Virus – A History – chapter 3

As told by Jaz Wiseman – many thanks to him for giving us the text and images for this great serialisation of the Virus story.

Chapter 3 – ‘1984 and Sherborne Digby Hall’

1984 had become something of a mythical date to most of us punk rockers; The Clash were the first to mention it in their song 1977, the b-side of their debut single White Riot, Crass had been counting down to it from their very first release in 1978, the 4-Skins asked the Oi community what they were ‘going to get?’ in that year and numerous bands from Conflict to the Subhumans had mentioned the date in their songs.

It was also the year that I saw many punks drift away from the scene – two years previous, the hugely unpopular Thatcher government got lucky when Argentina decided to invade The Falklands, a group of islands that prior to war no one had ever heard of and over 12,000 miles away from the UK mainland. As Thatcher won the war the country was overwhelmed with a huge rush of nationalism and sensing her moment, the Iron Lady called an election and won a massive landslide as the Union Jacks were being so proudly waved by many a former punk.

The Falklands War split the punk community, some like us ‘Crass types’ were vehemently against it, bands like Mayhem, part of UK82 scene, got caught out singing ‘What shall we do with the Argie bastards, bomb the bastards’ (although they have since claimed it was meant as tongue in cheek, no lyric sheet came with the EP this song was released on and the words themselves apart from this opening refrain are pretty much indecipherable), most of the Oi movement came out as supporting Thatcher, hardly surprising really and some punks just didn’t seem to care either way as long as they could continue sniffing glue or drinking endless bottles or Merrydown Cider. Diplomacy, negotiation, talk was out, and war, killing and national pride was in.

Locally, the very small punk scene in Gillingham and surrounding towns was beginning to see people tail off from going to the DIY gigs that usually took place in village halls and skittle alleys. Some of the punks were moving away to cities like London and Bristol, some changed into Mods and bought scooters, others just decided that they were going to ‘grow up’ and get a job, mortgage and steady girlfriend. We just carried on as usual as being ‘outsiders’ in the new changing Thatcherite Britain and began to feel even more ostracized by mainstream society.

Back in our practice room we were beginning to get ready for Virus’s live debut supporting Nymphomania at Sherborne Digby Hall on Saturday 28th January. Gilly, Nymphomania’s drummer was going on a skiing holiday with his parents and was unavailable so the plan was that Virus drummer Rich would stand in. Rich only agreed on the proviso that Nymphomania didn’t play the Sex Pistols tune Belsen Was A Gas as he didn’t like the sentiment of the song and that was fair enough. Virus practiced hard and got our 8 song set together, admittedly we were doing three covers, Hiroshima by DIRT and Tube Disaster and Sick Butchers by Flux of Pink Indians but these were included as we were a lot slower at writing songs at this stage that Nymphomania were. This was probably down to Crabby not wanting to play covers and because he would always insist that we could easily write a song in a night, especially as he had pages and pages of lyrics and it was just a case of making a basic tune for them to go with.

I can’t quite remember how Nymphomania sounded with Rich on drums as opposed to Gilly but I guess we felt it was good enough to do the gig with and I suspect we probably sounded a bit tighter. My concerns were mainly with Des, Virus’s evasive singer who didn’t always manage to make it to rehearsals meaning that I ended up having to sing as Bowz and Rich didn’t want to do it. When he was there it felt we were slowly getting somewhere, when he wasn’t it didn’t sound very good at all, one step forward and all that. Still I thought, it’ll be different when we’ve done that first gig because once you have had that first rush of playing live you get hungry to do it again, and again, and again, and again – and I’m sure he’ll love it as he’s seen loads of bands and loves going to gigs.

Jaz, Ivan, Crabby, Bowz and Dave in the dressing room at Digby HallFinally the big day arrived and we had made a plan on how we were all going to get there with our gear – Crabby would ride his Honda 90 step-through moped with his electric guitar strapped to his back, Rich would borrow his mum’s Austin Maxi and take the drum kit and have a space for anyone who might want to come along, Pete Kenyon maybe? Des would drive himself down in his BL Marina, and me, Bowz and Dave would get a lift from my mum in our Ford Corsair, we could fit the guitars and amps in too… somehow. Oh and we mustn’t forget the backdrop or Crabby will be very disappointed, all punk bands have to have a backdrop – er Virus haven’t got one… yet!

Sherborne is a very conservative town, always has been and always will be, there are three private schools there, a boys school, a girls school and a school for international students, there’s also the local town comprehensive so there’s plenty of out of school rucks going on in term time. The town has always been heavily linked to the sitting Tory MP whose seat is West Dorset and his constituency is made up of small villages inhabited by farmers and the wealthy – the closest you got to anything left wing was if the legendary Liverpool FC winger Steve Heighway was mentioned in conversation, although he probably wouldn’t be because he’s Irish and the locals hate them!

The Digby Hall is a huge cavern of a building, the main room holding 300 people and the Saturday night disco is something the youth of the town and schools very much see as their own – the private school boys eye up the private school girls and vice-versa, some of them will get lucky and pull, the town trendies and soul boys have marked this as their territory so how the hell Virus and Nymphomania have got on this gig is quite staggering.

We arrive full of enthusiasm and totally green as to what is going to happen in the next few hours. As ever Crabby is overflowing with bravado reassuring us how great the gig is going to be and that he’s got all the Yeovil and surrounding area punks coming and they’re going to absolutely love us. We unload the gear and are shown to the stage and a dressing room where we can hang out before the gig if we want – this is all new to us but Crabby is desperate to get the backdrop up and there’s talk of a soundcheck. We have no idea what that is as our two previous gigs we just basically plugged in and played. The DJ is looking very pissed off that we are going to use his microphone and speakers as a PA, something’s brewing between him and us and we haven’t even started playing yet. I can’t remember what we played in the soundcheck or how it went as we had no idea about on-stage sound, we just turn up and play at a volume based on Rich’s drums – he hits them harder than Gilly so we obviously turn everything up.

Ivan, Crabby’s mate from Yeovil arrives with a few cans of beer so we piss about being stupid in the dressing room and generally take the piss out of each other. There’s no sign of Des yet but he’s always fashionably late so I’m thinking to myself, it’ll be alright, he’ll probably turn up five minutes before we play. The plan is that Virus will play their set and as Crabby will take over guitar from Bowz, and he in turn will switch to vocals, so Nymphomania can play, there’s no point in having a change over or defined gap between the bands.

Rich, Jaz, Crabby and Bowz in front of the mirror in the dressing room at Digby Hall

None of the other Yeovil punks that Crabby spoke of have turned up and Des is still to arrive and time is marching on. We wonder if many people have come along so we sneak out and put our heads round the corner of the stage curtain and see the hall is rammed full to the rafters! We don’t spot any punks but Crabby says they’ll all be at the bar and will appear as soon as we strike up our noise. Des has still yet to appear and it’s now getting very close to the time that Virus are due on stage but I convince myself he’ll turn up in the nick of time.

The bloke from Sherborne Youth Centre arrives and says it’s time for us to play – shit Des still isn’t here, what are we going to do, there’s no option but I’m going to have to sing like I have done at practice sometimes. The DJ stops his Micheal Jackson tunes and we shuffle on stage, I look out at the audience and suddenly realise this is going to be a disaster, the crowd is full of trendies, soul boys and public school kids and there’s not a punk in sight. So the Virus live extravaganza begins and it doesn’t go well at all – I’m terrible at singing, not very good on bass and I’m nervous as hell. What’s also clear is after the first song the audience are making it very clear they don’t like us one bit, we just carry on regardless slightly oblivious to how things are developing in the crowd. Just before we finish a couple of beer glasses are hurled in our direction, perhaps it is best if there is a break between the two bands and we make a sharp exit and let the DJ get back the so-called king of pop.

We regroup in the dressing room and consider what to do, Crabby as defiant and enthusiastic as ever is saying we just get back out there and show them who’s boss. I can’t really remember what Bowz thought but Rich is concerned and I’m thinking more about how the hell we ended up doing this but agree with Crabby that we should play as we’ve come all this way and it’s got to be worth a go.

Nymphomania return to the stage, much to the DJ’s annoyance, I think he thought he’d got rid of us but when you have someone like Crabby in your band you see that he fears no-one so it’s our time again. We start with No One Smiles in Moscow and from there we try and blast through the songs as quickly as possible but before long missiles are heading in our direction, beer glasses and bottles and it’s turning very ugly. The audience are baying for our blood and after about 20 minutes of dodging the projectiles we call it a day. The only thing is all our gear is on the stage and we have to try and get out of the place alive if possible. Rich has got the worst of it as he has to dismantle the drum kit which always takes longer than simply whipping an amp of stage.

Bowz, Jaz and Crabby putting up the Nymphomania backdrop at Digby Hall

Back in the dressing room it’s becoming obvious that the DJ is egging the crowd on to give us a kicking, he’s letting people onto the stage to see where we are and it’s an absolute certainty we are going to get a good beating at the end of this. Next to the dressing room is a small store room that has a window and we plan to use this as our escape route, so very quietly one-by-one we slowly move our gear into it and we start passing the gear out of the window. We all just manage to get out before the doors of the store bang open and a gang of hard nuts enter looking for us. Then there is a moment of pure magic, my mum had arrived in the Corsair and fortunately had pulled up in car park right next to where we were. She is quick to assess the situation and when a gang of the locals turn the corner ready to batter us she stands in front of them and says they have to get through her first. Suddenly those wanting our blood look worried, they had obviously never confronted someone like my mum before – there was a little bit of verbal but they backed off and we quickly put all gear in the car and helped Rich load his drums into his car. We left very sharpish much to our relief.

Sherborne Digby Hall scarred us and we vowed that in our own time we would take our revenge on the Tory town but that was for later, for now we needed to count ourselves lucky to avoid a hiding and it was time to get back to Gillingham.

Photos: Jaz, Ivan, Crabby, Bowz and Dave in the dressing room at Digby Hall.

Rich, Jaz, Crabby and Bowz in front of the mirror in the dressing room at Digby Hall.

Bowz, Jaz and Crabby putting up the Nymphomania backdrop at Digby Hall.

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