The eight-and-a-half pillars of true punk (disclaimer: some of them are false)
 
 A fun thing about the podcast is the way Hazel’s questions rattle away inside my most ancient, unexamined opinions — things I think that I no longer quite remember starting to think. When I pop-quizzed her on the groups that played in the 100 Club Festival, 20-21 September 1976, I wasn’t surprised she’d heard of almost all of them: it was a tiny two-day event more than a decade before she was born, but (a) she is knowledgable and full of curiosity and obsessed with music past and present, and (b) it was the founding event for “rock at the end of rock”, when you were required, as an index of your commitment to the necessity of the splintering, to take implacable sides within your own splinter. To this Shropshire-based punk noob — I didn’t move to London for another six years, I hadn’t yet started reading the music weeklies — the festival mapped what punk had been in its first (some say only) year, and what it was going to have to become as it expanded and divided and dissolved. Above all, it’s the moment of division, forming lines that can just about still be traced, if you look carefully in the right places.

Monday, 20 September 1976

• Subway Sect (first ever show, some prior rehearsal) [1]

• Suzie and the Banshees (first ever show, no prior rehearsal) [2]

• The Clash [3]

• Sex Pistols [4]

Tuesday, 21 September 1976

• Stinky Toys [5]

• The Vibrators (first ever show, some prior rehearsal) [6]

• Chris Spedding with The Vibrators [7]

• The Damned [8]

• Buzzcocks [9]

FOOTNOTES

1: Oblique songs, flatness of affect and style, militant refusal of clichéd stage habits: “Off the course of 20 years and out of rock and roll” is how they went on to put it in ‘A Different Story’ (Rough Trade B-side to 'Ambition', 1978). Punk as an end to something — itself and what went before — which we were some of us young and naive enough to pretend was an end to everything. Even if the Sect sorta kinda (to be very mean) invented indie, I love love love Vic Godard, the way he looks, the way he thinks, the way he sings… 

2: Strong Women versus the Desedimentation of Stupid. That first year was a compressed tale of extreme opposites: it’s emblematic that the Banshees — who became one of the longer-lasting non-retread units — debuted by stepping up across the footlights out of the crowd, the archetypal fan-turned-challenger move. Sid Vicious on drums, a volatile mix of bored headfuck game and moronic violent cartoon. Viv Albertine (to this day a loyal friend to the best of Sid’s memory) says he had a lively mind, at least until the character he chose to cosplay sock-puppeted his entire life. Might-have-beens: until he quit them for this one-off, he’d been a Flower of Romance, alongside Albertine and Palm Olive (soon of The Slits) and Keith Levene (ditto Public Image). As for Sioux, all 1920s flapper frame and expressionist make-up, I likely thought of her then as a tomboy. As a term it’s probably more suffocating than accurate, looking back, but it was absolutely meant approvingly: gender was on the move and we didn’t yet have the words, only the inexpressible excitement… 

3: There was beef on the night because Sid and Sioux were still sporting swastikas: The Clash wouldn’t let them use their nice pink-sprayed guitar amps because of this. Left politics would be a core element of one wing of punk, and The Clash — brandishing a radio-set instead of between-song chat, tuning it to discussions of bombs in Northern Ireland — made the earliest running. With its ruthless excludings, with their horrible entourage, Clash politics itself was maddening, and many ended up not liking it or them much: for all their energised leather-clad sexiness and finger-stabbing, for every friendly or human gesture, there was always something pointlessly ugly or self-regarding or obfuscatory, or, well, rock and roll. Rock and roll was bad. In the podcast, Hazel rightly celebrates the strain of doubt and unmacho confusion that’s also there, under-emphasised and under-utilised. But if you wanted to think yr way through and out of the tangles around us, the weird-left contradiction-led pranksterism infesting the Pistols seemed much more valuable to some (to me). Too much Clash self-mythology was a mask against the mess they actually (and more interestingly) always were. The contradiction is the hook: and so here among the rest of it began (to be more unkind still) the Blairish “Only Way is Up” multicultural dad-rock posture… 

4: In a month or so’s time, when ‘Anarchy’ is released, McLaren will somewhere announce that “The real fans aren’t buying the records” — a declaration of authenticity that’s a riddle and a paradox and a fuck-you. Till now a writhing muscle-knot of distinct social layers and friction-difference within 2nd-Gen Mod Pop, held together by irritability and inertia, The Pistols deliquesced from fascinating conflicted local focal point-source into one-note National Tabloid Outrage. Their purpose and value in (music-press) print had been to be a clot of gurning louts, who somehow — in the right minute, and without McLaren’s approval — always also mixed intellect and discernment into the aggression. As Self-Destructo the Cartoon Bassist, Sid is the capstone of McLaren’s not understanding rock culture (and not even slightly caring). As the media canvas abruptly changes, as the scale of the game switches and McLaren switches with it, residual traces of countercultural resistance flatten into unusability. For Lydon, the only way out is back and down into a fully refashioned version of the prog underground. For Sid, it’s upward into the pantheon of uselessly dead young idiots. 

5: Meanwhile, one-time 68-er McLaren invites over some young Parisians to demonstrate that punk is international (lead shrieker Elli Medeiros is from Uruguay). Due to play after the Pistols when everyone’s gone home, Stinky Toys refuse, are bumped to first slot second day, and more or less vanish from history. Tho actually two LPs follow, the second a pleasingly sophisto-scratchy world-pop type thing. On the night, however, Stinky Toys (so legend says) mainly played Stones/Dolls/Bowie knock-offs and covers. But The Banshees had utterly upped the ante… 

… pausing to note that according to the Sniffin’ Glue special 100 Club issue write-up, The Damned played before The Vibrators. I’m working with the running order in Wikipedia, more fool me… 

6: I kind of like that I have nothing at all to say about The Vibrators, my dislike still impressively crisp despite being based on almost nothing at all. For whatever reason, they were fake punk. Singer Knox was 31, had been knocking around the pub rock circuit for years. They had formed just for this event. They are old: if nothing else, the time for the past is past. The demand in the air was that we pick Yays and Nays and fiercely stick with them (no one imagined it would still shape things 40-plus years on). So yes, The Vibrators are bad not good (because someone had to be and it was them). Sorry Knox, sorry all — it’s not you, it’s er structural is what it is. 

7: Instant counterpoint: Spedding is a year older than Knox, a grizzled session man whose resumé includes Mike Batt’s Wombles, the Alan Parsons Project, Harry Nilsson, Bryan Ferry, Elton John, Art Garfunkel and (possibly relevant) the early Pistols demos, had had a single in the charts in 1975: ‘Motorbikin’. It’s OK at best and he too has more or less vanished from history, but — even with The Vibrators as his backing band — in some ineffable way far more honourably. 

8: Has anyone ever tracked down or talked to the girl who got bits of smashed beer glass in her eye during The Damned’s set? The Damned were the third of the original punk trinity, in the wake of The Pistols wake-up call, an offshoot, just like The Clash, of The London SS. Goofy, harmless, a bit clownish, a bit arsey, they were somehow the first to get records out. Drummer Rat Scabies had a v poor rep with women, possibly a reason there was already beef with The Banshees. Like The Clash, they too had beef with The Pistols, except it seemed (at the time) somehow second-tier, neither calculated nor world-historical nor consequential. Now I kind of like their silliness and hapless lack of cultural import (also tbf some of their songs). Of course the beer glass was thrown by Sid Vicious. 

9: From Manchester, three gentle boys and one egghead (Howard Devoto). More even than the Banshees and Subway Sect, Buzzcocks were a glimpse of the immediate future — the thing that came (anachronistically, unhelpfully) to be called “post-punk”. They were from Manchester and for reasons this mattered tremendously. In a movement that deplored love songs they wrote little else. Of course they were modern and non-gender-specific bcz hurrah (Pete Shelley was bisexual and so — as far as I was concerned then — was everyone else). Their sound had this gleaming bevelled edge, like bauhaus furniture made of controlled pop noise. Their high-colour sleeves would be designed by the peerless Malcolm Garrett, and somehow for a season they embodied everything fluidly anti-hierarchical about this time. New Music Night and Day, as the Bowie LP hadn’t ended up being called… 

So yes, these were the maps, laid cross-ply across one another at  subatomic size — diachronic and synchronic, as the clever kids learned shortly to say (I was one, and proud to be). Here, squirming against one another were history and psychology, geography and gender: here in the distributed space after this teenytiny Big Bang were all the forces in play (for an obsessive reader to pick up and glom onto and decode in the months and years to come; for outsiders to remain entirely baffled by). I was a quiet-souled Buzzcocks boy, to be sure — but I always had eyes for the harsh glamour of the hard-body Banshee type, imperious and witty and non-nonsense. Here was youthful year-zero impatience and rigorous democratic praxis, kindness and curiosity and nihilism, damage and surprises and (now and then) fun. As a great monkey once wrote, It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times

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