Friday 31st March 2000 – The Damned – White Horse, High Wycombe
The Damned return to High Wycombe after near 21 year absence. Captain Sensible greets the audience: “Good Evening! High Wycombe’s a sh*t hole, except this place of course because it gives us free beer.”
Manchester’s Joy Division made a late night appearance in High Wycombe on Wednesday 20th February 1980, just three months before the tragic suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis.
Support came from a rapidly rising Killing Joke plus A Certain Ratio and Section 25. High Wycombe’s The Jones Boys were also due to play but a combination of an overloaded billing and a delay in the gig getting underway, forced heated debates and a reluctant decision to step aside – much to the disappointment of many of the local crowd.
This is another gig where history revisionists could have a field day re-living the moment when a now iconic band, such as Joy Division, visited High Wycombe. However, re-winding back to February 1980, Joy Division were far from the symbolic post-punk band they were to become following the death of Curtis in May 1980.
Joy Division had released their debut album Unknown Pleasures in June 1979. Although critically acclaimed in the music press, the album did not chart. A support slot on a Buzzcocks tour later in 1979 was also thwart with technical problems, leaving the band as very much an underground outfit, albeit with an ever growing cult and loyal following.
The date at High Wycombe in February 1980 was part of their first UK outings where they headlined major venues – the High Wycombe appearance coming just under two weeks since a date at the University of London and just over a week prior to a prestigious headline slot at The Lyceum in London. All three of the dates included Killing Joke, ACR and S25 as support. However, the High Wycombe slot, promoted by Fresh Music, rather than local promoter Ron Watts, appears to have been slipped into the tour itinerary at a fairly late stage, therefore missing from many of the music paper listings and relying on local advertising and word of mouth.
Due on first were The Jones Boys. They had built up a healthy local support since changing their name from After Science towards the end of 1979. Consisting of three brothers from the Jones family (Roy, Martin and Paul) plus bassist Majid Ahmed, they had drawn decent crowds to The Nag’s Head and SU Bar in the weeks leading up to what would have been their first appearance on the biggest stage in High Wycombe. They included a new track, ‘Machines in Motion’, in their soundcheck that evening. The track would eventually be released, towards the end of 1980, as a debut record for the group following another name change – this time to Red Beat.
20-year-old lead singer Roy Jones had been in the same class at High Wycombe’s Royal Grammar School as Killing Joke drummer Paul Ferguson. Exactly four years previous, ‘Big Paul’ Ferguson had seen Sex Pistols play at High Wycombe College at the time when he was in ‘regular’ rock band Beowulf.
Killing Joke had hit the post-punk scene late in 1979 with their Malicious Damage released EP, including tracks ‘Turn to Red’ and ‘Nervous System’, plus further credibility via a John Peel session first broadcast in October 1979.
It is no exaggeration to say that the attraction of seeing Killing Joke and/or The Jones Boy was as strong for many of the locals in the audience that night, as seeing Joy Division.
To put this more into perspective, as I write this on the 40th anniversary of the gig, Joy Division’s best known song, ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, had yet to be released. The first radio play had come on a John Peel session broadcast in December 1979 (just two months before the Wycombe gig).
So back to the evening at High Wycombe. The Jones Boys finished their soundcheck but according to singer Roy Jones in an email sent to me in June 2019, the band didn’t want to be the first on stage that evening. “We had a big following in Wycombe and if we’d have gone on first at 7:30 no one would have seen us.” He added: “We asked Killing Joke if we could go on before them and they agreed.” Hence, this begins to unravel my confused memories of The Jones Boys about to take stage after A Certain Ratio had completed their set. Roy explains: “So we started to set up after A Certain Ratio had finished, only their drummer wasn’t happy about us coming on after them and he threatened to wack my brother Martin, our guitarist, over the head with a cymbal stand. I had to make a snap decision and decided it wasn’t worth risking Martin getting hurt so we backed down!”
It was not a popular decision with a local crowd, who had already given a luke-warm reception to both Section 25 and A Certain Ration. However, Killing Joke didn’t disappoint, bursting on stage with a fire eater and opening with ‘Pssyche’ – lip synched in the main by lead singer Jaz Coleman, while the vocals were song by Paul Ferguson on drums.
Ending with their set with storming versions of ‘Wardance’ and ‘Are You Receiving?’, they were called back for an encore – performing a cover of Sex Pistols ‘Bodies’ sung by KJ roadie Alex Paterson. The internet tells me the then 20-year old would later co-found The Orb with Jimmy Caulty.
At the conclusion of the KJ set, with the time approaching 11pm, a fair amount of the crowd departed, leaving Joy Division to play their abbreviated 35 minute set to a dwindling audience. For those unfortunate to have left early or just simply missed the gig, we are extremely lucky to have fantastic audience recordings of all the sets that evening made by Duncan Haysom. The Joy Division recording was remastered in 2007 for an expanded version of the ‘Still’ album and also includes the full soundcheck.
All the sets recorded are absolutely worth a listen – especially if you able to use headphones. They have definitely captured the atmosphere of the evening and many other gigs of the time at High Wycombe Town Hall. If you are a Joy Division fan then you were realise their set is simply breath taking and has a haunting sound quality that displays a band finding their true sound – a sound that has influenced so many bands and artists since.
The gig has also been recalled by another member of the Killing Joke road crew, Adams Morris. In an interview for Louder Than War in June 2019, he said: “I have to tell you, when I put that High Wycombe CD on and the soundcheck recordings played, almost twenty years after the show, I had the most vivid flashback. I was there in the hall again, I could almost smell the stale beer from the previous evening’s entertainment.”
Morris also remembers the High Wycombe gig as the only time he engaged with Ian Curtis, explaing. “[Ian Curtis] was carrying a six-pack of lager. Lager was what the promoter had put on the rider. He looked at me and asked, very politely, “can I swap this for some stout?” I shook my head, “nah mate, you are down south now, they don’t do stout”. I probably added something like “the soppy southern jessies” as I was prone to do back then. Ian looked sad, grunted and disappeared again “
Finally, returning to the history of ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, regular Joy Division guitarist Bernard Sumner would play keyboards during live renditions of the track, while Curtis would strum a ‘D’ chord on his white Vox Phantom guitar. A couple of pictures from the High Wycombe gig surfaced on social media in 2017 showing Curtis with his distinctive guitar and presumably singing LWTUA (the 6th song they played that evening, during a 35 minute set). The track was eventually released as a single in June 1980, just a few weeks after Curtis had taken his own life at his Macclesfield home on 18th May 1980.
Set Lists at High Wycombe – 20th February 1980
My Mother Ate My Soul
Girls Don’t Count
A Certain Ratio
Do the Du
And Then Again
All Night Party
Turn To Red
Are You Receiving?
Bodies (Sex Pistols Cover)
The Sound Of Music
A Means To An End
The Sound Of Music
A Means To An End
Twenty Four Hours
Love Will Tear Us Apart
For your listening pleasure
Section 25 – After Image – audio via YouTube from High Wycombe gig
A Certain Ratio – Do the Du – audio via YouTube from High Wycombe gig
Killing Joke – Pssyche – audio via YouTube from High Wycombe gig
Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart – audio via YouTube from High Wycombe gig
Joy Division – Atrocity Exhibition – audio via YouTube from High Wycombe gig
The opening months of 1968 were a busy time for gigs in High Wycombe. Major charts acts, including Traffic, The Herd, Love Affair and Amen Corner all appeared at the regular Tuesday night dances at The Town Hall.
These were the dates I uncovered from the Bucks Free Press archives:
Tuesday 23rd January 1968 – Traffic– formed in April 1967, when 19-year-old singer, keyboardist, and guitarist Steve Winwood left The Spencer Davis Group. Other members of the band were Jim Capaldi (drums), Chris Wood (flute) and Dave Mason (guitar). Winwood and Wood would play with Jimi Hendrix later in 1968 and appear on the iconic album ‘Electric Ladyland’. Traffic are best known for their 1967 release ‘Hole in My Shoe’.
Tuesday 30th January 1968 – The Herd – included an 18-year-old Peter Frampton on guitar. Their March 1968 release, ‘I Don’t Want Our Loving to Die’ reached No.5 in the UK charts. The band could be seen performing on ITV’s ‘Come Here Often’ show on the same evening they played High Wycombe. Other members of Herd at the time of the High Wycombe gig were Andy Bown, Gary Taylor and Andrew Steele. Frampton was later voted the ‘Face of 1968’ by teen magazine Rave.
Tuesday 6th February 1968 – Love Affair – The young band were at the peak of their success at the time of their Town Hall appearance with their “Everlasting Love” single reaching No.1 in the UK charts in January 1968. Lead singer Steve Ellis was just 17 years old at the time of the High Wycombe gig. However, drummer Maurice Bacon had celebrated his 16th birthday just a week before the Town Hall gig, with other band members, Michael Jackson (18) and Lynton Guest (17), making them one of the youngest bands on the circuit. It appears that only The Beatles outsold them in singles sales in the UK during 1968.
The Town Hall gig was mentioned by the band in Bucks Free Press interview for the ‘Teen and Around’ column published shortly afterwards. Steve Ellis said the band were worried that the Town Hall facilities couldn’t cope with their mass of electrical equipment: “There were not enough plugs and sockets for all our gear and we afraid of blowing the fuses.” Despite their fears, the gig went off without a hitch and fans of the band spent more than half-an-hour after the gig seeking autographs of the young pop stars.
Tuesday 13th February 1968 – Amen Corner – This appearance came as a last-minute fill-in for Georgie Fame who, according to the adverts for the gig in the Bucks Free Press, was ‘flying to America on Sunday 11th February and had refused to honour his contract with the Town Hall’. Prices were reduced to 8/- (40p) as a way of an apology by the promoters. Their ‘Bend Me, Shape Me’ single reached the UK Top 30 in early 1968. The band included guitarist and vocalist Andy Fairweather Low (19 years old at the time of the Town Hall gig). Other band members were Allan Jones (saxophone), Dennis Bryon (drums), Blue Weaver (organ), Clive Taylor (bass) and Neil Jones (guitar).
For your listening and viewing pleasure
Hole in My Shoe – Traffic – promo video 1968
I Don’t Want Our Living to Die – The Herd – German TV (?) 1968
Everlasting Love – Love Affair – official video 1968
Bend Me, Shape Me – Amen Corner – Top of the Pops 1968
Friday 25th February 1977 – Jam sign for Polydor for £6,000
With at least one Ron Watt’s promoted Nag’s Head gig behind them, it’s confirmed that The Jam have signed for Polydor Records for what seems a measly £6,000. The initial deal was for four years with a debut single, In the City, eventually release on 29 April 1977 and a debut album of the same name to be released on 20 May 1977.
The Jam would reward Ron Watts’ faith in the band during their early gigging days at both The Nag’s Head and London’s 100 Club, by returning to play the Nag’s in May and June 1977, while their appearance at High Wycombe Town Hall in July 1977 came after Watts convinced local officials that it was safe to host ‘rock concerts’ again at the town centre venue following years of underuse for that genre of entertainment.
Having outgrown the High Wycombe venues, they went on to play relatively locally at Friars, Aylesbury on four occasions (November 1977, June 1978, November 1979 and August 1980).
Friday 20th February 1976 – Sex Pistols support Lord Sutch at Wycombe College
My research for this infamous gig provided much of the inspiration for this website. An article published on chairboys.co.uk to mark the 40th anniversary included my findings from this chaotic evening. I have since continued to add more background to the story and included additional press cuttings that have been enhanced for use of wycombegigs.co.uk and the @wycombegigs Twitter feed. Any additional information and/or pictures would be most welcome.
Nearly four months before their legendary 4th June 1976 gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall, the High Wycombe appearance proved to be was as significant as any in the Sex Pistols history. Not quite the birthplace of punk but at least a port of call on the route of conception.
The Sex Pistols had formed the previous year and played their first gig in November 1975. A week before their appearance in High Wycombe, at what locals called ‘The Tech’, the Pistols had played a support slot to Eddie & The Hot Rods at The Marquee. A review of the gig in the following Thursday’s New Musical Express came with the headline ‘Don’t look over your shoulder, but the Sex Pistols are coming’.
The myth goes that the Sex Pistols turned up unannounced for their gig in High Wycombe but enough was known about it before hand for at least of couple of significant people to travel from Manchester in a borrowed car to see what all the fuss was about. They were Pete McNeish and Howard Trafford, students from Bolton who had seen the NME review the day before and had decided to travel to London, meeting friend Richard Boon in Reading on the way, to track down their next gig. A phone call to the NME led them to Pistols’ Manager Malcolm McLaren’s shop in the Kings Road where they informed of the planned appearance in High Wycombe that very evening.
20 year old McNeish and 23 year old Trafford would also pick up a copy of Time Out that day where the headline for the review of TV programme Rock Follies gave them inspiration for a name for the band they planned to form – ‘FEELING A BUZZ, COCKS’. McNeish would become Pete Shelley and Trafford, Howard Devoto. Richard Boon would be their Manager and after seeing the Pistols in High Wycombe they would return to Manchester to form Buzzcocks and promote the famous gigs at The Lesser Free Trade Hall.
The audience on the night of Friday 20th February 1976 was typical of a Rag Week concert in High Wycombe – a mixture mainly of art, building and engineering students – many interested in the cheap beer available, including the offer of four pints of Guinness for £1.
The ‘punk scene’ had yet to happen in the UK and aside from the NME article published the previous day, Sex Pistols were virtually unknown and at the time this was the furthest they had played outside of London.
Assistant Social Secretary at the time, Patrick Graham recalls clearly the evening – partly due to his 6’4” mate Loz spotting trouble on the stage during one of the songs where, just turned 20 year old,lead singer Jonny Rotten had accidentally” smashed Screaming Lord Sutch’s gold plated microphone into the stage while swinging it on its lead. “One of Sutch’s group was about to start a fight – Loz, acting as security at the side of the stage picked up Rotten by the back of his belt and scruff of neck and threw him into the sparsely filled “auditorium” like a small sack of potatoes…people took the hint that causing trouble meant they would lose…”
Graham operated the disco as assistant to the social secretary, Tony Wilkins, who was the one who booked the Pistols for the knock down price (from full) to a half crate of Carlsberg. The Pistols had rung up the College seeking a gig supporting Screaming Lord Sutch. Graham recalls: “Johnny Rotten came up and asked if I had any “out of tune guitar music – like the New York Dolls or the Tubes?” – I put on, “White Punks on dope”, he approved but didn’t smile.”
The Bucks Free Press Midweek carried a review of the gig the following Tuesday written by young reporter Janice McKelvie – completely unknowingly it became what is believed to be the second ever ‘review’ of a Sex Pistols gig (after the NME piece) and never published online before I discovered it in February 2016 while researching the 40th anniversary of the gig. Written just a day or so after the gig, it probably gives one of the most accurate recollections of the night.
The report starts off by saying: “A four man group by the strange name of Sex Pistols stole the show at The Rag Ball on Friday. It wasn’t they musically good – they just refused to stop playing.” The report goes on to say how after one song lead singer Johnny Rotten shouted at the audience: “That’s it we’re going home.” The Pistols front man was apparently not happy with the PA system and continued in what was reported as: “in a stream of language denouncing the college, rag committee and the audience.”
The report continues: “The audience replied with a slow hand clap and jeering. The group stopped playing. Five minutes later they were back and told the audience: “We hope you enjoy this because we ain’t gonna”. After a couple of more tracks the group were asked to finish and the discotheque started. But the group were not having this and started playing again. During the next song the vocalist decided to lie down on the edge of the college stage and somebody from the audience ran forward and pulled him onto the floor. A small disturbance broke out but the vocalist escaped back to the stage. Eventually Sex Pistols ran out of songs and left the stage. Members of the Rag Committee later alleged that the group had damaged another performer’s equipment.”
The BFP report also recalls that before Sex Pistols and taken stage, a local band called Kites had played too. But the name of the band was either a mistake or a toned down version of their real name, Clits. Their guitarist was apparently a Wycombe Wanderers fan and according to the BFP report they were ‘a more sombre group’ and ‘seemed to be use to abuse from the audience as well because the vocalist invited the audience to shout at them.’
Another significant figure in the audience that night was local promoter Ron Watts. 33 year old Watts was apparently at the gig to see the college social secretary about a stripper he was booking for them. He popped his head in to the gig to witness The Sex Pistols creating chaos but was interested enough to make a note of their name. Pistols Manager Malcolm McLaren would later seek out him at The 100 Club venue in Oxford Street where Watts promoted Blues Nights. McLaren said he wanted his band to play there. Watts, recalling his memories of the High Wycombe gig a few days before, agreed. The Sex Pistols would appear for the first time at The 100 Club on Tuesday 30th March 1976.
Watts would put on The Pistols a further 10 times at the 100 Club in 1976, including the famous Punk Festival held on 20 and 21 September 1976. Before then, on Thursday 2nd September 1976 , Watts would bring them back to High Wycombe for an appearance at The Nags Head, a venue Watts was now promoting gigs at again having originally started out there in the late 1960’s. The Nags Head, a former Headquarters of Wycombe Wanderers in the late 19th century, would go on to play a significant part in the rise of ‘punk rock’ but that would have seemed light years away back in February 1976.
There are several myths surrounding this gig, including several in printed publications that have since been repeated in the online world. Let’s make a list – know any more, then get in touch:
Sex Pistols turn up unannounced – no, they were booked late on with full knowledge of the Student Union Social team who had agreed a half crate of Carlsberg as the payment for their appearance.
Ron Watts was the promoter of the gig – no, he had turned up to book a stripper and saw part of the Pistols set by chance.
The gig took place in the College Student Union building – no, the larger Main Hall was used for the Rag Ball – estimated capacity 400.
It was the College’s Valentine Ball – no, the gig took place on 20th February 1976. Valentine’s Day was the previous Saturday – the closest gig to this date at the College was a Kilburn & The High Roads appearance on Friday 13th February 1976.
Johnny Rotten smashed a borrowed microphone from Lord Sutch – no, this story has been toned down over the years to the point where the gold coloured microphone was returned undamaged in its transport box.
Ron Watts booked the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club after seeing this gig – not really, Watts was approached by Malcolm McLaren few weeks after the gig. Unlikely that Watts would have instigated their residency at The 100 Club without the approach from McLaren