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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In the beginning there was punk

The summer of 1976

It was the summer of 76, the summer the earth stood still and burnt.. I was living in a caravan on the edge of the Forest of Dean. By day I toiled in the sun helping to re-build a derelict cottage. At night I sweltered in the heat, door and windows open. Looking out east over the Severn, by day I could see pillars of smoke rising up over the Cotswolds. At night the the flames of scrub fires lit up the darkness.

For a few days I visited London, travelling via Stonehenge. The route was marked by the skeltons of dying elm trees, so many it looked like winter in the summer. Stonehenge looked like a painting by Dali, the stones fusing into glass in a desert. There was no green, only the dead dry stalks of grass dancing in the furnace heat.

The London I searched for beneath the Westway was not the London of punk, the only punk I knew then (and that but little of) was that of New York and Patti Smith. Rather I was searching for the spirit of a previous age, of Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies. I found a few traces. In a headshop somehwere near the Portobello Road I found a stash of old magazines, OZ and Frendz and a newly (briefly) revived IT/ International Times. The counter-culture gone so far underground it had become invisible.

I don't recall the return west. All that I can recall is waking up one night in the caravan and seeing flashes on the horizon over towards Bristol. For a few brief/ eternal minutes I thought "This is it. They have dropped the Bomb on Bristol. It is the end of the world..." . And then came a breath of cold air and the first fat drops of rain began to fall. Was there thunder? There must have been. "Waiting for the summer rain..." Even then, felt more like a Jim Morrison moment than the birth of punk The punk moment didn't come until much later, until I heard White Riot played at a student disco as winter took hold. Only then did the geological shift happen. Only then did punk happen for me. Only then did the Westway become part of the present of the Clash not the past of Hawkwind. Except it is not so simple as that.

Just posted off a wodge of colour photocopies of a punk fanzine from 1980 -Kill Your Pet Puppy - to Ian who is writing a book about "anarcho-punk". To get in the mood, listened to The Mob "Stubbing out progress where the seeds are sown... still living with the English fear, waiting for the witch hunt dear ... "

How did it happen? Here is the short version. It was 1981. I was living in London and working in a factory making Durex condoms, but also a member of the (Kill Your Pet) Puppy Collective. Don't worry. No puppies were ever killed, it was a metaphor. We went to see the Barracudas play at the Hope and Anchor pub in Islington. Some Puppies were persuaded to go to a rival attraction, a squatted church on the Pentonville Road called the Parallel Universe. Somehow, via a gay punk squat on Huntingdon Street in Islington, this Parallel Universe later fused with a search for magic mushrooms at dawn on Hampstead Heath and seeing The Mob play a free gig in an adventure playground on Parliament Hill Fields.

Thanks to John Peel playing The Mob's "Witch Hunt", they were already a Puppy fave rave group. But was all this talk of magic mushrooms (none were ever found) and free gigs in adventure playgrounds hippy or punk? Hawkwind or Clash? I suppose, since the last KYPP (no. 5) ended up at Stonehenge Free Festival in 1984 it was more hipy than punk. But then primal punks ATV played at Stonehenge with primal hippies Here and Now in 1978. What you see is what you get.

Nothing lasts, things change. The KYPP stuff I photocopied today was mainly about Crass and SWP/ BM conflicts acted out at their gigs. But as we all know now, Penny Rimbaud of Crass was a mate of Wally Hope who had the idea for a free festival at Stonehenge back in 1974. Crass may have sounded more punk than The Mob, but The Mob were more punk than Crass.. . and if one route from the Hope and Anchor Barracudas gig via the Parallel Universe and the gay punks of Huntingdon Street led us to The Mob, the same route also led to Blood and Roses and thelemic punk.

But to reconstruct that link will have to wait.


Blogger John Eden said...

A great start Alistair - will link you up from my blog for definite... really looking forward to more!

10:15 am  
Blogger merrick said...

This is wonderful stuff Alistair.

I know what you mean about the mythologising of the late 60s and punk undergrounds, but do be assured that there are those of us who came along in the 90s who are well aware of how punk and hippy fused through the 80s to deliver much of the framework and attitude we needed to make things like the tree protests and Reclaim The Streets happen, which in turn fed the broader anti-capitalist movement.

The detail and personalisation your writing gives it all is great, it makes it seem somehow more real than the vaguely defined 'campaigns and bands' vision of countercultural history.

Thanks a lot for this. I've linked to you from my blog.

11:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice to read your blog ,i'm a brougham road veteran too , as well as stonehenge festival and all the stuff going on in the mid eighties. I lived up in Laurieston Hall near you in castle douglas in the early nineties my kids still live there with their mum, so go up there too , its hardly anarcho-punk tho...

9:28 pm  

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