RICHARD PACITTI got a phone call recently that struck a chord…
“Are you free to meet up with a bunch of old punks?”
It was an old pal on the phone.
“I have been talking with someone called Griff who is involved in making a film about the punk/new wave/indie bands from Croydon in the late 1970s early 80s,” he said. “It would be good if you could go along to the meeting to represent The Fanatics.”
In this case, The Fanatics doesn’t refer to diehard Palace fans, but the new wave-Mod band who were part of the Croydon music scene 40 years ago, and “Griff” is Griff Griffiths, who used to be in the Bad Actors.
With nothing else in my diary for that particular afternoon in October, intrigued, I made my way to the Dog and Bull in Surrey Street where all, as they say, would be revealed.
Memory is a funny thing.
In a strange way I was expecting the beer garden to filled with a bunch of teenaged punks, Mods and New Wavers with their quiffs, Mohicans, leathers and drainpipes and all in fine fettle. This is what we all looked like the last time I saw them all in the early 1980s, when we hung out at The Star in Broad Green or one of the other venues where you could find a gig in Croydon most weekends.
But, of course, that was five decades ago and the passage of time meant that the Dog’s beer garden was filled instead with a bunch of men of a certain age, many of whom had gained a few pounds and lost quite a few follicles.
What hadn’t changed, and this became apparent the more we chatted, was the fondness for those times and our enthusiasm for being in a band and playing the music we loved to a bunch of like-minded people.
We introduced ourselves to one another by our names and the band we were in. Otherwise, there was a risk no one would recognise anyone else.
“Hello, Eddie from the Daleks here.”
“Martin from Case.”
“Hello, I’m Richard from the Fanatics,” I said.
What was interesting was that while we didn’t necessarily recognise one another by sight, our memories of the bands and their songs was really strong. A number of people started singing Fanatics songs to me, and I had a chat with “Mark from the Heroes” about two or three of their songs which I can still remember.
As far as I am aware, their songs were never recorded, so my memory of them is from when they played them live at The Star. I spoke to another friend about this and he, too, could remember one Heroes’ song in particular, I Hope it Rains Until September. He would have only heard it once or twice all those years ago, too.
Perhaps there’s a special place in our brains where songs from our formative years reside, ready to be recalled years later when we bump into old friends.
You see these film clips of older people with dementia who are brought to life by hearing songs from their youth. Imagine the care homes of the future, where all the old folk join in a singalong of Pretty Vacant, Bank Robber or Eton Rifles.
My school friend Ron has developed an idea which he calls “The Golden Years Theory”.
Basically, it states that the years between the ages of 15 and 25 are our most formative and productive. During this decade, we form our own ideas about things, develop interests, opinions, skills, and can actually put those ideas into practice. We are old enough to be independent, so we can join a band, drive a car, start writing, stay out late, get drunk etc. We have the energy of youth and we have no serious responsibilities like a family or a mortgage or a career that we are committed to. The world is our oyster.
For some of us, our “Golden Years” involved being in a band.
The meeting in the Dog and Bull had the feeling of a school reunion about it. I say this, even though I have never been to a school reunion, both of my schools having been demolished.
But we were school age when we first knew each other which meant that had we met in a pub at that time most of us would have been under-age. We could probably have travelled there free on the bus – today I travel free on the bus courtesy of my over-60s Travelcard.
In those days much of our musical education took place in the backroom of a pub or a damp rehearsal room, or flicking through the second-hand records in Beanos, or trying out guitars in Rockbottom. I don’t think any of us had any formal music lessons or training.
We saw that other people had learned a few chords and, with the bravado of youth, had got up on a stage to play our songs to anyone willing to listen.
There’s an iconic image from the fanzine Sideburns in 1977: “This is a chord, this is another, this is a third, now form a band”.
The fact that Johnny Moped, Captain Sensible and The Damned had a strong Croydon connection meant that we had local examples of how to work this trick. By the way, the excellent documentary Basically, Johnny Moped (the world premiere of which was used to mark the re-opening of the David Lean Cinema), which is a real treat for anyone from Croydon of a certain age and musical preference, is now available on Netflix.
What everyone in the pub garden recalled is how the Croydon bands of that time got on with one another. We would go along to see other bands play, cheer them on and they would return the favour by coming to our gigs.
Anyway, on to the purpose of this meeting.
Griff and producer Mark Williams have been putting together a documentary about the punk and indie music scene in Croydon to be called Are They Hostile, the name of a single by The Bad Actors. We whiled away the afternoon reminiscing and being interviewed by Griff. The film is in production and should be ready in the autumn, hopefully accompanied by an album of songs featured in the documentary.
If this slice of history is your era, there’s an Are They Hostile Facebook group and you can put a date in your diary for the film premiere later in the year.
In order to give the project a truly Croydon flavour, Cronx Brewery will be producing an Are They Hostile lager and, not resting at all on his laurels, Griff has an autobiography, I Was The King of Spain out this spring.
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