Wayne County and The Electric Chairs returned for a third performance of the year in High Wycombe with a headline slot at The Town Hall on Monday 21st November 1977. Support came from Alternative TV (ATV) and very early appearance by West London outfit, The Ruts.
This was another Ron Watts promoted gig and came on what was becoming a regular Monday night slot. The brief run of Monday night gigs at The Town Hall appears to have come in direct competition to the new Tuesday night ‘punk’ nights at The Newlands Club.
I am indebted again to my friend ‘Buzz’ for not only confirming the date of this gig from his 1977 diary, but also using his diary to recall his experiences at The Town Hall that evening. Buzz’s Diary reports that the doors opened at 7.30pm and the small gathering audience watched Wayne County & The Electric Chairs conclude their soundcheck.
The almost completely unknown Ruts were first on stage and according to Buzz’s diary, “played 20 minutes of undistinguished hard punk”. Looking back on the formation of The Ruts some 40 years after their High Wycombe appearance, it appears they got together just a month or so before stepping on stage at The Town Hall. The line-up was Malcom Owen (vocals), Paul Fox (guitar), John ‘Segs’ Jennings (bass) and Dave Ruffy (drums).
Much of the online history of The Ruts has been derived from an interview with ‘Segs’, released as part of the 2001 Ruts compilation album, “Bustin’ Out”. The interview recalls The Ruts first ever gig had taken place on 16 September 1977 at The Target pub in Northolt. The first sessions were recorded in October 1977 (a YouTube audio clip is included at the foot of this article).
At the time of writing this piece I’d not had a chance to listen to the interview but this also appears to be origins of the claim that the definitive Ruts line-up (listed above) made their live debut at High Wycombe Town Hall supporting Wayne County – however, the date is listed as 25 January 1978 rather than 21 November 1977. I can only assume that recollections of dates have been blurred over the years – clarification from anybody reading this would be appreciated.
Back to 21 November 1977. Alternative TV were fronted by Sniffin’ Glue fanzine founder Mark Perry and had been formed earlier in 1977 with a line-up Alex Fergusson (guitar), Tyrone Thomas (bass) and Chris Bennet (drums). The catalyst for forming the band appears to be Perry’s disillusionment with the punk movement, which by mid-1977 had succumbed, in the main, to the pressures of record company commercialisation. Perry’s attitude at the time is summed up in his lyrics to ATV’s 1977 ‘How Much Longer’:
How much longer will people wear
Nazi armbands and dye their hair?
Safety pins and spray your clothes
Talk about anarchy, fascism and boredom?
Well you don’t know nuthin’
but you don’t really care
By the time of their appearance at High Wycombe Town Hall it appears that Alex Fergusson had left the band following disagreements with Perry. Thomas filled in on guitar to set-up a basic raw sound that left much of the audience baffled.
It certainly didn’t impress a teenage ‘Buzz’ who wrote in his diary, “To our surprise and disgust [ATV] were useless. On two occasions their guitarists broke strings in the middle of songs and it was a very lifeless set played to less than 100 people. I was very disappointed by the pathetically small audience, although there was a lot still in the bar.”
Clearly the majority of the audience had come to the see the flamboyant Wayne County. He had played at The Nag’s Head on two occasions earlier in 1977 (6 March 1977 and 9 April 1977). The headline appearance, at the much larger capacity Town Hall was an ambitious step for an act more used to the pub and club circuit but in the week before the High Wycombe gig were also top of the bill for a performance (also with ATV support) at Portsmouth Pavilion Ballroom (16 November 1977). While the following night they supported The Adverts at London Roundhouse, again with ATV as an additional support act on the bill.
With those two previous High Wycombe appearances behind them, they proved more popular with the Monday night audience. Buzz recalls: “Everyone assembled down the front to watch. Wayne County is an extraordinary showman…dressed in multi-coloured socks, sandals, tea-cosy on his head, eyelashes, lipstick, loose shirt and jeans, incredibly funny chats between songs. Great music, great backing band by The Electric Chairs.”
Wayne County would return to the more appropriately sized Nag’s Head twice more the following year (1978), by which time he was on his way to becoming Jayne County. ATV released a few independent records in 1978 and 1979 but don’t appear to have returned to High Wycombe – although friends, ‘Here and Now’ did pack out the Nag’s Head in 1979. The Ruts were the group who blossomed the most, taking reggae and ska influences to produce some of the most powerful post-punk records ever. They would return as support for The Damned at The Town Hall in April 1979 on the verge of their break-through into the public eye.
For your viewing pleasure
Ruts – 1st demo session – October 1977
Alternative TV —Life After Life – live 1977
Alternative TV —How Much Longer?
Wayne County and The Electric Chairs – Live in France October 1977
Judging by this video, it appears he may dressed down for the Town Hall gig a month later!