Calling All Astronauts

Were you ever in the Welwyn Garden City band The Astronauts, fronted by Mark Wilkins / Mark Astronaut?

Were you in any of the bands they toured with?

Were you a fan with any particular memories you can share?

Did you organise any of their gigs?

Do you have any press cuttings, photographs, fliers, etc?

Has Mark Astronaut ever told you any anecdotes?


I am working with Mark on a book documenting The Astronauts’ 40+ year history, but I need help filling in the many gaps. If you have any information, please either contact me.

marcus dot blakeston at gmail dot com


At the moment I am currently searching for the following people in particular:

Tim Nixon

Stuart Pearson

Russell Seal

Roy Falla





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Adventures in Welwyn Garden City

Pog / The Metatrons / The Astronauts at The Green Room, Welwyn Garden City 22 February 2019.


It was about a week before Valentines Day that someone on Facebook announced The Astronauts were playing in their home town of Welwyn Garden City later in the month, the first time they’d played anywhere for several months.

Ooh, I thought, that would make a good gift for Mrs Marcus. And I needed to talk to Mark Astronaut about the book we’re working on anyway, because the It’s All Done By Mirrors chapter is somewhat sparse due to my main source of information leaving the band shortly before recording started.

I also wanted to see what Welwyn Garden City was like, and visit some of the historical landmarks like the Campus Roundabout, Ludwick Hall, and Digswell House. And if we got time, maybe The Hedgehog Pub, outside which The Astronauts were first christened, The Corn Exchange in Hertford where they made their debut live appearance, and The Red Lion in Stevenage where the name Restricted Hours came from – maybe the sign that influenced it would still be there for me to photograph.

So I priced it all up to see how feasible it would be. £22 each to get there by train, £16 each to come back the next day, and £40 for a room for the night at the Premier Inn. So £128 in total once the admission charge was added. A lot less than we paid to see them at Rebellion in Blackpool, which is the only time we’ve ever seen them in the past three decades.

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Mrs Marcus said. “But only if Mark agrees to see you, otherwise all you will get out of it is another video to add to the collection.”

So I phoned Mark, told him we’d be going down there, and asked if we could meet up somewhere either before or after the show. “Yeah,” he said, “but I don’t know if we will be playing or not, so you would be better off waiting until the last minute before you decide to come.”

Mark hasn’t been very well for the last year or so, you see, and had already cancelled several shows due to not being up to it. Which kind of put paid to the whole forward planning thing. To get those prices on the train we had to book in advance, and each day we waited it went up and up. But it made sense to wait, much as I like Pog there wouldn’t be any point travelling 150 miles to see them play for half an hour when they tend to play most of the big festivals anyway.

So we waited, and watched the price go up. Two days before, the train would cost £90 per ticket each way, and the day before it was £120. The room at Premier Inn went up to £80 as well, so I started looking for alternative places to stay. Found a room at The Travelodge for £30 instead. That wasn’t much to lose if it got cancelled, so I booked it. But the main cost now was the train, £128 for the trip had suddenly gone up to £300+. So we decided bollocks to it, we’ll go on our Triumph 900 motorcycle instead.


A quick look on Google Maps said it would take two and a half hours to get to Welwyn Garden City, and we figured an extra half an hour for rest stops along the way, so if we left no later than 2pm we’d get there by 5pm, giving us a couple of hours to book into The Travelodge and get something to eat. Another thing about the gig, you couldn’t buy tickets in advance for it, you had to pay on the door, and we had visions of thousands of Astronauts fans turning up and we wouldn’t be able to get in, so we had to be there at opening time just to make sure.

So we set off at 1.30, after phoning Mark Astronaut to make sure it was still going ahead. The temperature that day was almost into double figures, what we call in Yorkshire T-shirt weather, so I got my summer gloves out of the drawer and we set off. I’d downloaded the relevant map on my telephone, but it was more or less straight down the A1 most of the way, so I knew I wouldn’t need the satnav lady until we were almost there and it got a bit more complicated.

About 50 miles down the A1 we came to the biggest traffic jam I’ve ever seen, it was at least 7 miles long and I had to slow down to 10 to 20 miles per hour to filter down the middle of it. Most of the cars, and even a few of the lorries, moved out of our way, but there’s always the odd nobhead who tries to block your route and there was quite a few of those as well so we had to stop a few times then give them a glare while we dabbed the bike past them. Turned out to be an accident, and one of the lanes was blocked off by cop cars. Everything speeded up again once we got past it.


Stopped off at a services 80 miles into the journey, shared a coffee and stretched our legs for a bit while we waited for the bike to cool down. Had a look at the map on my telephone to see how much further it was and check which junction we needed to come off at, and decided we might as well start using the satnav lady instead of waiting until we left the motorway like I had originally planned. So the telephone went in the map pocket of the tank bag and a pair of headphones went inside my motorcycle helmet so I could hear what she had to say.

It was when we were about 3 miles away from Welwyn Garden City that it all started going wrong. What the hell does “veer left for a sharp right” even mean? Bloody confusing, that’s what it is. We seemed to be going round in circles and getting nowhere, so I decided to go old-school and follow the road signs instead. That got us closer, and the satnav lady adjusted to compensate after beeping at me a few times to say I’d gone wrong. Ended up driving straight past The Travelodge without noticing it because I was too busy concentrating on the traffic around me at the time, and after the satnav lady went silent on me I decided to stop and check the map. This was about 5.30, four hours after we’d set off. The map said we’d arrived, and asked us to rate our journey. Couldn’t see anything that looked even remotely like a flop house, so we decided to ask passers by for directions.

“Yeah, it’s back down that road,” a bloke said, pointing where we’d just come from. But we were on a one-way street by then, so we couldn’t just go back we’d have to ride all the way around town again. So we thought the best thing to do was leave the bike there and walk back, just so we would know where we were going this time. Passed The Doctors Tonic, the apostrophe abusing pub The Astronauts were playing at on the way, and made a note of its location. It turned out The Travelodge was just around the corner from it, which was handy. Once we found the place we were staying at we decided I would go and fetch the bike while Mrs Marcus booked us in.


Then we saw Mark Astronaut walking past on the other side of the road, on his way to the pub for a sound check. “Oi Mark,” Mrs Marcus shouted, and he came over looking nervous at the sight of two bikers staring at him. I had to introduce myself, because he only really knows me from telephone calls, then we ended up talking about an old Astronauts tape recorded at Ludwick Hall that was supposed to have been their sixth album but never got released. Found out contrary to internet wisdom it wasn’t Lol Coxhill playing sax on that tape, it was some woman he couldn’t remember the name of. She was a friend of one of the band members at the time, and wanted to join in so they let her.

After Mark had gone I went to fetch the bike. I had to give Mrs Marcus my telephone because it had the booking reservation number on it, which she would need. Didn’t really fancy leaving it to chance that I would be able to find my way around the one way system without the satnav lady, so I decided to just push the bike back to where I wanted to be and parked it outside The Doctors Tonic.

Had a rest and a toasted sandwich and what they called “fries” but turned out to be just frozen chips, then set off for the apostrophe-hating pub at about 7pm. Lots of hairy people hanging around outside, so we knew we were in the right place, just didn’t know where The Green Room was. Upstairs, someone kindly informed us. So we went upstairs, but there was nobody there. Went back down again and sat outside while we waited. Then we got cold – I thought it was supposed to be warm down south? – and went back inside to share a pot of tea to get warmed up again.

Went back upstairs half an hour later when we heard Pog playing, but it was just a sound check and some bloke told us to go away until they were ready to open. Went back down again. Later on a bloke arrived at the bar who looked vaguely familiar, and someone said to him “Ey up Lee, ow’s tha goowin, lad?” (I have translated it into Yorkshire for clarity, he actually said something else in a southern accent). Lee was also the name of a Facebook friend I was hoping to bump into, so I asked if it was him. “Nay lad, but he’s up thi stayers wi a hat on.” (Again, I have translated what he said for clarity.)

So we went upstairs again. This time there was a couple of blokes outside the door collecting money, so we handed over our twelve quid. “Which band have you come to see?” one of the bloke asks. “All of them,” we reply, wondering what’s going on. Maybe it’s some sort of southern tradition, where you have to pay for each band separately? “Which is the main band you’ve come for?” he asks. “The Astronauts, of course,” I said. He grunted, and wrote it down, then rubber stamped the back of our hands. I’ve still got no idea what that was about, but we didn’t need to pay any extra for the other two bands.

There wasn’t as much of a crowd as I expected, but it was still considerably larger than the 15 to 20 people who turn up to see The Astronauts at Rebellion in Blackpool when they play there. Saw a couple of blokes wearing hats standing near the 3 inch high stage, and went over to see if any of them was called Lee. One of them was, so we talked for a bit while we waited for Pog to start playing.

Joe Davin, who used to be an Astronaut, usually plays with Pog but he’d broken his arm so they played as a trio instead. They did a song about car boots which made us smile, people asking if you’ve got any mobile phones or jewellery as soon as you open the boot must be a universal thing. I was hoping Mark Astronaut would join them for the song Lovers (Pog were the backing band on that single) but he didn’t arrive until after they had finished playing, and apparently that wasn’t planned anyway. Pog were supposed to join The Astronauts when they opened up with that song, but for whatever reason they didn’t bother.

pog 2

Got to talk to Mark Astronaut in the corridor by the stairs for a while and gave him my notes on the Mirrors LP chapter. They are pretty sparse, so hopefully he will find someone who knows what happened during that two year period.

Went back in to watch The Metatrons, who I’d never heard of before but had checked out on Spotify the night before so I knew they would be good. The guitarist was the bloke who had told us to go back downstairs earlier.


Then various Astronauts started wandering around, and I figured out why the Lee from downstairs looked so familiar, he was their drummer. Got down to the front and screwed my camera onto the top of my walking stick and watched them plugging things in. Mark stood in his usual spot on the stage at the far left, in the shadows, illuminated every couple of seconds by a flashing green sign that said The Green Room. They did a quick sound check, then they all went backstage for a few minutes before coming back. It was kind of weird watching them with people who actually knew all the songs, and not being the only one singing to myself. There was even dancing, and people calling out requests.

astron 2

Like I already said, they opened up with Lovers (with no Pogs), then Listen from the Lutra Lutra EP. After that it was something I’d never heard before, then Time To Roam from You’re All Weird and another new one before they were back on familiar ground again with Rabbits from one of The Otters CDs I can’t remember the name of, Protest Song from Peter Pan, Marching from Lutra Lutra, and ending with One Wave from the split CD they did with The Destructors a few years ago. Probably about 50 minutes all together, before they disappeared backstage.

astron 7

Mark came back out a few minutes later and thanked me for going all that way to see his band, which was nice of him. He also asked if I’d managed to record it all okay, and said he’d get in touch in the near future with whatever he can find out about the Mirrors LP.

astron 8

Back at The Travelodge I had a quick flick through the footage on my video camera, and went to bed.

Next day I wanted to visit some of the historical landmarks before we went back home, but the only one I could find was the Campus Roundabout and we had to check out of the room by mid-day so there wasn’t really time to look them all up on the internet and I didn’t fancy doing it while carting a load of bike gear around with me. So after that we picked the bike up from the pub we’d left it at the day before and went home. Maybe I’ll find all those other places the next time I go.


A few photos of Campus Roundabout, presumably the bands played on the concrete bit in the middle?

campus concretecampus2




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Butlins Diary 2018

This is the second year me and Mrs Marcus have been to the Great British Alternative Festival in Skegness. It coincides with her birthday on the 7th October, so it makes a handy present we can share together. We also go to Rebellion in Blackpool for my Birthday in August, so it seems fair.

In a lot of ways I prefer the one at Skegness to the one at Blackpool – it’s not as frenetic, and it’s more suited to us old folk because there’s lots of seats to slump into after a quick ten second pogo. And as a bonus, it’s all held within the Butlins compound so there’s no gang of coppers or drunken trendies waiting outside to beat you up each night.

The day before we went to Skegness this year, Barney the dog caught us packing clothes into the bike’s saddlebags. He knows from seeing us come back from car boots or shopping trips that things come out of those bags, not go into them, so he knew something terrible was going to happen. He followed us around everywhere for the rest of the day, so to put his mind at ease and avoid that sulky look he always gives us when we go away somewhere we tried to make Friday morning as normal as possible.

So I got up, corrected the people on the internet who needed correcting while I drank my morning cup of tea, then did the day’s post, took the dog with me when I dropped it off at the shop, then went to the park so we could chase some squirrels together. That seemed to do the trick, and after we got back home he went to bed with my youngest son and gave me and Mrs Marcus time to pack the bike up and do all the pre-flight tests.

I’ve never been any good at navigating to places I haven’t already been to dozens of times, so instead of getting hopelessly lost on the way to Butlins I downloaded a map for my telephone and found some headphones small enough to fit inside my crash  helmet so I could have a nice lady tell me which way to go. That worked pretty well, though I think she was trolling me a bit with some of the dirt tracks she sent me down. One of them was a single lane road full of potholes that were a nightmare to avoid, and there was a massive lorry coming the other way half way down it, so she was probably trolling the driver of that as well in the hope we would crash into each other. This is what happens when technology turns evil. Trust me, I’ve seen plenty of films about the subject.

When we got to Butlins, one of the bouncers on the main gate asked to see our booking letter and told us to follow the green line. What he didn’t say was the green line faded away to nothing just before the turn off to get to the check-in barrier, and the sat-nav lady had shut up by then, so I managed to miss it completely and ended up in a car park by the side of it instead.

No worries, I thought, we’ll just get off and walk through instead. Then Ed Tudor Pole rolled into the car park in his old Morris Minor and we were blocking his route through so we had to shift the bike out of the way before Mrs Marcus went to get our wristbands. Can’t do that, they told her, you have to be in your vehicle while you check in. So I had to ride all the way around Butlins back to where I started and try again. I don’t know what people who travel by bus or train are supposed to do, but it was kind of annoying. Especially since it was quite warm, and I had my winter gloves on.

Got the wristbands and other bumf, then they directed to our designated flat. Which turned out to be right next to the car park we’d just been in, so we had to find our way back to that again. We were in a second story flat on the corner, so we unclipped the bags from the bike and carted them up a set of rusty metal stairs and through a shabby-looking door.

Then we found out the key card didn’t work so we thought we must be in the wrong place, and we had to go back down the stairs to check. We found a woman pushing a trolley full of dirty towels around and asked her where we were supposed to be. She looked at our booking slip and said it was the right place, but none of the key cards will work until 4pm so you have to wait outside until then.

Which was probably bad news for the first band on the talent show stage because 4pm is when they were due to start, so I doubt many people would have been able to see them. The dirty towel lady must have felt sorry for us, because she used her master key to let us into the flat at about 3.55.

We dumped all the bags and bike gear on the bed, and Mrs Marcus went shopping for cider and other essentials while I sat down and got my telephone out to check for emails. There’s always someone who buys something as soon as you walk out the front door, so they would need telling they won’t be getting whatever it is for a few more days otherwise they would moan about it. Whatever happened to waiting 28 days for delivery? Bloody eBay.

Anyway, I tried to get onto the Butlins wifi, which took ages to connect, but it said my email address was already in use and promptly chucked me off. Couldn’t connect again after that, the signal was too low, so I wandered over to the main complex to get a better one and tried again with the same result. Tried another email address, that was in use too. Well yeah, I probably used them both last year, one for me and one for Mrs Marcus.

Finally figured out I’m supposed to prod a tiny, hardly noticeable word saying ‘login’ instead of just putting my email address in the great big box saying ‘put your email address here’, but couldn’t remember what password I used last year. Tried all the obvious disposable ones I use, none of them worked.

Eventually gave up and decided to go and ask at the help desk next to the talent show stage instead. The bloke working there said I could request a password reset and it would be emailed to me. How would I get the email, I asked. He offered to let me use his computer to sign into my Google email account, but guess what? I mean, who carries random letters and digits around in their head? Sorry, can’t help you, then. Have a nice day.

Decided to sit and watch the last few minutes of the band on the talent show stage for a while, The Lengthmen I think they were called, then had an idea. Mrs Marcus has got one of them Apple phones all the poshos have, and it’s got a thing on it that turns it into a portable wifi router that does internet stuff over 4G. So if I turned that on and connected my telephone to it I’d be able to get the password email and sort it out from there. Phoned her up to see when she’d be back, but she’d gone into Skegness for the shopping because everything is a few pence cheaper there, and she’d be there for at least another hour. Grrr. How did we ever survive without internet?

Anyway, to cut a long, rambling story nobody is interested in short, the idea of getting wifi from her phone worked when I met her back at the flat, and I was able to get the password email as well as find out what everyone had bought as soon as we walked out the door. Yay. But then it wouldn’t connect to the Butlins wifi at all. Our flat was in a wifi not-spot and it was something we would just have to put up with.

We’d already checked out the bands on the talent show stage on Youtube before we left, and there wasn’t any that particularly appealed to either of us, so we gave them a miss and unpacked all the stuff we’d taken with us instead and waited until the evening before we went to watch Ed Tudor Pole on the Reds stage. Watched him for a while, then wandered over to the Centre stage to watch a bit of Hands Off Gretel before we had a look around the trader stalls for stuff to buy. Found a new Thatcher shirt I haven’t already got, the Crass one You’re Already Dead, but they didn’t have my size. Said they’d get one for tomorrow.

Went back in Reds to see Eddie and the Hotrods, which made me think about my brother who died a couple of years ago. I don’t think he ever saw them live, but they were his favourite band until the Sex Pistols and Motorhead came along. He played their first album that many times it wore out, so it was a shame he couldn’t be there with us.

After they finished we went over to the Centre stage for UK Subs, the last band of the night, and caught the end of The Blockheads’ set. They were okay, but it seemed a bit pointless without Ian Dury, despite the singer’s best attempt to imitate him. Everyone else seemed to appreciate them though, so maybe that’s just me. And I suppose it’s no different to Ruts DC, who we always go to see when we get the chance.

UK Subs did their usual mix of old and new songs, and Charlie Harper moaned about the massive gap between band and audience, saying he kept expecting a load of racehorses to go galloping past at any second. The guitarist, don’t know his name, invited a few women up onto the stage for Warhead and the bouncers by the stage had a fit about it, chasing them all over and chucking them off again. They seemed a bit unnecessarily rough with one of them, and  Charlie didn’t look too happy about it.

After that it was back to the flat for cider and bed.

Saturday morning we got up early at 10am and did the usual morning stuff before heading off to the Reds stage for No Thrills at 1pm, followed by GBH at 2.45. No Thrills we’ve seen a few times before, and Mrs Marcus liked them enough to buy a T-shirt and CD at one of the previous shows of theirs we’d been to. Not many people turned up to see them, but there was a bit of a singalong in places.

GBH I hadn’t seen since the 1980s, I always seemed to miss them at Rebellion because they clashed with other bands I wanted to see more. Didn’t know many of the songs they did, but I only really liked Leather, Bristles, Studs & Acne and No Survivors anyway, so that’s no surprise. The crowd jumped around a lot more to songs from those two records as well, so I doubt I was the only one hoping for more of that. Yeah well, nobody wants new stuff at a nostalgia festival, do they? Defeats the whole purpose of going to one.

After that we went to the talent show stage to see Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, a band someone on the internet said were worth watching. I should probably explain at this point what the talent show is all about. There’s a small stage under a big dome-type thing where Butlins puts what it thinks are unknown bands, and the audience vote for the one they think was best each day by putting little tokens in a box. Except this year they had well known and long established bands like The Bus Station Loonies and Drongos for Europe on the talent show stage, which seems somewhat daft to me.

Anyway, back to Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies. The singer looks like Mark E Smith from The Fall when he was younger, and they had two women dressed up as dinner ladies dancing beside them. They were okay, not really my sort of thing, but amusing enough in a bizarre kind of way and I would definitely go to see them again if I had the chance.

The Bus Station Loonies were next, and were one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me. It’s good to see they still do the anti-Chumbawamba song after all these years. Great set, and I’m glad I had the forethought to film the whole thing so I can watch it again one day when I’m even older than I am now. After they finished we went to vote for them and see if they had any T-shirts or whatever for sale, but they didn’t bother bringing anything so we went back to the flat for tea.

The Rezillos were the first band of the evening on the Reds stage, and we got there in plenty of time. With it being the 40th anniversary of Can’t Stand the Rezillos, they pretty much played the entire album in order, plus a few of the singles and B sides (including, rather annoyingly, 20,000 Rezillos Under the Sea twice) before moving on to newer stuff from Zero.

Boomtown Rats were on next, so we had to get out of there sharpish to avoid hearing them. Unfortunately everyone else must have had the same idea, because it took at least half an hour to get down the stairs and out the door. Sham 69 were on in the Centre stage, so we followed the crowd down to that. It was already packed out by the time we got there, but we managed to find a table at the back to sit at.

The crowd were chanting UK Subs, UK Subs, UK Subs while they waited for Sham 69 to come on stage. I don’t know who started it, but it was a sublime bit of surrealism and probably wound Jimmy Pursey right up. Talking of which, when he did come on stage I could only see the top half of him and he looked like he was wearing one of those black evening dresses that hang off one shoulder. After seeing photos of him when we got back home, I was disappointed to find out it wasn’t a dress after all, it was just a baggy jumper and he was wearing denim jeans. Oh well, at least it wasn’t his famous figure-hugging white leotard. But he could’ve at least worn a pair of corduroys.

After a couple of songs nobody knew, Sham 69 settled into a singalong medley of their greatest hits, which I would guess is what most people wanted judging by the response they got. Even Mrs Marcus joined in with a few. Then they did that pop star thing where they pretend they’ve finished, only to come back on again about five minutes later to do a few more songs. I never saw the point of that, it would be better if they just carried on and fit in another song or two.

Dirt Box Disco were the headliner for the night in the Centre stage, despite being a relatively ‘new’ band formed no earlier than 2010. I’d seen them at Rebellion on my own a few times while Mrs Marcus went to see someone else, but this year she’d gone with me and really liked them. She’s since bought some of their records and learned their songs, so she was looking forward to seeing them again at Butlins on the night before her birthday and wasn’t disappointed. I found myself singing along to some of them as well, they’re quite catchy. The bouncers wouldn’t let anyone on stage at the end for Hooray Hooray it’s Dirt Box Day, so the singer didn’t get to bog off early like he usually does. The stage seemed a bit empty without a massive crowd up there for that song.

Sunday morning: Happy birthday Mrs Marcus. Gave her the card I’d got her, a witch riding a motorcycle. She liked it. Where’s me presents? At home, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Hung Like Hanratty were the first band of the day, playing at 1pm on the Reds stage, and we arrived early having enjoyed them at Butlins the previous year when they won their day’s talent show. The place was already packed out, but we managed to secure our favourite spot. There was a guy near the entrance dressed up as the ghost of Jimmy Savile holding a fake cigar and saying “Now then, now then” as everyone passed by. I don’t know if he was part of the band or just a fan, but he set the tone perfectly for what was to come.

If you’ve never seen Hung Like Hanratty before they’re best described as ‘political incorrectness gone mad’. A bit like The Macc Lads or 3CR, except not as crude and with a lot more humour. I first noticed them a few years ago when they did a song about Thatcher being dead, which was why I went to see them at Butlins the previous year, but they don’t seem to do that one anymore. So a quick note for any of the band reading this:


I think Hung Like Hanratty were pretty surprised at the positive response they got while they played their set, helped along by the actual real ghost of Jimmy Savile and a fat dwarf on a mobility scooter who later turned into a transvestite. The whole room was bouncing during the dog shit dance, which isn’t easy to do with an audience in its 40s and 50s. They even got an encore, and got everyone doing it all over again. After that they seemed to be the main topic of conversation for the rest of the weekend, so I’d be surprised if they’re not back again next year playing in one of the evening slots.

The Members were on next, a band I only really know from two songs. I think everyone else was in the same boat, because it was only during those two songs that anyone bothered dancing. You can probably guess which ones they were. Or at least one of them. And no, the other one wasn’t the B side.

After that there was a bit of a gap, so we went to get the new Thatcher shirt in the correct size, bought a few punk drinks coasters for our new coffee table (thus ruining my credibility as a member of the underclass and risking taunts of middle class toff from everyone who knows me), and went to play on the 2p fountains in the arcade. I somehow won 500 prize tickets, and went to the redeeming shop to see what I could get for them. Ended up with a wooden skipping rope for the dog to chew and tug on.

Drongos for Europe were another must-see band for me, and they were on the talent show stage so we found somewhere to sit for that. I don’t know why they were on the talent show, they’ve been around for decades, so they should have really been on one of the main stages instead. And they didn’t even win, despite me and Mrs Marcus having to queue up for ages to vote for them. We stayed there to see what the next band, Vomit, were like, and ended up watching their set as well.

There wasn’t anything on after that, just some goth type band and some bunch of mods, so we went to get something to eat instead while we waited for Anti Nowhere League later in the night. Yeah I know, we’re not supposed to like them anymore, they’re basically the new screwdriver because of that song they did ten years ago. Animal seemed really pissed off about the whole thing, and went off on a few rants about people getting their gigs cancelled over it. I don’t know why he doesn’t just apologise for all the offense that song caused and move on, that’s what I would have done. Not that I would write a song like that in the first place, and if anyone is offended by anything I write they can just fuck off for all I care. And if anyone wants to buy all my books and burn them, that’s fine by me.

The last band of the weekend were Angelic Upstarts, standing in for The Exploited who had to pull out because of Wattie’s crap heart. More sing-songs for the crowd ensued, but we were stuck behind two massive baldies so we couldn’t see much. While they were playing, a woman close to us kept grabbing all the dregs of beer from nearby tables, pouring them into one glass and chucking them at the baldies, then ducking down and hiding so they wouldn’t see who did it. Maybe she just wanted them to shift out of the way as well, but it didn’t work.

The curtains closed on the Upstarts within seconds of finishing one of their songs, which seemed to surprise Mensi. He’s probably not used to posh venues with curtains and stuff, or maybe he expected to be playing a bit longer.

We had to be out of the flat by 10am the next day, so after packing everything up in the saddle bags we went to bed. We didn’t quite make the deadline, the cleaning staff walked in while we were still getting dressed but they didn’t seem to mind going away and coming back later. When we were ready I put the sat-nav lady back in my ear and hoped she wouldn’t  try to make us crash into a lorry on the way home.

(She didn’t, in case anyone is worried.)







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Rebellion Festival diary August 2nd to 5th 2018

I haven’t been to Rebellion for a few years, mainly because of the relatively high cost of entry and associated lodgings for the weekend, but also because I prefer the similar punk nostalgia event at Butlins a couple of months later in October. That one caters more for my age bracket, with air conditioning and lots of seats to slump into after a quick ten second pogo. The sound quality tends to be better there too, with Rebellion it can be a bit hit and miss.

But this year Rebellion had booked The Astronauts to play, which made it a must-go event. I’ve been working on a book about Mark Astronaut’s various bands over his forty year career in the music biz, and it would be a good chance to meet up and discuss progress on it, show him the chapters I’ve got so far to make sure he’s happy with the direction I’m taking it, fill in a few blanks, etc.

At first I was going to go on my own, just for that day, and either come straight back afterwards or find somewhere to doss down for the night and go home in the morning. But then Mrs Marcus decided she wanted to go too, and we found out accommodation wasn’t much cheaper for one day than it was for a weekend, so we bought tickets for the whole four days.

Then a couple of days before we were due to set off for Blackpool, The Astronauts had to pull out because Mark wasn’t well enough to attend. I tried to phone him to make sure he was okay, but just got his answering message and naturally enough started to worry.

To compound all this, our dog-sitter (oldest son) then decided working in That London was more important, so it looked like we couldn’t go anyway. We probably would’ve been able to sell the Rebellion tickets for more or less what we paid for them, but the cost of the room we’d booked would be lost. Fortunately our youngest son stepped up to the breach instead.

We were originally going to go down to Blackpool on the train, but even if we booked the tickets in advance they were still cor blimey expensive so we decided to go on our Triumph Trident 900 instead. I’ve never been any good at finding places I haven’t been to by road before, but the route looked pretty easy on Google Maps, basically straight down the M6, with Preston looking like the only place I could go wrong when we had to veer off onto the M55.

As it turned out it was pretty well signposted, so we didn’t get lost and arrived in Blackpool at about half past two on Thursday afternoon. Too late to see The Scumbrians and System of Hate, two bands I wanted to catch, but in plenty of time for Pog later in the day. The room we’d booked was easy to find too, on one of the side-roads off the prom, the only real problem being where to park the bike. After a lot of delicate manoeuvring we managed to get it through the narrow gate and chained it to a wooden bench in the tiny front yard. It would have been too much faff getting it in and out of there, so we decided to take the twenty minute walk down to the Winter Gardens each day instead of biking there like I’d planned to do.

A few months earlier I’d bought an Olympus SLR camera from the local car boot for £3, and spent another £50 or so on a charger, spare batteries, and a new lens for it (the one it came with being a bit crap). I hadn’t had it long, but I’d been practicing on the dog under a variety of lighting conditions and become reasonably proficient with it in that for every fifty photos I took one of them would turn out quite well. I figured at the very least I should be able to get a few photos of the bands I wanted to see, and some crowd shots (which always seem more interesting to me).

After dropping all the bike gear off in the flat and doing a bit of food and cider shopping we traipsed down to the Winter Gardens and got our wristbands attached. Security seemed to have been ramped up a lot since the last time we went, probably because of the attack on the Manchester Arena last year, so it took a while to get through the door with the bouncers searching everyone. When it was our turn I had to open up my camera bag, but then I got waved through.

Pog weren’t on until half-six, so we wandered round the trader stalls and bought a few T-shirts, a couple of CDs, and had a look in the various rooms where bands were playing to see what they were like. Usually The Arena is the only one that is boiling  hot, so we tend to avoid it as much as possible, but this year they were all just as bad. Like they’d turned the heating up to full so they could sell more beer or something.

We went to see No Thrills in The Arena, someone we’d seen the year before at Butlins and liked enough to buy a CD off them, then went in search of the Opera House for Pog. For some reason I thought it was upstairs, I was pretty sure that was where we saw Slice of Life and The Dirty Folkers (Vice Squad) the last time we went. So we had a look round the punk art exhibition, then asked one of the bouncers where to go from there.

The Opera House turned out to be next to the Empress Ballroom, and even better, it was full of seats set out in rising rows like at a cinema. I half expected someone to wander up and down the aisles selling ice cream. We sat at the front, thinking we’d get the best view, and I played around with the settings on my new camera while Pog set up and did their sound check. Took a couple of shots, everything was blue. Changed the white balance setting and everything went yellow. None of the presets seemed to work, and I couldn’t find anything white to use as a template for manual control. Oh well, I could always fix that in Photoshop later.

Then Pog started playing and someone switched on a smoke machine and the stage was filled with the stuff, which made it very difficult to focus on anything. Grrr. Later in the set Andy T (the poet from Crass Records who wrote the introduction to Punk Rock Nursing Home) joined them on stage for the Zounds song Demystification. I’d never heard him sing before, so I grabbed my camcorder and filmed it through a small gap between the giants standing in front of the stage.

We stayed in the Opera House for Slice of Life, and as luck would have it Steve Ignorant told them to switch the smoke machine off and I was able to get some reasonable shots of him and the rest of the band. A couple of people close by seemed a bit annoyed they didn’t do any Crass songs, but they would’ve sounded weird if they did anyway. If you’ve never heard them, Slice of Life are more of a folk band than anything else.

There was a three hour gap before the next band we wanted to see, so we went out to get something to eat. That was a bit of a palaver, for some reason the bouncers had decided to set up a one-way system so you were only allowed out through a side door and you couldn’t get back in the same way even if you’d only nipped out for a fag.

Went back in later in the night, the bouncers didn’t bother checking our bags this time. By pure chance, being in the right place at the right time, we managed to catch Billyclub in the Pavillion, someone I’d never heard of before, and they were so good I bought a couple of CDs by them. Got some good photos too, because the lighting in there was pretty decent and there was none of that stupid smoke stuff. After that we saw Buzzcocks in the Empress Ballroom and went back to our new home for the weekend for some well-earned cider. The bike was where we’d left it, and it hadn’t been covered in chips and gravy like I feared. So all in all a good start to the weekend.

On Friday we set off early so we could get there in time for Russ Crimewave, one of my favourite folk singers at the moment. I’d promised him I’d film his set, so I needed to be there at least half an hour before he started so I could set it all up properly. I took my monopod disguised as a walking stick with me and limped up to the entrance door.

“You can’t bring that in here,” the bouncer says about my Olympus camera. “It’s a professional one, they’re not allowed, you’ll have to use a telephone instead.” Yeah well, that’s the first I’ve heard of it. Apart from the fact I only paid fifty quid in total for that camera, and new ones are only a couple of hundred quid anyway, I always assumed it was the person behind the camera that determined whether it was ‘professional’ or not.

To take the offending camera back to the boarding house and return without it would take forty minutes and I would miss Russ Crimewave, so Mrs Marcus volunteered to take it back for me. Got into the Almost Acoustic room in time to see someone called Boggy Formby, who seemed to be on every day, doing George Formby songs on a ukulele. Went to say hello to Russ Crimewave while he was setting up, then took the handle off my walking stick and screwed my camcorder onto it while I waited for him to start. He seemed to go down well as he blasted through his greatest hits, ending with Fuck This Shit, during which a young girl was escorted out of the room by her mother.

Mrs Marcus arrived back at the Winter Gardens in time for Spunk Volcano and the Eruptions in the Empress Ballroom, then we stayed in there for Sick On The Bus, yet another Newtown Neurotics ‘last ever gig’ and Subhumans.

“These are fucking brilliant, why have we never seen them before?” she yelled during Subhumans. Because they had always clashed with must-see bands in previous years, but I did agree with the sentiment and they have since joined the list of must-see bands. So unless Subhumans are on at the same time as The Astronauts, The Mob or Zounds (which would be a shitty thing for the organisers to do) we will almost certainly see them again. After that we returned to the Opera House and sat at the back for Hagar the Womb.

Then Mrs Marcus wanted to see Anti Nowhere League, so she could ogle the hairy biker men who make up most of the band these days. Which gave me a bit of a moral dilemma. This will sound corny, but I actually do have a few gay friends, I’m not just pretending to appear ‘right on’ or whatever, and I support their views on the Anti Nowhere League song they object to. I think it’s a horrible song that should have stayed on the cutting room floor where it belonged, and they deserve all the hostility they got when they re-released it as a single a couple of years ago. But I went along to see them anyway, expecting there to be some sort of protest I could join in with. I did see a young girl with a rainbow flag, but that was about it.

Then we had a choice to make, either stay in the Empress Ballroom for GBH or go to the Pavilion for Paranoid Visions. It was too hot where we were, so we went with the latter. The Pavilion has openings at either side of it, so at least you get a bit of air circulating inside. The sound seemed a bit off, though. Too bass-heavy, and the vocals were a bit muddy.

After that there was a bit of a gap so we went round the trader stalls in search of new stuff to buy. Mrs Marcus wanted a new Triumph Motorcycles shirt to replace the one she’d bought there a few years ago and worn constantly until it fell to bits. She ended up buying two of them, one as a spare.

Angelic Upstarts were on in Club Casbah, and we went early so we could see a bit of Neville Staple’s band. But you could feel the heat wafting out of there like you were about to walk into an oven, so we just sat on the steps opposite, beside the entrance door, and listened to him from there.

At half-eleven we had no choice but to enter the oven, so we filled ourselves up with water in anticipation of all the sweat we would lose during the next hour or so. But the bouncers, who had presumably been in there all day, were standing guard at the opened fire exits at the side of the stage, so we ended up standing near them and it wasn’t too bad.

As is common at nostalgia festivals like this, Angelic Upstarts mainly stuck to playing songs from Teenage Warning, with a few from Bullingdon Bastards thrown in here and there. They got a big cheer when Mensi expressed his support for Jeremy Corbyn just before Tories Tories Tories Out Out Out, and a few skinheads wandered away when they did Anti Nazi.

At one point Mensi took his top off and invited all the ladies to form an orderly queue. Then a young woman who he said was his daughter but probably wasn’t joined him on stage for a few songs. Her ‘harmonies’ added a lot to the overall sound, and it was pretty obvious Mensi was knackered by that point because he’d stopped pacing the stage completely.

The Exploited, who we had intended to see, had pulled out due to Wattie having another heart attack, and we’d already seen Peter and the Test Tube Babies who replaced them not so long ago so we decided on an early night at half-past midnight and I relaxed with more cider.

Saturday was another fairly late start, with Blyth Power in the Almost Acoustic room at three-twenty, so we wandered around Blackpool buying sticks of rock and fridge magnets and taking the obligatory photos of the Eye-Full Tower with a tram in front of it.

While Mrs Marcus took the forbidden camera back to the boarding house I had another wander around the trader stalls in the Winter Gardens and bought another CD. I bumped into Joseph Porter from Blyth Power and told him about the book I was writing about Mark Astronaut, and got his email address so I could pump him for any memories he has about the time he was in Zounds and The Mob while they were touring with The Astronauts in 1980/81.

Then I headed for the Almost Acoustic room in plenty of time for Blyth Power and watched a young woman called Jess Silk singing some folk songs. She was good, I need to look up some of her recordings on Bandcamp one day.

I was expecting the Blyth Power acoustic set to be just Joseph Porter with a guitarist, but instead the whole band somehow managed to cram themselves onto the small stage with their synthesiser taking up half of it. Joseph Porter had a little ‘soldier’ drum hanging round his neck. I took a few photos with my camcorder, they turned out quite well.

After that I bought a couple of books by Steve Lake from Zounds, then it was off to see Vice Squad  in Club Casbah before the main Blyth Power set in the Opera House. The drums were set up at the back of the stage instead of at the front like is usual at Blyth Power gigs, so you couldn’t really see Joseph Porter for all the swirls of smoke. (He drums as well as sings, in case you were wondering why that mattered.)

We stayed in the Opera House for Zounds, who were on straight after, then I decided to go all fan-boy and ask Steve Lake to sign the books I’d bought. While he did so I asked if he’d heard anything about  how Mark Astronaut is. He hadn’t but pointed out his bass player would probably know. It turned out to be Pablo Pastorius, someone I knew from Facebook who also plays with The Astronauts. We had a chat, and I was relieved to find out Mark is going to be okay. Then Steve Lake heard my name and recognised it from emails I’d sent him so we talked about the Astronauts cassette he released in 1981 but couldn’t sell anywhere. He said he had hundreds of them left a few years ago and decided to tape over them. I wish I’d made contact with him before that happened. I didn’t point out he could’ve retired on the proceeds if he’d sold them on ebay instead.

There was another big gap in entertainment after that, so we went out in search of food before going to see Cockney Rejects in the Empress Ballroom. It was packed out and boiling hot like we expected, but that didn’t seem to stop people leaping around everywhere. Some of the skinheads seemed to be a bit over-enthusiastic about shoving each other around, and I felt sorry for the young punk lad who got caught up in the middle of it all. The bouncers were too busy dealing with the people flying over the barrier to take much notice of them.

Then it was off to Club Casbah, where we stayed for the rest of the night. First for Discharge, whose new singer is a lot more energetic than the last one, then to wind down with Ruts DC before heading off home for cider.

Sunday was another late start, there wasn’t anyone I wanted to see until about four, so we went for a stroll along the prom prom prom and sat on the pier for a bit. Then we took the forbidden camera back to the flat and headed for the Winter Gardens at about half-three. On the way we found out there was some sort of car show opposite the tower, with old cars on display, so we ended up going back for the camera to take some photos of them.

This took preference over the band I wanted to see, so the new deadline for being in the Winter Gardens got pushed back to six. While the forbidden camera was being returned to the flat by Mrs Marcus I managed to catch a bit of B-Squadron before we both settled down in the Opera House for Crisis. After that it was into the Empress Ballroom for Dirtbox Disco, then The Arena for Mau Maus, a local Sheffield band I haven’t seen for about thirty-five years.

Fortunately the singer didn’t gargle with butter before going on stage, so even the songs from their later ‘poppy’ releases sounded good. They didn’t draw much of a crowd, though. Presumably they weren’t very well known outside Sheffield? Oh well, it’s your loss. Hopefully they will record some new stuff in the near future.

We stayed in The Arena for The Crippens, a band I used to like in the late eighties but can’t really think why anymore. One of them wore a skin-coloured leotard with a little willy sticking out of it that made him look like he was naked from a distance. The singer wore a stupid wig. I only recognised two songs, Nightmare on Sesame Street, and the Abba song Waterloo right at the end. I hope the singer’s story about also being in a hardcore thrash Abba tribute band called Abba-toir is true, but I can’t find any reference to it if it is.

After that we’d planned to go and see The Dickies in Club Casbah before returning to The Arena for the headline act later in the night, but in the end we didn’t bother so we watched The Defects instead.

Not many people turned up for The Varukers, probably because Public Image and The Addicts were on at the same time elsewhere, but at least it meant it wasn’t too hot so I was able to move around a bit without getting too drenched in sweat.

Then it was all over and the bouncers ushered everyone out into the street. They still made us go through the side door, which seemed a bit petty and pointless by this late stage, and caused a massive crowd of people standing on the pavement outside blocking the exit for everyone else.

The next morning we had to get up early because we had to be out of the flat by ten so I didn’t have anything to drink the night before because I knew I’d need all my wits about me to deal with all the car and lorry drivers weaving around on the motorway while they fiddle with their gadgets instead of looking where they are going.

I expected the route home to be just as easy as it was going, and it certainly looked straightforward enough on Google Maps. But I still somehow managed to get lost and ended up in Eckington, about twenty-five miles further away from where I was supposed to be and had to loop back around on the A roads. So we were both pretty saddle-sore by the time we made it home.


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What Runaway is really about …

Monsters aren’t real … but humans are. And true horror is what we do to each other.

I have decided to be more honest about what Runaway is really about, something I have  shied away from so far for a variety of reasons. Yes, it is still primarily an action/adventure yarn with a bit of social realism thrown in. There are punks and skinheads going at each other with fists and boots. There’s Hells Angels. And there’s more than enough graphic violence and gratuitous swearing for people who like such things to enjoy.

But there is also a much darker element to it, and that’s what I want to tell you about now. But first, a bit of history about how the book came about, and why it very nearly didn’t.

Runaway started life as a short story I wrote back in 2009 called Stiggy Unstuck. At the time, I was writing an ongoing punk/skinhead soap opera type thing called Punk Faction, with a new episode posted in various places online once a month, and Stiggy Unstuck was intended to be a part of that.

As an aside, the book Skinhead Away was also originally conceived as part of this ongoing soap opera, until a small publisher in Brighton asked for a 22,000 word story about skinheads, then promptly went bankrupt just before I finished it. Very basically, it tells what happens when the skinhead characters from Punk Faction go to a ska festival in Cleethorpes and get into a mass brawl with a bunch of bikers.

Anyway, back to Stiggy Unstuck. In a previous episode of Punk Faction, Stiggy was last seen escaping from the violence at a Cockney Upstarts gig with Sally, a young skinhead girl he met there, after they had both been smacked around by Joe, Sally’s older boyfriend. Up until that point, Stiggy had only ever been a ‘light relief’ character, always off his head on glue and the butt of other characters’ jokes, and I wanted to explore what he would be like without the glue. It also fleshed out the character of Sally, and explained why she was so timid around Joe – Stiggy learns she lives with him, and he beats her up on a regular basis.

But a question kept nagging away at me long after I’d written it – why would a young girl stay with an older man who does that to her? And the answer I kept coming back to was she wouldn’t. Not unless there was something else going on; either some hold he had over her to keep her there, or the alternative was so much worse that she had no real choice. And that’s what Runaway is really about, as Stiggy gradually learns the whole horrific story of how she ended up living with Joe, and the institutional cover-up behind it.

It’s probably the darkest thing I’ll ever write, and I abandoned it several times because it made me so uncomfortable to have all that stuff in my head. Especially when real life events started to mirror it to a certain extent, in a town not far away from where it was set. So I wrote the more humorous Punk Rock Nursing Home instead, which was also an off-shoot of Punk Faction set 30 years in the future, when two of the characters were in their 80s and living in separate care homes. Then I returned to Runaway, got upset and angry again, wrote something else to cheer myself up, returned to Runaway, abandoned it to write something else, then finally bit the bullet and finished the thing.

Then real life events started to mirror it again in towns up and down the country, and I didn’t want to be seen to be cashing in on all that suffering. I also felt the book would have more of an impact, and maybe even make people angry enough to do something about it on a local level, if they went into it blind. So I pretended it was about something else instead. Until now.

I’ll be changing the book’s description as soon as I figure out how to get all this across in 50 words or less without including any spoilers. Which is a lot harder than it sounds, so it might take a while.






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The right proper history of Crass part one


In 1973, bohemian aristocrat Penny Rambo experienced an opium-induced vision of the year 1984. In this nightmarish near future world, men dressed in orange overalls lay dead or dying in the streets while houses, shops and factories burned around them. Penny walked down the centre of the road in his tweed jacket and top hat, trying not to get blood on his Gucci shoes as he made his way to the Yorkshire Opera House, which was the only building left unaffected by all the chaos and destruction.

“Help me,” a voice pleaded.

Penny paused and looked down at a man lying on his back in the gutter, and noticed for the first time the huge torrent of blood flowing down the drain. The man’s bloody fingers twitched by his sides as he grimaced in agony. A white helmet with a broken lamp attached to it lay nearby, anchored with a thick black umbilical cord to a box strapped to the man’s waist.

“Who did this to you, old chap?” Penny asked.

The man’s cracked lips moved, but his voice was barely a whisper. Penny crouched down before him so he could hear what he had to say.

“… is coming. Save … the miners … from …”

Each laboured utterance was fainter than the last, and punctuated by a rasping breath. Penny had to strain to hear them clearly as the man’s life ebbed away from him.

“… save us … from … The … Thatcher.”

“What on earth is The Thatcher?” Penny asked.

But the man was already dead. Penny reached out to close his wide, staring eyes.

Then a brass band started to play. Penny startled and shot upright. He spun toward the sound, but there was nothing to see. It seemed to come from everywhere at once as a choir of Welsh and Yorkshire voices rang out:

“Save the miners and set them free, teach the world about anarchy.”

Penny woke from the vision with a start, the words of the miners’ lament still echoing around his opium-fuddled mind. He knew he had to do something to stop the prophesy coming true. But what?

Penny spent the next three years producing and distributing pamphlets extolling the virtues of anarchy, something he had learned meant living in a society free from government or law. He sold his ancestral home and built a house made entirely from clock dials so he would know precisely how long he would have left until the fateful year arrived, and invited all his chums from the polo club to live with him.

But nobody seemed to be interested in Penny Rambo’s pamphlets. He would find them scattered in the streets, unread, the message lost to an uncaring world. Even worse, The Thatcher, he soon discovered, was real and working her way up the ranks of the Conservative Party. If Penny didn’t do something drastic soon, the miners, and the whole country, were doomed.

And then along came the Sex Pistols, and everything became clear. The irony of singing about anarchy whilst signed to the pop music offshoot of global arms dealer Thorn EMI was not lost on Penny Rambo, but he saw enough potential in this new medium of punk rock to know it would be the perfect vehicle for his message. Using his military history as a drummer boy in the second world war as a starting point, Penny set about forming a band so he could spread the word about The Thatcher and her impending evil deeds.

They called themselves Cross, because they were all rather jolly cross about the whole affair, and to ensure there would be no ambiguity about what they stood for they inserted a letter A (for anarchy) inside the letter O of their name. With their marketing  strategy in place, the  fledgling punk band then set about converting Penny’s political pamphlets into rhyming couplets. Early attempts, such as Anarchy Would Be Rather Spiffing Old Chap, and Don’t Do What One’s Nanny Tells One To Do, failed to impress focus groups, however.

“Do what, you poshos?” Sounds journalist and amateur cage fighter Gary Bush is reported to have said at the time, before going on to write a scathing review in the Daily Mail.

Cross hit back by penning the song Gary is a Meanie, but Penny knew deep down that the band’s aristocratic upbringing was a major problem.  After all, if nobody took them seriously, how were they supposed to warn the world about what was coming in the year 1984?

In the end it was Cross’s marketing director Gee Whizz who came up with the obvious solution. The idea came to her while she and Penny were watching a stage production of Oliver Twist at the Royal Opera House in London.

“I say, Rambo old chap,” she said during the interval, “I’ve just had a jolly brilliant wheeze.”

“Pray tell, my dear,” Penny replied.

“What if Cross hired a street urchin to sing for them? Then that old meanie Gary Bush wouldn’t say such frightful things about you.”

“What a simply splendid idea, old girl. But where on earth could we find such a person?”

“Golly, I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps we could place an ad in Vogue?”

“Do street urchins read Vogue?”

“Of course. How else would they know what is in fashion?”

“Then that is what we shall do, my dear.”

But as luck would have it, Penny didn’t need to advertise for a street urchin in Vogue Magazine. As he and Gee were leaving the Royal Opera House after the play they bumped (quite literally) into a young chap by the name of Steve Ignoramus who was on his way home from a Clash concert.

“Oi, watch ahht you mug,” Steve grumbled as he glared at Penny’s top hat.

“Golly,” Gee said, “doesn’t he talk frightfully funny?”

“Do wot?” Steve replied. “You havin’ a fackin’ bubble, darlin’?”

“I say old chap,” Penny interjected before the situation became any more heated. “How would you like to earn some money?” He pulled out one of his Cross business cards with a flourish, and held it out to Steve.

“Fackin’ Crass? Wot’s that when it’s at ’ome’?”

“It’s pronounced Cross, dear boy. We’re a punk band, and we would like to hire you as our singer. How does a guinea a week sound?”

After careful consideration, Steve Ignoramus agreed to join the band and moved into Clock Dial House, where he worked as a butler while Penny Rambo set about composing Cross’s first concept album, The Feeding of the Five Thousand Miners.

To be jolly well continued …



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Christmas at the Punk Rock Nursing Home



The geriatric punks from  Punk Rock Nursing Home return in this new 50 page paperback for the festering season. Cheap as a bag of chips will be a few years from now, and available from all good amazons for a limited time.

Get it here:


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Anarchy in a Cold War

Anarchy in a Cold War is a novel by Kurtis Sunday set in the West Berlin alternative-squatter-Punk scene during the latter part of the Cold War. The city, a focal point in the conflict between East and West, was a capitalist enclave smack in the middle of Communist East Germany. It was entirely surrounded by the Berlin Wall, complete with razor wire and machine gun posts. There is much that is familiar and much that is not. The Cold War is raging and the missiles are armed and waiting in their silos. If nuclear war breaks out there will be a four minute warning. There is no internet and perhaps NO FUTURE. Reality? Sur-reality? Or hyper-reality?
the Internet Archive:

Print copies available from:

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Punk Rock Nursing Home audio book


Punk Rock Nursing Home audio book, read by professional actor James Warrior (The Sweeney, The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, The Bill, etc). Also available in read it yourself paperback and ebook editions.

“This book is fantastic, I cannot recommend it enough.” Attila the Stockbroker

Not suitable for Daily Mail readers.

Every year, on the anniversary of the death of 1980s prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the elderly residents of State Retirement Home SY-379 hold a festival of celebration. Balloons and bunting go up, raucous punk music is played, memories are relived by those who still have all their faculties, and a good time is had by all.

With the thirtieth anniversary of Thatcher’s death coming up in just a few weeks, Colin Baxter decides to make this year’s Thatcher Day something to be remembered. He contacts octogenarian punk band Sick Bastard and books them to play live at the retirement home, promising to pay them in free beer.

There’s just one problem: how to get the band, their equipment, and the beer, past the Gestapo retirement home manager who lives upstairs?

Available now on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes.

Amazon UK link

Amazon US link


For paperback / ebook purchase options and opening chapter sample, click here.



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Preview: Runaway



Amazon UK

Amazon USA


When violence erupts at a Cockney Upstarts gig, anarcho-punk Stiggy ends up half-unconscious on the ground, waiting for a much older skinhead to finish him off for good. But then an unlikely ally comes to his aide – his attacker’s young, timid girlfriend, Sally.

While his mates deal with the skinhead, Sally helps Stiggy get away before the coppers arrive. But he soon finds she has an ulterior motive for doing so – the man is keeping her a virtual prisoner and beating her on a regular basis, and she is so desperate to escape she will take any chance she can.

Stiggy vows to help Sally get away from her tormentor, and offers her temporary sanctuary until she can find somewhere of her own to live. But while they are collecting Sally’s belongings, the skinhead arrives home unexpectedly and catches them in the act. And what follows sets in motion a chain of events that soon spirals out of control.

With a unique blend of social realism and unashamed pulp action reminiscent of those old NEL classics of the 1970s, Runaway tells an unflinching and at times harrowing story of lost innocence as Stiggy gradually learns the whole horrific truth about how Sally ended up living with such a monster, along with the institutional cover-up behind it all.

Contains scenes of graphic violence, very strong language throughout, and deals with topics that some readers might find upsetting.





Stiggy didn’t reckon much to the support band. And judging by the amount of beer and abuse being hurled at the stage, neither did anyone else in The Marples that night. It wasn’t that they were young and inexperienced, although the way both the guitarist and bass player had their backs to the audience the whole way through their set, and the way the singer kept stuttering his words all the time, certainly didn’t help. It wasn’t even that they couldn’t play their instruments properly. They were a punk band, after all, and a certain amount of rawness came with the territory. They just weren’t the band Stiggy had paid his two quid to see, and he wanted them to hurry up and finish so the Cockney Upstarts would have enough time to play their full set before he had to leg it down to the train station for the last train home.

Stiggy didn’t care much for the Cockney Upstarts either, but he had his own reasons for being there. The Donny punks had had nothing but hassle from skinheads for months, and he wanted to be there to back his mates up in case any trouble kicked off. And judging by the glares Twiglet kept getting from the mob of skinheads leaning against the bar, it looked like that was inevitable.

There were twelve of them in total, all dressed in regulation boots and braces with short-cropped hair and bleached jeans, like some sort of drunken regiment that wasn’t too fussy about who they let in. Even the solitary bird with them was dressed the same, except in place of jeans and T-shirt she wore a short denim skirt with red braces hanging down over her bare thighs, and a pale green plaid shirt with short sleeves and buttons down the front. Her brown hair was close-cropped, just like the men, the only nod to femininity being long thin strands at the sides, and a three inch fringe that partially obscured her eyes. She stood to one side of the group, sipping from a bottle of Babycham, while the men punched the air and chanted at the support band on stage.

“Off! Off! Off!”

Their leader, a huge, stocky man at least ten years older and a good six inches taller than the others, shouted the loudest. Bulging muscles threatened to burst out of a skin-tight Rock Against Communism T-shirt with every jerk of his massive, tattoo-covered arm. Dangling red braces and a huge pair of black Doc Martens with white laces completed the image of someone nobody in their right mind would want to mess with.

But Stiggy wasn’t in his right mind that night. He was still off his head from the bag of glue he’d had on the train down to Sheffield, and the three pints of cider he’d drunk since arriving at The Marples an hour ago gave him a sense of invincibility he never felt when he was sober. He smiled to himself as he imagined going up to the bald-headed bastard and booting him in the bollocks, then taking on the rest of his mob single-handed. Yeah, he could do that, no fucking bother.

But then someone would call the coppers and cancel the show, and Stiggy wouldn’t get to find out if what it said in the newspapers about the Cockney Upstarts throwing a dead pig’s head into the audience at the end of their set was true or not. He’d bet his mates a quid it was true, and told them he was only going with them so he could see a skinhead get smacked in the face by a flying pig’s head. But that wasn’t the real reason he had to know the truth.

If the Cockney Upstarts were using murdered animals as a form of entertainment there was nothing that would stop him bursting into their dressing room and telling them exactly what he thought of them. Then he’d write to Crass and tell them all about it, so they could spread the word and organise pickets outside their gigs, make sure they never played anywhere ever again. Maybe even get them kicked off their record label, or at least banned from Top of the Pops.

The skinhead boss draped his arm around the young girl’s neck and squeezed one of her breasts while he continued chanting. She looked tiny and frail next to him, and visibly winced. Stiggy wondered what she saw in an ugly brute like that. She looked about sixteen or seventeen, whereas the bruiser she was with was at least twenty-five, maybe even older. Every now and again she would flick her head to one side to swing the fringe away from her eyes. Each time it would just flop back down again.

“This— this is our last song,” the support band’s singer stuttered from the stage.

The young skinheads cheered. “Make it a fucking short one, you useless cunts!” one shouted.

The older skinhead drained his lager and hurled the plastic container in the direction of the stage, then pushed the young girl away from him and ordered another drink from the barman. Released from his grip, she wandered over to the far side of the bar and leaned against it with her back to the band.

Stiggy stared at her legs and wondered again what a tasty bird like her saw in a thug like that. It just wasn’t fair. Stiggy wasn’t exactly handsome in the traditional sense, and he knew it — his nose was too big, the area around his mouth was riddled with acne from years of solvent abuse, and his ears stuck out like those of a chimpanzee. But at least he wasn’t a fucking gorilla, like that skinhead she was with. So why didn’t anyone ever fancy him instead?

Some sixth sense must have told the girl someone was watching her, because she turned around and looked straight at Stiggy. Stiggy smiled and raised his hand in greeting. The girl’s face reddened, and she turned away. Stiggy shrugged to himself and brushed the dandruff from the shoulders of his Crass T-shirt before finishing off the last of his cider. After scrunching up the plastic container and tossing it on the floor, he leaned on the table and pushed himself upright from his stool. The small round table lurched to one side under his weight, forcing Colin, Brian and Twiglet to snatch their drinks up to save them from toppling over.

“Fuck’s sake Stiggy, watch what you’re doing,” Brian yelled.

Stiggy ignored him and staggered over to the bar for a refill.

The support band finished their set and unplugged their instruments. Nobody clapped, nobody cared. The skinheads shouted their final insults, then turned away and ordered fresh drinks from the barman.

Stiggy sidestepped closer to the skinhead girl and waved a pound note to attract the barman’s attention. The man nodded and held up two fingers while he finished off serving the skinheads — a wait your fucking turn gesture.

Stiggy pointed at the half-empty Babycham bottle standing on the bar in front of the girl. “You want another one of them?”

She shot a glance at the skinheads at the opposite end of the bar, then shook her head. Her hand trembled when she picked up the bottle and took a swig.

“You all right?” Stiggy asked. She seemed nervous about something, but he couldn’t imagine what. She wouldn’t even look at him, she just stared straight ahead at the optics behind the bar.

The barman finished serving the skinheads and wandered over. Stiggy ordered a pint of cider and took a long gulp. He stared at the girl’s profile, wondering what was wrong with her. Maybe she was shy or something.

“I’m Stiggy,” he said.

No reply.

The skinheads turned away from the bar and glared out into the gloomy, smoke-filled room. It wasn’t long before they turned their attention to Twiglet again. A chorus of monkey sounds erupted. A young lad bent forward and swung his arms from side to side, hamming it up. Twiglet stuck up two fingers and looked away. He was used to shit like that everywhere he went; being the only black punk in Doncaster always attracted unwanted attention from skinheads.

But the skinheads were looking for trouble, and Twiglet’s cold shoulder routine just riled them up even more.

“You and me, cunt,” their leader yelled. “We’ll have our own fucking race war, right here.”

The younger skinheads laughed. “Do him, Joe,” one said. “Smash his fucking head in.”

Twiglet glared across at the huge skinhead and sneered. “Nah, you’re all right, Nazi. I wouldn’t want to get my fists dirty on your ugly face.”

“You what? What did you say, you fucking nigger?” The older man’s eyes bulged in their sockets. His teeth ground together. He clenched his fists and took a step closer to where Twiglet sat. The younger skinheads lined up behind him with their chests puffed out, voicing their encouragement.

“Leave it out, mate,” Colin said to the skinhead boss. “We’re just here to see the Upstarts, we’re not looking for no trouble.”

“Well you should keep your fucking pet monkey under control then, shouldn’t you?”

Twiglet’s eyes blazed. He rose to his feet and cracked his knuckles, then took out his skull and crossbones ear rings and put them down on the table next to his pint. “Look after these for me, yeah? I’ll be back in a minute.”

“Fuck’s sake Twiglet, just ignore them,” Colin said. “It’s not worth it.”

“Maybe not for you.”

Twiglet removed his studded wristband and wrapped it round his knuckles. Colin sighed and rose up next to him in a show of support. After a brief hesitation, Brian shook his head and joined them. Other punks nearby looked on with interest. Twiglet matched the older man in height, but not in build. Youth and agility would give him an advantage so long as he could dodge those huge fists of his opponent, but one thing Stiggy knew about skinheads was that they never fought fair. The others would pile in as soon as it started, they always did.

Stiggy put down his cider and stepped away from the bar so he would be ready to help even the score when the time came. The hairs on the back of his neck stood to attention, but his legs felt weak and wobbly. His stomach churned as he stared at the huge skinhead. Every instinct told him to stay out of it, let it run its course without him. But he couldn’t let his mates down like that, he just couldn’t.

The beefy skinhead peeled off his T-shirt and handed it to one of the others for safekeeping. More tattoos covered the man’s upper body. British bulldogs, naked women, Union Jacks and Swastikas all mingled together into one technicolour mass of ink. He pulled the braces up over his bare chest and snapped them into place over his broad shoulders.

“Let’s fucking have it, then, you cunts! I’ll take the fucking lot of you by myself!”

Twiglet sneered at him. “Come on then, you fucking Nazi prick.”

Stiggy clenched his fists, but it was more to stop his hands trembling than a show of strength. He could feel his bowels loosening. Beads of sweat dribbled from his armpits as he glanced from Twiglet to the skinhead and back again. Fuck it, he couldn’t just stand by and watch his best mate take a pounding without doing anything about it. He took a step forward, ignoring the wobbly sensation in his legs. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

“Oi, you two,” the barman shouted. “Behave yourself, or you’re out the door.”

The younger skinheads glanced at the barman, then at each other. Twiglet and the bigger skinhead maintained eye contact while they continued hurling insults.

Then a high-pitched blast of feedback came from the speakers either side of the stage and everyone turned to look in that direction. The Cockney Upstarts stood there. The guitarist tuned up while the drummer took his seat. The bass player plugged in his instrument with a loud electrical pop and slung it over his shoulder. The singer downed a can of lager, crushed the can in one hand, and tossed it to one side.

“All right?” his amplified voice yelled as he peered out from the stage.

The young skinheads turned to their leader for guidance. He seemed to consider the situation himself for a couple of seconds, then glared at Twiglet.

“This isn’t fucking over yet, cunt. I’ll see you later.”

“We’re all fucking upstarts!” the band’s singer screamed, and a wall of sound blasted from the speakers when the Cockney Upstarts broke into their top ten hit.

Punks and skinheads rushed for the stage, jostling to get the best position between the huge twin speakers. They leaped around together, their differences seemingly forgotten in an instant as the raucous music washed over them.

Stiggy sighed in relief as he watched Twiglet, Colin and Brian lose themselves in the swirling crowd, keeping well away from the skinheads. That had been too close for comfort. He looked at his wristwatch: half nine. That should leave plenty of time for them to finish before he had to leave for the train station. So he’d get to see if they ended their set by throwing a murdered pig’s head into the audience or not. And if they did …

The skinhead girl turned to Stiggy and smiled. Her green eyes seemed to twinkle in the harsh light illuminating the stage.

“I’m Sally!” she shouted.

“All right, Sally?” Stiggy shouted back. “You’re not into all that Nazi shite as well, are you?”

Sally leaned closer and shouted into Stiggy’s ear, “Am I fuck. I’m only here because Joe made me come. I don’t even like this sort of music.”

“Is Joe that big fucker who was hassling my mate?” Stiggy pointed into the crowd around the stage, where a group of skinheads were sieg heiling the band’s singer, their leader clearly visible as he towered over them.

Sally nodded. “Yeah, sorry about that. He always gets like that when he’s been drinking. Just tell your mate to stay away from him for the rest of the night and he’ll be fine. Joe’s that pissed up he’ll have probably already forgotten about it, anyway.”

Stiggy turned to watch the Cockney Upstarts play. It was one of their earlier songs, Aggro Boys, released a year before their appearance on Top of the Pops made them a household name and an overnight sensation. Back when they were still a punk band, and long before the skinheads latched onto them. Stiggy had heard it on John Peel’s radio show at the time, and quite liked it. But that was before he found out about the pig’s head.

The song ended, and the rest of the band took swigs from beer cans while the singer told the crowd about the time he was arrested and beaten up in the cells by a policeman who objected to the All Coppers are Bastards T-shirt he wore. It was a story most people already knew, because he had recited it word for word on their live album too, but that didn’t stop them from listening in rapt attention.

Stiggy turned back to Sally, who stood toying with the Babycham bottle standing on the bar. He took another gulp of cider to bolster his confidence, then the words just blurted out of him.

“So how come you’re wasting your time with an old geezer like that, anyway? A good looking bird like you could have the pick of any bloke in here, you know that, right?”

Sally turned to face him, an odd expression on her face, as if she were trying to figure out if Stiggy was just winding her up or not. She stared into his eyes. Stiggy stared back, but up close he struggled to get her into focus.

Then she smiled, shook her head, and turned away to watch the band, who had just started their next song. They watched together, side by side, sipping their drinks. Stiggy could feel the room spinning pleasantly, the cider doing its job on his already glue-fuddled brain. He bought another drink and resisted the urge to tap his foot in time to the music while he waited for any sign of a pig’s head to appear.

* * *

Forty-five minutes later, the Cockney Upstarts gig was still in full swing and Stiggy was starting to get anxious. He would need to leave in another fifteen minutes if he wanted to catch the last train home, and there was still no sign of the pig’s head.

The singer snatched the microphone from its stand and screamed into it, then dived off the knee-high stage into the audience while he sang. The crowd surged forward around him, desperate to have their go with the microphone during the chorus, to be a part of the band, even if it was only for a few seconds.

“Police scum, police scum, kill them all,” out of tune voices shouted. “Line the blue bastards up against a wall. Spray them with bullets and watch them fall. Police scum, police scum, kill them all!”

The singer continued into the next verse, but was cut short when a punk with a massive red mohican grabbed the microphone from his hand. A gruff Yorkshire accent took over the vocals. The crowd pushed and shoved, closing in on the mohican to wrestle it back from him.

The band’s singer stumbled in the surging scrum and disappeared from view. Boots trampled over him in their owners’ oblivious attempts to reach the punk with the microphone. The lead guitarist and bass player peered down from the stage, then stopped playing mid-song. It took the drummer a few more seconds to realise something was wrong and rise from his seat to see what was happening. The mohican punk continued singing his out of tune rendition of Police Scum as he dodged all attempts to grab the microphone from him.

The three band members jumped down from the stage and pushed their way through the throng, swinging punches at anyone who refused to get out of their way. Between them they managed to clear a space around the fallen singer and helped him back onto his feet. Blood poured from his mouth and nose as they led him away to the small dressing room at the side of the stage. The drunken singing continued in their absence.

Stiggy watched the dressing room door to see if the band would re-emerge with a pig’s head, but the door remained firmly closed despite cries for an encore. Roadies unplugged the instruments and packed them away. The skinheads gave each other Nazi salutes while everyone else wiped sweat from their faces and headed for the bar or the toilets. Stiggy sighed. Now he would never know if the story in the newspaper was true or not.

Sally started trembling again. She bit her lip as she stared at the group of skinheads by the stage.

“You okay?” Stiggy asked.

She nodded. “Yeah. Look, you’d better go, before Joe sees you with me.”

“Fuck that, I’m not scared of that wanker.”

Sally looked down at her boots and shook her head. “You should be. Please Stiggy, just go while you still can.”

“Are you frightened of him, is that it?”

Sally sighed. “It’s best if you just go, he’ll have a fit if he sees you talking to me. You don’t know what he’s like.”

“What does he do to you, Sally?”

“Nothing. Please, you have to go now. Your mates, as well. Before it’s too late.”

Sally cast another furtive glance at the skinheads and edged away from Stiggy. Stiggy closed the gap once more and reached out to grip her arm. Despite his glue and cider-fuddled mind he was sure there was something about the big skinhead she was keeping from him, and it wasn’t hard to guess what.

“Are you worried about what he will do to me, or are you worried about what he will do to you?”

Sally’s mouth dropped open as she turned to look at Stiggy. Her jaw trembled.

“I fucking knew it,” Stiggy said. “Come with me and my mates, we can save you from him.”

Sally wrenched her arm free and yelled: “I don’t need saving. You just need to get away from me, that’s all. While you still can.”

“Stiggy!” someone shouted from the other side of the room.

Stiggy turned to look. Colin and Brian were pushing their way through the crowd heading for the bar, Twiglet close behind. Colin’s eyes were wide and staring. He pointed over his shoulder.

“Fucking leg it, quick!”

Then Stiggy looked beyond his punk mates at the mob of skinheads hurtling forward, knocking people out of their way as they went. The huge, bare-chested skinhead’s face was purple with rage as he led the charge. He locked eyes with Stiggy and roared.

“Oi, that’s my fucking bird, you cunt!”


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