The Thatcher Crisis Years

1980s politics blog from TV historian Tony McMahon

violent attacks punk bands

Much of the hype around punk since it burst on to the scene in the 1976 is that it instigated an orgy of bad language and violence. But in fact, it was more often than not punk bands who were subject to violent attacks. A year into the punk revolution, there was a depressing litany of attacks on bands from The Sex Pistols to The Damned. The perpetrators could be be described as morons. The punks who suffered were surprisingly dignified given the situation.

The 1977 Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II polarised opinion between ultra-loyal monarchists and punk sceptics. The majority of the country fell somewhere in between. It’s hard to imagine now how dangerous things became for leading punk rock artists. Johnny Rotten was attacked outside Dingwalls in Camden in June 1977 by what were termed ‘jubilee vigilantes’ at the time. Thugs who justified their violent attacks by convincing themselves they were defending the person of the Queen.

Punk bands and violent attacks

At Cleethorpes, a gig by The Stranglers ended up with two members of the audience getting on to the stage, lashing out at Jean Jacques Burnel. Guitars were swung in defence. A cymbal stand used, according to one witness, “like a chrome-plate weapon of medieval war”. The band were able to retreat back to their dressing room bringing the whole fracas to a conclusion.

The Damned were less lucky. Their altercation was in the dressing room itself. The band had played their set and were relaxing when some ‘heavies’ burst in. This occurred at the Penzance Garden in June 1977. In the same month at the Lincoln Drill Hall, ‘punks and boot boys’ were already brawling before a note had been played. A gang of 30 to 40 youths attempted to storm the gig armed with pieces of wood and bricks. As fans left, they were ambushed and beaten up on the way home.

At the Music Machine in Camden, Bob Geldof was left bruised and stunned when a youth clambered on to the very high stage and took a swing at him. The same youth had alleged attacked Sid Vicious on another occasion. So he had form. Geldof mentioned bottles being thrown. And I certainly recall bands getting bottles and worse chucked at them. At a gig at the Lyceum in London, I saw punters stamping beer cans into flag circles with sharp, jagged edges and using them as deadly frisbees at the stage. The drummer of one band had his forehead cut. I can’t imagine what injuries were sustained by some people back then. Makes me shudder still.

DISCOVER: Punk and ska movies of the 1980s

The whole punk versus Ted thing on the Kings Road

While punk bands were subject to violent attacks – some punks were up to no good. On Saturdays, a depressing ritual began to be played out where Teddy Boys and punks beat each other up on the Kings Road in Chelsea. Especially the area around Beaufort Street. One punk agitator was witnessed going to gigs and urging his fellow punks to join him for some Teddy Boy action. When X-Ray Spex played The Man in the Moon in Chelsea – a venue long gone – this punk was haranguing the fans to join his putative punk army.

One unfortunate result of this was an unprovoked attack on the American photographer and chronicler of punk, Leee Black Childers (first name spelt deliberately with three letter E’s). He recorded the rise of seminal punk rockers the New York Dolls and took many snaps of Andy Warhol. Debbie Harry, Wayne County and the Sex Pistols were all subjected to his camera lens. But then….he was beaten up in London because he was rocking a 1950s look. Mistaken for a Teddy Boy and thumped by his own side – the punks.

Politicians enable violent attacks on punk bands

The violent attacks on punk bands were effectively legitimised by the incendiary comments made by supposedly respectable politicians. Bernard Brook-Partridge (1927-2018) was a Conservative member of the Greater London Council for about twenty years including the entire 1970s. Frankly, an unremarkable political figure whose obituary was only the slightest bit memorable on account of his vocal opposition to the Sex Pistols. This is what he said on one occasion to camera:

“Most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death…(in reference to the Sex Pistols) I would like to see somebody dig an exceedingly large hole and drop the whole bloody lot down it, the whole world would be vastly improved by their total and utter non-existence.”

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