming in, but those that’re ‘ere – it’s just as much their country. ‘
I talk to a black girl. She’s wearing a bowtie, a suit jacket, and has plaited her hair into antlers. Darla Gilroy, studying design at Brighton Art College: “I’m just a person. It’s other people who make you feel you’re a black, not a person. I’m me.”
In the lobby a crossover skinhead limps awkwardly, a dog’s lead clipped around his knees. A student hands a pamphlet to a tattooed Hammer supporter, Mad Micks And Englishmen by Eammon McCann, produced by Pirate Jenny. “Can’t fit it in, nah,” — says the skinhead. – I study the print on the Rock Against Racism stall. A Sham 69 poster quotes Jimmy Pursey: “We believe that black and white should live together. We are making this stand at this gig to say that.”
In fact punk’s political attitudes on race are a good deal more savoury than their predecessors. Leafing through Temporary Hoarding, RAR’s newspaper, I find J. Rotten – “No-one should have the right to tell anyone they can’t live here because of the colour of the their skin or their religion or whatever, the size of their nose”, Joe Strummer – “All we’re think about the blacks is we aint gonna start blaming them for things they shouldn’t be blamed with.” – lined up against a blue-based Clapton, an insouciant Bowie and absentee patriot Stewart.
Actually, since the rachets d the immigration are already as tight as they can be·, the only people depopulative move would be forced repatriation, and since emigration has exceeded immigration since the Second World War, this would seem loopy. Have.the newcomers destroyed the British way of life? Well, I don’t know that I’d hold them answerable for the demise of the brown penny, feet ‘n inches, the sovereignty of Westminster, the leafy lane, the healthy rabbit and the rentable value of Centre Point and I’m plumb certain I don’t want my head sent back to Ireland and my ass to Wales.
Most of the skinheads sit out the opening groups, eyes down for a dish of Telfers and chips, adams-apples up for a can of McEwans. There’s a few overcoats, windcheaters, a quorum of big-check shirts, braces and turnup jeans, the unavoidable Dr. Martins. With stoic working class courtesy, a skinhead holds the door open for a punk bird, stands well clear of this irregular contraption, and finally lifts his eyes to dip the wink to his mates: oy-oy.
ABRUPTLY, THERE’S a lemming-rush to the bandstand. JIMMY’S ON! Tall, sinewy Jimmy Pursey of the no-shit, straight-up, easy-scrapers-lady, tell-yer-wot-I’II-do arrangement of physiognomy you’ll find bchind the brussel sprouts in hairn~ on any barrow in The Smoke, and now clearly tense and watchful. He grabs the mike. “The Press are ‘ere and they want trouble,” he shouts. ~ “We’re gonna dlsappoint them!”
A forest of arms shoot up: “SHAM SHAM SHAM! ‘
Like a plaited cross between Esalen and a totem pole, skinheads cluster on stage.
Jimmy Pursey, well into his first number disappears from view. A vast security geezer in scimitar sideboards and a Confederate T-shirt parks his chips, and invading the stage patiently lowers the lads in armfuls to the dancefloor as if bucolically bringing in the sheaves.
There is no trouble.
Scuttlebutt has it that the Front are in, but apart from a little antiphonal chanting-“What We Got? Fuck All / National Front!”-their contribution is indistiriguishable from the general sing-along.
Each number starts with the singer, now shirtless, poling himself into the air on the microphone, while his shorn amen corner twine like bombsite convolvulus around the stage. The attack of the band compares favourably with a pneumatic-drill handler on bonus.
“IT’S THE first gig I’ve ever been tense ever.” Jimmy Pursey, a coupla days later, collarless dicky-dirt, braces. “There was so much pressure on me before I went on. It was like bein’ locked in a cage wiv a loada lions, right. I was the lion-tamer who knew he cou!d control them-but also they could attack hlm and eat him. I just went aht there and give it one. I knew that it could work. I knew that them kids are just like anybody else if you treat ’em in the right respect. Wiv respect, they respect you.
“It made my day. Because I’d said it’d be the last time we played London if there was any trouble. A lot hung on me, you know. We was the ones who was sacrificing ourselves by that statement and we proved a point.”
Likeable, animated, this bloke could rabbit for Britain. He’s honest all right, no lead under these scales, nor thumb in the pan.
“LSE? They couldn’t ‘andle a punk band, no idea. They kept ’em locked aht m the cold, and they had no security. What e1se do you expect from street kids? It was obvious somethlng like that was gonna ‘appen. I’m not saying the kids who follow us are a band of angels, but I believe that’s what punk is abaht anyway. If you ain’t got them coming to your gigs, then you am’t playing to the right people, are you?”
Correct. On the current Dow-Jones Index of Street Credibility, Sham’s following is gilt-edged. Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall would fit right in there, minus beanies. Jimmy’s Just completed a new song to his supporters, inspired by the old Cagney movie: ‘Angels With Dirty Faces, Kids From Nowhere Places, Kids Like Me And You.’
“I’m a very lucky person in the sense that I can speak on lots of different fings, and that’s why I can do fings that the kids’d love to do, but can’t. That’s absolutely fantastic! As long as I say the right fings that they want me to say, well
He broke off to reconsider. His identification with his audience is total, which has its drawbacks and its responsibilities. The commitment to RAR was something of a leap in the dark, and could’ve left the Lads well choked. “No, I’m not always gonna be able to say the right fings, because I believe in some fings and they might not. That’s because I’m Jimmy Pursey. I’m not exactly the same, but, on the whole, I’m probably the same as the majority on what they WANT to be.”
Which brought us to the problem of Sham 69’s National Front-struck followers.
“Rock Against Racism approached me, probably because of the type of kids we get to our gigs,” says Jimmy. “Me doing a gig like that would influence them. Now what I’m worned abaht today is thf kids are going either one way or the other, see. They’re not going dahn the middle-and they should be. That’s temble! They should be looking at both sides of fings, but they’re either going, ‘I’m a National Front, or ‘I’m a Socialist Worker Party’.
“I come from a little industrial town in Surrey – Hersham – nuffing spectacular. There, you’ll get a lotta kids growing up like me that don’t really give a monkey’s about what’s going on, because we’re not in an environment that’s affecting us. The places where It is-that s where the kids are going one way or the other. So I can never EVER say to a kid, ‘Right – I want you to do this’, because that immediately makes you a leader and a dictator at the same time. People who’re the heads of those two groups are dictators – even if they’re Communists. Russia and China have already proved that. That’s why I can’t say, Do this, Do that. I can only suggest fings. That’s why I believe in freedom of speech, right?
“I’m probably more of a democrat than anyfing else.
“Now. where them kids come from, they’re domineered by their mums and dads telling ’em what to believe. You know as well as I do that from the age of five, say, when you start speaking, to the age of 17, your vlews on life are nearly everyfing your mum and dad have said to you, because you look up to them. So the kids turn rahnd and go ‘My dad says bloody black bastards’. That’s it. Now, when they get to 18 they go “Well-I dunno really’. They don’t know what the National Front is abaht. It gives them a label, so they latch onto it, right? Like the way they latched onto spitting. They didn’t know what they was spitting abaht-someone spits and everybody spits.
“At one point in punk you could a made a lotta money outa spitting, collecting gob, like. It Just shows how pathetic it was. So I might see a coupla kids go ‘Sieg Heil, Sieg Heil’, but that’s just like Joey goes Sieg Heil so four or five others do it.”
IN MANY WAYS, Jimmy Pursey comes on like the custodian of punk values, scornful of the sell-out, refusing to trade the beat-up and van and the one-star cold-water walk-up for the trappings of success. He leans across the table and delivers a leaping history lesson.
“Rock ‘n roll is rebellious music, right? Everyfing that has started up has rebelled against somefing else. You like jazz, right?”
“Well, jazz was a form of punk music from the blues. It was against the fings what was around ’em. That’s what I believe. ” He levels a challenging look, like ‘ow d’yer like them apples, Chief?
“Pop music is an established fing-you hafta do what the Establishment want you to do, but punk music isn’t. Somebody said to me the uwer day that Lou Reed and Marc Bolan were the first forms of punk-which is a loada shit, because the first forms of punk, if you wanna talk abaht it, were people like the Vikings who were rowing boats across, and when they was getting whipped and that, they was singing, right, because you sing in pain and you sing from the heart. Punk music is SUPPOSED to be abaht that, you know what I mean?”
At the end of the gig, Jimmy sat in with Misty, and the Lads loved it. Up front, the audience looked like a field of dandelions, before and after breeze, bushy barnets and bristly barnets gettin’ it on together.
“Don’t matter how big the place is, we treat it like a little youth club. You gotta say, All right, come on, all rahnd me. It’s like a bloke sitting dahn and he’s got a loada kids all sitting rahnd him, and he’s telling this story baht Jack And The Beanstalk. They all feel a part of that story. You go on stage and you do the same fing.”
“It’s not the money for me. Never has been. It’s the respect of the audience. I just love being up there with hundreds of people out there. I mean, I feed off ’em. I’m like a leech, understand what I mean? Everybody in the world is a leech in one respect Or answer – but for me, me, I’m sucking the blood outa them and they’re sucking the blood outa me. They’re taking my life, and I’m taking their response.
“I’m in a place where I can do fings for people that I couldn’t have done a little while ago. Now, it I say, Right – come on, let’s all clap together, everybody gets together, whereas if I was playing bottom of the bill at the Roxy, they’d go Fuck Off-What’s ‘e talking abaht?”
At the end of the evening, I talked to one of the founder members of RAR. A doctor in Bethnal Green, he deals daily with the neurosis fallout from racialism, the little Indian kids too intimidated to lift their eyes from the gutter, the bedwetters, the insomniacs.
In some of the Southall punk clubs, they’ve already got a few turbanned kids pogoing. RAR could be the CND of the 70s, and Jimmy Pursey’s stand tonight is worth a hundred curate’s homilies and folk singers.
At the door, a swarm of skinheads descends upon me.
“We told you there’d be no trouble, didn’t we?”
“You’ll print that, won’t you? No trouble.”
Damn right. In the street, I fell in behind a national daily reporter. He was talking to his photographer. “Waste of time,” he says. “No story in that. Nothing happened.”
I wouldn’t bet on it, pal…