Punk History of Ealing:
An Interview with Skip Gillieman
By Dr. Piotr Stolarski
Above: John Lydon, alias Johnny Rotten, of The Sex Pistols
This month’s post focuses on the Punk era in west London (c. 1976-1980). I interview onetime teenage punk singer and enthusiast, Skip Gillieman, a resident of the borough, who fills us in on the rise and fall of this anarchic music genre. Some readers may be aware of Ealing’s 1960s music heritage (the Ealing Club, etc.). Mr. Gillieman’s fascinating reminiscences do much to reveal the punk scene at its height in the local area, shedding light on an important period in recent popular culture.
Piotr: Skip, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. Could you tell me a bit about yourself, and your links to the Ealing area, please?
Skip: My links to the Ealing area are, I was born in Ealing – I was born in Southall (Perivale Maternity Hospital). I moved down the Uxbridge Road to Uxbridge – Ickenham, to be precise. The Uxbridge Road has been where I’ve lived most of my life. So I’ve always had a connection with this area, if not going through, visiting one way or another.
Piotr: Did you go to school locally?
Skip: I did, in Southall, I went to Dormers Wells, Infants and Junior… at around the age of seven or eight I moved to Ickenham.
Piotr: Okay, and today we are talking about the punk history of Ealing, but growing up, what kinds of music were influential in your life? And did you play any kind of instrument?
Skip: No, I never played an instrument, but, the first thing that comes to mind were my dad’s Beatles singles. I still own them. I still play them once in a while.
Piotr: So your dad liked the Beatles. Was there any other bands at that time?
Above: Skip’s first record
Skip: My first ever record was Great Western Movie Themes. Which is hardly punk rock, but I always fancied myself as a cowboy… and I lost that, somewhere along the line, but I found another copy and I have a copy again. And every once in a while that gets played. There’s Fistful of Dollars, the Big Country… Fistful of Dollars is a fantastic piece of music.
Piotr: So that’s a very seventies thing, isn’t it?
Skip: It is. I believe the first record that I purchased in regard to modern popular music was Goodbye to Jane by Slade.
Piotr: Is that heavy metal?
Above: Slade – an influential 1970s band. (Merry Xmas Everybody
reached No. 1 in 1973.)
Skip: No. Slade were a rock n’ roll band – I would call it rock n’ roll. That was around 1974 – they were going before that. They, I believe, came out of the Skinhead era, of the late sixties and early seventies. As their popularity grew, they became a little more mainstream. Mainstream is what I would call Goodbye to Jane, but obviously one of their greatest hits is their Christmas single. It’s punted every year, and don’t we all love it!
Piotr: Thanks for that, so moving on. When did Punk begin and how different was it from what came before?
Above: David Bowie: an early influence on Punk music
Skip: For me, Punk began… that’s a difficult question, because I would think of the likes of David Bowie, T-Rex, Mark Bolan, Roxie Music were another one that were talked about. And that was just the English bands, the American bands were bands like the New York Dolls, the Stooges, MC5… there were movements in New York, and in England – London – around 1975. Patti Smith started to get a bit more popular. Bands like Television, the Heartbreakers, from New York. This country had bands like the Stranglers, the Sex Pistols… The Clash weren’t going prior to Punk, they came out because of Punk […] Brian James was the guitarist with the Damned, [who] were supposedly the first Punk band. They released a single, on Stiff Records, sometime in 1976. In late 1976, the Sex Pistols released their single. And it started blooming towards the end of 1976, really, although almost all of those bands were performing and making music prior to the Punk explosion.
Piotr: Thank you for that, that’s very interesting. What was characteristic about Punk that made it a new thing?
Above: Bill Grundy’s controversial television interview with the Sex Pistols in 1976 caused
Skip: Well the fact that it was new, the fact that it was fresh, young. The big point really was the interview with Bill Grundy and the Sex Pistols on national television. The Sex Pistols swore on TV. Queen were meant to be interviewed by Bill Grundy, on the Today programme… Queen pulled out for some reason, and the Sex Pistols were on the same record label, EMI, and were asked to come to take their place. There were some swear words, Bill Grundy being rather forward to one of the people who came along with the Sex Pistol, Siouxsie Sioux, who later became Siouxsie and the Banshees: he offered to take her out, Steve Jones called him a few bad words, Bill Grundy said, ‘you’ve sworn now, go ahead and swear some more’. And they swore some more. And it blew up out of all proportion. The next day the press had grabbed hold of it. And it exploded at that point.
Piotr: So you think it was about attitude?
Piotr: What about the actual sound? Was it drastically different?
Skip: Not drastically different, but it was very broken down, simple, rock n’ roll music. Prior to Punk there were bands like Pink Floyd who wanted to produce a record, and then go out live and produce it as it sounds on the record. Punk didn’t worry about that, Punk made two or three minute songs, recorded in half a day. On stage they would just play them and ‘done’. At that time a lot of the bands didn’t have much more than a set of music to play, it may have been 35 minutes long, and they were done, and they would probably have to play one or two songs again. Which most bands do anyway in an encore. You would get a favourite and maybe one or two extras, that people always want to hear at the end of a show.
Piotr: So it was kind of rough and ready? Much less ‘professional’?
Above: The Ramones
Skip: Oh yes… Also the Ramones, when they came to Britain, the ball started rolling. There were a lot of people – when the Ramones came to London – the Clash were there, the Damned were there, the Sex Pistols were there. All watching the Ramones. The Ramones had a great effect on the whole thing as well. They were at the point of the explosion.
Piotr: So, being a local lad at the time, you were in your teens at that time?
Skip: I was just about getting into my teens.
Piotr: So which bands were active in the local area, in terms of the length of the Uxbridge Road, from Acton through Ealing to Uxbridge?
Above: The Sex Pistols (1977)
Skip: There were lots of bands. The Sex Pistols were based – some of them came from Hammersmith, some of them came from Shepherds Bush. Steve Jones and Paul Cook came from Shepherds Bush. They were local lads.
Above: The Adverts – one of Skip’s favourite punk bands
A band called The Adverts, they moved up from Cornwall – they lived in Shepherds Bush – and they do still live in and around Shepherds Bush. There were lots of small bands… in Ickenham there was a band called The Lurkers, they came out of the initial explosion.
Above: The Lurkers, out of Ickenham, where Skip lived
Hayes had a band called The Ruts, and there were lots of other little bands, like The Decorators, from Uxbridge, The Satellites, as well, who were there at the point of explosion perhaps not as a band but as people who wanted to get involved.
Above: A flyer for The Satellites, originally from Acton
The Satellites, have reformed for the fortieth year of punk rock, and have started doing gigs again. Their singer Derek, and their bass player, John, both of them came from Acton, both of them were involved in the Punk scene. Derek… he was the writer, he stared writing a fanzine… Derek and John saw the Clash’s first gig, in London, where the Clash headlined. That was down in Harlesden, the Colosseum; that was the tail end of 1976.
Above: The Slits – punk girl band
They were supported by a band called Subway Sect, and a band called The Slits. That wasn’t the Slits’ first gig, but the guitarist that went on to be the Slits’ guitarist… she was there watching, and was later asked to join the band. So, there were lots of local bands – the Clash came from Ladbroke Grove, they lived around Ladbroke Grove…
Above: Siouxsie Sioux, Ladbroke Grove, 1977
Piotr: A very interesting area…
Skip: Absolutely, there was lots going on at the time. And it was an explosion. There were lots of people. We talk about the bands, but there were people who were happy to see the bands. That is a vital part of how it came about. If people don’t come and see you, you’re going to find it hard to move forward. The Punk explosion – it slowly grew, as the bands got bigger. The bands mastered the use of their instruments, and began to tour – even if it was small local tours.
Above: The Clash
The Sex Pistols toured at the end of ’76, ’77… because of the swearing, they played four dates out of the nineteen dates that were booked… The Clash, The Damned, and the Heartbreakers, were on the tour with them… the gigs were cancelled: in Wales, the Church turned up at the cinema, and started singing hymns outside the gig – [which] didn’t go off. There were other places where the [local] council wanted to see them before they played to see whether they were acceptable. The Damned said they would play anyway, the Clash stayed loyal to the Sex Pistols, ‘if you won’t play, we don’t play’, but even then there were cracks happening… divisions being drawn up.
Piotr: Obviously a really exciting time, people really having a good time. Do you have any personal memories of local gigs, and where were they held – pubs? What were they like?
Above: Rock Against Racism Carnival concert, Victoria Park, 1978
Skip: For me the first gigs were at a place called Unit One in Uxbridge. And they were local bands. Young lads like me, trying to pick up a guitar, drums, play a bass, singing or write some songs. And that was my first foray into gigs. This was sort of 1978 for me. The Clash had done a Rock Against Racism gig at Victoria Park, around April ’78. I didn’t have anyone to go with, so I couldn’t go, but would love to have gone. They had made their mark. A local band, for me, was Pus…
Piotr: Did they smell?
Skip: Ha ha! No, no… they looked very Punky. There were lots of other bands, hard to remember them all. Unit One provided a place for people to play guitars, play them in front of people; they also had a recording studio. Sometime around 1979, Unit One released an album on a label called Tiger Records, with local bands. As that was happening, Brunel University started… university gigs were always a staple diet for most bands. I started to go and see bands down there. The first band I saw there were The Adverts.
Above: The Ruts (1979)
I also saw The Razilloes (they became the Ravilloes), The Lurkers, The Ruts, Joy Division, The Undertones, Magazine – this was all through the end of ’78 to 1979. The Adverts were the first band I saw, and what an impression they made on me! They were a touring band… and you know, that first gig for me, the smell of the place, the atmosphere, a proper professional band in front of me. It really made quite a mark on me.
Piotr: So at that time, if you went to a gig what would you have seen? Really loud, but were people allowed to smoke and drink, were there any drugs around or things like that?
Skip: I never knew about that to a great extent. For me, I was 15, Piotr. Probably difficult for me to buy a pint at 15, 16, the music – for me – was what it was. When I saw the Adverts, I went out and bought their album. I’d had some singles of theirs already… and they have a special place in my heart! The first band I saw. The first live touring band that I saw.
Above: TV Smith of The Adverts
And they are still around today – TV Smith, lead singer of the Adverts, still tours. Gaye Advert is no longer playing the bass, but she still regularly goes to gigs, she’s involved with bits and pieces.
Piotr: So you mentioned Brunel University in Uxbridge, were there any gigs in the London Borough of Ealing area that you can remember?
Above: Hammersmith Palais, 1970s
Skip: Gigs in Ealing… not really, for me, it started at Hammersmith. There were venues at Hammersmith: the Palais, the Clarendon. There were gigs… Crass played a gig in Ealing, the Satellites supported them – there was a bit of a punch up after that.
Piotr: Where was that then, at a pub?
Skip: That was to do with Ealing Uni, I think.
Piotr: Ealing Technical College?
Above: Ealing Technical College in the 1960s
Skip: Yes, I believe so. Crass were quite a unique band, their style of punk is what you term nowadays as anarchopunk. They lived in a commune, they wanted it to be… one of their slogans was ‘anarchy and peace’ – that’s what they sold, but the right wing didn’t like it. And the right wing caused an awful lot of trouble at their gigs. At Ealing Technical College – there was a lot of trouble there.
Piotr: Would that be Skinheads, National Front?
Skip: It was, yeah. Always right wing... there certainly was a right-wing element to the Skinhead movement.
Above: Skinheads (1970s)
Piotr: Maybe later on we can talk about the politics of Punk, but moving on to your personal music tastes, we’ve mentioned a few bands already, which bands did you follow and why at that time? And how has this changed over time?
Skip: There were so many bands, it was very difficult to follow one particular band. They were all working bands. Chelsea were a band I saw quite a lot of. I saw quite a lot of 999, the Lurkers: they lived round the corner from me in Ickenham – so I knew them, if they gigged I would see them. But there were so many bands at that time, Piotr, it is hard to pick a favourite. And there were so many gigs at that time as well. Where nowadays the venues are fewer, at that time in London there were venues all over the place. And there was a venue circuit, things like the Crass gig at Ealing, things like that where bands would organise a gig at a local hall… I once went to see a band called Fourth Reich – they supported a band down at the Marquee in Wardour Street, they then played a gig down… bordering Wembley… it could’ve been Ealing […] that was a local gig in a church hall. If you weren’t big enough to do the circuit, you would find venues like church halls, like Unit One, organise them yourself and put them on.
Piotr: Obviously it was mainly young people, people at high school or maybe university. People knew where the gigs were – were there fanzines?
Skip: Fanzines, flyers, music papers, word of mouth. It’s quite funny to think there was no mobile phone in them days… but everyone managed to find out where to go. Flyers were always a good way of finding out where the bands were. I have kept an awful lot of my flyers, which I’ve picked up over the years. The Adverts, when they played Brunel, I still have that poster at home. That is a proper printed poster of the Adverts at Brunel. The Satellites always produced flyers for their gigs. I have a few of theirs. A regular local haunt for most of the local bands was the Clarendon, in Hammersmith.
Above: The Clarendon Ballroom, Hammersmith. A popular Punk venue
It was a small little venue, they would give you a gig, even if it was support, and it was part of the circuit. There was also The Greyhound in Hammersmith. The Red Cow, in Hammersmith. The Swan, in Hammersmith. These were all small little venues, and then you had The Palais, and The Odeon. So for me, Hammersmith was quite an important point where you’ve got the street bands as well as the big bands. The Damned ended up playing the Hammersmith Odeon, The Clash played Hammersmith Odeon, Siouxsie and the Banshees played The Palais, the Clash played the Palais…
Piotr: So it was relatively easy to get on to the ladder of becoming a band. Was there solidarity between the small and big bands, people knew each other?
Skip: To a degree, yes. There was some of that going on. It wasn’t just the bands – Rough Trade down Ladbroke Grove – they are a record label.
Above: Rough Trade shop, Ladbroke Grove
They were a record shop to start with. They supported all the bands. They created a record label, and started pressing singles of bands who were up and coming. Their first release was a band called Metal Urbane – they were French. They could have picked from hundreds and hundreds of bands, but they chose a band from France. I thought that was fantastic. There was also in-house fighting, it would not be fair to say it was all a bed of roses. Bands wanting to make sure they made their mark. But places like Rough Trade were… very ‘come to us, we’ll support you’. They sold fanzines – if you created a fanzine, they would happily take it and sell it.
Piotr: How would you say that Punk and later genres impacted the local area? Do you think there was a ‘West London scene’? And were Acton and Ealing closely linked to Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith?
Skip: Absolutely. Acton gigs. There was the Town Hall. The Ruts played Acton Town Hall.
Above: Punk in Acton: The Ruts at Acton Town Hall
The White Hart, in Acton… that was the pub next to the Police Station, Adam and the Ants played there. Adam Ant became this huge great big star, in 1978 he was playing the White Hart in Acton. The Satellites played there; Gun Control, who were a small band; Sid Vicious played down there. The Slits played there. Acton Town Hall – The Ruts played there, Misty in Roots played there.
Above: The White Hart pub, Acton Hill, Acton (shown in 1966). The
epicentre of live Punk music in the London Borough of Ealing in
the late 1970s.
They were a local Southall Reggae band. They are playing at the end of this month, and I’ve got a ticket to go and see them in Southend. Still playing today.
Above: Misty in Roots, a Reggae band, who played in Southall and Acton in the 1970s and
influenced Punk music
Thirty years after the Rock Against Racism gig, Misty in Roots did a gig with a band called The Alabama Three, at the Brixton Academy, to mark the thirty years of Rock Against Racism gig at Victoria Park.
Piotr: Was there a gig in Southall, a similar thing?
Skip: There were. Misty in Roots, things like that. The Hambrough Tavern [Southall] had gigs. It wasn’t so much involved in Punk, but they did have Punk bands there. A friend of mine, had a band called Chaos, they played there – that was around September 1979. So all this time, Punk was generating itself, it was creating and creating all the time, at the same time it was nailing its coffin lid down, as well.
Piotr: Why do you say that?
Skip: It became… run-of-the-mill, it became very middle of the road. It became accepted by the public. When it came out, there was a huge reaction by the public… Viv Albertine said she stopped wearing high heels and started wearing Dr. Martens so she could run… There was violence in punk rock. There was violence… TV Smith was beaten up in Shepherds Bush, Johnny Rotten was attacked, peopled didn’t like it when the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen – there was a huge uproar. It got to number one, but I don’t think the system wanted it to be at number one… There were lots of bands in a very very narrow furrow… it had to be three-minute harsh punk-rock songs. There were lots of bands who were not doing three-minute harsh punk-rock songs… there were bands who were exploring new ways.
Above: Subway Sect
Subway Sect – they were very unique and they weren’t a rock n’ roll band, but they did not want to be stuck in that little groove. They wanted to explore further, and take it further. The Clash wanted to be involved in Reggae. The Ruts wanted to be involved with Reggae. Misty in Roots and Bob Marley wanted to be involved with Punk…
Piotr: So there are definitely links to other genres, we’ll talk about that in a moment. Were there other venues people went to like concert halls or festivals?
Skip: When Punk grew up there were very few venues that would accommodate them. A man called Andy put together a venue called The Roxy Club, which had been a gay bar.
Above: The Roxy Club – seminal Punk venue in Covent Garden in the 1970s
The singer from Chelsea gave him the nod, and he asked the people who were running it whether he could put a gig on. And The Roxy Club became a huge event. I never went there, but there was a book written about the Roxy Club, and at that time Covent Garden was very rundown.
Piotr: What about Glastonbury?
Skip: Yes, it started in 1971.
Piotr: Was that somewhere you ever went?
Skip: Yes, I did. For me, Glastonbury wasn’t the place – Stonehenge was the place for festivals. But Glastonbury incorporated all sorts of bands. Stonehenge incorporated lots of bands. There was a band called Flux of Pink Indians who played Stonehenge, and they were beaten up by the Hells Angels, because the Hells Angels didn’t like them. Misty in Roots played Glastonbury.
Above: The Damned
Elvis Costello played Glastonbury. Some say he wasn’t involved in the Punk scene, but he came out of the Punk scene. He was involved by being part of Stiff Records, who had The Damned, The Adverts, The Members, Nick Lowe, and… Max Wall… ha, ha! He was a comedian! He released a single on Stiff Records. Record labels had by now opened up, Piotr. Stiff Records had split, part of it stayed as Stiff, part of it became A. D. 4. The Lurkers were on Beggars’ Banquet. Beggars’ Banquet came out in 1977: there was a Beggars’ Banquet record shop in Ealing… and in Fulham. The Lurkers used to rehearse there.
Piotr: So these were shops that also used to produce records?
Skip: Like Rough Trade. And as much as we talk about West London, it’s very hard to just hold it to West London because so much of its spread out throughout the country. And even though we are talking about the West London scene, it truly was a country-wide thing.
Piotr: We’ve talked about the scene in great detail so far as music. But you could say there was a wider cultural impact of Punk as well, in terms of fashion, people’s attitudes, political views, teenage rebellion… All that: what did young people get up to at that time and why?