Seeing as I chose to call myself Punky Rennie, I describe myself as a 40 something punk and I have blue streaks in my hair, I thought I would like to elaborate on my 30 year love affair with punk.
Please, never call me a punk rocker. It sounds all wrong. I don’t even remember being a punkette either, although the term was widely used for female punks at the time … but I digress.
Let’s go right back to the beginning. I was a 13 year old at boarding school and my parents were taking me back after one of the school holidays or half term breaks. I had decided to relieve my mum of one of her woolly hats and for some reason I had pinned a nappy pin to it. As we were toodling down the motorway (you could never do anything other than toodle in our car – a Hillman Husky), a car overtook us (again, not an uncommon occurrence). As the car drew level, a seminal moment in my life was approaching (probably at 70 mph although it could have been much slower as my father tended not to go above 40 or so).
In this other car were two or three punks. My memory is a little hazy with regard to numbers but there was definitely more than one. I am really not sure what they noticed but something about my person amused them and I would assume (and did then) that it was the nappy pin in my hat. They were close enough to have seen it. They laughed and pointed at me and at that moment, I knew it was my mission to become a punk. It was my Road to Damascus moment.
Becoming a punk was not that easy for a middle-class thirteen year old girl at boarding school and at first, I did not really embrace punk fully. I didn’t really know how the music sounded although I had heard of the Sex Pistols (difficult not to in those days) and I had little or no idea of how to dress but, as punk spread out, even into the little market town where my school was situated, it became easier for me.
I first dyed my hair black when I was 15. The dye did not take well and it looked a bit purple but I didn’t mind. That was punk, after all. I had had a perm (the last ditch attempt of my “normal” side to take control) and with it dyed black and a bit woolly, I claimed I was emulating Adam of Adam and the Ants. By then I was the proud owner of Young Parisians/Lady and almost certainly My Way by Sid Vicious. I have very few pictures of me from the punk era and all but 3 are on slides. I have, however, used one of me at 15 as my profile picture.
I read Sounds voraciously and once read an interview with Hugh Cornwell (then of the Stranglers). My semi-formed feminist feelings were incensed by what he said so I wrote to Sounds and also to him. Sounds never printed my letter (why should they have printed the incoherent ramblings of a 15 year old after all?) but Hugh (at least I think it was him) replied. He referred to the Stranglers as the Strangs and signed the letter Hugh Strangler. My little heart jumped when I read it and I was in his thrall permanently after that (I still am). I don’t remember what he said, I must have been delirious when I read it for the first time and the second and the third and the fourth and the fifth…
I used to hang around in the local café (a wonderful place called The Mocha, still there the last time I visited the town). This café had a jukebox and the owner very thoughtfully put punk and new wave records in it. That way I was able to listen to Top of the Pops by the Rezillos, Holidays in the Sun by the Pistols and Denis by Blondie, to name but three. The punks from town used to hang out there too and I used to chat to them. There was one I fancied called Bobby. I used to sing Denis about him but I changed the words to “Bobbeee Bobbeee”. Yes, slightly embarrassing to me nowadays. The poor lad really didn’t seem to like me at all but was forced to “marry” me in a ceremony in the café when one of the older, bigger lads literally twisted his arm. I cringe at the thought nowadays. He refused to kiss me when we were married though.
I left school and the town at 16 and for the first time used Nestle Lite to bleach my hair. This was not particularly successful the first time and I ended up with patches of blonde, ginger, orange and light brown hair. I looked like a tortoiseshell cat had fallen asleep on my head but I was very pleased because it looked so punk. I also was wearing more and more punk clothing – altering jeans, tearing and vandalising t-shirts.
I bought my first pair of “proper” punk trousers from the Last Resort – a pair of pink leopard skins and a leather jacket second hand from somebody, I don’t remember who now. I bought a kilt from a charity shop and was given Docs (again, I don’t know by whom). The look was complete – pink leopard skins, a short kilt, a butchered t-shirt and a biker jacket with a picture of Siouxsie Sue in Tippex on the back, UK Subs written above and badges galore on the lapels. Marvellous!
I started seeing a boy of 15, my first boyfriend, and we went to see the UK Subs at the Music Machine. There were 2 support bands. The first was called the Straps. I thought they were absolutely fantastic and I was hooked. I recognised one of the Straps. He had played bass in a band that I had seen at my boarding school. Then another band called Martian Dance played. I remember them as a sort of precursor of New Romantic and I hated them. Then the Subs played and they were fantastic. Unfortunately, they came on after the last train left the nearest Tube Station and I thought we were not going to be able to stay to watch them. Fortunately, my boyfriend had been chatting to some lads and it turned out that they lived near me and had come in a van. We went home in the back of the van that night and saw the Subs.
I used to go down the Kings Road on a Saturday. You would meet punks from all over and we would just walk round, sit in the pubs, look in the shops and get searched by the police. That was a very good way to spend a Saturday. I remember once when we got stopped and searched. The lads got the full pat down the body treatment from the policemen. I had to empty my pockets for a policewoman. I was so disappointed; I really wanted the pat down the body business from the man. The girl with me had two watches and the policewoman thought that was really suspicious. It’s a punk thing really, though. Perhaps not something an outsider would know.
I used to hang around in Boy, a punk shop on the Kings Road. Jock, the lead singer of the Straps worked there and I stalked him in a major way. The manager was called Charlie. I didn’t like him at all. He was also the Straps’ manager. Once, I sat with the Straps in a pub, discussing their most recent gig. They said that they had been awful but I refused to accept that. I just could not grasp the concept that the Straps could be bad. I fancied the drummer, Cliff, and finally ended up kissing him that day. Now I don’t know what I saw in him but back then he was an Adonis to me.
Once I was in Seditionaries with my sister. We saw Billy Idol in there. We were behind a rack of clothes and saw him through them. My sister swears the conversation went something like this:
Sister 1 – “That man thinks he’s Billy Idol.”
Sister 2 – “That man is Billy Idol”
Sister 1 – “Let’s get out of here, then. I hate Billy Idol.”
Again, haziness of memory prevents me from verifying the accuracy of the dialogue but I do know that I didn’t have much time for Billy Idol, we were rude about him in his hearing and we did leave the shop as soon as we saw him there.
I used to go to a pub in Croydon/Thornton Heath called The Star. Loads of punks (mainly underage) drank in there and it had a good jukebox. The only record I remember on it now is Love will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division – still a big favourite of mine. Sometimes bands played there and sometimes not.
Once I was sat outside in the beer garden with a group of local punks and there was a lad there who I didn’t know. He called himself Germ and he was very nice indeed. When I saw somebody I fancied, I tended to go for him and Germ was no exception. He got the full treatment and even if he hadn’t been a willing partner, I would probably have pinned him to the ground just so I could tickle his tonsils with my tongue. I had absolutely no shame back then.
Another time, in the Star, I saw Spodgenessabounds. They were another massive band for me. Max Splodge was a hero, Miles Flat a poor sap who broke his guitar string and got berated by Max while he changed it and Winston Forbes was a Keyboard Virtuoso (the keyboard part in Simon Templar is brilliant). They had the wonderful Baby Greensleeves who made such fantastic contributions including her part in “I’ve got lots of famous people hidden under the floorboards of my humble abode”. You couldn’t fault them.
At this gig were Dave, the Straps’ guitarist and Steve Slack, then bass player for the UK Subs. I already knew Dave reasonably well and asked him to introduce me to Steve. They’d supported the Subs a few times and it seemed the obvious thing to do. Dave was not a Preux Chevalier at the time (he’s improved since then, I can tell you) and he wouldn’t do it so I had to go and introduce myself. I came out with the immortal line: “You don’t know me but I’m famous, really.” Corny or what? Fortunately, Steve was a gentleman and signed my jeans and we had a lovely chat. Later, I was hot so I removed the jeans. I had a large t-shirt on (punk t-shirts came in 2 sizes back then – XL and XL) and I used my dog lead (which went nicely with the dog collar I used to wear) to belt it so it looked like a mini dress. I went back to watch the band and Dave came up behind me and grabbed my leg. We both jumped. He was expecting me to be wearing jeans and I wasn’t expecting him to get so intimate. He jumped higher than me – that’s official.
I used to hang around with the Bromley Punks. We all used punk names (like Germ, mentioned above). There were Menace, Sparrow, Turtle, Spittle, Ellie and various others. One who I should give a special mention to was Groper. We didn’t get on at all. We used to fight on the bus to and from Croydon and we fought in the Star. I never worked out what Groper had against me or for that matter what I had against him. We just didn’t get on. Sparrow had pillar box red hair and Turtle’s room was painted black. Menace was a cocky little bugger but I liked him. Ellie turned into a skin girl and went back to using her real name. I called myself Rene but everybody called me Rennie. My sister was Panda.
I should also mention the Coppice Skins, who used to walk me home from Bromley Common after I’d been to the Star. They would walk me through the Coppice Estate and occasionally one or two would take me all the way home. I remember my Dad being up when I got home with a couple of them once. Dad is incredibly cool and just sat and chatted to them. The thing about Skinheads is they do look very thuggish indeed but that didn’t worry my Dad at all.
I fell for one of them hook, line and sinker. His real name was Paul but they all called him Big Ears because he had sticky out ears, which, of course, were accentuated by his shaved head. He was the one who took me all the way home on a few occasions and he was always there when I was being walked through the Coppice. Eventually (it seems to be inevitable with hindsight), I ended up kissing him before continuing home with my sister. His brother, who was not a skin, was with us and insisted on Paul sharing me with him so he got a look-in too. I wasn’t too worried; there was plenty of me to go around.
Well, I think I’ve pretty well come to the end of this particular incoherent rambling. I was a punk for about 18 months and pretty rebellious during that time. I succumbed to the ultimate rebellion in the end and rebelled against punk. It was already becoming a bit too glamorous for my liking. Some punkettes’ hair was getting too big and they were wearing heels and shit like that (my nose is wrinkling as I type this). It was time for a change so I went and bought myself a Fred Perry t-shirt, some red braces and retrieved some jeans that I had not butchered. I turned them up so they were just resting on the top of my 6 hole brown Docs, had my hair cut in a feather cut and became a Skin. Very briefly. I quickly realised that I could not afford the clobber but for a short while I felt wonderful. I saw Groper in Bromley and walked up to him and said Hello. I stopped calling myself Rene and went back to my proper name. After that I really don’t remember what I did. I was a lost soul and never really recovered. (Not actually true. I had a fine time after but being a punk was superb.)
I always say that the best time of my life was when I was a punk. It was a fantastic time and I’m really glad I had those experiences. It’s a time that I look back on fondly and I still smile when I think of those wonderful people, their wonderful haircuts and clothes and their great personalities.
Just a postscript to this. When I originally wrote this blog on another site I did not count myself as a punk. Since then I’ve realised never actually stopped being a punk, I merely went respectable for a while. I have now rediscovered my punk roots; my nose is repierced and I have blue streaks in my hair. My poor husband and children despair of me. I’ve even bought some Docs – second hand and black and white tartan but docs nevertheless. I love going to gigs and hanging around with punks and skins at them. I’ve rediscovered many of the bands I loved back then and found to my delight that getting older has not diminished the music’s attraction for me. I also now realise that there were plenty of bands back then that I ignored that are fantastic and I’m really enjoying discovering them. In short, I’ve undergone a punk renaissance and I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.