Time Slip At The Electric Ballroom In Camden

Until last night I hadn’t been to The Electric Ballroom in Camden for over 30 years. If you are obsessed by 70s English punk rock then the last time I’d gone might be considered an historic occasion. It was the last day of 1979 and the final time the old pre-pop Adam and the Ants played live, as well as being the swansong performance by the original line-up of The Lurkers. I don’t remember who else was on the bill, but I do recall getting belted by two bouncers. They didn’t throw me out, they were labouring under the mistaken impression that some girl who was giving Adam Ant a hard time was there with me – and being ‘gentlemen’ they didn’t want to hit a lady, so walloped me because they wrongly assumed I was her boyfriend. When I did leave at the end of the night I got hassled by some cops who said it was obvious from the blood on my clothes that I’d been fighting. The filth told me the next time they caught me in a similar state they’d nick me. I insisted I’d had my head turned as I was speaking to someone and had accidentally walked into a door; this wasn’t true and I wasn’t particularly surprised the old bill didn’t believe me – they must have heard variations on that particular story a million times…
I’d never had much luck at The Electric Ballroom. On another occasion I’d gone to see The Brian James All Stars after that guitarist had quit the original Damned – and had the misfortune to accidentally catch one of the shittiest acts of the seventies. One of the advertised support bands for Brian James was Squeeze but their van broke down, so their management put The Police on instead. This was in 1978 and well before The Police had hit records. You knew any band called The Police were gonna suck before you even heard ’em; and of course they were truly awful, because only a bunch of utter wankers would name their act after the filth. The fifty or so punters in the venue – including me – turned their backs on the band and went to the bar at the back of the hall for a drink. The Police were completely ignored by an audience who just wanted Sting and his poxy mates to get off stage.
Things got off to a bad start last night too. I’d been to an art talk near Bishopsgate first, and to say the Robin Day chairs the audience there had been sitting on were unergonomic would be a major understatement. Arriving in Camden I realised I hadn’t eaten, so I got a take-out falafel sandwich. This was a mistake that took me right back to the seventies via my memories of how appallingly bad food tended to be in London when I was teenage. I expected to get the falafel in pita bread with salad, but it came in a French stick with chili dressing and one slice of tomato, and nothing else! The overall quality of food in London has improved massively over the past 30 odd years – it seemed I had fallen through a time slip.
Arriving at The Electric Ballroom it was good to be ushered in by Jim Driver, who was meeting and greeting those like me who were down on the guest list. I didn’t know anything about the band who were playing, I hadn’t seen Jim in a while and he’d sent me a message saying I should come to the Ballroom as he was promoting a Halloween party special and I’d enjoy it. I trusted Jim’s musical taste because at one point he’d managed Geno Washington. The band turned out to be Gandalf Murphy & The Slambovian Circus of Dreams – a New York folk rock act with a heavy sprinkling of prog on top. Back in the 70s when I paid more attention to rock music, the kind of American acts I dug when I saw them over here were the likes of The Dead Boys, The Dictators, Destroy All Monsters and Pure Hell – I got more sophisticated in the 80s, with my taste in live American music switching to the likes of Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers.
Watching Gandalf Murphy at the Electric Ballroom last night you could be forgiven for thinking that punk hadn’t yet happened – an impression that was reinforced when the band did The Stones Gimmie Shelter as an encore. Half the audience were dressed up as pirates and they seemed to be having a ball…. but I was left wishing that rather than falling through a time slip to a hippie gig circa 1974, I’d found myself in  1972 grooving to Major Lance at The Torch in Stoke-On-Trent! I couldn’t enjoy Gandalf Murphy’s London Halloween show because there were too many punk ghosts haunting me at the Electric Ballroom. Their brand of psychedelic folk with tinges of country struck me as representing everything late-70s punk set out to destroy – and simultaneously the complete antithesis of all the stomping sixties mod and soul sounds I still love too!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!


Comment by Steve The Milkman on 2011-10-28 16:09:46 +0000

In retrospect seventies punk rock seems so quaint……

Comment by Kim on 2011-10-28 16:16:39 +0000

I can’t remember who played the last time I went to the Electric Ballroom. I have clearer memories of the Music Machine. God knows why.
But I do remember ignoring The Police at the Vortex.

Comment by Paul Conneally on 2011-10-28 16:18:47 +0000

Wow – this gig means something to me too – i was miffed because I couldnt get to it and my girlfriend went on her own travelling down from Sheffield – i was annoyed at not spending New Year with her – she choosing the gig over me – that said we are still together all these years on – was strange to see Stewart (Adam) on the Andrew Neil politics show last week after Question Time… he’s looking well … hope he is!

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-10-28 18:35:53 +0000

Amazing you’re still with the same person more than 30 years on! Yeah, Stuart (Adam) has his problems but hopefully he’s over the worst of them. The impression I got from his autobiography was he didn’t remember the seventies Ants gigs that well… He was at least a year out in dating one of the gigs I was at…. I went to a lot of Ants gigs in 78/79…. They seemed more credible than virtually any other punk band around at the time…
@ Kim. I used to go to The Music Machine a lot more than The Electric Ballroom, which I never really liked but my memories of specific gigs at The Music Machine are less clear – maybe because there are more to merge into each other… I’d often go to pub or club gigs that ended by 11pm, then make my way up to the Music Machine for the headline act that came on there at midnight…. But for that second wave of seventies punk/new wave between 78 and 80 I also used to spend a lot of time in The Marquee and 100 Club…. as well as the pubs like The Nashville and Hope & Anchor…. and all sorts of other places…..

Comment by Michael Winner on 2011-10-29 07:56:00 +0000

Falafel in a French stick? Anyone flogging that has got to be a complete cock!

Comment by Bento Sushi on 2011-10-29 08:27:13 +0000

I think I’d rather eat a whole plate of wasabi in a couple of minutes without anything to accompany it than be forced to endure The Police live!

Comment by Jo Punter on 2011-10-29 13:41:39 +0000

I went to a Clash gig once. Does that count as punk or were they just sell outs?

Comment by KP on 2011-10-29 15:08:03 +0000

haven’t been to the Electric Ballroom in a few decades myself

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-10-29 15:27:50 +0000

Yeah, when I was going to those punk venues in the late-70s it would have seemed odd if someone had said they’d still be around in 30 years time – as the Ballroom and 100 Club are, even if the Music Machine got made over and The Marquee etc disappeared…. It would have been as odd as suggesting I’d still be around in 30 years time, coz back then another thirty years of living would have seemed like more than infinity….

Comment by Luther Blissett on 2011-10-29 19:27:06 +0000

Punk is dead and we are postmodern zombies!

Comment by Tom Vogue on 2011-10-29 23:17:40 +0000

I always thought Adam Ant copped most of his stage moves off old Bruce Lee movies.

Comment by Phil Sick on 2011-10-30 00:18:29 +0000

You’re only writing about show business sell-outs, whereas my old band Phil Sick & The Vomits was the real deal when it came to 1970s punk attitude!

Comment by Leon Trotsky on 2011-10-30 09:19:02 +0000

I did an online search for Phil Sick and the Vomits and they only came up once – in a punk discussion forum. Joe Stalin and the Bolshevik City Rollers don’t come up at all – sorry for wrecking that by mentioning them here! But surely that has got to make them both more obscure and mean they have a better old school punk name?

Comment by John Holmes on 2011-10-30 09:44:26 +0000

Jim Driver sounds like the name of a male porn star.

Comment by Activist Foodie on 2011-10-30 13:09:48 +0000

If you wanna eat good falafel in central London then you need to sign the petition to save Gaby’s Deli from the developers in Charing X Road!

Comment by The Ghoul on 2011-10-30 15:01:04 +0000

Looks like you went to this Haloween Party on Thursday – which seems a little early, All Hallows Eve is actually tomorrow!

Comment by Easy-E on 2011-10-30 17:46:56 +0000

Fuck The Police!

Comment by o on 2011-10-30 18:19:15 +0000

Are you on drugs?

Comment by Stiv Bators on 2011-10-30 18:59:51 +0000

Punk or pumpkin? They’re both just vegetables you hollow out and stick a candle in at Halloween…..

Comment by Jerry Cornelius on 2011-10-30 20:46:46 +0000

Don’t forget who did the novelisation of The Great Rock & Roll Swindle! Forget Camden, next time you time travel come to Ladbroke Groove!

Comment by Michael Roth on 2011-10-30 22:54:13 +0000

The 70’s are so retro.

Comment by mistertrippy on 2011-10-30 23:07:46 +0000

And the sixties are even worse for that too!

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