Hundred Watts – A Life In Music
Hundred Watts – A Life In Music
The following extract is taken from the forthcoming Ron Watts biography – “Hundred Watts – A Life In Music” – to be published by Heroes Publishing on August 12th (ordering details below).
Monday 20th September, 1976. The opening night of the legendary, mythical, infamous 100 Club punk festival. I arrived at lunchtime, a bit earlier than usual, and even then the phones were going mad. The Pistols’ regular sound engineer, Dave Goodman, arrived with the PA, which was bigger than we’d normally hire due to the size of the crowd that was expected. The bands started to turn up early. Siouxsie was very nervous, as it was her first show and she hadn’t rehearsed properly. She told me the band was called Siouxsie & the Banshees. I liked Siouxsie, she was always straightforward and I looked forward to hearing what she was going to come up with.
The Clash arrived, full of their usual attitude. They’d been around almost from the off, and even before they were formed they’d been in other bands, so they thought they were superior to the rest. They knew how to do it.
Vic and the rest of Subway Sect and Stinky Toys rolled up, from South London and Paris respectively. There were a lot of nerves in the air. For all their bravado, the early punk bands wanted to be successful just like everyone else did and they knew that this was an important day in their lives. Finally, the Pistols turned up and did their soundcheck with as little fuss as they always did. For all their anarchic image, they were thoroughly professional when they played.
By now there was an air of almost unrestrained excitement. Everyone knew that this was the big one, and everyone involved was buzzing. The press were going mad to get the inside track on the festival, the phone kept ringing and the crowds had been building up from four in the afternoon. Queues were always a problem for us on big nights, as when customers got there early and began to queue outside they blocked the doors of shops in Oxford Street and the shop owners, who paid a fortune in rent and rates, were unsurprisingly angry. We tried to get out and break the queues up so that the shop doorways were clear, but we weren’t always successful. As the Melody Maker put it a week later, in one of the most oft-quoted openings of a gig review ever written: “The 600-strong line that stretched across two blocks was indisputable evidence that a new decade in rock is about to begin.” The feeling of outrage and attitude was there; this was what rock’n’roll should be about.
The doors opened at 7.30, and we were full to capacity an hour later. I’d better not say how many we finally let in. I know that I spent a lot of my time trying to get excitable young punks off the grand piano that was always in the club. It was Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks who spread the story of the piano, making out that I was some old fart who wanted to keep an ancient relic away from the youngsters tearing down the citadels of the old guard. He should have known better. The instrument was worth about £4,000 even back then and had been played by much bigger names than the Buzzcocks – Count Basie and Duke Ellington, for starters. Pete should have realised that punk wasn’t the be all and end all of music; it was another link in a chain that stretched back for decades, maybe centuries. The 100 Club piano was a part of that history and damaging it would have been like tearing down a medieval castle to build a football ground.
Unfortunately, a bigger problem soon arose in the familiar shape of one Sidney Vicious. I was on the door when a young girl came running up and told me that Sid was backstage, threatening Stinky Toys’ female singer, Elle, with a knife. I had to go and disarm him, and, not for the first time, he promised to behave himself. Two years later, when he was charged with stabbing his girlfriend Nancy Spungsten to death, I looked back to the festival and wonder if what Sid did then wasn’t a forerunner of how Nancy ended up.
Subway Sect opened proceedings and they did a decent set, despite having more or less been put together just for the festival. They impressed the Clash’s manager, Bernie Rhodes, so much that he booked them to play their forthcoming White Riot tour. Mr Vicious wasn’t helping matters, he was winding a few people up again, although even then he was fine with the Clash as their streetwise demeanour scared him a bit.
The Banshees came on but they didn’t really play. Sid tapped the drums, which at least kept him out of harm’s way for a while, they didn’t have a bass player, but the guitarist, Marco Perroni, who went on to play with Adam & the Ants when they were teen superstars, did something vaguely musical. Siouxsie sang the Lord’s Prayer mixed with bits of children’s songs and Deutschland uber Alles, which wasn’t too tactful given her fondness for Nazi imagery at the time, but there was no rhythm, tune or style. It wasn’t music so much as performance theatre. Normally I’d have dragged the band off stage and done something myself, but it worked in that they were the real thing, genuine punks doing what they wanted. It was in the spirit of the event. The audience didn’t mind too much, they were surprisingly polite about the performance.
The Clash were great that night. They rolled through their set competently and full of energy. The incident which has passed into legend, when Joe Strummer held up a radio to the mike and the audience were treated to a debate on Northern Ireland, came about because of a broken guitar string and showed how professional the band were. Even at that early stage of their life nothing could put the Clash off and I didn’t know it at the time, but they would become one of the greatest rock’n’roll bands Britain ever produced. The crowd loved them, from the opening White Riot to the set-closer 1977, as they loved the entire night. They were getting what they wanted. This was the big one, the first day of a new era. Nothing could compare with it either before or since. We were making history, I knew the festival would be big, but I never dreamed that it would go on to become such a legendary event.
I think it was Siouxsie who said that an estimated 8.7 million people swear to have attended the 100 Club punk festival. The Jam certainly reckon they were there, although I can’t say I recognised them. Even Paul Weller would have been just another face in the crowd back then. George Melly was another who claimed to have been in attendance, and if he had he would definitely have stood out. But again, I didn’t notice him.
There was a bit of a problem when I told Stinky Toys they couldn’t play until the following night because we were running late. Elle went off screaming that she was going to jump underneath a bus if they couldn’t go on, but I didn’t pay too much attention. It was time for the headline act.
The Pistols put on one of their best-ever performances. “What was it like to see the Pistols in 1976?” is one of those ‘wish I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked it’ questions, and the answer is that it was exactly as you’d imagine. Rotten would prowl the stage, insulting, cajoling everyone in the room, his eyes bulging dementedly as he made the audience as much a part of the show as the band. Cook and Jones would be standing behind Johnny, battering away at their instruments, while Glen Matlock always looked a bit bemused at the way punk was exploding all around.
The band had been playing to mixed crowds, and getting mixed responses, but they’d always managed to survive. A couple of weeks earlier there had been a riot in Paris when thousands were locked out of a show, but for much of the time they were playing around Britain to small audiences who had never heard of them and weren’t sure how to react to this musical explosion. Now they were back on home turf and they knew they had to deliver. I’d seen them a couple of dozen times by now but this was the best of the lot. By now they’d written almost all of their classic songs and they ripped through them all. As ever, they were on stage hardly more than half an hour but they were in control of everyone in the club from the time they walked on stage until they left. They had a job to do, and they did it. In one night, punk went from an underground cult to a mass movement. You could almost feel the record company A&R men standing outside on Oxford Street, being drawn from all over London by some sixth sense.
After the show, when the crowd were making their shell-shocked way home, we were all happy with the way things had gone. Malcolm McLaren was pleased, Vic Goddard would get Subway Sect together permanently, although they never did much sales-wise. Siouxsie had taken her Banshees off to be a proper band, the Clash were ready to move onwards and upwards and Stinky Toys carried on threatening suicide. None of us said much about it but we knew we’d been involved in something more than just a music promotion.
This sample chapter is taken from the forthcoming publication:
“Hundred Watts - A Life In Music”, by Ron Watts.
Out on 12th August, published by Heroes Publishing ISBN 0-9543884-4--5, price £7.99.
Our thanks go out to Dave Woodhall for the exclusive use of the above. Up the Villa!
Jean Encoule – tMx 25 – 06/06
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