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Mrs T Visits Lewisham

Date: 10th October 1986

Venue: Lewisham Labour Club

I’ve no idea how we came to be playing at Lewisham Labour Club, but I do remember certain elements of the event well.  Nearly twenty years have dimmed the old memory, but I seem to recall that we played a truly appalling funk song I had written for the first time in front of an audience and it was dropped from the set as rapidly as it had arrived.  During that era, my fellow band members were remarkably polite about my songwriting efforts, humouring me as another overblown piece of indulgence tortured our poor audience nearly as much as it did them.

However, two highlights of the evening live long in the old memory, the first concerning Brian’s wardrobe that night. It being Lewisham Labour Club, and as the country was firmly gripped by Thatcherism at its most repulsive, Brian decided that it would be highly amusing to dress as the Iron Lady herself, complete with ‘Spitting Image’ style face mask. The rest of us thought this was a superb move, firstly because of its obvious satirical charm which would surely mark us out as lampooning the current administration, and secondly because it would be Brian dressing in a frock and not one of us.

Upon arriving at the venue, Brian (frock, mask etc. concealed in carrier bag) immediately spotted a way in which his appearance as Margaret Thatcher could be given a grand entrance:  The hall was two-storeys high and had a gallery; the gallery led back into the bar where there were some stairs which led down to the foyer where double-doors led into the hall itself. Brian had recently succumbed to an aerial for his guitar which, on occasions, allowed him to put considerable distance between himself and his amplifier – a luxury not afforded to the audience. “Why not”, thought Brian, “start the gig on the gallery over the hall (dressed as Mrs T) and then make my way downstairs to join the rest of the band?”. “Why not”, we agreed – after all, Brian wearing a frock on a balcony could only add to the Orwellian satire.

Four of us took to the stage and we waited for Brian to appear on the balcony, which he duly did, dressed in a blue skirt and jacket, white blouse, Thatcher mask and possibly a wig – I can’t remember. Whichever song it was required Brian to start on his own before the band piled in, at which point – having made his dramatic appearance, Brian disappeared to reappear moments later through the main double doors and join us on stage.  To be fair, it did raise a laugh in the hall, but we had failed to anticipate the reaction in the bar behind the gallery.  Obviously, anyone who wanted to see the gig would either come downstairs to the main hall or watch from the gallery so one can deduce that those in the bar were not interested in the band.

To make things worse, Brian had decided to secrete himself on the gallery and change into his costume there so as not to give the game away.  Picture the scene – loads of bored socialists drinking cheap beer and bemoaning the state of the country are rudely interrupted by distance guitar noises, quickly followed by the door to their bar crashing open whereupon they are hit with the apparition of Margaret Thatcher playing a guitar. Sweating quite profusely behind the mask, Brian continued to play guitar whilst negotiating his way down the stairs, the mask itself having shifted slightly aligning the two eyeholes with his nose and cheek respectively. This did not matter, as it happened because the staircase was unlit – the fact that Brian emerged into the main hall was itself a miracle, and none of us were surprised to see the mask disappear at the earliest opportunity.

The only other memorable event that evening surrounded one woman’s reaction to our choice of songs. The sets consisted of a majority of our own material plus a few cover versions and a revival of an old Raw Deal number called ‘In The Mood’. The original single of ‘In The Mood’ (B-side: I’m Out of My Head) now changes hands for ridiculous sums of money on the internet, but was only around five or six years old at this point.  The lyrics were repetitive and a trifle sexist, to say the least: lines like “I only want to take you for a ride” spring to mind. The last half of the song degenerates to endless repetition of  “Baby I’m in the mood” over a thundering backbeat – any resemblance to the Glenn Miller potboiler was accidental.

However, it went down well, and we finished the gig. Someone pointed out a woman, clearly the wrong side of a good deal of alcohol, sitting at a table with one of our posters, tearing it into small pieces and spitting dramatically on each fragment.  She was yelling something about us being ‘sexist’. Given that we had just played ‘In The Mood’, perhaps she had a point, but it transpired that the song which had caused her most offence was ‘Back in the USSR’. On reflection, maybe we were naive; after all which feminist could keep their blood below boiling point when forced to listen to misogynistic, phallocentric lyrics like ‘Ukraine girls really knock me out’. Personally I would have thought Brian dressed as a woman was more offensive!

© Dave Griffiths - 2005