THE RUNAWAYS AT THE LYCEUM BALLROOM, LONDON, SUNDAY 16TH JULY 1978
Next week will see the 35th Anniversary of the above gig which will always be one of the best of over 650 that I've attended since 1977.
My interest in the band goes back to the summer of '76 when Joan Jett and Cherie Currie featured on the cover of NME around the time of their first UK tour. I heard their first single "Cherry Bomb"
which immediately became part of my record collection followed by a copy of their debut album "The Runaways". The only explanation I can give for not going to their near legendary gig at The Roundhouse in London was that my late mother wouldn't let me go!! There were early rumblings of Punk looming on the horizon and this would have been the first gig I would have attended....but Mum just said "NO !!".....this was also the reply I got when I asked if I could go and see The Sex Pistols with a neighbour who had a spare ticket. Damn !!!
I quickly obtained any subsequent Runaways releases......Queens Of Noise and Live in Japan albums.....but with the news that Cherie Currie (lead vocals) and Jackie Fox (bass) had departed I thought that my chance of ever seeing them had gone...but no....late summer/early autumn '77 brought news of a new album "Waiting For The Night" and a European Tour by the revamped 4 piece line up of Joan Jett (on rhythm guitar and taking over lead vocals), Lita Ford (lead guitar), Sandy West (drums) and Vickie Blue (new bass player). This time nothing was going to stop me going and a mate got our tickets for their gig at Hammersmith Odeon on 13th November......at the huge cost of £2 in the back row of the stalls. This was to be my first of well over 100 gigs at Hammersmith Odeon. Support for the gig was 999 one of the original punk bands. It was really only because The Runaways came to prominence during 76-78 that they got lumped in under the Punk or New Wave banner...they were really just a very good high energy rock band who happened to be all female. The gig itself was very good but everyone's enjoyment was somewhat hindered by it being at an all seated venue with overzealous security men. It seemed everyone at the back wanted to get down the front and jump around and bang their heads whilst those in the front blocks didn't even stand up until the last few songs and the encore !! I recall getting about half way down the centre aisle during the first song before we were all repelled backwards by said blue track suited spoilsports !! I enjoyed my first big gig enormously and this set the trend for the foreseeable future.
I keenly studied the news pages for more tours and finally in late spring '78 the news I'd waited for appeared...a short UK tour that summer......my mates and I got our tickets for The Lyceum asap and we couldn't wait for the day to come. If you've never been to or seen pictures of the Lyceum Ballroom in London it was once a grand theatre venue with impressive Roman columns outside and a superbly decorated and ornate interior.....it should be said that it by '78 it had been a venue for all sorts of concerts from the 60's onwards which had taken quite a toll on the once glorious interior. It was a venue that I would go to on many occasions in the future seeing the likes of The Ramones, The Damned, Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers, Bauhaus, Sisters Of Mercy, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Motorhead, and Girlschool to name just a few. It was fully restored to its past glory in 1996 and remains a prestige West End theatrical venue to this day.
Back to the summer of '78......It had been a hot sunny day and the inside of the Lyceum was like a very packed sauna. The first support band was The Addicts....they didn't spark my imagination I'm afraid. Next on were the truly marvellous Dickies from California....I'd only previously heard their cover version of Sabbath's Paranoid (the whole song, lyrics solo etc in under 2 minutes !! A MUST hear) but totally enjoyed all their high speed madcap antics. They have always occupied a happy place in my world of music, and indeed I still listen to them quite often. Leonard (vocals) and Stan Lee (guitar) have been touring with countless different line ups ever since and are still going strong. I've tried to see them on many occasions but something has always prevented me. One day eh ?
By the time the Runaways hit the stage we were well positioned in the front quarter of the all standing venue and as they ripped into "School Days" the place went mad.....a combination of pogoing and headbanging at the same time !! They were absolutely superb and really kicked ass from first to last....a million times better than the somewhat restrained performance of the previous December.
After the mayhem had finished and the gig was over I wobbled out, knackered and dripping with sweat, into the cool night air. The only slight disappointment was the lack of any reasonable merchandise on sale.... rather naff badges that didn't even have a picture of the band and equally naff silk scarves.....I still purchased 2 of each though !! The Odeon gig yielded badges, posters, a t-shirt (which is still in one piece if a little tight under the armpits and a "live" vinyl album purchased outside for £4 !!
Whilst rummaging about checking things for this article I found a scribbled list of songs played at either The Lyceum or The Odeon gig.....in set order :- School Days/California Paradise/Little Sister/Gotta Get Out Tonight/Waiting For The Night/I Wanna Be Where The Boys Are/C'Mon/You Drive Me Wild/Wait For Me/I Love Playing With Fire/American Nights/Queens Of Noise/Wasted/Wild Thing.
Little did I know that that would be the last time that I would see what was the first band that truly enthralled me, as after the release of the rather limp and disappointing "And Now The Runaways" the band split up. I was close to tears when I read the news. There was some hope however as Joan Jett embarked on a solo career and I got to see her play at the original Marquee Club in Wardour Street in May 1980. It would be some 8 years before I got to see any further ex-Runaways....that was Lita Ford at the "new" Marquee in Charing Cross Road......this cost me a pretty penny as when I got there it was Sold Out so I waited around outside in the hope something would turn up. This gig was to promote one of her albums and the guest list was huge leaving little capacity for fans and the like. With about half an hour until gig time I was still one of a small band of real fans stuck outside...then a bloke came out and said did anyone want a spare ticket...for nothing.....as a chap in front of me put out his hand to take it I thrust out a £20 note and said "Gimmee !!"......he did !!...and I was in. I ended up right at the front....no Runaways numbers but some great metal guitaring. The plectrum you can see in the attached photo was flicked out by Lita after one number and it landed on my shoulder !!
The Runaways, their music and their various members over the years will always be special to me. Sadly in 2006 Sandy West passed away at just 47 years old after a battle with cancer. Their story and career has been much documented and is well worth checking out.
I'm just glad that I got to see this iconic band twice and who I still listen to on a regular basis to this day.
Suggested listening ......"Queens Of Noise" and "Live In Japan" albums and the following tracks from "Waiting For The Night"...Wasted/School Days and Little Sister.
Suggested viewing......"The Runaways Story", a film documentary by Vicki Blue, which is a brutally honest look at the band and "Live In Japan".
All hail the Queens Of Noise !!
Doug E Dogg