Around that time, though, I'd been going out to Ilford in Essex to soul nights at a club called the Lacy Lady. I wouldn't be alone; there'd be a mob of us — the Johns. Sid would be there, John Gray, a couple of others. Proper mob-handed, in fact.
The other clientele out there was very interesting. There was the semi-gangster-ish local toughies. They'd look at you threateningly, there'd be no two ways about that. But we were a pretty mad bunch ourselves. That's where pogoing really came from. That's how we used to dance, jumping up and down. We didn't know the moves, so we invented our own, and good times were had by all. As a result, you weren't then perceived as a threat, because you were up to your own universe and enjoying yourself in your own way and not there to nick the birds — although, girls love 'different'. Did they want to mother us? No, but that's good too! I was young for the age I was, there was never a chance of 'Come back to my place.' I tried hard, though. Anyway, you couldn't do anything; you couldn't go off on your own, because you had the responsibility of the collective.
What they'd play there was a good root course in where soul music in America was going. It was beginning to split into differ- ent angles, after Tamla Motown. There were more interesting and exciting varieties coming out, it wasn't all so orchestrated out of Detroit. They played kind of West Coast funk which was really interesting, a lot of Philly and Chicago stuff that later turned into all kinds of different things.
It was early disco, really, and I loved all that — 'Hi-jack your love, hi-jack your love!' etc. The DJs out there were great. Some of them were BBC DJs, but they played the stuff they liked, outside of their regular broadcasting playlist, like the hardcore stuff. Loved it. And in them days you could go up and ask, 'What's that record?' and they'd tell you. That's a lesson modern DJs could well learn from. I'd be ferreting out future purchases, that's what Ilford was all about — ooh, must get that, and then I would.
Disco sucks? You never heard that from me. Whoever wrote the punk manifesto wasn't listening to the actual punks — them what started all this. No one was paying any attention, it was all nega-tive two-steps-backwards Dumbsville. A great pity. I still have a deep love of The Fatback Band. They had a great way of catchy little dance-y singles about them. Love 'em. Kool & The Gang, Love 'em. What more can I say?
The only drawback about going there was, there was no way home after, and the only person we knew out that way was called Tony Colletti and he wouldn't let us stay at his house. Three or four times of that, freezing to death until four in the morning when the next train came, and the fun was gone from it. We were all under car-driving age, and probably under the influence anyway, and we definitely didn't have money for a minicab back. So we had to go elsewhere for our fix of that kind of music.
If you ever went into Soho in the middle of London Town, the gay clubs were the only ones that would welcome your different imagery, and, again, you wouldn't be pestered by the boot boys and the yobs. You didn't have to deal with that whole angle of life, of, 'Who are you? Arsenal or West Ham?' Again, there were lots of girls dressed really well, with different clued-up ideas of fashion. So, it was thrilling to watch and be in amongst, and frankly, there was a better class of drugs.
The music was usually dance-orientated. There was always excit- ing things coming from odd little bands from up north, and I don't mean Wigan Casino, because that didn't entirely sum up the north- ern scene at all. There'd be many different angles on things, remixes of Bowie tracks, whatever. Just great fun. Not too much orientated towards sensationally eye-opening music, it was more like a social gathering where you'd have a bloody good laugh, and if you got out of your nut you wouldn't be beaten to a pulp for it. People were genuinely helpful. Very open and friendly, no judgement going on.
The macho stance that progressive rock had adopted for itself was repulsive to me. I loved Status Quo, I always will, but the audi- ence were just the same bunch of long-haired, waving-it-in-the-breeze dullards. They were just identikit, from the front row all the way up to the back. I had no time for that. I didn't want to join an army, and I felt that none of these fools were really listening to what was going on at all. Whatever they were mas- querading as, was fuck all to do with the band.
It was just hairy students in RAF coats, that was the look — kind of a Led Zeppelin cast-off thing. Those Great Coats — very big thick blanket-y things with silver buttons — were everywhere, thanks to Army Surplus stores. Now, I don't mind dressing up, I go for a bit of this one day, and a bit of that the next. But as a lifestyle thing? No, never.
It was just really exciting to find like minds who dressed differ-ently. For instance, John Gray and I used to go out to Canvey Island to see Dr Feelgood. Again, Wilko Johnson — what a guitarist! Man alive, that bloke thrilled me to death. Like, how on earth are you doing this? So fantastic. And the lead singer, Lee Brilleaux — oh my God, the seediest, tackiest, harmonica-playing sleazeball, stains all over the white dinner jacket. He looked like a vagrant trying to look classy, a great image. The whole thing about them, they were outside of the agenda, and they were really kind of grubby.
It may've taken a bit of courage to dress differently, because I suppose it's the way society is. It's always trying to regiment a thing. Give it a uniform and a label and thereby contain it. Containment doesn't interest me. I want it all.
At that time I was wearing demob suits. I liked the look on the building sites, the Paddies would come to work, and last month's Sunday best would now be what they'd be shovelling shit in a ditch in. I liked the look of it. In a world of flappy flares, which I bitterly resented, that was what was instantly available. I liked gas-man suits too, at the time. They came in this electric blue, so I'd wear that a lot. It was a short little jacket, a bit like a Harrington, with matching pants, and it looked great with a pair of red steel-toe-capped boots. Then hair violently cut short, which I decided needed to be taken to the ultimate — from 'Brussels sprout' into 'mad hedgehog'.
Anything that comes from the streets is about 'short of cash'. There were times when I could afford expensive items and I would, but it would be just the one thing, like an astoundingly amazing pair of shoes, which fitted nothing I had, but I liked them shoes. I even bought platform boots, but it was the solid wedge ones that had no heels. It was just a huge wooden block. You were seven inches off the ground — very dangerous to be going around London in. But I loved them, because they were in sky blue and electric blue, a mad brogue-y pattern, like the old skinhead shoes, but taken to outer space and back again. Dangerous too, because hard to walk on, definitely a nightmare on the escalator on the tube. Also, if a mob of lads spotted you, these were not runaway mate- rial. You'd have to stand and take whatever came, and hope that your wit won the day, which it normally could, but not always.
I don't know, maybe I was a style pig before my time, but I set to work on those demob suits. I thought, 'The idea of it's good, the style is shit. Let's try and change that.' To start, you cut off the lapels. 'Nah, it was better with them on. Maybe I should take the sleeves off an' all, but — nah, they look better back on there ... Cue safety pins!'
From Anger Is an Energy by John Lydon. Copyright 2014 by John Lydon. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins.