Third year students at Ripon who wanted to live in college were given their own room and, of course, mine was back in the chaos that was Owen House. The only disadvantage was that I no longer had a record deck and was still making do with the cassette player and an old guitar amp. I made mix-tapes during the holidays to take back with me but missed the endless hours scrutinising the album cover of whatever album I was listening to at the time. In the Christmas holidays of 1979 I found out that the Ramones were touring in Britain and got hold of tickets to see them at the Top Rank in Sheffield in the coming February. Yes, at last!
When the day finally came, I drove four of us back home in my girlfriend’s car (a red Hillman Imp – she hadn’t passed her test yet) where we saw various parents before going to queue up outside the venue. Until they’d recently turned it into a music venue, the Top Rank had always been a night club of the type I never went to (smart-casually clothed disco dancing!) so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The place was full of punks wearing bin liners with safety pins everywhere and milling around trying to look hard without spilling their pints. I was wearing my usual ripped jeans and donkey jacket and probably looked out of place but I didn’t care, I was going to see the Ramones! The place erupted when the band swaggered on stage.
“Hey, we’re the Ramones, this one’s called ‘Rockaway Beach’ take it dude!”
“One, two, three, four!”
There followed an ear-splitting, hundred-miles-an-hour barrage of crashing guitars and drums fronted by the lanky Joey leaning into the mic stand, singing with a fierce intensity I’d never seen before. The Top Rank thankfully has a balcony which we pretty quickly moved underneath to avoid the other barrage – that of pint glasses raining down on everyone below! Spitting at the band (or “gobbing” as people started calling it, though in Sheffield we’d always called it “flobbing”) was for some reason a punk’s sign of appreciation and there was initially plenty going on. However, when Johnny Ramone came to the front of the stage, stopped playing and threatened anybody who carried on, that he’d smash their heads in with his guitar, it soon stopped! Every song started with, “One, two, three, four!” Every song was short and played at break-neck speed. Every song was brilliant.
Our journey back to college, in a different car, through steadily falling snow and breaking down at Selby Fork Services, culminated in us running out of petrol as we entered Ripon and having to walk the last mile or so back to college. But nothing could dampen the excitement I’d just been part of. I bought the album which had been out for a while, soon after the gig and it captured perfectly the thrill of the Ramones in person.
“It’s alive.” They were. I was.