“All roight?” Manny’s amplified voice yelled from the stage.
A swarm of punks and skinheads rushed toward him as one. One hand on the microphone, Manny glared down at the expectant faces of the crowd.
“We’re all fucking upstarts!” he shouted, and everyone roared their approval, drowning out the opening guitar intro. A drum roll started the song proper, and Manny screamed out the words. A punk climbed onto the stage, and before the two bouncers could react he dived back into the audience. The area immediately in front of the stage was soon full of jerking bodies jostling for position.
“They tell us what to think, they tell us who to see,” Manny growled in his rough, guttural cockney voice. He picked up the microphone stand and swung it down into the crowd. Dozens of hands made a grab for it.
“We’re all upstarts, you and me!” everyone in the audience screamed.
Manny yanked the microphone stand away from them and held it aloft above his head before slamming it back down on the stage. He picked up a can of beer while the band continued playing, and shook it furiously. He aimed the can at the audience and pulled the ring-pull, showering the front row with beer. He poured the remaining beer over his own head and crushed the empty can in his hand before drop-kicking it away.
A young skinhead barged Colin in the shoulder. Colin barged him back, grinning, and sent him stumbling forward a few steps. Nearby, Brian spun his arms around like a double sided windmill, clearing out his own little space within the melee as people scrambled to avoid him. Twiglet and Spazzo were right at the front of the stage together, pressed up tight by the surging crowd behind them, so only their upper bodies could jerk in time to the music.
The song ended with a final scream from Manny and the crowd stopped its gyrations as one. Colin lifted up his T-shirt and wiped sweat from his face. He looked around, was about to say something to Brian, but he was quite a distance away now, surrounded by skinheads. He looked for Stiggy, but couldn’t see him anywhere.
The band started their second song, and the dancing resumed. The young skinhead rushed toward Colin again, his right elbow pointing outwards like a lance, his hand clamped behind his neck. He had a wide, lop-sided grin on his face.
Colin dodged to one side just before the skinhead reached him, and gave him a quick shove in the back as he hurtled past. He soared into the back of a punk, who lost his balance and went down. The skinhead tripped over him and landed on top of the punk in a pile of flailing arms and legs.
Colin’s energy started to flag after a few more songs. When Manny started on one of his between-song monologues about police oppression he saw it as an opportunity for a quick rest break and a gulp of beer. Manny was telling a story about a time when he was arrested and beaten up in the cells by a policeman who objected to the title of their ‘Police Scum’ single. It was a story Colin already knew from an interview with Manny he had read in Sounds several months earlier, so he weaved his way out of the crowd and made for the table where he had left his beer. People parted before him, then fought over the space he had vacated.
Colin slumped into his seat and took a long drink. Over the rim of his glass he saw Stiggy leaning against the now deserted bar, watching the band with the skinhead girl. Stiggy’s left arm rested on the bar, behind the skinhead girl’s shoulder as she took casual sips from her Babycham bottle.
Colin sighed and shook his head. He tried to get Stiggy’s attention, but Stiggy either didn’t hear him or chose not to. Instead, he started drawing little circles on the skinhead girl’s shoulder with his fingertip. She turned to face him and they stared into each other’s eyes for a few seconds. She looked toward the stage area, then leaned her head into Stiggy’s chest. Stiggy closed his arm around her.
Colin gaped at them open mouthed, not believing what he was seeing. He looked across at the stage area himself, expecting to see hordes of outraged skinheads tearing toward him. But the band had started playing again, and everyone was too busy leaping around to notice anything else.
Colin stood up and rushed across to Stiggy. He pulled at Stiggy’s arm, but Stiggy brushed him away.
“Stiggy, I need to talk to you,” Colin shouted. The skinhead girl looked at Colin and stepped to one side.
“What do you want?” Stiggy shouted, turning toward Colin.
“You can’t mess with their bird, they’ll fucking slaughter you.”
“She’s not a bird, her name’s Sally and she’s coming home with us.”
“You heard,” Stiggy said, and turned away.
Colin grabbed Stiggy’s arm and spun him back around. “Stiggy, you don’t know what you’re saying. It’s the fucking glue talking, mate. You don’t even like skinheads, remember? You hate them as much as I do, so why would you want to take one of them home with you? Think about what those baldy cunts will do to you when they find out. You think they will just let you walk out of here with one of their birds?”
“I don’t fucking care, leave me alone,” Stiggy shouted.
“Mate, she’s only doing this so she can watch her boyfriends kick the fuck out of you later. Can’t you see that?”
Colin grabbed Stiggy’s jacket and pulled him away from the bar. Stiggy stumbled a few steps before wrenching himself free, then launched a drunken punch. Colin jerked his head to one side and Stiggy’s fist sliced through the air a few inches away from his face.
Colin shook his head and retreated back to his seat. He took out a cigarette and lit it. Stiggy glared at him for a few seconds, as if daring him to say anything else, before returning to the bar. The skinhead girl sought Stiggy’s hand and held it. She too glared at Colin.
Colin’s hands shook as he drank the rest of his beer and smoked his cigarette. This was bad. Very bad. He had to get Stiggy out of there before the skinheads saw him messing with their bird. But he couldn’t do it on his own, he would need help. Maybe Brian could shout some sense into Stiggy, and if that didn’t work they would all just have to drag him away from her by force.
Colin returned to the stage area, but he couldn’t see Brian anywhere for all the jerking, spasmodic bodies leaping around. He inched his way through the crowd to where he had seen him last, prising people apart to make a gap big enough to squeeze through. Some parted easily, others resisted and he needed to physically barge past them. A few, unwilling to give up their position under any circumstances, turned and pushed him in the chest, sending him stumbling back a few steps, further away from his goal.
Colin didn’t make much headway into the heart of the crowd until a song ended and the audience started to relax and thin out to avoid the body heat given off by their closest neighbours. Pushing his way through, he found Brian just as the next song started, and his shouted words were drowned out by a crashing wall of sound from the nearby PA system.
Colin pulled on Brian’s arm to get him out of the crowd so he could talk to him properly, but Brian must have thought he wanted to dance because he grabbed a handful of Colin’s shirt and swung him around by it. The unexpected momentum took Colin by surprise and he was propelled into the back of a stocky skinhead. The skinhead turned and pushed Colin away. Colin stumbled back and lost his balance, then tumbled to the ground.
Two arms came down to help Colin back to his feet. When he looked up he saw it was the same skinhead who had been barging him earlier, the same lop-sided grin on his face. The skinhead pulled Colin to his feet and looped a sweaty arm around his neck. He rushed into the crowd, pulling Colin with him.
Surrounded by writhing bodies packed closely together, Colin had no option but to wait until the next lull between songs. He hoped it would last long enough for him to reach Brian and warn him about what was going to happen.
The song ended, but there was no rest gap, no opportunity to reach Brian.
“Police Scum!” Manny shouted, and the band immediately started playing again. This was the song Cockney Upstarts usually ended their set with, so Colin knew he didn’t have much time left. People at the back of the crowd surged forward, causing even more of a crush around the stage.
Manny pulled the microphone from its stand and screamed into it. He raised his arms above his head and launched himself from the stage like an Olympic diver. Twenty pairs of arms rose to catch him and lower him to the ground. Manny was in the midst of the crowd, singing Police Scum, everyone within range of the microphone shouting along with him. People just out of range fought for a closer position.
Colin was swept along by the crowd as everyone clawed their way closer to Manny, all wanting to be a part of the band for their anthem title. Someone wrenched the microphone from Manny’s hand, and his voice was replaced with a gruff Yorkshire accent that screamed the words out of tune. Manny lost his footing as the crowd surged after the microphone, everyone wanting their own turn with it, and he fell to the floor. He raised his arms to protect his head as boots swarmed over him, oblivious to his plight.
The song ended, and the band stopped playing, but the crowd around the microphone continued singing, starting up a rendition of We’re All Upstarts. The lead guitarist and bass player jumped off the stage and pulled Manny to his feet. They helped him back onto the stage and he stood there swaying as blood poured from his nose and mouth.
The crowd started to thin out as people drifted away to the bar for one final drink before they made their way home. The skinheads were busy giving Nazi salutes and sieg heiling to each other. Colin saw his chance to get to Brian.
* * *
Continued next Friday.
Punk Faction by Marcus Blakeston is also available in paperback and ebook if you don’t want to wait that long.