IT WAS a girl who got me into the Cramps, inevitably.
She was older, wiser, more glamorous, more fashionable – hell, she had easily the biggest mohawk in Scunthorpe pretty much through the whole of the first half of the 1980s, probably even the rest of the 1980s too.
These things mattered, somehow.
The council put a parquet dancefloor over the municipal Baths Hall swimming pool in winter and hosted brass band competitions, pigeon club dinner-dances and bands like Chumbawamba, Faith No More, the Cardiacs and the Guana Batz – until 1am! In the morning! Imagine!
Desperately unfunny comedian Jasper Carrott even built a routine around a gig at the venue in the Seventies (“Play Scunthorpe Baths for 50 quid? I’d drink Scunthorpe Baths for 50 quid ..”). How we laughed.
Everyone went to Steve Bird‘s alternative discos on Thursdays, when as far as Scunthorpe was concerned, the Baths was the social centre of the universe. I’d seen this girl shuffling around to Garbageman at the Baths ever since I‘d been going there.
I can see her now, mohican silhouetted by flashing disco lights, gliding around the dancefloor as Lux Interior sneers:
“Yeah, it’s just what you need when you’re down in the dumps, one half hillbilly and one half punk, big long legs and one big mouth, the hottest thing from the North to come out of the South. Do you understand? Do you understand? Whooooo! I can’t lose with the stuff I use, and you don’t choose no substitute, so stick out your can, cuz I’m the Garbageman.”
The girl had rhythm – at least, she had rhythm in the context of drunk dancing to some gruesome whacked-out psychobilly homage to bad drugs. Or bad sex. Or both. Whatever. I liked her moves. She was very, very sexy. But she hung around with an intimidating crowd.
They were very all fashionable, sophisticated and older, original ‘Scunny Punx’ and all that, but they were intimidating in a very real sense – one of her mates had actually stabbed a pal of mine when they’d been going out a few years earlier. Really. She turned out to be a lovely girl when you got to know her though. And this friend of mine aroused a violent streak in women on a fairly regular basis, come to think of it.
Anyway, I was content to admire this girl from afar. She was so far out of my league it wasn‘t even funny.
A while later, it’s Saturday afternoon down at Jensens (note lack of superfluous apostrophe), an ugly, dirty boozer down the arse-end of the precinct, jammed in between Debenham’s, the multi-storey car park and the glass-and-brick Dr Who ziggurat that is Scunthorpe Library.
Jensens was as rough as a badger’s arse, but they used to serve you even if you had, I dunno, a bone through your nose, and we’d head there after our preferred boozer the Furnace closed at 3pm (younger readers will no doubt chortle at the privations we endured in the olden days before the binge-drinking vom-bonanza that is 24-hour licensing) and carry on drinking until as late as five or six pm. These were heady times, obviously.
The clientele was made up of punks, bikers and hippies, rockers, skinheads and raincoated indie-kids, piss-heads, pot-heads, faded saloon bar harpies, mad old nicotine-stained and rheumy-eyed random pub geezers – plus the odd foolhardy shopper – all of whom soon dissolved into a blur of denim, leather, fishnet stockings and misspelled tattoos.
Imagine the Cantina scene in Star Wars shot in the working men‘s club in Kes and you‘d be heading in the right direction. The stink of patchouli oil, sour lager and a billion stubbed-out fags hung over the place like a mouldy leather jacket.
While the Eighties are often portrayed as the Loadsamoney decade, it was as grim as fuck up north a lot of the time. Industrial meltdown, longterm unemployment, dirty needles and nasty drugs, all that. It was a time when you were supposed to get on your bike to find work. If someone hadn’t nicked it first.
Like me, a lot of my mates were at sixth form, but the social lives of many people I hung around with in town revolved around the arrival of the jolly green Giro every two weeks. I was probably a bit better off, living with my parents, not paying any rent, so I don’t remember feeling particularly downtrodden.
From my perspective, everyone seemed to be, y’know, partying in the face of adversity. It wasn’t exactly the Wag Club but we were happy enough.
We’d hit the Furnace in town on Saturday afternoon, get leathered and then go down to Jensens when it shut. And only then. Like I say, Jensens was a shit-hole and definitely second-division compared to the glittering salon of polite yet thoroughly amusing discourse that was the Furnace. I’m joking of course. The Furnace was a shit-hole too.
But you could smoke dope pretty much openly at either of them so they became popular among a certain element of the town’s youth.
I was probably well away on a couple of pints – no hippy drugs for me, thank you – when I found this woman was sitting next to me. We got talking, one thing led to another and I’m sure you can guess the rest, although we didn’t actually do the dirty deed until I went down to spend the weekend with her in Lincoln, where she lived.
As regular readers have probably guessed by now, I got into the Cramps via a similar musical apres-shag scenario to that described in previous missives. I’ll spare you the details.
I ended up taking the piss at sixth form, spending more time doing stuff for my fanzine than going to classes. In an effort to impress her, I took this girl over to Doncaster – hey, I know how to treat a lady – when I went to interview Marcus Featherby who ran the Pax label and promoted gigs in South Yorkshire.
I think the high point came when I asked him if the riots in Paris in 1968 were “any good”.
We eventually got the train back to mine to find my mum had had a call from college that very day, asking why I wasn’t turning up for my classes – and then I arrive, drunk, with this be-mohawked sex siren who‘d they‘d never met, didn‘t even know existed, expecting her to stay the night. She had to get the last bus home, singularly unimpressed.
Funnily enough, it was soon afterwards that that she chucked me. I think part of the problem was that I really got on her nerves by constantly making a big deal about being a vegetarian while happily munching on any number of gelatine-based confectionary products. Lots of other stuff too, I‘d imagine. I may have been a bit of a twat, to be fair. And probably not a great shag either.
She used to hammer the Cramps’ Off The Bone album, which had just come out, and I bought it soon after we split up. Initially there may have been a little bit of moping about, listening to Lonesome Town and Human Fly (although perhaps without “96 tears in 96 eyes ..”), but I soon got over it. It wasn’t that big a deal.
And it’s a great album on its own merits.
A compilation of previously released singles put out by Miles (brother of Police drummer Stewart) Copeland’s Illegal Records as an ingenious yet despicable way of continuing to make money out of a band who were suing him for unpaid royalties, Off The Bone was a pretty neat package all the same.
Dead Jaw’s cover design was rendered as a stylish and strange green and black anaglyph that made your eyes ache if you looked at it for long enough. There were supposed to be some 3-D glasses included in the album packaging but I never got mine.
The cover image styled the band – guitarists Poison Ivy, Bryan Gregory and Kid Congo, drummer Nick Knox and Interior – as some kind of fucked-up Addams family amid blackened skulls and rats and dancing skeletons, but photographs of them weren’t so very different. If anything, they actually looked even more fucked when you could see them properly.
It wasn’t any wonder they had a slightly cadaverous appearance, given the sentiments of songs like Garbageman, Drug Train and New Kind Of Kick – where Interior sings “If I could only find, some new kind of kick, something I ain’t had, some new kind of buzz, I wanna go hog-mad ..” before proceeding to list an ever-depleting range of new options, including “Energeen .. Barcol .. Draino Hot-Shot .. Wack Attack .. Helium .. Nitrous Oxide .. Formaldehyde …”
Largely produced by Alex Chilton, Off The Bone showcases a sparse, dog-rough kind of punky rockabilly which was heavily influenced by people like Link Wray, the Sonics and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. It was dirty and ugly and a bit old fashioned and weird and it suited me down to the ground. I may even have bought a pair of crepes.
A mate of mine, John, whose family ran the post office in the village where we lived, has a surname which is similar (well, the first four letters are the same) to Garbageman, so obviously I felt the need to call him John Garbage or Garbageman. Even more hilariously, when she was in the shop one day, my mum was talking to his mum and actually called her Mrs Garbage.
It seemed funny at the time anyway.
Where the album went, I’ve no idea. I bought it again at HMV .. Who am I trying to kid? I got it at Vinyl Exchange, a couple of months back. Without the freaky anaglyph cover, unfortunately, but you can’t have everything.
I’m playing it a lot more than I thought I would.
As for the Cramps themselves, according to their official website, “after a quarter century of mayhem, they’re too far gone to even consider any other course ..”
I always imagined that, post the Skynet-inspired nuclear holocaust, there’d just be the cockroaches, Keef, Iggy and Lux, looking to score. Apparently not.
I suggest you play Garbageman, loud.