The skinhead git approached me with a look of menace and faint amusement. ‘Where were you born mate?’
I sharply responded, ‘I was born in Adelaide, Australia.’
Skinhead mulled this over for a second. ‘Australia eh? That’s interesting, because me and my mates reckon you look like a dago. You know, dark hair and all.’
I knew I needed to keep my cool otherwise things would escalate. ‘Well, no. As I say I was born in Australia.’
Skinhead was content for the time being. ‘Well, that’s alright then innit?’
With that settled we both put out our cigarettes and walked into the gig.
At first sight, the venue for our inaugural show in rural England looked less like a pub and more like a British army installation. Flags adorned walls, there was a display case of military insignia and the men were all in camouflage pants and muscle tees. Yet SAS base camp this was not. We were in fact playing at the towns local pub, the owners of which had apparently carved out a niche for themselves by hosting thematic punk nights dedicated to the glory of England’s past and the venting of general disgust at the legacy of contemporary multiculturalism. In other words, they were right-wing politics gigs.
Now, I am no socialist. I like having showers for one thing. I use hair products. I also believe it’s possible to live an ethical life without getting arrested at a protest. Yet these facts do not make me in sympathy with the intellectual superficialities of much of the right-wing political scene, which means that in the presence of aggressive racists I am liable to become quite uncomfortable. And there is nowhere more uncomfortable for the thinking person than a country English pub with about 40 pissed Hitler-lovers (or respecters at the very least).
The fact that our band was there in the first place can be put down to either political sympathy or ignorance on the part of our tour booker. I could never figure out which one, despite some gentle questioning aimed to bring out his political allegiances. Regardless of our bookers motives, however, we still had a show to do and it was not going to be an easy one. The constant glare of hate directed at us from everyone in the room told us as much. We toyed with the idea of aborting mission and getting the hell out of town, but felt that this would fast-track a beating, so we remained determined to see it through.
We were scheduled to play after a well-established punk group from Milton Keynes. They took to the stage with an (admittedly) admiral display of punk attitude and aggression. Things on the lyric front were not so refined, however. Their big hit, Oi from England, can be thought of as an ode to ye olde England. To be honest the song is catchy as hell, and I would have told them as much were it not for the fact that the lead singer looked like he would slit your throat for two quid. After the round of ‘Oi’s’ were over the singer took a moment to place their music in its appropriate philosophical context:
‘Right, listen here. There’s a bunch of shit about us in the internet and stuff saying we’re racists. We are not racists, but I will say this: I was born in England, I live in England and I am gonna fucking die in England!’
Having silenced their red critics the lads got on with the show. A particular highlight for me was when they got their wives and girlfriends on stage to dance around with their saggy tits out. Here I was thinking mainstream rock was the way to get the girls.
After what seemed like an eternity stuck in a land of boredom such as you might find in conversation with someone specialising in tax law, the lads finished their set and it was our turn to play. It’s at this point that I felt a nervousness before a performance unlike anything I had ever felt before or since. This was made worse by the fact that I was borrowing the drummers drum kit, so I had to make some face-to-face contact with them. This turned out to be an underwhelming experience. When I expressed my appreciation for the drums he just smirked in my face and said ‘good luck.’
In describing the crowds reaction to our set I would say that ‘an intimidating round of indifference’ about sums it up. We weren’t heckled, but neither were we acknowledged in any way. We arranged the set so we went straight from one song to another in order to minimise the awkward silence we were expecting between songs, but despite this I could still see that the meatheads and their female accomplices were not remotely interested in our variety of hard rock. The only thing that happened by way of response was the odd look of hate shot our way.
By the time we finished our last song I was well and truly hammered, having been knocking back G&T’s for most of the evening in order to deal with being in the same room as these cretinous skins. I continued to drink as we were packing up, and in a moment of shame I promptly spewed in the bathroom. I locked myself in the cubicle until one of my bandmates came and rescued me from my oblivion. Apparently it was safe to leave the venue from the rear doors. The show was over, and we had emerged unscathed- another notch on the belt of gig survival.