For those attending a gig by a new look Adam and The Ants at High Wycombe Town Hall on Friday 23rd May 1980, memories will of a night where violence dominated and prompted the local authorities to impose a ban of ‘rock concerts’ at the town’s biggest venue – a ban that was never formally lifted and sadly signalled the end of gigs at a venue that hosted the likes of The Who, Rolling Stones, Kinks, Small Faces, Tina Turner and The Jam, as well as giving local bands the chance to play on a bigger stage as support to their peers.
The sorry tale of the Adam & The Ants gigs came just over a year since they had previously played the Town Hall. In the intervening year The Ants had undergone a major overhaul of personnel. During the early months of 1980, founder member Stuart Goddard (AKA Adam Ant) had brought in Marco Pirroni (guitar), Kevin Mooney (bass), plus two drummers, Terry Lee Miall and Chris Hughes. This had followed former Ants Manager, Malcolm McLaren, persuading former members of the band to jump ship and join his new venture, Bow Wow Wow, fronted by a then 13-year-old Annabella Lwin.
Meanwhile, a 25-year-old Adam Ant was developing the sound of his new band, recording a new track, ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’ as a means of gaining record company support. This was coupled with an ‘Ants Invasion’ tour that kicked off at the Electric Ballroom, London on 22nd May 1980 but events would really ‘kick-off’ the following evening in High Wycombe.
In the two years leading up to this date, gigs at the Town Hall had regularly been disrupted by a small group of Wycombe based ‘skinheads’. This group of Neanderthals would take pleasure from creating chaos and terror at gigs and particularly during performances by bands that didn’t fit into their own small-minded stereotyped view of what a ‘punk’ band should sound and look like. And just for good measure, this was interspersed with racist chanting because presumably in their eyes it was, in modern day terms, ‘banter’.
During my research for this gig, I was excited to find an audio recording of The Adams & The Ants set. The inter song exchanges between the band (mainly Adam) and the small moronic element of the audience capture the poisonous atmosphere of the evening.
The band came on stage to the intro of music of Gary Glitter’s ‘Hello! Hello! I’m Back Again’ before opening up with ‘Physical’ and then going into the now iconic ‘Kings of the Wild Frontier’. You can hear the track on the YouTube clip below but for the record, at the conclusion of the song the ‘Skinhead’ chants start up followed by a quick call for local band “Xtraverts”. Adam Ant retorts with “That was last week’s thing mate. You’ve been watching too much Tiswas. You go and stick your skinhead up your ****ing arse. We’ve got one type of person here. Ants!”
The taunts and exchanges continue with Adam Ant adding: “You don’t scare me. Just go away”, and then sarcastically adding after the following song: “My Mum would love it – nice short hair [but] we’re concerned with the future not the past.”
Then as the ‘Sieg Heil’ chants continue, the band are pushed to tipping point, shouting out: “I don’t know about skinheads but you’re just a right bunch of w**kers. If you want to say it, come down here and say it. We’ve had enough of you. We’ve had enough of it. Ant Music.”
Vague fanzine, published shortly after the gigs documents the gig from a Adam & The Ants fan perspective and I’ve included the full piece below.
Adams & The Ants – set list Town Hall, High Wycombe – 23rd May 1980
Kings of the wild frontier
Beat My Guest
Killer In The Home
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For your listening pleasure
Kings of the Wild Frontier (live audio) – High Wycombe, Town Hall 23rd May 1980
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
Wednesday 23rd January 1980 was the evening when many music fans from High Wycombe travelled the short (and ever familiar) journey across Buckinghamshire to see The Ramones at Aylesbury Friars. The occasion was one of the opening dates of their UK tour promoting their ‘End of the Century’ album – their 5th album release since they spearheaded the rise of the US punk scene in the mid 1970’s.
The US band were one of the few early punk pioneers not to have played High Wycombe and as the UK entered a new decade, demand for tickets was enormous. The local outlet in High Wycombe for tickets was Scorpion records. The £2.95 tickets (5p cheaper than The Clash gig at Friars on 5th January 1980) went on sale on the morning of Monday 31st December 1979 and were snapped up as fast as was humanly possible at the time.
My old school-friend, Martin Percival, and also a companion at many gigs over the intervening years, were both up early enough to get tickets. Martin recalls this gig as his first time seeing The Ramones and the catalyst for his love of the band rising to a different level. Over to you Martin, 1,2,3,4..
“This was the first of the 33* Ramones gigs that I saw between 1980 and 1996. Although I had enjoyed The Clash Friars gig two weeks previously, this was the gig that had a much greater impact on me at the time as well as over the longer term
Their January 1980 gig was the Ramones’ third and what proved to be their final Friars gig after playing twice in 1977 with Talking Heads in June and the Rezillos in December.
The Boys supported the Ramones for the whole tour and at the Rainbow gig in London their keyboard player Casino Steel accompanied the band on a very rare live rendition of the Ramones only top 10 UK hit single – a cover of the Ronette’s ‘Baby, I Love You’, produced by Phil Spector and featured on the ‘End of the Century’ album.
16 years previously in January 1964 the Ronettes original version peaked at No.11 in the UK charts, 3 places lower than the Ramones version did in 1980. Back in 1964 the Ronettes were touring the UK with a relatively new young UK band supporting them on their first national tour…… the Rolling Stones! On 21st January 1964 the 2 bands played 2 sets in Aylesbury at the Granada cinema. It was an incredibly foggy day – The Ronettes arrived late and didn’t even have time to change into their stage clothes before starting their first set. But at least they arrived… Brian Jones was lost in the fog and missed the gig completely!
Thankfully there were no weather problems for the evening in January 1980 where the sold out gig was also the night that The Ramones received the FA Cup – the Friars Aylesbury Cup! Joey Ramone looked slightly bemused when he was given the cup on stage on the night by Friars promoter Dave Stopps, but the band were very proud of it. When the compilation album ‘Ramones Mania’ was released in 1988, Arturo Vega, who designed the iconic Ramones eagle logo, made sure the cup was featured amongst other band memorabilia in a collage on the front cover of the album.
Friars was a venue that the Ramones loved and when I interviewed Johnny Ramone in Birmingham in December 1992 and mentioned the Friars gig he laughed and said how much he had enjoyed the venue and the Aylesbury crowd.”
Ramones – set-list – Aylesbury Friars 23rd January 1980
I Can’t Make It On Time
Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment
Rock ‘N’ Roll High School
I Wanna Be Sedated
Do You Remember Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio?
She’s the One
I Just Want to Have Something to Do
Sheena is a Punk Rocker
All the Way
Judy Is A Punk
I Don’t Wanna Walk Around With You
Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World
Beat on the Brat
*A big thank-you to Martin for his memories and yes I checked that the thirty three was not a typo.
References and further reading
Aylesbury Friars website – memories and photo galleries from January 1980