The History of Punk Rock
DIARY of PUNK
Part One THE BEGINNINGS
St Mark's Place, Manhattan
Patti Smith gives her first "alternative poetry" reading and soon becomes the darling of the New York underground bohemian scene.
Croydon School of Art, London
Kilburn and the High Roads, having taken their name literally from a road sign, perform their first gig. Fronted by former art student Ian Dury, they play a blend of r'n'b and jazz.
A new band, the Dolls of New York, starts a 17-week stint at Mercer Arts Centre, Manhattan. Line-up consists of David Johanson, Sylvain Sylvain, Arthur Kane, Johnny Thunders, Billy Murcia. After six weeks the band change their name to the New York Dolls and their frenetic thrashing songs and apparently fashionless cross-dressing establish a much-needed antidote to what had become a boring mainstream music scene.
Short sharp songs like "Jet Boy", Personality Crisis" and "Subway Train" and frenetic on-stage antics draw comparisons with the early Rolling Stones but in truth there is no tangible point of reference - this is truly new.
The alternative to mainstream pop music is largely limited to what is known as the "Pub Rock" circuit. Largely the focus for beer-swilling also-rans, there are a few exceptional talents. As well as the aforementioned Kilburn and the High Roads there are notably Brinsley Schwartz, Ducks Deluxe and Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers. Without question the most inspiring are the apparently psychotic Dr Feelgood.
These bands ply their trade at down-market London pubs like the Kensington and the Hope & Anchor in Islington. In South-West London one Declan McManus, the son of a band-leader, does a solo act.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band achieve mainstream success with their curious mix of pop, Glam rock, drama, pastiche and music-hall. Traditionalists cannot understand how an act like this can be remotely popular. Among the audiences at their gigs are Tony James, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon.
Wayne County, heavily impressed and influenced by the Dolls, adds performing on an on-stage toilet to his repertoire.
A band delicately entitled Suicide describe their show at the Mercer Arts Centre as "Punk, Funk and Sewer Music"
New York Dolls play a gig in London, on the same bill as The Faces. Whilst in London, the Dolls happen to visit a Kings Road clothing shop called Let It Rock. The shop is run by Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood, who are immediately impressed by the Dolls fashion sense and general attitude.
Billy Murcia, the Dolls' drummer, dies following an overdose of Mandrax. He is eventually replaced by Jerry Nolan.
Richard Meyers and Tom Miller form the Neon Boys. Their only record release is "Love Comes In Spurts" and the pair soon change their names to Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine.
The New York Dolls, firmly established as the number one "underground" band in New York, release their first album, "New York Dolls".
Other bands are forming and playing support to the Dolls at the Mercer, Max's Kansas City and the Diplomat Hotel in New York. As well as the now-established Wayne County and Suicide, support acts include a strange young man from Maine called Jonathan Richman, with his band The Modern Lovers.
Now second only to Dr Feelgood on the pub rock circuit, Kilburn and the High Roads are signed up by Raft Records. Supplementing the traditional rock line-up of Ian Dury singer/songwriter, Terry Day on drums, Ted Speight on guitar and Ian Smith on bass are a piano player, Russell Hardy, and Davey Payne on saxophone.
Bobern Tavern, New York. Debut performance by The Stilettos with lead singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein.
John Cummings, Doug Colvin (having been turned down at an audition for the Neon Boys) and Jeff Hyman form The Ramones. They change their names to Johnny Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone and Joey Ramone respectively. They publicise themselves as a bunch of three-chord playing idiotic morons.
playing at the Newlands Tavern in Peckham are a band called Johnny Sox. After a few gigs they split up and frontman Hugh Cornwell starts a new band called Guilford Stranglers.
Ramones stage debut at the Performance Studio on East 23rd Street, New York.
New York Dolls second album, "Too Much Too Soon", is released.Rolling Stone magazine hails them as "the best hard rock band in America"
The Ramones' manager, Tommy Erdleyi, arranges a line-up change. The drummer Joey becomes the singer and Tommy himself becomes the new drummer, Tommy Ramone.
Scottish-born conceptual arts student David Byrne, together with cohorts Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, move from Providence to New York and change the name of their band from The Artistics to Talking Heads. The Artistics had been the loudest band on the circuit, playing mostly Troggs covers dressed all in black leather.
Malcolm McClaren takes over as manager of the New York Dolls, having followed them, awe-struck, around London and Paris. McLaren attempts to re-invent what was by now a gradually disintegrating band by proclaiming them to be born-again Communists - "Better Red Than Dead" is one of the slogans. The whole hammer-and-sickle thing backfires badly and is the beginning of the end for the Dolls.
The support band at the ill-advised Dolls re-launch at the New York Hippodrome are ex-Neon Boys Verlaine and Hell, now called Television. McLaren is impressed by Richard Hell with his torn clothes, safety pins and chopped-up hair. McLaren offers to take Hell to England and to become his manager, but Hell declines.
By now the darlings of the pub rock circuit, Brinsley Schwartz announce that they have had enough of constant touring. Bass player Nick Lowe vows to continue songwriting.
Television play their first headline gig at the Townhouse Theatre on 46th Street, Manhattan. UK-based Island Records send Brian Eno to New York to do some demos for Television but the culture clash is too great and nothing becomes of it.
With Malcolm McClaren in New York, his friend Bernie Rhodes continues to nurture a motley band that McClaren had named the Sex Pistols - Paul Cook, Glen Matlock (McLaren's Saturday boy at the shop) and Steve Jones. The Let It Rock shop had been re-named Sex.
The New York Dolls split up on tour in Miami, Florida.
Richard Hell, disenchanted with Television, joins ex-Dolls Thunders and Nolan and the threesome make their debut at Club 82 in New York as The Heartbreakers.
Hugh Cornwell's band has dropped the prefix "Guildford" and is now simply The Stranglers. They add keyboard player Dave Greenfield to bring a thicker texture to their sound.
CBGBs, another New York club, play host to The Summer Rock Festival. On the bill are The Ramones and Talking Heads. The New York Village Voice magazine have Talking Heads on the cover.
A certain John Lydon comes into McLaren's shop wearing an "I Hate Pink Floyd" T-shirt. Bernie Rhodes invites Lydon to meet with McLaren. At the Roebuck pub Lydon mimes outrageously to the juke-box and passes the audition easily. He becomes the singer and front man for the Sex Pistols.
The Ramones sign to Sire Records and record their first album in only eighteen hours.
The Sex Pistols play their first gig. The set at St Martin's Art College in the West End lasts only five songs - among them The Who's "Substitute" - when the plug is pulled.
The next day they complete a thirty-minute set at the Central School of Art and Design.
Malcolm McClaren and Bernie Rhodes are attempting to put bands together. Mixing, matching, making up names. McLaren's sense of theatre comes to the fore as he tries to pass off Chrissie Hynde (another shop assistant at Sex) as an effeminate male guitarist in a band entitled Masters of The Backside. Similarly the London SS with it's nazi regalia is deemed to be not quite what was required.
Out of the chaos and as a result of all the comings, goings, auditions and introductions, however, Chris Miller (soon to be called Rat Scabies - he did have scabies), Brian James, Dave Vanian and Ray Burns (latterly Captain Sensible) decide to form The Damned.
Diary of PUNK by Jamer Murray 1998 No rights reserved - you can use this material for any purpose.
Information Sources: NME, Melody Maker, Various record sleeves. E&OE.