..so there I sat, on-stage, on a deck chair, in a black string vest and a headband, reading a paperback copy of The Shining, as the room slowly filled up..
I’ve been looking in The Box. You probably have a box of the past, too. The one I’ve been delving into, took me back to Sheffield in the late 70s/ early 80’s, where the burgeoning, eclectic local band scene, provided a livid, energetic soundscape for all those who cared to partake of it’s many noisy wares. It’s players ranged from the innovative and virtuosic, to the rough, and not always ready, but who plugged in anyway and were nothing if not doggedly enthusiastic. There was a definite family feel amongst a lot of the bands, (literally in some cases, where siblings played together) and whilst there were some inevitable fallings out, the mutual support amongst musicians out-weighed any back-sniping. There were regular gigs on pretty much every night of the week, including The Hallamshire on West St, Marples in town, The Maze at the Uni, The Broadfield in Netheredge (where I did my first ever gig), George IV, opposite the Kelvin Flats and several more further out, such as The Penguin at Shiregreen, and The Ship Inn in Chesterfield. Whenever I see people who were around at the time, swapping stories of these days, on FB, it is virtually always with great affection for the venues and the line-ups.
One of my favourite venues to perform at, was the Ritblat Tube Club at The Royal, a big pub on the junction of Abbeydale Rd and London Rd. As their hand-drawn leaflets helpfully informed us, buses 17, 24,26,36,72 & 76, would all take us there. Ah yes, those cheap bus fares. Anywhere for 2p! The club was started up by Steve Baker, who managed local band, The Process. I think it was a Wednesday night gig, but as there were no ‘fashionable’ nights in them days, it mattered not whence sets of borrowed amps were heaved out of vans, or when pockets were rattled in the hope of finding enough change for the price of admission, and a pint. We were up for it any night of the week. The pub had a fair sized function room, which somehow always managed to feel intimate, and an ever enthusiastic crowd. Factor in the friendly guys who ran the club, and you always had an enjoyable gig on your hands, on or off stage.
I performed there many times, with various local bands. One tea-time I was having a bath when the phone rang. Back then, telephones were always in the hallway and I heard my mum answer it, then shout up from the bottom of the stairs. ”Mark! Someone called Elaine on the phone, from…what’re you from again, love? She’s from Vague Thread! She says, can do a spot tonight at…where did you say again love..The Rip what..?” (It was the singer from Veiled Threat, and The Ritblat). I bounded downstairs, dripping wet, hastily knotting a towel around me as I descended, then grabbed the receiver before she could embarrass me further! As a stark reminder of exactly how long ago those gigs were, I remembered a review of a gig there, in The Star, written by local music journalist Martin Lilleker, in which he mentioned an impression I had done of the American President at the time – Jimmy Carter!
So in the photo above, I’m onstage at the Ritblat, (aficionados will recognize the posters on the back wall, of various tinctures and spirits.) The young woman is unhooking my string vest which had got caught in the mic stand. Ah, my string vest. It had been one of my dad’s. Standard white originally, of course, I dyed it in a bucket, (the same bucket I used to mix paste in, for fly-posting) along with a headband and wrist-bands from Sugg’s sports shop. I did wear some curious garb to perform in, in those days. God knows what my dad and his workmates at the Sheffield Corporation, where he’d worked as an excavator driver, would have made of how his vest ended up. Sort of new romantic meets the MC from Cabaret, by way of some tennis accessories, and an old Yorkshireman’s under-garment! Does anyone, anywhere still wear string vests? You could get string pants as well, I believe. Don’t think my old man had any of those, well, I never saw any drying on the rack anyway, but if he had, I think I would have definitely drawn a line. Once in Manchester I’d done a gig with John Cooper Clarke and was interviewing him afterwards for a Sheffield fanzine. We were in the dressing room, me with my vest hanging down, and JCC asked in his Manc drawl, ‘’When you go for a shit, does it come out as chips?’’ Still have the interview, somewhere in the box.
This was also a time for when many lads experimented with make-up. I wore black eye-liner, and sometimes even black lipstick, which I’d cadged off my sister. The lippy was only for performing in, but the eye-liner was OK for any old night down West Street. I would pencil it on, then dash downstairs and out the door before my mum could see me!
At one Ritblat gig, I decided for some reason, before the gig began, to sit on the stage, on a small fold-out deck chair, resplendent in the aforementioned vest and make-up, reading a paperback copy of The Shining. Sat there for half an hour whilst the room slowly filled up. ?? No, me neither, not a clue what that was about. An attempt at something performance arty I suppose. If my mum had been a reviewer for The Star, it would have been a very short one. ‘Daft bugger’. The End.
The woman who came to my vest’s aid that night, was called Pam Procter, a poly student when I first met her, and a regular on the band scene’. She, like a lot of students, ended staying on in the city after finishing their final year, and made Sheffield their permanent home. It must have been the great music and cheap buses. Haven’t heard anything of Pam for years. The photos were taken by Pat Mackle, someone else I haven’t heard of in eons, a student, who wrote the Pink Flag fanzine and was a mate of another student called Eddie Izzard, who seemed a fairly quiet guy who cross-dressed a bit. It would be a few years yet before that particular action-transvestite made his mark..
So i’ll put the photos back for now. It’s too easy to lose track of time in there, to get lost amongst the stapled together pages of all those crudely but lovingly assembled fanzines, NMX, The Bath Banker, Pink Flag etc, where it’s still the 80s. There’s still the gigs, the music, the reviews and the pub rooms; the laughs, and the seriousness, the hopefuls and the head-cases, and a few now sadly departed. Yes, there are a few ghosts in the box nowadays. But, I’m glad to say, they are a little friendlier than the ones I read about in The Shining…