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City Baby





praise for City Baby:


‘Unmissable...

an uplifting story of the survival of friendship, principles

and a whole way of life against sometimes overwhelming odds. Ross Lomas and Steve Pottinger have combined to produce a fascinating and essential read.’

Louder Than War


‘Always compelling’

Record Collector


‘Absolutely captivating’

Vive Le Rock


‘Fits perfectly on my bookshelf next to White Line Fever’

Trust (Germany)





City Baby



Ross Lomas

with

Steve Pottinger



Ignite Books

2013





Copyright © Ross Lomas & Steve Pottinger 2013


Ross Lomas & Steve Pottinger have asserted their rights

under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act

to be identified as authors

of this work.


All rights reserved.

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above,

no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in, or

introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any

form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photo-

copying, recording or otherwise) without the prior

written permission of both the copyright owner

and the above publisher of this book.





To Charlotte, Samantha, and Bridget.



This book has been a long time in the making.


I first met Ross when we worked on the Birmingham crew. A little after that, I stage-managed a punk all-dayer. There was Ross, playing bass in GBH. They were brilliant. The crowd loved them. Everyone I knew loved them. No-one had told their story.


So I asked Ross if he’d like to tell his.

He said yes.


The interviews for this book were recorded sitting in the back of my camper van whenever the two of us were both in Brum and had a free day. That was harder to organise than you’d think. But it was worth every minute. It’s been a pleasure to work with Ross, he has some great tales to tell, and I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed putting it together.


all the best


Steve Pottinger


If you want to see what else I get up to, you can find more of my work, blogs and short stories, at stevepottinger.co.uk



My original gratitude list was twice the size of an average town’s telephone directory. People I know and have met, and thousands that I haven’t. Steve suggested I go away and try again. I want you all to know you were on the original list.


Thankyous, apologies, and love to the following:


Nikki Lomas · Barbara Cargill · Barbara Lomas · Donald Lomas · Auntie Pauline · John & Jayne Phipps · Alex Phipps · Daz Barnes · Andrew Simmonds · Helen Simmonds · Kim Lomas · Dan & Jason · ‘Auntie’ Margaret · Roy Crowton · Tony Quinn · Stephen Fellows · Karen & Ross Johns · ‘Big’ Graham Bannister · Paul ‘Fudge’ Rudge · Carol Coombes · Sharon Maher · Sue McCarty · Avril McCarty · Helen Charles · Della Charles · Ybet Molina · John Fletcher · Sharon Fujimoto · Suzi Fujimoto · Linda Aronow · Toscan Elrod · Michel Cook · Juan Jiminez · Kevan Wilkins · ‘Big’ Mick Hughes · Alan Whitaker · John ‘Huggy’ Hughes · Harry Davenport · Richard ‘Tomo’ Thompson · Danny Abrahall · Sally Mason · Hudley Flipside · Frank Visone · Mr & Mrs Visone · Jason Miller · Danny Bianco · Anthony Galetto · Stage Diving Daisy & Steve · Richie & Jesse from Machete · Pete & Sally Wakefield · Pinch Pinching · Matt Graham · Nigel Green · Stuart Simms · Lynn MacKinnon · Adam & Eve’s · Lamp Tavern · Market Tavern · the good people of Vlaardingen · Deb Pagell · Rob Jasper · Eddie Tatar · Dave Perkes · Grace Kennelly · Alan Campbell · Tokyo Hiro · Sean‘o’Hill · Chris Fretwell · Cheryl Geary · Lee · Dave Woodard · David Holm · Amy Nicoletto · Satoki Fujita · Moe Holmes · Stagecraft · John ‘Pedro’ Ennis · John Purcell · Henry Zanoni · Lia Blyth · Thalia Harithas · Jill Bruce, Holly and Lily · Tammy Lees, Jack and George · Sean McCarthy · Andy ‘Wilf’ Williams · Joe Montanaro · Kai Reder · Karl Morris · Micky Coyle · Drongos For Europe · Colin Abrahall · Jock Blyth · Scott Preece · CJ Union Church of Honolulu · Michele Stanger.


To all Punks, Skins, Rastas and Metalheads, bang on Brothers and Sisters, bang on.


Ross Lomas



snapshot



I knew I was making the biggest mistake of my life.


All day, out on the milk float, doing my rounds, I’d hoped there’d be a message from Jock when I got in, letting me know that he’d got the flu, that the pub had burned down, that aliens had landed in the middle of Birmingham, that something had happened, and that the gig was cancelled. Because right now, the idea of getting up on stage was terrifying me.

See, the only times I’d done any performing were all back at school, at Mapledene Juniors. I’d been a knight, I’d danced round the maypole with the other kids, and I’d been one of the three kings - the black one - in the school nativity play. Normal kids stuff. I couldn’t see how any of that was going to help, and I really wished I hadn’t badgered Jock to let me join his band, because now I was going to get up in front of a room full of punks and play bass, and just thinking about it made me want to throw up, or do a runner.

We were in the pub on Birmingham’s punk scene, The Crown on Station Street, upstairs in the little gig room which could squeeze in 150 people on a good night - maybe 200 before the floor gave way and you’d find yourself drinking downstairs in the bar - and we were headlining. I think there were eighty people there. Maybe a hundred if you’re generous. Most of them were mates, which made it worse, because playing to strangers is a thousand times easier than doing it in front of people you know. I looked out at the audience and recognised Fudge and Mouse and Baby Mark and all the skinheads. I saw Carol, and Gary Critchley, and my mate Roy Crowton. The Drongos had just finished playing, so they were there, of course, and so were all the old heads, all the Birmingham punks. All paid 80p each to get in, all waiting for us to start our set and finish the night off.

I’d practised, and I knew I could play. If I wasn’t the best bass player in the world, at least I could bang out some GBH. That wasn’t the problem. But I was quiet and shy, and no way used to being a performer, and I was sure I was going to screw things up. All the way through the first song I was shitting myself, waiting for it all to go wrong. Then I looked across at Colin, and he looked really confident, and that inspired me to think Come on! What the fuck’s the matter with you? And after that it was fine.

We had ten songs, and we played them all, and threw in a really long version of ‘Great Balls Of Fire’ and our take on ‘Wild Thing’ as well, and there was still time for more. So we played some of our songs again, and everyone loved it, even the dodgy characters by the bar. Even me - which was what surprised me most.


I’d been in GBH eight days when I played that gig at The Crown, and by the end of the night I knew I wanted more. I’d loved it. But I never thought it would go anywhere. None of us did.

It’s strange how things work out. By 1982 we were touring the UK. The year after that we went to Germany, America, and Canada. Thirty years later, and GBH is still at it. We’ve never stopped gigging, and we’ve kept the same line-up, and we’re still mates. Still getting up on stage and never quite making a living at it.

This is the story of how we spent thirty years making it up as we go along. It’s the story of my life, too. It’s about writing songs, travelling the world, and having fun. It’s about living without a safety net and - mostly - it’s about getting away with it.


All without anything resembling a plan.



city baby



It all started in the Addams Family house.


In a street of classic suburban houses, inter-war semis with bay windows and pebble-dashing up the outside walls, ours was the one that wasn’t really looked after, the one that let the whole street down. This was where I lived with my dad, who worked for the council as a paver, my mom, who’d been a seamstress when she was younger, then worked at Rover, and ended up as a nursing auxiliary in Solihull maternity hospital, and my sister.

It was out in Sheldon, on the edge of Brum, and to be honest, you wouldn’t rush to Sheldon if it wasn’t home. I mean, there’s not much there - just the Wheatsheaf pub, a few shops, and lots and lots and lots of houses. In 1938, the local paper reported Sheldon had One cinema in action, fried fish shops, and the various accompaniments of modern civilization! I guess people got more excited about that back then, but nowadays - well, Sheldon’s not a big tourist draw, especially now the cinema’s gone.

It was a great place to grow up as a kid. Me and Tony Quinn - my best mate and colleague in crime right through my childhood - played football every hour we could. We climbed trees, scrumped apples, and stole birds’ eggs. We lobbed bricks through greenhouses just to hear the glass smash, legged it, and hoped not to get caught. At weekends or in school holidays we’d head over to Sheldon golf-course, and hide out there for the day. We’d nick any golf balls we could lay our hands on, then sell them later. 20p each. A lucrative little side-line which kept us in chocolate, pop, and cigarettes. If the golf-course security came after us, we’d leg it. If they got too close we’d throw golf balls at ’em. And if any of the flashers up there bothered us - every now and then you’d hear a rustle, and a strange man would appear out of the bushes - we’d throw golf balls at them too. All good, clean, healthy fun.


At this point, I still liked school. I was at a tiny little school out on the edge of the city, Mapledene Junior School, which had an eye-catching uniform of green blazer with gold trim, and a gold crest of a maple leaf on the breast pocket. Very Harry Potter - except that Mapledene was right next to the runway at Birmingham airport, so the whole building rattled and vibrated each time a plane took off. You’d be halfway through a lesson, and two hundred people would fly over on their way to Alicante. We just thought it was normal.

Discipline was strict. Mr Bates, the teacher, would give you a smack on the back of the legs in the morning, whether you needed it or not, but that was entirely normal. We’d line up, first thing in the morning, before we went in to class, and if we weren’t in a straight line - Slap! - on the back of the legs. Just to get us ready for the day. That or a cuff round the ear. Nothing malicious in it, just discipline being exercised, a little reminder of where you were. We had it lucky compared to the Catholic schools. Tony’s school, Thomas More, was packed with nuns, and the atmosphere was totally different from Mapledene. The nuns smelt of disinfectant, authority, and power, in one unholy trinity, and the kids were really careful not to annoy them in any way at all.

At home, my folks were unbelievably easy-going. There was no racism, no political diatribes, just a good set of values and a Vesta curry on a friday night. My mom would hit me with a frayed old bamboo stick - I think it had been passed down to her from her mom, and her mom in turn, it was practically a family heirloom - if she felt I needed it, but my folks taught me and my sister what was good and what was bad, and left it at that. For the early ’70s that was going it some.


My dad loved football. When England got to the World Cup final in ’66 he sent me and my mom on a coach trip to Cheddar Gorge for the day so he could watch the game and have some beers with some mates. Which is how I ended up listening to the final on the radio with the world’s most miserable coach driver who wanted to be at home watching it on TV as well. England - look away if you don’t want to know the score - won, beating Germany 4-2, and now, like every other kid, I wanted to play football every waking minute, to be Geoff Hurst, or Bobby Moore, or Nobby Stiles. So my dad took me along to watch Birmingham City.

My memories are of everyone drinking in the pubs round the ground till the last minute, till five to three, then rushing down to get in. These were the years of Star Soccer on ITV, with Hugh Johns. The clock in the corner at the Railway End, advertising Davenports beer. My first pie, my first Bovril. The smell of piss and cigars. The bogs on the Tilton End hidden behind a cloud of steam at half-time as thousands of blokes took a piss on a cold winter’s day. Before long, my football heroes were Johnny Vincent, or Trevor Hockey, or any of the Blues players, and Geoff and Bobby and Nobby were last year’s news.

My dad didn’t just take me down the Blues, he even played football with me, in that kick-it-around-the-back-garden way that dads do. And seeing as I loved football above just about everything else, and played for Mapledene in the school league (started in goal, moved to right wing, very versatile, criminally underrated, best days behind me now) I couldn’t have been happier. Right up to the point where he broke his leg.

I was eight. And it was all my fault. That’s what I thought, anyway. We’d been playing football in the back garden as usual, I kicked the ball to my dad, he turned to get it, and his right leg didn’t. It stayed where it was, there was an almighty Crack! and my dad went down like a sack of spuds. He had a compound fracture of the tibia, he needed six pins and a plate in his leg, he was on the sick for the best part of a year, and I was left riddled by guilt.

So when Mr Bates took me out of class - no-one else, just me - walked me down the corridor to a stock room, and said Come in here I thought there was something unpleasant coming, something I probably deserved. He shut the door behind us, pointed at a rack of old school clothes, blazers and the like, and told me Try one of those on. My dad was off work, money was tight and was going to be for a while, and my folks couldn’t afford a new uniform. The school knew all this, so they sorted everything out, and took me to one side to do it, so the other kids didn’t have to know. Again, for the time, that’s going it some, I reckon.

It’s no surprise my dad never played football with me again - he never quite walked properly from then on - but he did go back to work. And he took me with him. In my school holidays and weekends I helped him build the NEC - the National Exhibition Centre - this brand-new state-of-the-art complex out where the countryside started and the city stopped. It took years. I was only ten when I started, but I’d do a bit of this, a bit of that, a bit of the other. I worked with my dad, landscaping the gardens and the flag mound, I helped mix compo, I fetched people’s sandwiches, I made them their teas, and I got a proper wage packet. There were loads of guys working on the job, but I think my presence made all the difference. Take a look at that flag mound if you’re not sure - worth £2.50 a week in anybody’s money.

That’s what the guys clubbed together and paid me: £2.50 a week. Undreamed of riches to a kid. What did I do? I went out and bought an album - and being as Slade’s ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ was all over the charts, the first one I bought was Slayed? Then it was something by Mud, and, later on, Showaddywaddy. Remember them? They had two drummers, and when you’re a kid that’s really special. So special I went and saw them at the Odeon in 1974, so very special I joined the fan club (Ross Lomas, life member, still owed a few newsletters Mr Bartram, if you’re reading).


I also took up smoking.


I was about nine when I started experimenting with cigarettes. Most of the kids I knew smoked, or tried to. Just about every adult we saw had a fag in their hand, and we wanted to be grown-up too. This meant a lot of nine-year-olds in Sheldon smelt strongly of tobacco, and I was one of them. After all, I had ready access - my mom smoked Carltons, and when she was working nights at the hospital, and had left her fags at home, I’d help myself.

At first it was just one or two, but then it got out of hand. You see, Carltons came as two packs of ten in a twenty. So when you finished the first ten you had to rip the silver paper off the other lot to start them. And it got to the stage where my mom’d go out and there’d be fifteen in the packet, then she’d come home and there’d be five or six. So it was pretty obvious what was happening. But she never said anything.

Then one day I must have left one burning in the kitchen, and she came back and said If you’re going to smoke, smoke your own! and threw a packet of ten Cadets at me. I was a bit older than nine then. Even I wouldn’t let a kid smoke at nine. I was thirteen, fourteen, I reckon. And I smoked right up till five years ago, when I stopped in case it stunted my growth.

Football, cigarettes, music, and a bit of manual labour. These early years set the pattern for my life. The odd and the unusual drew me in and intrigued me too. And Sheldon had its fair share of the weird and the wonderful. For starters, there was Vera Caton.

Vera was probably ten years older than me. He always wore an anorak with a purple shirt buttoned up tight, and trousers that were far too short, and he was always walking along in a hurry, leaning forward, rushing along with a brick in his patchwork bag, pretending it was shopping. Can’t stop! Shopping! and he’d bustle off at speed. Why was he called Vera? I’ve no idea. He didn’t dress as a woman or anything. He was just... Vera. I never thought to ask why.

Now, Vera never went in a shop in his life - why would he when he already had the brick? - but he did run a cinema. For 20p you could go to Vera’s garden shed and he’d get his torch, show to your seat on a wooden bench, and sit you down. Then he’d go to his little projection room and get the film ready. Most of the time he got films in before Sheldon cinema did, before they were even released, which meant you got to see them before anyone else. Which was fantastic. And sometimes, if you were short of cash, Vera would let you in if you pretended to give him 20p.

But then that was fine, because Vera was only pretending to show films. He showed make-believe films in a make-believe cinema, and when Vera shouted Interval! he’d sell you make-believe ice-creams too. It was completely off the wall. It was loads of fun. I went to Vera’s right up till I was sixteen, because he had some really good films. I even took a girlfriend once, though I’m not sure she liked the film... There was nothing dodgy about it all. Vera didn’t have any ‘special’ boys, it wasn’t as if he got you in the shed to touch you up. He just liked showing films and running a cinema. And shopping. Can’t stop! Shopping! Shopping!

Vera was wonderful. The loony kid wasn’t. You’d be out on the playing fields, having a kickabout, and he’d jump out of the bushes and scare the living daylights out of you, because he was truly odd. He’d stare at you and then he’d ask


Wanna shake my hand?

Wha’?

Come on, shake my hand! Do you love me?

Wha’??!!


Back then, as a kid, I never thought of people doing things with other people in bushes, but a couple of times you’d see someone head into the bushes with him. Grown-ups. Now that I’m older and wiser I know what the crack was. Then, I didn’t. He’d disappear, then he’d jump out again a few minutes later.


Wanna shake my hand? D’you love me? Love me in the bushes?

No! I wanna play football! Fuck off!


The boy was my age, and he clearly wasn’t all there, and he was being abused, when you come down to it. Well fucked-up. God knows what his mom and dad were thinking.

And then there was the guy on the three-wheeler, on a big old tricycle with a basket on it. He was a midget, he looked like a munchkin, and he wore a bus-conductor’s hat. He’d sit at the bus stop in Sheldon all day, on his tricycle, noting down bus numbers, and then he’d pedal off home, and Tony Quinn and me would see who wanted to buy our golf balls.


Looking back, growing up in Sheldon nurtured three talents in me (four if you count my skills down the right wing). I was great at throwing things - golf balls at flashers, or bricks through greenhouses - and I was even better at running away, generally from people I’d thrown golf balls at, or who owned a greenhouse. They were the kind of talents any kid should learn. And on top of that, I’d learned to be curious about life on the fringes, about the Veras of this world.

None of those talents were much use at Mapledene, but I guess I thrived there, as much as any kid who lives for football can. And in the end I passed my 11+, which was pretty good going for someone at a school quite so perilously close to jet engines moving past at speed, and at the end of that summer I turned up at Central Grammar full of enthusiasm for a big adventure. There was a lecture theatre. And a big sports field. Proper teachers with mortar boards and capes. And it was going to be wonderful.


I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was a fucking prison.



attacked by rats



I entered Central Grammar full of hope and expectation, and left five years later with no qualifications and an abiding distrust of authority.


What went wrong? Just about everything.


The place was a poisonous mix of the incompetent, the brutal, and the truly fucking bizarre. It had been an all-boys school for over a hundred years, the teachers were all old mortar-board and cape, most of them were gay - not that there’s anything wrong with that, but back then they had to keep it under wraps, and we got the brunt of it - and far too many of them had problems and used to take it out on the kids. We’d been brought up to expect a clip behind the ear, or a slap on the legs, but now it all went up a notch or two, or three, because - as teachers - none of them were equipped to deal with teenage boys. Which meant we weren’t really taught, just corralled. Kept in one place while our hormones raged, till they sent us out to get a job.

It wasn’t education, or anything close. It was a war of attrition, pure and simple. They handed out the beatings, we did our best to make their lives hell, and between us we fought each other to a stalemate.

We had one teacher, who we nicknamed Cag because he had an old Vauxhall which went cag-cag-cag as it came up the drive to school. He was Welsh and he taught French and you couldn’t understand what he said in English, let alone a foreign language, so he was on a hiding to nothing. Anyway, the slightest little thing and he’d be off. Ranting round the room shouting I used to fly bombers in the war for cunts like you, you... guttersnipe. We found this hilarious, so we’d wind him up even more. In return, he’d physically beat us, or throw chairs round the room. He was also the medical officer, so after he’d given you a good beating, he’d say See you in my medical room at dinnertime.

You knew what was going to happen when you got there. There’d be a queue of seven or eight kids - usually me, Tony Quinn, David Ashurst, Tony Comerford, Steve Jones and a couple of others - and Cag would open the door. Come in, Lomas, come in! all sweetness and light. But as soon as he’d shut the door, it’d be You fucking bastard! and he’d chase you round the room and smack the shit out of you. Now the teachers whose staffroom was opposite the medical room knew exactly what was going on - there was no way they could not know - and they never did a thing. You’d open the door, all sweaty and dishevelled, rubbing your arse, and he’d be Thank you, Lomas. Feel better now, eh? Next! You, Quinn, come in! And it’d all kick off again with whoever was in there.

If it wasn’t Cag, it was someone else. There was this one teacher who kept his slipper in the stockroom. If he was in the mood, it’d be Come in the stockroom, Lomas! and you’d go in the stockroom and he’d get Fang, his plimsoll. I mean what kind of guy gives his slipper a name? I can’t remember his name now, but I do know he was a ju-jitsu expert, and when he got you in that stockroom he’d truly plimsoll the fucking shit out of you.

Or there was Mr Peck the art teacher, Gregory Peck to one and all. He’d come up behind you and start massaging your neck Oh no, here we go... because he was another martial arts expert, and he’d massage your neck till he found the spot, and he’d press. And you’d be out cold while Gregory moved along to the next victim, wafting round the art room, round his domain, leaving a trail of unconscious boys behind him.

There was no point in complaining to anyone about all this. Where would you go? The deputy head? Not a chance. He was another weird fish. In fact, I don’t think there was a teacher in the school who didn’t have something strange about them. Every single one had a quirk. But the deputy head was particularly odd. If you were in detention - and I was in detention a lot - he’d make you do this thing where you had to dance across the floor with your knees together. What that was about, god knows. I dread to think. If you hadn’t danced to his satisfaction he’d give you a Thwack! with this big long ruler, then get you to do it again. Pain and humiliation, and no escape, until I sussed that even if the detention room was on the second floor, you could jump out of the window and land safely on the grass outside. So I’d dance my way over to the window, open it, tell him Fuck you! jump out, and leg it. There was one exception to this: if detention was in the library, you were stuffed. The windows were too high to climb out of, so you were trapped in detention for the full hour, dancing with your knees together.... And then you had to deal with the goat.

The walk home from Central Grammar was a mile-and-a-half, through the fields and over the train tracks, and in the fields was the goat. A nasty, old, foul-tempered goat. You’d be on your way back from detention in the winter, in the dark, a group of thirteen-year-old schoolboys, and suddenly one of you would go flying through the air. And you knew. You knew the goat was out there in the darkness, waiting. But you couldn’t see a thing, and you’d no idea where he was... And then he’d sneak up behind another one of you, and butt you into the middle of next week. It was terrifying. We knew how to fight back against teachers. Against the goat we didn’t stand a hope.

So between the teachers and the goat, we were pretty much screwed. But just in case that wasn’t enough, there was sport. In the summer, it wasn’t so bad. Mr Weightman, the sports teacher, who was an upstanding bloke, didn’t rely on beating the crap out of you to show who was in charge, and I actually looked forward to his lessons. He reckoned I had athletic potential, and so he encouraged me, helped me along. He’d have me doing the 100m, 200m, long jump, triple jump, anything like that. All those years of running away from people whose greenhouses I’d broken gave me a natural advantage over the other kids - I’d had years of training they could only dream of. Summer sports were great. Winter was something else entirely.

Probably every kid in the country can remember playing football or rugby at school in winter, on a playing field that was dogshit and mud, with the rain pouring down or a north wind blowing sleet in your eyes. Crying because it was so fucking miserable and cold and your hands were turning blue. And on the touchline there’d be teachers shouting at you to Pull your socks up! Get on with it! even if there was inches of snow on the ground and grown men would have given it up as a bad job and gone home. Nothing but nothing stopped school sports. However bad the weather was, you’d be out there, running around in shorts being yelled at by teachers wrapped up in ten layers of clothing or more, big heavy greatcoats, scarves, hats, the fucking works. All that was normal. We probably built an empire on the back of it - I don’t know, I hated history.

But sport at Central Grammar was special. First off, you were supposed to play with no underwear on, and then put your kit on. That’s how they did it. The teachers who were taking games - some of whom had no Physical Education qualifications whatsoever, by the way - would check to make sure you took your underwear off when you were getting changed. And if you forgot your shorts, tough. You played without your shorts. No excuses, no exceptions.

The more you think about it, the weirder it is. Did they hate us that much? Did they do it for kicks? We were eleven or twelve years old, and if we forgot our shorts, school policy was we played half-naked, wearing our top, and our boots, with our tackle hanging out for the world to see. Puberty was kicking in, so it was an embarrassing time to be running around in front of anyone with your bits out, but there we were, out on the school playing fields, with a couple of teachers who had nothing to do with sport looking on. There was a teacher who reminded me of Norman Tebbit: pinstripe suit, starched shirt, tie, patent leather shoes, perfectly turned out. He never looked you in the eye, he’d always flick his gaze away. He wasn’t even taking the lessons, but he’d be there every week, watching. Just watching.


Is it any wonder I thought school was bullshit?




wagging off*

*wag off (v): to play truant, to be absent from school.



I’ve total respect for those kids who knuckled down at Central Grammar, because I think anything they learned and achieved was totally down to them and nothing to do with the teachers. Apart from Mr Weightman I don’t remember one single teacher who inspired me to want to learn. The longer I was there, the more I wagged off.

I didn’t tell my folks, of course. I’d get up in the morning, put my uniform on, grab some toast, and leave for school. I just never quite got there. Instead I’d hang out in the park with my mates, playing football and baiting the wag-man. The Birmingham City Council Truant Officer, to give him his proper title. We’d wait till he got about ten yards away, then give him the fingers and take off. When it came to sprinting I was one of the best. You little bastard! Come back here!


Nope. Ain’t never going to happen.


We got to know Les the park keeper, the ex-boxer, and we’d sit with him in his office while he told us his old war stories, or tales of life in the ring. Sometimes we’d have a few cans, and a couple of roll-ups, and if Will Sheehy brought his home-made poteen - his dad had a still in the back garden - we’d get slaughtered. Roll-ups and poteen could get messy, and then Les would open up the dressing rooms for us and let us have a kip. Or if Charlie Wag-man came round looking for us, we’d hide in one of the lock-ups and Les would cover for us. He was a diamond bloke.

Life was slowly taking shape. I loved football - I’d wag school for a kickabout, to go to Blues away games, or even to watch their reserve games - and I hated school. It seemed to me like school just got in the way of all the important things in life, like football, like hanging about with my mates, or listening to someone like Les talk about his life. Any of that sure as hell beat the shit out of being leered at by teachers when you’d forgotten your shorts.

I still went along to school about as often as I wagged off, but there was only one day when I actually looked forward to it. And that was the day we amalgamated with Byng Kenrick School, next door.

Byng Kenrick was an all-girls school, the other side of a wire-mesh fence from Central Grammar, and we must have amalgamated when I was about thirteen. Before that, separation was rigorously imposed. You could only have the most fleeting of contact through that wire-mesh fence before the spotlight came on, the tower guards started firing, and the alsatians were unleashed. Step away from the fence, Lomas! Watching the girls on the other side was like looking at another species. And then we amalgamated, and the world turned upside-down.

Some of our teachers couldn’t handle it. Suddenly they had to be in contact with females, and for a couple of them this was the final straw, and their resolve broke. Our school, being all-boys, had been one of the last sanctuaries for men who really didn’t like women or girls at all. And now it was gone, and half of every class was girls. I remember going to school the first day after we’d amalgamated, and it was different. It smelt... fragrant. And it was full of girls we’d never seen or talked to before, other than through the fence. It was like the Berlin Wall coming down. There were boys brim-full of testosterone, and girls in short skirts with shirts unbuttoned down to here, and all of us going Whoo-hoo! walking around with a spring in our step and a glint in our eye.

There were new lessons in fraternisation, exploration, and naughtiness. Tony Quinn didn’t waste any time at all. I can’t remember the girl’s name - and perhaps she should stay nameless - but they were in the Domestic Studies block, and Tony was... performing... with about ten of us looking through the window at him, cheering. Then Mr Hutton turned up, barking What’s going on here? Move, boys! Move! He pushed his way through us, and suddenly he didn’t know where to put himself or what to do. I don’t think he’d seen anything like it before. Complete apoplexy. That set the tone from there on in, for Tony at least. He was always one step ahead when it came to girls. Not like me. I was still too shy to talk to girls. One of them came up to me once, and asked if I wanted a shag.


Fuck off! I told her I’m playing football!


I mentioned it to Tony, and of course he was in there like a shot. But nothing interfered with my football. Nothing.

It changed the whole atmosphere of school, that amalgamation. Any half-naked sports were entirely extra-curricular now, not on the rugby pitch. And there were a whole raft of new teachers, with a different set of quirks. Mr Jones would bring his girlfriend to sports on fridays in summer, and get her to measure the long jump, wearing a short skirt with no underwear. They obviously knew just what they were doing, the two of them, and they were getting off on it, while we didn’t know where to look. At that age, you can’t believe she knows what she’s doing, exposing herself, but you do find yourself looking forward to summer games....


Is your girlfriend coming today, sir?

No, she’s not, Lomas.

Thwack!


I even put myself down for the school trip to Wales. A weekend in the countryside, with a trip to a hydro-electric power plant and an old mine, and the opportunity to broaden our horizons under the supervision of the accompanying teachers. It wasn’t that I’d developed an interest in energy-generation, more that this was a mixed group, and Tony Quinn had convinced me I needed to make up for lost time. That had to be worth a few hours trundling up the A5 in an old blue Commer van.

So we got to our base, a couple of cabins next to a hydro-electric dam, and that afternoon the teachers took us down to the local village, with pen and paper, and told us to note down traffic flow and the like. We weren’t daft. We knew this was just to keep us out of the way while they went down the pub smoking and drinking, but seeing as it gave us a chance to mingle with the girls, we were fine with that. It gave us time to make plans.

At the end of the day, they segregated us: girls would sleep in the one cabin, we’d sleep in the other. And with that came the obligatory warning:You’re not allowed out of your billet till morning! Five minutes after the lights were out, Tony and myself - inspired by a childhood spent watching Escape From Stalag Luft III - had rolled up our spare clothes and left them heaped under our blankets so it looked like we were still in bed, then sneaked across to the other cabin for a bit of cross-pollination. We’d no sooner got in there and jumped into bed with the girls than ‘click!’ the lights went on. The teachers were waiting for us. Quinn! Lomas! ’Raus! and we trooped back, under guard and in disgrace. Again.

Just because girls had turned up, it didn’t mean anything had changed, not for the hard-core of us who thought the whole business of education was bullshit. Being at school was still like being at war. Being beaten over nothing, and forced to play sport half-undressed for teachers’ entertainment had turned me into an angry young man who wasn’t going to back down for anyone. In every war, there are casualties. You just try and make sure it’s not you. Mr O’Shea, the Physics teacher, who had a lovely voice, and would sing with us on Paddy’s Day, he had a breakdown. The fifth-formers pushed him, and pushed, and pushed till he cracked, and next thing he was dancing around on the tables in the laboratory, kicking over bunsen burners left right and centre, and doing an Irish jig.

As for Cag, he had a heart attack, right there in the classroom. He broke down crying, slumped into a chair, then he went grey. I remember him saying You boys don’t know what you’re doing to me.... Someone went and got another teacher, and they took him away in an ambulance, and all I could think was Fuck him, I really don’t care because by now I had no interest in learning anything. It was us or them, and by this point I’d rather it was them.

Some teachers got caught in the crossfire. Like the RE teacher, a really shy woman who joined us after the amalgamation. She shouldn’t have been teaching kids, not kids like us anyway, because we took advantage. Mercilessly. What cracked her up in the end was teaching us about Judaism. She had to mention circumcision, and that meant using words she’d never normally say, and saying them to a class of smirking teenage boys. The thought terrified her. She tried to get round it by mumbling really quietly.


So they have to cut the .....

What, miss?

They cut the...erm... pe....

Sorry, miss. Can’t hear you!

The... the... pe...

The what, miss??

Penis! Penis! FUCKING PENIS!!!!


And she was never the same again.


There was quite a high attrition rate among the teachers. Were we particularly horrid as a school? I really can’t say. By the point all this was happening, I’d no interest in learning anything. Maybe it was simply in my nature to give it the Vs. Everyone’s got it to a degree haven’t they? I had it then, I have it now. But school brought it right to the fore, and left me with no tolerance for authority figures who abuse their position. Even now, if someone tries to order me around, to make out they know a whole bunch and I know nothing, then I won’t have it. Looking back, I feel kind of sorry for those kids who did want to learn and get on with it, but I wasn’t putting up with that shit. Not then, not now, not ever.

It’s no surprise I got expelled. It’s just a surprise it took so long. I wasn’t at school much, and when I was there I wasn’t an attentive pupil. I walked out of the only exam I sat. There were two hundred kids sitting in the sports hall in deathly silence, and I thought This is bullshit! Why should my whole future hang on how I do in an exam? So I got up and walked out. The teachers tried to stop me, but they couldn’t. And at the end of that year, my fourth year in secondary school, the report I got made it clear the school had given up on me, too.


What a waste of a young man’s life. This boy has done nothing, and will achieve nothing.


If I could remember what he looked like I could give this boy a report.


I didn’t go back till next term, the autumn of 1977. I was in the fifth-form, and more unbiddable than ever. The end came in November, when I smacked this teacher for trying to confiscate my cigarettes. The bell had gone for the end of the day, and I was on my way home, still on school property but two yards from freedom. I’d got my cigarettes out, though I hadn’t actually sparked up, and this teacher grabbed me. So I smacked him, and that was pretty much that.

For the next week I played the old trick, and pretended to my parents I’d gone to school each day while I waited for the postman to come with the inevitable letter, so I could intercept it. Sure enough, a few days later it dropped through the letterbox. I opened it, read it, and was outraged. ...vicious assault... blah blah.... serious breach... unless Ross apologises... blah blah blah... meeting... sort this out or he cannot be a member of this establishment...

I couldn’t believe it. Why hadn’t they expelled me on the spot? And as for a vicious assault on Mr Foster - yes, I hit him, but he started it. There was only one thing to do. I wasn’t going to show my mom and dad the letter, I was going to deal with this myself.

So I marched up to the school in my t-shirt and jeans, and went straight to the headmaster’s office. They had this traffic light system on his door. Green, and you could go in; red, and you had to stand behind a line and wait. I pressed the buzzer. The light turned red. Fuck this! I thought, and barged in.

There was the headmaster, sitting behind his desk.


Why aren’t you in uniform, boy?!

I waved the letter at him. I ain’t fucking apologising!

Get out!

Fuck you!


And that was it. I never darkened their doors again. Do I regret it? No. Not at all. The sense of freedom I had when I marched into the headmaster’s office, with the expulsion letter in my hand, ignoring the traffic-light system, and confronted him.... it was worth it. I know some people don’t rebel, however much they’d want to, because they’re scared, or need the job or the money and can’t tell the boss to go fuck themselves, but I’ve lived my life so I don’t have to. I do it now, and I did it then, and I’ve no regrets whatsoever.


I was sixteen.

I hadn’t a qualification to my name.

I was finished with school.


And now I was going to be a punk.



punk



It was Xmas Eve before I told my mom I was expelled. She was putting up the Xmas decorations at the time, and she fell off the chair. When she’d got back up on her feet she did the usual Wait till your dad comes home routine, but her heart wasn’t in it, and he didn’t do anything. I don’t think he was either bothered or surprised. The wag man had been coming round every week for the past few years anyway. Charlie Wagman, we called him. If I was lying in bed and heard a knock at the front door, I knew it was him. He’d always shout Hello Mr Lomas! and I’d hear my dad at the door, going It’s this punk rock thing. You know, what can I do? He’d shrug his shoulders. He was all right till this punk rock started.

In a way, my dad was right. But then he could just as easily have laid the blame elsewhere. If Central Grammar hadn’t been such an awful place, punk rock could have simply passed me by. It might just have been another musical fashion I listened to in passing, which I liked but didn’t love. But five years at that school, being corralled and beaten rather than educated, was more than enough to make sure I’d never, ever toe the line again. Which meant punk, and its in-yer-face rebellion, were going to be right up my street.

At that age, your early teens, with your body changing and your hormones raging, you’re working out who you are, what makes you tick, what you want to do and how you want to look. You’re experimenting, come what may. When the first curry house opened in Sheldon, me and Tony Quinn and Dave Ashurst would save our pocket money, go down there, buy a vindaloo, head over the park and have a competition to see who could eat the vindaloo. It was torture by spices, and we all failed miserably (but did build up our tolerance for curries, and an addiction to cold cans of Tizer).

I digress, but you get the point. Teenage years aren’t just hard to beat, they’re all about exploration. And music’s an important part of that. I’d started off listening to the Glam stuff, like Slade - I’d spent my first week’s wages from the NEC on buying their album, remember - and then one day I’d been round my mate Roy’s house, wagging off school, or on a weekend, or whatever it was, and he had a couple of Alex Harvey albums. That was the moment I realised there was more to music than what you saw on TV. My musical exploration began right there. And continued at - of all places - Comet on the Coventry Road.

Comet was an electrical store, somewhere you’d go to buy a cheap hi-fi, or a tumble dryer, which makes it an unexpected choice of record shop. But for some reason which I never understood, Comet used to sell albums as well as washing machines. They sold them really cheap, and there was nowhere else in Sheldon to go. So I’d wander down there with Roy - who ended up doing the GBH artwork, by the way - and browse through what they had to offer. I bought the Alex Harvey I’d listened to at Roy’s, and then I saw the cover of an album called Stupidity, by Dr Feelgood. Hmmm, I thought, that looks interesting. I’d never heard of them before, but I splashed out and bought it. £2.40 I think it was. I got home, played it, and it blew my socks off. I loved it. Well before punk, it was Dr Feelgood, and Wilko’s guitar playing, that made me think Music! I really want to be doing this. Not in any thought-through kind of way, just that sense of a possibility that this could be my thing, something I’d enjoy. There was a long way to go yet before I’d do anything about it.


I was drifting between scenes. Seeing what was around, listening to what my friends were into, finding out what worked for me. There was a whole bunch of people in Sheldon, some of whom would later get involved in punk, who were interested in music generally, that I fed into. There was the Northern Soul community - I went up to Blackpool with them once, and it was carnage - and there were loads of skinheads, too. And it was some of them who talked me into shaving all my hair off, just before my sixteenth birthday. I’d already got my mom to cut my hair short, but although she could turn her hands to most things and was a pretty good hairdresser, it wasn’t short enough. So these mates dragged me up the barber’s in Sheldon, up Comberton Road, and he just scalped me. The fucking lot came off. And because they used to do it with an open cut-throat razor in those days, when he did round the top of the ears he nicked them, so I came back home with my ears dangling off, and our mom had a fucking heart attack.

So I was getting into music. I was listening to Alex Harvey and Doctor Feelgood, buying music papers and stuff like that. And then I saw the Sex Pistols on the TV and it all kicked off.


Punk rock. The bane of parents’ lives all over Britain.


The music that was going to bring the country to its knees, if you believed what you read in the papers. Well, that sounded good enough to me. I’d had it up to here with school, and being treated like shit. I was ready to rebel, and punk felt right.

It wasn’t just me, either. Up and down the country, kids were doing the same thing, getting into something that felt like it set them free. There was one girl at our school who was a complete inspiration. She was really quiet, and really shy. If you saw her walking along she’d have her head down, eyes on the ground, minding her own business, and you’d probably never even notice her. And then one day, before punk really took off - I mean she was the first punk I ever saw - she turned up at school and she’d dyed her hair black, she had black eye make-up on, black lipstick, and she was wearing black bin-liners covered in safety pins. I nearly fell off my chair. The teachers couldn’t deal with it at all. I remember seeing her getting stopped in the corridor by Mr Hutton, and he was ranting and raving at her, and she was just looking at the ground. And you knew that everything he was saying was just going in one ear and straight out the other, and it was driving him mad and there was nothing he could do about it. My rebellion was nothing in comparison - the top button on my shirt was undone, and I’d safety-pinned the school crest onto my blazer - but Diane Teasdale went straight in at the deep end. In the emerging Birmingham punk scene, this was enough to make her a legend. She was still shy, though. And so was I. Fifteen years slipped by before I finally talked to her. Punk did a lot of things for me, but it didn’t make me any less nervous around girls, not for years...


So like I say, I’d been a skinhead, and a wannabe hooligan. Now I was slowly but surely becoming a punk, or at least getting drawn into that scene. The first proper punk gig I ever saw was on Paddy’s Day, 1977, in the Odeon on New Street. The Damned supported T-Rex, and it was an amazing gig. I’d sneaked out of the house and caught the bus into town for that one. I was there to see The Damned, but I thought I’ll stick around for Marc Bolan to say I’ve actually seen him, and he was great too. The Damned, though, I’d never seen anything like them, they were fucking brilliant. They were only on for fifteen or twenty minutes, but I’ll never forget it. I was completely captivated. The songs, the image, the intensity - I loved it all. If I hadn’t been before, I was hooked now. From then on, punk took over my life.

There was a pub called The Bulls Head up the Coventry Road, in Hay Mills, which started putting on a disco every Wednesday, rejoicing in the title of Vic Vomit’s Punk Disco at the Psychedelic Horse at the Bulls Head, and we’d sneak into that whenever we could. That was an eye-opener. It was completely radical - people wearing clothes with zips and chains on tight drainpipe trousers and so on - and you’ve got to remember, back then no-one had ever seen anything like that. Dress like that, and you might as well come from another planet. I knew it was what I wanted. All my trousers were the normal baggy cut, so I’d tape them up so I wouldn’t look out of place, and make them really tight. Punk was about attitude, and in the early days a lot of punk - like the bin-bag outfit - was do-it-yourself. Cheap, if not what most people would call cheerful.

Vic Vomit’s sometimes put on bands, too. The main Birmingham punk band at the time was called Model Mania, and we saw them up there, and a student band called The MPs, who were all right, too. That was a big deal, to me. Punk wasn’t something done a million miles away by people you’d never see - it was in a pub just down the road, being played by people you’d bump into in town, who you might know to say Hallo to. I got more and more into the music. Back home, I rigged up a 250-watt amp to my record-player. I’d worked out how to do it all by myself, and now the music I loved was blaring out full-blast down the whole street, with cracks appearing in the ceiling... I was listening to all sorts of nastiness. The Alex Harvey Band, and Doctor Feelgood, but a lot of the early punk stuff as well. Like 999....

I nearly got to see them when they played Birmingham in November ’77, supporting The Runaways. Nearly, but not quite. I was still at school, and they were going to play at the Odeon, where I’d seen The Damned eight months before, so I wagged off with Tony Quinn and we headed into town with this Svengali-figure from Sheldon called Martin Tupper, who was a big T-Rex fan. It was hours till the gig, so we trawled up the Holiday Inn, where the bands were staying. We found out what rooms they were in, and - bold as brass, with me and Tony in our school uniforms - we took the lift up to the floor they were on and got in their rooms. I’ve no idea how, or why, but we find ourselves in Joan Jett’s room. Next thing, Martin’s lying on Joan Jett’s bed, with a tampon in his hand, sniffing it.

Now, I was sixteen, and painfully, painfully shy. If I had to talk to girls I didn’t know, I’d make funny noises, or make them laugh, because I was so nervous. Or I’d wait fifteen years, like I did with Diane. Sometimes if I was walking down the street and saw a girl walking towards me I’d have to cross the road, so I really wasn’t comfortable with being in Joan Jett’s room, with a mate sniffing one of her tampons. It put me on edge. What if she comes in? What do I do? What do I say? After what seems like an age, Martin’s had enough and decides we should go back down to the lobby. So we get in the lift, and Joan Jett’s in there, with the rest of The Runaways.

It was too much. I had all my hormones raging, I’ve just been in Joan Jett’s bedroom, and now there she is, right in front of me. Tight trousers, wonderful arse. I could reach out and touch her if I dared... which was all way, way, waaaaay too much. We got downstairs, and there’s 999 who we’d originally gone to see, and Martin’s chatting to The Runaways, and we’re going to be hanging out with them all. It was perfect, and I couldn’t handle it. I just fucked off. Tony hooked up with the bands all day and only came back to Sheldon at the end of the night, getting off the bus waving a pair of drumsticks he’d blagged. Me? I didn’t even go to the gig.


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