As with the first album you ever bought, the first gig you ever went to is something of a rite of passage. Perhaps you were, as I was, under-age and with tender ear-drums. Getting through the doors past the bouncer, in spite of being nearly four years under eighteen (and him being the size of a house), wasn’t a problem (perhaps because I was a girl…?) Even the process of buying a pint of cider at the bar was painless. Coping with the volume was something that got easier as the night wore on. But concealing my excitement at seeing a band I really admired up there on the stage, in all their real, raw glory, playing songs I had only previously heard in session on John Peel’s radio show, was impossible. For my first, proper gig was (cue drum-roll)…. Siouxsie & the Banshees at a little club called Triad in Bishop’s Stortford, January 1978.
I say ‘proper’ here because, to be honest, I had sort of seen a few live musical performances prior to this. The very first ‘grown-up’ one was a few months before when my friends and I stumbled into a 'Rock Club' night and caught a few numbers being played by some local bunch of long-hairs about whom every detail except that escapes me. The hall was sparsely populated and most of the punters were sitting on the floor, so it wasn’t exactly what you’d call wild. And as we were being picked up at 9.30pm by my friend’s over-anxious dad (we had school next day) the evening was a bit of a dead loss. So I’m not going to count that, particularly as I haven’t a clue who the group was. However my overwhelming delight and incredulity when I heard that Siouxsie and co. were coming to our small, provincial home is something I can’t forget.
I grew up in that quiet Hertfordshire market town, and had been to Triad many times before as a kid – it started out as an Arts Centre and my mum got very involved in it, so I got taken along to see arty puppet shows, strange plays, an evening with Richard Nixon (the ‘70s newsreader) and even an Indian sitar performance which I like to think might have been Ravi Shankar but which I suspect was very probably not… Then in the late ‘70s it became more of a rock music venue. It must have had a pretty on-the-ball team doing the bookings because in the space of just a couple of years not only the Banshees but also Motorhead and Adam & the Ants played there (yeah I was lucky enough to see the early Ants too - pre-mainstream fame, pre-white nose stripe and pre-two drummers…) Later it became a regular haunt for local punks and was where I spent every Tuesday and Saturday night, taking in bands as diverse as the Newtown Neurotics (local heroes of the time), Wayne County and the Electric Chairs, Crass (who hailed from just up the road), and the Passions.
Siouxsie & the Banshees were seminal, though. Siouxsie was dressed just as I’d seen her in music mag pics (striped t-shirt and thigh-length boots, black hair short and glossy and characteristic eye make-up) and performed to an enthusiastic audience. I bet if somebody was to do a TV drama on early punk they'd show the crowd at an early 1978 Banshees gig in band-name t-shirts, boutique bondage and spiky crazy-coloured hair but it really wasn’t like that then. There were loads of blokes with longish hair wearing great-coats, and those of us who had just started to adopt a very embryonic punk look were deemed outrageous simply for wearing straight trousers and baggy shirts, etc. The look was so shocking, apparently, that the local paper sent a photographer along to take some shots of the kids enjoying themselves, including me and my friends.
We pulled faces for the charming camera man and posed as defiantly as (really rather sweet) fourteen-year-old girls at their first gig could.
"Don't tell my mum I've drunk a pint of cider"
It all seemed like good, harmless fun. Funny, then, how the event made front page news in the next issue with a very questionable editorial which suggested that “…these disgusting punks should have been aborted at birth..” Such was the mood in the media at the time (and it’s really quite hard to believe that anyone should make such a fuss, but it was a common occurrence in the newspapers then.) My experience, however, was of a truly great night – very much as real, raw and glorious as I had hoped. I’d got past the burly bouncers, drunk a little too much and passed my initiation into the world of proper, live music with nothing worse than perhaps slightly ringing ear-drums the next morning, seeing a band I had admired from afar. The excitement lived on for a long while and it’s been fun to revisit it here. (Thank you, Siouxsie!)
Maybe it’ll bring back some memories for you too?
Siouxsie & the Banshees a few months beforehand - see what I mean about the crowd?