The 1970s was a much more violent time; football terraces hosted regular brawls between rival fans, the emerging National Front seemed to condone violence against anyone not like yourself; schools ran on corporal punishment, and ‘wifebeating’ was not so unusual.
So when the punk movement took off, the violence came on board. Bands like the West Ham supporting ‘Cockney Rejects’ took part in what has been described as ‘the most violent ever punk gig’. Members of the band were seasoned fighters themselves; I don’t really like reading about people revelling or competing in extreme violence, so if you want to read it, here’s the link.
The Oi! element of skinheads and football loyalties is something that passed me by and I wonder how many girls were fans of these bands. Sham 69 struggled to declare their anti-racism when so many of their fans were doing nazi salutes and fighting.
Gareth Holder of the Shapes is critical of this aspect of punk:
“Thanks to the likes of Sham 69 and Co not making a stand against violence and right wing involvement until it was way too late, there was a time when going to *any* gig could result in violence. It was the violence at gigs that was one of the things that killed off the old punk. I fucking hated OI music and the bands that did nothing to stop the violence at gigs. That idiot Pursey had his head so far up his arse it wasn’t true. He just didn’t want to deal with it. He’d be singing “If the Kids are United” and the whole fucking place would be a war zone while he was doing it. Maybe I’m being a bit unfair to him, but they could really have done more to control the situation in my view.”
My guess is that most of these fights at gigs were amongst an almost 100% male crowd. Pete Hook (of Joy Division/New Order) puts the violence down to this:
“In [late 1970s and 80s] England the audience was predominantly male. In America it was 50/50 male and female and there was very little trouble there. Nowadays, the audience includes a lot of older people. Young and older people. I regularly go to concerts with my children sharing the music.”
He goes on to explain that there were riots all the time at punk gigs. This picture is of trouble breaking out at an early Slits concert.
And in 1976, fans at a gig featuring the Clash and the Jam supposedly ripped up the seats at the Rainbow Theatre, North London, but Eddie Duggan’s photo tells a different story:
“This gig was described in the press afterwards as a riot, but the look on our faces hardly suggests that. The Rainbow operated as a seated venue, and really the seats should have been taken out for this. Hundreds of teenagers stood up to see the band and to dance, and the chairs collapsed under the weight. Far from rioting, we were simply passing the broken seats forward to the stage. The girl next to me is my friend Selena. I love the way she’s putting her hand up to protect her hair.”
I was too young to go to any of these concerts. Later on I certainly stayed away from the football Oi! type bands. I loved to pogo and ruck at the front of gigs but at the events I went to, it was all very good-natured and exuberant.
Last word goes to the Fatal Microbes: