Biff Bus …about to lose another tooth?
You can spend hours of your life debating what punk was “about” and some people do, but one thing I would say is central to almost any version of “What Punk Means” is the idea of “doing it yourself” – getting off your arse and forming a band, setting up a record label, writing a fanzine. Apart from the odd fanzine contribution I’ve never done any of these, but from 1998-2000, seeing as the bands I wanted to see didn’t play Leicester, I did get off my arse and put on my own gigs. As it’s 20 years ago I’m going to reminisce and write it down before my memory gets too hazy.
In 1994 I’d started going to punk gigs and was surprised to find that there was still a scene out there which included new bands. I started getting fanzines and buying new records. I found that places like Nottingham and Birmingham had healthy scenes. The problem was that I was in Leicester where the scene was crap. There weren’t many gigs apart from the old bands still creaking around (and twenty years on most of them still are), and the audience for what gigs there were was what Spinal Tap would call “more select”.
A prime example of such a select audience was a gig at a pub called the Physio & Firkin by Sheffield hardcore punk band Truth Decay. The gig had been booked by a quasi-professional promoter but the only promotion seemed to be a poster in the window. The poster had Truth Decay’s name in huge letters but helpfully told you nothing about them. It just happened that I’d seen them supporting Peter & The Test Tube Babies in Sheffield otherwise I wouldn’t even have noticed the poster. On the night a small crowd did turn up, but they had clearly turned up to see the mismatched indie support band. Me and a total of three other mates cheered Truth Decay on, while the rest of the “crowd” paid no attention. The singer Stu, despite wearing a Peter & The Test Tube Babies t-shirt, got a bit irritated with my mate shouting for Test Tubes songs (note to gig goers – the singer wearing another band’s shirt is not a guarantee that they’ll cover one of their songs. They might not even know any of their songs). It was pretty obvious that I could do a better job of promoting a gig like this. My deranged Test Tubes fan mate could. Maybe we could even organise a piss up in a brewery.
My mate approached the Charlotte , Leicester’s leading pub venue, where we were regulars, to see if we could put on a gig. They agreed and we arranged a gig for a Sunday with Distortion, a Cumbrian Oi band we’d met at that year’s Holidays In The Sun in Morecambe, and Truth Decay. It made sense to us – two bands that could work on the same bill but were different enough to each other to draw a wider crowd. We added Road Rage from Castle Donnington who’d been gigging all over the midlands. I threw together a cut and paste flyer from a photocopy of Truth Decay’s album cover (a picture of a drunk punk crashed out on the floor at a gig) and started handing them out to anyone who even looked vaguely punk , and posting them to any contacts I had. We were quite confident that the gig would rally the local scene and attract punks and skinheads from around the midlands….and if it didn’t it was a Sunday so it was hardly a disaster…
…Then The Charlotte suddenly changed the gig to the Saturday. I have no idea why. The staff member we were dealing with had seemed ridiculously enthusiastic, and I had wondered if he was expecting too much – something like the Pistols at Finsbury Park judging by his excitement. I was nervous about going with Saturday and falling flat on our faces, but would have gone for it. The trouble was Distortion and Road Rage weren’t available on the Saturday. Truth Decay were, but were no longer keen, perhaps suspecting that they’d be playing to the same 4 people, only this time two were now the gig promoters. We told the Charlotte the gig was off, but next time I went the posters were still up. I challenged them and was told that there would still be a gig, possibly featuring a skate punk band of some kind, which to me was a completely different audience. When I protested I was tersely told they’d “given up a Saturday” for the gig. Fine, but we had actually asked for the Sunday. Who knew a gig could be this difficult to organise?
I went down warily on the night , in case there was an angry bunch of punks and skins. In fact there didn’t seem to be any punks or skins at all , angry or otherwise. At which point the cancellation looked like the best thing that could have happened. I later got some stick about the cancellation – from one person! To this day, as far as I know, no one else was coming.
Months later I was still contemplating putting on a gig , possibly with Truth Decay, when I found out they were booked to play the Charlotte anyway. A bunch of elder statesmen of the Leicester scene who promoted the odd gig under he banner of Amphetamine Dummy had got talking to Stu at a record fair and had offered him a gig. They were more partial to the 77 type of punk and hadn’t heard Truth Decay or seen Stu with his Mohican fully spiked. On the cold wet night of the gig in January 98 I went down and was immediately pounced on by the Amphetamine Dummy guys and asked to do the door. I’d never done this before but they told me it was simple, taking the cash and stamp the punter’s hand with the fluorescent stamp. They then left me in charge and retired to the bar. Presumably they didn’t want to watch the Exploited type band they’d booked by accident.
Opening was a new unnamed local punk band playing their first gig. As soon as I was on the door I was accosted by the drummer, naked from the waist up, his torso covered in fluorescent stamps. “Give me a stamp!” he slurred. I gave him a stamp on his chest and he went off happy. This set the tone for their set – they staggered through about 4 songs before the drummer collapsed in a drunken fluorescent heap. But I liked them, at last here was a Leicester band playing the sort of thing I liked – or at least trying to. The crowd was very small. Truth Decay played a half hour set before hitting the curfew, asked for ten more minutes and were told no by the sound man so they dedicated their final song to him – it was called “Cunt”. Overall the gig hadn’t been the greatest success. I could a do better job of putting on a gig.
Sometime later I got into a slightly drunken conversation with a character that (unknown to him) I refer to affectionately as the Mad Professor (because he looks like a mad professor – the best nicknames are the simplest). He’d recently put the UK Subs on at the Physio. I suggested he should put more punk bands on and to my surprise he said he wanted to. He asked if I could do him a tape of bands I wanted to put on. Perhaps I was going for the shaved head and pilot jacket look that day because he added that he wouldn’t put on any fascist leaning bands. I assured him I had no intention of this. I compiled a tape and to convince him I included a fairly in-your-face song by Leeds band Dog On A Rope mocking the death of a certain infamous neo-Nazi singer. He got back to me and said he’d liked the whole tape, particularly DOAR. He wanted them on. This was great finally someone was going to be putting on the kind of gigs I wanted to see. Except that he wanted me to help him put the gig on. Go on then
I wrote a polite letter to their PO Box (for younger readers a PO Box is like a primitive version of an email address). Not too long afterwards singer Rob phoned me while I was on an evening shift at work. They wanted a Sunday night gig to finish a weekend mini-tour. We were underway. Next up I got a contact to help me get Sick On The Bus from Bedford. I’d met a couple of them at a gig and they’d told me they sounded like Motorhead meets The Damned. This description went on the flyer, a cheerfully amateurish effort. Short lived local 77 types, the Jet Junk Jivers , featuring a couple of the Amphetamine Dummy guys, agreed to open and I think this was their last gig.
I flyered like mad. Anyone into punk, anyone who looked like they might be into punk, anyone who mentioned punk in passing. Photocopied posters went up in any record shop that would have them. Wodges of flyers were posted out around the Midlands and , optimistically, even further. On one occasion I was on a bus and saw a vaguely alternative woman with a dog (on a rope? Possibly). The dog was sick (on the bus!). I’m pretty sure I had the gig flyers on me but decided not to pass one to her at the last minute. That might have looked a bit strange.
On the night things looked good. The bands arrived ; the Mad Professor gave them a rider (chips); the venue was ideal with great sound from the soundman who looked like Mick Hucknall but knew how to mix a punk band; and a decent crowd turned up. The gig took a little while to warm up. The precise moment that it warmed up was halfway through Sick On The Bus’ set when frontman Biff’s tooth suddenly shot out into the crowd, which broke the ice nicely. After this they went down a storm. DOAR were going down well as well. What could go wrong? What I hadn’t anticipated was that a couple of the audience turned out to be old fascists , who took exception to a the song mocking the deceased fuhrer wannabe ( “a great bloke” as they put it). Words were exchanged, DOAR refused to back down, and there was a brief stand-off until it became clear most of the audience sided with the band. The gig finished and after some more threats the fascist menace (all two of them) skulked off into the night. DOAR had dealt with much worse. And all because of the very song I’d put on the tape to convince the Mad Professor that I wasn’t dodgy!
Once the dust had settled the Professor invited me into a back room and told me that there was £27 each. I looked pleasantly surprised so he clarified that was £27 for each of the bands , not us. Which was fine, I wasn’t out to make money, but it was an eye opener. Still , he was happy with the gig and wanted to do more. Why not.? Apart from fascists and miniscule door takings, what could go wrong?
A very short playlist featuring Truth Decay, Sick On The Bus and Dog On A Rope to help you imagine the gigs!0