I grew up in rural Suffolk. In fact I still live there now. In my defence, however, I should add that I have lived in the interim in some other places, including some that had mains electricity, shops and motorways. There. I’ve said it. However, back in the 80s, when I was [and I use the term loosely] ‘growing up’, I was faced with a cultural desert of village hall discos patronised mainly by hard kids with facial hair, denim jackets and Yamaha FS1E mopeds. My pal Steve ‘Beaker’ Allen became first a harrington wearing ska fan, then a bleached jeans and DM wearing skinhead, and then a mohawked punk in one confused twelve month period in 1982, which was an alarmingly accellerated journey through youth culture. He suffered for his art – every biker infested disco we attended would see him being held up by the lapels by some burly longhair in the car park whilst punches were administered to his pale bald head, as I inevitably skulked away pretending not to know him.
However, Beaker’s step father had an ageing Mercedes and we discovered that he was not averse to giving us lifts into the nearby ‘big city’, which is what Ipswich was at the time to us. It is not much of an exaggeration to state that this opened up a whole new world for us – just as the inevitable process of teenagerdom was beginning to manifest itself in the form of discovering alcohol, girls and music whilst also losing concentration on anything vaguely academic.
And thus it was, lubricated by stories from another pal of mine who actually knew people in the ‘scene’. John Peel lived about five miles from our village, and My friend, via the tenuous connection of his mother [at the time a teacher] and Peel’s wife [at the time a mother of several pupils], would cycle off and visit John, returning whilst barely able to balance on his racing bike due to the weight of the bags of freebies that Peel had bestowed on him. In Ipswich town centre, I would nervously stand on a Saturday afternoon, at the edge of the amorphous group that was ‘the Punks’, who by habit congregated on the Post Office steps (of whom there are some good photos here) and, as was their wont, lounged, drank, spat, fought and generally annoyed the passing populace as they went about their weekend shopping. Those with enough cash left would make periodic sorties to Mannings, the pub that adjoins the market square, and in which studded leather and spiky hair was de rigeur.
Many of these individuals were not really about a ‘scene’ in the way we know it today. A minority were in fact quite self destructive alcoholics/drug abusers who had latched on to the coat tails of the nihilism purveyed [quite falsely in the main by everybody except Sid Vicious] by the ‘original’ punks. Unable to realise that this ‘attitude’ was in fact posturing and firmly tongue in cheek, they would in a number of cases go on to die in squalid and depressing circumstances. However, they were different. They seemed dangerous. And exciting. And for sheltered middle class boys like us, that was enough.
Later, all of this would change with the arrival on these shores of hardcore and its community-spirited, DIY attitudes. However, for now, the music scene we arrived in the midst of had only a few bands to speak of. One was the Anihilated. Already more of a metal band than anything, they were linked by friendships to many of the punks and so had quite a local following. I never saw them, and I’m honestly not sure if, to this day, I ever actually heard any of their stuff. Some of them wore moustaches un-ironically which, to paraphrase the great Julian Cope in “Repossessed’ , rendered them culturally ineffectual.
But there were a couple of characters I recall seeing quite regularly even back in those early days who were supposedly ‘in bands’ that seemed to be more about myth and legend than actual live shows. Names such as Freestate, Raw Noise and Victims of War would sometimes appear on photocopied black and white flyers in the window of Parrot [later Rex] Records. The two most recognisable of these aloof individuals were a tall guy with dark, straggly goth styled hair and ragged black clothes, and another stocky chap with bright blond spiky hair and the full on studs on everything look. It didn’t take too long to find out via friends of friends that they were called Phil and Dean, and they had just formed a new band called ‘Extreme Noise Terror’.
I think I had gone on the train down to London over the summer holidays in 1985 with Peter, and we had ended up, as youth inevitably does, in Camden High Street. There used to be a great record shop there called ‘Revolution Records’, and I had picked up Maximum RocknRoll’s sampler ‘Welcome to 1984’, and another sampler with an orange cover, put out by a Bristol label called Children of the Revolution, entitled ‘Digging in Water’. When I got back home and slapped the record on to my old dusty stereo, I was assaulted by some of the most staggering and, I have to say even now, fantastic sounds I had yet heard [and this was at a time when Peel was pretty much at his peak, radio wise]. Chaos UK came and went in a blur. Then came Extreme Noise Terror. ‘Bullshit Propaganda’ was the title of the track. Wow. I was blown away.
It would be a good year before I would eventually see ENT live, but I had to find out more. In those days, with no internet or Youtube to enlighten us, it would be Peel’s 10pm Radio 1 slot, or the vast network of fanzines that were available locally that one relied upon to gain knowledge about music. A guy I knew vaguely published a straight down the line punk fanzine with ferociously left wing politics but the name of which I forget. This publication contained tantalising scraps of information about ENT and reviews of gigs in Norwich, Ipswich or even Colchester. This chap was, as I recall, actually friendly with the band, but to have approached him and asked about them would have risked me seeming even more uncool, so I left it. But I was hooked by this extraordinary band; two vocalists, with different ways of expressing sounds of suffering and death. Staggeringly fast songs lasting only two minutes. And an image of such awesome confrontation and aggression [they were, however, also pacifist in their views if not their actions] made for an exciting cocktail.
And then it happened. I think it was a gig at the now infamous ICA [no, stupid, the Ipswich Caribbean Association!] – a fantastic venue where you would go to the upstairs bar before the show, drink cans of Red Stripe lager, and avoid the glares of the old West Indian boys in their battered suits and leather trilbys playing Domino. The line up at that time was not the original one – it would later go on to become a revolving door much like Spinal Tap. I think Jerry was still on Bass. He would reputedly often wear a mini skirt and fishnets on stage. Pete was on guitar, his hair a new colour every gig. Pig Killer, the original drummer, had vacated the drum stool and at this juncture been replaced by the intensely irritating but awesomely talented Mick Harris from Coventry on drums. And, as they turned up their instruments to start playing, Phil and Dean were sat on the stage, swigging from plastic flaggons of cider, barely able to stand up.
As frontmen go, you could hardly ask for more. Dean, his blond, almost mullet styled hair spiked, wore huge biker boots, ripped jeans and a string vest. Phil had by now grown long dreadlocks and adopted the full-on crust style of his mates from Norwich, Deviated Instinct. They eventually stood as the music started, and suddenly they were transformed in the way that a walrus, ungainly and slow on land suddenly becomes fast and graceful in the water. When ENT started playing in those days, the room just became a blur and if you weren’t in the pit at the front of the stage, you had to sit there and wear a big smile. I always thought that they seemed more relaxed on ‘home turf’ in Ipswich, surrounded by their friends. Bantering would start between songs, and if you were lucky on old Cockney Rejects song would be thrown in to the mix.
The heritage of the band was quite extensive; I wont try and talk about the later years, but pretty much every band I saw in Ipswich contributed members to ENT. Pig Killer, who was actually christened Darren Olley, was in The Sustained; Jerry Clay the bassist also passed through that band’s ranks. After he left ENT, Pig Killer joined Perfect Daze, more of whom in another post.
Happy days, and made more poignant now by the untimely passing last year of Phil Vane at the age of 46. Rest in Peace Phil.
Above: Burladingen squat, Germany
Above: Ipswich Caribbean Association, 1988 ish. I was at that very show. In that melee of stage diving. John Peel and his wife stood at the back of the room, seeming to appreciate the goings on. What a night.