Part Four: End Times
For the first gig of November 1983, rather than go for an obvious headliner, I put on four really promising bands, each already building a following. They were Riot Squad from Mansfield, The Mau Maus from Sheffield, Londoners Dead Man’s Shadow and, making a welcome return, The Skeptix from Stoke-on-Trent. This worked and there was a good turnout. At last, people were beginning to trust my choices and the club was actually becoming somewhere to go, regardless of which bands were on. There was now a solid core of people who turned up every week without fail.
With winter already on its way and the nights getting colder, I did however want to ensure continued good attendance and so booked in some stalwarts. The bill of G.B.H. supported by English Dogs was an excellent start, and this was followed by The Exploited finally appearing after their cancellation two months earlier. I can’t now remember which band or bands played support to them. One week later UK Subs – always popular – were ably supported by London Goth-punx, Actifed, and Scarborough skins The Burial.
Punk was always broader than it sometimes seemed from outside. Thus it embraced skinhead Oi! (which, in the case of bands like The Burial, was heavily flavoured with ska), fast ‘n’ hard rockabilly (dubbed psychobilly), and the emerging Goth scene (as pioneered by the likes of former punks Siouxie And The Banshees and the much heavier Sisters Of Mercy). It also adopted ranting poets of course as well as novelty acts ranging from Jilted John to The Toy Dolls.
The last September date featured the debut appearance at the club of another much-requested band, Chron Gen from Letchworth in Hertfordshire. Supporting them was the neatly-named Sid Presley Experience (later to become The Godfathers). I’d sometimes book on the strength of their name, knowing that it’d look good and intriguing on a flyer. The Sid Presley Experience came into this category, as did Sex Gang Children, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Gaye Bykers On Acid, Ginger John The Doomsday Commando, and Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction.
December should have begun quietly enough but turned out to be a much more exciting and eventful month than I’d anticipated. The quiet beginning would have been the month’s opening pair of regular club nights, both of which featured an interesting selection of bands. First up was a second appearance by Befast punx The Defects. They were supported by two local bands – Keighley’s newly-formed Goth combo, The Skeletal Family, and Bradford outfit, Anti-System. The second gig was another package headlined by Disorder and The Amebix, supports being Antisect from Daventry in Northamptonshire and Famous Imposters from Sunderland (one of a whole bunch of bands based around The Bunker which served as a venue, rehearsal space, punk community centre and more). What threw a spanner in the works was when George, the manager of Brannigans, told me (with much regret) during the first of those two gigs that the venue was closing and this was the last of my gigs there. At very short notice, I had to find a new venue. Knowing this was coming, I’d already been talking with two guys who were running The Dortmunder Bier Keller in the nearby Merrion Centre. They were keen to have me work there and agreed to go ahead immediately. So, week two of December saw Disorder, The Amebix, Antisect and Famous Imposters play The Bier Keller. Despite the disruption, both of these gigs were well-attended.
For the third and fourth Wednesdays of the month, 21 and 28 December, I’d planned two gigs featuring six bands on each bill. The first was billed as The Negativez’ Xmas Party. The second as The Underdogs’ New Year Party. One advantage of the move to The Bier Keller was more space, so the six bands and their gear fitted in much more easily
Although the new venue was welcoming and showed promise, it still rankled that these gigs too had originally been scheduled for Brannigans. I’d loved that venue and had done so much work to establish it. Working with George as a manager had been great and we’d become friends. I also got on well with the main bouncer, Jacko. I trusted and relied on both of them and liked the fact that understood and welcomed the punks and skinheads. My DJ, a punk called Cockney (real name Neil) with his short hair dyed in a leopard-skin pattern, had been excellent, as had Gerry the ever-patient aging hippy with a long blond ponytail whose Yellow Cab sound-system did justice to so many of the bands. And then there was also Ginger John, the ranting poet and consummate ligger who was now a lodger in my house. Brannigans had been our common denominator. Leaving it was real wrench.
After Cockney left Bradford, I briefly had an Asian punk called Shweb as my DJ (and another of my lodgers) before Ginger took over DJing duties, also helping out with the smooth-running of the gigs.
In the middle of this disruption, I had been offered and had booked my biggest band to date, The Damned. They’d been the first UK punk band to release a single (‘New Rose’ in 1976) and the first with an album (‘Damned, Damned, Damned’ in 1977). They, The Sex Pistols and The Clash had been the trio of bands indisputably at the forefront of British punk. The Pistols had broken up in 1978. The Clash, having lost drummer Topper Headon in 1982, replaced him with original drummer Terry Chimes who then quit in early 1983. In September 1983 they sacked guitarist Mick Jones. Effectively, that marked the end of The Clash even though frontman Joe Strummer and bassist Paul Simenon struggled on for three years with a varied line-up. Booking The Damned was therefore about as big as I could go at the end of 1983 as a punk promoter.
As if all this wasn’t enough, before this gig and between the two six-band Xmas and New Year Party gigs, I had also booked and was to promote two pre-Xmas gigs by King Kurt, both with Popeye’s Dick as their support. The first was at The Palm Cove Club on Monday 19 December. The second was next day at Jilly’s, a club on Oxford Road in Manchester. And the day after that was The Negativz’ Xmas Party at The Bier Keller.
The Damned had wanted a bigger venue and a larger-scale gig than I could have offered at Brannigans, so I’d already arranged to put their gig on at The Bier Keller as a try-out before knowing about the abrupt closure of Brannigans. Like me, the management of The Bier Keller were looking forward to this prestigious gig… but it wasn’t to be.
While I’d been negotiating with The Bier Keller, the agency and management of The Damned had, however, quietly gone behind my back and made other arrangements. They’d been in discussion with John Keenan, the other big Leeds promoter of punk, indie and local band gigs, and had come to an agreement that he’d put The Damned on at an even bigger Leeds venue, Queens Hall, which was where Keenan had already been running his amazing annual Futurama festivals. This venue was a vast hall the size of an aircraft hangar which had been the city’s main bus depot. Little used, it was demolished a few years later with the site subsequently serving as a much-needed city centre car park.
I got a series of phone calls from various people involved with The Damned reassuring me that they all wanted my involvement. This is why, on the flyer for the Queens Hall gig, after all the other credits on the top line, it says ‘N.Toczek’.
If I sound bitter, I wasn’t until the day of the gig. I liked John Keenan and was glad to still have a role to play. Thus, having already booked The Damned, I went on to book all the other bands apart from Screaming Lord Such And The Savages who were booked by the management of The Damned. I think I did an amazing job. Take a look at who else was on: UK Subs, GBH, Angelic Upstarts, Abrasive Wheels, Chelsea, Action Pact, Newtown Neurotics, English Dogs, The Enemy, The Burial, H-Men and The Partisans. For anyone into punk in December 1983, that was a truly excellent bill and a precursor to Rebellion.
I’d originally had The Damned booked for The Bier Keller on Tuesday 27 December with The Enemy and The Burial as the support bands. The date was then changed to Friday 30 December for this much more ambitious Queens Hall event, starting at 2 p.m. and due to finish at 10.30 p.m. My job on the day was to look after all the bands. Naively, perhaps, I’d imagined that I’d be working closely with Keenan, his crew and business partners, the venue staff, etc. Not so. I was left to do this unaided. Again, that worked out okay simply because I knew all the support bands, got on well with them and found them all very grateful to be booked onto this prestigious gig. It was certainly the biggest purely punk gig that had ever happened in the north of England.
However (that word again) what made the whole thing truly awful for me was the fact that Rat Scabies, the drummer with The Damned, simply decided to treat me as his personal servant and errand boy. Unused to any such creepy treatment, I tried hard at first to placate him… even when he screamed at me and physically threatened me because I’d failed to score the drugs that he’d sent me out to buy for him.
In this life you occasionally encounter truly disturbing people you hope you’ll never meet again. They are mercifully few. I can think of five such people that I’ve had to face. One was the serial murderer from Bradford whom the press dubbed ‘The Crossbow Killer’. I met him. Another was a guy who’d not only battered more than a dozen of his female partners but had also punched and kicked some of their children. I knew him far too well. The other three were people who simply enjoyed bullying others in order to bolster themselves. I may well be completely wrong in counting Rat Scabies among that trio. All I know for certain is that if he’d not been there I’d have really enjoyed that Queens Hall gig and would have treasured the memory of it. Instead, I’ve had recurring nightmares about it.
Ah, but we all have to move on… and I moved on to The Bier Keller for the next five months. And that turned out to be a genuine pleasure.
Nick Toczek, August / September 2018