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 Piece 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.

16 June 1977 – Generation X – Nag’s Head

It’s a busy Thursday night at The Nag’s Head on 16th June 1977 as Billy Idol’s Generation X return for their third appearance at the High Wycombe venue since forming in London at the tail end of 1976. They had previously performed at The Nag’s in January 1977 and March 1977.

Nag’s Head gigs June 1977 from the Bucks Free Press plus some alternative entertainment at Cressex Community Centre

By the time of their June 1977 appearance they had replaced drummer John Towe with 18 year old Mark Laff.  He had been recruited after the remaining members of the band had auditioned more than 20 other drummers.  Laff (AKA Mark Laffoley) had previous drummed with Subway Sect and joined Generation X following the completion of a support slot on The Clash’s nationwide tour.

The new look line-up is the final piece in the Gen X jigsaw and record companies are now starting to take note.  They will record a John Peel session on 12 July 1977 and sign a long-term deal with Chrysalis Records the following day.

The band would return for another appearance at The Nag’s Head in August 1977 before releasing their debut single, ‘Your Generation’ the following month.

References:

Generation X – Day by Dayhttp://www.nemsworld.com/genx/

7 June 1977 – Sex Pistols joined by Ron Watts and Co for River Thames trip

The Sex Pistols hit the headlines again on Tuesday 7th June 1977 after a publicity stunt promoting their new single, ‘God Save The Queen’, attracted the attention of the police.  This was the occasion that The Pistols and their entourage launched their very own Silver Jubilee celebrations on a boat down The River Thames.

Nag’s Head promoter Ron Watts and his right hand man ‘Bruv’ were invited to the boat trip.  The event has gone down in punk folklore alongside the infamous Bill Grundy evening in December 1976.

Here’s Johnny on the river boat – 6th June 1977

Various versions of the events that day have been recollected.  Julian Temple’s film record gives a visual reminder, while Ron Watts recalls the day in his autobiography [100 Watts – A Life in Music], saying:

“It was all a big fuss about nothing but the tabloids had their headlines, another fire of moral outrage was fuelled and the public got their ration of scandal.  Just another day at the office, but it was to prove the last time I ever saw the Pistols play live.”

This is some fairly decent quality footage of the afternoon from YouTube.

6 June 1977 – XTC – Nag’s Head

Monday 6th June 1977 saw Swindon’s XTC return to The Nag’s Head for a second appearance within a month as record companies continued to ponder offering them a record deal.  A contract was eventually agreed in August 1977 with Virgin Records and their debut release followed a month later.

Nag’s Head promoter Ron Watts had first seen the band at The Plough, in Shelbourne, Wiltshire (near to where his family had originated). Recalling XTC in his autobiography, Watts said: “XTC weren’t anything remarkable at the time, yet they had a certain quality about them and they plugged away getting bigger and more appreciative audiences until they suddenly changed style and became pop stars.”

 It was on the verge of their ‘pop-star’ status that XTC returned to High Wycombe for a Watts’ promoted appearance at High Wycombe Town in May 1979.

 This is the promo for their debut release, Science Friction.

4 June 1977 – Jam – Nag’s Head

Saturday 4th June 1977 saw some of the biggest queues ever seen at The Nag’s Head, as The Jam returned for their third performance of the year.  In the month or so leading up to this appearance, the London band had released their debut single and album, appeared on Top of The Pops and had become one of the hottest live acts on the pub circuit.

However, they were rapidly outgrowing pubs.  They could quite easily of sold out the venue two times over – and their appearance was as much as thank-you to promoter Ron Watts, as anything else. Ron had championed the band at The 100 Club, as well as The Nag’s Head – Watts was a happy man that evening.

Bucks Free Press advert for gigs at The Nag’s Head – late May/early June 1977

Watts recalls The Nag’s Head appearance in his autobiography [100 Watts – A Life in Music] when he noted The Jam attracted more girls than any other band he had promoted:

“The amount of girls in school uniforms waiting in the queue was amazing.”

Watts added:

“The girls were all over Bruce Foxton, for some reason, which pi**ed Paul Weller off, who thought as singer, they should go for him.”

 Watts was also taken aback by the band’s stage presence and cited them as his favourite live act following the initial outbreak of punk in 1976:

“For a three piece The Jam were a sensation.  It was very brave of them to be doing the sort of soul covers they were playing, when everyone around them was singing about rioting and political events.  They went down a storm.”

It was clear after this night that The Jam would move on the bigger things and bigger venues.  For Watts, that meant looking at promoting gigs at The Town Hall on a regular basis.

This is The Jam performing their second single, ‘All Around The World’ on Top of The Pops in July 1977.  They would play High Wycombe Town during the week it was released.

2 June 1977 – Brewers Droop/Zoots – Nag’s Head

Nag’s Head promoter Ron Watts gave his own band, Brewers Droop, an outing at the London Road venue on Thursday 2nd June 1977.  Support came from The Zoots.  The Droop were no strangers to The Nag’s Head stage but this was a relatively rare performance due to Ron’s ever increasing promoting duties at both the Nag’s and London’s 100 Club.

Brewers Droop – Opening Time – RCA album from 1972 – photo outside The Antelope in High Wycombe

The Thursday night slot was usually reserved for ‘rock’ but with The Jam set to the play two days later on the Saturday, this ‘Blues’ night was a throwback to the nights when Watts first promoted at the venue back in 1968.

This is Brewers Droop from their 1972 album, Opening Time – the cover of which (above) was taken outside The Antelope pub in High Wycombe Town Centre.  At the time of this post, it was still open and going strong and easily recognisable from the album cover.

28 May 1977 – The Models – Nag’s Head

London punk group The Models made an early headlining performance at The Nag’s Head on Saturday 28th May 1977.  The band had been formed in Harrow earlier in 1977 as The Beastly Cads but changed their name The Models after just two gigs.  The line-up consisted of Cliff Fox (vocals and guitar), Marco Pirroni (guitar), Mick Allen (bass) and Terry Day (drums).

The Models – first and only single – Freeze/Man of the Year – released 1977 on The Step Forward label

Pirroni had famously played with Siouxsie & The Banshees at their debut gig at The 100 Club in September 1976 but had not formed part of the new look Banshees that had played at The Nag’s Head in March 1977 and earlier in May 1977.  Kris Jozajtis attended the latter gig and recalls The Models as support.

Bucks Free Press advert for gigs at The Nag’s Head – including The Models 0n 28th May 1977. A week later it’s The Jam.

Post their Nag’s Head appearances, The Models recorded a John Peel session (July 1977) and released what would be their only single – the double A side ‘Freeze’/’Man of The Year’ – on the Step Forward label.

Their early gigs included the controversially titled ‘I Wanna Form My Own Nazi Party’ – it was apparently aimed at some of the early punks who thought it was ‘cool’ to wear swastika arms bands (this included Siouxsie!).  However, it was taken the wrong way and was dropped from their set as the year went on.

Pirroni and Allen later formed ‘post-punk’ band Rema-Rema.  Guitarist Pirroni would then join drummer Terry Day in a new look Adam & The Ants.  The later would play High Wycombe a couple of times in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.  Allen would go on to form Wolfgang Press – later signed by 4AD and performing between 1983 and 1995.

The Freeze – Step Forward single 1977

John Peel Session – July 1977

27 May 1977 –Sex Pistols release God Save The Queen

After a wait of six months, The Sex Pistols finally release their follow up to debut single ‘Anarchy in the UK’.  Signed to Virgin records earlier in May, ‘God Save The Queen’ is released on Friday 27th May 1977 amidst a mass of controversy.  The BBC take the moral high ground and initially ban it from all their programmes.  However, not before John Peel managed to squeeze a couple of pre-release plays on his late evening Radio 1 show.

God Save The Queen – Sex Pistols – picture cover from Virgin Records release May 1977

If you wanted to hear it in High Wycombe in 1977, you had the choice of buying the single from one of the local record shops – or just possibly sneaking a listen in one of the booths at Percy Priors in Castle Street.  There was also the chance to hear it played by the DJ at gigs at The Nag’s Head, while in town, the eclectic juke box at The Coach & Horses in the High Street, was another option.

Despite the lack of national air-play, sales of the single eventually reached an estimated 20,000 copies a day and it peaked at No.2 in the official charts. – There is a (perfectly reasonable) conspiracy theory that the charts were rigged to allow Rod Stewart’s aptly named ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ to take the top spot away from the punk rockers.

The success of the single also helped boost the punk profile of the town.  The Bucks Free Press quoted local Vicar, Rev. John Crisp as saying: “Any record selling so many copies should not be ignored. It should be answered.”

Punk Vicar – Bucks Free Press – 10th June 1977

Rev. John Crisp also commented on the song’s line: ‘There ain’t no future in England’s dream,’ – saying: ”If we believe there is a future, let us be brave enough to declare so to those who preach nothing but doom and gloom”.

Here is the video for ‘God Save The Queen’, recorded at The Marquee, London on 23rd May 1977.

26 May 1977 – Ardazell – Nag’s Head

Aylesbury ‘rockers’ Ardazell played The Nag’s Head on Thursday 26th May 1977, as promoter Ron Watts gave the punters a break from the ongoing ‘punk’ scene.

Bucks Free Press advert for gigs at The Nag’s Head – late May/early June 1977

At the time of this post (40 years after their Nag’s Head appearance), there appeared to be little historical record of the band. However, the photo below, taken from a September 1976 edition of the Bucks Herald, shows lead guitarist Clive Wagerfield sporting his homemade solid aluminium guitar – very 1970’s! Although it was the still the 1970’s!

Ardazell – pictured in September 1976 – from The Bucks Herald

According to the flyer for that appearance, their line-up was: David Bowden (lead vocals), Clive Wagerfield (lead guitar), Phil Cutler (drums), Ricky Claire (second guitar), Steve Davis (bass and vocals).

Majority of set was self-written by Wagerfield (music) and Bowden (lyrics). Most popular songs from their 1976/77 era were ‘Shinin down’, One More Broken Heart’, ‘Ardazell’, ‘Gambler’, ‘Hurricane Children’, ‘Let Me Love You’, ‘Secrets’, ‘Mr Please’ and ‘9.15 To Nowhere’.  Their set also included from time to time, Larry Williams ‘Bony Moronie’.

Whatever happened to this group and their band members?

18 May 1977 – Sex Pistols sign for Virgin Records

Two months after being sacked by A&M, The Sex Pistols finally agree a new record deal with Richard Branston’s Virgin Record Label for an ‘unspecified figure’. The deal was signed on Friday 13th May 1977 and made big news in the following week’s music press.

Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones grace the front of the NME – May 1977

The Pistols had played High Wycombe twice in 1976 prior to signing a deal, first with EMI, and then A&M. The well documented controversy surrounding the ‘Bill Grundy’ interview in December 1976 and other off stage antics had made record companies wary of taking them on.  While live venues were also reluctant to promote their gigs – although in many cases this was instigated by local authorities keen to set their ‘moral standards’ and Pistols Manager, Malcolm McClaren, keen to continue the myth that nobody wanted them to play.

Virgin were set to rush release the much delayed Pistols second single, ‘God Save The Queen’, on Friday 27th May 1977.  The NME also reported in their 21st May 1977 edition that the band had nearly completed work on an album, while a spokesman for Virgin described advance orders for both LP and single as ‘massive’.

A huge marketing campaign was also planned by Virgin to announce the new contract and forthcoming single. But plans to advertise on ITV were thwarted when both Thames TV and London Weekend rejected the commercial, even though it had been described by Virgin as ‘not offensive or controversial’.  Perhaps Thames TV were still smarting from the Bill Grundy episode?

The Pistols were also said to be looking at returning to gigging again but would have to overcome the number of alleged bans from venues and local authorities. After playing The Nag’s Head in September 1976, the band played around 25 further dates before the ‘Grundy’ moment on 1 December 1976.  Post ‘Grundy’ and until the day they signed for Virgin in May 1977 they had played less than ten further dates in the UK, plus a couple of dates in the Netherlands.  Just two of those dates had included new bassist, Sid Viscous – brought in during February 1977 for The Beatles loving Glen Matlock.

Local promoter Ron Watts’ connection with the band (he put them on ten times at The 100 Club between March 1976 and September 1976, plus the one-off show at The Nag’s Head), led to on-going rumours that they would return to the town for a secret gig. Later in the year, the infamous S.P.O.T.S (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly) would drive the rumour mill into top gear, with any remote connection to the word SPOTS and a Ron Watts gig being suggested as a possibly return to The Nag’s Head for the punk icons.

Did you go down The Nag’s Head on the off chance that the latest Ron Watts promotion may be the Sex Pistols in disguise?