Part Two: Maydaze!
Before I get round to the details of the Bad Brains 4 May gig at Brannigans, have some history… Back in 1983, the far right was still street-active. In Yorkshire there was notable support for the National Front (including a handful of punks), the British Movement (which attracted mostly skinheads) and Blood & Honour which was a specifically music-related skinhead organisation with its own white power bands, spearheaded by Skrewdriver, and much promoted in assorted racist skinzines.
I was fairly sure that putting on a black American punk band like Bad Brains would meet with some opposition. Sure enough, as Brannigans filled up for their first gig, there was a larger than usual skinhead presence. As the band came onstage, some twenty or thirty of these skins, none of whom I recognised from previous gigs, moved forward to stand right in front of the band. They clearly hadn’t come as fans, all of them just standing there staring at the musicians throughout the first number, which was a loud punk thrasher. It was a tense situation.
I needn’t have worried. Though the dreadlocked Rasta band came across as gentle and peaceful individuals – especially frontman Joseph (known as H.R.) who was soft-spoken and carried a bible around most of the time – they were in fact street-tough ghetto kids from Washington DC, all of them muscled and fit.
Soon after they’d started into their second song, a slow and soulful slice of reggae, Joseph left the stage and went straight up to the two biggest skins who were obviously the ringleaders of the group. Without saying a word, he put an arm around the neck of each of them and marched the pair onto the stage. He then spoke briefly to them. Both nodded. He let go of them and, to my amazement, they stayed up there either side of him and began dancing. Soon all their mates in front of the stage were doing the same. After that, it couldn’t have been a better gig.
I’d booked the band to do a forty-five minute set, but these skinheads kept shouting for more. In the end we got more than ninety minutes of their unique combination of hardcore thrash alternating with blissed-out soulful reggae.
The band was staying at my place for a few days. When we got back home after the gig, I asked Joseph what on earth he’d said to those two skins. He laughed and then told me that when he put his arms round their necks he’d gripped them so tightly that they could hardly breathe. ‘They were big men’, he said, ‘so I wasn’t messing. I dragged them up there onto that stage and then asked them if they were going to dance because, if they weren’t, I said I was going to crush their f***ing necks… so they danced. I knew they would.’ And he laughed again. The next night, at Palm Cove, some of those same skinheads were there to see the band again. Amazing!
The following week I put on three nights (at three different venues) headlining Wiltshire punks The Subhumans. They were at Brannigans on Wednesday 11 May, The Palm Cove on Thursday 12 and The Vaults Bar in Bradford on Saturday 14 where real tension developed between the bikers who frequented the place and saw it as their own and the sizeable crowd of punks who now filled the back room where the stage was. I discussed these events in my coverage of the Palm Cove gigs. It’s worth emphasising that it hadn’t even crossed my mind that there’d be any problem with this venue. Back in the late seventies and very early eighties, The Vaults Bar had been a popular regular venue for local punk and indie bands, with little or no trouble from the bikers. The Negatives had done several gigs there, as had New Model Army, my own band, Ulterior Motives, and dozens of other local groups. However, there hadn’t been much live music there for a couple of years and the bikers had obviously decided to discourage it. You’ll find my account of my own experiences during and after this gig in my blog story ‘A Price On My Head’
I’d booked this Vaults Bar gig as a favour to Dick who fronted The Subhumans and organised their tours. They were already booked for my two Wednesday and Thursday club nights with excellent support from three West Yorkshire bands The Instigators, The Underdogs and Anti-System. They’d then got a gig up north on the Friday and wanted the extra Saturday night gig on their way home. The Instigators were happy to support again. With little time to properly publicise this Vaults Bar gig I simply announced it at the Brannigans and Palm Cove gigs and booked an extra band, Bradford hardcore punx The Convulsions, who I knew would bring down a good few fans and friends. Despite the tension during the Vaults Bar gig, all three gigs actually went well.
As if the three Subhumans gigs weren’t enough, I also put on two extra gigs with The Adicts supported by Panorama In Black, on the Monday at The Manhattan Club in Bradford (see my write-up on that club for how that gig went) and on the Tuesday at Brannigans. It was a busy week.
The Vibrators headlined the following week supported by Monkey On A Rope. They were a legendary band and they filled the club, as had both The Adicts and The Subhumans the week before.
As I remember it, there was also a huge crowd for the last May gig, featuring two top psychobilly bands, The Meteors and The Gauna Batz. I’ve lost the flyer that listed this gig, so please get in touch to correct me if I’m wrong about when this gig was.
Nick Toczek, August / September 2018