22 June 1977 – Talking punk on the streets of High Wycombe

High Wycombe’s local paper, The Bucks Free Press, took to the streets in June 1977 to find the views of the growing punk scene.  A “Speakers’ Corner” article written by local junior journalist Janice Raycroft, with photos by staff photographer Bob Mead, was published in the Midweek Bucks Free Press on Wednesday 22nd June 1977.  It discovered views on the punk movement that were more or less reflective across the entire UK at the time.  ‘Rubbish’, ‘Noise’, ‘Not up to much musically’, ‘It’s just a phase’ and ‘a disgrace’, were just some of the comments printed.

Bucks Free Press Midweek – 22 June 1977

Janice Raycroft had been lucky enough to witness The Sex Pistols appearance at High Wycombe College in February 1976.  Her review of the gig, under her maiden name, published a few days later in the Bucks Free Press Midweek is thought to be only the second ever live review of the Sex Pistols.  It was the 40 year anniversary of the February 1976 gig that provided the inspiration to start the research for what became wycombegigs.co.uk.

Although High Wycombe had gone on to host several ‘punk’ gigs between February 1976 and June 1977, the local punk scene was still very much in its infancy.  Many of the ‘punk’ gigs had been played out to just a handful of people and the musical output had yet to make any serious impact on the UK charts.

However, that was beginning to change following the release of Sex Pistols second single ‘God Save The Queen’ in May 1977 and its subsequent air time ban by the BBC.  Intentional or not, the ban lifted sales to an estimated 20,000 copies a day and it peaked at No.2 in the charts during the week of 5th June 1977 – sitting behind Rod Stewart’s ‘I Don’t Want To Talk About it’ – an ironic title considering that the chart compilers ‘didn’t want to talk about’ allegations of possible manipulation of sales figures to ensure The Sex Pistols didn’t reach the top spot.

But what did the High Wycombe public want to talk about at a time when The Pistols shared the top ten with the likes of Kenny Rogers (Lucille), Barbra Streisand (A Star is Born), Joe Tex (Ain’t Gonna Bump No More) and The Jacksons (Show You The Way To Go)?

Secretarial student Iona Crichton said of the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’:

“It’s a load of rubbish really.  A lot of talking and noise.  You can’t really seem to dance to it but the punk rockers seem to like it.”

Apprentice Engineer Maurice Fish went on:

“Punk will probably be like other crazes and die down when people get bored with it but there are more [punks] appearing in High Wycombe at the moment.”

Interesting to note that both of the first two people interviewed had heard the single played on the jukebox in the Coach & Horses pub in the High Street in High Wycombe.

22 year old motor mechanic Edward Wright added:

“It’s just a phase like all the others. When I was at school it was skinheads or greasers.  You grow out of it.  When people get bored with this punk rock stuff something else will come along.”

He continued

“It won’t last because the music will not appeal to enough people.  I don’t take any real notice of it.  Tamla Motown and The Beatles are much better to listen to.”

 Another 20 something, Peter Seymour of High Wycombe, was far more upset.

 “Their ‘God Save The Queen’ is a disgrace to the Queen.  I can’t understand why they picked on the Queen. If you are going to do that there’s a lot better people to pick on.  She has done no harm and can’t answer back.”

The final word went to Rosemary Dawson who travelled five days a week to work in London where she had noted the rise of punk rock fashion on the streets.  She said:

“The music has nothing to offer me.  There is no musical ability involved and the result has no artistic merit.”

A closer look at the Bucks Free Press from 22 June 1977

Looking back on this piece some 40 years later, it’s a shame there was nobody even remotely ‘punk’ looking interviewed for the piece and there was literally not one good word said about a release that went on to be set in stone as an iconic piece of punk rock.  However, that is probably more reflective of the slow up take of punk in both High Wycombe and the nation as a whole, rather than a deliberate ploy by the journalists to suppress alternative viewpoints.

The outpouring of negative and prejudice views on punk rock are also typical of the time.  Dressing as a punk and/or simply just liking punk music during the first half of 1977 would have you labelled as a freak.

But after ‘God Save The Queen’ become the first truly punk single to make the top 10 of the UK charts, it set the scene for several more ‘punk’ singles to break into the charts.  The Stranglers, Peaches followed shortly afterwards, while The Sex Pistols’ third single, Pretty Vacant, released in early July 1977, also burst into the top ten during the summer of 1977.

The High Wycombe punk scene also started to explode during the summer of 1977.  In July 1977 there was a first ever local punk band night down The Nag’s Head, while promoter Ron Watts started putting on gigs at The Town Hall to cater for the growing demand for the punk and new wave scene.  Keep an eye on wycombegigs.co.uk for details of those gigs – and, of course, if you have any memories, memorabilia or just a screwed up gig ticket, please get in touch.

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