I could have been at a ceilidh: a Phoenix Ceilidh with Hekety, to be even more precise. It was a terrible dilemma for me. I love folk and dancing and ceilidhs and sometimes I almost forget about punk (although it’s always there waiting for me to slink back into the house at 2am, tail between my legs and a guilty expression on my face). So I had to weigh it up, punk on one side and ceilidh on the other and punk won. Now maybe they should combine two of my passions and have a punk ceilidh. There’s an idea. I’ll have to suggest it to the Phoenix committee.
Let’s rewind a couple of months, when I got a message on Facebook from one of my friends, a Rebellion regular. He was suggesting that Greg and I and another 7 or so people all go to this gig. He would get the tickets and we could repay him on the night. This seemed like a very good idea, so I checked our calendar to make sure there were no Stone the Crows events clashing with it and went back and said “Count me in!” and then added “And Greg too.”
I realised about two weeks ago that TV Smith clashed with Hekety at Phoenix Ceilidhs but by then it was too late and I am now beginning to realise that ceilidhs can’t take priority over everything (although they can take priority over most things): my Dad’s 90th birthday party clashed with the Valentine’s Day Ceilidh and I had no hesitation missing that (the ceilidh, not the party).
It was arranged that we would be driven there by our friends Andy and Diane (Diane was the designated driver and so deserves a special mention) and we squeezed into the back of their car for the trip to Preston.
I have been to The Continental on several occasions now and I may now actually be able to drive there without getting lost too many times, so I offered to give Diane directions confident that I would not lead her astray. My confidence was not misplaced and we reached our destination with no mishaps (or diversions) and just in time to nab the last parking space in the car park.
The Continental serves a fine selection of real ales and there was one cask ale, Continental Bitter, on in the small bar for the venue. It was a very pleasant pale ale with light citrus notes and went down a treat. So much so that I had 2½ pints of it during the evening, which is a lot for me.
There were two bands supporting, Anarka and Poppy, a hardcore band from Preston, playing in Preston again for the first time in 30 years, and Slutch, who were pretty old school and reminded me of bands I went to see in the late 70s and very early 80s. It was very nostalgic for me and, had it not been for the back ache and other aches and pains associated with standing still for any length of time at my age, I would have felt 16 or 17 again.
TV Smith played an acoustic set (I’ve only ever seen him do acoustic sets and this is the first full set I have seen: I’ve always walked in half way through before). He played the ones I know – No Time To Be 21 (or in my case, No Time to be 51), Bored Teenagers, One Chord Wonders and for the last song, Gary Gilmour’s Eyes (the only one I can sing along to) plus many I don’t know and a few from his new album (which he managed to slip in while we were looking the other way).
It was all very nostalgic and it really got me thinking and nostalging in a big way. The audience was a mixed audience, unlike the gigs I went to when I was a callow youth, where everybody had the regulation safety pins and spiky hair. In 2014 hair length varied from shaved to long (including the ladies); there were some spikes and a short Mohican but no sign of a safety pin anywhere. There were skinheads there and that is something I never saw at punk gigs back in the day.
And that reminded me of an incident when I was 16 which really shows how far we have come. Back then, skinheads were perceived as right wing thugs. Some of them liked to live up to their reputation and one day, my sister, a friend and I had an unpleasant run in with some of them. We were all punks and we were all aged between 16 and 18. We were in Bromley and for some reason we decided to walk through the park behind the Churchill Theatre. All of a sudden, our male friend, Andy, was set upon by a gang of skinheads. Like the gentlemen they were, they didn’t attack me and my sister but quickly had Andy on the ground and were laying into him big style. Stephanie and I started shouting at them to stop and leave him alone and, after a while, they did stop. I don’t know to this day why but we quickly got him to his feet, examined the damage (a bleeding nose, amongst other things, but nothing life threatening) and got out of the park as quickly as we could to where there were plenty of people and safety.
It really shook me up, although I imagine it shook Andy up far worse, and I had a healthy fear of skinheads for quite a while after that. However, after a few months, things began to change, imperceptibly at first. Stephanie and I used to frequent a pub in Croydon and we had to catch two buses there, one to Bromley and the other into Croydon. There we would meet up with all our punk friends, socialise, drink alcohol (we were under age) and generally have a good time. It was there that I heard Love Will Tear Us Apart for the first time and the jukebox did have some choice singles on it. On the way back to Bromley, some skinheads would get on the bus and, as they were not particularly hostile and much the same age as us, we would get chatting with them.
Sometimes I went to Croydon on my own (I was relatively fearless back then) and sometimes I missed the last bus home and had to get one from Bromley that took me about half way home. By then, I had become friendly with the Coppice skins, who knew a punk friend of ours (who liked to call himself Spittle) and who all lived on the Coppice Estate, so when I had to catch that bus Spittle and the Coppice Skins would escort me through the estate, shortening my journey and getting me home earlier. I wouldn’t have dared walk through there on my own. I became quite friendly with one particular skinhead, Big Ears to his friends but Paul to his family. On a couple of occasions, Paul and a couple of other blokes walked me all the way home and came in for a cup of tea and a chat with my Dad (who used to keep late hours).
Nowadays, I have quite a few skinhead friends and they are definitely NOT right wing thugs. They are decent people with jobs, families, grandchildren even (which is more an indication of my age than anything else). They would no more think of beating up a punk than they would of beating up a friend. I no longer fear skinheads and haven’t done for many years. To be perfectly frank, I trust punks and skins more than I would ever trust a man in a suit.
So back to the gig, where I was surrounded by people, none of whom was wearing a suit. Anarka and Poppy were magnificent, reminding me of times when I would sit in the dark listening to Crass or my Honey Bane single and letting the music take over my head. There would be a trance like quality and it was incredibly primal, although I don’t think I would have used that word back then. Slutch were great: good loud punk and reminiscent of the bands I saw way back when. I never did use to pogo but I did like to dance, well, it was dance of sorts, although barely recognisable as such and Slutch made me want to dance. The urge to balance, a ceilidh move, was almost overwhelming, well, I was missing a ceilidh after all. I just managed to resist the temptation and thereby not look a total fool but it was a close run thing.
The urge to balance came back during TV Smith’s set. I have really never really thought about it before but you could actually ceilidh dance to No Time To Be 21. Maybe I should start thinking about what ceilidh dances would go with other Adverts songs, for instance Gary Gilmour’s Eyes and Bored Teenagers. Then I could respectfully ask Phoenix Ceilidhs to invite TV Smith to play at one of their ceilidhs and maybe (just maybe), we could even get Gordon Potts to call.