If you grew up as a teenager in Yorkshire in the late 1970s, as I did, it was difficult to avoid being reminded that you had been cast adrift. Punk was already drowning, not waving: cowed into Submission by The Man and earnestly picked over on BBC youth outreach programming for us regional types.  Occasionally, Tony Wilson would pop up to tell us that we were the scum of the earth and that we were beautiful. But mostly, being ‘from the North’ meant just that. You couldn’t wait to get away…
I have mentioned elsewhere in this blog that I was a punk, which is to say that I was a bit mixed up. I was bored by what my friends were listening to – Queen, Iron Maiden, Hawkwind, Judas Priest. I couldn’t believe my ears when, out of my transistor radio, the sound of jackboots marching preceded my first encounter with the Sex Pistols in 1977. The fact that my dad hated it merely sealed the deal. I was now officially a punk, albeit mostly at weekends. (A few years later I would discover that, unwittingly, I had been a part-time punk all along!)
I became obsessed with the Sex Pistols. It didn’t matter that the band had already cemented their reputation with three gloriously swaggering singles which had managed to pass me by. I lived in Leeds; I expected nothing else. Every Saturday afternoon, after Swap Shop, I would hang around the Leeds branch of HMV. It was a suitably gloomy affair that for some reason stank of hippie juice. I would stand and stare at the wall filled with 7” picture sleeves and coloured vinyl, drinking in safety pins, tartan bondage strides, flying gob, neon mohair sweaters, ransom note chic. I started buying the NME whenever the Sex Pistols name appeared on the cover (often) and read Nick Kent, until he was denounced by punk’s Khmer Rouge. I sought out punk on television, even if it meant having to endure my dad’s peculiarly incensed commentaries as well. The Sex Pistols appeared on Look North and were rude. I laughed like a drain, then got sent to my room!
I didn’t tell anybody that I was a punk for a while. Perhaps I had my doubts about whether I could still listen to The Beatles and didn’t want to get called out on it? However, I did eventually try and put a band together. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t play any instrument – although I do have quite a good singing voice as it happens – or had not the first idea of what putting together a band actually meant. All I knew was that we had a great name and even the beginnings of a sort of theme song – though why we needed a theme song I have no idea to this day.  We called ourselves The Council Gritlayers and the first verse of our song was: “Look out! Look out! We’re dangerous! / We’re not joking. We’re serious! / Look out! Look out! We’re dangerous! / The Council Gritlayers … That’s us!” (The phone never stopped ringing!)
Somewhat inevitably, I pronounced myself singer and ‘lead guitarist’. I had decided to take a leaf out of the Buzzcocks’ songbook and literally play the same note over and over. The same went for my singing. My friend, Daz, could actually play guitar chords – G, C, D, E and, occasionally, F – so he was a shoe-in for rhythm guitarist. We didn’t know what a bass player did, so we moved straight on to looking for a drummer and invited a friend of a friend with his own kit. One problem: he hated punk. Another problem: he adored Black Sabbath. Yet another problem: whatever I now think about Black Sabbath (I’m still not entirely sold), in late 1978 I thought they sounded like the work of the devil (which is ironic if you think about it)! We broke up in January 1979 – exactly a year to the day that the Sex Pistols had broken up on tour in America. The world still mourns… for the loss of the Sex Pistols, obviously.
In pride of place on the wall of HMV, was a copy of Holidays In The Sun with its withdrawn cover – pilfered from a Belgian Travel brochure apparently – which was to prove for me an elusive prize. I never did get to own one and had to make do with a copy in a generic Virgin sleeve. My first copy had a mispressed B-side; it played Airport by The Motors. I took it back. It’s probably worth a fortune now.
1] These awful, stilted, poor excuses for thirty minutes of your life you’d never have back again were like Why Don’t You… (ask your mum) for people who wanted to switch off their television set and go and do themselves in instead. I have a vivid memory of seeing Joy Division on one of these things and thinking, that funny dancing bloke; he doesn’t look long for this world. And if I could see that…
2] It’s not like we were The Punkees, living together in the same dodgy squat in Notting Hill.