The night the Ramones played the Roundhouse on 4th July 1976 has gone down in punk history. Hear from someone who was down at the front that very night…
The London scene never attracted me; I was content as a student in St Andrews but when John Peel played ‘Judy Is A Punk’ one night I realised I was far from content, and bought a ticket to the Ramones forthcoming appearance at the Roundhouse without delay.
Arriving that sunny evening during the heat wave summer of 1976 the Roundhouse was the perfect venue for the next new thing: run-down, ancient, an industrial shed from the steam locomotive age. This was for hard-core fans only; nobody else knew or cared.
Facilities were primitive; the Roundhouse interior was charred, poorly lit and ill-kept. My friend Alan and I witnessed the first group from the stalls. The Stranglers came on like some small-town local band that fashion had passed over, grinding out a Doors-derived noise full of aggression and obscenity they seemed older and gnarly, desperados who slept in their cars and hated everyone. Looking back, I realise The Stranglers were the true outsider band, more subversive and heavier than the others on the bill, but that evening Alan and I were too refined for their piercing volume and retired to the circle to see the Ramones.
I had expected a Sha Na Na outfit with three guitarists and Fonz-like singers. A solitary cheap blue Mosrite guitar by a Marshall stack made me wonder a little … then on shambled four New York hoodlums in torn jeans and biker jackets, sporting Byrds-style mop-tops. They acted West-Side-Story-tough; still, when they opened up it amazed me how such a massive roar could escape from three players and one unfeasibly spindly vocalist wearing psychedelic shades. This was evidently an ‘act’: it was also the start of the revolution.
I knew we were at the right event when a hippy turned to me and muttered ‘it all sounds the same!’ Well, that was the point, but, to quote John Peel on those early tracks:
“They’re all the same but they’re all different, if you know what I mean” – John Peel
Stylistically, the Ramones did the most with the least and were the reason the next generation had come to the Roundhouse that evening; like Italian Futurism, it was a celebration of modernity and speed. Ramones revealed the dumb heart of Rock’n’roll, raised to performance art, as if the kids in the audience gave a damn – but then, those kids knew their Bowie, Roxy and Iggy – it was not a naïve crowd, after all.
We stayed to see the Flamin Groovies and had at last our evening’s Sha Na Na, dressed like a Beatles tribute act, exquisitely combining the complex guitar interweave of Liverpool Beat with American garage rock. They were past it even then and I loved them with the melancholy compassion one feels for life’s innocent enthusiasts.
Alan had to leave before the end to catch the last Cambridge train, but my life had been changed for better or worse that night. This 4th of July had truly been Independence Day.
Now it’s all over: the Roundhouse has been properly restored and is a vibrant museum of itself, like the rest of the pop music scene. Back then it meant everything because music was the harbinger and sole channel of social change, whereas now we have social media, YouTube and online gaming and nothing changes any more.
They say that everyone who saw the Ramones that night went on to start a band the very next week. I returned to Scotland and that was that. Someone has to be different.