Our blogs written to accompany the ‘Being Young in Bradford’ exhibition are proving popular – and we’re very pleased to be able to introduce another one in the series. This one has been written by Val.
She’s also provided us with a soundtrack of songs – you can find it at the bottom of the blog
Punxperience by Vee B
Everyone will have their own personal story of Punk life. I can only encapsulate some of the relevant parts of it as it was for me.
I think I was always a bit different, weird. Perhaps it was my background. My mum divorced, left my dad in 1967 for his adultery when I was little. It wasn’t the done thing back then, you were supposed to turn a blind eye. Not my mum, she was a strong woman. She was viewed by some as a “Scarlet woman” divorcee. It’s laughable. We were poor, living in a council house, mum was a single parent of 3 kids, who only earned two thirds of the wage the men were getting at the same job, it didn’t go very far. Women were automatically paid less than men at that time. I’m grateful my mum insisted on me joining free (and paid for ones, when I was older and she was earning more) drama groups and developing some social skills or I would probably be a total loner.
When I started school, I was told I was a bastard because I didn’t have a dad. Thankfully, times have changed but it meant other kids parents viewed me differently. There were those who discouraged their children from being friends with me and those who came from a good place and encouraged their children to be nice to the “disadvantaged” kid, but it felt a bit condescending and both approaches knocked my confidence.
Things did improve as I got older and I did start making more friends, though I don’t think I ever totally trusted them even if I was enjoying the experience and their company and to be totally honest, I didn’t really fit in, I’d just got good at faking it. I found a lot of it boring. Discussions about current fashion, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond, who has bought what latest gadget. Love, boys, blah, blah, blah.
September 1977, 2 months after my 14th birthday, I got friendly with a couple of girls at school. They were a bit different to the other girls. They were more interesting and discussed real life events, society, injustices, alternative music. After a couple of weeks, they invited me out with them. I walked into The Mannville Arms and BAM. I felt like I’d come home. The people, the atmosphere, the energies, the noise, the outfits, the power. Music.
The MUSIC. Raw, harsh at times, buzzing. Lyrics about a world, reality I could relate to, sung in voices that weren’t trendy and sweet. Instruments played aggressively or uniquely. Powerful. Dancing to it was a way to release all the angst, teenage hormones, emotions, anger at social unfairness. I’m not saying I don’t like any other music genres but Punk is my first love. Like your favourite t-shirt though, you don’t want to wear it every day do you? Well I don’t anyway.
I sometimes sit and relive the live gigs I have been to, including Adam and the Ants, The Negatives (of course!), The Damned, The Stranglers, UK subs, Angelic Upstarts, The Dickies, Stiff little Fingers, Crass, Poison Girls, Gen X, Wire etc etc. I didn’t realise how lucky I was at the time to have those experiences. For a few hours, the whole microcosm of the punk community were focused on the energy coming from the stage, becoming a unity of atmosphere, movement, dance, endorphins. The vitality of the whole event was electric.
I don’t fit in
The way the people were dressed, there was a thread of connection in their clothes, hair, makeup, in the way they didn’t follow any of the current trendy fashions but they were all different to each other, individual, had their own identity. It said ‘’I don’t fit in with or follow the controlled, dictated mainstream, so instead I will stand out as different, rather than trying to hide it’’. Our main source of clothing, especially when the clothes could be adapted and altered was the charity shops. I only ever bought 2 items new, a punk holey jumper from a fab girl who knitted them and sold them cheap and an Angelic Upstarts T shirt. I believed in the “Punk is a State of Mind, Not a fashion” ideal.
My first time out I got introduced to a couple of punks, who introduced me to more, who introduced me to more. Before you know it, you are part of a diverse, usually non-judgemental, inclusive, unity of disenfranchised young people. Many of us were from various levels of poverty but there were also some from more financially stable backgrounds. There were gays, lesbians, those questioning or exploring their sexuality. There were people from differing ethnic backgrounds, black, Asian, European, eastern European and so on.
Most of us had our youth, our dissatisfaction at social inequality, our non-conformist attitudes, and isolation from mainstream dictates in common. We could talk, debate, discuss for hours, didn’t always agree, or see life the same, everyone’s perspective of reality is different but we could accept and respect the differences.
As I would point out, most of the lyrics were anti-establishment, fuck the system, anti-police, etc, that’s political. But if the music was their glue, that was fine too. Many of us got into politics though, going on protest marches all over the country.
It wasn’t all serious and politics. It was mostly having a good time, fun and doing ridiculous things. I remember getting my ears pierced in the toilets of the Old Crown, my nose was pierced sitting outside The Pop Club in York waiting to go in to see Adam Ant, The gigs, The music, The dancing, The freedom, sheer joy and camaraderie.
Some guys were sexist. It was the 70’s / 80’s after all and the cultural and social norm, but with the majority of them you could point it out and tell them to back off. Some would accuse you of the stereotypical being too “sensitive” but they were easily ignorable. They weren’t as bad as the other non-punk males who would make outright, sleazy comments when I was on the bus or walking anywhere, which was pretty scary.
I guess the group norms could vary from city to city but the Bradford Punks had a strong identity. They would always support and welcome each other. They would travel in large groups to go to music events. You could go out to town on your own, even as a female, which was unusual in that era, and there would always be people who would welcome and include you. The ethos was one of support, looking out for and enjoying the company of the whole spectrum of people. I believe we had a unique experience during those crazy, emotional, hysterical times.
We were family. Those you hung out with most, who were like your brothers and sisters. Those who went to the same places as you that you talked to, your close cousins. Those you said hello to, your distant cousins. You could be sitting on a bench in town and a punk you’d never met would feel safe to come over, sit and chat with you. We were part of the same tribal family. You knew they would be there for you. I still have many good friends from that era.
I have no regrets about that period of my life. I’ll always have the love of the music, the experiences, the memories, the amazing friends I made, a number of them still in my life. The strength, identity, learning and growth the experience gave me is invaluable. If it hadn’t been for my time with these people I don’t think I would have developed any personal confidence or accepted me as I am and realised that it’s ok to be, think, act differently to the norm. I don’t think I would have believed that I could have achieved the things I wanted to and have actually achieved.
Of course it wasn’t all honey. Other groups who weren’t punks often started fights. I remember some of them. In one, a group of us had been for a curry at the international after our night out. A group of guys on mopeds pulled up and without a word, set about us. The guys tried to protect me and my friend as the only girls there. My friend and I got thrown against a big glass window of the curry house. Some other punks saw what was happening and came running over, realising they were outnumbered and getting beaten, the attackers jumped on their mopeds and disappeared.
There were also squabbles, arguments, falling outs and fights even, amongst the punks. I could feel and knew who didn’t particularly like me, you can’t be everyone’s flavour. I limited my interactions with those people. There were enough people around that meant you could still enjoy the time with your friends, be in the same place, group even as those who didn’t like you and not have to be up close. There were some aggro people amongst the group, just as there is in any group. Just like all friendship circles, they were sweet enough with their own friends but if they didn’t like you it could be very awkward.
There was also the usual drugs. These could cause people to act out of character or enhance less desirable personality traits. It could also do the opposite. Unfortunately, some of my friends got into stronger stuff. Some died as a result and others lost huge chunks of their lives battling it. Such a painful life lesson for those involved and those seeing it but helpless to change it.
I did enjoy some drugs but now I know it also had a negative repercussion. Being a young teenager my mind and body was still developing and coping with the substances caused me to have issues with memory. I find that I have forgotten a lot of the events, people and most especially dates from those times. Sometimes in conversation someone will remind me of something or someone and I can’t always recall it. I’ve worked hard on memory skills but occasionally it has recurred throughout my life, thankfully never with anything important. The worst thing is that all my memorabilia that would have helped me relive and revisit those time was binned by my ex about 30 years ago, so I don’t have visual reminders.
End of my Punk lifestyle
My time of being totally invested in this lifestyle came to an end. The memory still troubles me and makes me sad. A group of us were in the Richmond building. My new boyfriend was sat with some of the punks. Me and a group of about 5 or 6 girls were messing around near some chairs, play fighting, having a laugh. One girl I considered a particularly close friend and I were playing about. She pushed me to the floor, sat on me and knelt on my arms. I was laughing at the time, until she started punching me in my face. I was shocked. One of the other girls ran round and pulled her off. My nose was bust and I had a black eye.
I never knew or found out what triggered my attacker to this. I guess she had her own issues or reason. I went to the loo to clean up my bust nose. When I came out to get my coat I heard my boyfriend and the 3 or 4 of those who were sat down, talking. He said “I thought she was hard”. One of the seated punk girls, who I felt wasn’t overfond of me and I had the least possible interaction with who was older and a kind of leader, replied “Her? She’s always been a soft wimp”.
I picked up my coat, told them there’s nothing soft about not being able to respond to an ambush where you are pinned down, that I never pretended to be hard but would and have stuck up for myself when necessary, and left. My boyfriend had my purse, so I couldn’t afford a taxi. The hurt and anger were my drive on the 3 mile walk home, which gave me time to think over everything. The physical pain was nothing but emotionally I felt embarrassed, betrayed, bewildered, disillusioned. My mum was furious with me for walking home on my own in the early hours of the morning. The boyfriend turned up shortly after. He gave my mum my purse and asked to see me. She told him I wouldn’t see him and that was that.
I stopped spending my time with the punks; only going to town occasionally and to the odd gig. I still spent time with those I was close to but the going out became less and less. I met my husband, got married, had children. Some of my friends still came round and stayed in touch but the constant, almost living with the punks era was over.
I have no regrets about that period of my life. I’ll always have the love of the music, the experiences, the memories, the amazing friends I made, a number of them still in my life. The strength, identity, learning and growth the experience gave me is invaluable. If it hadn’t been for my time with these people I don’t think I would have developed any personal confidence or accepted me as I am and realised that it’s ok to be, think, act differently to the norm. I don’t think I would have believed I could achieve the things I actually have.