James Gordon is the author of Rocky Foundations, a novel based on his time with the group CMU. Read an extract from the book below. For further information or to buy the book click here www.shantiluyah.co.uk
They were top of the bill, booked to play for an hour. The journey up to Newcastle had tired them, and they had arrived too late for a sound-check.
For the first three numbers, none in the audience either clapped or danced. During the fourth there were shouts and boos, which, once started, grew. Albert's bass started to growl.
"I'm fucked if I'm putting up with this," John heard him mutter.
He was persuaded to continue. Lucy sang Mystical Moments. Somebody threw a bottle. It didn't land on stage, but crashed just in front.
Albert took off his bass guitar, and the rest of the band followed him off the stage to mixed roars from the crowd.
The promoter ran in and started to shout at Albert. Getting nowhere, he went out front. He appealed to the audience's better instincts, with surprising success. His approach to the band was harsher.
"You're on a fucking contract. You want your money?"
Albert raised the matter of the bottle. Apparently the bouncers had got the guy soon after and he had been ejected.
"Do you think I should do the skinhead?" John asked.
Albert emitted a cynical laugh. "Why not? Go down a bomb."
"But Albert, there’s real skinheads out there!"
Savanarola’s eyes glinted.
"Great opportunity,” he grinned. “Try it out for real, Mr Gerard."
The audience had been more subdued for a time, but there had been a couple of fights at the back of the hall. Normal Saturday night, Albert had commented, and he was probably right, shocking as it was for this Cambridge band to experience. Skinheads and greasers. It seemed the greasers were outnumbered, increasingly so as new skinheads arrived.
As John came on, fifteen or so of them surged forward from the back, four of them leaning up against the stage, a yard from him. He could hear their discussion of his get-up, how it diverged from the skinhead canon. The skull-cap and beard were less criticized than the boots.
As they failed to rush the stage, John took heart. However sartorially inaccurate, for them his portrayal was no satire, but a genuine celebration of skinhead culture. As it came to the final verse, he gave it full throat. The boys themselves started moving about, pulling their braces as John was doing, responding to the Max Romeo backbeat, as John, rasped into the microphone:
Saturday afternoon I went to a football match
Copper he try-ah to catch me
For assaulting a rocker,
Nat watching the soccer.
Why ever should I watch the soccer?
Mamazel Julie went well, and the evening finished better than expected. Albert announced their first album would soon be released. There were cheers, wolf-whistles for Lucy, and scattered clapping.
The gigs were rolling in. By the end of March they had done a regular three gigs a week, and those already booked for April were even more frequent. The piece in the Melody Maker had got them an offer of management, but the agency had gone broke the following week.
As the college gigs materialised the band’s returns intruded ever deeper into the early hours. For the moment John was careful to arrange them at least two days apart, so that the band could catch up on sleep. One morning he came in at 5 a.m. to find Sarah crying. He had not spoken to her for days. When he now tried to do so, she was silent.
Their standard fee was now a hundred pounds for a forty-five minute set. They got paid more for half-hour warm-ups for big names. There was less and less room for numbers other than those on the album.
In April they were booked to play at the Architects' Ball in Trumpington Street, with nearly equal billing to the Pink Floyd, the highlight of whose act was a blue film played backwards. Crabapple stuck to meaty blues. John improvised more than he'd ever done in his life. Some said it was their best gig ever.
They finished on highlights from the album. As Voodoo Priest, John hid his face behind a tambourine as he danced. Somebody hit it, hard enough for the rim to bite into John’s forehead. He looked out angrily, to confront a familiar face.
"Trying to hide from an old pal?"
John had smoked his first joint with Rob Poussin, in his flat across the common. Public-school educated, he was friend to Fudge bass player Ramon. They had rolled with mentholated tobacco. For that cooler smoke.At the end of the set John introduced Rob to Sarah. Back on stage, he noticed that Sarah had stayed at his table.
There was a lump on his cheek. Some character had taken exception to his public school manner and accent, followed him from a party and hit him with a bottle. Failing to pass out, Robert had got the better of the exchange, putting his attacker in hospital. He was lean, wiry, athletic, with a pockmarked handsome face that fitted his Huguenot ancestry.
From Sarah’s response, John was feeling threatened until Robert revealed he had a fiancée. They were just about to move to West London. As he left, he kissed Sarah as if he had known her for years.