THREE BLACK SUITS: HARSH WHITE LIGHT 

(Article by Adrian Fox)

Picture this. The Kid, young, loud, snotty and all of 16, makes his approach to the Roxy club, Covent Garden, London WC2 on a cold and frosty night in the third week of January, 1977.

The club has only been open for three weeks and The Kid, garbed in a white, multi-sloganned button-down-collared shirt, black trousers and school blazer, plimsoles and a thin black tie (knotted carefully and exactly at the breastbone, just like the others), shivers a little, but will soon feel the heat. He knows who he wants to see and he’s here, ‘home’, the place where a shop assistant like himself can spend often up to four nights a week, filling his head with the kind of rebel noise that ‘the rest’ don’t yet quite know, or even begin to understand…

The heavy dub played by DJ Don Letts from inside drifts outwards, the alien Rasta rhythms new and exciting to The Kid. A fat girl with multi-shaded hair is being sick over a car bonnet outside the club, and The Kid stands in line with the three girls he arrived with, signing himself into the visitors’ book as ‘Mary Queen Of Scots’, tonight (no guest list kid, this evening).

Noise exudes as he descends the stairs to the God Basement, the eyes of his three female companions gleaming in anticipation of unrestricted wildness, just like his own, the black, self-painted badge with the clumsy white lettering on his jacket declaring his allegiance…

The crowd is thick, noisesome and crammed together, The Kid snaking artfully to the small bar for a half-pint can of Colt 45 lager (overpriced, but he doesen’t have to worry, for inside his black blazer is the half-bottle of brandy he’s sneaked in, as usual, to slug in some dark corner to ‘get him there’). The Kid looks with disdain at some cruddy ‘weekend’ Punk, who’s clothes and attitude are suburban and totally wrong. He can, being ‘2nd Generation’, a veteran already of Autumn and Winter 1976. The heavy dub was replaced awhile ago for a support band who still play, and although he likes this support band, The Kid can hear the latest imported American record he’s recently bought, in his head; ‘X Offender’ by Blondie. Fast. Mean. Violent pop.

The Adverts from Devon are onstage and finishing their set, ‘Drowning Men’ the cryptic tune they exit with, seven months later to appear on their debut LP. Gaye, the female bassist, stares at The Kid in recognition, wan, sexually-brunette with doomed and sunken dark eyes, an ethereal spectre in the night…

Then They are here. The ones he really came to see, the ones he latched onto many times in late ’76 at ‘The Hope And Anchor’, Islington, and ‘The Rochester Castle’, Stoke Newington, seen for prices like seventy pence. Tonight it cost one pound. Them.

Tuning up their guitars in a normally-unforgivable opening gesture, They stand on the postage-stamp of a stage, black mohair suits under harsh white light, a flurry of immediate action sending the condensed crowd wild, The Kid joining his mates (Shane and Claudio) right by the amps at the front, ‘The Pogo Kings’ launching into their dance as the three men in black rip out the chords of ‘Changed My Address’, smart, hard and collected…

The Kid laughs as Shane and Claudio pogo so wildly they collide with the modestly-sized amps, threatening to go over them onto the stage, The Kid trying to crack the exposed pipes above him and destroy the floor beneath him, energised by the beat. Paul Weller, like a ferret on Speed, snarls the lyrics with short-cropped hair already dripping with sweat, Rick Buckler on drums behind him flashing white light on his cool, rectangular shades, Bruce Foxton smiling benignly, all three striking enough poses to burn into memory. Weller’s blood-red Rickenbacker is the central and focal point…

There is a space made for the three Pogo Kings, elbow room miraculously aplenty as they show their pleasure, the three men in black giving them exactly what they came for. ‘Batman’, the present tune, chords fractured but perfect, slices into the night like Sweeney Todd’s industrious razor…

Their act is tailored as neatly as their suits, as pristine as their overall stance, which is why They are always so popular, here or anywhere. They play fast and hard in keeping with the present time, but the aggression is expert, calculated and clean. The Kid and others somehow know they will be big, but the thing about them most striking to the appreciative observer, is that whenever they play they are never lazy, or skip through their set like they want to be gone before they even arrive, like some. This is noted…

It goes on. ‘In The City’, ‘Art School’, ‘Away From The Numbers’, ‘Slow Down’, ‘Ride Your Pony’ and so on. Claudio is the one who, as legend has it, possesses over 100 pairs of shades. The Kid is the Fanzine Ed. London’s These Things. The men in black will be in the next one, for sure. Shane wears a union jack jacket, the much-photographed 1st Generation Punk Face screaming into the faces of his friends, Claudio and The Kid screaming back at him. The trio finally fly over the amps, Weller grinning as they pile in a tangle of bodies at his feet. ‘Time For Truth’ is snapped out in machine gun bursts from Weller’s mouth, perhaps just for them alone.

They engineer the rest of their set in a like-manner, the tunes not yet out on plastic. The self-painted badge on The Kid’s jacket reads: ‘A Poor Man’s Jam’, in homage to his heroes.

The Kid was me; Arcane Vendetta, as I was known, then. The Jam still exist in a multitude of long-ago nights, abrasive chords, contorted faces and venomous voices echoing like shards of broken glass with sharp vitality, through the weaving mists of years.

Away from the numbers, all well and maybe. But. Some ex-Punks ride scooters, nowadays…

(A True Account Of One Such Night)




(Article by Adrian Fox)