King Kurt On the Road – Destruction in Durham, 1983

Durham University Student’s Union – 1983

Level of Drunkenness : Fairly Pissed
Gig rating : **
Damage to Establishment: *****
Arrests Made :
Messiness : *****!
Bootleg Available : Unknown

Without dispute the messiest gig ever, surpassing even the destruction of the 101 Club in Clapham back in ’82 when King Kurt had made the fool-hardy decision to allow the drummer from skinhead band Combat ’84 to stand-in during the support act, “Fear”, whose own drummer had mysteriously broken all his fingers. We all got fairly well beat up that night, and so did the club. More about that gig in another post and in returning to far-away Durham we begin, as always the night before.

The night had been in Edinburgh, the band’s first ever Scottish gig and a kind of homecoming for deer-stalking Kurt drummer and band leader Rory Lyons. They played to a crowd of hundreds in the basement of some big venue while glam-rock legends Kiss performed to thousands in the main hall upstairs. There had been a lively bar-scene at the gig, we met Watty from The Exploited there, and I was able to fill him in with some background on a charitable act he and his band had performed a year or so previously. The Scots gig-goers turned out to be amongst the friendliest we had met on the tour so far, and we had been inundated with invitations to post-gig parties. We choose the one with the most girls going but something had gone wrong and the night had ended up with us, Onions and Grimsby, sleeping out on the moors.

We awoke at dawn, so cold we figured the brass monkey had got a result, and hitched our way to Durham. Hitching a lift isn’t so easy when your clothes are covered in almost literally caked-on flour, eggs, smegma, baked beans, blood, oil, manure, vomit, beer, urine, and the other detritus that gathers on one’s clothing at King Kurt gigs. But a group of workmen picked us up pretty quickly, judging by the state of our attire that we were probably off to work like them. Which we were, after a fashion. They dropped us off at the English border near Berwick upon Tweed where they were planning on building a wall, and we were soon picked up by a pack of passing Hell’s Angels who took one look at us, assumed us to be kindred spirits, and took us to our destination.

Destination Geordieland

We arrived in Durham early. A Geordie windswept town on the bleak North Eastern coast of England, bereft at that time of jobs and home to a maximum security prison popularized in The Who’s dramatization of Cockney blagger John McVicar’s 1960’s cycle of escape and incarceration. It may also have been the scene of the fictional HMP Slade in Ronnie Barker’s “Porridge”. It is also home to one of the larger collegiate universities in the UK, and that means a student’s union. It was at this Student’s Union that King Kurt were due to play, in about fourteen hours time by our reckoning.

There isn’t really much to do in Durham except drink cheap beer and cider, so this is what we spent most of the day doing. The rest of the day we had spent legging it from roaming gangs of local thugs, similarly drunk and who were out for the sole purposes of causing trouble and starting fights. Looking and sounding different to them made us a convenient focus for both their desires, so we had to hide-out behind shops, taking refuge on the river bank for the afternoon. They threw some stones at us from the opposite bank and made verbal threats, but more out of frustration that we had chosen a spot where there were no bridges nearby and we responded by throwing rotten vegetable matter back at them and taunting them for sounding ‘like Frenchmen’.

Finally, around 5pm, we used our guest passes to gain access to the Union hall where we could set about the main goal of our day’s activity and start seeking out opportunities to cause mayhem and/or rip the club off. The building itself was a weird piece of architecture, built into the steep riverbank. Approaching from the street side, above the river, one enters on what is in fact the fifth floor and all the elevators go down. The rear of the building is five floors lower than the front, and sports, along with the main concert hall, a riverside cafe and an access area for deliveries, trade’s men, and garbage collection. This much was obvious since the local trash collectors had clearly been out on strike for a few weeks and all the garbage from this five story office block, including canteen, concert hall, two bars and two cafes, was piled up stinking outside.

The hall itself was empty, and we cleared a path through the garbage bags to allow the band to back-up the van as close to the stage doors as possible. Being a place designed by students, however, the stage had been set-up at the wrong end of the hall. It was too late to move the stage, and now we’d have to carry the instruments the whole length of the hall. We decided to leave the band to carry their own instruments, while Grimsby and I made a top-down approach to casing the joint, returning five floors up to the ground. Nothing but administrative offices on the top floor, a small automated cafe, and some shops selling student-oriented consumer goods.

Below that, on the fourth floor (or basement level one, depending on which aspect you approach the building from), the canteen. A largish affair serving maybe one or two thousand ill-mannered students a day and a hive of activity. Continuing on down we came across the bars, and finally back to the main entrance to the hall. We were dismayed to find that the Union had put up a sign banning all foodstuffs and liquids from the concert hall and we protested. We waved a mythical copy of the “contract” at the entertainments officer, but he insisted that they would not allow any food fights during the gig as it would be “too expensive to clean up”.

Usually under these circumstances we would encourage concert goers to “drop off” their throwables at the stage door, and we’d smuggle them in that way and return them back-stage. But with the arse-about-tit layout of this club, there wasn’t even that possibility. Another downside was Grimsby and I were the only two members of the traveling contingent at the event. The atmosphere in the hall, as the crowd arrived, was edgy with an ever present potential for violence. The security on-site were clearly not going to be capable of containing the situation if it got out of hand, and they were stretched to their limits by the couple of one-on-one punch-ups that had already broken out before the band even came on-stage.

Crowd Violence

King Kurt made their entrance with Destination Zululand, and with the absence of any mess, the crowd could only be described as “subdued”. The sound quality and acoustics in the hall were pretty good, but the crowd seemed to quickly lose interest in the music as an increasing number of fights broke out and begun to merge into a brawl centered directly in front on the stage. Grimsby and I threw a couple of chairs at their heads to try to calm them down, but they just started hitting each other with them. Eventually one of the chairs came flying out of the dance-floor and Smeg was only just able to dodge it and it sailed through the space his head had been to come crashing to a standstill amid Rory’s drum kit.

The Maggot, a mere boy of fifteen, got attacked by some lunatic who jumped on stage. Smeg gave him a good kick in the hips that sent him back into the crowd and he did not return, but another took his place and Big John had to use his own boots to keep that one down. Onions and Grimsby were keeping out of this and were hanging back by the stage-door entrance, which was being “guarded” by two of the hapless “security”. Pointing to the melee around the stage Onions demanded, “aren’t you going to do anything about this?”. The one who appeared to be in charge implied they would not saying, “there’s too many of them and nobody’s been hurt”. The Onions was about to add “Yet”, when somebody else leapt onto the stage and violently shoved the microphone into Maggot’s mouth during the backing chorus of Blue Rondo A La Kurt. This was too much for short-tempered muscular guitarist Big John who let fly with his guitar, holding it by the neck, and catching the thug a corker around his. As the thug went down the pressure of the crowd held him upright for John to follow through with a downward swipe of the guitar to the crown. P. Paul Fenech, eat your heart out.

Rubbish

With the level of violence increasing the bouncers decided they had to do something, and whatever it was that they had decided upon it involved them immediately leaving the hall. Onions then had a brainwave, and suggested to Grimbsy that we if we took this opportunity to open the stage doors the crowd, who were angry for being deprived of things to throw at each other, would be sure to notice the many hundreds of bags of garbage stacked up right outside. If they didn’t, we’d be sure to point it out to them.

This we did, and sure enough, and with only minimal encouragement from Onions, the student crowd were soon putting the striking trash collectors to shame by forming a human chain to move that trash back into the hall in record time. The operation was a model of efficiency and, from the safety of the ‘innocent bystander’ vantage point chosen by the pair of us, it appeared to function as a highly-efficient high-pressure trash-pump constructed out of living human parts liberally spraying garbage over the entire three-dimensional inner surfaces of the hall.

As the garbage rained down concert-goers were catching it and bags were flying everywhere, filled with – or rather being emptied of – several weeks worth of trash from a large student canteen, office block, and bars. For the second half of the gig we could hardly even see the stage due to all the assorted garbage – including bottles and broken cutlery – flying through the air. After most of the bags had been torn open the whole hall, holding around two thousand people, was shin-deep in trash. For the purpose of throwing around it had all become 100% recyclable and party-goers were simply scooping up armfuls of trash from their feet and hurling it at targets of opportunity. All the while the band played on.

Behold What I Have Done

This was perhaps the only gig were King Kurt did not perform an encore and the crowd shuffled out quickly and the lights came on to reveal a scene that is a little difficult to describe. If a bomb had been dropped on the hall, it would have been in better condition. The ceiling, maybe four or five metres high, was even covered in garbage. Some of it had been thrown with such force that it had simply stuck there. Trash that had not made that height, or had fallen back under gravity, was entwined over the entire length of the lighting gantry and you couldn’t see one part of the floor clear enough of trash to put a footstep in. As you got nearer to the stage the depth of the garbage increased. It had kind of piled up there as if blown by a tempest, and had spilled over onto the stage itself making it impossible to see the stage at all. There were just some microphone stands standing alone in the spotlights atop a sea of garbage like chrome-plated icebergs.

Wherever you looked, there was garbage thrown about and you had to step over it to get anywhere. Grimsby and I were too busy laughing to go anywhere. It was all we could do to just point at parts of it and reassure one another “we did that”.

We got away with it too. Serves them right for attacking us.

Related Links
Tidy Old Turn Out
Pumping in Colne
Rotterdam ’83
Destruction in Durham
Woolwich Tramshed Riot
Franc’s Club, Colne
Scouse Headcrunchers
Official King Kurt

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