It’s UK punk’s 40th anniversary year – sort of – and among the work being celebrated is ‘Sniffin’ Glue’, the photocopied publication that embodied the movement’s high, heroic era. Founder and editor Mark Perry shares his memories
Dateline: sometime in London 1977, in a basement club on a corner site at the top end of Neal St near Shaftesbury Avenue.
Location: the Roxy, the punk venue which took on the name of the space’s previous occupant, a gay disco. On the street above, fruit and veg from Covent Garden market stalls come to die, slowly, in the gutter. In the toilets below, young (and not so young) women and men take drugs – snorting amphetamine sulphate, mostly.
Onstage is Paul Weller, of the Jam. Weller is at the microphone, hot and bothered. He has a pamphlet in his hands. He is not happy about something written in it, about him and his band. He tells the crowd this. And he sets fire to the paper. A knowing bit of stagecraft, this: think Hendrix, with his Stratocaster and a can of Ronson lighter fluid. Also, a symbol of the times.
Punk was – not exclusively, but widely – a world of true believers. From south London to west Londonderry came grouplets of purists, with fine-tuned doctrines about what constituted real punk. Some condensed their credos into fanzines. That was what Weller was putting to the flames, the latest edition of punk’s defining fanzine, Sniffin’ Glue.
Now, all these decades later, punk is being celebrated across London. It’s a 40th anniversary thing (though no one who was around in punk’s heroic era seems to know what in particular it’s an anniversary of – the first Sex Pistols shows were in 1975, for example). One event in these celebrations is a panel discussion ofSniffin’ Glue at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. It’s a fine and fitting place. Punk was always about art as much as music: one of The Clash’s earliest shows was at the ICA and Patti Smith was in the audience, entranced by the cavernous-cheeked beauty of Paul Simonon.
Now it will welcome Sniffin’ Glue’s founder and editor, Mark Perry. A bank clerk from Deptford, son of a docker and enthused by the new music he heard around him, Perry set up his fanzine in the spring of 1976, taking its name from a track on the first Ramones album. (As for glue sniffing, let’s call it an ancient self-medication practice: you tipped some glue into a container of some kind, maybe a paper bag, cupped it to your face, inhaled the fumes and let them mess around with your nervous system.)
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