MY LIFE IN THE MOSH OF GHOSTS

Every gig I've ever seen. 30-odd years of thud, sweat and beers.

The Stunt Kites. Nine gigs at various venues in Sheffield, Retford and Barnsley. April to September 1979.


Monday 9th April. The Easter school holidays, and a teenage gathering for Stunt Kite co-founder, school pal and punk-rock charmer Steve Chapman’s eighteenth birthday. The evening started in The Bay Horse in Pitsmoor, one of our regular haunts, then moved to our new favourite city boozer The Howard Inn, down between the Polytechnic and the railway station. Talk, as usual in our clan of wannabe singers and strummers, revolved around music. Steve expressed his admiration for Lou Reed’s exercise in sonic torment ‘Metal Machine Music’, and how his band, on the eve of their first demo session, might emulate it: “We should make an album of crackles and at the end just say you fuckin’ suckers!” The Great Rock ‘N’ Roll Swindle alive and well in Burngreave, S4.

"Ole in t' Road" Spring 1979. Photo by Paul Smith.

Thursday 12th April. I accompanied the Stunt Kites (Steve, John Allen, long-time buddy Brent, Rennie and Mick) to verdant Nether Edge on the other side of Sheffield. John and Steve were friends with Adi and Jud from ClockDVA. Adi had a Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder, and had offered to produce the Stunt Kites demo. Brent borrowed my drums for the session. This was the second attempt to record this week, Tuesday’s visit to Thornsett Road having been abandoned due to the ¼” tape being faulty. It gave us impressionable, callow lads a second opportunity to marvel at Adi’s cool, minimalist ground-floor flat: an understated mix of painted floor boards, black leather furniture and books on modern art. To us, this appeared impossibly sophisticated; we were mostly still living with Mums and Dads. The Stunt Kites put down five of their best songs: ‘Dead Boys’, ‘The Enemy’, ‘Made In Hong Kong’, ‘Fool’s Paradise’ and ‘Suburbia’.

Early mention for the Stunt Kites in Martin Fry's 'Modern Drugs' fanzine.

Easter Sunday 15th April. Steve Chapman, plus school pals and sometime band mates Vinner, Timbo and me had a late night jam session in Timbo’s bedroom. Timbo had become obsessed with Eric Clapton, and the set-list thrashed out that night reflected our diversifying musical interests. Steve enthusiastically lead the charge through the Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’ and the elongated fuzz-fest of Hawkwind’s ‘Silver Machine’, but was equally happy to strum along as Timbo played out his Bluesbreakers / Slowhand fantasies on ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Route 66’. Vinner and myself laughed and laboured in the engine room.

Wednesday 18th April. The Stunt Kites played The Broadfield at Heeley. The last time I had seen them live in concert was just before Christmas, supporting Exit, the school band I played in with Vinner, Wilma and Lango. This had turned out to be Exit’s final gig. For some reason, Rennie had been absent from the line-up that night in December. Reunited at The Broadfield they were an unstoppable force, a battering ram of bruising intent. Zero to one hundred mph in less than three seconds, every song a headlong rush of concentrated energy. Afterwards, John was at his E.L. Wisty-like best: “Did you know they killed one hundred hamsters filming ‘Tales Of The Riverbank’? Their little corpses littered the whole of the Surrey countryside.”

Stunt Kites MKII line up: L-R Steve Chapman (guitar), Ashley Eckhardt (bass), Brent Sharp (drums), John Allen (vocals), Nigel Renshaw (guitar) crouching.
Photo by Pete Hill.

Friday 4th May. Despite my best efforts on the previous day, at both the polling booth and the record shop, my votes for Labour and ‘Being Boiled’ by The Human League failed to prevent a Tory victory spearheaded by Maggie Thatcher. A more immediate problem was dealing with the clean-up of the post-election wake I’d hosted, taking advantage of my parents being away on holiday. Angry neighbours, cigarette burns on the carpet, a nasty yellow stain on the kitchen lino and a Stunt Kite and his fiancée in the parental chamber staging a John & Yoko bed-in.

Friday 11th May. I joined the unholy agglomeration of sex, leather and industrial noise known as ClockDVA. A new, human rhythm generator replacing their drum machine. A proper group, no Working Men’s Clubs, no cover versions, this was a serious outfit. Adi gave me a couple of cassettes to start to learn the songs. The hand-crafted inlay card displayed a montage of montes pubis. Terrified that my Mum might see these, Adi’s labour-of-love artwork was hastily stashed away on the 97 bus home. Later that night, there was a party at Vinner’s house. John Allen had become engaged to Donna; love’s young dream, they both eighteen and still in school. The mood was relaxed, a sitting around, drinking, talking and future dreaming party - unlike some of the wild nights Vinner had previously hosted. The TV was on, and we were half-watching Tippi Hedren being tormented something rotten by Alfred Hitchcock and his aviary of evil.

“Let’s have a laugh.” Steve picked up the Vinner house phone, and dialled six random numbers. A bit of shushing and the room fell silent, apart from the distant sound of a ringing tone far away.

A gruff Sheffield accent: “’Ullo?”

Steve (in his best posh accent): “Good evening, this is the ITV census board. Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?”

ASGA: “What’s tha’ want?”

Steve: “Are you watching ‘The Birds’ at the moment?”

ASGA: “Yeah.”

Steve: “Who is your favourite Hitchcock blonde – Tippi Hedren, Janet Leigh or Grace Kelly?”

ASGA: “Tha’ what? Are tha’ tekkin’ piss?”

Steve: “Look, we’re just havin’ a laugh, alright?”

CLICK.

Singles purchased summer 1979.

Monday 25th June. I registered unemployed, joining the ranks of the 1.4 million out of work. The dole office in Sheffield was located on West Street, halfway between The Limit Club and The Beehive, a popular pub with Sheffield’s left-field musicians. The rest of the day was spent watching Wimbledon and fretting over the US senate signing the S.A.L.T. 2 treaty. The Stunt Kites played at Bar Two in the University, and as a loyal friend and fan, I went along. I’d last seen them just two weeks earlier, a welcome distraction from the rigours of A-level exams, as they ripped through a vibrant set of buzz-saw punk to an appreciative crowd at The Marples pub. At Bar Two they were barely recognizable as the same band: a shambolic shower of false starts, sloppy songs and drunken intent. Paralysed fools wrestling with ‘Fool’s Paradise’ - too stoned to play their own music, which thrived on discipline and fire.

Saturday 21st July. A party at Richard Nicklin’s house in Attercliffe. School had finished a month ago, and the graduates of the Class Of ’79 were still a jigsaw puzzle of friendships, before pieces start to be lost to university, jobs and marriage. Suddenly it seemed to me that everyone was self-consciously acting adult, old before their time; as if childish impulses should have been folded away forever with the school blazer and tie. A dull party, memorable only for hearing the glacial splendour of ‘Neon Lights’ by Kraftwerk in full for the first time. Bored with the stifling trivia of University options, I hopped on a bus into town to meet up with the Stunt Kites, who had ambitious plans to play two gigs in one night. I had already seen them once during that week; they had supported ClockDVA on a sweltering summer night at The Marples on Wednesday. My first ever gig with the band, riven with nervous tension, in front of a packed crowd of “impress me” onlookers.

Fitzalan Square, 1979. Photo by Paul Smith.

I found the Kites at the Mount Pleasant community centre in Heeley, a hoofed long ball clearance away from United’s Bramall Lane, playing to a bunch of young teens and a smattering of right-on grown-ups at a benefit for S.K.A.N. – School Kids Against the Nazis. No sooner had I arrived than they started packing up their gear and started to cart it around the corner to The Broadfield pub, half a mile down the road. By the time I arrived at the second venue, their guitars, amps and drums were half-in, half-out the pub. The Stunt Kites were late, said the landlord, should’ve been here an hour ago, and they couldn’t play. A collective “sod this” and we all trooped back to the community centre. A reasonable number of the kids were still hanging around at Mount Pleasant - there wasn’t a lot to do in Heeley on a Saturday night - and they were delighted to see this ramshackle crew of punk-rockers and their attendant entourage dragging their gear back through the door. Hacked off and amped up, the Stunt Kites proceeded to rock and rage with acetylene intensity, and were gleefully celebrated by their snotty acolytes. What a thrill to witness the instant transmission of swirling sonic vortex direct to teenage cortex. Clattering drums, clashing cymbals, rumbling bass and tinnitus-threatening guitars, with John Allen howling over the top, a man consumed by the blaze he and his cohorts had ignited.

Steve explains his musical philosophy to the NMX, July 1979.

A couple of hours later, we were sitting around, knocking back a few cans and watching Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes on late-night telly. The decompression period from demonic punk-rockers to plain daft lads completed, fanciful riffs on popular culture were being tossed around by Steve and John:

“My name is Frank Stapleton and I’ve been breeding bloody hounds to maim and kill now for fifteen years, all on Pedigree Chum”.

“Can you imagine a low budget version? ‘The Vole Of The Baskervilles’! Ooooh! Don’t go down to the reed beds tonight m’dear!”

Punk rock, pogoing kids and Pythonesque silliness; surely more fun than listening to ex-school colleagues dissecting the relative merits of the campuses at Warwick and Exeter?

More singles bought in the summer of 1979.

Friday 24th August. Roadtrip! My first time seeing the Stunt Kites away from our home turf, as a motley motorcade made the 35-mile trip to the market town of Retford. The Porterhouse venue had a similar booking policy to Sheffield’s Limit Club: Simple Minds, Joe Jackson and The B-52’s had all passed through in the month previous. I was feeling good, still riding high on the reaction to my first London gig with ClockDVA a couple of weeks earlier, which had earned positive reviews from the NME and Melody Maker. The DHSS paid enough to keep me in new vinyl, beer money and the odd splash out on an £8 suit from the Sue Ryder charity shop. So when a couple of guys came up to me in Retford and said: “Hey, you’re the drummer from ClockDVA aren’t you?”, I did my best to affect an air of nonchalance:

“Er, yeah, that’s right. Did you see us at the YMCA in London?”

“No, we saw you drumming for the Stunt Kites at the Penthouse in Sheffield.”

“Oh… right, thanks.”

Busted but true enough. Just after DVA’s London gig I had covered for Brent while he was on holiday, delighted to be playing straight boom-crack-crash punk-rock drums, surging like a tidal bore as we tore through the set. And they paid me £1.60 for my efforts. That night in Retford the Stunt Kites delivered another set of fearless punk rock fury. Only to be out-gunned by headliners The Invaders, new-wave protégés of Jimmy Pursey from Sham 69. Playing at deafening volume, they presented thunderous evidence of a Polydor advance well-spent on a top of the range back line.

Thursday 13th September. The second night of a Stunt Kites micro-tour: last night they played the Penthouse Club in Sheffield with Short Circuit and the very impressive I’m So Hollow; Thursday saw them travel up the road to Barnsley, and I cadged a lift in the convoy. The band had been invited to play by local comedy glam hobbits Y? (Later to become comedy goth hobbits Danse Society). Had they spent as much time in rehearsal as they clearly did at the Boots’ make-up counter, then Y? might have been a force to be reckoned with. In fairness, a rummage in the dressing up box for Bowie’s cast-offs was a reasonably brave act for a night out in Barnsley, populated as it was by macho coal miners into Saxon, denim and leather. “Per capita,” suggested John, looking out at the punk peacocks displayed in front of the stage for Y’s set, “I reckon there are more poseurs in Barnsley than there are in Sheffield”.

Come the hour for the Stunt Kites set, all those pretty things had vanished into the Dearne Valley night. It was last bus time to Wombwell, Elsecar and Grimethorpe for all the little Iggy’s and Ziggy’s, leaving the Kites to play to a handful of mates and designated drivers from ten miles down the road. South Yorkshire Transport 1 Stunt Kites 0.

Spotify playlist of the singles I bought in the summer of 1979 here.

Remembering Steve Chapman: 1961 - 2006.

Photo by Karl Lang.

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