Live and dangerous

EC1 Echo talks to Paul Marko, author of a new book about Clerkenwell punk band Menace.

An old black and white photo of 4 young men in a punk band.
Menace in 1977. Photo: Ethan Guttman

South Islington has enjoyed several moments in musical history, and now its role as the crucible of punk band Menace is about to be celebrated. This August a new book about the band was published. Called Menace, its subtitle ‘Prog, Punk, Skinheads and Serendipity’ charts the band’s journey through beer-soaked mosh pits to skinhead scraps, three-chord thrashes to punk nostalgia festivals.

“I never intended to write a book on Menace,” says author Paul Marko, who also looks after punk history website Punk77. “But the more I dug into it and the characters, I realised that here was a great human story.”

Menace had four members – Noel Martin, Steve Tannett, Charlie Casey, Morgan Webster – two of whom had settled with their families from Ireland in the area. With another Islington friend and a Canadian, the quartet began as a progressive rock act called Stone­henge, and their spiritual home became the Hope and Anchor pub in Upper Street, then one of Lon­don’s most famous rock venues. The music moved on, and Menace was born.

“Menace found their voice as a punk band that also appealed to skinheads,” says Marko, who added the “serendipity” part of the sub­title “because a lot of things that happened to them by being in the right place at the right time.”

In 1976–7, the Hope and Anchor was a destination attracting local punks including those from Clerken­well. Susie Luke, who now lives in Bunhill Row, then lived in Far­ringdon Road and was involved with a punk band called (trigger warning) the Rotten Klitz. “It was the Luke’s house, within walking or staggering distance back from the Hope and Anchor, that Menace and others would hang out, including Suggs of Madness,” says Marko. “It became the party central of Clerkenwell.” As Susie Luke says, “Our house always had band members in it as my mum was an Irish immigrant who wel­comed everyone. You’d never know who’d be in the house. I remember we had to collect egg boxes for years as my brother thought he’d sound­proof the shed with them.”

With hundreds of bands around, Menace might have fallen into total obscurity. But they had a stroke of luck, and were signed up with Miles Copeland, the flam­boyant manager of The Police and owner of Illegal Records, whose father had been head of the CIA. “Miles was a fascinating guy who took risks,” says Marko. “He said, if you’ve got an idea, let’s run with it. And if that doesn’t work, let’s have another idea.”

The story has it that Copeland had a recording session booked for a band but they couldn’t make it. So he went to the Roxy Club [the punk venue in Covent Garden], saw Menace and asked them if they wanted the coveted session. “Menace thought he was taking the piss,” says Marko. But it came to pass and Menace put out Screwed Up, the first of several recordings, and began to gain plaudits from punk’s influencers, including the fanzine Sniffin’ Glue, whose Mark P dubbed them “the best punk band in England today”. Early followers included Suggs from Madness and the band reflected their roots with lyrics like: “If we’re the working class/Why ain’t we got jobs?” Alongside other Clerkenwell bands The Suspects, The Effect, The Dark – and yes, The Rotten Klitz, whose unique proposition was that no one could play – Menace appealed to fans of bands like UK Subs, the Cockney Rejects and Sham 69.  

Menace were not the fey, fashion-oriented end of the punk spectrum but a working class, streetwise group. One of their most celebrated sing-alongs was the single ‘GLC’ (chorus: “GLC GLC, You’re full of s**t”), released at a time when the GLC under Sir Horace Cutler was trying to ban punk. “At the time the authorities were genu­inely scared,” says Marko. “Even the name Menace put the wind up people.” They weren’t able to give up their day jobs and two of the members worked at Gordon’s Gin factory in Clerkenwell – all part of Menace’s punk authenticity.

With a big punk-skinhead cross­over happening, and the lure of guitar thrash and football terrace choruses, Menace began to appeal to a somewhat volatile crowd. “To be honest, the gigs grew a bit out of control,” says Marko, citing a particularly riotous concert in Sheppey, Kent. “The whole thing started to cross the line.”

Menace went into a hiatus until 1999. But they survived and to this day play punk gigs as Menace. “The line-up is different now,” says Marko. “But while some of Menace are moving towards 70 years old they play 60 gigs a year.” They remain embedded in the spirit of punk and the idea that, as Marko puts it, “You never know what opportunity is waiting around the corner.”

A photo of the cover of the book 'Menace' with the lead singer on the front.
The cover of Paul’s book

Menace: Prog, Punk, Skinheads and Serendipity is out now. £19.99 from punk77.company.site

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