The Portsmouth Music Scene
2017 July 29th Omega Tribe, Shatterhand, PAPER CHAMP + The SLM The Loft (above The Kings) Southsea
Southsea based ensemble. Nick Haines was a founder member of The Fence formed in 1977, one of four bands on original Portsmouth punk scene. Members were: Nigel Hullet (vocals) Steve McGrath (bass), Pete Daynes (drums) and Nick Haines (guitar). Pete Daynes the drummer could most definitely play. Soft furnishing salesman by day and Keith Moon by night. When guitarist, bass and vocals are playing through Woolworth's amplification rated at approximately 15 watts, it can be disconcerting when the drummer is so loud the rehearsal building begins to crumble.
The band featured ex hippy on vocals, Nigel Hullet, with a taste for kipper ties, sleeveless sweaters and major man crush on the Stranglers’ JJ Burnel, Steve McGrath on bass, and Nick Haines on guitar. The band started out with Nigel and Nick Haines, playing along to Velvet Underground, Mott and Neil Young records and making up our own rudimentary songs. Steve and Pete joined as a result of a poster blitz in Southsea seeking 'punk musicians' and after a few practices they played our first gig at the Portsea Rotary Club in 1978 supporting Public Heirs. Eight gigs later, final appearance was in late '78 at same venue, and with perfect symmetry, Public Heirs had the indignity of supporting the Fence.
If the Daubers were the Pistols of the Pompey scene, the Fence were perhaps Wire?
The Fence provided a counterpoint to the Daubers' abrasiveness. This was summed up in a poster created for a Daubers/Fence gig that featured an angelic cherub vomiting over the Daubers' name with the catch line; “Punks vs the Nice Boys' (Nigel nicked the name Nice Boys for a band he formed later on.) They also posed as a disco act to fool the bouncers in Neros into allowing them to play at the Fresher's Ball bash, anarchy in action or a bit sad?.
They only played a handful or so gigs and established a small following. Perhaps the pinnacle of there fame was reached when the band's name was seen written in felt tip on a school kid's satchel. As they became more proficient they were also becoming more predictable and boring. The songs were getting better, poppier... and blander by the week. It was time to pull the plug, this upset Peter and Steve terribly but it had to happen. No recordings for public consumption, but a good cassette was made featuring the band 'live in rehearsal' but this has now disappeared. No photos available either sadly. The band had some professional quality pics taken by a student at Portsmouth Poly. Sadly, the photographer disappeared, along with his photos. If Nick Pike reads this and still has anything from this shoot, please get in touch.
"As we became more proficient we were also becoming more predictable and boring.
The songs were getting better, poppier... and blander by the week.
It was time to pull the plug, I know this upset Peter and Steve terribly but it had to happen.
Regrets, I have a few but I could see where the band was headed and I didn't want to go there." Nick Haines
Long running unit comprised of St John's College students, the Frames boasted a loyal fanbase amongst their school friends. Fronted by Paul Nethercott, would be male model and vocally challenged, the band featured Nick Radford on guitar, Muzz Murray on bass and the eccentric Steven Wood on drums. The Frames sound was tinny and the songs only hinted at anything musicaly interesting. Nick, brother of a member of 'The Thought Police' was a creative lead player but was lacking as a rhythm guitarist, he knew the chords but seemed unable to put any passion or energy into them. Muzz was a very basic player but made up for any musical shortcomings by being a thoroughly lovely bloke. Drummer Woody was, by any definition insane. He would disappear during band meetings, to be found in the kitchen with rubber gloves on cleaning the oven. He would vanish at gigs just a the band went on stage. They would look around for him, and see him waving cheerfully from the audience. He would get hungry during a gig and drum one handed, the other hand clutching a pie.
Only one thing preserved Woody's place in the band, the fact that technically he was probably the best drummer I've ever played with. I joined the Frames after the Fence had split and gigged with them but it wasn't until we went into the recording studio to record the dreadful 'False Accusations' single that I realised just how good Woody was. In the studio, different drums can be recorded separately and listening to Woody play it seemed as if he was able to play every drum simultaneously, each with a different yet complimentary rhythm. It turned out that he was a big jazz fan and his style was based on jazz drummers he admired. Mad and brilliant. Paul the singer was replaced by Sue Jonas, a pale, Siouxsie-soundalike chanteuse and the band recorded a couple of tracks for the South Specific album. They were later asked to record a session for John Peel's show and, knowing the Frames some incarnation of the band is probably still playing to devoted ex St John's pupils somewhere in Portsmouth.
MALCOM PRACTICE BAND.
“Too clever by half” is an accusation that could also be lain at the door of Malcom Practice. Duo Dave Pitt on bass and Ross on keyboards, Malcom Practice were capable of brilliance. Musically and in terms of vision and getting a whole 'concept' right, Malcom Practice were miles ahead of any other Pompey band. Playing a mixture of Glitter style stomp, electro that predated the Pet Shop Boys and New Order and glam rock, Malcom Practice, along with Again Again were bands that made me question if there was any point in my playing, since they were so far ahead of me in the skill and creativity departments. Their obvious ability was spotted and they signed, possibly unwisely to pop mogul Micky Most's label, where they were promoted as some loveable, goofy boy band. It all rather fizzled out after this and Dave joined Chicory Tip of Son of My Father fame for a tour. Malcom Practice were way ahead of their time and might have been massive had they had formed in the early 80's instead.
One Portsmouth band who rather stood apart was The Media. Formed by bassist Cello after the Boasters, the Media had a collective love of the Clash and were influenced by the Clash's forays into reggae. Whilst being affable chaps on a personal level, as a band they made a conscious decision to separate, if not actually disassociate themselves from the rest of the Portsmouth scene. They declined to participate in the South Specific project, perhaps fearing it might undermine their own quest for a record deal. The band achieved short lived attention when they featured in a local television kid's drama, not in their own right but as 'a' band playing in one scene. The Media came out with some catchy songs, I still sing “Don't sit back' on occasion, it was just a shame that they didn't feel able to join with the rest of us, not that it would probably have made any difference.
THE NICE BOYS.
Formed by two former Fence members, Nigel and Steve, the Nice Boys 'borrowed' their name from a Fence poster and purveyed a high energy, tight brand of power pop that the Fence had threatened to descend into a year earlier. The Nice Boys even covered one Fence song and it features with two other tracks on South Specific. Whilst all other tracks for the South Specific compilation were recorded locally at Telecoms studio, the Nice Boys booked a session in London and you can certainly hear the difference in engineering and production. The Nice Boys tracks leap out of the speakers in a way few of the album's others do. Ironic then that the former Fence track 'This Room' is thus turned into a castrated, melodramatic, overlong slab of cock rock, especially since it was conceived and performed by the Fence as the exact polar opposite. Maybe that's love?
RENALDO & THE LOAF.
Legend has it that this band's creators started making 'music' in the 17th century when, as farm hands they discovered that ducks could be stabbed and pigs stuck to precise musical notes. They added farming implements as percussion and annoyed the locals to such an extent that they were eventually tried and hanged as witches. The protagonists' mischievous spirits refused to rest however, and found corporate life anew in the shape of Renaldo & The Loaf. Who knows what goes on in the minds of this pair? Do they know? Do they care? Avant garde musical terrorists or hippy sub-Gong pseuds? Your guess is as good as mine. I felt much the same about San Fransisco nutters the Residents, who ploughed a similarly eccentric furrow. Being the weirdest, least commercial of all the Portsmouth bands, it's perhaps only natural that they became the best known in 'hip circles'. They sent tapes to the Residents who 'dug their vibe' (maaan) and brought them into their fold where they released at least one album for a major minor label. Renaldo & The Loaf feature on the South Specific album and played a leading role in the album's conception, design and release. They were 'on the scene' at the time, but not part of it. It's questionable if they are actually part of anything other than their own weird world. God bless 'em.
SAFETY IN NUMBERS. Just as the crowd at Fratton Park were awarded an honoury number 13 jersey in the Pompey squad, so the fanzine Safety In Numbers is given equal status to the bands it so enthusiastically and fairly covered. Written and produced by local music fans Ken Brown and Kev Smith, SIN was not only a good local read, it was the equal of any regional fanzine and better than some of the national music press. The fact that each of the early issues sold out rapidly and one issue reportedly selling for £130 on the internet is testimony to its quality of writing and presentation. The passion for music in the city exhibited in the fanzine's pages is still evident and in practice today. Ken Brown not only runs a business, he also acts as a promoter of local gigs for Square Roots Productions. Whilst most of us have let our guitars and drumkits gather dust, Safety In Numbers in the the shape of Ken keep going. Ken, and Kev, I salute you.
INDULGE YOUR INDIFFERENCE.
Punk/Indie roots in Portsmouth. “Punk happened because it needed to happen.” John Lydon asserted, and he was right. How it happened, how it developed in towns and cities across the country depended on many factors. It's important to be clear about what I mean by 'punk.' There have in the years and decades that followed 1976, been myriad bands and fans laying claim to the term but the truth is that punk as a genuinely new, radical, primal scream of anti-fashion, nihilistic anti-everything had died by the autumn of 1977. Perhaps as early as the summer.
Can it really be true, that punk in its purest form lasted less than a year? Sadly, gladly yes because punk was born out of anger and rejection.
It defiantly proclaimed; “Dunno what I want but I know how to get it, I wanna destroy..” It was a dead end, we all knew that yet it was still a million times better than the alternative, ie numbing conformity... “Blind acceptance is a sign, of stupid fools who stand in line.” Punk ended because the majority of those who originally participated got bored with how swiftly the whole ethos became a caricature of itself, how bands gleefully sold their souls to industry and how rebellion was so readily turned into money. “Oh,bondage trousers £75? Up yours!”
REM's Michael Stipe later summed it up succinctly in 'What's the Frequency?”; “To walk away in disgust is not the same as apathy.”
Portsmouth 1975, while the rest of the country was embroiled in social unrest and political upheaval Portsmouth continued to function as though it were still 1970. In 1970, the future for Pompey youth was set in stone, one either had parents with money and/or accrued sufficient primary education to get you into Grammar school, or you dully accept your fate, namely five years mucking about at secondary modern followed by an apprenticeship in the Dockyard or one of the defence contractors dotted around the city and its hinterland.
The new wave of 16 year olds churned out by Portsmouth schools in 1975 encountered a new economic reality however. Old certainties no longer existed; the numbing security of a job for life for instance had begun to disappear. There was still work to be found but nothing that promised any future. The alternatives were to sign on the dole or go to college, the latter option simply a way of delaying the former, and only available to kids who hadn't messed around at secondary school too much and passed a couple of O'levels, and whose parents were willing and able to finance the indulgence. The 1970's get a lot of stick musically. But it wasn't all bad. True, by 1976 the singles charts that had previously been the natural home of Gary Glitter, Sweet, Slade, Bowie, Roxy Music and T.Rex were now infested by saccharine disco and novelty records and 'rock'n'roll' had become a fat, lumbering parody of itself...but there was still some pretty good stuff to listen to if you could be bothered/knew where to find it, or had a big brother or sister to introduce you to the likes of the Velvet Underground, Iggy or the New York Dolls. There was creativity and an alternative creative bubbling away, but it was a cult thing, with progressive rock overshadowing everything with its massive gut. The Portsmouth punk scene developed I suppose in much the same way as it happened elsewhere with some very particular difficulties and obstacles to overcome. Portsmouth isn't a big city but it is amazingly disparate. Local areas have their own manners and lore and it's quite possible to live in one Portsmouth locale for decades and never visit one's neighbouring communities. To many from Southsea, Cosham is as 'up north' as Manchester, Farlington as foreign as France. The city is a conglomeration of small villages living cheek by jowl, mostly in peace and ignorance of each other’s existence. Being a city of contradictions however, it's also the case that Portsmouth is a fantastically nosey place. By dint of its population density, if someone breaks wind in Somers Town, within an hour residents of Paulsgrove will be asking “who's farted?' It only takes a spark to start a fire, and punk started in Portsmouth as a series of small smouldering compost heaps of dissatisfaction which quickly coalesced into something more coherent.
Not a raging wild fire perhaps, more a bonfire that has got out of control.
There were one or two on the Portsmouth scene who through luck or design been in London during punk's early, halcyon days. They returned to the city and spread the word to their friends, most of whom were distinctly unimpressed at the idea of playing badly, dressing worse and advocating anarchy.
For a working class city, Portsmouth has always been somewhat reactionary in its political outlook.
Home to the Royal Navy, pragmatism and patriotism merged to form an unbreakable loyalty to the rule of Her Majesty, the strength of her fleet and Portsmouth's role in its upkeep. To wear a t-shirt bearing the message; “F**k the Queen” really was tantamount to treason since it questioned not only something as abstract as the monarchy, but actual jobs and ways of life.
It was one thing to put two fingers up to bankers in London, it was something far more dangerous to do on the streets of Portsmouth. Being a punk in Portsmouth was a lonely affair and might have been a dispiriting one had it not been for an inner conviction and glorious chance encounters. For the most part, you were a punk at home in your bedroom. You listened to John Peel's show, read the music press avidly and watched more in hope than expectation new tv shows such as So It Goes or Something Else.
You forayed onto the streets at your own risk wearing anything connected to punk, even a homemade badge could get you into trouble. These small details of style however made fellow believers easily identifiable and many friendships and bands were formed on the basis of seeing someone in the street taking similar risks and daring to...talk. It was something you just didn't do before punk, approach a stranger and ask them about themselves. Punk quickly brought a select few together.
There were few records to buy initially, the first 'proper punk' vinyl I suppose was the Ramones first album on import, that and the suspiciously hippy Patti Smith album. Self-financed singles did start to appear and were played on Peel's show. If you wanted to actually buy them however, it meant a journey up to London's Rough Trade. Few bands toured and those that did mostly avoided Portsmouth, so once again a jaunt up to London was required to see any of the 'happening bands.'
Live music in Portsmouth revolved around the Guildhall, the city's major venue for major groups, the Polytechnic where more edgy, student friendly bands were booked and the innumerable pubs that played host to dreadful blues, rock, progressive and r&b outfits. Punks were welcome in none of these venues and whislt the Poly featured several bands punks wanted to see, actually getting past their door staff was only marginally less demanding than escaping East Berlin on a pogo stick. Yes, bands did start to come to us, Generation X, The Jam, X-Ray Spex, Cortinas, Jayne County, Sham 69, Cure and the Damned all showed up eventually and it was great but, what about homegrown bands. Where were Pompey's Pistols, Cosham's Clash? The Portsmouth punk/indie band scene started as what I earlier defined as 'punk' was dying. It couldn't, by definition have been any other way.
I realise I have left some bands out of the A-Z…. The likes of Chaos featuring at least one offspring of Portsmouth's Gentle Giant were apparantly doing the rounds at the time, yet I never encountered them so can't comment. The same goes for the Thought Police.
Mike Malignant and the Parasites perhaps deserve an entry of their own, if only for their rather good shared ep with Pink Flamingos. Mike and the band were apparantly upset at not being included in the South Specific project. In the project's defence I'd have to say that it was made open to all and at no time did the Parasite collective show any interest in joining until afterwards.
I'm unaware of many gigs played by the Parasites apart from at the Homewell Free Concert and can't, based on the information I have, include them in the greater scheme of things.
If anyone has better information I'll be glad to amend the list.
Toxicomaine and Anna Blum the two 'invited' bands on South Specific were still at an embryonic stage back then and I'm unsure if they ever progressed beyond recording the tracks they contributed. If they did more, then accept my apologies.
There were of course the 'hangers on' to the scene, bands such as Public Heirs who played fast r&b and flirted with punk imagery (the singer ripped the sleeves from his t-shirt and..well that was about as far as it went) in an effort to attach themselves to the punk scene.
Forgive me if I briefly indulge in a little tragic 'rockism'. When The Fence played their first gig, nervous as hell, we were a lowly support to Public Heirs who took to the stage to an announcement from Roland Woods (club impresario. Sic)..”Now put your hands together for Portsmouth's number one band...Public Heirs!” How vile we agreed, how sad...how very rock'n'roll we sneered. Life can have a wonderful symmetry sometimes and as chance would have it, our final gig was at the same venue and the other band on that night was Public Heirs. The tables had turned however and they were supporting us. We thrashed through our first song, then Nigel called for quiet and informed the crowd; “What a great privilege it was to be supported by Pompey's number one band!” How vile, how sad, how very rock'n'roll...how hysterically amusing. I’ll put my claws back in now!
I have a horrible feeling there's at least one major player on the scene who I have left out, no doubt their name will come to me as soon as this is published. If this is the case, a thousand apologies. One name that comes to mind I suppose is; BONDAGE IN GENERAL, Portsmouth's own punk 'boutique' at the top of Commercial Road. It sold expensive tartan bondage trousers and expensive Sex Pistols and Clash t-shirts, badges and fanzines and became a hub of sorts for the scene, particularly the young ones. To me it rather smacked of opportunism, of trying to milk gullible wannabe punks but from what I know, the owners were sincere and it forms another 'thread in the tapestry'.
NAMES & FACES.
In no particular order,
Rob McQoid (RIP), troubled and troubling. Fashion victim and agent provocateur Rob was a face on the punk scene, and every scene that followed. For every bad tale there is about him, there's one which displays a more decent side.
Mad' Rob, the Grim Reaper of punk, his name alone was sufficient to put ice in your soul. Confusingly, Rob was a dead ringer for Terry from the Daubers. Mistaken identity at a gig almost lead to this author not writing today!
Bernice (?) legendary punk girl. Is it true she got on stage and smacked the singer of Virginia Doesn't in the mouth when the band played a novelty punk song? If not, it should be!
Perry Gobels, Clash fanatic and ever present at gigs.
Andy Lavender, legendary for being legendary. If there was even a hint of punk in the air, Andy could usually be found.
Roland Woods, promoter and alternative accountant, insofar as he could never account for paying bands less than agreed but there was no alternative.
Steve Pescott, savant and serial music fanatic, odd and the better for it.
Terry in HMV Commercial Rd, bearded but can be forgiven since he did his best to supply local punks with the vinyl they craved and...so many others, forgive me for missing you off the list, the above were just a few that came immediately to mind.
In 1980 I moved to Scotland where I continued playing in bands and got involved in the newly founded Cartel indie distribution network. I kept track of events back in Portsmouth and was pleased to see new venues such as Granny's opening and a surge of new bands playing.
I was kinda disappointed that few of these bands who released vinyl, or even cassettes availed themselves of the Cartel's services. The route was there for Pompey bands to make their product available throughout the UK yet they never did. Perhaps it was the Cartel's fault for not advertising our services but since we didn't charge a distribution fee and all worked for low wages, I don't think the blame lay entirely with us. In the past I have perhaps over emphasised the role the first wave of bands played in the history of Portsmouth punk and indie and I apologise for droning on like a broken record sometimes. My only excuse was that the period between 76 and 1980 was incredibly important to me, made me who I am today (sadly!) and shaped my outlook when embarking on later projects. Punk changed because it had to change. You can only negate yourself and the world for so long.
Anger is an energy but anger can only sustain you for a limited period. Unless hope is added to the recipe the 'No Future' diet quickly becomes toxic. Pop will indeed eat itself unless it moves on. It was one thing to say 'F**k this, f**k that', and really 'Mean it maaan', far more challenging was to find a replacement to all we derided. It was asking a lot and it all ended in failure...didn't it?
Well no actually, in a hundred sneaky ways punk changed Britain, and Portsmouth forever. It might lost many battles but did manage to subvert the war.
There's a load more I could say but won't for now. I'd like to thank everyone who was around at the time, and those who are only now discovering who did what and when, I hope some of what I've written helps put 'meat on the bones'. If you want a more in depth look at the scene, especially the scene that followed on from the one I describe above, check out '20 Missed Beats' by Anthony Rollinson. Part fan, part scholar, Tony's book is as exhaustive and mostly accurate guide to the Pompey scene there has ever been, or likely to be. Now out of print, Portsmouth libraries have half a dozen copies still available for loan. It's good enough to bother getting/renewing your library card... nothing else to say but...
PLAY UP POMPEY PUNKS.
The Chimes....................or was it the Frames? at a beach party in Eastney on 6th June 1981 where we supported them.
Our band was called Savage Amusement, Andrew Gent bass. “Virginia doesn’t”
Ian Parminter, was in Rob Mc Quoids Riot Squad then became Body Count, then the Tribe! Nick Haines’ first band!
Steve Pescott remembers.....