Part One: Landing On My Feet
Throughout my time running these gigs, I’d also been touring extensively as a performance poet and vocalist, writing freelance journalism for numerous magazines and fanzines, and working as a writer-in-schools throughout the UK. From June 1983, I reduced the clubs I was running to just one. This was Brannigans in Leeds, the club I’d dubbed Natural Disasters and which I’d launched six months earlier as the Wednesday night sister venue to The Palm Cove’s Thursday night club, Gory Details.
Boar Lane runs the quarter-mile from the entrance to Leeds railway station to the Corn Exchange which is not far from the bus station. Brannigans was on Call Lane, down one side of the Corn Exchange. It was therefore well placed for public transport. Call Lane itself was, in those days, a rather dingy and slightly seedy back-water. So, although it was only a few hundred yards from the busy Boar Lane, it was actually a club which struggled to survive because too few people ventured down there after dark. They were therefore more than happy to have me bring in a mid-week crowd. George, who managed the club, was a very likeable man who was keen to see me make a success of the venture. Friendly, helpful and accommodating, he made it a real pleasure to work there. The bouncers, particularly Jacko and Billy, knew and got on with many of the Leeds punks and skins and treated them with respect. Theirs was a generally boring job and they’d enjoy chatting with customers and, in truth, many of the punks and skins and other music fans were lively and interesting characters. So, from the outset, Brannigans was a great venue.
Very soon after starting at Brannigans (in mid-January), I was ousted from The Warehouse and moved my Sunday night club, 1984, from there to a Tuesday night at Brannigans (Fatal Shocks, its sister club at The Manhattan Club, aka Bibi’s, in Bradford being every Monday). These gigs, beginning with The Icicle Works and Come In Tokyo on 22 February and ending with The Dancing Did and Sheffield’s Ipso Facto on 26 April, are covered in my write-up of The Manhattan Club. Some were successful, others failed miserably. So, by the end of April, I called an end to both Fatal Shocks and 1984. By the end of May, I’d also stopped running gigs at Palm Cove. During March and April, I also booked local indie bands into a Wednesday night club I called Contrasts for Fagins, a Bradford nightclub. Because of my simultaneous night at Brannigans, I never actually went to any of these gigs. Again, some went well, some didn’t, and they came to an end after two months.
In my coverage of The Palm Cove, I’ve already talked about many of the bands which also appeared at Brannigans. The first three Tuesday night gigs headlining, respectively, Infa-Riot, The Adicts and The Lurkers – all of them established and popular punk bands – got Natural Disasters off to a great start. The support slots offered a great chance to feature up-and-coming bands, some of which would later return as headliners. Sometimes there’s be more than one support band and sometimes a solo performer too, as with Dave The Dog who was one of many punk poets who’d do a short set before or between the bands. After these first three gigs, I moved Natural Disasters at Brannigans to what would become its regular Wednesday night slot, while Gory Details at Bradford’s Palm Cove shifted to a regular Thursday night slot.
After gigs headlined by The Destructors, Conflict, Peter And The Test Tube Babies and (returning by popular demand) The Adicts came a band from London whose reputation for mayhem preceded them. They were King Kurt… who, when I actually booked them in January 1983, were unknown but I liked the sound of them as a crazy piece of showmanship. Worried that they might not pull an audience, I lowered the entry price (usually £2) to just £1.50. I needn’t have been concerned. In the two months prior to doing Leeds and Bradford, they got plenty of press coverage for their wild London shows and so easily drew a huge crowd in Leeds for their very first northern appearance.
It’s the evening of their Leeds gig and I’m heading for the venue. I’ve left the train station and am walking along Boar Lane. A bus is coming towards me which looks like it’s just driven through a snowstorm. As it passes me with its windscreen wiper frantically striving to clean the glass so the driver can see where he’s going, I realise it’s not snow but flour. I later learn that it had been pelted with water, eggs and flour by punks and flat-tops en route to Brannigans. This incident alone makes the local papers next day.
By the time I reach Call Lane this ‘snowstorm’ has whitened the entire street. Armed with plastic bags filled with flour, beans, raw animal guts (blagged as scraps from butchers’ shops), eggs and more, vast crowds of fans are over-eager to play their part in a classic King Kurt gig.
With their mad tufts of dyed and spiked hair and whacky outfits, Kurt look great. Their music’s a manic blend of psychobilly and afro-drumbeats. And their whole show is peppered with crazy theatrics and audience participation. And their drummer, wearing only a grass skirt, is pounding out the tribal rhythm of each song using two cow’s leg-bones as his drumsticks.
At one point, they dare anyone to come onstage and have a King Kurt haircut during the next song. When no one volunteers, they ask if any group of kids wants to ‘volunteer’ a mate. One poor lad is promptly dragged onstage and held down by his friends while the barber sets to work. By the end of the song, all he has left is one small tuft of hair with the rest of his skull clean-shaven. Later he comes up to me to say: ‘My mum’s gonna kill me, Nick… and I’ve got school tomorrow!’.
If anyone has pictures of any of these gigs at Brannigans please get in touch or post them on the Facebook page: Nick Toczek's Gory Details, Fatal Shocks and Natural Disasters
Later in their set, the singer holds up a bucket that’s been filled with snakebite and challenges anyone to drink it. The biggest skinhead in the room is a heavily tattooed guy called Riot. When he first began coming down the club, he kept picking fights. Rather than have him banned, I offered him free entry plus a fiver if he’d sit at the front of the stage at each gig and ensure that there was no trouble. It worked a charm. He caused no trouble and no one else dared to upset him. That night, he stood up, took the bucket, drained it, and continued working for the rest of the gig, coming to me for his fiver at the end of the night. He was still coherent and didn’t appear to have been affected at all by what he’d drunk. Given that a standard bucket holds four gallons (i.e. thirty-two pints) that really was astonishing!
The venue was a total mess at the end of the night, but nothing compared to The Palm Cove the following night. Luckily for me, both venues made so much money over the bar that they accepted it as collateral damage. However, when King Kurt returned, which they did several times, the venues made sure that the incoming crowds were thoroughly searched and that most of the bags of stuff they’d brought to chuck at the band and at each other were confiscated.
Of all the gigs I’ve ever run, these first two by King Kurt remain the most memorable. Two wonderful days of utter madness!
The following week, when the band I’d booked – legendary early punk outfit from London, Chelsea – pulled out, I ended up booking another psychobilly night featuring The Meteors!.
After our seismic clash at The Funhouse the previous July, I was never going to touch this band again. Front-man, Paul Fenech, had pulled a knife on me after pouring a pint over the sound desk and kicking it over. Their manager, John Curd had told me that he’d make sure I’d never work in the music business again. I’d replied that I wasn’t surprised he’d got a four-letter name beginning C-U, and the bouncers had then chucked him and the band out of the venue, unpaid. Yet here I was putting them on again less than eight months later. Why?
One day in February my phone had rung. It was The Meteors’ agency. Did I want to book them? I took a deep breath before saying ‘You’re joking, aren’t you? You know what happened last time.’ The guy persisted, telling me how my clubs really mattered and that the band needed to gig for me in Leeds and Bradford and that they’d be fine… I held firm and, in the end, said ‘Get bloody John Curd to ring me and apologise in person and I’ll think about it.’ I slammed the phone down and thought that was the end of the matter. Twenty minutes later, John Curd phoned me and apologised and assured me that Fenech would behave and it’d all be fine. A few minutes later, the agent rang again. We talked and, with mixed emotions, I booked The Meteors. One reason was that I knew loads of people wanted to see them. A second reason was that I loved the band and wanted to put them on properly… and to put right what had gone so wrong between us
When I arrived at Brannigans on the day of the gig, The Meteors had sound-checked, the PA was still intact and they were in the dressing room. As soon as I walked in, Fenech chucked me a ‘Wreckin’ Crew’ tee-shirt, a peace offering which I still own. Both gigs were rammed and brilliant, and I went on to re-book the band several times with no problems or regrets. They were always stunningly good… just THE best psychobilly band ever!
The following week’s advertised bands were Major Accident and Red Alert. Major Accident, like The Adicts, had adopted the clown makeup and bowler-hatted Droog style inspired by the 1971 Burgess/Kubrick movie A Clockwork Orange. When, however, Red Alert pulled out, Major Accident brought with them another good band from the north-east, Dogsbody. To this bill I added an excellent up-and-coming London band called The Blood.
After this came a really popular Leeds punk package of Abrasive Wheels and The Expelled, both of whom drew a big local crowd as well as bringing along a load of their friends. There were further changes the following week. I’d booked Serious Drinking, from East Anglia, who had a reputation as a fun band, as did the planned support act, All Over The Carpet, who were from Elland / Huddersfield / Halifax. The combination would have worked well. However, when Serious Drinking then pulled out I managed to put on another popular combination in their place. When things go wrong and the advertised acts don’t appear, a good promoter replaces them with something equally good. In this case, Urban Dogs (featuring Charlie Harper from the UK Subs and Knox from The Vibrators) and The Negativz were plenty good enough to keep just about everyone happy. Also, I was able to tell the audience that Serious Drinking had promised to make an appearance very soon. When they did accept a booking three months later, they’d only agree to it if they could headline. The band I’d booked for the same night was King Kurt who didn’t mind going on first, so Serious Drinking got their wish but had little luck trying to follow Kurt!
The following week’s Lancashire skinhead package of One Way System and Genocide (replacing right-wing skins Antisocial), was much more hardcore. Again, these two bands brought Lancashire fans with them. What all these gigs were successfully doing was bringing in new audiences from throughout the north of England and beyond. In this way Brannigans was rapidly gaining a reputation as one of the best punk venues on the UK circuit… as evinced by the quality of the bands listed on the next flyer,
Nick Toczek, August /September 2018