An account of the Raid on the Duke.
Names have been changed to protect the (not so) innocent.
‘My band’s playing at a derelict cinema, in Brighton. You wanna come? You can be my guitar roadie, if yer want. Nick off work, eh?’ My mate grinned, scratched his peroxide-ginger head, and showed me the crinkly hashed-up black and white flyer, for a gig with two bands. It said something like – Brighton Anarchist Collective presents – Baby Jesus at the Duke, something like that. There were loads of big letter A’s with circles round them dotted all across the paper. I forget what the other band was called. ‘Sounds good,’ I said. ‘I spose that means I get the honour of lugging that bloody great guitar amplifier of yours, then?’
‘That’s right,’ he laughed. ‘For a few beers thrown in.’
It was a done deal.
I wasn’t really into punk bands by 83’. I was more into stuff like Echo and the Bunnymen, New Order and Big Country, by then. But, I was always a sucker for those big white letter A’s on the back of a leather jacket, and as he turned round, I saw that my mate had one. I think I needed to feel I still had some rebellion left in me. I was numb from selling tasteless terylene togs at Topman Menswear, for £64.50 a week – which was what I’d been doing since I left school. Yeah – part of me was very keen to stick two fingers up to a boring job and the boring world, and a free anarchist gig was a reasonably safe way to do it. I’d always felt I’d missed my chance to be a proper punk in ‘76, ’77 and 78 – cos my Mum wouldn’t let me. Admittedly, from age 12 to 14 I’d had some heady night’s pogo-ing to X-Ray-Spex, the Pistols and the Clash at the Thomas Bennett School disco, or dodging the initiation ceremony of getting my head flushed down the bog at the Friday night youth club. But, whereas the older and more daring punk-dandies had stuck safety pins through their ears, lashed their crop-top spikes up with sugar-water, and religiously trekked up to London to buy their bondage trousers, I’d still been sweeping the floors with tent-like flared Levis, and my hair had been a smart blonde side-parted flick-over, carefully combed for hours – secured in crusty perfection by my sisters hair-spray. Maybe, this gig was another chance to feel the live energy of what I’d missed in ‘77.
I decided to go. My mate’s band – Baby Jesus, were a tight little four-piece that I’d seen many times. Their Ramone-esque fuzz-guitar-punk-pop always made for a fun and lively night out (as long as our arch-enemies the Neo-Nazi Skinhead Oi-Brigade didn’t show up), and I knew I’d have some fun singing along to their classic anthems of ‘Shame on You’ and ‘Pigs go Home’ (a rather impolite request to the Police force, who occasionally turned up at their gigs). Little did I know, however, as I blissfully signed up to a night of anarchy and musical frolics, that this latter song would be particularly relevant at the night that came to be known as -The Raid on the Duke.
Come the evening of the gig, the cold winter fog hanging over Brighton station did little to dampen our excitement. But, as I helped my mate lug his huge guitar-stack off the train from Crawley, with other band members and small groups of fans and friends, I could already feel my lower back giving me severe jip. In fact, by the time we’d stopped off to boost our strength at a burger joint, I also found that my arms had grown considerably longer – trailing along the floor and dangling lifelessly at my sides on the rare occasions when we stopped to rest. Guitar roadie-ing was not proving to be as glamorous as I’d hoped, but there was the still the lure of the promised beer to keep me going. Indeed, things had started to look up when we paid a scruffy kid to let us use his skate-board as transport.
‘You don’t look like a punk,’ he said, running his eyes over my Russian hat and long grey overcoat.
‘I’m not,’ I said.
‘He’s a Bunnyman,’ someone laughed.
‘Where’s yer ears, then?’ said the kid. And I did my best to explain as we trundled off down the steep hill, bumping over the broken paving. It was tricky job keeping the amp balanced on the skateboard, but a lot easier than carrying it. I felt hot sweat trickling down my back as we wrestled the gear down the road, but gradually my arms returned to their original human length after being stretched to Uran-Utang-ish proportions.
Eventually, as the street lights glowed through the freezing misty night –we stopped, wiped our red dripping noses, and tried to rub some life back into our red ears, aching shoulders, fingers and lumbar regions. We had reached our venue – the DERELICT Cinema. I emphasise the word derelict, because derelict was the word that had been used many, many times in its description. Come to a gig in a DERELICT cinema, Baby Jesus are playing at a DERELICT cinema in Brighton, come along – welcome, one and all. In fact, thinking about it, the whole evening had been sold along the lines of a Sunday-school picnic, rather than part of an anarchist-punk revolution. A picnic, however, was not on the agenda.
As we gratefully escaped the grip of the cold, entering the DERELICT cinema through a small side door (a fire escape), into the shadowy, deep crimsoned, lushly carpeted interior, our first impressions were of awe and sadness and even indignation. How could such a beautiful cinema, be classed as derelict? It was criminal that a cinema in this condition should be closed! It was still in mint condition! What are they (The Owners, Authorities, Government, Thatcher etc) playing at? What ARE they playing at? This place isn’t DERELICT!!!! We must reclaim it as a musical venue for the anarchist youth of Britain!
And, yes, of course – we were right. It wasn’t derelict. It had just been renovated – repainted, refurbished etc, etc. But, somehow – blame tiredness, the need to escape the cold, the beer-induced muzziness, wishful thinking, youthful frustration, daftness etc – this rather obvious fact just didn’t register. Our shivering little band of musicians, roadies and friendly local anarchist organisers, busied ourselves setting up drum kits and amps, and tuning guitars.
I was completely whacked-out by this stage, so I settled into a plush velvet seat in front of the screen and watched the gig take shape. Gradually, more and more people drifted in through the fire exit, made themselves comfortable in the stalls, swigged from litre bottles of cider and skinned up. A punk sporting a single towering unicorn-spike of hair from his forehead, offered me a go on a very large looking spliff.
‘No thanks, mate,’ I said, loftily. ‘I don’t do drugs.’ I reasserted my manhood by swigging from one of my hard-earned cans of lager.
After what seemed like an age, long cable extensions linked electricity to the amps and PA. Someone said ‘‘One-Two, One-Two’’, into a microphone about a thousand times, and by the time the bands had sound-checked a couple of songs, there must have been nearly a hundred people in the cinema.
Before the gig had started, I’d made a trip to find the toilet and taken a look around. It felt strange to be inside a cinema with no film showing. I’d only been to the Duke of York once before – when I was fourteen, to see Saturday Night Fever, with my mum and Dad. It had my first X-rated movie (because of the sex and swearing), and at the time I couldn’t believe my parents had broken the law by taking me in – dead cool, although I’d been really embarrassed by John Travolta endlessly effing and blinding and bonking in front of my mum, for two long hours. On that occasion, the Duke had been musty and damp – the velvet seats worn and lumpy – the walls tatty and dirty. But now, even in the gloom, I could see that everything was clean and cared for. There’d been some mistake – this cinema was definitely not derelict.
When I returned to my seat, I was more than alarmed to see a very young, pink-faced policeman, standing dwarfed by the bass-player from Baby Jesus, and the bands singer, who was sporting a vicar’s ceremonial dog-collar.
‘What’s going on ere, then?’ said the constable, smiling nervously. (Yes! He actually said this). He listened and nodded politely, while the tall, shock-headed bassist explained about the ‘Free Gig’. In fact, despite his fierce appearance, the bassist was one of the mellowest fellows you could hope to meet (in spite of his habit of performing naked and being able to eat cigarette’s, light-bulb’s, and well… anything, as a dare).
‘Alright, then,’ said the young officer. ‘Keep the noise down to a reasonable level, and we’ll say no more about it.’
A cheer of relief rang out from around the stalls, and the diminutive Copper waved brightly to us, and made his way out through the fire exit. The gig was on! This reasonable attitude on the behalf of the authorities did slightly lessen the revolutionary atmosphere of our gathering, but the support band launched into a song and the crowd settled back, and merrily swigged and puffed.
Sadly, however, this moment of optimism based on the understanding nature of the police officer, was the turning point of the evening. From this moment on the electricity supplying the equipment began to cut out. Brief periods of music became interrupted by longer periods of ‘fixing’ things up. Cat-calls and jeers began to fill the air, and then more disturbing smashings and crashings reverberated down from the balcony circle above. Anarchist organisers and band members were seen hurrying around trying to subdue the handful of drunks who’d gone berserk upstairs.
My friends among the Crawley crew began to shift uneasily as news filtered down that someone had smashed up some projection equipment. 99% of the audience who’d been happy to sit and chat began to turn on the few who weren’t. When some raggedy-arsed nutter staggered drunkenly down the side aisle and slung the contents of a paint-pot across the wall, they were quickly grabbed and ejected through the fire exit. And that was when the discovery was made that the police had returned – En Masse!
‘It’s the Pigs!’ someone yelled, and the atmosphere changed in an instant. A lucky couple of fugitives scarpered foxily into the dark and someone barricaded the door. Then everyone talked in hushed tones about what on earth were we going to do! But while we hazily pondered whether to try to escape or surrender, the decision was made for us. The moment of pregnant calm was suddenly shattered by the sound of smashing glass! The front entrance doors were being broken down.
‘They’re kicking the doors in!’
‘They’re using their truncheons!’
‘There’s hundred’s of em!’
Suddenly, everyone sprang up and into action. Some bolted towards the fire exit, other’s fled upstairs, some hid behind the screen. But, there was no way out! I stayed where I was – with my mates. It was looking serious. People were panicking – someone was going to get hurt. We watched as the spike-haired wave of heads rushing towards the fire exit was stopped in its tracks by a heavier tide of policemen who shoved them back, with truncheons drawn. A sea of tall-helmeted figures surged in alongside the screen, crashed into the crowd, and drove it back up towards the aisles.
From behind, another dark tsunami of coppers burst past where the Cinema attendants would have stood. But this lot weren’t carrying torches or ice-creams. They waded down through the seats, grabbed those who were still sitting there, and started roughing them up. I saw a big rockabilly take several blows from a truncheon, as he tried to get out of their way.
Then suddenly, in a very surreal moment, a senior, capped officer with shiny epaulets, climbed onto the improvised stage and waved his arms above his head as he floundered through the wreckage of fallen drums and guitars.
‘Nobody move!’ he said, commandingly. ‘Sit down and stay exactly where you are!’
His Scottish accent and moustached appearance made him look the spitting image of prison officer Mackay, from the BBC TV series – Porridge.
‘It’s Mr Mackay, from Porridge!’ someone shouted, and a roar of laughter rang out amid the chaos.
The officer struggled to contain his own laughter. ‘Nobody Move!’ he said again, and then the lights went out.
Screams and shouts filled the air, and suddenly I felt myself being seized by an enormous pair of hands. I was hoisted up by the scruff of the neck and hauled to my feet, from behind.
‘What d’ya think you’re doing, you stupid little *******!’ said a huge constable.
Being unable to reply, due to being strangled, I floundered around like a limp doll, wondering why I’d decided to come here in the first place. My friends surrounded him and pulled me free.
‘He just told us to sit down, you berk!’ I choked at him, rubbing my throat.
This policeman was very big indeed, and he looked like he was just about to grab me again, when Mr Mackay yelled at the top of his voice.
‘Sit down, where you are!’ he said, again.
The over-enthusiastic uniformed assailant backed off reluctantly, and my friends and I sat back down. We faced the front.
‘Now! Everybody, just calm down!’ said Mackay. He managed to gain some secure footing. He stood up tall, straightened his jacket and looked intently at some of his officers. ‘I mean everybody’ he said. The whole room quietened down, and the pushing and struggling lessoned.
‘You are all under arrest. I want you to wait quietly and patiently while we file you outside in smaller groups. You will be taken to Brighton Police Station for questioning.’
There were a few jeers and choruses of the Baby Jesus song ‘Pigs go home’. Several struggles with the police continued, but most people stayed-put, either in the stalls or where they stood.
The process of taking us all to the station was a long and tedious one. It was past midnight when a small group of us found ourselves being steered by the elbow, out through the fire exit, into a blazing glare of spot-lights. Through the blinding brightness, we could just see how the street had been sealed off with ten’s of dark police vans sporting wire-grilled windscreens. Packs of police dogs lunged and barked at us from every side, grudgingly held back by their handlers. Helmeted, uniformed figures with pale luminous faces peered at us from behind the shield of dazzling spotlights. The whole spectacle felt weird and dreamlike.
‘Bit of an over-reaction, eh?’ someone shouted, as our group of young men and women were shoved and manhandled into the back of a black transit-van.
The atmosphere at the station was less tense – more resigned. Groups of punks in biker jackets and rain-coated alternative-types sat around on the lino floor, blinking sleepily in the pale fluorescent light. A subterranean mumble of voices and hushed laughter formed a backdrop for sudden, curt police-commands – ‘‘Put that cigarette out’’, and ‘‘You, you and you. Come with us.’’
The hours wore on, while small groups of three and four were led off to be separated and interviewed individually. We speculated about what would become of us. Nobody who was taken away had been brought back. We didn’t know what was going to happen.
Finally, it was our turn. A small bunch of us were escorted into some corridors and asked to sit down. I watched my group disappear one by one through an office door, until I was alone. And then, I was led forward. It was my turn. The door clunked shut behind me, grey-haired, middle-aged officer sitting at a desk motioned for me to sit and face him, without looking up. He raised his head from a pile of statements on the desk and looked up. It was a very drawn and dark-eyed Mr Mackay. Two big constables stood behind him, staring at me.
‘Ok,’ he said. He took a long, bored breath. ‘We know it was a free gig, most of you were just having a good time. Blah! Blah! Blah! But…’ he leaned forward across the desk. ‘A lot of damage was done in there. Cinematic projectors, costing thousands of pounds. Smashed. Ruined. Just because you wanted to have a good time.’ He scowled at me. ‘What have you got to say for yourself?’
For a moment, I thought about how Ronnie Barker (who played Fletcher, Mackay’s criminal inmate nemesis – in Porridge) might have come back with something witty and subtly derogatory. But, I wasn’t quite up to it. This was real, so I pulled myself together.
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘We thought it was derelict, and… well. There was only a few idiots doing damage and we tried to stop them.’
‘That’s as well as may be,’ he frowned.
‘I reckon you lot must have done nearly as much damage smashing in through the glass doors,’ I said.
‘Don’t get lippy, son.’ One of the policemen growled at me.
Mackay leaned forward. ‘What we want to know is… do you know who organised it? Who was responsible for setting it all up?’
‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘We just heard about a free gig at the derelict cinema, and turned up.’
‘It’s not derelict,’ he said.
‘I know that, now,’ I said. ‘We didn’t realise.’ Suddenly, I just wanted to get out of there. Out of the bright lights of the stuffy room. Out of Brighton. I wanted to get home, to bed. I was supposed to go to work in the morning, after nicking off, the day before. I did my best to look innocent. ‘We’re really very sorry, about all of this.’
He wasn’t buying it. ‘Gah!’ He said. ‘Go straight home. We’ll be in touch.’
Some of my mates were still waiting outside, in the mist and the dark. There was no sign of anyone from Baby Jesus – they must still have been holding them for questioning. We toiled back up the hill to Brighton station and waited for the train home. We hopped from one foot to another, stood in small groups and shivered in the cold – swapping stories of what had happened to each of us. One bloke had escaped and legged it just before the cops arrived. Someone had punched a copper when they pushed his girlfriend. I’d been half-strangled. We’d all met Mr Mackay, but there’d been no sign of Fletcher.
When we slumped off the train at three bridges station, and began to drag ourselves home, the blackbirds were beginning to sing, and the dawn was breaking – grey, cold and misty. We all chattered – laughing grimly – tired, scared about what would happen. We worried about where our missing mates were, what our parents would say, or if we’d lose our jobs. One by one we drifted off into the mist, reluctant to part – feeling safer in each others company. We reckoned that the police had over-reacted, but that it was a shame that the gig had been spoiled by a few idiots. We all said it was a shame that the nice old cinema had got smashed up. We hoped someone would fix it up again soon, and were glad that it wasn’t derelict – that it was going to carry on being used. As I wandered back alone, through the deserted town centre, I rubbed my sore neck and thought of how the police had beaten some of us up with truncheons. The Baby Jesus lyrics – ‘Shame on you! Shame on you!’ swirled angrily in my head. I paused and looked at the hunched image of myself reflected in the security-glass of the TopMan shop window. Then, I shivered my way home to bed.
Disclaimer - the above is a work of fiction and all of the characters are entirely fictitious and imaginative. None of the characters are representative of anybody in real life.