Mike Manson’s Where’s My Money (2008) is set in Bristol in 1976, and fairly reflects the strange, paralysed, but not unpleasant atmosphere of the mid-1970s. I guess it depends how old you were or what you were into at the time. This was the golden age of free festivals, for example – only the year before, enlightened Home Secretary Roy Jenkins (pre-SDP) had given his blessings to a government-sponsored festival at Watchfield, where Hawkwind played, and bad acid left dozens of people curled up in panic-stricken balls around the festival site. I was slightly too young to go at the time, which is probably just as well, but I have overwhelmingly positive memories of the long hot summer, the longest, hottest summer on record, until 2018 put paid to THAT. I also went to Ireland twice in 1976, so perhaps my good memories are to do with not being in Bristol.
In Where’s My Money?, the “hero”, Max, is working down the dole office, going to pubs, clubs and blues parties, and – on one memorable occasion – having sex in the bushes in the traffic island at the end of King St. ”This isn’t my story,” claims Manson in a disclaimer, but he also worked as a clerk in the dole office in Bristol in the mid-70s, so we can safely assume it IS his story.
“Max” comes to Bristol from Leicester University. Someone has to. Although I’ve never met anyone from Leicester, or indeed any other part of the Midlands, living in Bristol. He spends “a gloomy evening in an empty pub grandly named the Montpelier Hotel. The run-down ambience was not uplifting.” This is 1976, remember – but not a great deal changed over the next twenty years. “The real attraction of the Mont was that it hosted frequent late-night lock-ins,” he says. And sold drugs upstairs, in the pool room, which was its eventual downfall.
Max is not a particularly likeable character. In fact, he’s not much of a character at all. But at least he hates trad jazz, so he’s partially redeemed. Here he is down the Old Duke: “The band were hammering out an awful New Orleans number. The trombonist was so fat his stomach wobbled in time to the music. I would have paid good money to be across the road in the Granary with the air-guitar-playing heavy metal headbangers shaking their long greasy hair to Uriah Heap (sic).”
Shame he can’t spell Heep. Maybe if Manson read David Copperfield Manson write heap better novel. I saw Uriah Heep a few years later (at the Colston Hall, not the Granary) and they were surprisingly good, given that I wasn’t really a fan. My diary at the time reports that “(guitarist) Mick Box’s solos impressed me, and Heep came over as genuine people, enjoying themselves as much as we did.” Look, I was only 16, okay? Mick Box subsequently expressed his admiration for Margaret Thatcher in an interview, so I’m not sure how genuine he really is. Genuine about low taxation for high earners, the sale of council houses, closure of mines, persecution of travellers and good relations with right-wing dictators, perhaps.
1976 was a watershed year (although the Watershed “media centre” itself would not open until 1982). The first mutterings of punk were being heard/felt through Tim Brown’s fanzine Loaded and Cotham boys the Cortinas, who I thought were a bunch of wankers at the time, but I now see differently. They got a lot of stick from Julie Burchill’s inamorato Tony Parsons, who thought they were just a bunch of posh kids playing at punk, “living in roads that had trees in them” (!) and famously said that Bristolians thought lines and mirrors were for washing and make-up. I mean, for God’s sake, who needs lines and mirrors anyway? I used to eat my speed.
The Cortinas split up in 1978, which is weird because I’m sure I saw them at the Ashton Court Free Festival (as was) in 1979. I have a vivid memory of singer Jeremy Valentine in a see-through. blood- (or red paint-) splattered plastic raincoat. They sounded like a third-rate punk band, which is what they were, I guess. When Mojo magazine ran a piece on the Top 100 British punk singles, Fascist Dictator came in at 64th, which is about right. If our band Rainbow Warrior had bothered to put our hippy-punk signature tune Police State out as a single I’m sure it would have come in higher.
The Cortinas are touchingly modest about their achievements. In an interview on the website punk77 drummer Dan Swan says that “it’s hard to gauge what our contribution was (but) I hope that our unlikely successes were an inspiration to some.” “We were the first of many bands to come out of Bristol,” adds guitarist (and future Clash member) Nick Sheppard, “and I think being first counts for something – it proved it could be done.“ I guess he forgot about The Kestrels, Atlantic Rollers, Burlington Berties (featuring a young DJ Derek) Wurzels, Magic Muscle, Stackridge etc.
Equally punk in his own way, though not musically, was jazz guitarist Frank Evans, who set up his own label, Blue Bag, in 1976, operating out of Westbury. “I was fed up being mucked about by record companies and that whole hassle of the music business,” he said. Evans’ music – never exactly cutting edge – would veer towards the middle of the road when he started jamming with George Benson but he was equally at home (perhaps more at home) gigging in his local pub, the Forrester’s Arms, or at the Hawthornes hotel in Cotham, where my uncle Dave would put on jazz gigs in the 80s, or the Bristol Bridge Inn, where he’d play with the big band Ascension, or even at Vicki’s, better known as a strip club.
Of course, the best thing about 1976 – apart from the weather – was that Thatcher-loving, speed- and coke-crazed gutter-press harridan Julie Burchill upped sticks and fucked off to London, but for the full story behind that one, I refer you to my earlier post…