Woolwich Tramshed – 1982
Level of Drunkenness : Half-cut
Gig rating : n/a
Damage to Establishment: ***
Arrests Made : **
Messiness : ***
Bootleg Available : Unknown
The scheduled gig at Woolwich Tramshed never happened, and the only music played was Big John’s first few bars of Destination Zululand before the police – who at that time did not know what was about to befall them – pulled the plug. It was a courageous and inspired attempt by John to assert control over a rapidly deteriorating situation and restore some kind of order through the medium of music. The Metropolitan Police, acting beyond their authority, had cancelled the gig at the club owner’s request. A self-defeating request which had the effect of provoking far worse damage to the club than it was intended to forestall.
The evening had started out well. The Tetley Bittermen arrived early from Yorkshire, Bristols was there, but the Grimsbies were strangely absent. There was no support act lined up so we’d all have a few hours to get some serious drinking in at the bar. Inevitably spirits rose and a few flour fights broke out before the band were due to come on. Then, disaster struck. We heard the sound of metal against metal coming from the bar, looked around, and saw the bar-staff pulling shutters down and closing the bar. Shortly after this the lights came on, the DJ stopped the music, and a voice over the PA told us “tonight’s concert has been cancelled. Everybody please leave the building quietly”.
As I, and others, had traveled some way to this gig I went to the owner and asked if he would reimburse both the money we spent on tickets and the travel costs, which of course he refused. Asking why he was cancelling the gig, he cited the flour being thrown around. I tried to explain to him that the band put a clause in the contract making them liable to clean up the club, which is something we would all be helping with when the gig was over. He wouldn’t have it, and a minute or two later the cops swarmed in to the main hall.
The cops assembled on the dance floor and the multi-striped head honcho had come armed with a hand-held battery-powered loud hailer. Using this piece of impressive police kit in the manner in which he had been trained, and totally oblivious to the far more effective concert-grade microphone hooked into the 15 kilowatt public address system on the stage just behind him, he stood on the dance floor and politely informed concert goers, who had mostly taken to sitting down in the raised seating around the floor, to leave immediately or be arrested for public disorder.
The atmosphere was edgy and people were mostly staying put and waiting to see what would happen next. Taking offense to the police actions, and their inability to assess the situation, the Onions realized that the stage was live (and he should know having set most of it up) and he got up, took the lead mic and harangued the cops over the PA. Literally talking down to the leading cop, he asked from the stage: What right did they have to intrude on a private party? What authority do they have to take sides in a private dispute between contracting parties? Had they bought tickets for the gig? How is it possible to cause “public” disorder in a private place? Who is going to reimburse the concert goers and why should anybody leave the room without getting their money back?
One of the Bittermen, Johna from Leeds, took over the mic and added his own anti-police diatribe during which events quickly spiraled out of control. Big John came rushing towards the stage with The Maggot trying to get the band together yelling “get on stage now”. The gig starting at that point would have been ideal, and would have left the cops in an impossible situation. He got up and started strumming when the inevitable happened. A concert-goer, unseen by the police, had got up into the lighting gantry with several kilos of flour which he was now hurling down all over the policemens’ nice clean uniforms.
The cops did manage to think fast enough to cut the power to the PA but were unprepared for the deluge of flour, eggs, tomatoes, rotten vegetables, and even a pig’s ear that was thrown at them, that last item being somewhat symbolic of what they had just made out of what should have been a simple bar-closing operation. Under a cacophony of jeering the police began to retreat. The fighting spilled over from the dance-floor into the now closed bar area and, having run out of foodstuffs the mob were now pelting the police with tables, chairs, glasses and anything else they could lay their hands on. With the cops clearly on the defensive, they were left with little option but to evacuate the club and wait for riot-patrol back-up.
Kick You ’round the Jail
Most of the crowd, who indeed had come well stocked for the gig, followed the cops outside and continued pelting them, dispersing only when the riot vans turned up. One King Kurt regular, who shall remain nameless because he’s now a famous actor, was busted outside for butting some old ladies at a nearby bus stop with two chicken’s feet attached to his forehead, mooing at them, and claiming he was a “boy cow come to get them”. A few others were also rounded up – some of whom were completely innocent bystanders who hadn’t even been at the gig – and taken back to the local jail to be kicked around and charged.
Onions and Johna, the true leaders of the riot, remained inside the club to celebrate what they had done and to further menace the manager for cash back. After much haggling we were both able to get a full refund on our tickets and a couple of quid extra to compensate our train fares, even though both of us had been on the guest list, never paid to get in, and neither of us ever paid for a train ticket anywhere. A small bit of justice for a ruined gig, and we trotted off back to Brixton High Street to spend the money on beer down at The Fridge.