Pam Cross kept a diary when she was a teenager. During the period when she first started going to gigs in the late 1970s in Scotland’s central belt she would travel from her small, home town to Edinburgh and Glasgow to watch some of the well known and less well known punk and new wave bands of the time. Here, in her first extracts, together with recollections prompted by some questions, she talks about her first live gig and how she felt that punk affected Scottish small town life and school at the time. Pam is now a volunteer with Sandwell Visually Impaired and Talking News after years’ working in the public and voluntary sector. We hope to bring you more direct extracts from Pam’s punky diaries in the future.
OL: What was your first live pop concert?
Pam: I’d not been to any ‘pop’ concerts before I went to my first punk gig. Don’t call punk ‘pop’! The horror!
It was on Friday 19 May 1978. I was 16 and had just finished my Highers. One of my best friends had moved to Edinburgh at the end of 4th year. She was into punk and knew all these characters from the punk scene there, and I would go to visit her.
I had thought that the first gig I went to was the Buzzcocks at Glasgow Apollo but my diary tells me it was Sham 69 at Clouds in Edinburgh! Considering this was my first live gig and given my sheltered upbringing I seem to have been very excited but remarkably unphased about all that was going on around me.
“There was a great congregation of punks outside the door – it was really odd to see them all together having seen very few in my life.” “Round the sides of the room were seated punks, and punks were dancing in whatever way they felt like to the music of the disco (punk). It was really a sight to behold and really good to see.” “Some people were spitting at the group (a sign of appreciation)” “Sham 69 “seemed anti everything, except peace in Ireland and sometimes it seemed that they were anti for the sake of being anti. They are a very political group – anti-Nazi, anti-family, anti-rich and as P said D said ‘Jimmy Pursey sees himself as the hero of the working classes’.”
“When the thing finished I was really hot and wringing wet with sweat and exhausted. I have never enjoyed myself so much for a long time, if ever.”
OL: How did punk come to your attention? What other music were you into?
Pam: My two ‘best friends’ from school got into the punk scene and I was influenced by them. One was the younger sister of someone whose long-term boyfriend was a record producer and they had set up a record label (Fast Product). They were based in Edinburgh where my other friend lived, having moved there in the 4th year. I used to borrow their records and record them onto cassette tapes before I got round to buying my own. I would go over to Edinburgh to visit my friend, who was herself forming a band. I used to listen to the records over and over and try and work out the words. They appealed to me because they spoke to my own feelings at the time -depressed, angry, frustrated, lonely, not understood, feeling like I didn’t belong, alienated I didn’t necessarily like everything at first but grew into it with listening.
Once I got into punk, it was almost exclusively punk! Or at least, new wave and that genre. Prior to that for a short period I was into bands such as Deep Purple and Genesis, also influenced by my friend in Edinburgh pre punk. I remember thinking that Waterloo by Abba was pretty good when it won the Eurovision, because it wasn’t all whiney and had a bit of oomph about it. As a younger person I liked Mud, Sweet, bands like that. Never the Bay City Rollers who I held in complete contempt!
OL: What were the reactions to punk amongst your schoolmates?
Pam: I went to a smallish private school which had turned co-ed in the 4th year. We only had a few boys in our class. According to what I wrote on my diary it doesn’t look like anyone at school was particularly bothered by punk one way or the other. A few liked the music, most didn’t but they weren’t appalled by it (unlike my parents). We all had to wear school uniform (for some reason I wore my hair in two plaits with bobbles – I hated the plaits and have no idea why I kept them) and so there wasn’t any obvious punk style at school. We would not have got away with much and my parents certainly wouldn’t have let me go to school in any adapted clothing! Several people at school were into the music but mainly in a low key way rather than identifying as ‘punk’. Obviously my ‘best friend’ was very much into it, but a few others could be persuaded to come along to gigs later on. My younger sister was also ‘into punk’ but she didn’t go over to Edinburgh like me and I don’t think it affected her in the same way.
It was at parties where punk came more to the fore. There were often people (boys) at the parties who didn’t go to our school and would jump around to punk music. When I first got into punk my boyfriend of the time was not at all into it. He was of the rugby club, beer drinking variety. My Dad liked him and said that he “didn’t think they made boys like him any more these days.” Some while after we broke up my ex commented that he had heard that I was ‘more into punk now’. That was after I’d been to some live gigs and an Anti-Nazi League festival. My next boyfriend was very much into the music and would argue about how to pogo properly with another of my male acquaintances.
Outside of school and our social circle we often had people shout at us in the street or make incisive comments like ‘Johnny Rotten’, ‘Punk’ or ‘Punk’s not dead’. If you wore straight jeans you were identified as a punk regardless of hair and most other clothing.
OL: How long had you been keeping a diary?
Pam: I had been keeping it since 1976. I am not sure where my 1976 one is, however my 1977 one says that I had decided to get back to keeping a diary again and I know there is another somewhere. I stopped writing in 1979, before I went off to Polytechnic, which is a shame because I was well into the Sheffield alternative music scene of that time. My sister has all my letters. One day she will send them to me and I can have a recap and marvel at the bands I saw that one day became famous, like ‘Pulp’.
OL: How did punk affect you, beyond the music?
Pam: The politics. An introduction to the Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism because they were supported by the bands I wanted to see and had respect for. Along with the song lyrics of course.
I’d led a very sheltered life in a ‘nice’ private school after going there at about 10 from the state primary. Our school had day pupils and some boarders. Boarders came from all round the world, so there were a few people from Libya, Europe, Africa, Syria in our classes. However, we were overwhelmingly white and most of our peers (in or out of our school) were from a similar class background. There were only a few black and Asian families living in the area. This created an insular world view where I took my opinions from my parents (Tories) and had little opportunity to discuss any other political view. Although my friend with older siblings was more enlightened. We didn’t do economics, politics, sociology or anything more than English and history that could lead to meaningful discussion about issues like racism or class. I remember there was a mock election one year though, where people from the sixth year delivered their manifestos on stage. I clearly recall thinking I was most impressed by the Communist representative but voted Tory because my parents always did. I’m not sure what year that was as I haven’t got to it in my diary. I’m hoping it wasn’t in my 1978/79 one. I certainly never voted for Maggie Thatcher!
Because of punk I started to read the things that I picked up at the ANL festival or just round and about, saw the Specials and the abuse they got at the Apollo for being a ‘mixed’ band, saw that racism existed and what it was, and knew that I hated it. I knew that society needed to change. My Dad apparently said to me in disgust one day ‘You’ve changed’. I’m glad I did. I started questioning things, challenging things. If I hadn’t encountered punk I don’t know if my politics would have developed as they did. Maybe I would have become a stockbroker after all, haha.
OL: What are your feelings when you hear a track from those times now?
Pam: I often listen to punk tracks from that era. They are great when I am trying to do Couch to 5k yet again and in the car if I want to perk myself up. I do feel myself getting more angry – about injustice…and everything in general! “Smash it up, smash it up, smash it up!” Nostalgia, of course, though I wouldn’t say that the punk years were the happiest of my life – though the punk gigs most definitely were among the happiest moments.