1978 would see another shift and mixture of trends in UK popular music and those changes appear to be reflected in the live music scene in High Wycombe. Memories of the year to follow throughout 2018, in the meantime a bit of background on the music culture of 1978, based on my own memories.
From a popular music point of view, 1977 will always be remembered as the year that ‘punk’ made the breakthrough from an underground scene but by the early months of 1978, many of the higher profile acts from the ‘safety pin’ brigade had either burnt-out or, in the eyes of punk idealists, ‘sold-out’.
High Wycombe had been blessed with a host of the breakthrough ‘punk’ acts during 1976 and 1977 but while The Nag’s Head and Town Hall continued to be the main outlet for gigs during 1978, the venues struggled to keep pace with the ever-changing demands and complications of hosting live music. Several gigs throughout 1978 suffered from various combinations of poor attendance, violence, last minute line-up changes, rumoured ‘special guests’ that didn’t show or in some cases a complete cancellation. Just finding out about gigs was a challenge in itself.
However, there were still noteworthy gigs in store for the local punters, thanks mostly again to the promoting connections of Ron Watts. Gigs at The Town Hall would include Siouxsie and The Banshees (still without a record deal until much later in 1978), Generation X, Rezillos and 999 – all returning to High Wycombe after Nag’s Head appearances in 1977. There were also debut appearances for The Lurkers, Motorhead and Penetration. Down the road at the Nag’s Head, gigs were generally ‘punk’ free but would include a number of post-punk (or new-wave’) bands looking for a breakthrough – most notably, The Skids. Meanwhile, local bands aiming for a piece of the action were generally restricted to support slots at the two major venues but there were occasional headline slots gigs at High Wycombe College and Townfield House.
High Wycombe would also host bands as a direct consequence of the fall-out from the split of two of the original iconic punk bands. With two High Wycombe appearances to their name during 1976, The Sex Pistols played their final live show on 14th January 1978 during a tour of the USA. A few weeks later, The Damned, also with two or three Nag’s Head shows under their belt, disbanded (albeit temporary). Spin-off bands would come to High Wycombe later in 1978. This included former Sex Pistols bassist Glen Matlock, who would bring his Rich Kids (featuring Midge Ure) to The Town Hall. Meanwhile, Damned drummer Rat Scabies would also grace a High Wycombe stage with his band, The White Cats – there would be mixed reaction to both those gigs!
Meanwhile, the other punk originals who had played locally during 1976 and 1977 (including The Clash, The Stranglers and The Jam), had outgrown the venues available in High Wycombe. However, the local rumour mill, stirred up on more than on occasion by local promoter Ron Watts, always seemed to have the possibility of one or more of these names returning as a ‘special guest’ – sadly they never seemed to happen.
In contrast, all this was happening as record sales (still vinyl back then), particularly singles, were set to reach a new high. The popularity of buying discs prompted an expanding culture of record selling outlets in High Wycombe – the town’s shops and market stalls would become meeting places for local music fans desperate to buy the latest releases and also find out about where they could see their vinyl favourites at a live gig.
However, don’t get the impression that this era was all about the ‘punk’ or the ‘new-wave’ scene. A quick look at the UK singles charts from January 1978 reveals that ‘Mull of Kintyre’ by Wings had hogged the top spot for several weeks, while No.2 was ‘Floral Dance’ by The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. The closest to ‘punk’ in the charts at the time was ‘Mary of the 4th Form’ by The Boomtown Rats. Local heroes Otway and Barrett had also just managed to creep into the early January 1978 top 30 with their iconic ‘Really Free’ single.
1978 was also a year where the Disco scene boomed following the massive success of music-based films ‘Saturday Night Fever’ and ‘Grease’. The two films would account for 18 weeks of No.1 singles throughout 1978, while the respective albums would take the top spot for 30 weeks. The films would also attracted more punters to the local Cinemas than most of the gigs in High Wycombe during 1978 – with queues a regular occurrence when they were shown at The Palace Cinema in Frogmore.
The rise of the Disco scene was mirrored by a wealth of new sounds that would make the weekly BBC show Top of the Pops a sometimes bizarre mix of disco, new wave and novelty. The line-ups could see The Adverts up against Althia and Donna, The Stranglers take on The Smurfs, Elvis Costello v Earth, Wind and Fire, The Rezillos v Rod Stewart, The Vibrators v Village People and The Jam v John Travolta to name just a few culture clashes.
To help capture these new sounds, the local music scene was boosted in 1978 by the opening of two new record shops. Second-Hand shop Scorpion Records had opened in late 1977 and became the outlet for ticket sales for gigs at both High Wycombe Town Hall and Aylesbury Friars.
Rising Sun Records would also open in early 1978 at the rear of ‘Wycombe Fayre’ – a small shopping arcade built constructed in 1977 on the site of the former Woolworths store on Church Street. At the time of this article (2018), The Chiltern Shopping Centre is now on that site. Meanwhile, Derek’s Records in Octagon Parade, became Venus Records and became another regular haunt of local music fans hoping to find details of the latest gigs.
I’ll be aiming to dig a little deeper into some of these gigs for the 40th anniversary during 2018 and would be extremely grateful again for any memories and memorabilia you may have tucked away. Please get in touch via the useful contact methods.