October/November 1977 – Newlands Club becomes Punk venue

The Newlands Club in High Wycombe opened its doors briefly to punk gigs during October and November 1977.  The venue, sometimes described as a ‘concrete bunker’, had been constructed under the flyover, built as part of the Octagon shopping centre opened in 1968, and was better known for hosting DJ evenings rather than live music.  Local punks, The Xtraverts, would be one of the first bands to grace its small stage in 1977, with Eater, Rejects and Pink Parts all following in a flurry of activity before the end of the year.

Newlands Club – Bucks Free Press adverts – October and November 1977

The entrance of the Newlands Club was located almost opposite the entrance to Tesco’s Supermarket and just before the main vehicle entrance to the High Wycombe Bus Station –the latter also built as part of the Octagon shopping centre. From 1968 until the early 1970’s, the small venue hosted the Windrush Twylight Club and boasted early appearances by Sweet and Genesis.  During the mid-1970’s it then become more popular as a disco venue and is well documented as a place where locally born Adrian Sherwood would go to play reggae records bought during his Saturday afternoon shopping excursions to London.

The loss of the Nag’s Head as a ‘punk’ venue in September 1977 is believed to be one of the driving factors why The Newlands Club was targeted as a new live music venue in the latter months of 1977. A 999 gig at The Nag’s Head on 1 September 1977 had seen altercations between the young punks and an older crew out for a fight.  ‘Punk’ gigs at The Nag’s Head were subsequently banned by the Landlord but just over a month later an alternative venue was found.

On Tuesday 4 October 1977, a day after The Bunch of Stiffs Tour at High Wycombe Town Hall, a relatively small crowd turned up to see The Xtraverts blast out their version of punk rock.  Support came from The Vermin but despite their threatening name, were not considered part of the local punk rock scene.  Meanwhile, The Xtraverts were continuing to build up their local following having started gigging mid-way through 1977.  They included former Deathwish bassist Carlton Mounsher but he was set to leave and join up with a new band playing the following week.

On Tuesday 11 October 1977, it was the turn of The Party to try their luck.  The Party had been created out of the remains of Deathwish and The Pretty – Deathwish had been formed in the latter months of 1976 but had played their last gig by the time they supported Generation X at The Nag’s Head in March 1977.  Deathwish founder Kris Jozajtis, Mark White and Carlton Mounsher formed The Pretty shortly afterwards but played their only gig at the Nag’s Head High Wycombe Punk Night in June 1977.  The Party included Mark Reedman on vocals but their time would be relatively short too.  The songs they created in their brief time together as The Party included ‘This Last Daze’, ‘And This One’ and ‘I Used to be Happy’, ‘Kicks’ and ‘Fear of the Night’.

It’s also understood that members of The Party were responsible for organising the gigs at The Newlands Club. Gigs were originally advertised with posters stuck up outside the venue but this later briefly expanded to adverts in the Bucks Free Press and listings in the regular weekly music papers, including NME, Melody Maker and Sounds.

The regular Tuesday ‘punk nights’ would continue on 18 October 1977 when the Varicose Veins would headline.  The support act was billed as The Mystery Girls but they pulled out at the last minute.  A delve around the internet 40 years after this gig reveals that The Varicose Veins were a ‘punk’ band based in Arlesey in Bedfordshire.  They had formed earlier in 1977 and had played support slots at The Roxy, Neal Street in London.  However, their punk pedigree did not make for a successful evening in High Wycombe.  My long time friend ‘Buzz’, recalls via his 1977 diary that ‘every aspect of the gig was a flop’. In addition to the no show by The Mystery Girls, there were technical problems with the PA and microphones.  The lead singer of The Varicose Veins moaned about the equipment, sound, audience and their female guitarist.  Buzz recalls: ‘Eventually the drummer kicked the drums over and stormed off, followed by the vocalist and lead guitarist. The girl sat down, obviously upset, and was comforted by friends.’ 

Buzz also remembers fellow High Wycombe Grammar School pupil Kris Jozajtis selling badges at the gig but was baffled at the poor attendance and how the venue could survive.

A quartet of gigs for the month was completed on Tuesday 25 October 1977 with an appearance by The Rejects.  The London based band had formed at the tail end of 1976 and made their debut live appearance as support to The Damned at The Roxy in January 1977.  They would later support the likes of The Jam, 999 and Generation X.  The line-up for the Wycombe gig is likely to have been frontman Bruno Wizard (real name: Bruno McQuillan), Jim Welton (bass), David Dus (drums) and Anton Hayman (guitar).  Dus was later drummer for Wayne County. The band changed their name to The Homosexuals in early 1978.

The Newlands Club gigs may have not been that popular but they certainly filled a need for at least the growing curiosity of the younger generation keen to see what ‘punk rock’ might have been all about. However, the addition of a rival venue to The Nag’s Head it not gain 100% acceptance.  Ron Watts recalls in his ‘100 Watts’ biography:  ‘I didn’t fancy the idea of sharing my audiences so I made myself busy for a few weeks putting on more punk than usual and the new venture didn’t last long. It might sound mercenary, but I’d spent years building up the very crowd they were trying to take away from me’.

The winners in this battle of the gigs would the general public, with a host of gigs to choose from during October and November 1977. Further gigs at The Newlands would take place on more Tuesdays during November 1977:  1 November – Pink Parts, 8 November – The Lurkers, 15 November – The Crabs and 22 November – Eater.  But Watts would step up his gig output via The Nag’s Head and The Town Hall – with the latter remaining the major venues in the Town as 1977 ended and 1978 brought a more commercial version of punk to the music scene both locally and nationally.  The Newlands Club would eventually fall to the wayside as a live music venue – although around 18 months later a similar venture at The Multi-Racial Centre (another ‘concrete bunker’ at the opposite end of the flyover), would open its doors to a ‘second-wave’ of punk.

If you remember going to any of this short run of gigs at The Newlands Club, please get in touch. I would particularly excited to hear from anybody who has copies of posters, photos or any other memorabilia.

For your viewing pleasure

Varicose Veins – Hiroshima – early 1978 single

Lurkers – Shadow – live 1977 at The Red Cow

Crabs – Lullabies Lie – Live at The Roxy December 1977

Eater performing ‘No Brains’ at The Roxy earlier in 1977

Further reading:

http://www.boredteenagers.co.uk/VARICOSE%20VEINS.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Homosexuals

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lurkers

http://www.boredteenagers.co.uk/CRABS.htm

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eater_(band)