I was too young to be a hippy, even if I had wanted to make herbal tea for long-haired bass guitarists caked in Bickershaw Festival mud. But the people I knew who weren’t hopelessly uninteresting WERE hippies, and so me and my seventeen-year-old mates were tolerated in their pads, as long as we were cool, and didn’t shriek too much. We could smoke Players No.6, and do swearing, and we could listen to “sounds”. “Sounds” could be “Heavy”, or ”Trippy ,and there was a great deal of Americana,of the Quicksilver Messenger Service, Neil Young, Buffalo Springfield, Joni Mitchell school of thought.
I found this a bit dull, shading into unbearable when people started singing along and strumming guitars. This was just embarrassing. The main thing for me was that everything went on and on for far too long. I am sure that there was a great deal of highly accomplished musicianship demonstrated at scarcely believable length. But I had, and still have, the attention span of an easily-distracted mayfly. Also, the position of women in the magical mystical world of hippies was still prone and still depressing. Endless tosh about sad-eyed Galadriels, trailing about being wise and unpossessive, lots of child-women, the occasional witch. The career choices seemed to be un-revolutionary; you could choose from being an Earth-mother, a symbolic nymph, or burnt at the stake.
I quite liked Pink Floyd.
So round about 1977, when I was living in Leeds and repenting at leisure, joining the ranks of the over-educated unemployed with a fairly useless degree in English under my belt, there started to be different music. I had been at University with one of a Gang of Four, and there was a band called the Mekons who cropped up a lot. And In the wider world, the Sex Pistols. I liked them. They had tunes. They also had John Lydon, who fascinated me with his Steerpike glare and his deranged Dickensian insect boy performances. They did a famous tour of the benighted North, including a gig at a club called Nikkers in near-ish Keighley. I don’t know the exact size of Nikkers, but it must have been XXXL. The number of people claiming to have been there would have certainly filled the Albert Hall. I also had a soft spot for the Stranglers. I thought they were rather fun, with their rapid arpeggios and sing-along lyrics.
The avant-garde art scene centred around Leeds Metropolitan University's (then Leeds Polytechnic) Fine Art course led to the formation of early 80s electronic pioneers Soft Cell. Marc Almond could be seen in the Fenton pub, wearing the sort of hat normally associated with the wife of a vicar.
In the early to mid-eighties the city was home to a large Goth scene and many local bands who went national, The March Violets, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Sisters of Mercy and Salvation (who were formed by The Sisters of Mercy roadies, if you care).
However, at this point Leeds was the epitome of fun-free grimness, and also mildly dangerous for the more conspicuous person. A fair bit of beating-up of students, punks, gays. women, and….well, anyone not deemed to be acceptably Neanderthal went on. There were still men-only bars. I remember being refused service in one called, welcomingly, “The Whip”. Oddly, my two hennaed eyelinered male escorts were served their pints of absinthe without demur. I exaggerate, but only mildly. At this point I was living in Leeds during the reign of the Yorkshire Ripper; when the response of the police to the murder of a student by Peter Sutcliffe was to distinguish her death from those of prostitute women he had previously slain by beginning to take the murders seriously, and helpfully placing a curfew on women. The National Front and organised football violence were also doing brisk business. All shops shut firmly at 5pm, even the city centre. There was something hard and inflexible about the town and the times. Chanting and incense was not going to budge anything in West Yorkshire. A more confrontational revolutionary youth culture, nasty, brutish, and short, was required.
So what did the Punk movement mean to me;, situated as I was in the dark satanic bit of Leeds near Armley jail, both unemployed and female? It meant that something new and energetic was bobbing its head up and waving its narrow-trousered legs. It meant that the “Anyone can and probably will form a terrible band” attitude allowed a few more women through to do more interesting things than abase themselves in the service of the flappy-trousered male rock god. So we got Poly Styrene, Laura Logic, Gaye Advert, Siouxsie Sioux and the Slits.
I wasn’t wild about the music, in the case of the Slits, particularly. I knew one Slit a little; Viv Albertine. She had awfully good manners.
But I did like the cheek of it all, and the novelty, of course.
However, I managed to tear myself away from Leeds 2 (No Good, as I would always add to my postcode, thus ensuring non-delivery by the furiously Yorkist post office), and flitted off back to Liverpool, where things were being done rather differently.
There was a place called Eric’s. |There were some interesting characters; Jayne Casey, Pete Burns..it all seemed a bit dreamier, glammer....sexier, back across the Pennines. But that, for now, is another story.
Liz Lacey 07/05/12