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Going Down the Pub, Getting Your End Away and The Meaning of Life

It came as no surprise. Various people had been rolling over various BBC floors stairs and canteens all day. Always the extrovert, Jimmy had found the canteen's trapped audience irresistible: sugar cubes were hurled at roadies, tables crawled under, waitresses chatted up, waiters wound up. And when we started talking about various myths surrounding the man (that he's 31, gay, got serious form etc etc) there was no stopping him.
"Hello dears," a couple of bewildered secretaries got surrounded in a lift, "don't worry, we're the Gay Roughs, we're a gay, black NF group and I'm 47".

IN FACT he was born 9/2/55, in Hersham, Surrey. He was 14 when he became a skinhead, falling in with an older gang who adopted hirn as a mascot taking him to rumbles and leaving him watching from the van. At 15 he got expelled from Rydens comprehensive.
"l used lo fight with teachers a lot, then one day I organised a strike at school about heating. It was really freezing cold so l arranged with these other kids to wrap silver paper round the plugs to blow out every plug in the school. Well, then there was no heating so we all got sent home and I got expelled..."

He worked at the local greyhound track for a while before running away from home to work on the barrows at Roman Road market in East London. A year later he was back in Hersham for a succession of shit jobs, his last being the oft-quoted washing up in the local Wimpy bar. Meantimes, the first version of Sham 69 had got off the ground.

The band formed in 75, playing the local pub circuit and getting nowhere fast. They were a rock'n'roll band playing mostly cover songs and a few of Jimmy's own, his words set over standard r'n'r formats. 'Let's Rob A Bank' 'I Don't Wanna Die', 'Hey Little Rich Boy' and 'Borstal Breakout' all date from this period.
The group used to rehearse in Albie's (yeah that Albie) barn. "It was a derelict fucking pigsty, " the former bassist recalls "but we were down there every night during November and December wearing overcoats, gloves, balaclavas. Anway, we got this call from a TV producer who wanted a group for this magic show. He came down one Sunday in this Bentley and saw this fucking barn and the expression on his face... As he came in the drummer was playing, there was the old lead guitarist, who was small, and the rhythm guitarist who was like a stand-in for King Kong, and we was all dressed up like. 'E said: 'Oh yeah, you're alright. I'll phone you during the week, and we never heard from him again'.

And kiddies everywhere missed a rare slice of rock history. That line-up didn't last. The big bust up came over the group's direction, Pursey wanting to break out of the 'Johnny-B Goode' syndrome, everyone else, except Albie, remaining unconvinced. About the same time Dave 'Vicar' Parsons was experiencing similar problems with his group Excalibur.

Parsons and Pursey got together and started writing songs. Albie was supplying, umm, minimal bass, but they were missing out on a drummer, till one night at the local disco, The Walton Hop (where as you all know Pursey used to mime to all manner of pop records], they were approached by a guy who said he knew a young kid who could drum. That was Mark Cain, a fuller-in-the-face James Dean look-alike, who passed a quick audition and got christened Doidie Cacker.

Albie explained: "With all the silly names going about like Vicious and Rotten we thought we'd give him one. He used to talk like a biker and doidie is a word bikers say "Woah, Doidie, look at 'im". Cacker means shit, like'.
Inspired by the Ramones fab debut disc and the Pistols early performances, Jimmy decided Sham had to be a punk band. So they began rehearsing at Saturday morning kids flicks at Walton, playing their first gig in November 76.
The final line up came in September 77, when Dave Tregannaa, Kermit "Because he looks like the frog on the Muppets", came in as rhythm guitarist soon to take over on bass when Albie dropped out after his dad passed away and he decided his playing wasn't good enough -entirely his decision (though not disputed).

The rest of the story is well known. They became a focus for the skinhead revival, their popularity rocketed them, arguably into the most commercially successfully punk band. At the beginning of the year 'Borstal Breakout' made the top forty, then 'Angels' reached 19, 'Kids' made No. 9, 'Hurry Up Harry' is going even higher which is why we're spending ten largely wasted hours at the Beeb.

WHY DID Sham experience such a meteoric rise? Sham are a working class band fitting in neatly with the working class teenage gang mentality. Skinheads were a working class phenomenom, encompassing two main types of kids. The ex-punk disillusioned with the middle class element of punk and the rip-off fashion scene side, and kids who at other times might have stayed happy with football and gang fights.

The teenage gang way of thinking is essentially male and territorial. You have your area, your team, your kind. Against you are the police, the teacher, the boss and in certain areas and at different times Jew, blacks or other minority groups.

Areas like New Cross or parts of the East End with well established working class communities have experienced massive industrial decline and loss of jobs at the same time as gaining substantial immigrant populations.

Here it's very easy for nazi groups to say 'blame the blacks'. It ties in with, fractured teenage class consciousness that doesn't recognise that class cuts through now legendary Waterman's Arms, he's barriers of region, sex and colour. The left in these areas have generally he says, treating everyone as an equal, failed to understand or communicate white kids, compounding the error in his eyes by seemingly making all the excuses for black kids.

Pursey didn't create the racist element of his following, they were there all the time, for them. On RAR his stand's been uncompromising-and effective.

At one end a minority of fans formed Skins Against Nazis, at the other end the British Movement members have threatened to bump Sham off. A large number have seen through the nazis while continuing to view RAR as 'communist' or essentially middle class.

"I talk street politics" Pursey explained "my politics is who are you wat do you wanna do, what do you wanna be. D'you wanna try and make a go of life or not. D'you wanna find out about yourself or don't you. D'you wanna enjoy yourself or d'you wanna be a cunt. It's up to you boy, entirely up to you. That's the politics I preach. Let's enjoy life, we only live it once.

Punk rock meant to me a form of rebellion and freedom. It was a chance to express yerself, and I've always been a person who's wanted to express meself no matter where I've been. Punk to me was a platform and I was saying this is how I feel and people around me were saying that's how they were feeling too so more people started to believe in what Sham 69 were doing.

"A real punk is just a kid. I don't even class myself as a real punk. A real punk is an ordinary kid and all he knows is Manchester or Newcastle or Glasgow or London and kicking that football in the middle of that dirty old street not caring about what yer mum or dad think, and letting off bangers on Firework's Night, chucking 'em down the street, smashing windows, the excitement of whether the cops are gonna get you or not, 'aving 'ideaways where you meet and play cards."

That's what Sham are about. Ordinary kids. Dynamite pogo music with homegrown, humane philosophy: don't be ashamed of what you are, no one is better than you, no one is below you, enjoy yourself, be yourself.

"That's what I don't like about fashions like skins and mods because they're regiments, and they're just looking back to the past. Let's start looking to the future, let's try and start to achieve something. That's why 'That's Life' is the most important track on the new album because it's saying what's the fucking use beating shit out of each other.

"Teddy boys, Hells Angels, Skinheads, Mods - they're all fucking asbeens. That's the past. When you think "ang about, when we were in the playground, I wore an anorak, you wore an anorak, I wore a grey blazer, you wore a grey blazer, and we were the same. That's the ultimate, the fucking school playground where everybody's the same and it's fucking very difficult and very 'orrible but at least we get on with one another. We're not dictating to each other.

"I am never gonna say do this or do that, because we go to school every day or to work and we're told what to do and that's what we're fucking fighting against all the time.

"'Angels' is a great statement, cos that's what we all are. Working class kids are little angels in the beginning but we've still got this atmosphere around us that makes us 'ave dirty faces. Put us anywhere and we've still got a dirty face cos of the way we talk and the way we are.
"I'm proud to be what I am. I don't wanna be any different. If I walk into a party and they're all going (posh voice) "Oh, how do you do darling' - well I don't go to parties like that cos I'm 'appy to be in 'Ersham - but if I do I'd rather turn round and go 'Yeah, I'm alright winkle, ow are you darlin'.' That's my attitude, same as these kids feel - they're just as good as anybody else."

MAYBE THAT's why Sham attract such illogical bitterness from jaded old hasbeens in the press too busy 'intellectualising' (and dreaming about their heroes in the Stern Gang) to even begin to understand what Sham are about. Because they're not politicos and they're not pretending to be what they're not, somehow they're 'not worth taking seriously' .

Luckily Sham don't need them. The people who matter to them take them seriously, and all Jimmy's concerned with are his fans, his kids. Crossing the border between civilisation and Hersham with a taxi driver convinced that 70mph is the minimum speed limit, Pursey brightens up after the long boring Beeb day. In his flat overrun with local kids, and later in the now legendary Waterman's Arms, he's completely relaxed, and true to everything he says, treating everyone as an equal.

But the pressure of being Jimmy Pursey is showing, in the worry lines round his forehead prematurely ageing him. "Lots of times I think come on Jim, you've done enough, throw in the towel. But if I do that everyone's gonna say 'You're a cunt Jimmy, because you said all them things and never tried to carry them through'."

Well they've played youth clubs, given away records (another 10,000 copies of 'What Have We Got' are being pressed, 500 to be given out at each gig on the new tour), formed their own label, lived up to everything they ever said they'd live up to. Recently they seem to have changed from an angry band to a fun band...

"There's no fucking difference between us now and at the beginning 'cept we 'ad no money, we were fighting for survival and I was writing about 'ow I felt at that certain point in time. The way I feel now is happy, I've had a couple of hit records, so I'm writing songs like 'Hurry Up Harry' because I'm happy to have a couple of bob to spend. That's why I sing "What Have YOU Got" I can't sing what have I got anymore or I'd be a hypocrite.

The latest songs are on the new album - out next week and reviewed exclusively this week in your one-step-ahead Sounds. I spelt out the gist of it two weeks ago, and you'll probably have heard a hundred times already that it's a concept album, a story of one kid's day, with a lot of everyday attitudes that are going to wind people up the wrong way...

"You said that 'End Away' was sexist, but girls just as much as blokes like to get their end away. Girls get dressed up because they want to attract blokes, and a geezer gets dressed up for the same reason. It's a statement. "

After the album, the group want to put out an EP with the three songs they wrote for 'Quadraphenia'. Just why they got thrown off the film's not certain, the official reason that 'you couldn't dance to them' is rubbish, and that's not just my biased view. Vince, Albie and Gary Dickle had watched the extras dancing to a recording till someone shouted to take the tape off because it'd been dropped...

Pursey's also working on a proper follow-up single, "It's about the First World War, it's called 'No, No Never Again Will Tommy Die In Vain". I feel very strongly about the First World War because I think it was worse than the concentration camps because there were Colonels and Generals going "Go on you working class cunt, go over the top and get your balls blown off and die".

No chance on the music drying up yet but you won't catch me spending another day at Top of The Pops - what a bore. You get there at 11, rehearse, sit around till 4 waiting for the dress rehearsal, then hang around till 7.30 for the recording proper. And all there is to do in the between is make a nuisance of yourself, eat, drink, smoke, drink and, when the band were out of the room, get the goods on Sham on Tour from friends and roadies (Gary, Albie, Vince, Grant, Binsy, John and Dean from QPR - this is your spot).

Most of the tales are entirely unprintable, but for a mild taste of life on the road with the Sham:
Binsy: "We were in the Victoria 'otel, sitting there in the room, and Pursey steamed in with Parsons and done us with shaving foam. So we done them with tea and butter and all the left-overs..."
Vince: "Smeared it all over them, we put marmalade and butter all over Pursey's bollocks..."
Binsy: "Then it ended up with extinguishers 'aving a war. There was them upstairs and us downstairs".
Vince: "And people were comin' out their rooms going 'Oh, is there a fire . . ."'

That little lot cost £30 to clear up. The band's relationship with their immediate 'family' of fans is healthy because it's not them and us, or hero worship, far from it they just take the piss: "Vince and that keep us in our place, keep us down to earth."

The TOTP studio is much smaller than it looks on the telly and at 7 on a Wednesday evening about 60 kids flit between four stages desperately trying to avoid getting run over by maniac camera crews.

The band, all except Pursey, hang around watching the other groups and waiting. Pursey's getting togged up special in gangster gear with a phoney bullet-hole in the shirt. Suits him cos he's a natural actor, a sort of cross between Cagney and Norman Wisdom.

Then the band perform, Pursey singing, the group miming, and Pursey leaps up on the piano like Little Richard with a banger up his trouser leg, while even the orchestra start clapping and laughing. And when the band finish the kids in the audience cheer almost like a live gig, because the Sham are their group, anyone's group who's young enough in spirit to want to enjoy themselves.
"What it is with a lot of the papers," Grant says to me, "is that they're sophisticated and a lot of people don't like Sham's way of thinking cos they're for the kids an' that. The kids love them, so sophisticated people think they 'ave to put em down."

That just about says it all. �

 

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