John Lydon, Debbie Harry, actor Martin Freeman and Crystal Palace chairman, Steve Parish. As well as making for a potentially great dinner-party line-up, they are among contributors to a new book, Growing Up With Punk, in which more than 100 music, arts and media flames offer a personal perspective on one the UK’s last great ‘scenes’.
The ‘beautifully presented coffee table book’ is compiled by journalist Barry Cain and Nicky Weller – sister of his royal mod-liness, Paul. Nicky was 15 in 1977 and she told Andy Gray how life ‘chez Weller’ changed forever when the new wave waters broke…and led to brother Paul wearing a paper boiler suit.
Yourself and Paul grew-up in Woking, which would’ve been considered a bit of a punk outpost. Did it take a while for the scene to travel down the A3 and arrive at your neck of the woods?
“Woking was a little bit behind – It was nothing like London. It was a while before the first Mohican appeared in our high street. No one could afford to go to Vivienne Westwood and buy stuff, it was far too expensive. Round our way it was all rip-up tops. I remember (Jam drummer) Rick Buckler’s mum sewing-up his very expensive jumper. It had strategic holes in it, but she actually darned it. He was so pissed off – he’d spent a lot of money on that jumper. ‘Look what my mum’s fucking done to this jumper’ he said. It was so funny.”
Before punk (and the Jam) came along, what were you listening to?
“I was a big Bowie and Bryan Ferry fan. I seem to remember my brother sort of saying, ‘what ya listening to that crap for’? He’s obviously since come to realise Bowie is great. I still had my little guilty pleasures like David Essex and stuff. But I absolutely loved Bowie and Roxy Music. Then the whole punk scene kicked in.”
In interviews, Paul has said his punk epiphany was seeing the Sex Pistols play the Screen on the Green in 1976. Is that how you remember it?
“I remember him and his mates from Woking went to see the Pistols. I think it was the night Paul wore his white boiler suit, one of them papery sort of things. Mum had to get some old spray cans to spray some stuff on the back. It’d be hilarious if we had a picture of it now. You’ve only got to hear The Jam play ‘In the City’ before he saw the Pistols to appreciate the influence punk had on Paul. ‘In the City’ was kind of melodic and slow, and then suddenly it was 100 miles per hour. Punk changed his whole life.”
With Paul as the ‘face’ of the Jam and your dad, John, as the band’s manager, it must’ve been like a having a full backstage pass to the whole punk era.
“Yeah, talk about being a teenager in the thick of it all. My dad included me and my mum in everything to do with the band in those days. He’d say, ‘don’t go to school today; come to Top of the Pops’, if he knew I was a fan of one of the acts due to appear. Dad would even write the absence note for me. I think I went to pretty much all the Top of the Pops shows with the Jam.”
For a teenager from the so-called ‘sticks’, did the atmosphere surrounding those early punk shows prove a bit intimidating?
“I remember one night being stuck outside the Rainbow when the Jam did a show there. I remember seeing Johnny Rotten in the queue that night, and my dad coming out and getting us both in. During gigs the crowd would get really aggressive at the front of the stage, with swathes of people pogoing. I never went down the front – I always sat behind, at the back of the stage.”
Okay, what’s your stand-out gig from that era, starting with the Jam?
“When the Jam played at the 100 Club on my birthday in September 1977. When you go to the 100 club now it’s all kind of serene, but then it was wall-to-wall people – you couldn’t breathe in there. Sweat was dripping down the walls; today’s health and safety people would’ve had a field day. I don’t know how many people would’ve been in there, ‘cause my dad would be like, ‘get as many as you can in’. That night was brilliant, but I remember people spitting. The band never liked it. Bruce (the Jam’s bass player) was like, ‘if you gob at me again, I’m going off’. It was disgusting. I don’t know where the spitting came from, but the Jam’s image was more clean-cut and mod – they weren’t into the whole gobbing thing at all. After the gig, it was my job to sell these big blue ‘Jam’ badges for 10p a time.”
How did the Jam’s early success affect home life?
“People started coming all the way down to Woking to see where Paul lived; knocking at our front door to see if he was at home. Then I started running the fan club. It all went a bit crazy.”
Now the book, Growing Up With Punk… Does the world really need another retrospective on the era?
“I didn’t think the Punk London thing (held in the capital throughout last year to ‘celebrate 40 years of punk heritage’) did much for Punk. It sort-of came and went without much celebration. Everyone we spoke to in the book said punk really kicked-off in ’77, ‘cause that’s when all the debut albums from bands like the Clash, the Jam, the Pistols and the Stranglers came out. The book’s got a load of photos, flyers, tickets and stuff that people won’t have seen before. So it’s definitely worth seeing.”
‘It’s like punk never ‘appened’, is your brother’s oft-quoted verdict on the musical dross that followed in the 1980s. Punk definitely happened, but did it achieve anything?
“It completely shook-up the whole music industry – people had never seen anything like it, and will never see anything like it again. The music industry now is a joke, innit? All the bloody X-Factor and reality TV stuff is crap. The kids on these shows…they ain’t gonna be around in two years’ time let alone 10 years’ time. I think punk did a brilliant job, actually. It made kids think, ‘I can do this, I can be in my own band’. It made a huge difference. I was very lucky to be a teenager in 1977. I could’ve been stuck down the Knaphill Disco in Woking on a Friday and Saturday night, which would’ve been pretty crap. Instead, I was going off to the Vortex club and seeing people like Adam Ant performing in bondage, and travelling to London in a van with my dad and my brother to watch the Jam.”
Thanks Nicky, and be sure to let us know if you find the photo of Paul in his paper boiler suit.
Growing Up With Punk is due for release in July. For details, visit http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/growing-up-with-punk
A Growing Up With Punk exhibition, featuring previously unseen and rare memorabilia from the book’s contributors, is due to be held between August 3rd and 6th as part of Punk Rebellion Weekend at Blackpool Winter Gardens.
Paul Weller – The Jam
“The Pistols looked great too, so different for the time. With their sound and Johnny’s voice, they were something I hadn’t heard or seen before. Rotten was totally memorising and had so much front. It was revolutionary at the time, and so were the five blues I’d dropped! After that, we saw them (and the five-piece Clash) at the Punk festival at the 100 club. Ron Watts was the promoter and he also ran the Nags Head in High Wycombe. Both bands blew my mind and that was it for me – I wanted to be a part of this new scene.”
Jordan – SEX shop assistant
“I know this is about 1977, but a bit of ’75 had to be included for me mainly because it painted such a vivid picture amongst the grey and beige backdrop of Britain at that time. 430 Kings Road had gained much notoriety, which led the police to our door and hence the confiscation of what was deemed by the old bill, the fuzz, the wooden tops, as being openly obscene. Malcolm and Vivienne were charged under the 1864 Obscene Exhibition Act of displaying items in the window, more specifically, ‘the naked cowboys’ t-shirt. This is in their view was likely to corrupt the general public, and in particular minors.”
Hugh Cornwell – The Stranglers
“One of the most bizarre regular gigs was The Speakeasy, in Margaret Street, the late night hangout for the musical elite, and impossible to get into unless you were playing there. Our ice cream van would roll-up outside and members of the Damned, The Pistols, The Clash, even Elvis Costello would jump out of the back carrying one of our guitars or a cymbal stand. Posing as one of our roadies got them into the club.”