Thursday 3rd March 1977 – Johnny Thunders/Siouxsie and the Banshees – Nag’s Head
This is the first night of a three date Ron Watts promoted ‘USA Rock Weekend’ at The Nag’s Head. First up is Johnny Thunders and his Heartbreakers with a low key support from a new look Siouxsie and The Banshees who have been gigging for less than two weeks.
It’s a busy evening at The Nag’s but not everybody ventures upstairs to witness this early incarnation of Siouxsie & The Banshees. The Banshees had debuted the September 1976 100 Club Punk Festival – Sid Vicious banging the drums and Marco Pirroni on guitar. Banshees originals, 19 year old Siouxsie Sioux (real name Susan Ballion) and two year senior Steve Severin (real name Steven Bailey) had then go on to recruit Kenny Morris (20) on drums and Peter Fenton (around 20) on guitar.
The Banshees’ appearance at The Nag’s Head in March 1977 is often listed as their third ever gig but that is certainly not the case. Following their 100 Club debut in September 1976 the new look band had finally debuted at The Red Deer Pub in Croydon on 24th February 1977.
The third live outing had actually come the day before their trip down the A40, when they supported Johnny Thunders and his Heartbreakers at The Roxy in London. Confirmation the gig actually took place comes from a review published in the 12th March 1977 edition of Sounds.
Giovanni Dadomo, writing about the Banshees, said:
I didn’t expect too much here to tell the absolute truth because the last and only previous experience I’d had of Siouxsie and co, had been at the 100 Punkfest of a few months back. At that time what had travelled under the banner had struck me as being as much of an event as a band, little rehearsed, very obviously non-musical in most respects and most likely nothing more than a one-off diversion.
Not so. This time around Siouxsie fronts an extremely powerful quartet who can and do make very tasty noises which are anything but unrehearsed. Siouxsie herself doesn’t have a great rock ‘n’ roll voice — as if that really ever mattered — but her material shows considerable flair and intelligence, particularly ‘Bad Shape’ and ‘Love In A Void’. Their manager reckons greatness is three weeks away; I’d maybe lengthen the odds a little but I wouldn’t deny a wealth of potential.
The High Wycombe gig creates less of an impression on the few who made it upstairs in time to hear their stark sound. Described by some as ‘shambolic’, with Fenton looking particular awkward and ill-fitting on guitar. Siouxsie’s fashion shock techniques of the time, including adorning a swastika armband, were perhaps in hindsight, a step too far. But the Banshees were still testing the water.
Giovanni Dadomo’s description of the crowd at the previous evening’s gig gives an insight into the type of audience attending punk gigs at the time. An image far from the press portrayal.
Can’t say how many people in the audience agreed [with the potential of the band] because there wasn’t much reaction going down either for or against. See, the Roxy’s clientele has changed dramatically of late to take in all manner of freaks, hippies, long-hairs, even middle-aged European tourists, most of whom just stand slack-jawed no matter what’s happening onstage, leaving excitement as the domain of the two or three dozen hard-core fanatics at the front who haven’t got bands of their own yet.
Commenting on the Banshees first venture onto the live circuit, Siouxsie would later reflect:
“The scene was pretty much based in central London, so we liked the idea of getting as far away as possible so that nobody we knew might actually come and see us. The suburbs seemed safe because everyone there was totally clueless.”
Songs played are most likely to have included: ‘Carcass’, ‘Helter Skelter’ , ‘Captain Scarlet’, ‘Scrapheap, ‘Psychic’, ‘Make up to Break Up’, plus the previously mentioned ‘Bad Shape’ and ‘Love in a Void’.
It would be more than a year before The Banshees would be signed by a record label.
This is Siouxsie & The Banshees performing Bad Shape at The Roxy in March or April 1977. Filmed on Super 8 by Don Letts for the Punk Rock Movie.
Meanwhile, Johnny Thunders has been in the UK since the chaotic ‘Anarchy Tour’ at the end of 1976. A series of cancelled dates had left gig time short and he had now gone on the road as a headliner in his own right.
A 24 year old Johnny Thunders had formerly been with The New York Dolls but their split in the summer of 1975 (when Malcolm McClaren was Manager) saw the guitarist form The Heartbreakers. Eventually settling on the line-up of Billy Rath (bass), Walter Lure (guitar) and fellow former Doll, Jerry Nolan on drums.
The Heartbreakers set at The Nag’s Head was reviewed by Kris Needs in the April 1977 edition of Zig Zag.
I went to see The Heartbreakers recently during the New York weekend at The Nags Head, High Wycombe. They completely and utterly did me in!! The group careered through 45 explosive minutes of songs like ‘Chinese Rocks’, ‘Get Off The Phone’, ‘Let Go’, ‘All By Myself’ and ‘Goin’ Steady’.
By the time Johnny Thunder took off his guitar and spun the band into the encore, ‘Do You Love Me’, the crowd had pogoed itself into a sweating, twitching heap. The Heartbreakers were slicing through the thick air and our brains like machettes – and it felt bleedin’ great!
Walter looks like a psychopath, hacking his guitar in great windmill thrashes, occasionally lurching over next to Johnny, who’s as magnificent as ever, but exercising slightly more control now, which reflects in his groin-grabbing playing. Johnny does all the announcements in his Noo Yawk street drawl too, and shares vocals with Mr. Lure (as he does the songwritng).
This is Johnny Thunders and His Heartbreakers performing Chinese Rocks – also shot for the Punk Rock Movie by Don Letts.
The USA Rock Weekend shows would continue the following evening with the visit of Cherry Vanilla. Support would come from another relatively unknown band called The Police.