King Kurt On the Road – Tidy Old Turn Out, Aston 1983

Aston University – 1983

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


In the pre-stiff days there had been a memorable Birmingham gig in a strip-club. Jeff showed up backstage but the strippers themselves were on a floor below the gig, and try as we might we could not evade security to gain access. On a brighter note the kitchens were unguarded affording us the opportunity to liberate a couple of boxes of eggs (some of which were eaten, no prizes for guessing what happened to the rest of them) and a full barrel of beer. Getting the beer barrel up two flights of stairs and into the dressing room would mean passing security outside the strip club. This posed a short-lived problem as a rope and pulley arrangement was swiftly improvised allowing the beer to be hoisted through the window. Later on a steel dustbin was blown-up on stage with enough force that the dustbin-lid was blasted through the roof. Such were the days.

Gigging at Aston University Student’s Union under the lofty tutelage of Stiff Records promised to be an altogether different kind of affair. Only your narrator (The Onions) and Dave (not Dean) Grimsby would together form the touring contingent in this mid-week mid-tour student-oriented “concert”. We predictably turned up early, Borassic, and still sober. Fuck only knew where we’d been the day before, but it had ended up, as did so many trips to the Midlands, shagging a couple of birds we knew in Long Eaton. Arriving in the late afternoon at the student’s union relaxed, and in confident mood we were immediately reminded of Durham Student’s Union earlier in the tour. There we had been attacked by locals and had exacted our revenge by causing what, until then, was the most damage we’d ever seen done to a club in peacetime. But that’s another story, and the destruction in Durham would, by the end of this gig, have paled. Durham only needed lengthy cleaning and decontamination. By the time this night’s gig was over, Aston Uni would be requiring extensive repairs and renovation.

Our first priorities on arriving at a venue were to orient ourselves to the layout of the building, familiarise the on-site staff with our presence, then seek-out high-liquidity items or minimal-effort services that we could purloin and trade for beer. This usually involved either manual labour, or selling the establishment’s own goods and services back to them. Aston did not look promising in this regard, and students themselves, while a soft-touch intellectually lacked even the meager financing our drinking required. So the direct liberation of beer itself was deemed to be our best option, and we set out to find where they kept it. The club was glass-fronted, beyond which was the reception area, cash desk, the doors to the main hall, bar, and various private and public corridors. Down these corridors we found the student’s library empty and little prospect of selling their own books back to them, some basic shops selling pencils, pens, gonks, and suchlike, and downstairs there was only a cloak-room and toilets. The backstage area led us to some private corridors containing nothing but offices and a door back to the reception area. We could not find where they stored the beer.

Time was passing, and the band had arrived. Not having sorted out our beer supplies we left the band to set up the stage themselves and adopted plan B: Try to earn our beer. Earning beer worked in owner-run establishments like The Fridge or Frank’s Club in Colne where we could simply make an on-the-spot offer to do any grafting that’s needed until the doors open in exchange for beer. That doesn’t work in corporate-like settings, and student unions, despite the name, are very corporate.

In desperation, we found ourselves in the empty cloakroom wondering what to do. Then some student actually came up to the counter and asked us to take his coat. We considered taking it and gobbing in it for a moment, but when he offered us 10p an idea came to us and, like French teachers going to Law School, we reinvented ourselves: As “Cloakroom Attendants”. Unfortunately sales, like Bert’s head of hair, were rather thin and The Onions decided a little marketing was called for in order to viralize the cloakroom concept amongst the student gig-goers of Aston. The problem was they were going directly to the hall or bar which were conveniently on the ground floor while the cloakroom was inconveniently in the basement. The punters were simply passing us by overhead. So Onions went up to the main doors and told the head doorman that everybody had to put their coat in the cloakroom tonight suggesting he cite, “house rules”. “King Kurt are playing tonight”, The Onions warned, “and people should know that their clothes could get very dirty or even torn completley off.” The bouncer turned to leave and immediately investigate the possible security-breach because, “There isn’t supposed to be anyone in the cloakroom tonight”, he said, alarmed. Not wanting Grimsby to face the wrath of the bouncer, Onions reassured him, “It’s ok, it’s us. Just tell everyone to take their coats down there. It’s a special price tonight, only 10p per item”. Worked a treat.

The doormen did their jobs well and crowds flocked to the cloakroom and both the Onions and Grimsby put in a full hour’s work each, hanging up the damn coats, sticking numbers on them, and making sure each depositee was assigned the correct number. Essentially, clerical work – of a kind most of these students will end up doing for most of their careers only in cubicles rather than cloakrooms. But, in spite of the soul-destroying work, we pretty-much filled a bread-bag with coins in that time, thought that would be the end of it, and set full-steam to barward.

During the support acts we stayed out of the hall – no beer allowed – and got reasonably pissed in the said bar. The local talent wasn’t up to much but we had our fallback in Long Eaton pencilled-in for later and with our train-fare secured we were not prepared to make even the slightest effort for any unknown local fanny. The male part of the crowd, and it was mostly male, weren’t up to much either and the gig looked to be shaping up as pretty mundane. When the snakebite drinking contests started on the stage we went into the hall, and as the first number, “Destination Zululand” was blasted out Grimsby decided to liven up the crowd by putting a fire extinguisher on them. When he sprayed Smeg it triggered a bouncer response. Onions again was forced to the rescue by legging-it to Grimsby, catching him in an armlock just before the first suited-goon arrived on the scene and pulling him clear. Seeing Grimsby being forceably dragged from the dance floor in a convincing and painful-looking half-Nelson, the bouncers considered the situation under control and lost interest, presuming the band’s own security to have ejected Grimsby. Instead, we went and hid out in the cloak-room with a putative plan of changing clothes, but figured there was no need as the staff wouldn’t recognise us again if we laid low for a couple of numbers. A couple of guys came into get their coats. They’d lost their tickets and we let them sort themselves out and went back up to the hall. The rest of the gig was uneventful. The main event was to come outside of the hall, after the gig.

We don’t know what set it all off, but it took us three or four hours to get out of the place, and even then we had to be smuggled out after the riot had quietened down by posing as musical instruments. There was a gang of angry midland youth who appeared to have focused their rage on Onions and Grimsby. The police, it seemed, didn’t want anything to do with it.

The trouble had started in what would normally be the last place one would expect a riot to break out: The Cloakroom. At first the damage was confined only to the cloakroom. Grimsby, wisely, hadn’t wanted to return people’s coats on the grounds that we already had their money. He felt it expedient to “let them get their own fucking coats back”. The Onions, on the other hand, felt some misguided sense of drunken duty urging him to fulfill the promises his clients had expected for their ten-penneth worth. It went well until some popular local thug noticed that his “original fifties flying jacket”, evidently his pride-and-joy that he had only bought that week, had been stolen. During the gig. From an unlocked and unattended cloak room, apparently.

Grimsby and Onions both thought it shocking that the union would be so careless with people’s property and, in order to deflect his anger, suggested he “smash the place up”. This is what he preceded to do with alarming ease and gusto. Onions and Grimsby wasted no time vaulting the counter and seeking refuge in the dressing room.

The two of us flew into the dressing room while the band were still drinking their traditional post-gig pots of tea and tending to each others’ blistered fingers. As soon as we got inside there was turmoil as furniture was upended, tea-pots spilled, and a barricade thrown across the door. The barricade was only taken down when the management and local police officers arrived, insisting that the two of us open the door and accompany them back to the cloakroom for questioning.

Or what was left of the cloakroom by that time. The reception area itself was relatively untouched, but as we got closer to the cloakroom the signs that there had been a “disturbance” became all too evident. All garments had long since been removed, mostly by owners picking them from amongst the wreckage themselves. Of the usual cloakroom furniture, hangers, hat-stands, bench-seats and cupboards there was nothing recognizable left. Everything had been smashed – even the rollaflex security door over the counter was bent so much that it would never be used again. The door, which was supposed to have been locked, was missing one hinge and hanging limply from the other. Inside the room was hip-deep in matchwood.

Grimsby and The Onions had, meanwhile, been falsely denounced to the police as suspected coat-thieves specializing in newish-looking original fifties flying jackets. An on-the-spot search was requested, which was the purpose of the police taking us back to the scene of the alleged crime. Being familiar with the Keystone-methodology of British policing and being totally innocent of theft we voluntarily complied. The police were satisfied that we had not stolen anything and bought our excuse that we had simply been caught up in the consequences. As we were known to have been barricaded into the dressing room – which had also been searched – during the initial stages of the riot they let us go and put out an all-points-bulletien, calling all cars to be on the look-out for anybody wearing a newish-looking original fifties flying jacket in the Aston area.

Fearing that our denouncers would conclude that police disinterest authorizes them to conduct their own interrogations, we went back to the dressing room and armed-ourselves with parts from whichever musical instruments the band had broken on stage that night. It was fortunate that we did, because we didn’t have to wait long for the jacketless-one and his gang to storm the dressing room. By now they were in search of, if not the jacket itself, some cunt to take its loss out on – with cloakroom attendants being high on the list. Having numbers, not to mention arms, on our side this time the mob was soon persuaded to leave the dressing room never to return. They complied, growing in numbers and destroying everything they could on the way out. This is when most of the damage was done, and again we were in the dressing room with the band at the time.

The Onions and Grimsby then successfully negotiated safe-passage back to New Street Station hidden inside instrument cases – which in itself was ironic since it was usually they who carried the cases. The cases would usually be empty after gigs, the instruments they bought not being designed to survive the wear and tear of a King Kurt gig. Outside the “club”, the full extent of the damage became clear. The loss of the jacket had been taken out on the student’s union building and of the entire glass frontage only window-frames now remained. And some of those were so badly damaged they would need replacing. We think that’s where they threw the tables out. Every single window had been put through, and the reception area was totally trashed inside and out. Most of the movable furniture seemed to have been used as tools in order to break something else that had been fixed in place.

At New Street we had fifteen minutes to wait for our connection, and we were convinced that at least a nucleus of the mob were still out looking for us and would soon figure we’d most likely be found at the main station – as other mobs had correctly deduced in the past. So we hid out in a parked train with good observational aspect. The wait proved uneventful, and as our own train left Birmingham with us aboard we congratulated each other on a highly successful evening of inspired anarchism and once again I tried in vain to persuade Grimsby that when we got to Long Eaton he should let me boff the better looking one tonight.

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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