We were the first band to vomit in the bar

By - Wednesday 16th November, 2016

Like it or loathe it, the punk movement of the 1970s is a major part of Croydon’s cultural heritage

Croydon punk legend Captain Sensible.
Photo by Johnny Jet, used under Creative Commons licence.

I don’t like punk rock, never have done and never will. It’s one of the few musical genres that I’ve lived through and was of an age to be involved in but I didn’t get it.

‘Musicians’ with pantomime names like Sid Vicious and Jonny Rotten and fans who spat at them on the stage held no appeal for me. You couldn’t go to the Kings Road in Chelsea on a Saturday afternoon as the punks and teddy boys would be having a tear up from Sloane Square down to the Queens Head pub.

In 1976 when the Sex Pistols, who became the most high profile of the punk rock bands, were being encouraged to swear by Bill Grundy on the Today TV programme, an interview which I saw live, I was wearing flared, embroidered, denim jeans and a cheese cloth shirt. It was a look that punk rockers wanted to kill, or so it said on t-shirts or Vivian would say to Neil on The Young Ones.

Punk rockers should have paid homage to Jim Morrison’s attitude as he was one total anti-establishment bad boy

I always thought of it as a fashion that had been adopted by really bad music; much like The Who adopted the mod look in the ’60s to appeal to a teenage mass market. I think that it would be fair to say though that the musical quality of the The Who was much higher than any punk offering. The Pistols actually covered ‘Substitute’ by The Who on The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle film soundtrack album – but more about that connection later.

We had a few punk rockers at school and if we met up outside of school they’d be wearing pins in their lips with a chain going to another in their ear, torn jeans and emblems of the empire adorned with some anti-establishment slogan. I felt embarrassed for them. Why do that to yourself? A regular conversation with our teachers was regarding who started punk. I always argued that Bowie had started it, suggesting that the styles which he adopted spawned the look that punk then took to the extreme. I did have my doubts, but part of me just wanted to big up Bowie. One particular teacher made the point that punk was an attitude, an anti-establishment one and that it it was nothing new as the bands from the ’60s, in particular the Rolling Stones, had had an anti-establishment stance and had very nearly gone to prison for their drug taking and sneering-at-authority attitude. They were the original punks. If the Stones had kicked the anti-establishment door open then The Doors and Jim Morrison, their charismatic lead singer, knocked that door completely off its hinges. Punk rockers should have paid homage to his attitude as he was one total anti-establishment bad boy and his onstage and offstage behaviour – which, again, he nearly went to jail for – pushed the boundaries and paved the way for a lot of the later punk behaviour, and this was the music establishment that the punks were railing against.

Croydon helped to nurture a lot of that punk scene and – like it or not – it’s part of our musical heritage

Here’s an interesting factoid. Now, we’re all familiar with the Who track ‘Who Are You’ even if we don’t realise it, as it’s used on CSI: Las Vegas. But the song written by Pete Townsend is based on a drunken night that Townsend had in New York. He was in a club and was introduced to two of the Sex Pistols, Paul Cook and Steve Jones, who then went on to say how much they loved the music of the Who and had grown up listening to it and that to them he was a legend. For Townsend this was absurd, as he was meant to represent everything that the punks were rebelling against: a successful, rich, established member of the rock aristocracy, He got roaring drunk, fell asleep and woke up in a Soho doorway, where a policeman recognised him and said that he could go sleep at home if he could get up and walk away rather than be arrested for drunken vagrancy. And so the poster boy punk band had members who were fans of the bands that they were meant to despise.

So why did I find myself with a group of people in St Georges Walk on the afternoon of Saturday 22nd October who were mostly former punks? Well on the night of Friday 21st October, I helped a colleague to attach some impressive artwork to the walls of the old Greyhound venue at the college end of St Georges Walk. I also helped to post A2 size posters of reminiscences of artists and individuals who had been part of the punk scene and had been regular attendees or even performed at the Greyhound in the early days of that particular musical movement. As I read the text I realised what had gone before, that Croydon had helped to nurture a lot of that punk scene and – like it or not – it was part of our musical heritage. Along with the Greyhound being a popular punk venue on a Sunday night, our heritage is further strengthened in that on 22nd October 1976 the first punk single, ‘New Rose’, was released by local band The Damned, who count amongst their members one Captain Sensible, who hails from Upper Norwood. This year we had reached the 40th anniversary of that record’s release. And so I realised that punk is part of Croydon’s musical heritage and deserves to be celebrated; as anyone who knows me or follows any of my articles will attest, that fact is far more important than my subjective musical preferences. Sadly, I wasn’t able to go on to The Oval tavern to pogo the rest of the night away but judging from some of the pictures that I saw a good time was had by those who made it down there.

Andrew Dickinson

Andrew Dickinson

I'm a long term resident of Croydon and I'm lucky to live and work in the borough. As a schoolboy my proudest moments were playing representative football for Croydon where I would fight tooth and nail to win for the borough and contribute towards its sporting reputation. For 18 years I worked up in London and became distanced from the town. Now I've re-engaged with the place over the last 20 years and feel frustrated in finding a way to vent my passion for Croydon (as I'm too old to play football) so I'm always on the lookout for any new initiatives to bring positivity to the place. I live on Bramley Hill with my lovely family and I have an allotment locally. I'm a keen amateur in gardening, environmentalism, permaculture, photography and website design. I'm an oyster mushroom farmer, run a social enterprise called Green Croydon, I'm part of the Croydon Fairtrade steering group, part of the Croydon ReUse Organisation, current chair of Croydon Transition Town and a community gardener; I'm on the borough Food Programme, Parks and Social Enterprise steering groups and a community apple presser. I currently work for the council as an officer creating and promoting community events in the beautiful Wandle Park. I put on the Croydon Environmental Fair each year and the Summer of Love theme and festival was something I dreamed up. I inspired the 'I would make Croydon better by' theme. There's also the Give and Take events in Surrey Street. I started the monthly Arts, Crafts and Vintage market in Exchange Square. Formerly I was a Turf Projects trustee, a Croydon Radio presenter and part of the Old Town business association.Between all this, I write the occasional article for the Citizen. I support local artists and local musicians by enabling the space for them to create I also support local independent journalism.

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  • http://www.croydonradio.com/ Steve Lawlor

    Did you know Steve Jones was sacked from The Sex Pistols? When they discovered he was a fan of The Beatles, that was a step too far.

    For me it was the new wave, that was more important ie. Elvis Costello and The Attrractions, The Buzzcocks. Although I do realise that punk shock up the musical world.