In a time of isolation, one must beware of falling down a rabbit hole and killing hours on idle nothings on the internet. But sometimes, as one falls, one accidentally finds what was not sought.
One such Carrollean free fall took place the other day. I followed a Facebook link to a short YouTube video about London’s Courtauld Institute. That video linked to a longer video about the people whose collections on which the Courtauld was built. Somewhat illogically, the next video was a 90-minute documentary on Sid Vicious, because, well, who knows?
Of course, I watched it. It was late, I was alone, and it was interesting enough. Halfway through they played Sid’s version of Eddie Cochran’s “Something Else.”
I love punk, but I also love proper Rock ’n’ Roll, and Eddie Cochran is one of my favorites. My dad was a bit of a Teddy Boy, and once saw a screening of the movie “Rock Around the Clock” where policemen on horses patrolled the aisles to control the wild youth.
In ’1970s England, there were punch-ups between Punks and Teds (as there had been with Mods and Rockers in the 1960s). The two groups saw the other as antithetical to everything the other stood for. I couldn’t quite get it. I loved the energy of Punk, there was nothing like have 150 people in a bar that only holds a 100 and jumping up and down like a mad thing while a band thrashes away on three chords. But I also loved the energy of Rock ‘n’ Roll for exactly the same reasons.
When I was 19, while I was in art college, I worked at a pub called The Richmond in my hometown of Brighton. The pub was a busy place, located in a great area near the art college, the London Road shops and The Level (an open green space, so called because in a town that is notoriously hilly, it was in the valley and was “level”).
The Richmond had an upstairs that hosted wedding receptions, birthday parties and, best of all, music. Most of Brighton’s bands played there. I remember seeing The Piranhas many times, as well as Nicky and the Dots, The Dodgems, Devil’s Dykes, Peter and the Test Tube Babies and others. Not all of them were good, but they were all loud and fun.
When I had the chance, I loved to work the upstairs. It was loud and sweaty and beer flowed freely. At the end of a shift when there was a gig, I may have smelled a bit rank but I was always in a good mood.
My favorite night to work upstairs was on Thursdays — Rock ‘n’ Roll night. The room would fill with rockers, many of them old geezers (at the time they seemed old, but were probably in their 40s), most decked out long jackets (Edwardian style, hence the name “Teddy Boys”). They wore brothel creepers. The girls were resplendent in poodle skirts or tight jeans, every one looking like she’d stepped out if the pages of a ’50s teen mag.
And they would jive and jitterbug all evening to great rock standards — Americans such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Gene Vincent, and Brits like Tommy Steele, Adam Faith and Marty Wilde, with skiffle and rockabilly thrown in for good measure. They also played my favorite, Eddie Cochran.
So, here’s the story. I was into punk but was not exactly Sid Vicious. My hair was not pulled and spiky. My clothes were not held together by safety pins. I preferred a nice mod suit from the thrift store (before they realized they could sell them at a premium to take advantage of the style), and various old school ties. I did have an earring and I was not averse to some makeup or tinted hair. That was enough to earn me the moniker “Punky” from the rockers.
But I was popular, not only because I was the one serving the alcohol, but because I knew the music. My mother was pretty young when she had me and without daytime TV, I grew up listening to the hits of the early ’60s. And my dad loved rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly, so I listened to that.
Even though I looked “funny,” the Thursday crowd adopted me as one of their own.
On my last Thursday night working upstairs at The Richmond, before my college friend Chris and I left for a few weeks hitching around Europe, the regulars were having a great time. They bought me drinks all night (I was younger and could handle quite a few pints in an evening) and we talked about music and sang along to the records.
As the evening wrapped up, the DJ, resplendent in a magnificent D.A. haircut, blue suit and blue suede brothel creepers, came to the mic. “It’s Punky’s last night so we are going to end with a request. What do you want to hear?”
It barely took me a second. “Twenty-Flight Rock,” I yelled out from behind the bar.
The DJ laughed and yelled, “See, that’s why we love the little fucker. He knows his shit.”
He quickly found the record, put it on, and the gang yelled at me to come and join them. I climbed up on the bar (so sanitary) and jumped into the melee.
I didn’t work at The Richmond more than six months or so, but it was the perfect job for a 19-year-old art student. I loved the music. I loved the people. As Eddie Cochran would sing, it was “something else.”