Trev HAGL, to anyone outside of the world of Oi and North East punx, the name needs no introduction. For the rest of you however, Trev has valiantly kept the fires burning for Oi through thick and thin since the 80s, even when others packed up and went home.
Editor of innumerable zines over the years, most notably HAGL (‘Have A Good Laugh’), which spoke truth to power during the fag-end of Thatcher and the dark days of Major, ‘stalwart’ doesn’t really do justice for a man who lives it as he sees it and generally spends his time in pursuit of well-crafted tunes, cheap beer and a good laugh (or ‘savage amusement’, another zine title).
Outside of his own musical projects over the years, Trev has encouraged and supported countless others through his zine and distro. Scourge of bosses, mindless trendies and the politically suspect, it was overdue to hear from this regional treasure. Girth and Crombieboy had a chat with the man.
When did skinhead revivalists first appear in your neck of woods – was there a local Sham Army in the late 70s, as there was in Glasgow for example?
I guess there was a Sham Army in every town. You’ve got to bear in mind, though, that I lived on the outskirts. So apart from trips to the Toon (Newcastle) I never saw or knew them, though I posthumously bumped into people who were there at the time or mates with them – on Facebook, at gigs, and so on. They used to hang round the middle of Eldon Square, which is now yuppified, across from where John Lewis is. There and in the Handyside Arcade, they terrorised anyone who looked different – especially hippies.
One night up Consett, one of the Consett skins batted me as I was getting on the bus pissed out my head. I swore revenge to his lass, who was still on the bus, and sorted out a rematch next day in the Greenmarket in the Toon. Only one of my mates was mad enough to accompany me. Life looks a lot different when you’re sober and surrounded by the Sham Army. ‘Made my excuses and left’ is the phrase, I think!
I think they must’ve appeared around 1979, maybe 1980?
A gang of Newcastle skins and suedeheads, the Scotswood Aggro Boys, famously appeared in a 1971 documentary – they enjoy some cult status now. Did you get to meet any of them later, and are any still around today?
This was a good way before my time, never even knew about it till I saw the old footage on YouTube. I’m sure I would have bumped into some of them in the Toon boozers in the 80s, but nah. I can’t really give you any info on them. One of the rare occasions when I am too young to be of any help!
Were you a punk before going skinhead? And what attracted you to skinheads, was it the muscles and tight trousers?
Ha ha, as for muscles and tight trousers, there was a character called Gordon, and we’ll return to him in due time. Like most people round here, I got into punk because it was the best music around, the attitude as well – it was something new and great. Then the record labels fucked it up and smoothed it out, created new wave and tried to kill off the best thing ever to happen to music.
And then, along came Bushell, who promoted street-level bands, which was refreshing as the NME practically had a blacklist on anything punk by then. This was about 1980. I remember getting Punk Lives and Punk’s Not Dead in Consett newsagents, and a year earlier Oi! The Album from the record shop nearby.
Clobber was surprisingly hard to come by. I got a really shit quality flight jacket in blue from a mini-department store in nearby Leadgate. You’ve got to remember, these things barely existed in our neck of the woods at the time – especially not Harringtons, which are now available in every market and wannabe Primark shop in the country.
What were some of the most important band and venues in the North East in the early 1980s? We’re familiar with the Upstarts, Red Alert, Red London and Toy Dolls… so maybe you can tell us about some lesser-known acts? And who are Breakout?
The early 80s saw a string of pub gigs and coach/minibus outings to other small towns with all kinds of danger in the air, not really the Oi scene as such. I can’t really remember any obscure Oi bands you won’t already have heard of… It was mainly punk bands like The Redundants, whose guitarist went on to be in Major Accident. Hard to believe now, but the Toy Dolls played every shithole around Stanley, and the odd one in Consett. In Sunderland, there was the Old 29 pub, which I never made it to due to finances, and in Consett there was the Britannia pub. But basically, gigs could happen anywhere where the landlord was prepared to weigh up the risks between pints sold and destruction – and there was a high risk of both.
Breakout, if we are talking early 80s, were a Stiff Little Fingers type band that I think only done one very sought after single on Guardian Records. If you mean the more recent band of that name, well… let’s just say we have ‘political differences’!
Legend has it that the further north you went in the 80s, the more skinheads tended to lean to the left. Was that true for Newcastle, Durham and Sunderland?
It varies wildly, though you would think you probably got more left-leaning skinheads from places the Tories have brutalised. However, in places like Consett, where there was an NF organiser, the opposite was true.
You often hear that in the early 80s skinheads were just skinheads, whereas rival political factions only emerged later on. So when Skullhead first started out, were they part of the normal punk and Oi scene playing to mixed crowds, or were they a separate thing with their own scene from the outset?
In London, the nazi scene started with Skrewdriver, which would have been about 1981, though by about 1983-1984 it had caught on up here too. By this time, the steelworks had gone, and a lot of the redundancy money too, so it was desperate times and perfect for the National Front to recruit.
I think Skullhead had the odd punk in the band at first, but I also think it was obvious what they were about pretty much from the start, although they managed to play a gig with Section 5 and Condemned 84, who were still on Oi! Records at the time. That would have been in 1984 or 1985. I was stopped in town by an older bloke with longer hair and told about this gig, but he said The Business and Vicious Rumours were headlining! Don’t know if those bands even knew about it. Being young and naive, I never stopped to wonder why there was a redirection point – a pub in Consett – or why those that pointed me to the real venue, the Grove CIU club, were smirking and saying, “Err no, I don’t think it’s The Business playing”.
Oddly enough, the skinhead who punched me on the bus was there and was suddenly all friendly, “Good gig, eh?”, thinking I’d become one of them. I only found out years later that the bloke who had approached me in the first place was the Toon NF organiser.
Was there much political violence in the Newcastle punk and Oi scenes? Any interesting or funny stories about it?
There was always the threat of violence in the 80s, you had chaos punks, who I would go on to be mates with, nazi skins, and alternative types and anti-fascists all drinking in the same bars. Every now and then, peace broke out.
I remember one night, me and my mate Aztec were walking up the back alley to the Mayfair and were surrounded by loads of NF skins from Chilton or somewhere. It was usually a case of “Where are you from?”, and whatever answer you gave would be wrong… But Aztec being Aztec, he came out with some mad off-the-wall comment, and it gave us time to get away. I remember another time at a gig in Riverside where one of them came up and asked the same question. I turned it round and said, “Where are YOU from?” Which oddly enough worked!
By the early 90s, I was hanging round with some proper loons, and there were running battles and all sorts, though the worst one was with an NF organiser who recognised one of us. Both groups of lads departed the pub, and there was hell on. These were big blokes, 10 years older than us, so I thought “What the fuck are we doing?” But I underestimated the loons I was with… It was a mad night, with people going over the barriers into the road, cars tooting, etc.
I never quite got the gang mentality thing, though. It was good to see bullies get their comeuppance, but when you’re in your 50s, you’re just glad to have brekky and a few pints and a bit craic.
Any memorable encounters with the seminal rave DJ, MC Techno T? We’re talking about the artist formerly known as Kev Turner, of course.
These were mad times. People were being chucked down nightclub stairs and all sorts. I hated Thatcher, supported the miners and was never racist, whereas a lot of the Consett skins were the opposite. Consett went from having loads of well paid jobs in the steel works to none within a year, and the hate was spilling over. Perfect environment for NF recruitment, and whatever our differences, Kev Turner was the perfect recruiter. He would go and talk to anybody – punks, skins, casuals – and invite them to his gigs.
After hanging round with Consett lefties for a few years, I wasn’t sure if I was going to get invited to a gig or threatened. To cut a long story short, one of the lefties got threatened by one of the NF skins with CS gas in a pub bog, and as I lived six miles away – “out of harms way” was the excuse – he kindly blamed me for all the anti-nazi graffiti. This is why Guantanamo doesn’t work! Later, I found out that two others did the same to save their skins too.
So then, it was only a matter of when rather than if, and it happened when I was walking uptown one night. I got punched a couple of times, and that was it really. I got disillusioned with Consett – with friends like that, who needs enemies? Instead, I started drinking in Toon and in Durham with my trendy mates more. Which was just as well, as Tubby from Skullhead told me 15 years later that I was also being blamed for some really over-the-top stuff in one of Steve DIY’s fanzines – if you have seen that guy’s Facebook wars, you will know the type of stuff I mean. It did explain why I’d also been threatened by that other member of the band in the years in between – I thought it was just an excuse for a fight at the time!
Credit to Kev Turner though. It’s not my type of music, but he managed to ditch his past, which takes bollocks, and one or two others from the Skullhead scene also changed. There are still a couple around who haven’t, but at least you can now drink in Consett without looking over your shoulder – though my mate did get threatened for posting anti-EDL stuff on Facebook. There even seems to be more punks around these days than I remember back then.
Some skinhead scenes had their own local fashion quirks – I heard that Sunderland skins were big on nose rings in the 80s, for example. Can you recall any clobber or fashion items that were Newcastle or Durham specific?
Never heard of that one or really noticed. I have been a fashion victim a few times, though, wearing an imitation sheepskin and grey DMs. Like I said earlier, it was nothing like today where you can grab a Harrington or flight jacket just anywhere. I don’t think the shops actually caught on till the mid-late 80s. On the whole, I think the North East came out quite well when you look at The Business on the cover of Welcome to the Real World and see them wear dodgy haircuts and ‘minder’ leather jackets…
In Europe, Red Alert from Sunderland were often seen as a ‘redskin’ band because people took the ‘red’ in their name as a hint. Was there any truth to that?
I don’t think the band specifically set out to be a redskin band, but sharing members with the Upstarts over the years, they come from a similar outlook, if not as outspoken. They are and were about exposing all the shite the Tories get up to, and about real life in general.
There was a bit of an Oi revival in the early-mid 90s, with bands like Another Man’s Poison and Boisterous. What was your role in restarting that scene up north, and what was the story with The Bile Ducts?
The Bile Ducts were a few years before that and not linked to the later revival, although we did sound a bit Oi. I think we formed about 1986 or 87 with the intention, tongue firmly in cheek, of upsetting the new breed of ‘nice’ punks as much as possible. US punk and hardcore had become elitist, and all this awful Dischord shite with mindless, pointless lyrics that only meant anything to those who wrote them, was coming out – a precursor to emo.
Meanwhile in the UK, there was all this hideous pseudo-intellectual stuff like Flux and Crass’s later stuff, which was unlistenable garbage. Chumbawamba started something worthwhile at first, getting people to boycott dodgy companies, but it had spread to the extent where a whole new scene of elitists looking for faults in everyone appeared. So we thought we’d form a band even worse than the Macc Lads.
It was a good laugh, we would get the tins in and do interviews for zines that got worse and worse, and in the end we’d swop answers and try to get each other as hated as possible. One night our drummer Reg didn’t turn up, so we made his answers up for him – you can only imagine!
We managed to record a rough demo and a live tape, but that was it. Our songs were plain ‘wrong’, ranging from every kind of ‘ism’ to songs about disasters, which in most cases were written the next day. If Facebook had been around in those days we would have got killed, but that was the sick kind of humour going around in Consett back then. All the nutters loved it. They’d run into walls and even slash themselves.
Of course, nowadays it has turned completely the other way, and being anti-PC is trendy. To keep up the same level of offence, we would have to reinvent ourselves as a gay Islamic liberal peacenik band.
I actually got Noby from Boisterous’s record collection!
Murdaball are our favourite Geordie band today – are they mates of yours? What other local bands can you recommend, and how is the Oi scene in Newcastle these days doing generally? Is it a good place to live if you’re into this type of music?
Murdaball are good, aye. I know the singer to speak to, but the line-up keeps changing, so I’m not sure who’s in the band as I miss most gigs due to our shite bus service. For some reason, Newcastle has never been a prolific place as far as good bands go. There’s been the odd chaos punk band like Rampage, but as for Oi… well, I would be hard pushed to think of any. There’s Crashed Out, but they are from Jarrow, which is halfway between Toon and South Shields. There are always punk gigs on – sometimes too many, as you get 10 people in each. But not much happening at all with Oi.
There’s actually a lot more happening in a small town like Darlington: Gimp Fist, Last Rough Cause, and various spin-offs of said bands. The last Upstarts LP was cracking, a modern day rarity of worthwhile lyrics and good music on the same disc, but they are based in Jarrow/South Shields and never called themselves Oi.
So who was this guy Gordon who was asking for photos of young skinheads back in the day? What happened to him? Sounds like a ‘character’.
Ha ha, now there’s a tale. Imagine being 18 and forming a band, and somehow you start getting letters from a ‘lad’ in Scotland asking for demos. Then he tells you it’s great and one of the best bands he’s heard. And when the band goes tits up, you start a fanzine, and he thinks that’s great too and offers to print some on the photocopier in his Youth Training Scheme office that he breaks into at night. Then the letters and phone calls start getting weirder, and he’s talking about his motorbike and beating up mods repeatedly – I will spare you the gory details
Things get so odd, you stop answering his calls or writing back. A couple of years later, he’s on the back of loads of record cover thanks lists, as they too are the greatest band he’s ever heard, and I saw some zine who took him up on the offer of free photocopying, only to find he’d put an NF ad in there! Ironically, his flirtation with the nazi scene turned out to be his downfall when in 1990 the nazi zine Last Chance tracked him down and took photos, which showed that this ‘17-year-old on a YTS scheme’ was actually a 50-odd year old straggly haired Chubby Brown lookalike!
Deek from Oi Polloi was also in touch with him back in the day and got his mates to pose as mods as he ‘beat them up’. Not heard anything about him in decades – maybe he wanked himself to death? Garry Bushell liked this story so much, he put it on his Gonads blog.
Anyone missing out on the experience can now go on Facebook and get friends requests from 17-year-old scantily clad ‘lasses’ who just happen to be from your hometown… The man himself is probably no longer, but his legend lives on!
How do you feel about football and skinhead culture? Do you wear Sergio Tacchini tracksuit tops?
I’m not getting some of the fashions, and certainly not the prices! The flasher’s mac type thing my father used to mend the car in back in the 80s has now come full circle and become a trendy item. And I will leave the tracksuits to the charvers (chavs)!
Who are the best Oi band around at the moment, and who are the best Oi band of all time?
At the moment, probably Lion’s Law. The music is fantastic, even though they don’t really sing about much, and for some bizarre reason their latest LP cover looks like by some dodgy 80s band. No Time from USA are great and all. Great brickwall Oi with a superb production job. Their catchier songs sound like Blitz, and the early demos sound like Oi era Oi Polloi. Gimp Fist never let you down, of course, and then there’s Booze & Glory, although they always threaten to cross the line into overproduced commercial territory. I haven’t heard their new LP, though, so I will reserve judgement for now.
I also like Takers & Users – I think one of them was in Runnin’ Riot, and that’s who they remind me of. They’re of the few Oi bands these days who play cracking music but also have something to say. Raw, stripped-down street punk but with loads of thought put into the songs.
As for the best Oi band ever – Cock Sparrer. Looking forward to seeing them at their pub gigs in October! And can’t wait to hear the new album. The last one was great, apart from one or two average ones.
I’ve got shitloads of good new Oi and punk. and the old stuff too, so check out my site on www.savageoi.com
Interview: Girth & Crombieboy