I Was There – Throbbing Gristle’s legendary Oundle School show, 1980.
“In the year 1980, confrontational industrial band Throbbing Gristle played a gig at posh Oundle School, a gig that would go down in punk history. Our eyewitness remembers it here in all its gory glory.”
Caption: Throbbing Gristle frontman Genesis P-Orridge surveys his audience of “400 pubescent and pre-pubescent young, entitled kids”
My dad was obsessed with education. The son of a south Wales coalminer, he never went to university and wanted to make up for it by providing me, his only son, with the best education possible.
As a result, I was moved from school to school, going from a direct grant to a grammar school which then, horror of horrors, turned comprehensive. He finally decided to send me to public school, albeit as a day boy, which was a well-intentioned move – except for the fact that this was 1977 and I was well into my teenage punk rebellion.
So ideologically, Oundle School for Boys in Northamptonshire, was everything I detested. I railed against the arrogance and entitlement and hung out with the town lads, getting drunk with them and getting banned from the local pubs.
I was also the lead singer in Peterborough-based band Activity Toys and we’d played our first big gig at Oundle School’s Great Hall, where they held the morning assemblies, the previous year. It hadn’t been our finest moments. No-one told the drummer we were doing the show so, unsurprisingly, he didn’t turn up. The guitarist went on drums and I had to play guitar and sing. The bassist had drunk practically a whole bottle of whiskey before we’d even started…We supported a local band popular with the schoolboys called, excruciatingly, The Stan Band. The crowd were chanting “We want The Stan Band” even before we came on stage, so we knew it was going to be a rocky gig.
An entrepreneurial sixth-form student, Nigel Jacklin, was promoting the gigs at the hall and he booked Throbbing Gristle to play there a few months later, on 16 March 1980, in a gig which has since passed into legend, mainly due to having been captured on film and subsequently released on VHS by the band.
The place was packed with around 400 pubescent and pre-pubescent young, entitled kids – ¬with an average age of 14, but many much younger. It was the weirdest clash. Throbbing Gristle came on stage with their Chizhevsky chandelier, which can increase the level of ozone in the air, and began churning out their repetitive electronic beats and sonic dissonances, now known as industrial music.
The response was of combination of innocence, disorientation, aloofness, the classic confrontational punk feedback loop of the time – and shock. That shock was ramped up when they began projecting Bunuel-esque scenes of bloody operations – including an animal castration made to look like a human one – on to the big screen behind them. Never great at the sight of blood, I felt so queasy I had to leave the hall for five minutes to get some fresh air. My friend Tim said he heard four thumps, one after another. It was the sound of schoolkids passing out and hitting the deck.
At one point the crowd started singing ‘Jerusalem’. Again, signalling a weird clash of cultures and a tangle of contradictions, but I remember thinking back to our gig and how the crowd were as much a part of it as we were. They had booed my one-note guitar solo, which I’d nicked from The Buzzcocks and therefore thought was brilliant. That threw me, while making total sense. They wanted to take over. It was an upper-class protest to assert their rights.
Throbbing Gristle’s gig had the same alchemy. They were a radical art movement-turned-band whose roots were in revolt. The strange thing was that that upper-class milieu almost absorbed anarchy and rebellion. It kind of understood it but also had its own answer. And that answer was Jerusalem.