Among the Mohican Haircuts
‘John was writing the guitar riffs and we were just joining in,’ said Wolstencroft. ‘Ian wrote one song about Prince Charles. I can’t remember what that was called, but it made me laugh.’ Brown wrote a song called ‘Black Flag’, after the famous anarchist symbol. ‘Ian would sing that one and play bass,’ said Garner. The Patrol also attempted a cover of The Monkees song ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’, which had been part of the Sex Pistols’ live repertoire.
Brown and Couzens quickly grew close, travelling together to watch promising Welsh mod-revival band Seventeen, whose fast transformation into The Alarm left a sour taste. ‘We realized they were really just doing it for the money,’ said Couzens. ‘And we didn’t like it.’
Wolstencroft, Garner and Squire had no such reservations about the motivations of The Clash. All three bunked off studies to follow the band throughout January and February 1980 on their 16 Tons tour, making gigs in Chester, Wales, Bristol, London and Manchester at the Apollo where The Specials were the support. Squire met NME photographer and future Stone Roses collaborator Pennie Smith on the tour. She was famed for her photographs of The Clash, particularly her cover shot for London Calling. It was Smith who facilitated the three schoolboys’ introduction to The Clash’s entourage. ‘The Clash treated us really well,’ said Garner. ‘It was a massive influence.’
Brown also saw first-hand how The Clash treated their fans. The day after the gig at the Apollo, he and Garner acted on the rumour that the band were recording in Manchester. They took a train into the city, intending to go round the studios. It started to rain, and despite their chutzpah they realized that they only actually knew one studio, Pluto on Granby Row. ‘We were both soaking wet and we realized how stupid this was,’ said Garner. ‘As if we’re just going to walk up to the studio, they’re going to be there and they’re going to let us in.’
However, as the pair approached the studio, they were in luck. A car pulled up and Topper Headon, the band’s drummer, got out. He took pity on the two bedraggled kids and invited them inside, where Brown and Garner spent all day watching The Clash record the single ‘Bankrobber’. ‘They were fantastic,’ said Garner. ‘Not many bands would do that.’ Brown was less star-struck. Observing singer Joe Strummer sat under a grandfather clock, weirdly clicking his fingers in time with it, only served to entrench his opinion that the Sex Pistols were punk’s finest band.
Squire was inspired by his experiences on the 16 Tons tour. He wrote The Clash-influenced punk-pop tunes ‘Gaol of the Assassins’ and ‘Too Many Tons’ and introduced them to The Patrol’s rehearsals. Squire had been working diligently on improving his guitar playing. He’d been to a blues and folk guitar teacher and studied a book called Lead Guitar that came with a free flexi-disc of blues-based music. ‘That stuff came easy to me. I just liked the sound.’ His dad had also rigged up the transformer from Squire’s old train set to the record player in his room so he could slow his records down and work out guitar parts at his own pace.
Using wages from part-time jobs, The Patrol recorded both the new Squire tracks at a demo studio in Rusholme, where a pre-Simply Red Mick Hucknall acted as sound engineer. ‘Gaol of the Assassins’ was surprisingly accomplished. Couzens could carry a tune and the mid-tempo song allowed Squire to show off some fine melodic guitar lines. ‘It’s like what he would play later on in the Roses,’ said Wolstencroft. ‘John already had a feel for it, a good rhythm and a good sound.’
A promising dynamic between Squire and Brown was apparent in these early explorations. ‘Ian was always brilliant at talking it up,’ said Garner. ‘If he met somebody he’d convince them within five minutes that the band he was in was the best band ever, whereas John would get down and do the work. You can put a lot of The Patrol’s stuff down to John. He was responsible for writing a lot of the lyrics, probably a lot of the music, if not all of it. Together it worked out quite well.’ Brown had also handled the harmonies on ‘Gaol of the Assassins’ and the faster, less intricate ‘Too Many Tons’, as well as helping write the lyrics.
After recording the demo and producing a limited number of cassette copies with inserts designed by Squire, The Patrol played a handful of gigs beginning in March 1980. Squire used the college facilities to produce posters and flyers to help publicize the shows, which were mostly organized by Brown, who by now had a scooter to go with his tonic suit and was busy putting his face about south Manchester.
‘I was always on the move,’ Brown said. ‘I had mates all over town, not just from where I was from. I was hanging out with kids everywhere.’ Among Brown’s new mates was Gaz Smith, the leader of a gang of salty punks from Stretford, home of Manchester United FC, that coalesced around the band Corrosive Youth. This scene also included art students from Cosgrove Hall animation studio who were developing the Danger Mouse series, which would become an international hit in 1981. Incongruously among the Mohican haircuts, some Stretford punks had their leather biker jackets adorned with early cartoons of Danger Mouse and his sidekick Penfold.
‘They were all right, decent lads,’ said Couzens. ‘They decided they liked Ian.’ People seemed to gravitate towards Brown, agreed Wolstencroft. ‘He attracted people with style, no matter who it was or what the style was. He just clicked with people.’ The Patrol played youth clubs with Corrosive Youth, including nights at Sale Annexe and Lostock near Stretford. ‘It was an excuse for us to all go out somewhere different,’ said Couzens. ‘I never thought anything of it. We were just doing it.’
For Wolstencroft, the best Patrol gig was at South Trafford College when they supported progressive rockers Scorched Earth. ‘It was the first time we were on a stage that was higher than six inches, with monitors and proper equipment. It wasn’t packed but there were over a hundred people in the crowd and we were quite good. We had attitude.’
Equally exciting was the band’s first gig in Manchester city centre, at the Portland near Piccadilly Gardens. ‘It was an old-school late-1970s bar,’ said Garner, ‘a long room with a little stage at the end.’ For Garner, the highlight of all The Patrol’s shows came in a village hall in Dunham Massey, an upmarket rural area between Timperley and Lymm.
The Patrol included a cover of The Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ in their set, and Brown asked Garner to play bass while he sang the song. ‘It was the first time I ever played bass. And the only time I played with The Patrol.’
The Patrol also did a cover of the Cockney Rejects’ 1979 single ‘I’m Not a Fool’. The Rejects (who also included ‘Blockbuster’ in their live set), alongside the Angelic Upstarts, were leaders of a new energetic street-punk movement dubbed Oi! Brown, Squire and to an extent Garner were hooked on the raw excitement these bands generated. They were direct, avowedly working class and aggressively anti-establishment.
‘We all loved the first Rejects album,’ said Garner. Both he and Brown were also fans of the Angelic Upstarts’ incendiary 1978 single ‘The Murder of Liddle Towers’, written about amateur boxer Liddle Towers, who died in police cells. Brown saw the Upstarts, celebrated for their left-wing stance, play live between fifteen and twenty times, and even acted as roadie for them. The band’s singer, Thomas ‘Mensi’ Mensforth, a former apprentice miner, became something of a mentor. ‘I remember Ian humping gear in at the Mayflower in Belle Vue and another club in Moss Side, a community centre,’ said Mensi. ‘He jumped in the bus a few times to come to places like Bolton, Oldham and Blackpool.’
Brown also followed the fashion of Oi!, wearing a green MA1 jacket, Levi jeans, and Dr Martens boots with yellow laces, which signified the wearer was anti-racist, or SHARP (Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice). This was important as Oi! nights were plagued by right-wing National Front skinheads who aped the look but whose MA1 jackets were black and bootlaces white. The Upstarts often took what Mensi has called a ‘pro-active defensive’ stance: ‘We would look round the bars for the fascists before the show and we would disrupt them before they had a chance to disrupt it. That’s why I wasn’t interested in whether my roadies could string a guitar. I wanted to know they could hold their hands up in a row. Although Ian was a little bit skinny, he was a game fucker.’
Wolstencroft and Couzens back that evaluation. ‘Ian wouldn’t go looking for a fight but he was a fighter,’ Wolstencroft recalled. Couzens said Brown was ‘not frightened of anything’. Outside the Rotters club in the city centre, a bunch of blokes started having a go. ‘Ian stood up to them. He challenged them to hit him and the bloke did.’ Brown offered up the other side of his face. ‘Ian just kept doing that,’ said Couzens. ‘Then he said to the guy, You’re a prick, you’ve just made yourself look like a prick, and walked off.’
Under the influence of the proudly patriotic Mensi, the seventeen-year-old Brown had a small Union Jack, with the word ‘England’ across it, tattooed on his upper arm. ‘Later on Ian would be embarrassed by that tattoo,’ said Garner. It was difficult to explain and easy to misinterpret. The Upstarts, who had featured on the cover of the Socialist Worker newspaper, had introduced an unusually quiet acoustic song called ‘England’ into their live set. It was written as a tribute to the bravery of the English working classes, whom Mensi reckoned had too often been sent to war on the basis of greed. The song was also part of his arsenal against the rise in popularity of the British Movement and National Front among alienated working-class youth at a time of rising unemployment in the early years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Both neo-Nazi parties had ‘tried to hijack aspects of patriotism’, said veteran anti-fascist Mensi, who wrote the lyrics in part to ‘take the flag back from the people who had hijacked it… I was trying to say I can have pride in my country and still have respect for other people. I used to lecture everybody.’ Mensi felt he had ‘instilled something’ in Brown that made him proud.
This new-found fondness for Oi! was not shared by The Patrol’s drummer Si Wolstencroft. ‘I hated it. The songs were just too quick, with no sort of subtlety to them.’ He was the first of the gang to lose interest in The Patrol and college, drifting away from both.
The Patrol blew their one shot of making something of themselves when they missed the chance of playing in front of a potentially influential crowd at the Osbourne Club in Miles Platting, inner-city Manchester. Garner learned one afternoon that Adam and the Ants were cancelling that evening’s gig because their tour bus had broken down. Garner had planned to attend and was on the phone to the venue asking what was on instead. Told they were struggling to find a replacement, he suggested The Patrol. ‘I was blagging, telling him they’ve got a following, they’ll pull a good crowd,’ said Garner. ‘So the guy said, Okay, if you can get them down, I’ll put them on.’ But Squire could not be located. ‘He was sat in a field chilling, hadn’t told anyone where he was going, just sat in a field doing what he does.’
Wolstencroft joined a new band called Freak Party, exploring an interest in British jazz funk with bass player Andy Rourke and guitarist Johnny Marr, who had often mixed with The Patrol gang at a pub called The Vine in Sale. Freak Party would become The Smiths, and although Wolstencroft kept in touch with Squire and Brown, their passion for Oi!, and increasingly the scooter scene, saw their paths diverge.
Garner also favoured Marr’s musical direction. He’d finished school in the summer of 1980, and after a period on the dole had landed his dream job at Paperchase, the hippest record and poster/magazine shop in Manchester. Marr, whom he knew from primary school, worked in an independent fashion shop called X Clothes nearby in the city centre. ‘Ian and John used to come into Paperchase now and again,’ he said. ‘But we just didn’t hang around together any more. They were getting into the scooter thing, listening to the Rejects and the Upstarts, and I’d gone the other way, starting to listen to The Velvet Underground, the New York Dolls and The Stooges. I had long dyed black hair. We were still mates, but we didn’t hang around the bridge any more.’
It was Couzens who stayed closest to Brown and Squire, even after he was thrown out of college. ‘We basically stopped doing the band and started doing the scooters,’ he recalled.
‘I never wanted to be in a group,’ Brown said. ‘I sold my bass and got a scooter with the money – £100.’ After leaving college in the summer of 1981, Squire and Brown took a succession of easy-come, easy-go jobs to pay for music, scooters and nights out. ‘The first thing I did was scrub pots,’ said Brown. The job washing dishes at a hotel lasted about three weeks, after which he worked in an office, on a building site and washed caravans, but was mostly on the dole.
Squire stacked shelves at Tesco. He found work as ‘a barman at the local, a labourer and a grease monkey for a roller-shutter maintenance firm’. His dad had tried to get him a job as a forklift truck driver at his GEC factory. ‘I hesitated so much the job was taken by someone else. I always think of that as my lucky escape from the mundane.’