For me, punk rock was born on the Fourth of July in 1976, on a sweltering summer Sunday night at The Roundhouse. That’s when The Ramones came to London.
I had spent most Sunday nights for the previous year watching whichever bands were playing at The Roundhouse. The ticket cost £1.60.
A few weeks earlier it had been Patti Smith. Tonight it was The Flamin’ Groovies, an American band in suits who looked like The Beatles and sounded like The Byrds on speed.
Supporting them were a home-grown group, The Stranglers, who sounded like The Doors on speed. In between was the band everyone I knew had come to see.
We had read about The Ramones in the music papers and the birth of something called punk rock in a downtown New York club called CBGBs. Their album had come out a couple of months earlier but they had yet to release a single.
Anticipation was at fever pitch.
Their arrival onstage was not auspicious. Before they began the microphone seemed to blow up, an argument broke out between the band and the soundman, and the four spindly figures in black leather jackets and ripped blue jeans shuffled offstage without playing a note.
When they returned five minutes later it was life-changing.
For a few moments they just stood there, surrounded by Marshall stacks, staring at the floor, legs splayed, studiously ignoring an audience full of Roundhouse regulars with long hair and beards.
Then the singer – tall, impossibly thin, with a curtain of hair hiding most of his face – curled his hand around the microphone, leant his lanky frame towards it and announced in a garbled Noo-Yawk accent: “ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR!”
What followed was a barrage of noise: the fastest, loudest noise I’d ever heard at a “pop concert.” They didn’t even pause for breath between songs; just counted down again and carried on where they left off.
Half an hour later it was over. I’d seen bands who would still be halfway through their second or third song by then. The Ramones had played 17.
I remember my friends and I just staring at each other open-mouthed. We weren’t quite sure what we had seen but we knew we needed more of it. Music would never be the same again.
Not everyone agreed. Here’s the NME review by Max Bell: “The appeal is purely negative, based on their not being able to play a shit or give a shit. The thinking process involved in evaluating their performance is non-existent; it’s first step moronorock strung across a selection of imbecilic adolescent ditties whose sole variation lies in the shuffling of three chords into some semblance of order.”
Max’s mistake, of course, was not to understand that this was precisely their appeal.