Sometimes, I think too much. Usually when I’m on my own for more than five minutes and my mind starts racing. Then I can get through thoughts faster than an average Texan can get through hamburgers. When I’m in my car, usually on the way home from work when I’m working a late, I listen to music; usually punk music and I think. I think about the songs and the bands and I think about why I like them and why some of them are so special to me.
That’s why I’ve decided to write a few blogs about some of my favourite bands. I’ve listened to them and thought about them. I’ve seen them; chatted to them; hugged some members of some of them; got up on stage with one of them.
The next few blogs are going to be about bands that are special to me and I’m going to start with the one that is most special to me, horribly under-rated and virtually unknown outside the South East of England, the Straps.
I’m not absolutely sure how old I was when I first saw the Straps; I was either 16 or 17 but I know I saw them in 1980 at the Music Machine in Camden supporting the UK Subs. It was one of the first gigs I ever went to. I went with my boyfriend Dave, who was 11 months younger than me. It was a good venue and you could go up and look down from a raised bit at the side of the stage (a useful vantage point when the second support, a band we hated, came on). We stood at the front and the first support came on, the Straps.
I don’t remember at what point I decided I liked the band but I do remember looking at the guitarist and being convinced I knew him. He had dark hair, presumably dyed black. I also noticed the bass player and, at the moment I realised I didn’t know the guitarist, I realised I did know him. He came from the town where I had been to school and was called Andy Stammers, although he was usually known as Stan Stammers. The lead singer, Jock Strap, was raw and the music was fantastic. I loved them.
After the Straps was the second support band, Martian Dance (now seemingly consigned to the dustbin of obscurity). We hated them. They were probably a forerunner of New Romantics and they really were out of place in the line up. By this time, we had been joined by some other punks who lived near me and we all went up to the side of the stage where we hurled abuse at the poor saps on stage.
Shortly after the last tube train left Camden Underground Station, the Subs came on. This could have been a complete disaster but fortunately, our new friends had come in an Escort Van and said they would take us home, so we stayed to watch the main band.
The Subs, as always, were brilliant and I had a great time. Now, I’m not sure but I have to assume that the Straps had come out front with the rest of the punters because I definitely got to know them and I definitely got to know where Jock worked. I also was able to confirm that Stan Stammers was the Andy Stammers I knew of old and I found out that the guitarist was called Dave and the drummer was called Cliff and was ancient (he was in his late twenties, early thirties).
We went home that night in the back of the Escort Van and our “taxi driver” changed out of his punk clothes into normal clothes because his parents didn’t like him being a punk. By the time I got home, I was a confirmed fan of the Straps.
I saw the Straps twice more. Once, I’m pretty certain, they headlined at a small venue and the third time, they supported Stiff Little Fingers at the Hammersmith Odeon.
I spent as many Saturdays down the Kings Road in London as I could and I was frequently in Boy, the punk boutique where Jock worked. I also remember having a drink with them in a pub on the Kings Road after the second gig when they were saying how badly they had played. I wouldn’t have any of it. They were my heroes and were incapable of playing badly. They even got their oldest fan to tell me they’d played badly but I refused to believe him too.
They sacked Cliff, the drummer during this time. He was a glue sniffer and probably a hopeless case. The band had bought him new cymbals for the drum kit and he sold them and bought himself 40 pots of glue, so he had to go. After my initial reservations about his age and after I had finished with Dave, I developed a major crush on Cliff. When we were all in the pub together arguing about whether they’d played badly or well, I made sure I was sat next to him. I also made sure I ended up kissing him. Sad, really, because now I cringe at the thought.
So, what was it about the Straps that made me idolise them? The music was fast and raw and that was essential for me. Jock sang songs about things that all young punks should be passionate about – the police, VD, television, Brixton (the promised land for me). Jock’s lyrics are intelligent too, although I wasn’t too bothered about that at the time. He could have sung any old rubbish and I would have been happy. More recently, though, I’ve really been able to appreciate them.
Take Pox Kid, for instance. This is still my favourite Straps song. It’s a really simple song with an intro comprising a three note riff descending and then ascending with the guitar following the bass. It grabs your attention straight away. The intro is over pretty quickly and Jock starts singing “Look into the mirror; I can see something’s changed. Oh my God, I don’t know what it is but I’m in a helluva pain…” The music is pretty low key at that point but as the narrator’s anxiety builds, so does the music until Jock breaks into the chorus, which has always made me smile “You’ve got the pox, kid. You’ve got the pox, kid…” There’s another verse, another chorus, a middle eight, half a verse and the final chorus. So a fairly conventionally structured song and very sing-along-able. It’s the one I remembered all along.
The other songs were also intelligently written and had the same raw quality that Pox Kid had. The other song that stuck in my mind from that era was What’s on the Box, a song about television, a subject close to my heart.
Fast forward 25 years. I’m now a (fairly) respectable working woman with three nearly grown up children, living in a semi-detached with two cars and a computer. We had just gone online and I had discovered the delights of Google searches. After watching Badger, Badger, Badger repeatedly and laughing hysterically at Weebl and Bob, I one day decided to do a Google Search on the Straps. I found their website and found to my amazement that they had reformed and were playing again.
I contacted Jock and Dave, the two surviving members from my era, using the e-mail addresses on the website. They both replied to my e-mails. Neither remembered me so I e-mailed an old photo to them both in an attempt to job their memories. I also reminded Dave that he had grabbed my leg at a Splodgenessabounds gig at The Star pub in Croydon. This incident seemed to jog his memory, which is not really surprising because I had removed my trousers moments before he grabbed my leg and grabbing bare flesh made him jump higher than me.
The Straps were also on MySpace and I added the band and Jock very early on. Dave later got his own profile and I added him too. They were going to play Wasted punk festival in Blackpool in August so I decided I would go and got myself a ticket.
I travelled to Blackpool on the train with Dave (I met him and some others at Preston Station) and I held his guitar for him while he got his wristband at the Winter Gardens. I felt quite honoured to do that. I saw them play on the Friday night and they played a large number of their classic songs with a few new ones. I was right at the front singing along at the top of my voice and feeling like I was 17 again. Jock came down off the stage at one point and greeted various fans at the front. He included me, which was brilliant.
Jock has put various new songs on the player on MySpace and I was able to listen to some of the new stuff. The new songs were a revelation to me. Jock’s voice has changed over the years. It’s not as young and raw anymore; I suppose you could say it has mellowed. Jock’s lyrics are even more intelligent than before and much more mature and so is the music.
My favourites from the new songs are Freakshow and The Church Is In. Now, I may be wrong but I get the impression that Freakshow, although it mentions bearded ladies amongst others, may be about being different – not “normal”. Something most punks have to go through. I was in Blackpool this summer and spotted two fat, and to be brutally honest, ugly, sunburnt, women with fat oozing over their shorts’ waistlines, cast a look of utter contempt at a couple of bright haired, mohicanned punks. This summed up Freakshow for me. The punks were infinitely more attractive but, because they were different, they were an object of scorn to the two holiday makers.
The Church Is In is a great song musically. I am not too sure about the lyrics; I have never listened to them properly, although I suspect they’re anti- rather than pro-organised religion. I’m sure Jock will put me right on this, if necessary. It’s the music that I really rate here. It’s not really a punk song but it’s sung by a punk band, so it’s in my Punk and Oi! Playlist on my MP3 player. The music is really sophisticated fare. A lot of work has gone into it (or Jock’s a genius, I’m not sure which). It’s something I can listen to over and over and I can’t analyse it, like I did Pox Kid, because it is too complicated for me.
I saw the Straps again at Rebellion this year. As always, I thought they were brilliant, although they were not particularly happy with their set. They played a couple of older, classic Straps songs and concentrated on the new ones, which are one their new CD (which I bought for a tenner – I do believe in supporting my favourite bands). This time I had back up for my opinion because Jock and Dave had introduced me to another old Straps fan in the bar before their set and he agreed with me that they were not bad but superb. The Pavilion, where they played, was scandalously empty and I texted a couple of friends who were there to try and get them to come along. One texted back to say he and his friends were too wasted to move. The other didn’t answer. The room should have been full. Maybe the band would have had a better feeling about the gig if it had been.
The Straps are my band and I feel almost proprietorial about them. I feel almost threatened if I’m introduced to a fan who might have known them longer than I have and I hate not being able to see them because I’m in Preston and they play mainly in the South of England. I tell people about them all the time, usually people who have absolutely no interest in punk at all. Last weekend, I went to visit my older sister. While I was there, I gave my 13 year old niece a Straps badge. She promised to wear it on her school bag and to tell all her friends what a great band they are.
That’s the thing, you see, she’s an intelligent girl.