Sunday, 6 October 2013

February 1978 – Sham Pain

I find myself in times of trouble in Glasgow with Mother Pursey and his band and some of the worst fighting I’ve ever seen.

We’re sitting in a cafe in the city centre. Sham 69 eat muck and chips. It’s that post-soundcheck wait ‘till the midnight hour limbo feel.

Jimmy makes enquiries.

‘’Ere sweet ’eart − where's the Goebals? Or is it Gerbals? Or fuckin’ Gorbals?’

‘Och, quite a way.’ Elderly Scottish waitress, bewitched, both­ered and definitely bewildered.

‘Tell me, luv, is it really ’eavy there?’


‘’eavy. Y’know, ’ard.’ Jimmy raises his fists like a boxer.

‘Och no. Things like that don’t usually happen in Glasgow.’ She wanders away, stops and turns around. ‘Mind you, last week a mob of sixteen-year-olds did go on the rampage there, mugging everyone in their path. But things like that don’t usually happen in Glasgow.

‘Oh, yes, and someone was murdered in a club the other night – but things like that don’t usually happen in Glasgow.’     

Jimmy is trying hard to smother his laughter when the waitress returns with the teas. ‘Och and last week a man was shot outside a pub but ...’

The band in unison, ‘Fings like that don’t usually appen in Glasgow!’

Punk gigs are banned in the city so Sham are playing the university tonight. But only students in the know are allowed to attend and the entertainment committee on the door − all suits and ties and windscreen wipers on their horn-rimmed glasses – are there to ensure the unemployed  mind haemorrhage kids with the diesel fuelled fists don’t make their mark.

Fat chance, I think, as a kid covered with blood tumbles down the stairs in the entrance before the show has even started.

It’s hard to make out support band Backstabbers because about fifty people are on the stage ripping the shit out of each other.

Jimmy wades in. ‘’Ere!’ he shouts.

The fighting ceases immediately and the crowd cheers. Jimmy pulls the guy from the stairs onto the stage, his head now swathed in blood-soaked bandages. ‘We don't want fings like this to ’appen, do we?’

I say to myself instinctively, ’Cos they don’t usually…’


‘We wanna ’ave a good time, don’t we?’


‘They fink we're gonna riot. Let's show ’em we can ’ave a fuckin’ good time wivout fings like this.’ Pointing to the bandaged pawn.


Okay, so the gig doesn’t pass without further incident, but Jimmy has taken the sting out of the tail. He appeals to your sense of inferiority. The squashed kid's champion always accusing a nebulous, nefarious ‘they’ of being responsible for all of their woes and frustrations.

Jimmy's a big brother warning you of Big Brother. He’s effective because Jimmy loves the limelight, the smell of the greasepaint, the roar of the crowd. Like Bette Midler (with a bit of Henry Cooper), he’s a performer.

He sings like he talks. He's having an intimate chat across a table in the corner of a restaurant, totally focused on you. Swap a serenading violin for tower block guitars and a DM-in-the-bollocks drum and that’s a Sham 69 concert.

Crash, bang, wallop, what a picture. Wherever the band go, the reaction’s the same. The stage becomes the crowd. The kids glorify in Pursey freedom. Close your eyes and you're transported back a year to 1977 BC - Before Clash. Before excitement became subju­gated to stance, style and indoctrination.

It’s a memorable show for all the wrong reasons that eventually become all the right reasons. 

Back in my hotel room I’m a little disappointed that Jimmy left with a bonnie lassie straight after the show. I’ve known him for a year and I’m one of the first people to write about the band after he bombards me with phone calls at Record Mirror telling me how good he is. And when I finally see the band at the Roxy I know he’ll be a star.

So I think he might at least have said goodnight. I mean, who wants to come to Glasgow on a cold, wet Thursday night to watch the William Wallaces get it on?

It’s two am when I get into bed – seven am call. There’s a bang on the door.

‘Open up − police!’ I recognise the voice. Jimmy strolls in with a bottle of Scotch under his arm. ‘Well I couldn’t let a bird come before my pal Barry, if you excuse my French.’

Jimmy Pursey can talk. A lot. He can talk corks out of bottles, forks out of mouths, porks out of pigs, hawks out of hunger. He’s the geezer in the boozer who corners you and never lets you go; the spiv in the market effortlessly selling cheap crockery with immaculate spiel; the Deep South preacher breaking the backs of the gullible and weak.


He talks himself into trouble: he talks himself out of trouble. Talking Head ‘78.  He'll tell you about his life, his strife, his knife, his aspirations: ‘I've done everyfing I wanted in music so far, ’ad a free single and a live side on me first album.’  His fears: ‘I ’ope to God I ain't never gonna change.’ His past:  ‘They stuck a broken bottle in me mate's neck and then stuck ’is ’ead down the toilet while they broke both ’is legs wiv an iron bar. And a few weeks later they beat me up, only worse.’  His fans: ‘All I want them to understand is they should be able to stand up and say anyfing they want to. Don't let other people tell you what to do.’ And his soul: ‘I used to wear Dr Martens too.’

We polish off the bottle in an hour and the world seems a nicer place.

It’s about to get nicer.

Much nicer.

Next episode – A trip on Concorde to Earth Wind & Fire

© Barry Cain 2013


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