YOU ARE HERE NOW / Punk Rock Worthing 1976-79

Punk Rock Worthing 1976-79

FOURTY YEARS AGO PUNK ROCK changed pop culture. Its lo-fi,aesthetic, belligerent attitude and,spiky sound inspired a generation.,Music was no longer a closed shop.,Now anyone could join in. However, much of today’s understanding of punk is based on books and films devoted to the scenes in London and Manchester – the Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks, The Roxy, Sniffin’ Glue and so on. This sometimes misses how isolated punks felt across the rest of Britain. In towns such as Worthing – and its surrounding neighbourhoods – to be a punk in the 1970s meant becoming a social outcast.

“I remember walking through the door of The Three Horseshoes pub in Lancing but the landlord just said, ‘Out!’,” says Caroline Hardy, then a punk with orange back-combed hair, “People’s reactions, it was like you had three heads. I was spat on, told I’d make a terrible mother and, once, someone stood up in a pub and shouted out I was the ugliest girl in the world.”

For male punks, animosity regularly descended into physical violence. Certain pubs, notably The Central Hotel by Worthing Station (now The Grand Victorian Hotel), still had a residue of bellicose teddy boys. Things weren’t even safe out in the country.

“I went to a gig in Steyning by a little punk band from Steyning Grammar School called The Gun Club,” recalls Paul Cooledge, who was in his early teens at the time, “There were 30 or 40 punks there. When we passed The White Horse pub this big, hard local family attacked us. Everyone ran in all directions. I ended up on the Shoreham spaghetti junction. A car pulled up and I told them I thought I was going to die, so they gave me a lift, but a couple of people were severely beaten. Remember, most punks were between 13 and 17 but the people attacking them were 25 to 35.”

For Worthing’s punks, such troubles were the price of joining what Caroline Hardy describes as “a huge, friendly social scene”. The town wasn’t big on gigs – everyone went to Brighton to see The Clash, The Stranglers and the like – but it was full of drinking holes. Punks based along the westward rail link would meet in pubs that tolerated punks (and underage drinkers!) such as the Thieves Kitchen on Warwick Street (now the Vintners Parrot), The Egremont on Brighton Road, The Fountain on Chapel Road (now the Slug & Lettuce) and The Henty Arms in Ferring, the latter renowned for its jukebox. Meanwhile younger punks mulled over endless pots of tea at the British Home Stores café. All would converge on the record shops Memory Lane and Fine Records.

Punk is often remembered as a music/fashion Year Zero but Worthing’s scene blended the old with the new. Initially there were hippies who simply ripped their
flares or added 2” band badges to their lapels. With no Kings Roadstyle boutiques to hand, Worthing punks simply looked scruffy, shirts untucked or ripped, a tie at half mast, a jacket with badges on, and hair like Paul Weller on the first Jam album. For girls, a white shirt covered in lipstick scrawl or biro’d bands names with a tie and stockings was a cheap, popular look. Debbie T_____, the first Worthing girl to spike
her hair into a Mohawk, aged 14, looked so alien that cars would slow down, their drivers staring, mouths agape. After a trip to London her photo ended up on the front of Japanese tourist guide.

“If I was wearing a Sex Pistols Punk Rock Worthing 1976-79 tee-shirt it would vanish and my mum would burn it,” recalls Paul Cooledge, “So I’d hide my clothes behind a furniture store and when I was at school I’d paint my plastic leather jacket with poster paints. I’d wear that into town then wash it off on the seafront so I could do it again the next week. Hair was spiked with soap which was great until it rained, then your eyes would be running as it washed down into your face.”

There were a few punk gigs in Worthing, mainly fuelled by Brighton, particularly the Attrix label, as well as the Littlehampton scene. A notable concert was when Brighton bands The Piranhas, The Dodgems and Nicky & the Dots played The Assembly Hall, but there were also significant visits from Jonnie & the Lubes and others. Brighton bands The Egos and Joe Dash were led by Worthing musicians, and both blossomed into bigger bands in the ‘80s (This Colour and Venus in Furs, respectively), while one Brighton band, ‘Wrist Action’, even had a song entitled ‘West Worthing’. Closer to home smaller, now almost completely
forgotten outfits would play The Montague pub (Montague Street, now closed) and other venues, the likes of The Bats, The Sick Plimsolls, F-X and The Stains.

“There were bands who could play but toned it down, but the Stains really couldn’t play,” says Kev Hough, who was a 15 year old punk in 1977, “They were like Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious doing their version of The Lord’s Prayer, one chord, two chords maybe, but they played Ferring Youth Club and we loved them. The whole area had a particular style; cheeky chappy, angsty, with new wave humour. That fed in from Brighton which wasn’t an angry town. Worthing was angrier because it was more screwed up.” Even if Worthing wasn’t an essential hub for punk bands and gigs, Pebble Beach Studios in Teville Place hosted notable recording sessions. The Stranglers recorded early demos of three prime cuts, ‘(Get a) Grip (on Yourself)’ ‘Go Buddy Go’ and ‘Bitching’, in the summer of 1976, while the following year it saw the recording of ‘Paris Maquis’ by ground-breaking French electropunks Metal Urbain, the first ever release on future indie giant, Rough Trade Records. That same year Penetration laid down their debut, ‘Don’t Dictate’ at Pebble Beach and, perhaps tastiest of all, The Adverts recorded lethal double-header andTop 20 hit ‘Gary Gilmore’s Eyes/Bored Teenagers’. For those who lived punk it was a definitive time, helping to form their outlook on life.

“I’d been a disco girl and women were more objectified,” says Caroline Hardy, “Women were treated more as equals on the punk scene, it was one big family, we all had a
laugh together and there was no competition between the girls. The music took me overnight, although it took me a while to lose the perm…” “Punk in Worthing was more DIY than London,” adds Kev Hough. “To me that’s what punk was about, an attitude, and, in that sense, I still think I’m a punk now.”

To be a punk in Worthing four decades ago was to constantly run the gauntlet of endless trouble. It’s easier now but still requires commitment. 1970s punks have it in their blood, but Worthing’s Bar 42 still maintains the spirit, and local bands such Atombuzz, Numbskull, Flat Pig and Losers Club burn with it. So, if you like it lo-fi and DIY, get involved.

As the once common but now fading graffiti would have it, PUNX NOT DEAD.

Thomas H Green