Adventures in the UK, Punk, 1982

My Featured 45 for today is Crass’s, How Does it Feel. Crass is by no means for everyone, but they sure could get their messages across. They always had great cover art and posters from their singles.

In 1982, I was a punky 17 year old on my first trip to the UK. I was vagabonding for a month on my own. I was desperate to see where all my favorite punk bands had been and what influenced them, even if it was just to stand in the same city, hop record shops, and try to get to a show. I had to experience Carnaby Street, Camden Market, Portobello Road, and of course I had to travel and hit up other towns in the UK. I learned that each city had it’s own music scene after talking to local kids, each with it’s own flavor. I liked Joy Division, so off to Manchester I went. I then had to visit with some pen pals. So after that it was Wales.

I’ll never forget visiting with my pen pal. Ah, that ancient teenage custom of meeting people from around the world, before there was Twitter and Snap Chat. You dug around in the back of music Fanzines from the UK, the ones you might find in the import section at the record shop. You found names of people who liked the same groups you did. Hand wrote a letter, said “Hello, I found your name and you like some of the same bands I do. It’s hard to find this music here, I listen to college radio to get it. I’ll tell you about California Punk and Rockabilly, or Goth.” And so weird transatlantic bonds were formed. I would of course learn that not everyone you wrote to was how they presented themselves. That’s another story for another time.

A Discotheque in York

I was in Wales, that ancient city with Roman bits still strewn about it. My pen friend and I went down to the local all ages discotheque, me in all my crazy bizarre finery from the markets in London. Yeah, half my clothes got lifted at a youth hostel. London lesson. At least they didn’t get all the 45s I had picked up you couldn’t get back home. We sat in the disco, she with her Shandy, me with a Pernod and Ribena. Two lads started trying to get our attention. This was new territory for me. Boys didn’t give me the time of day at school or in California in general. The Gingery thing. So I let my pen friend handle it, they were Welsh and I figured I wouldn’t get it. But one wasn’t speaking Welsh, and he was in a soldier uniform. I picked up the accent finally. A Liverpool man. I had just gone through on the one day trip there. But he was speaking in tongues I didn’t get, very intensely. Finally his mate, probably seeing the utter bewilderment, and reminding his friend there was an American, tell me in my ear, “Don’t mind him so much. He’s just been through the Falklands business. He’s still not with us yet.” It was the short, fierce little war between Argentina and the British.

I had been hearing of the Crisis through my travels. I had heard something before I left home, and wanted to find out more. But this was the days of no Internet, and American filtered news, even more filtered than now. It was Ronnie Reagan and Thatcher. All about control. The conflict took place the April before I arrived, and cemented Thatcher for upcoming elections. The whole conflict was a mystery to me, and many tried to explain it to me, many of them older and very British. But the punk rock contingency was having none of it, and protests of the violence were being sung about in the music that was released that summer and fall.

I tried to be patient and sadly the young soldier with drink got far worse, and my friend and I had to make our escape. After that night, I felt terrible that such a young man had to go through such violence, and live with the people who had died because of the actions on both sides. I was determined to find out more about the punk scene in other cities. I had been told to try Edinburgh, and hunt record shops there. Maybe even get into a club. So next day, after dealing with Welsh friend’s bizarre Mum, I boarded a train for Scotland.

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Inside poster art. Crass isn’t for everyone but they got the message across.

The Borders

After surviving the strange heat wave that had hit London a week before, I was warned to prepare for Scottish Summer. On the train I would find out what that was. I was scrabbling about lugging the case, my boots and short skirt, my punky self. Slipping and sliding on the wet floors. Trying to avoid all the leering men I kept encountering. Learning life’s mysteries of older men hunting young 17 year old girls. Definitely not something you tell Ma about when you get back. I  finally found a car with mostly women in it. Everyone was going about the weather. In those days, no WiFi to check the actual weather. But as we got closer to Scotland, you could see the bendy trees and debris flying about. Clouds dark as night. The train got thumped by gale force winds. Finally at the border, there was an announcement. All trains cancelled going in. We had to catch the train going back on the other side. Panic.

My Edinburgh Punk Rock history lesson was thwarted! Yes, it was really 4 years after the scene was really happening, but I still wanted to see the streets and venues these kids went through and fought in. I wanted to get in the record shops!

So after the insanity of trying to cram in on the return train on the other side, with no room for me, I found myself sitting on my case on the platform. A young station master strolls up and I ask when the next train will be. There is no next train, not for a few days maybe. Devastation. The Station Master says, ” I’ll call the Missus.” Apparently everything is solved with calling the Missus in the UK. The man came out and said his wife insisted that I stay with them. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know this person, but he was in uniform and looked very worried about my well being. So I was given my Tae and got on so well with their young child, that I was asked if I had baby sitting experience and sat for them while they went round the pub. The Missus wrote to my Ma to tell her I was alive. Sadly, I had to go back down to London and couldn’t get to Edinburgh after all of the trouble I had been through.

This year, a fabulous adventure of a exhibition featuring Scottish Punk and Post Punk music is going on at the National Museum in Edinburgh, Rip It UP! I cannot travel this year, but if you are, take it all in. Tell us how it is.

Got any great stories from 1976 to 1990 about your travels and experiences in the UK and Ireland music scenes? I would love to hear them. If you know any great Punk and Post Punk bloggers/blogs, give me a line. I would love to feature stories here. Got rare 45 and album poster art to share, send it to me, all credits will be made.

Rip It Up Exhibition at the Scottish National Museum

St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace, Wales

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St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace, Wales

Interview with Amanda Canby-Lewis, Lead Custodian

Wales, a wild and mysterious place. My first travels through the country was back in my university days. I remember some amazing mountains and terrain, very strange signs, and people with a fun, odd sense of humor I enjoyed. In doing research for historic sites interviews, I started looking back into Welsh sites and found that they certainly weren’t lacking. There are so many castles, ruins and grounds to clamber around, not to mention lovely villages and sign posts with Welsh on them to try to learn how to pronounce.

St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace is a ruin that is quite spectacular, in Pembrokeshire. It’s a family friendly place with plenty of climbs for you. The grounds offer a lot to see and just relax. Soak in some history. It’s not just a place to hang out, in the summer there are a series of events. Hopefully if you can, catch a performance.

St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace

Opening hours can vary so please contact the site for up to date information on 01437 720517. Last admissions 30 minutes before closing.

Hours of operation: Daily 9.30am – 5.00pm , July and August until 6 pm

STDavidsBishopsPalace@wales.gsi.gov.uk

To learn a little bit more about the site, I asked Amanda Canby-Lewis, Lead Custodian

To let us know a bit more about the site. Here is her interview below.

How long has this historic site been in operation and how did it get it’s start?

The site has been open to the public and charging an admission fee since at least the early 1960’s. It was put in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1932 who did basic consolidation, conservation and excavation. As Pembrokeshire developed into a tourist area in the 1960’s it was opened as an historic tourist attraction by the Department of the Environment although I believe that prior to that visitors could just come in and walk around. Since 1984 it has been in the care of Cadw.

Due to some recent film work and television series, some of the historic sites have seen a huge increase in visits. How has this been beneficial and challenging to the heritage site?

Very little impact has been felt here as it has been only minimally used – the BBC series ‘Antiques Roadshow’ was filmed here and then the BBC series of ‘Hollow Crown’ (the Shakespeare histories) filmed parts of ‘Richard II’. I believe that any filming and publicity for the built historic environment is mainly beneficial as it raises their profile and may attract visitors who may not otherwise visit. It is also a good revenue stream.

With revenue increase, will you be able to expand upon some projects for the site?

As Cadw is currently part of the Welsh Government we have to work within given budgets. However, Cadw are continually looking to improve both interpretation and facilities at all their sites to improve the visitor experience and meet and exceed their targets.

What is the biggest challenge that you have in running a site like this?

The maintenance and conservation of the  building is paramount as it is a scheduled ancient monument. Therefore when work needs doing we have to shut areas which may impact on the public. To combat this we have found ways to make it part of the visitor experience through explanation and interpretation of what we’re doing, how and why. This has had an impact on repeat visits as people very often return to see what we’ve done and what the next phase is. There is also the competition for the tourist £ which is ever increasing with more and more attractions opening up. Looking at ways to increase our profits is also a challenge. Health and Safety presents a challenge as we aim to keep as much of the monument open to the public as possible – to do this we have to assess issues such as warning signage and look at ways of making visitors aware of potential issues.

Do you have interpreters and reenactments at your site and what is involved in running some of these programs?

We occasionally use re-enactors. This is never an issue to run as we use companies/groups who are used to working in an environment such as this and have researched fully. They are also responsible for their own risk assessments etc. The main impact is that it can draw larger visitor numbers in a small period of time so staffing has to be in place to deal with this. I have done costumed interpretation training and this is something we aim to increase over the coming year.

Does your site have exhibits or host special exhibits on occasion?

Due to the nature of the building it is difficult to house special exhibits for the following reasons: it is difficult to secure the site so any exhibits are vulnerable overnight when the site isn’t staffed. Also the covered areas of the building are damp so this impacts some kinds of special exhibits. The site however has interpretation through the building in various formats. In the past we have had exhibitions of local sculptors work throughout the building and this adds another dimension to the site and attracts visitors who may not usually visit – or encourages a repeat visit.

If you get hired by a film company, how do you manage the site and what gets changed around? Because it is heritage, things must be maintained and safe, how do the film companies work around it?

On occasion it is necessary to close the site or close areas of it. However, we do try to stay open – it is good publicity for both us and the film company. We will always look to work with the company so that we have a complete plan in place long before filming takes place. It is up to the companies to put their risk assessments in place taking into account the nature of the building.

Do you have any funny behind the scenes stories?

There is nothing more unpredictable than working in tourism and most days see something unusual! We deal with people from all over the world (the most unusual visitor I’ve had here was a Sherpa from Nepal), we deal with an historic building and we deal with wildlife which uses the building as it’s habitat – badgers stuck down holes, bees nests, bats! We also deal with people who can ask very strange questions – my personal favourite was a visitor who arrived and asked me why we’d moved the building as they were convinced that the last time they visited the site it was on an island! I tried various sites that I thought they had maybe got it confused with but they were not to be persuaded – they were right and I was wrong!

In 1995 Queen Elizabeth visited the site which obviously necessitated a high level of security with security personnel on site throughout the night before the visit. I arrived on site very early to find a sniffer dog handler sitting on a wall alone – his dog had disappeared to go chasing rabbits! Something funny happens nearly every day!!