It was 1977, punk had exploded and we formed a band. A saxophone, two guitars, a bass, a set of drums and me on keyboard and vocals.
It was 1977, I was 28 and the new Northern squeeze was 34. He played rhythm guitar and at a push drums. As an itinerant theatre group we had very little money but a great deal of enthusiasm. Always on the look out for freebees and good deals, we bought him a job lot of Japanese shirts. Light blue, as I recall. A perfect fit for a diminutive feller, he was just the right size for diminutive shirts from Tokyo. What we hadn’t taken into account was the arm length. It seems a typical Japanese man is mostly medium to small, his arms – on the other hand no pun intended – are substantially shorter than the average Yorkshireman.
When the old git got behind the drum kit he had to stand to hit the cymbals, his arms otherwise trapped in two too short sleeves.
There we were touring the UK, working mens clubs, rock pubs and universities. Always ready for a ruck we also performed in a skinhead pub in Canning Town. The local Nazis came to heckle in all their red braced, blued jeaned splendour. Me, being a fearless daughter of the revolution, had no problem dodging spit and goading them. At the end of the gig we made a truce. We would read ‘MEIN KAMPF’ if they would read ‘DAS CAPITAL.’ Neither side honoured the pledge, but peace reigned. Two groups recognising their differences without beating the living shit out of each other. They, obviously, liked the music.
Unlike pitiful Putin’s dishonourable actions. I am ashamed to be of Belarusian descent. Only dyed in the wool Stalinists would approve off what that madman is doing. But I digress.
From shipyards to mines we wrote songs of protest. Fists in the air we concluded gigs with a rousing chorus of ‘The Red Flag’ and the unassailable belief that we would bring down the Capitalist system. It needs more than a bunch of committed artistes to do that, although ex comedian Volodymyr Zelensky president of Ukraine ain’t doing a bad job is he?
We drove to gigs in our tatty van, later to become a 42 seater coach with customised tables and frilled table lamps, driven by our raw liver eating driver Harry Vaux. Travelling up and down the roads of Great Britain, stopping off in motorway caffs to dine on beans on toast and sausages at 3.00a.m, still fills me with some kind of wander lust.
We argued about makeup and whether I should wear it on stage. I always did, if the working class are coming out to play they don’t want a mean looking harridan in dungarees spoiling their evening. So I presented as a mean looking harridan in dungarees whilst wearing the best red lipstick on the market. We argued about working class sensibilities. We argued about wolf whistling. I enjoyed it, even though even then it wasn’t PC. We argued about forgetting verses mid gig. I was held up against a wall with a broken beer bottle thrust in my face and told to do better. Facing the arseholes in television would never be as scary as the tough love showered upon me by my wild thespian tutors.
We did a gig in Aldgate East in a student union bar. A large room, lots of women huddled round me. Back then I looked like I could take the whole of the skinhead population on. I stood behind my fender keyboard and banged out chords. I had been a classically trained pianist after all, but my confidence was low. You learn along the way that it shouldn’t matter what other people think as long as you are authentic, telling the truth and playing your heart out. Even though I understood the theory I still felt like a fraud. The old git was rock and roll through and through; my experience was banging out Bach’s preludes and fugues whilst murdering Debussy.
At the Aldgate East gig we were on the same bill as Tom Robinson and his band.
‘188.8.131.52.’ had just got into the charts – simple and a really good song to stomp around to. Robinson came over to me and complimented me on my piano playing. You could have knocked me down with a Paganini Variation.
This morning, as I stepped out into the damp, grey for my 10.000 step constitutional Tom Robinson’s anthem played out on BBC Radio 6. I marched along to Tom, belting out his motorway hit as I shook off my sciatica and reminisced about sticky carpets and encores whilst dodging writhing worms on the running track.
Our theatre group ‘Belt & Braces’ toured Sweden.
We were considered to be very alternative and hard. Whilst the Sex Pistols gobbed over Britishers in the park we were performing on stage in Lund University’s theatre – the back stage table laden with low alcohol beer and fried chicken legs. We stormed the stage and made friends for life with a big Swede called Björn.
He married a woman called Monica Wheelbarrow, but the wheels came off.
Sweden introduced me to groups of people singing spontaneously in harmony, strong black coffee, and the ridiculously cool audiences who gave us their beds and showed us how to eat piled high cray fish on midsummers night; generous folk who taught us how to knock back Gammel Dansk bitters whilst nibbling on smörsbröd – open sandwiches topped with delicious slithers of gravlax as night time remained lightime until daytime became daytime.
Sweden is dear to me, not just because we have life long friends there, but because they are open qnd fierce and say things like,
‘Att glida in på en räkmacka’
“To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.”
Roughly translated ‘Att glida in på en räkmacka’ means, ‘people who haven’t worked that hard for what they have.
Like the Borises and the Rees Moggs, sliding all over the place on their shrimp sarnies as the rest of us pay twice the price for their mayo.
I am frightened and appalled by the 40 mile convey of Russian troops ready to bring down a beautiful city. I am beyond appalled at Syria and Afghanistan. I am utterly poleaxed by Yemen and North Carolina. But I am horrified by the antics of a man who has us in his thrall, a despot who is too sinister to gamble with. The fucking fucker who has ridden rough shod over shrimp sandwiches, blintzes and our future.
My mother would have said,
‘Zol er krenken un gedenken.’
Let him suffer and remember.
And I agree with her.