Working Class Love Songs from the Moseley Border
By now we’d started going to local gigs, as well as seeing the proper bands we loved in Birmingham and beyond. Tamworth Arts Centre was always okay as a venue back then, but didn’t regularly put on many of the bands I wanted to see. Occasionally the brilliant Love On Board would play there, although they ripped off Orange Juice more than we did the Bunnymen; Sitting Pretty were always good for a laugh, particularly after my friend Anice Byfield joined them on backing vocals. The first time I saw her sing with them, in the proper “theatre” section of the Arts Centre, not the usual main hall, there must have been ten of us from school, all somehow pissed despite our ages, shouting astonishingly witty quips such as, “Anice, have you done your homework?” Poor girl.
But what really kick-started what happened in Tamworth towards the end of the 1980s was the opening of The Rathole.
Just imagine the worst looking, dirtiest venue you’ve ever seen a band at. The floorboards are caving in; the ceiling is waving the white flag. The toilets are worse than a 1970s Second Division football ground. Double the image that’s now in your head. Welcome to The Rathole.
Based above a “trendy”(!) bar called Manhattan’s, that I believe used to be the equally scabby Monica Café, it was easy for me to fall in love with The Rathole because 1) it was always cheap to get in; and 2) the bar staff never asked us, at our tender ages, for ID, meaning we could merrily do some under-age drinking. The fact that the nights there were organised by local maverick Ian Gibbons probably had something to do with this, but I can’t say for certain.
Because of Gibbons’ range of music business connections – the most prominent being the fact that he knew Bob Geldof – Tamworth Rathole suddenly started putting on bands that we’d actually heard of from outside the confines of the Tamworth Herald’s “Musicbox” column. Freight Train, The Psycho Surgeons, Pop Will Eat Itself… Christ, these bands had made the national music weeklies, some had even been played by John Peel! Week after week the place seemed to be moderately full (local band who made sure their mates turned up) or absolutely packed (any band who’d have three column inches in Melody Maker / Sounds / NME). Whatever, going to church on a Sunday evening was out. We had The Rathole.
By now, I’d left sixth form. Or, rather, I’d been politely asked to leave the sixth form. Or, rather, and this is my preferred version as it adds to my rock ‘n’ roll CV, I’d been thrown out of school. Despite, as Mr Varden told me, being the best English student at school (including the ancient eighteen year olds from the upper-upper sixth) I was hauled into the Headmaster’s office one afternoon to have a polite discussion about my subsequent education. I was told, with no negotiation, that I would start another two ‘A’ Levels in addition to English, therefore having to catch up on an entire year’s work. Either that, or I left. I was mightily pissed off at not getting that English ‘A’ Level, but – being stubborn and thinking bollocks to them – I figured that it was quite cool to be chucked out of school. I was happy to walk. (The only time I ever really wanted to go back was ten years later, to show my Degree certificate to Messrs. Wallis (Headmaster) and Cookson (Head of 6th Form.)
So we’ve walked Spencer to his door after one Sunday night at The Rathole. Not for security, more the fact that Ash and I didn’t have a curfew by now and had no reason to go home. Spencer lived on the posh side of Glascote Heath’s Silver Link Road, the side where people had mortgages. The wrong side of the tracks was a sprawling council estate or, for Ashley and I, privately rented “Trust” houses. Slightly more expensive, lining the pockets of Thatcherite bastards. With Spencer safely home, we began the fifteen minute walk back to our own houses. One of us spots a car, nothing flash, with one of the front windows wound fully down. We look for a second or three, thinking of ways to take advantage of an opportunity for a prank. The best idea we come up with is to let the handbrake off and push it to the end of the street, ensuring that the owner has a mild heart attack when they wake up in the morning. Being the decent folk we are, we decide otherwise. Debate over, I lean in and push the car’s horn a couple of times. The lights are on in the house it’s parked outside. We’ve decided to do the good citizen thing: letting the owner know that their car is at risk if anyone dodgier than us gets a look at it. We assume he or she will come out and think, “silly me!” and wind the window up.
A few minutes later, as we walk along Silver Link Road past Sharon Tracey’s house, discussing the brilliance of Will Sergeant’s guitar on the live version of “Heads Will Roll”, we hear a yell. This all happened in so few seconds I couldn’t possibly avoid it, but we hear the yell before we hear the speedy staccato footsteps, and the guy – obviously – whose car we’d tried to save is smacking me around the head with a baseball bat, shouting something about “stay away from my fucking car.” He hit me twice, I think, and twenty years on I can still feel the lump. I lay in the road for a minute, one of the few times in my life I’ve genuinely feared for my life. I knew, unable to move as I was, that a few more clouts from this lunatic could finish it for me. But he staggered off, obviously satisfied with a job well done.
And, after lying there until I knew he’d gone, I staggered towards home. I got to the top of our estate, just opposite the Sacred Heart church, and a figure stepped out of the shadow of bushes, instantly giving me palpitations. I jerked back in fear, as a voice said,
“Fucking hell. He really got you didn’t he?”
I realised my vision wasn’t’ quite right, but at least I recognised Ash’s voice.
You could see the dried remains of the pool of blood, my blood, on the road by the bus stop for days, until it next rained. The police said they’d follow it up, but pissed my Mom off by asking whether I’d been drinking (Mom to police officer: “Of course he hasn’t been drinking. He’s only seventeen!”) The hospital said that I was lucky, my skull had been “mashed in” and didn’t require stitches. Oh, lucky me. The police did call a few weeks later to tell me that the guy had been let off with a fine and a warning. I’ve not pissed around with anyone’s car since, either for fun or for their own benefit.
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