Amazing what you think is a break when you are young. Getting a support slot to The Damned was a big scoop in my mind. But I wasn’t in awe of them. After all, they had not at this point had a decent sized hit record. Support them we did: twice. This is an account of those two gigs.
Middlesbrough Rock Garden – perhaps a more geeky ex-band member of Basczax can supply the date – was the venue that we were supporting them at. The Rock Garden was, of course, one of those venues that a lot of punk bands visited (heavy metal ones too) in the late 70s up to the very early 80s. It was small, rather squalid and suited the spit and snot ethos of punk perfectly. It was a great night out and I looked forward to going there most weekends as I did, between late ’78 and up to mid-1980.
So, there we were, all eager but trying to look nonchalant: too cool to boogie, punk was one big sulk for a lot of bands. Not that Basczax were a glum bunch. We had our stupid goofy moments too. Like the time we exited a stage, ran back on for an encore and Laurel and Hardy-like, I banged heads with bassist Mick Todd. Basczax: we fancied ourselves as Roxy Music if they had met in a British Steel work hut. We were pretty good, had a strong local following and we may or may not have had that whiff of ‘going places’ about us. I was having the time of my life, not realising it at the time of course.
So, The Damned were late. We of course, got there unfashionably early, bag of chips in hand and ready, oh so ready, for the gig. When they finally did arrive they were mostly in a bad mood. Their bass player, a grumpy git in a leather jacket called Algy Ward (had to look it up actually) had no bass amp. It had been broken/ stolen/whatever. We of course, being benevolent spirits said he could use ours. He looked at Mick Todd’s Carlsboro Bass Combo like it was a piece of shit. In fact, he might have even said ‘what’s this facking piece of shit?’ (note the southern pretend cockney vowel)
Singer Dave Vanian actually seemed an ok chap. He kept himself pretty much to himself but remember boys and girls, vampire lead singers need to be enigmatic. However, he was quite nice. I seem to remember him asking about us and being at least half interested in what we had to say.
Captain Sensible. CU next Tuesday is a word that springs to mind. He was carefully cultivating his cuntiness for all to be appalled at. A professional nasty, a bit of a punk clown of the unfunny kind. He picked up my cheap Kay Strat copy, pulled on the strings and nearly broke them and then contemptuously almost threw the guitar back at me. I might have said something like ‘there’s no need for that’. Rat Scabies, scurrying around, bumming cigarettes from Mick Todd (or was it John Hodgson? Certainly not me or sax player Jeff Fogarty – he was as skint as a rent boy, like me. Drummer Alan Cornforth didn’t smoke if my memory serves me well) intervened: ‘come on captain, less of that, leave the lads alone’…Shock horror! He was that anti-punk word: NICE. But of course, the next minute, he was back to being a professional nasty, like his punk chums.
We soundchecked. Or rather, sat around for ages while the Damned arsed around, deliberately taking as much time as they could. Regular ‘that sounds facking shit! ‘Turn up the monitor!’ (screeeech!) no! You facking moron…sort it out’..and all manner of bad boy language spewed from the stage. Vanian was quiet. Very quiet. Like the eye of the punk rock hurricane, he was a persona of calm in the riot of nastiness around him. Professional nastiness of course.
When we did soundcheck, we did a song we used to open with: ‘Success’. It sounded crap onstage, but sheer excitement for the gig made me overlook this small detail. I felt a surge of adrenaline as the indescribable buzz of playing a ‘proper gig’ always gave me.
One song. That was all we had time to do. As we got off the stage, Rat Scabies said to me ‘good one mate, like that, catchy stuff’..or something similar. I noticed he did not use the ‘fack’ word, which made a change. He must have been going soft on me.
The gig itself? To be honest, it is a blur. I was half drunk as always and our set whizzed by. The place was packed. The punks down front jumped up and down, heaved about, we got spat on. They liked us then.
What I do remember was sharing the toilet sized dressing room with The Damned. ‘What are you facking doing in here?’ snapped Captain Nasty. ‘We’re in the dressing room with you’ I answered dead pan. ‘no room to strangle a facking cat and we have to share this?’. I think someone might have said something like ‘now…now…don’t act like a pop star’…We were not fazed by the Damned. I thought they were fun, but shit actually. Yes, ‘New Rose’, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ were classic punk singles but live, they were a punk panto-act – all of them ugly sisters in a parade of panto-hate. (actually, my revisionist self now likes them for this very reason)
By now, I had decided that Captain Sensible was a tiresome bore and avoided trying to talk to him. A punk lass and friends came into the dressing room. I was astonished how Middlesbrough hard lasses acted like fawning groupies. Well, not fawning…but something like a ‘I’m not interested but yes I will sleep with you’ way. Captain Sensible wasted no time in living up to his professional nasty status ‘what do you facking slags want?’….Rat Scabies ‘a good knobbing…fnaaar fnaar’. Such backstage exchanges were not uncommon dear appalled reader. The girls, to give them credit, gave back as good as they got as all good punks should. None of this sissy fluttering eyelashes stuff…
The Rock Garden gig had been a triumph on an obscure local flapping fish in the pond sense. The night faded into the drunken blur of being young and not giving a toss about the future. The Damned, horrible lot that they were, provided us with at least the memorable spectacle of a naked Captain Sensible pissing on the front row of the audience. Punk gigs were not the Carpenters, that’s for sure
Now forgive me if I got this the wrong way around, but we also supported the Damned at a place called Cleethorpes Winter Gardens. This was the gig where Captain Sensible stole my blue teddy bear jumper (actually Mick Todd’s, I borrowed it for the gig) and then wore it on the cover of the ‘Love Song’ single.
Anyhow, this gig was another punk nastiness packed event. I had a pint of lager thrown on me while on stage. Except a salty taste in my mouth betrayed the fact that it was not lager: it was human piss. Well, I hope it was human – if it had been dog piss that would have been going too far.
At this gig the dressing room was bigger and we could mercifully almost avoid each other. I remember however, walking in on Captain Sensible while he was groping a punk girl’s tits. He didn’t flinch when I walked in: in fact, he nibbled on her nubile nipple, her punky baggy jumper hoisted over the top of them. She looked to me to be about fifteen. Sorry parents, but sometimes your naughty daughters go to gigs where they really should not. She might have been sixteen. Oh well, that makes it all right then (!)
This was the night that Captain Sensible surprised me. He gave me a glimpse of the ‘nice bloke’ he could be underneath the punk panto facade. He sat at a piano backstage and played a Barry White song. ‘I love Barry White’ he said as I stood there, admiring his musical prowess, obviously well hidden in the Damned. Of course, I expected him to revert back to the ‘fack this, fack that’ persona as soon as a fan appeared. But this time he shocked me again by ticking off a part time punk (probably dressing up for the weekend) that there was a lot of good music before punk. It turned out that he was quite a fan of Gong and all that weirdo jammed out hippy stuff. I think Grateful Dead might have been mentioned too.
Of course, I suspected this. Not everyone was into the Stooges and other pre-punk bands before punk. In fact, the blackmail pictures of long, lank hair and flares, Yes albums under the trench-coated arm, were hidden in the attic, that’s all.
Professional nasties, then. That was a side of punk that nobody ever talks about, because there was a music hall/vaudeville element to it that has been bricked over by retro-intellectual sociologist takes on Punk rock and how it blew all the dinosaurs away. (It didn’t: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ELP all sold truck loads of records in this period) And Boney M and Abba were massive during the brief summers of hate that was Punk.
What I am saying is: don’t believe a word of it: punk was about being young, reckless, feckless and having a good time all the time – just like any other musical movement that catches you at a certain age.
Bio: Alan Savage is a Middlesbrough, U.K, born singer and songwriter. He releases music under his own name and other guises such as Dada Guitars and The Crystaleens. His previous bands include Basczax and The Flaming Mussolinis.