Monday, July 20, 2015


A Day Out at the Dungeness Sound Mirrors

Having always meant to go and somehow missing it, 2015 was to be the year that I finally made it to the annual open day of the Sound Mirrors, on that wild stretch of Kent coast between Dungeness and New Romney.

Sound Mirrors 
The sound mirrors are three large concrete structures on the Romney Marshes built 1928-30 as an early warning system, superseded in the late 30s by the development of radar. There are a number of excellent posts by local expert Andrew Grantham where you can find more detail about their history 

Dungeness old lighthouse
Setting off from Brighton courtesy of car-owning chums Kerry and Peter, the cloud and rain forecast never appeared and the day was clear with a brilliant clear blue light. We initially parked up at the Pilot pub in Dungeness then received a text from my chum Regina who lives in Dungeness saying she was going there on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch small-gauge railway which sounded like a pretty good plan.

Decidedly hazy about how to find them, we headed to the miniature railway to ask how best to get there. The elderly gent there couldn’t have been less helpful, but a friendly face appeared in the form of Geoff Cheesemaster, who gave us some detailed directions and so we hopped on the miniature train to Romney Sands, a 15 minute chug up the coast.

Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway
Still a little vague, we looped back down the coast road on foot until we found the path Geoff had described, marked my an A4 laminated arrow pinned to a telegraph pole, flapping in the breeze.

The whole of that coastal stretch is built on shingle, so it was trudging for several minutes across pebbles until we arrived a man-made lake and could see the concrete structures through the trees. They’re sited on an island that's rich in flora and fauna, and is a protected bird habitat, accessible only by a narrow swing bridge which is only open to the public one day a year.

Sound Mirror
They are a quite a remarkable sight – two concave concrete bowls facing east and a long curved wall where the acoustic bounces along the length of its surface, so someone speaking at one end could be clearly heard at the other.

There is something rather megalithic about them: they could be ancient structures dedicated to Aztec gods or monuments where the ritual purpose is long lost to history, so outlandish a sight are they in the British countryside.

The word was that the RSPB had taken the land over and access may be further restricted, so whether this was to be the last open day to the wider public remains to be seen.

See more pictures on my Flickr site.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


The Strange Ones in The Dome: Bowie in Brighton 1973

The conventional wisdom is that it was Top of the Pops: "that moment" when the world shifted a little on its axis and jolted the startled weird kids, misfits, and proto-queer freaks into a parallel universe, when nothing would, could, ever be the same again.

Actually it was "Lift-Off with Ayshea" a couple of weeks before the legendary TOTP appearance that sent me spinning. ITV was a slightly grubby channel and while Lift-Off didn't match TOTP's glitz, it offered an extra pop fix albeit one that rarely seemed to vary from the usual diet of Donny, David and Michael, though you could hope for a dose of T Rex, The Sweet and Slade amongst the girls' stuff.

But the 15th of June 1972 was different. I was suddenly transfixed, staring goggle-eyed at this man-not-man in a skin-tight sequinned leotard affair, crazy haired singing a crazy song about aliens and not telling your poppa 'cause he'd get us locked up in fright and was he... was he... what was he? Oh - that guy, who did Space Oddity with the Stylophone a quarter of my lifetime ago? Him?

It's a cliche told by every Bowie freak of that era. But sometimes cliches are true: it was the last summer at Sacred Heart convent primary school and the next day it was "Did you see...?" Yes they all had. "Ohhh, he's queeeeeerrr," "Weirdo," "Urhh..." But I couldn't stop thinking about him, talking about him, wanting to find out more about him, defending him from the sneers of the massed hordes of teenypop droolers.

By the time Starman appeared on "that" TOTP on 6th July, I was already a fully-fledged fan. And yes, he was queer, camping it up with Ronson, giving the heebie-jeebies to a million parents across the country, terrifying some kids and fanning that tiny little spark of hope in others that there was another real life to be had, despite what we were taught. Queer, queer, queer, queer, queer, and nothing you could say would make me love him less.

All the girls wanted to marry Donny, David, Les, Eric or whichever other Bay City Roller took their eye this week, but I didn't want to marry Bowie. I didn't want to hold his hand or fantasise about what it might be like to snog him (or worse), in the unhealthy way that only 11 year old girls can about thankfully (generally) unattainable targets of affection. No, I had loftier ambitions. I wanted to BE Bowie. I wanted to transcend this mundane life of being spat at in the street outside the Deluxe Leisure Centre in Hastings by the big boys for being weird, being punched at the youth club for looking funny at some kid, being elbowed aside when you won a few pennies on the Pier slots for a leather-jacketed youth to claim your winnings, having to endure weekly Mass and its hypocritical parade of adulterous gossips and predatory priests whose "touching up" of the altar boys was whispered and sniggered about, and the apparently inevitable trajectory of a life of normality followed by a probably all-too-welcome death. No. I wanted another life; I wanted another world.

I had long hair, very long, and though I hated it I felt sentimentally attached as I'd been growing it since I was little for a reason unknown. A picture of Bowie in hand and a visit to the hairdressers later and I had an approximation of Bowie's spiky mullet, although dying it orange seemed a step too far.

Pocket money saved up, and my very first self-purchased, all on my own, with my very own money, 35p (expensive at the time) 7" single from The Disc Jockey in Queen's Road was John I'm Only Dancing. Bowie's subtle but sexually charged performance, the blatant suggestion of bisexuality, the way you could sing along and charge every line with your own meaning "she turns me on, but I'm only dancing" lend what's on the surface a pretty slight song a deeper resonance.

Christmas '72 gave me the Ziggy Stardust album, learning all the lyrics by heart, singing along loudly, flipping it over and over on the dansette, catching my mother singing extracts from it in the kitchen as a result of sheer over-exposure.

As spring of '73 wore on I won a Rupert Bear drawing competition in the Daily Express and my prize was a £2 voucher, with which I bought an album drenched in violent imagery, tales of masturbation, male prostituition, drug excesses, and all the things that anxious parents try to protect their innocent babes from nowadays: Aladdin Sane.

And then came the news I'd been awaiting: Bowie was playing in Brighton. Off we all packed in the car for the day, my mother and little sister off on an extended shopping trip while my father waited patiently as we queued for five tantalisingly long hours in New Road for the box office.

And what a queue. Men-not-men seven feet tall in their platforms, some screaming camply in sequins, glitter and makeup, others in denim flares with kohl-eyed girls in Biba outfits, purple lipstick and white tights, or "dead legs" as my mother would call them. These people were freaks, the un-normal, from another world, Bowie World.

It was looking like we'd be unlucky, but we got two of the very last tickets, in the back row of the circle, £1.20 each, then we went to the Lyons Corner Shop on the corner with North Road for a well-deserved cuppa.

£1.20. Might as well have been worth a million pounds. I had a ticket to see David Bowie!

And finally the day came. 23rd May 1973. I wore my green denim flares with bullet-shaped shiny silver studs down the side seams and raised studs on the flap over the flies, and silver nail varnish (an experiment that didn't last too long, albeit a bit longer than the brown lipstick). My father drove to Brighton and as he and I made our way up to our seats in the gods, the excitement was almost unbearable.

A film came on with some odd dream-like sequences, and a bit where a woman's eye was sliced with a razor led the whole Dome to let out a collective "Urrrhh!" then some weird fairground music and oh this was getting annoying... Then suddenly the Spiders from Mars appeared and as Bowie rushed onto the stage, the crowd below surged forward frantically down the aisles and across the seats, raising their hands to the leper messiah. I managed not to be sick with excitement as the Spiders tore into the set, trying to dance in between the seats and taking as much of this whole scene in as I could, Bowie resplendent with his golden disc on his forehead, Ronson's electric blowjob, Garson bashing the piano discordantly in the Aladdin Sane solo, Bowie's outrageous Japanese suit ripped in two, and the almighty collective roar that resonated round the domed roof when he sang on Drive In Saturday about "the strange ones in the dome"....

It was over all too quickly, but this was it: I knew there was another life, another world because I'd seen it, here in Brighton Dome. It wasn't just about Bowie, it was the realisation that you could step outside of stifling conformity, normality and find that other world for yourself. It was just Bowie who lit the way for me and unnumerable others.

After that, nothing could be, would be, should be the same ever, ever again -- at least for this strange one in The Dome.

Labels: ,

Monday, April 29, 2013


All the punk gigs I went to from March 1977 to April 1980 (the story so far - bear with me)

Whilst making an effort (ok, it was a bit half-hearted) to tidy my flat, I came upon a terminally anal trainspotterish list of all the bands I went to see for three years.

I was living in Hastings and back in the day the pier was on the gig circuit (it's sadly closed now and falling to dilapidation) and I also used to bunk off school early to come over to Brighton when - would you believe it? - there was actually a 1.30am train back, so I could get to school the next day.

My only regret was not going to see the Pistols when they played the Pier in July '76. I was too scared because I'd just turned 15 and being a weird kid, I was always being verbally and occasionally physically attacked by older blokes, so it wasn't the Pistols I was scared of but the bloody greboes, as none of my schoolmates would go with me. Bastards. Oddly, I never got to see X-Ray Spex at all, and didn't see The Fall or Wire, a couple of my very favourite bands, until 1980.

Being a teenager in Hastings was a largely a miserable experience, so John Peel and the steady stream of bands coming to the Pier was a life-saver. Oddly, there was never any issue about being over 18 to get in (or even to drink, for that matter!) as there often is now.

26.3.77 The Stranglers/Eater, Hastings Pier
I recall this cost 75p! There were about 50 of us there and we were all a bit scared by Eater, with their nasty-looking 14 year old drummer, Dee Generate. Every time Andy Blade lurched to the front of the stage, we all shrank back a few feet, just in case. In case of what, I don't know. High Cornwell did a weird thing rubbing his throat to make a spurt of sick come out. Nice.

7.5.77 The Vibrators/ Sham 69, Hastings Pier
One of the very loudest gigs I've been to. 90p I think this one was. The Vibrators were god-awful C-List hippies who'd swapped their flares for skinny plastic trousers and got lucky for 5 minutes. I can't believe they've re-formed now. After Sham's set, Jimmy Pursey did some idiot dancing in the meagre audience then pretended to wee in his beer glass and drink it. We thought he really had.

21.5.77 The Damned/ Adverts, Hastings Pier
This was more like it. I loved The Damned, having heard their Peel session in '76 then 'Damned Damned Damned' being the first punk album out. After the horrors of Prog and the nadir of music from '75-'76, there was something so refreshingly exciting about a band whose songs clocked in at under two minutes, played at breakneck speed. I'd barely heard The Stooges at that point, so it was all rather new to me, and as I was into wearing black and dinner suits with brylcreemed hair (said I was a weird kid!) I became a bit of a juvenile Dave Vanian stalker and always loved Sensible's utter daftness too. Rat Scabies getting his willy out at every opportunity wasn't so pleasant though.

16.7.77 The Damned/ Auntie Pus/ Skrewdriver, Hastings Pier
Yes, you read that right - Skrewdriver. This was before they turned nazi, when they were a dumb-as-fuck bootboy band from Blackpool playing rubbish Rolling Stones covers at double speed. Auntie Pus was an Elvis Costello-lookalike who played guitar and sang a song about being "Halfway to Venezuela" which I still bloody remember. His main role seemed to be as a recipient of streams of gob and missiles. I wonder where he is now.

On the way to the gig with my friend Virginia, we were stopped by the police. She was wearing a binbag with real razor blades sellotaped to it, and they made her pull them all off. One early adopter of punk gigs in town was artist Laetitia Yhap, who had curly pink hair and always appeared with her then partner, fellow artist Jeffrey Camp. We always used to get rather excited when they arrived ("The old people are here") as we had a degree of consternation that they were so old they might get over-excited and have a heart attack, which of course neither did. Years later I re-met Laetitia and told her of our anxiety. Turned out she was in her thirties at the time! And I'm glad to say she's still alive and kicking, and still with pink hair.

I also have fond memories of Tracey Shipley, who had the hugest knockers and would wear just a string vest. Cripes, that was some sight when she was pogoing down the front.

By this time the 'straights' had picked up on punk so gigs were getting busier and buzzier. After every gig a rumour would spread that there were "a hundred Teds outside" ready to beat us up. There never were.

17 & 18.8.77 The Damned/ Adverts/ Fruit Eating Bears, London Sundown Club
2 nights in a row in a venue on Charing Cross Road which was still halfway to being built. The floors weren't installed, so you would find yourself pogoing in the throng, then falling into a concrete hole. Bizarrely jazz sax player Lol Coxhill joined them onstage, presaging his performance on the band's second (dire) album. I found a flicknife at one of the nights, which I kept for ages and was rather excited about.

The Fruit Eating Bears were ghastly pub rockers who did a song about wanking as presumably they thought that made them Punk Rock. Their only claim to fame was competing to be Britain's entry in the Eurovision Song Contest a couple of years later. They came last.

I loved The Adverts. They wrote brilliantly wordy and complex songs, waaay beyond their capacity to actually play the bloody things. TV Smith would spend each gig dripping with gob, Gaye standing coolly to one side, staring at her bass as if she was off her face on speed (I suspect she may have been) and cocking up every bassline. One Chord Wonnndeeerrrrsss! Oh yeah!

22.10.77 The Adverts/ Joe Cool and the Killers/ Wrist Action/ Plastix, Hastings Pier
Oh dear, a real C-List support lineup here. The Plastix were Hastings' own punk band, who had a track on a ghastly 'Live at the Vortex' compilation. They were fronted by Hastings 'bad boy' Huggy Lever, who later went on to form nouveau-mod band The Teenbeats (more of them later) then resurfaced in the film 'Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels' and a stint on 'Eastenders'.

29.10.77 The Stranglers/ The Dictators, Hastings Pier
By this time the whole world had caught on to punk and the gig was full - 800+ people bouncing up and down as one had the pier floor unnervingly bouncing too. I hated The Dictators, long-haired yank bullshitters who rode on the coat-tails of punk. I gobbed on the guitarist's hand so he stood on my face, which I suppose I deserved under the circumstances.

12.11.77 The Clash/ Richard Hell/ The Lous, Hastings Pier
Wow, this was a really exciting one. The Lous were a female French band, ok but not that special. I recall Richard Hell being given hell by the audience, presumably for the crime of Being American, and being arsey in return only made things worse. The Clash were amazing, high energy, dripping with sweat, Strummer spitting out the lyrics with passion and venom, the entire audience in one voice on the intro to 'City of the Dead' (the b-side to 'Complete Control' still two of my very favourite Clash songs). I was so excited I had to pogo all over the furniture in my parents' living room when I got home.

30.11.77 The Damned/ Dead Boys, Brighton Polytechnic (Moulsecoombe)
Oh dear. This was The Damned at their nadir. 'Music For Pleasure' was an appalling album, rubbish weak tuneless songs, shabby production from Nick Mason. You know a band's lost direction when they get someone from Pink Bloody Floyd to produce them. Stiv Bators did his best to inject some energy into the proceedings, writhing inside the bass drum, but it was generally a feeble affair.

I recall the Captain smelt rather agreeable, so I asked him what he smelled of. "Egg roll, booze and snot" came the reply. To this day, if someone mentions something smelling nice, those words always come to my mind.

4.2.78 The Lurkers/ Crabs/ Plastix, Hastings Pier
The Lurkers were pretty poor sub-Ramones C-Listers, who released their singles in desperate marketing ploys such as pressing them in red, white and blue versions, and with 4 different picture sleeves, or a gold flexi-disc. Yes, I bought all the bloody things. I recall The Crabs were as creatively and musically suspect as their piss-poor name. As for the Plastix, see above and Teenbeats below.

8.3.78 Buzzcocks/ Slits, Brighton Top Rank
Now, I don't think this was the infamous 'riot' gig, or if it was, I'd gone for the train by the time it kicked off. Someone else will know. This was before the Slits had become Dennis Bovell-ised, so they were still at their Peel session-era raucous best. As we queued outside the gig, the band came out the side door like terrifying tykes, hair akimbo and knickers over their jeans, and we watched in amusement as they went to the steak house over the road (above what was/ became Swifts) and were rapidly ejected by the staff, to be followed by ejection from all the other nearby eateries in West Street. Pete Shelley wore a badge onstage which said "I Like Boys".

18.3.78 (Eddie and the Hot) Rods/ Radio Stars/ Squeeze, Hastings Pier
Eddie and the Hot Rods were fortunate to get a career piggy-back from punk but they were really only part of the pub rock/ white male r'n'b scene of the mid-70s (Dr Feelgood, Kilburn & The Highroads, Count Bishops, Hammersmith Gorillas) and achieved an element of notoriety when fans ripped out the seats at a London Rainbow gig; their 1976 album 'Teenage Depression' without doubt has one of the finest album covers of all time but unfortunately the contents didn't live up to it.

Slimming their name down to The Rods (to escape their pub rock associations?) they at least released the anthemic new wave (rather than punk) song 'Do Anything You Wanna Do' in '77.

Radio Stars were another dodgy pub rock bunch, but with a poppier edge and tried to acquire some punk credentials with songs like 'Dirty Pictures'. Lead singer Andy Ellison had been in original 60s mod band John's Children (with Marc Bolan) and was trying to re-invent himself as a punk, with varying degrees of failure. However, he was renowned for a daredevil live show, and climbing on the speaker stack, managed to shove his head through the ceiling and I think was hospitalised for his troubles.

Squeeze were the new boys, having released their debut EP 'Packet of Three' and their first album coming out around this time. Jools Holland managed to resist the temptation to play bloody boogie-woogie piano over the other two bands' sets.

2.4.78 Doctors of Madness/ Johnny Warman, London Marquee
Another not-punk band who managed to get in on the act, the Doctors of Madness were a post-glam/prog group with spacious sweeps of electric violin and Burroughsian lyrics containing copious references to drugs and sex, most of which were lost on me at the time (I could never figure out why anyone would have a load of 'snow' in their head or their "breakfast on a mirror with a blade"). Fronted by the quoteworthy Richard Strange (more of him later) the Doctors had a punkish single 'Bulletin' out in '77, and by this point The Damned were imploding, prompting Vanian to take on a stint as a co-vocalist, hence my interest in the band.

Actually co-vocalist was probably a bit generous: he'd come on about three songs in, growling and staggering a bit, drawl along for a couple then stagger off again, but I was happy. During this gig Vanian jumped off the speaker stack and landed on my forearm; rather than wash off the black footprint, I displayed it proudly to my friends until it went of its own accord after a few days. Johnny Warman? Dia-bloody-bolical. More pub rock. Begone!

8.4.78 The Damned/ Soft Boys/ Johnny Moped/ Prof and the Profettes, London Rainbow
The Damned's first (of many) farewell gigs. Jon Moss (formerly of the band London, later to become Boy George's boyfriend and drummer in Culture Club) had replaced Scabies by now. The gig was a manic mosh, the band playing hard and furiously, to be joined by Scabies a few numbers in and Lol Coxhill again for 'You Know', ending with the obligatory trashing of the gear.

I don't remember what the Soft Boys were like at all, though I did subsequently see them headlining at the Hope & Anchor, maybe in 1980. Johnny Moped and Prof were mates of Sensible's and I recall them being pretty shite.

16.4.78 Doctors of Madness/ Johnnny Warman, London Marquee
Again? Blimey. I loved the Marquee in Wardour Street - the stink of stale beer and fags, the sticky floors, the sweat, being able to see right up the noses of the performers. And always a chance to go to Dark They Were and Golden Eyed, a sci-fi shop up a nearby back alley which stocked ZigZag, Sniffin' Glue, Ripped & Torn and the finest selection of punk badges.

13.5.78 Doctors of Madness/ Roger the Cat, London Nashville
Not sure if Vanian was still singing with them at this point. The Nashville was a grotty pub venue in West London... and who the hell were Roger the Cat?

6.5.78 Here & Now/ Alternative TV, Kent Canterbury University
An open-air afternoon gig. Here & Now had some kind of Hawkwind connection with all the attendant hippy tendencies, who shared a ghastly split album with ATV. Mark Perry was of course a Punk Rock Hero but I fear the hideous barefoot hippiness of this whole event left me with a tarnished image of ATV.

16.7.78 Magazine/ Zones, Canterbury Odeon
The Zones were a Scottish band featuring members of former mid-70s teenybop band Slik, again a bunch of losers trying to reinvent themselves off the back of punk. Magazine were superb: their debut album was out about this time, 'Shot By Both Sides' was one of the finest post-punk singles. Devoto was amazing, climbing his peculiar mic stand-cum-ladder affair (Julian Cope later used a similar prop), sneering out the lyrics and prowling the stage.

20.8.78 Ultravox/ L-7; 21, 22, 23.8.78 Ultravox/ Angletrax, London Marquee
I absolutely loved Ultravox. I'd like to point out that this was the original lineup with John Foxx on vocals for the first three albums, the band only finding commercial success when ex-Slik vocalist Midge Bloody Ure joined them. I thought John Foxx was gorgeous and slightly androgynous, and in my teenage angst I was drawn to his lyrics of alienation, sexual ambiguity, drug-fuelled dissipation and walking rainy streets in moody overcoats - pretty much how my life turned out in the end as it happens (I wish). Again, a band coming in on the back of punk, they were nevertheless hugely influential on acts like Simple Minds and Gary Numan, and had that good old electric violin too.

Yes, I went four nights on the trot with my mate Walnut and these were some of the sweatiest gigs I've been to in my life. Hanging around Wardour St for a glimpse of our hero pre-gig, on the last night night Foxx recognised us for being there at the front of every gig and put us on the guest list. Thanks! They were still playing tracks from their guitar-based first two albums, but were moving toward the synthier sound of 'Systems of Romance'. All amazing gigs.

As far as support bands went, L-7 were not to be confused with the female grunge band of a few years later and were totally nondescript, and Angletrax did a herky-jerky post-punk thing with a female singer who sang a song about anorexia which involved a lot of shrieking. Three nights on the trot got a bit wearing.

24.8.78 Punishment of Luxury/ Very, Very Nervous, London Nashville
Punilux were a theatrical jerky post-punk band whose single 'Puppet Life' had been played heavily by Peel. I must dig it out and play it as I suspect it's probably unlistenable.

2.9.78 Tanz Der Youth/ Plain Characters, London Nashville
Brian James' pretty poor post-Damned band dabbling in a 'Nuggets' style psychedelic sound. Plain Characters were as memorable as their name. Who?

5.9.78 The Doomed/ Softies/ Rudi, London Electric Ballroom
And so The Damned re-surfaced with Sensible now on guitar, and Lemmy guesting on bass for this gig. Back in action with some fresh songs and a renewed energy, this was an amazing gig. The Softies were the Dutch equivalent of a pub rock band, and Northern Ireland's Rudi had garnered a fair bit of airplay for their first Good Vibrations single 'Big Time'.

20.10.78 The Doomed/ Molesters/ Smeggy & The Cheesy Bits, Sussex University
My loyalty to the Damned meant I forewent Siouxsie's gig on Hastings Pier that night (though I've still got the poster from the gig somewhere). Support from two Brighton bands, the Molesters (shite name) had a couple of quite cute female vocalists, and the diabolical Smeggy went on to form King Kurt.

26.10.78 Doctors of Madness/ Cabaret Voltaire, London Music Machine
I hated the Music Machine. It had probably been quite suitable as a late Victorian/ early Edwardian music hall but as a sprawling gig venue I found it militated against the intimacy I enjoyed of small gigs by virtue of its ridiculously high stage which meant you either had to crane your neck uncomfortably or retreat to a distant balcony to get a better view. It later reinvented itself as New Romantic venue Camden Palace, and is now Koko.

Cabaret Voltaire were suitably noisy and I have a feeling this was the last ever Doctors of Madness gig, accompanied by Vanian and TV Smith (who'd co-written some songs with Richard Strange) on occasional vocal duties. A very pissed Captain Sensible invaded the stage momentarily to do some push-ups for no apparently good reason.

29.10.78 The Doomed/ Snivelling Shits/ Cowards, Croydon Greyhound
Another hideous venue, this time like a soul-less sports hall. The Cowards were Sensible's brother and mates, and pretty shite too. Snivelling Shits were fronted by Sounds journalist Giovanni Dadomo and were a comedy punk band, though I love their single 'Terminal Stupid' for its spoof Rottenisms.

3.11.78 Buzzcocks/ Subway Sect, Canterbury Odeon
Buzzcocks superb as ever; Subway Sect noisy and jangly.

10.11.78 Siouxsie & The Banshees, Spizz Oil, Human League, Canterbury Odeon
Weirdly the first time I managed to see the Banshees, and in their original 'The Scream' lineup. Spizz had a certain charm in this, his first incarnation, but I was excited to see the Human League as I already loved 'Being Boiled' and was into bands using electronics with a punk attitude (the League, Cabaret Voltaire and a bit later The Normal and Throbbing Gristle) as an antidote to the prog vileness of Tangerine Dream et al (OK, I'd not really heard Can at that point, but I was already a fan of Kraftwerk). The League's performance was truly multi-media, with slide projections on two screens behind them; terribly technologically primitive of course, but I'd not seen anything like that before so it was a bit exciting.

14.11.78 Rezillos/ Undertones/ Joy Division, Canterbury Odeon
How's this for a lineup? I didn't catch Joy Division's name but recognised tracks from 'An Ideal for Living' which had been played by Peel. I think they were barely known down south but I was captivated by the bass and drum-heavy sound, and Ian Curtis' manic dancing. Really exciting.

The Undertones were lovely, and I had my copy of 'Teenage Kicks' on Good Vibrations with its fold-out A4 photocopied sleeve with me, which I got Eugene Reynolds from the Rezillos to autograph, probably rendering it worthless. Lucky I'm not selling it. Faye Fife looked gorgeous in a yellow PVC mini skirt and when Walnut and I blagged backstage afterwards and she said "Oooh, I saw you down the front," I thought I was going to die.

7.12.78 The Jam/ The Cure/ Patrik Fitzgerald, Canterbury University
I'd missed The Jam in '77 on Hastings Pier due to Damned-following duties I think, so this was the first time I'd seen them, and the time of 'All Mod Cons'. They were tight and powerful, and I thought Rick Buckler the coolest drummer ever, making it look so easy while bashing it out. This was vein-popping sweat-pouringly good.

I loved Patrik Fitzgerald's 'Safety Pin Stuck in my Heart' but was really impressed by The Cure. Pre-lipstick, daft hair and goth, 'Killing an Arab' was just/ imminently out, and they wore anoraks and had a shy charm, songs like '10.15 Saturday Night' and 'Arab' really standing out.

10.12.78 Ultravox/ Snips/ The Skids/ Angletrax, London Lyceum
Angletrax were tolerable despite the screeching, don't remember Snips at all, but who could forget Richard Jobson's ridiculous dancing in the Skids? I had their first EP and for some reason really liked them, though I think they were pretty much pretentious rubbish by now.

Ultravox were amazing - possibly even better than at the Marquee. They were showcasing their new electro direction for 'Systems of Romance' and John Foxx was in fine voice.

14.12.78 Adverts/ The Innocents/ Drill, London Music Machine
No matter how much I hated the Music Machine, I kept ending up going to gigs there. Not a clue who the support bands were.

21.12.78 The Clash/ The Slits/ The Innocents, Hastings Pier
Can this have been the first decent gig on the Pier since March? Seems odd. Those Innocents popped up again and still I don't remember them. Once again bouncing round down the front, loved the Slits for their don't-give-a-fuck chaotic charm.

23.12.78 The Doomed/ Rods/ Waldo and the Wimps, London Electric Ballroom
Waldo and the Wimps seem to have been lost in the mists of time, which is probably a blessing judging by their name. This was the gig that saw the Damned return to form with new songs which would form the basis of 'Machine Gun Etiquette', giving away a free 7" white label of 'Love Song'/ 'Burglar'. Yes of course I've still got it!

26.12.78 Ultravox/ Patrik Fitzgerald, London Marquee
Weird choice for Patrick Fitzgerald as a support. I loved the material from the new electronic direction of 'Systems of Romance'. Walnut and I were always terrible liggers (does anyone use that word any more?) and we hung around backstage in the grotty Marquee tunnel-like dressing room, covered in graffiti and stinking of sweat and beer (us and the dressing rooms). Seem to recall John Foxx had a rather gorgeous willowy girlfriend who we were a bit jealous of.

30.12.78 Elvis Costello/ Richard Hell/ John Cooper Clarke, Canterbury Odeon
I liked John Cooper Clarke a lot but I think this was the only time I got to see him. Elvis was on crackling form, and this was the time he used to do his 'breaking down' schtick during 'Alison' when he'd pretend to lose it and run offstage.

6.1.79 The Damned/ Rockpile, London Venue (Victoria)
The Damned reverted to their proper name, showcasing the new songs from 'MGE'. Support from pub rocker Dave Edmunds. Horrible venue, too big and impersonal. Now demolished.

14.1.79 The Damned/ Heroes, Crowdon Greyhound
You'd think I was sick of them by now, wouldn't you? Don't recall the Heroes at all.

16.2.79 The Piranhas/ Teen Beats/ Stunshot, Hastings Carlisle
Brighton comedy jangly-ska band with support from Huggy Lever (ex-Plastix)'s neo-mod band The Teenbeats. They played a fearsome live set, and although they were lacking any great musical originality, Huggy was a charismatic and energetic frontman and they were always entertaining. I think this might have been their debut gig, and I'm not sure if it was this Carlisle gig or a later one where Ken played guitar so fast and hard his hand bled impressively. Don't remember Stunshot.

14.4.78 UK Subs/ Teen Beats/ 4th Reich, Hastings Pier
The Subs were always a 3rd division punk band, some quite good tunes but they were so bloody old and fat. 4th Reich had a ghastly name and a sound to match.

22.4.79 The Damned/ Auntie Pus/ The Nips, Croydon Greyhound
Notable support from The Nips, who'd changed their name from the charming Nipple Erectors and were the proto-rockabilly band fronted by Shane Macgowan.

3.5.79 Magazine/ Simple Minds, Canterbury Odeon
Another amazing outing from Magazine, this time showcasing songs from 'Secondhand Daylight', a much overlooked album for a reason I can't fathom as it's brilliant. Simple Minds were just starting out, and I became a bit of a fan. Jim Kerr learned everything he knew from Devoto until he stopped copying him and decided he wanted to be fucking Bono instead.

21.5.79 Kleenex/ Raincoats/ Spizz Energi, Canterbury Art College
This was a real goodie. Spizz's third incarnation, raw, angular and energetic, pre-"Captain Kirk"; The Raincoats ramshackle, jangly and shouty, and Kleenex, three moody Swiss women whom I couldn't resist for their chugging pop and "ee-ee" punctuations in their songs. Kleenex later became Lilliput after legal threats from the tissue company (like you'd mistake a Swiss female punk band going "ee-ee" for a snotrag) but their first two singles as Kleenex were always my favourites.

25.5.79 Nicky & The Dots/ Rampage/ Teen Beats/ The Same, Hastings Carlisle
Don't remember Rampage or the Same. Nicky & the Dots were a Brighton 'Vaultage'-era band; much more pop than punk.

9.6.79 Purple Hearts/ Fixations/ Teen Beats/ Scooters/ The Lambrettas, Hastings Pier
Now all the punks and skins had acquired parkas and an inane chant of "We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods" to accompany smashing the windows down Robertson Street after the gig. This, The Lambrettas' first outing was competent if shy; don't remember the Fixations or Scooters (now there's a shit name). The Purple Hearts made a name for their sharp suits, gobby frontman and pretentions at being the spokesmen for the mod generation. The Purple Hearts and the Teen Beats had a certain punkish energy and I recall this was one of the Teen Beats' best showings.

28.7.79 UK Subs/ Cyanide/ Security Risk/ The Names, Ashford Stour Centre
This gig was vile. Along with the rise of the mods, this was also the era of nazi skins - and this gig was over-run with them. In a hideous sports centre, they sieg-heiled their way through the bands, fighting and thumping anyone in their way. Pretty vile. I don'r remember The Names, but Security Risk were a female-fronted punk band, Cyanide a proto-oi band who were all pretty crap. The Subs did their best in the face of the hostile crowd but Walnut and I left before the end as the aggressive atmosphere was intolerable.

28.9.79 Gary Numan/ Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Hammersmith Odeon
5.10.79 Gary Numan/ OMD, Brighton Dome
Did I really go and see Gary Numan twice in a week? Obviously. Actually I quite liked him. "Are 'Friends' Electric?" had already been a hit, I had the two Tubeway Army albums and I rather liked his Burroughs/ Bowie rip-off and androgyny. Yes I know he's a plonker but I didn't know at the time. OMD were fun, they'd only had "Electricity" out so far, which I had, but I remember they also played "Red Frame/ White Light" (a song about a phonebox fer christ's sake!) but I'm not sure what else.

OK, there's more to come later when I find my diaries: lots of Bauhaus, The Birthday Party at Jenkinson's in Brighton... but that's for another day.


Thursday, July 05, 2012


A visit to the Sussex Beacon

This week my chum Kathy Caton and I spent a couple of inspiring hours on a visit to the Sussex Beacon. I well remember all the fundraising at the turn of the eighties and the opening of the Beacon in 1992 so I was kind of surprised I'd not actually made it for a visit until now.

Built high on Bevendean Road with views over Brighton and the Downs, the Beacon's marking two decades of providing an invaluable service to local people living with HIV / Aids, including a ten-bed residential unit, day services, complementary therapies and a women and families service.

As Juley Ayres, the outgoing fundraising manager took us round the building, we were impressed by the light and airy design, nothing clinical or instititional here at all. There's a real buzz as staff, service users, volunteers and visitors go about their business, and we were greeted throughout by friendly smiles and people stopping to chat, a far cry from the hushed tones and gloomy atmosphere you might expect from such an organisation.

Juley took us through the garden, built and maintained by volunteers, with its different levels of a communal seating area, quiet dens, water features and tropical garden. The Beacon's just held its annual fundraiser, the Garden Gadabout, a success despite the grim summer weather, where the Beacon and its supporters open up their gardens to the public for a donation. It's just one of the Beacon's many fundraisers for its services, which cost £1.1million a year, with an immediate target of £150,000 to keep its in-patient unit open.

And of course they're always looking for volunteers to support their work.

Juley has done a number of radio pieces with Kathy and me, and we're going to miss her as the Beacon will no doubt too, but she promised she's going to be making plenty of jam to support the Beacon's fundraisers, so we'll be looking forward to that and we wish her luck in all her future ventures.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Social Media in radio - a Radio Academy panel discussion

When I signed up for the Radio Academy's seminar on social media I thought I'd come away with ideas, solutions and approaches to integrating the burgeoning world of digital diarrhoea with the essentially one-way traffic of radio broadcasting.

What I did take away, however, was the reality that no bugger actually knows what on earth we're doing with the multitude of platforms through which we now 'communicate' with radio listeners.

Julian Worricker (R4 You & Yours) chaired the discussion, joined on the panel by Laura May Coope (Social Media Producer, BBC Radio 1/1xtra), Matt Deegan (Fun Kids and Radio blogger), Tony Moorey (Content Director, Absolute Radio) and Chris Hawkins (6 Music). So ok, this much we know: social media allows us to market shows and stations, and can generate content from listeners; after that it's conjecture and anecdote.

It was estimated that only about 10% of listeners have access to Twitter and while R1 and 1xtra reckon that a significant majority of their audience is social media-savvy, in our obsession with the holy grail of 'interactivity' and audience feedback, we are focusing almost exclusively on communication from this vocal minority. There may be a risk of disenfranchising the majority who don't tweet/ Facebook/ text/ email, but it looks likely that programmes and presenters will continue to be seduced by the instant hit of the figures and feedback they see on the screen.

Chris Hawkins asked if it matters where feedback comes from, and commented on how much airtime it can now take up telling people how they can get in touch. In my experience it does matter, as listeners still get a buzz out of having a namecheck, and highlighting the variety of channels through which you can now get in touch, encourages feedback. Tony Moorey said Facebook and Twitter can foster a "pop-up community" (not heard that one before!) and there was some discussion later of how message boards can go in a tangential direction that its (minority of active) users send it, and all a station or programme may be able to do is try to steer it into new directions.

Pitfalls for presenters participating in Twitter, especially, can be that they have an impact on the reputation of the station, for good or bad. The BBC is in knots about presenters having their own Twitter vs an official BBC one, which can lead to someone like Fearne Cotton endorsing all sorts of products on her personal account that she'd never be able to get away with on the BBC; on the other hand Dave Gorman's personality and outside activities were acknowledged as pushing people toward his Absolute Radio programme. The rule of thumb is don't say anything on Twitter you wouldn't on air, though quite where that leaves the product-endorsing 'celebrity' BBC presenter is unclear, and it was acknowledged that the old disclaimer of 'there are my views, not those of etc etc' don't wash.

The commercial sector is seeing opportunities for revenue raising: some brands are offering £5-10k for a mention on a Facebook wall, but there was an acknowledgement that you don't want to annoy your followers with endless plugs; it's only a matter of time though, folks.

An interesting point was that the best way to get followers on your social media is through the use and promotion of that medium within itself - simply giving a shout out on radio to 'join our Facebook page' isn't the best way; radio is an add-on to that. However, it can be a powerful way of pulling new listeners into your radio for special events such as an interview or concert, where the social media networks will push people to listen.

And what about the social media users who don't listen to radio? They can be lured in through audio/ video clips, mixes, podcasts, web-only content and other teasers, which can be targeted and tailored for particular audiences.

So what overall conclusions came from this?
* Nobody actually knows what they're doing - it's just because 'it's there';
* It gives a quantifiable indication of listener response, feedback and numbers, but we shouldn't get carried away with it being the main focus;
* Broadcaster have to acknowledge that social media users can take it in their own direction as it's regarded as their own social space;
* We shouldn't disregard non-users of social media, but quite how we do address and engage them in the digital era is another matter.

Monday, November 01, 2010


On witchcraft, bearded men in the sky and cats' whiskers: superstition and stigma in Nigeria

Well the end of my trip is in sight, and I’m aware that I’ve hardly blogged at all, despite enthusiastically updating Facebook with peculiar encounters , pleasures and frustrations of my two months here.

Work has gone very smoothly, training 24 radio journalists in radio skills, going right back to basics to fill (the many) gaps in their knowledge, and increasing their awareness of HIV, its causes, the national prevention strategy and ways of addressing it on air, much of which was totally new to them, and some of it quite an eye-opener.

You’d think (or at least, hope) that journalists would be amongst the most educated, open-minded and rational people but in a country characterized by taboo, cultural stigmas, superstition, and unwavering religious belief, they’re as much victim to those mores as the next person. So it was with some horror that I heard you can catch HIV from cat’s whiskers, or faced one group who had no hesitation in stigmatising men who have sex with men (MSM for short – there’s not really such a thing as a gay or bisexual identity, as it’s illegal here, and most men who are doing it are ostensibly heterosexual).

“If it was my son I would cast him out,” or “I would never shake the hand of such a man,” were two comments which were greeted with nodding approval. A quip about MSM standing for “Mentally Subnormal Men” raised roars of laughter until I reminded them that we were supposed to be against stigmatization, but at least when a comment was made to a visiting NGO worker that “There’s nobody like that in this room” we both chorused simultaneously “You don’t know that!”

Thankfully the other group were nothing like that, and I’d like to think that the first group attained at least a modicum of awareness that stigmatizing MSM is wrong even if their own attitudes haven’t changed, and by all accounts there is a growing (urban) gay visibility in the capital Abuja and in Lagos, so change is happening slowly. I assured the man who said he’d never shake their hand that he already had, and in ten years time he would have friends who are MSM. He didn’t believe me but let’s see who’s right.

The rampant superstition is also difficult to deal with (and I include religious belief in that). People who are otherwise informed, modern in outlook and rational have a persisting belief in witchcraft, and I’ve had many an argument about it. It’s an interesting perspective (which goes for god too) that if you believe in something then it exists: people genuinely feel they have fallen prey to malign influences, or believe they are witches themselves, and it holds a powerful sway.

Now, of course I know that people can do horrible things to each other such as poison their food or play mental tricks on the gullible, but my argument that “If witchcraft exists, why doesn’t it affect people who don’t believe in it?” cut no ice. There’s always a “story” about “a maid from Calabar” who went to live with a family and did this, that and the other; of course nobody actually knows anyone involved in this story, but of course it’s true, and so the urban (or rural) myth goes round again and nobody will challenge it.

Which brings me inexorably to god. You’re either christian or muslim, that’s it. I’ve actually met just one atheist and he’s regarded as a subversive weirdo, which he couldn’t give two hoots about, so good for him. It’s an interesting question, when people ask if you’re a christian and you say you don’t believe in god at all. After they’ve finishing slapping the top of their head in disbelief, startled eyes round like gobstoppers, the inevitable questions comes. “Well - what do you believe in then?” Having no certainly of belief (or worse still, not really caring) just sounds lame in the face of such unwavering conviction. “Uh, well, I believe you don’t need a religious faith to do good things, and I don’t really care what happens when we die,” just sounds a bit namby-pamby. But people have promised to pray for me to believe in god, so I’ve assured them that when that happens I’ll let them know, but they’d better pray very damn hard and we’ll certainly both be dead before it happens, so just one of us will be proved right in the end. And by then, I frankly won't give a toss.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Spoon alert!

I get stopped at Calabar airport today: "You have a spoon in your bag." Rummage for spoon. Spoon is confiscated. I am unaware that a spoon is a prohibited item in hand luggage. "Err, why?" Security man grabs offending spoon, adopts the face of a deranged killer and enthusiastically mimes a brutal act of violence. With a spoon.

I laugh loudly. "When did you last hear of someone being attacked with a spoon?" No response. I shrug and walk on, comforted by the concerns for spoon security but bemused that they failed to spot the pair of scissors in the same bag.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?