Adventures in Punkland, Part 1

In January of 1986, my family moved from Walla Walla, Washington to the little town of Long Eaton, outside of the city of Nottingham in the U.K. I was very excited about this. I hated my high school and I hated Walla Walla even more. I figured anything had to be better than that. I only had the vaguest idea what was happening with the punk scene in the U.K. Looking at human culture a place like Walla Walla in those days was sort of like astronomers looking at objects thousands of light years away. For me, the reality of punk in those days was the Punk and Disorderly compilations, plus a few Crass and Chaos U.K. records thrown in for good measure.

I told my friends that I was going to live in the U.K. Some of them were jealous, wanting just as much to get out of Walla Walla as I did. Mostly they were pretty excited about the idea that I was going to be able to see what amounted to us to the Mecca of punk rock, as we understood it from repeated viewings of the UK DK video. My buddy Jerry, who was I think a little annoyed that this opportunity was being bestowed on someone so much less cool than him, said, “you’ll probably just get beat up.”

Old Market Square, Nottingham

Long Eaton was a little town with not much going on, but it was only about a half an hour’s bus ride from central Nottingham. On the first Saturday of our stay there, I rode the bus into town to see what was what. I made my way from the bus station under Broad Marsh shopping center up into the middle of town, all the while looking for some way to get my bearings. When I got to Old Market Square, I found an anti-apartheid march forming up. I think at the time I assumed this kind of thing happened every day. There were some young punk rock types in the crowd to whom I introduced myself. They were quite friendly and gave me some pointers about things to do and places to go.

Probably the best of these was the direction to visit a record store called Select-a-Disc that was just off the square. Finding Select-a-Disc was a real piece of good fortune. They had more punk records there than I had ever seen in one place before. [At that point it had been to Time Travellers in Seattle, as well as the old Tower Records by Seattle Center, but Select-a-Disc put them both in the shade. I wasn’t to see a better record store until I moved to Portland and discovered 2nd Avenue, but that’s a different story]. I looked around for a couple of hours like a kid in a candy store. Finally, I realized it was getting late and I was going to have to split. Aside from my bus fare, I only had a couple of pounds on me, so I quickly bought something that fitted into my price range and headed out the door.

What I bought, completely by serendipity, was the Anglican Scrape Attic flexi. Considering the it was done on the basis of about five seconds’ reflection, it was well done. I think I must have bought it because it had a song on it by Sacrilege, who I’d never heard at that point, but the cover of whose Behind the Realms of Madness I’d seen (and been intrigued by) in MRR. In addition, it included cuts by the Japanese bands The Execute and Lip Cream, another by Hirax, and, most crucially as it turned out, one song by Concrete Sox. I say crucially because I discovered when I got home that Concrete Sox were actually from Nottingham.

I should point out that in those days I was pretty innocent of the burgeoning crossover movement that was going on between the punk and underground metal scenes. Most of what I knew came from attacks on this trend in MRR. Listening to Anglican Scrape Attic was a seriously mind altering experience. Not only was the music different than most of the punk that I had heard up to that point, but it had an overtly political dimension that was, if not entirely new to me, at least more prominent than in most of the music that I had heard in the U.S. The Concrete Sox cut, “Eminent Scum (Parts 1+2)” was about animal rights and hunt saboteuring, neither of which were the kind of things that got much play in the North America, even from more political bands like the Dead Kennedys. Until that moment, I think I was blissfully unaware that fox hunting actually went on.

I was determined to learn more, so I wrote a letter to Concrete Sox explaining who I was and asking if I could meet them. I must have included my telephone number, because a few days later I got a call at my parents’ house from their drummer John. He asked me if I wanted to come down to their practice space, which was at a community center somewhere in Nottingham (I don’t remember where now). I was kind of shocked. As a small town kid, I sort of expected them to blow me off.

I didn’t take this picture, but I have one just like it somewhere. I can still remember Vic wearing that shirt. It was from the Bob Geldof Run the World thing (and was meant ironically in Vic’s case, of course)

As I recall, I met John in front of the tower where his council flat was, which was above the Victoria Center shopping mall (what a strange place for low income housing). He took me to where they practiced and introduced me to the rest of the band. I was kind of apprehensive, but it turned out that they were a really nice bunch of guys. When I walked in, their guitar player Victim (or Vic for short) was just plugging in. He cut loose with a burst of music that was faster and louder than anything I had ever heard in my life. Their singer, Sean, was a hulking fellow (or at least so I recall), but he was jovial and had a habit of saying, “Jolly, jolly good” in a peculiar imitation of a British upper crust accent.

Les and Sean from Concrete Sox

Their bass player Les walked in with a cassette that somebody had made for him of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning. This kind of surprised me, since where I came from the people who were into punk didn’t really associate much with people who were into metal bands, even crazy ones like Metallica. It would have been different if I had been from some bigger city like SF or LA, but being from the hinterlands, I was kind of behind the times. Anyway, after chatting with the band briefly, they got down to the business at hand. I had only ever heard one of their songs, and that only on the little turntable in our living room. For the next hour or so, I was treated to their full set, played at blistering, cyclonic pace and at a volume that caused my eardrums to compress. It was the start of my real education in punk.

To be continued…

Magadh

4 Responses to “Adventures in Punkland, Part 1”

  1. What a great read! I don’t remember this right now but great to hear that we treated you well & that it influenced your life. Regards, Vic…

  2. Since it was 25 years or so ago, I’m not surprised. : ) In any case, more to come in a couple of days, including hanging at the Salutation, getting so drunk with Chaos U.K. that I woke up in a different city, and the night the Mermaid in Birmingham caught fire.

    • Ha yeah! I can remember the fire @ The Mermaid. The people wouldn’t let us come off stage – we played our set twice that night. Looking forward to reading more…

  3. My mate used to play PacMan in the Castle with Paula who was Concrete Sox Les’s girlfriend. She was good but it was my mate who always won. One game, she went first and was playing exceptionally well, and he was playing exceptionally badly, and after her third/final PacMan Paula was so far ahead that victory was in the bag. My mate started on his third PacMan and promptly got stuck in a tunnel with ghosts approaching from both sides. It was the end and Paula was jumping around the pub to celebrate. That’s when the impossible happened. The two ghosts passed through my mate’s PacMan simultaneously but it did not kill him, and he continued on with a brilliant end game to win. How to disaffect a sexy punk chick – Paula never played him at PacMan again.

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