We went to a party at Joad Raymond's house yesterday. I have never really got the knack of parties. I always mean to mingle, but I rarely do. I seem to end up with someone I already know and talk to them over the surrounding noise until I am hoarse. So it was, pretty much, this time.
I had a long chat to my friend Paul Grunfeld who at one point told me how he used to be a punk, the image of which I have struggled to get out of my head ever since. Paul must have been the most charming, well-spoken and polite punk in the land! But it did get me thinking about my time at college in the late seventies. . .
I was at Manchester between 1976 and 1980. Punk took off as I arrived, but I struggle to think of many 'punks' at the art college apart from maybe the artist and musician Linder who was a couple of years ahead of me doing Graphic Design and going out with Howard Devoto of the Buzzocks and then Magazine (a favourite band of mine).
I suppose the problem is that punk has come to mean something different. If you say 'punk' to someone now, they see one of those sad King's Road types with their spiked crest and piercings, but punk was never that clear a style. Being a punk was not like being a skinhead or a teddy boy: there was no dress code. It was supposed to anarchic for goodness sake. If you look at a photograph of a punk gig from the time, you will struggle to find anyone who looks like a 'punk'. Punk was as much an attitude as anything else.
Punk was also, to my mind, a very young and suburban kind of a thing. I already felt too old at 19/20. In any case I remember finding the music faintly ridiculous on first hearing, though that changed quite quickly. But I think I was always more interested in American bands like Television and Patti Smith and Richard Hell than I was with The Vibrators or The Adverts (though I saw the Clash and the Buzzcocks and many, many others, many, many times). I still get a buzz out of hearing the odd blast from that era but I hate nostalgia. It's lazy and dishonest.
Punk was too visceral and raw to ever be widely popular and even those who took part got tired of its limitations. I can remember watching Magazine walk off twice because people were spitting at them - a shower of spittle being the equivalent to a standing ovation in 1978). As far as they were concerned punk was over and they wanted to move on. And so did we all, really. Spitting is not a very accurate form of applause and I liked to be near the front.
The punks I knew that used to hang out at the Student's Union bar in Manchester and come to the gigs there and at the other small venues like Rafters or the Russell Club, were not art students at all. Most art students I knew were very, very straight and conservative, whatever the caricature of them being wild and crazy might be. Soul and disco, reggae and funk music were a much bigger deal to most art students I knew in the late seventies and you were much more likely to hear Bob Marley or Funkadelic on someone's record player (you may need to Google this term if you are under 40) than the Clash.