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!