Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Punk’s Journey

Toby Mott - 2009

The Roxy. My 14th birthday spent with my twin brother. Loud pounding darkness, cheap lager, the smell of cigarettes, sweat and piss. There were two floors, almost empty like another kind of youth club, a few other teenage punks escaping boredom. The manager asked me into his office where a filthy mattress was up against the wall; he propositioned me, and unnerved I made a hasty retreat back into the club. It was a place with nothing to do with school, authority, mass culture, or C&A. Its energy was infectious.

Coming from a troubled, chaotic home life, here was a world for me; I was part of something else.

1977: a defining moment, not just for me but for Britain. It started here.
Pimlico, London, living just minutes from the Kings Road, Chelsea, the epicentre of Punk.
I had spiky soaped hair, charity-shop paint-splattered DIY punk clothes with Dr. Martin boots. No Boy or Seditionaries tartan bondage trousers or mohican hair, that was for poseurs, “plastic” weekend punks. We didn’t use the term “Punk” to describe ourselves, that was another label to reject. We were the ‘New Wave’, preoccupied with music, drink, speed & sex. I had an identity away from dull pedestrian conformity, anti-establishment and for us that meant anti-everything: this stance resulted not only in old ladies crossing the road to avoid us but in constant stop-and-searches by the police. Another form of harassment was random violence from teddy boys, soul boys and later skinheads. We did not stand and fight but took to our toes, “legging it”.
Late one night on Queensway, soul boys leaving the ice rink chased me. I ran into a Burger bar and dived behind the counter, having to explain what I was doing. The cockney counter girl urged me to go outside and fight. I waited till it was safe.
X Ray Spexs and The Clash at the Rock against Racism concert in Victoria Park, East London. On the bus home we were terrorised by skinheads. I got away without a kicking, as they fancied my sister. All this hassle was increasing my alienation.
Up all night speeding on blues [amphetamine], three for a quid. Drenched in sweat, pogoing down the front of gigs, gobbing at the singer, showing disdain for all authority. Drinking lager & blackcurrant, sleeping in squats, with brief excited sexual encounters. Lying in bed coming down off speed, feeling shit, staring up at the Debbie Harry poster on my ceiling. With the chorus of “what have we got… fuck all” [Sham 69]. It was all I wanted.
At 14 I had sex for the first time at the Milestone Hotel, Kensington with a Nancy Spungen look-alike, meeting her upstairs at the Roebuck pub on the Kings Road. She was American with peroxide hair. It was drunk and fast. Going home in the morning I paid full fare on the bus. My next fuck was in a Kings Cross squat one Sunday afternoon after shoplifting at Camden Lock Market. I had arrived.

We called ourselves ASA, Anarchist Street Army, a bunch of dispossessed glue and solvent sniffing kids from Pimlico Comprehensive. Our attempt at forming a band resulted in noise that even by punk standards was rubbish.
Playing truant, half my days were spent at Recordsville on Wilton Road or Rough Trade and Jock McDonald’s stall at Beaufort Market. Listening intently to new single releases, adding to my collection of picture sleeve 45’s at 90 pence each, “In the city”, “White riot”, “Oh bondage up yours” spinning endlessly on my Dansett record player.
The sleeves gave the record company addresses where we would show up to be given badges, posters, whatever was free; Stepforward, Stiff, Polydor… most obliged.
We marched to save the Roxy, running up the stairs of Capital Radio attempting to crash on air during the Nicky Horne show.

Scouring the gigs pages of the NME, reviews in Ripped & Torn, life revolved around seeing bands every night regardless of school, my parents having effectlessly lost control of their teenage children: Menace, Chelsea, Adverts, The Ants, 999, reggae bands Steel Pulse, Aswad. Bunking the tube to The Nashville, West Kensington, the Electric Ballroom, Camden Town, Music Machine, Mornington Crescent, The Greyhound at Croydon, various student union gigs, the city was ours, often ending up at the all-night cafe on Whitehall off Trafalgar Square.
One Friday, taking the boat train to Paris to see the Banshees, me and school friend Daniel ended up getting arrested at a loud illegal party, spending the night in a Paris holding jail, released to the British embassy to be deported back to Victoria. We followed The Clash around the south of England on National Express Coaches, Bernie Rhodes opening the back doors for us ticketless London punks. After the show, wet with cold sweat and stranded in a coastal town, could have been Plymouth or Southampton, sleeping on a hard bench until the first coach back to London.
Smashing fake bottles on each other as extras in the Great Rock and Roll Swindle. I can be seen pogoing around as a jazz-funk band play.
This was a vacant space, a free for all, political leaflets from the extreme left & right vied for our attention they were circulated inside and outside gigs: Socialist Workers Party, Anti Nazi League, National Front, British Movement. I was taken with the utopian ideas of Anarchy, often visiting the Freedom bookshop at Aldgate East to buy Black Flag.

1978: enduring a family Xmas day missing PIL’s first gig, but seeing the next one on the Boxing Day at The Rainbow, Finsbury Park. John Lydon in a tartan suit with heavy dub backing. Public Image was a reinvention, Rotten was the past.
Punk ended for me listening to the sounds of Crass. One night I walked out of The UK Subs at the Marquee on Wardour Street. That night I was watching the band from the back, not ‘down the front’. I was detached; no longer a participant. As I left, something for me was over.

1979: leaving school, Thatcher won the election.
As punk stood still I moved on. Now was the post punk time, Joy Division, OMD, New Romantics and Two Tone, with the memory of punk in all that was happening.
I left home at 16 and moved into a squat on Carburton Street just off Great Portland Street, with Boy George, Philip Salon, Marilyn, and like-minded others. I worked for the fashion photographer Mark Lebon at Bow Street Studios.

1980: enrolling at Kingsway College, Clerkenwell whilst working as a cook in the evenings at Maxwell’s, Covent Garden, and hanging out at Blitz, hosted by Steve Strange.

1982: moving to London’s east end into short-life housing in Bow. I founded the Grey Organisation artist group. We executed direct art actions, covering Cork Street galleries in grey paint, crashing the London International Art Fair. I worked for David Dawson at the B2 Gallery, Wapping, appeared in Derek Jarman films and appeared in Gilbert & George “Exister” pieces.
Lynne Franks launched the Grey Organisation into the 80’s world of PR, modelling for Katherine Hamnett at The Albert Hall, Yohji Yamamoto in Paris. Supporting Red Wedge, meeting Neil Kinnock at the Houses of Parliament, promoting Swatch watches. Drinking bottled beer at The Soho Brassiere and half lagers at The French House, Dean Street, later moving on to the Wag club. We were embraced by the new style magazines in our identikit grey suits, close cropped hair & white shirts, our uniform of the city.
In a post-war grey London, we were discovering cappuccino, illegal warehouse parties and a technicolor european identity. A world away from the quaint black & white Hovis nostalgia of ye olde England. Yuppies, BMW’s and money were to rule, and being part of the punk ethos we did not seem to benefit from or embrace the new Thatcher philosophy - or did we? We had rebelled, stood apart, and for me that continued as the 1980’s recession bit.

In 1977 my bedroom was covered in posters, flyers and shelves full of records and fanzines, and when I left home these significant symbols of my past were stored away.
In 1997 I returned from living in America and started to add to my collection. I appreciated the visual immediacy which never seemed tired or dated.
The Mott Collection illustrates the energy, boredom, dynamism and the diverse political social and class issues that were all part of Punk.

The ideals of self-empowerment, motivation, action and common cause are evident throughout. To me they are the spirit of Punk.

Toby Mott 2009

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