(I Don't Know) Who She Is / Years Of Pain
Catalogue Number - Reif 001
Label - Reif Records
Year Of Release - 1981
Most bands have a sob story about “not getting the breaks” but we can’t whinge because we just screwed up any breaks we got, mainly due to being incredibly disorganised and, finally, due to me getting my girlfriend pregnant and turning into a responsible “Daddy” at the age of twenty. That wasn’t the end of the story however because, since Strangeways split in 1983, I’ve also managed to screw up loads more really promising breaks! It’s all been a laugh anyway and I know that none of us have any regrets. We are also one of those rare bands who are still mates all these years later and all respect each other. That can’t be bad, especially since we went through so much together and lived through what I consider to be the most exciting period in British music history.
I was thirteen and heavily into rockabilly, wanting to sing but not knowing too much about music. I started copying Jerry Lee Lewis on the family piano and writing and recording pretty dreadful songs. I was also running an underground magazine business at school, producing what would later come to be known as fanzines, juvenile humour that I thought was “satire”, mainly cartoons of teachers and schoolmates in humiliating situations, slagging off Queen and other bands. I got caught, parents were called in, I got the slipper and a week of detentions and all magazines were destroyed. It was 1976 and we were living in the British backwater of Hull in the north-east, and we were at a Catholic school, Marist College.
1977 came and elder brothers started bringing home records by people like The Stranglers, The Damned, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Ramones, Eddie and the Hotrods and The Pistols. To a fourteen year old kid who was into rockabilly this music seemed like “home”. I created a band, The Revolt, with some kids my own age who could just about play a few bar chords. I had always been the loudest and most ridiculous in our year so it was logical that I would be lead singer. We were awful and, at a very drunken rehearsal in April 1978, I keeled over and fell through the drum kit, my head going straight through the snare drum skin, drums rolling in all directions. I was thrown out of the house and thrown out of the band. I reasoned that, if those wankers couldn’t see the humour of what had happened, then they couldn’t really be very “punk”. Salvation was around the corner.
I had come up with the band’s name and I had entered the group for the Hull New Theatre Talent Contest in July 1978 and a friend of my big brother who was really into punk invited me to get together with him and his mates for the new “Revolt”. That was Spike Burke and, despite being a brilliant keyboard player, his role was to be bassist. Spike brought in Frank Johnson, the older brother of one of my friends, on guitar, and Ronnie Bennett on drums and we made our debut on a Sunday in July 1978 at the New Theatre. They were great and I was terrible (totally out of tune) but hugely entertaining and a complete idiot!
We were banned from playing at our school when a nun, the headmistress of our sister school, walked out in disgust at our one and only ever “legal” performance at school. I thought I was great but she couldn’t see it. We started gigging at church halls and youth clubs, anywhere that underage kids could get in. Most gigs ended with trouble and hall owners saying “This is the last time we have a pop concert here!”
Members went off to university and, by April 1980 Frank and I were the only two original members. We had been joined by Dom Milne on bass and Andy Naughton-Doe on drums. We saw that “classic” punk was gone and the new wave was now there so we changed the name to Strangeways (sometimes Strange Ways) when Frank suggested it. As a Doors addict I saw the links with “Strange Days” and supported it, we had grown up and now sounded like we knew what we were doing. This was the golden era for the band as we broke city records for gig attendances and then went on to record what would become the most highly valued single in Hull’s musical history. On Saturday November 7th 1981 Strangeways laid down two tracks at Fairview Studios in Hull and then, seven days later played an incredible gig at the Tower supporting the Exploited and announced that those two tracks would be our first single.
Hull is a backwater so punk was always going to come late to the joint in any major way (Roland Gift and I were the only teenagers walking around here who were obviously “punk” in 1977) but the early 1980s here were really exciting and I have to say we were privileged to enjoy being active in that period here. I have to pay tribute to the other bands who made Hull so very alive: Foeticide, The Nerve Blocks, ZMen, Born BC, The Sons of the Pope, Lord Mountbatten's Bits and Pieces, Nyam Nyam. These bands were the Hull punk movement. Don’t let any hippies tell you otherwise because they were the ones who got the public ear with record deals whilst they traded on our cred and rewrote the official “Hull Punk History”. Those bands I have listed were the Hull punk movement, anything else was either froth or came after.
Anyway, our single reached No.7 on the regional chart, Born BC did even better and got their self-made 45 to No.1. Then it just petered out really as ska and new romantics took over. Ska was only able to make it through because of punk, the new romantics could have only made it through due to punk. Punk may not have sold many records but it had clearly had an influence way more powerful than its record sales implied (ask Nirvana). By 1983 we just split and I went on to explore African hi-life music before returning to R’n’B roots with Emperor Stitt and the Ordinaires now (check out the myspace site).
Twenty-six years after it was released, our one and only single is now selling for £80 on ebay and people in Japan and Germany know about it! It was played extensively on Radio One when it was released in March 1982, largely thanks to the much missed John Peel, and it was also played on New York radio due to some strange BBC Radio Humberside-New York exchange deal. When it was released it was available from two small outlets in Hull so I do not have a clue how copies are turning up in Japan or Holland or Germany.
If people are enjoying our music now then excellent. I am now back in contact with all of the members of the band and we are looking to get back together for a tour of Japan and to record the album we should have recorded all those years ago. Half will be original recordings from those times, the other side will be new stuff in the same style. Punk does not leave you. You are either punk or you are not. I am, and always will be.
Now I am heavily involved in the Kurdish independence movement and write for Kurdish Aspect magazine in America and also for a boxing website, ringsidereport.com because I am a Muhammad Ali devotee.
God bless punk and God bless all my brothers in arms from the Clash, Sham and the Pistols right down to Foeticide and the Nerve Blocks in Hull. For once we were a big noise, we kids had an outlet for our complaining and our celebrating. That was punk and I will always love it and be grateful to it. I feel bitterly sorry for the kids today because the enemy is not so easily defined. The hippies have taken over the social working, the councils, they are everywhere, and you want to punch them but they say they are your friend and you end up wanting to apologise to them for giving them the abuse they really deserve. That’s what our bored teenagers are faced with now. Our problems were nothing by comparison. I know, I have a seventeen year old son living with me and he is exactly as I was all those years ago. Thank God he can identify a hippy at twenty paces and shoot the bastard on sight! Rotten was not wrong, never trust a hippy.
God bless and thank you to all who contributed at all levels to our revolution. We all did our little bit in our little bands in our little towns and we changed the world. I would not change a thing we did and I think we were the most intelligent and productive youth culture that ever existed. We questioned but were not blinded by “love and peace” and pseudo-religious dogma like the wankers in the 1960s. We knew where it was at, to paraphrase Weller from “In The City”.
Live at the "Tower" on Saturday 14th November 1981 supporting "The Exploited"
Singer, The Revolt / Strangeways
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