The story of so many punk bands starts with someone getting inspired – often by seeing the Sex Pistols, hearing that first Damned record or, in the case of many young women, reading about The Slits in the NME. But don’t assume that once formed, bands would go for it. No, there was often a constantly changing line-up that depended on who was available, who fancied being in the band and whether people had fallen out with each other, taken offence or just disappeared for a while. In London, particularly, people could be in several real or imaginary bands at the same time. There was also a lot of lending and swapping musical instruments or giving each other basic lessons on how to play; it almost functioned as a community, but the lack of cohesion meant that opportunities could appear and disappear just as quickly.
What this fluidity led to was a number of real bands who never actually released any records, had any decent photographs made or even got their names on the posters. In the new millenium, people have become interested in the grainiest photos, the most muffled rehearsal tapes because for some of these bands erased by history, that’s all that there is apart from anecdotes and ‘did you knows?’
Some musicians in better-known bands also had involvement within the ‘hidden punk’ sector. Greg Van Cook, guitarist with The Innocents was also in the Electric Chairs with Jayne County, but also was in Front and The Vibrators at the same time as being one of The Innocents. The original duo who formed the band were Highbury Hill squat residents Marguerite Martin, ‘cool girl’ Sarah Hall, who borrowed a bass from Paul Simonon and piano player Fiona Barry. Singer Marguerite decided to form a band ‘after seeing the Sex Pistols’. Most of the band were complete beginners, but guitarist Greg and drummer Susie at least had some musical experience. Marguerite (now Van Cook) explains how the Innocents’ drummer was also in other bands:
“One weekend we heard a good drummer across the fields at Highbury Hill playing an outdoors gig and went to see who it was. When it turned out to be a female drummer, Susy Hogarth, we really wanted to get her in the band. She was committed to The Resisters and put them first, which was only fair and we had to use other drummers when she couldn’t make it due to prior engagements, or work conflicts.”
After a bit of rehearsal, the band had five songs and two managers gained at a party one night. The Innocents found themselves in a rehearsal room where members of The Clash popped upstairs and mentioned they were off on tour the following Tuesday. Sarah asked if The Innocents could be added to the bill with The Slits …. and just like that it was arranged!
“We did thirty-one gigs in a row with one day off … There were more women on stage for that tour than men, which I believe is a first. Ari Up even played drums with us on one occasion. Watching The Clash and the Slits every night was a privilege. After the tour, Sarah Hall decided to quit the band. No fuss, she just stopped.”
Having a founder member leave your band just as you’re ready to go for greater success is unfortunate. Although new member Jo Hurst stepped in, the EP that was recorded was never released on vinyl. The Innocents were named as 1978’s best unsigned act by Melody Maker, but it was not to be. Susy had addiction problems and fell out with new managers who promised great things for a US tour but didn’t deliver.
“I got into a bit of a problem with smack – and things were a bit weird. We did some great studio tapes at pathway at Newington Green – Eddie from the Vibrators lent me his kit – it was pink perspex and it was loud! I don’t have any of the tapes though.”
Three of the band members had to raise their own funds to get back from the US, Marguerite and Greg stayed on together. In 2011, Marguerite performed at the Ari Up memorial. She continues to work as an artist, and her website is here. We ought to find out a bit more about that Clash tour, shouldn’t we?