Varukers …just time for one more song…
Spring 98 I had 3 gigs under my belt and my 4th one imminent – 3 days after my 3rd gig. If that doesn’t seem like the best idea, it’s because it wasn’t. What happened was that Stu from Truth Decay told me that one of my favourite new bands, anti-fascist skinheads Short N Curlies were looking for a gig on their way back home to Norwich from Sheffield. This was good because some of the Leicester punks had seen them and been impressed. New Sheffield Oi band Violent Affray would be up for supporting. It was a Bank Holiday Sunday. The Physio wasn’t available but the Charlotte was. Better still there was an all dayer in Nottingham on the Bank Holiday Monday. This meant I could in theory get an additional band cheap by offering the gig to one of the bands travelling to Nottingham (bands at this level were generally happy to play for petrol money). I got hold of reformed 80s Merseyside band Instant Agony who confirmed and would stay at mine. What could go wrong?
There were pros and cons to The Charlotte. On the plus side it was a well established venue, slightly more central than the Physio, and would print the flyers for you. On the other hand it was more expensive to hire, which more than cancelled out the free flyers. Still the gig looked like a success …on paper.
One issue was the political aspect. Rumours had got around after the Dog On A Rope gig (and another unconnected incident) of Leicester being some kind of Fourth Reich stronghold, although Short N Curlies weren’t the kind of band to back away from confrontation. On the evening the bands turned up and went off to get food. Shortly after someone approached me and warned me that some hefty looking skinheads had just walked into the backdoor of the venue. I went to investigate – it was Curlies coming back with food! Still, an understandable concern, or at least it would have been if the person who’d told me hadn’t travelled down from Sheffield with them!
In the end the gig went without incident. As usual the crowd was only around 35 paying punters. Curlies kept pointedly dedicating anti-fascist songs to the fascists to no response so they obviously weren’t there. Curlies seemed to get a lukewarm reception for no obvious reason, but the consensus was that Violent Affray were really good, so they were a shoe-in to get booked again.
I took £60 after paying the Charlotte so decided to split it 3 ways. Simple . Except that Instant Agony’s plan to stay at mine had been overruled by a member who’d decided that they were going to play the gig, return to Merseyside, and then travel to Nottingham the next day. He wasn’t happy at being only offered £20, but the gig had been agreed with my contact on the basis that they were travelling this way anyway. I stuck to my guns, but it left the gig on a sour note.
My next plan was to get the Varukers : I knew them, they were gigging regularly, they were popular, and they hadn’t played Leicester for 15 years.
While I was sorting that out Stu asked if I’d put on a Sunday gig for touring French hardcore punk band the Mass Murderers in June. I would! I rated their album and they were getting a name on the scene. They were unknown in Leicester but they looked the part and sounded a bit like the Exploited and One Way System. I could sell it! It was also the only Midlands date. It had success written all over it! Truth Decay and the new Welsh hardcore punk band, the brilliantly named In The Shit, were tour supports. My mates’ band who’d supported Truth Decay at The Charlotte had now got their act together so “The Wrong ‘Uns” were added to the flyer. Flyers were then reprinted when I was told it was “Rong Uns” not “Wrong Uns” (because it’s spelled “rong”..do you see what they did?). Flyers were distributed all over the Midlands. At a gig in Nottingham I was told that the Notts punks were coming en masse to see the Mass Murderers. What could go wrong?
For a start, my co-promoter the Mad Professor fell out with the new manager at the Physio & Firkin . The new manager seemed to be what some might politely call “full of it”. I was on the Prof’s side but two gigs were in the pipeline. He agreed I should go through with them. He planned to find somewhere else to promote. He went on to become a respected promoter on the Leicester music scene doing all sorts of weird stuff. The last time I saw him was at a sold out gig he’d put on just a few years ago so he’s done ok.
On the evening of the gig I arrived at the pub. There was no sign of the bands. “They’re probably not coming” said the new manager. He seemed about as supportive as a sack of shit. The bands did turn up, or at least 2 and a half of them. One of Truth Decay had been called away by a family emergency, although a couple were along for the ride. What we were lacking was punters. The Nottingham punks had failed to show at all. There was a smattering of people swelled by about 13 French mates of the Murderers who had chosen tonight to join the tour, which prevented the gig being a total embarrassment. One of my bugbears was the failure of the punk crowd from the Midlands to support my gigs . Another was people trying to blag their way in without paying. So you can imagine how pleased I was when a bunch of my mates walked in through the fire escape and told me they’d got no money and weren’t paying. After I’d harassed them they paid up, but the atmosphere was bad.
The Rong Uns played a good set this time with no one collapsing into the drumkit. In The Shit played a ferocious set to a muted response, which surprised them as they were going down well everywhere else. The members of Truth Decay were probably glad they didn’t have to put themselves through another Leicester gig. The Mass Murderers played a brilliant set, as if they were playing to a packed room. There were two opinions : people such as the soundman who were very impressed; and the core group of Leicester punks who gave a collective shrug and said “they weren’t that good”. The apathy on the local scene was another bugbear.
I paid them £65. Stu told them that this was ok considering it was Leicester and they seemed to accept that! Simon the Rong Uns drummer invited the bands and their travelling mates back to his which was good because I’d have had trouble getting them all into mine.
I was getting frustrated with the lack of support from outside Leicester. No one owed to me to come to my gigs, but often I was handed flyers to gigs elsewhere and if I indicated that I didn’t know or even like the bands was urged come anyway to “support the scene”. The same obviously didn’t apply in reverse. Another thing I heard was “you can’t get back from Leicester” which would have been fair enough. If it wasn’t bollocks. Trains went well after closing time to Derby, Nottingham and Birmingham, they just didn’t go the other way to Leicester. I started printing train times on the back of flyers!
It felt thankless but it wasn’t. The Mass Murderers had a record label and put out an EP featuring a track by each band they’d gigged with, which gave the Rong Uns got their first vinyl outing.
Next up was the Varukers in August. It took a while to convince singer Rat as when they’d played 15 years ago the gig had been attacked by “fascist” skinheads. Local mates explained that the skins hadn’t been politically motivated, they’d just smashed the gig up for fun…but there was no denying it had been smashed up. I persuaded Rat that things had chilled now. I booked Contempt and Chineapple Punx , and a very young Notts band called Bad Habit, though they were replaced by The Rong Uns .
Holidays In The Sun was two weeks before and at this point the Varukers had yet to play it. I went into flyering frenzy. I got some excited reactions from foreign punks telling me “I’ve never seen Varukers!” It turned out the timing of the gig had inadvertently been a stroke of genius.
On the night I arrived to find the Physio was full of punks from around the Midlands and beyond (Serbia!). The bands were there. What could go wrong?…the Varukers’ bass amp blowing during the soundcheck! Help was at hand as Colin from the Rong Uns went to pick up his own amp. What else? The soundman had a headache and couldn’t face doing the job, but happily mixed the sound near perfectly and left everything set up. The other problem was the new manager’s attitude. Despite the gig now running an hour late he insisted it finish dead on 11pm. There were 4 bands to fit in in 1 and a half hours. The scene was set for a rollercoaster ride. I’ve never seen another gig where that’s happened – maybe there hasn’t been one! The key to it was ruthless Sgt Major style discipline. Wasn’t punk originally supposed to be about just getting up , doing it, and not outstaying your welcome? No problem then. The Rongs Uns played for 10 minutes, and the Chineapples and Contempt for 15 minutes each, with a 5 minute turnaround between each. The funniest thing about this was that the Chineapples had lots of comedy stage props which made sense in the context of specific songs, but speeding through the set singer Alan Growbag (!) was hastily swapping police helmet for false moustache for Viking helmet with no relevance to the song they were playing. There was a 10 minute gap and Varukers went on at 10.25 and played a storming set. Some normal looking punters arrived at the door apparently expecting to see an entirely different band , took one look at the room full of mohicaned heads and said “We’ve gone back to the 80s!”. Compliments didn’t get much higher. At 10.57 the manager appeared to tell me Varukers could only play one more song. They were on their last song anyway. Then Rat realised in the rush they’d forgotten I Don’t Wanna Be A Victim one of their classics. Three minutes wouldn’t make a difference I thought. The manager appeared again. He was furious and demanded I get on stage and stop them. To placate him I got up and made a half arsed attempt to do that while Rat just sang in my face. Then I was told that I had to get everyone out by 11.30pm. The best gig I’d put on ended with me harassing everyone to drink up. I paid all the bands. Chineapples didn’t want anything as they’d sold a couple of t shirts! I forced some money onto them anyway. I also made a profit – £20! It was easily swallowed up by losses on other gigs.
The next day I randomly bumped into the manager. He grabbed me and said urgently “When’s your next gig?” “They’re not all that good” I told him, but he urged me to book something anyway. I guess he’d checked the till receipts.
I saw Rat a few days later. “Good gig” he said “Pity there was no one there from Leicester”. Ouch. Made a change though. It was my best gig – there was only one way to go…
Playlist (Violent Affray reserved til later in the series due to there only being one song on youtube!)0