"This next one's called
'Suicide City'," said Kid Strange of The Doctors of Madness. " This one's
It seemed a suitable epitaph for the first, and presumably the last, rock
festival to be held in a football stadium in Chelmsford, a town in the
Essex commuter belt, 30 miles from London.
The organisers, a group of local businessmen, needed 6,000 paying punters
to break even. In the event, they got 1,100.
Given that tickets were £3.00 in advance and £3.50 on the day, that means
that losses ran somewhere around £20,000.
From the start, no one seemed very sure whether it was a punk rock festival,
or just a rock festival with punks as extra exotic ingredients.
The message to the Conservative local authority was that it wasn't a punk
festival. Some of the bands would just play " fast Rock 'n' Roll". And
that helped to explain why it went ahead when so many others had failed
to elude the censors.
For the fans, the message was more ambiguous.
Seven out of the ten acts had New Wave pretensions. One was a reggae band,
alleged to be much favoured by punks. And the other two were the Rods
and the Lew Lewis band. If nothing else, they're newer wave than the rock
The licences of Chelmsford's pubs weren't in much doubt, though. They
closed their doors for the evening of the festival, and even during the
day, you had to sneak around the back if you wanted a drink.
It was a bit like a Californian town preparing itself for an invasion
by hordes of Hell's Angels.
When the festival was over, the good citizens could afford to laugh.
Barely half of the gallant 1,100 were punks, and only a very few were
done up in the full range of safety pins and zips. Hardly an invading
The inquests began early in the day.
By the time the first band, Solid Waste, came on at noon, there were no
more than 500 people in the stadium, and they were dwarfed by the stage.
Solid Waste played an energetic set, which was met by complete indifference
and an absolute minimum of applause.
Later their singer said he welcomed the hostility of New Wave audiences
towards would be stars. It was a healthy response, he said. Then he got
very drunk indeed.
Slaughter and The Dogs easily lived up to their growing reputation, though
the singer was hard pressed to follow his remarkable arrival onstage.
He came on like an utterly deranged academic, sporting a university gown,
and with his head and shoulders totally covered in chalk dust. Once he'd
shaken that off, however, he grew increasingly less bizarre.
Despite the singer's antics, the act was very much down to guitarist Michael
Rossi, who plays blistering chords in illogical, manic progression.
Rossi's unusual dance routine suggests a baby who's spent too long in
the same nappy. No doubt he'll gain in sophistication, if he wants to.
John Peel, billed as "host" was sufficiently moved by the band to come
out from behind his turntables and take a few snaps.
was he doing at a festival that was so manifestly a failure? He just wanted
to see the bands. Believe it or not?
He thought the organisers were out of their depths. These were bands who
were great in clubs, but not in daylight.
This argument overlooks the familiar progression of club acts to bigger
venues, but no doubt helps save some face for bands deserted by their
Aswad, members of the so-called "black new wave", gave most of the other
performers on the bill a lesson in playing. Their drummer came on alone,
and performed a stunning intense solo that was almost worth the price
Sadly, Aswad played no more than two songs. They mistook the flying beer
cans that greeted every act as a racial slur, and walked off. Such perverse
displays of adulation are evidently not easily understood outside punk
In the press box, at the top of the main football stand, a newspaper "stringer"
began to foam at the mouth as he dictated copy to the News of The World
on this latest battlefront in Britain's race War.
The organisers were hoping that the day would be saved, when the pubs
closed after lunch, but since many of them were shut anyway, this quickly
proved to be false hope.
By mid-afternoon, the backstage gloom had developed into mid-crisis. People
due to be paid after the gig wanted their money there and then, in case
there wasn't any later.
The 80 security men walked off the field, and left the gates unattended,
and demanded their pay.
"If we don't get what we want", said one, "We might give the Teds an 'and
with some of these punks."
The scaffolder who'd built the stage opted for a spectacular protest.
He started to dismantle it while the Lew Lewis band played below and great
pieces of canvas began to descend onto the musicians.
At this point, the police were called in. The demonstrator was fetched
down off his scaffolding, and shortly afterwards paid.
The next blow to the organisers' morale was delivered by The Damned. They'd
gone so far as to have their gear set up, but because they were worried
about their loot, they pulled out.
So much for New Wave altruism. To hell with the fans.
was left to the Doctors of Madness to provide the day's first memorable
performance. That weird combination of violin and guitar that sounds thin
on vinyl works wondrously well live.
Kid Strange is an authoritative figure, mixing raucous vocals with sardonic
comments to the crowd, which seemed overwhelmed by his music and his band.
After six hours in the cold, the kids finally got what they paid for.
An inspired rock band on a flat-out wave of adrenalin.
Earlier, Lew Lewis and even The Fruit Eating Bears had their moments,
but it was the Doctors who stole the show. The wall of sound these guys
put out makes Phil Spector seem like a rickety fence.
With the Dammed out, The Rods came on an hour before they were due to,
and had a hard act to follow with the Doctors.
For my money, the Rods have never quite sustained the high-energy performances
that made their name.
Inevitably, though, it was their Dylanesque hit single "Do Anything You
Wanna Do" that was the big crowd pleaser, and their act had several songs
in a similar melodic vein.
But it was the encores that clinched it for the Rods, and sent the audience
home relatively happy.
For one thing, they brought on Rob Tyner of the legendary MC5 for a bellow
at one of Five's Chuck Berry songs, "Back in the USA".
Tyner just happened to be there with the band (on an assignment for the
NME infact), and just happened to come out for the number, which they
just happened to be available to perform. Which just happed to be fine
for all present.
Tyner looks nothing like a rock legend. More like a benign and beatific
psychotherapist with a rich practice, but he's not forgotten a thing about
selling his act.
Many of the kids may not have known who they were getting, but they sure
knew they liked what they heard.
And when Tyner had gone, the crowd just boiled over as The Rods went into
their classic killer combination of " Gloria" and "Get out of Denver",
with Barrie Masters doing his Tarzan routine among the controversial scaffolding.
"I hear it was a good gig after all, " said one of the organisers sunk
in despair backstage.
For a man who'd just lost his shirt, it seemed a dignified way of looking