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THE SPIRIT SPEAKS »
BANG UP FOR IT (PART 1)
BANG UP FOR IT (PART 1)
Have you ever been to prison? I have, twice. Once Ten years ago and once two months ago. But not to be rehabilitated. I went there with the Alabama 3, to play music. I was on the other side; I was an instrument of rehabilitation. A rehabilitation banjo, if you will.
BRIXTON PRISON 1998
At noon, we're lead through a concrete courtyard, under 20ft brick walls topped with barbed wire. Inside a wire cage I see a bald headed man engaged in earnest discussion with a younger con, both dressed in grey, walking round and round... The red bricks of these Victorian cellblocks ooze despair.
We’re lead up an Iron staircase into the 'venue'; an eerie chapel building where we're greeted by the pleasant bearded bloke who arranged the gig. Two bouncy, shaven headed chaps offer us tea and coffee. Polite young men in clean tracksuits and brand new trainers, they seem to have the run of the place, so I guess they must be on remand for relatively trivial offences. Later I find out they're in for Murder...
Clear eyed, earnest, a bit intense, these guys are at least putatively born - again. The quickest route to crucial privileges in nick is still down the happy-clappy road - get with the God Botherers, and you can have a spoonful of sugar with your porridge. When you're in for life, you'll need all the sugar you can get.
It's generally a bit more fun being the turn than being a punter, and never more so than in this place. I'm no gangster, but I have on occasions, been a bit of a naughty boy, and if I'd done certain things couple of minutes later, a few yards to the left, It might be me sitting gingerly on a plastic chair in beige jogging pants waiting for the Alabama 3 to come on. But maybe I'd be in good company; Paul Simonon and Topper Headon from The Clash did time in Brixton for shooting pigeons, and Glenn Danzig of the Misfits and Mick Jagger both wrote songs here while on remand. Their lyrical responses to the experience were rather different, however. This is Danzig:
They call us Walking Corpses
Unholy Living Dead
They had to lock us up
Put us in their British hell *
And this is Jagger:
Sun turnin' 'round with graceful motion
We're setting off with soft explosion
Bound for a star with fiery oceans **
They must have ended up on different wings....
We set up our equipment, and plug into the tiny P.A. The Screws start to admit our captive audience. A complicated apartheid seems to be in place. First come a bunch of lairy white lads; larking about like schoolboys on detention, they get put down the front. Then they let in the black and asian inmates, who seem rather more subdued. Next, one by one, they let in three older, white guys, thoughtful and composed gentlemen who are withal completely Nasty-Looking Bastards. Finally, a small line of very pail and very nervous men file in, who are told to sit at the back; these are the Sex- Offenders.
After some uneasy lead-fiddling, we strike up the first song. We're not allowed to play above a certain volume, for fear we might over-excite the inmates. It's a peculiar feeling, whispering rock and roll slogans into the ears of criminals...
And it's a tough crowd. Whatever I'd done, if I was being deprived of my freedom against my will, I'd be inclined to view any form of entertainment provided by my captors with suspicion. It's like being kidnapped by the Taliban then forced to watch a Punch and Judy show.
But if anyone can work this room, it's D.Wayne Love. Being from Possil, most of his friends and family have been inside at one time or another. Prison is like a sort of technical college for Glaswegians; they instantly recognize him as one of their own. Every drugs reference brings gleeful cheers from housebreakers and face-stabbers down the front, and Bullet-Proof brings the house down:
'This time I swear I've got the guv'nor in the sights of my gatling gun'
Then Larry introduces Woke Up This Morning:
'This one's for the Ladies in the house!'
'They're sitting at the back', says one of the Nasty Looking Bastards...
TO BE CONTINUED...
* '2000 Light years From Home' 1967
** 'London dungeon'
(c) Orlando Harrison 2008