The 'winter of discontent' was well and truly established and on January 22nd the largest general stoppage of work in the UK since the General Strike of 1926 occurred. A 'Day of Action' held by public sector unions followed several strikes of railway men that had already begun. With 1.5 million workers out, Mass demonstrations were held in many cities, including London, Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. An estimated 140,000 people took part in the demonstration in London. Schools closed because they couldn’t be heated, airports closed for lack of workers, ambulance drivers walked out in protest at their 'paltry wages of £36 a week,' although in many areas continued to respond to 999 calls. It was reported that staff in 1,100 NHS hospitals were refusing to treat anything but emergencies. Also taking action were members of the Royal College of Nursing, traditionally one of the least militant 'unions' in the country, who demanded a 25% pay increase. Disruption of food and petrol supplies with the army called in to transport petrol due to tanker drivers walking out after refusing to work overtime in support of a 40% pay increase resulted in long queues forming at Petrol Stations.
Following January 22, many workers remained on strike indefinitely. A strike by gravediggers occurred in Liverpool and Tameside in late January, prompting one local health official to confide in a journalist that burials at sea were being considered by the local authority if the strike became prolonged. The gravediggers dug in for two weeks before accepting a 14% increase and returned to work.
Another strike was that of the refuse collection workers. With many collectors having remained out since January 22, local councils were running out of space for storing waste. Rubbish was piled high in Central London's Leicester Square after Westminster Council had allocated rubbish to be dumped there. The rubbish attracted rats, a situation that certain areas of the conservative media couldn't resist, using pictures of the Square in an attempt to discredit the strikers. Continuing a constant campaign throughout the winter criticising strikers through the medium of the "breakdown of public convenience", the pictures of the piled rubbish presented itself as yet another front on which to attack the workers. The waste collectors strike ended on February 21, when the workers accepted an 11% increase and an extra £1 a week with possible increases in the future.
The strikes, from the perspective of the TUC and the government, ended on February 14 after weeks of negotiation. A proposal put to the TUC general council was agreed after several days, bringing an end to the winter long series of disputes.
The gloom and misery caused by the disruptions was exasperated by the downfall of snowstorms, blizzards and severe frosts sweeping the country all the way from the Channel Islands to the Shetlands. Norwich and Great Yarmouth were cut off for two days by deep snow; roads were strewn with abandoned cars. Prompting a typically exaggerated reaction from one newspaper editor who described the situation as a 'White Hell'.
Archivists like to put labels on certain periods, 1963 'The Year of the Big Freeze', 1967 was 'The Summer of Love', 1979 was forever 'The Winter of Discontent'.
Music too was in a crisis! With the Punk genre passing over, the limp and mediocre disco acts were surfacing once more. James Truman of the Melody Maker described them perfectly; 'few acts have recognisable personalities, it’s a faceless genre.'
The Village People, a camp U.S. band attired in Red Indian, Naval and Vaudeville costumes kicked the year off with a chart topping YMCA, a dirge that became a staple for parties and discos where fun lovers could make an arse of themselves singing and dancing along with their partners of either equation. Their follow up In the Navy was just as awful. Gloria Gaynor's excruciating I Will Survive was released. Punk was finally killed off with the death of Sex Pistol Sid Vicious from a heroin overdose in New York who was awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon. He was 21. His sparring partner in the Sex Pistols, John Lydon later said; "It didn’t come as a surprise to any of us, we could see it coming. Sid was a wanker. He bought the whole trip: sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll and death.”
Those yearning for the nostalgic days of the 1960s were able to reminisce when the film Quadraphenia was released. Based on the Mods and Rockers Bank Holiday 'Battle of Brighton' in 1964, the film, starring Denis Waterman, Ray Winstone and Leslie Ash was shot on location and witnessed by an alarmed Fred Jelly, one time Corby entrepreneur who had debunked to the south coast some ten years earlier. Back in his home town Fred recalled the incident, "I was in Brighton town centre standing in a shop doorway and wondering to myself why all these motorbikes and scooters were racing around. Then one of the scooters crashed into a parked car and to my surprise, not one soul ran to help him or to see if he was badly injured. Well I couldn't help myself; I ran over immediately, saw the boy was covered in blood and shouted for someone to call an ambulance! Then even more surprising, somebody shouted and told me to get out of the effing way! 'Eff off' this chap covered in blood bellowed at me. Charming I thought. Then I noticed the film crew and realised it was a stunt! I felt a right nerd."
For those not acquainted to the fad, the terms of Mod and Rocker were eloquently described by a fan of the former, 'Bugs' of Wolverhampton who wrote in a magazine; 'Rockers stood in solemn groups on street corners and watched enviously as everybody else enjoyed themselves, their devotion to their BSA Bantams left them greasy and smelly and wondering why there were so few girl rockers. They saw themselves as Easy Riders but appeared as camp caricatures of Marlon Brando in the Wild Ones. Their knowledge and appreciation of music was nil but stand them in front of a mirror with a jar of Brylcreem and they'd keep themselves amused for hours. Mods were a true working class sub culture with a passion for music, clothes and scooters. The Mods would spend a week’s wages on a mohair suit and a days pay on an American Chess label import. They would spend hours discussing the latest Etta James or Doris Troy single while dismissing the Searchers and Swinging Blue Jeans as just light weight music for the masses. The Mods were pioneers in appreciating Ska and Bluebeat long before the more commercial Reggae labels appeared. The 60s belonged to the Mods but the absolute decadence of the all nighter lifestyle was a well kept secret then and remains so to this day.
In Corby, a Mods revival dance was organised by Bip Wetherell at the Welfare Club in aid of a Kidney Machine Appeal for friend and former drummer of the Friction, Brian Read. Chrome Molly, Energy and a Friction reunion, revived those heady days that Quadraphonic had committed to celluloid. "It was a great success for the fund and great fun to get back together" said Bip.
Three of the biggest films of the year, along with Quadraphenia, were the latest James Bond offering, Moonraker, the Vietnam epic Apocalypse Now and Monty Python's The Life of Brian which had councillors and busy bodies scuttling to private viewings to judge on whether the public should be allowed to watch such blasphemous material. The movie industry was facing its own crisis with the emergence of the video. Many predicted the end of the cinema now that it was possible to watch films in the comfort of your armchair. When movie legend John Wayne bowed out after a long and brave fight against cancer, the industry was in deep mourning. A golden era was passing over and 'Big Duke's' death was the final curtain. Was it the end of the road? As Big John would say; 'The hell it is!'
Aside of all the troubles in the country, Corby people had to contend with persistent rumours following reports in national newspapers that Corby was one of the towns where steelmaking was facing the axe; 'closure plans would involve dismantling Corby's iron and steel works which have been suffering massive cash losses for some time'; and a grim warning that it would be industrial suicide for Corby to support the proposal for an 'all out strike by the industry to save the doomed Bilston Works in the West Midlands, a town in a similar situation.'
An announcement from Brussels that BSC workers 'who are laid off because of steel closure will get more than £1.5 million from the Common Market to help pay for retraining' didn't do much for confidence either. Corby District Council, so worried about this, asked Eric Varley, the Secretary of State for Industry, "to tell us the truth." A delegation of union leaders traveled to London for a meeting with East Midlands MPs at Westminster. ISTC member John Cowling was in typical defiant mood; 'There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that BSC has it in mind to shut the plant down. It is an outrage that they would think of doing this to a town like Corby which depends entirely on the work for its livelihood. It must be stopped at all costs!'
Cowling's diatribe cut no ice, on 24th January, a team of London consultants stated, following a commissioned report costing over £20.000; 'Corby is on the brink.' The report concluded; 'Action must be taken quickly before unemployment and social problems run amok. Corby has pleasant surroundings, good housing, amenities and social services. But its location away from major roads has helped make the town isolated from the rest of the county.'
On February 9th, came the announcement everybody had been dreading; 'Steel axe has fallen. BSC reveal a decision that will tear the heart out of Corby. 5500 jobs are to go. The BSC regards Corby as a wasting asset.' As the town attempted to comprehend the turn of events, spokesman Bill Homewood of the ISTC retorted; "We will tell BSC we are not even prepared to consult with them on the issue. This kind of savage action would devastate Corby."
Immediate support came from The Evening Telegraph with an editorial proclaiming; 'The rest of the county must join in Corby's fight. If Corby dies, many other county regions will find job prospects have died with it.'
Estate agents were quick to voice their concerns, claiming that house prices in and around Corby would slump. "If everyone who is made redundant puts their house on the market, the effect will be chaotic."
Meetings and rallies were organised to galvanise support, not all met with a sympathetic ear for the cause. Tory councilors were criticised for refusing to allow the steelworkers action group ROSAC (Retention of Steelmaking at Corby), to use the Civic Theatre hall free of charge for a public meeting. Leaders of ROSAC were told they would have to pay £21 for the hire of the council owned building - even though the meeting was to fight plans for more than 6,000 redundancies in the town's steel industry. Chairman of ROSAC, Brian Wright was dumbfounded; "It amazes me that the councilors think this building belongs to the council and not to the people of Corby - especially when the town is facing a crisis." In reply, Council Chairman Fred Harris said he thought ROSAC was a political organisation and therefore did not qualify to use the facilities for free, "We cannot override the council's policy".
As the adverse weather conditions continued, Supermarkets deprived from stocking their shelves with food, gave rise to a surge of panic buying as people filled up their fridge freezers. There was a vegetable shortage because of the frozen ground. In Wellingborough, thieves moved in and cleared allotments of cabbages. Desperate times! Twisting the knife during this period, Home Secretary Willie Whitelaw increased the Colour TV licence by £9 to £34 and petrol went up in Chancellor Denis Healey's budget to 90p a gallon. Thousands of petrol stations temporarily closed as drivers picketed ports and refineries across the country. Tanker drivers who were still working notified strikers which refinery they were headed to so flying pickets could get there first and turn the tankers back. After succeeding in bringing supplies transported by road to a virtual standstill, and after just a month of strike action, the drivers accepted a pay deal just £1 less per week than the union had asked for.
In April, 400 civil servants joined a nationwide 24 hour strike in a bid to force the government to increase their offer of a 9% pay increase. Dole payments were hit. The Royal Mint, Museums and Courts. London's airports with custom officers, immigration officials and traffic controllers all joined the action.
The reaction against the Government's policy of a 5% limit on pay rises was snowballing out of control. Prime Minister James Callaghan was under attack from the Tories for refusing to acknowledge the country was in a state of chaos. By the end of March his Labour government was at the end of the road, a Tory 'vote of no confidence' succeeded in forcing Callaghan to call a General Election. Waiting in the wings, was the woman the Russians dubbed 'The Iron Lady' - Margaret Thatcher.
On May 3rd, she duly became the nation's first ever woman Prime Minister, swept into power with the help of Britain's femme's who voted her in on the premis that 'she couldn't do any worse than the men!' 'Where there is discord, may we bring harmony....where there is despair, may we bring hope' she pouted on the steps of No 10. The St Francis of Assisi quotation was a calculated diatribe to stamp her name in the history books. Sadly, over the coming decade, the second part of her message was back to front. Cliff Hughes, Post Office union official; "it should have been, where there is hope, we will bring despair!'
Corby rock band Energy, consisting of Iain Wetherell, Mike 'Bozzy' Bosnic, Mark Stewart and Stephen Fulton were the 'new kids on the block' having built up a great local following. Iain and Bozzy relived those days during an interview in Ian Wetherell's Premier Studios at the back of the old Welfare Club in 2007. Iain quipped; "Energy was a full time band for nine years. Bozzy calls it his retirement years! When the band split up, we all had to go back to work!"
Bozzy; "We first started playing when we rehearsed in the Nags Head where Iain's brother Bip was proprietor. Then after a few weeks Bip threw us in at the deep end and told us we were playing in the Sunday jam session! It was the first time we'd played in front of an audience which was daunting but a great experience. Bip was great, lending us gear when we needed and giving us the opportunity to learn our craft. Our first gig proper was at Corby Samuel Lloyds School on October 2nd 1976 thanks to teacher Frank Holmes who encouraged any pupils with musical aspirations. The dance was packed out. Iain sang the first song, Bryan Ferry's Lets Stick Together before Flapper (Steve Fulton) came running in from the back of the school hall for a grand entrance with a duffle coat tied round his neck like a cape, as Iain started playing the theme from Batman!"
Iain; "Initially we sorted out gigs for ourselves or with the help of Bip and then decided to sign up with the Concorde Ham Acts Agency. Then we realised they were booking us in air bases for less money than what we were getting doing it ourselves! So Bozzy took control of affairs. Called himself Pyramid Promotions. Boz used to phone a venue where live music was played, ask if they'd be interested in booking us, we'd send them a copy of an EP we'd made of Energy, a record for their jukebox and ask them how much they pay. Which usually was around the £100 mark. Boz would give them some bull, tell them we normally played for double that amount but as a favour we'd do the gig for £150 as we were trying to break in their town and after a bit of bartering, we'd get the gig! We became probably the most organised self controlled band on the circuit. We had a data base of people who followed the band. We'd phone what we called the ringleaders and tell them we were playing at such and such a place and they'd put the word around and the gigs were often packed out."
The record in question was recorded at Derek Tompkins Studio. No Go/ Don't Show Your Face / Lovely Lady / Spoilt Choice. All songs a collaboration by the band. Boz;"I used to tell people we've sold over two million copies of our first record. And if you don't believe me, come and look in my garage!"
A single followed, Conquer the World/Make It/ Lawbreaker and Nowhere To Hide/ Fight For Your Freedom became their second. "All are now collector’s items," says Boz, "you can find them on EBay!"
The band received a boost and some advice in Musicians Only.
'It can be argued that a lot of bands in the early stages of their career fall by the wayside, not through a lack of ideas or musical direction, but because they have not got the business end organised properly. That's why it was refreshing to meet the four people who make up the Corby based rock band Energy, and to witness for myself not only their unbounded enthusiasm onstage, but also their professional approach to the marketing of their name. Energy was formed out of the remains of two school bands; The Hardly Worthit Band and Lipstick. One of the first questions was why had the band parted company with their manager (their first and last) a year or so back to go it alone?
"Although we valued his opinion in many ways on many things, we thought we could accomplish more on our own. It’s as simple as that." answered Mark Bosnich. Certainly if you study the bands track record since they started handling their own affairs, you can see they made the right decisions. Mike handles the booking arrangements and publicity while Iain sorts out the accounts and insurance. Agents are used as much as possible, the reason being purely financial. Equipment such as the PA, lighting system and the transport are bought out of the kitty.
"Basically, it’s the money that's left after expenses. Sometimes one of us might dig into it for our individual instruments, but it is always paid back, always," stressed Mike. A new van is the next thing on the shopping list, as the two they have now don't warrant a decent set of spares between them. Turning to the subject of touring, Mike told me that apart from a three day stint in Middlesbrough a while back, the band have never been on a full tour. That's not to say that they have been sitting around waiting for the phone to ring. Energy, clapped out vans and all, have averaged two gigs per week for the last sixteen months or so, taking in places like Cinderford in Gloucestershire, Ashford in Kent and Leicester where they were runners up in a national competition sponsored by Premier.
They have also been support to big names like Love Affair and Chairman of the Board. "We wouldn't have done half of this under our old manager" said Steve Fulton. "No, he organised a tour of Denmark for us, but nothing came of it, it all fell through," added Mike, who showed me a copy of the itinerary for 1980. Energy will be gigging consistently, but as before, it’s not an organised tour. And although it will take them right through to mid summer, there are no London dates mentioned. I put it to Mike that it might be a good idea to try and slot some London venues in between the local haunts. "We would love to play London" Mike replied, "but what would be the cost of a mini tour down there?" True, in financial terms, (time off work etc) it would be a bit of a struggle. But what about the long term effect? "Yes, you're right I suppose if we made the effort and the gigs came together it would probably lead to something". One drawback I did note was the playing of non original material mixed in with their own compositions. This is a shame, for their own songs had far more going for them, in terms of depth and style than the bulk of the pop/rock which made up the two sets that I saw them play. That's not a criticism of their playing ability because they played numbers like Message In A Bottle, Black Betty and Since You've Been Gone with just as much finesse as the original artists. It would be hard to pick out any particular star in the band; although I must say that at times front man Steve Fulton stole the show with his antics, dashing here and there, offstage and onstage, as though possessed. At the end of the second and highly impressive set I joined the lads backstage, where they presented me with a copy of their EP Energised, self financed, on the BIPS Record label. The number which impresses me most was an out and out rocker called No Go which reminded me of early Nazereth. Mike; "We have had a thousand copies pressed and we've sold about half. They're available through the local branch of John Menzies and mail order through me." Their immediate plans? "To keep on gigging" said Mike, "We would move to London as a band if we thought we could make a living at it. But at the moment, it's just one gig and one stage at a time."
Energy have ability but what they need to do is to get right away from Corby and its surrounds. If they made that all important move and wrote and performed more of their own material, their chances of making the big-time would be greatly enhanced. Energy are the best band I have seen this side of a lucrative record deal. Now it’s a question of finding an enthusiastic producer to channel their ideas into something commercially viable.
The fight to save Corby Works continued despite BSC Chairman Sir Charles Villiers' proclamation and less than sympathetic view that BSC were determined to press ahead with the closure and 'the town had better come to terms with the fact.' Ignoring his remarks, thirty steelworkers, including leading ROSAC members Mick Skelton, John Cowling and Jimmy Wright marched out of Corby on Saturday June 23rd to embark on a 100 mile 'Jarrow Style' crusade to present a petition and bring world attention to the steel crisis at the House of Commons. On arrival they were greeted by the sight of thousands from Corby and the actress/political activist Vanessa Redgrave who became a supporter for the fight. Redgrave, star of 1960's cult movies Blow Up and Richard Attenborough's satirical Oh What A Lovely War supported a range of human rights causes, including opposition to the Vietnam War, nuclear disarmament, independence for Ireland, aid for Bosnian Muslims and other victims of war. Her opposition to Soviet oppression led her to join the anti-Stalinist Workers' Revolutionary Party on whose ticket she twice ran for Parliament. Support was also forthcoming from the man labelled a 'Scottish political firebrand', Jimmy Reid, leader of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders Anti Redundancy campaign in 1971. Reid told the people of Corby to "fight for their jobs or watch the town become a refugee camp" during a speech at the Civic Hall. Daubed on the side of the giant gasholder in Lloyds Road, a slogan 'S.O.S. SAVE CORBY' caused controversy when the BSC ordered it to be removed. John Cowling was outraged; "It is stupid and petty for the BSC to get rid of that sign. I'll climb the gasholder myself and replace the slogan if I have to." A press release soon after, indicating that a new lease of life could be given to the tubeworks, 'if steel strip is supplied from a modern large scale iron and steel works' invoked another similar reaction from Cowling; "Only Corby strip will be used in Corby Tubeworks and nothing else!" As emotions continued to ebb and flow, steelworkers, expecting to be given confirmation in July that Corby would close were surprised when negotiations took a new turn with a possible reprieve for Corby on the cards. 'A stay of execution is granted to Corby's 6000 steelworkers' a report claimed, 'but BSC still want to close the town's iron and steelworks. Unions will have the chance to formulate a case for keeping the iron and steel sections of the giant complex running, though they face a three fold problem. 1. How to save the Corporation £42 million it would have recouped in a year by closing Corby. 2. How to suggest where new steel capacity on stream this year on Teeside, is to be sold. 3. Where cash would come from for new investment in parts of Corby's complex.
BSC remain convinced that the most economic strategy available is to end iron and steelmaking at Corby because of the high costs involved. This would leave the field clear to bring in cheap steel from the new Teeside Works to Corby's tube mills. BSC lost £309 million nationally in 1978.' The response from Rosac Chairman George McCart was belligerent; "There is no way we will allow closure, whatever happens." Emphasising their determination, steelworkers posted another message SAVE OUR STEEL on the side of the Strathclyde Hotel in George Street. Made from scrap metal produced by the tubeworks, it was designed and constructed by engineers in their spare time. George McCart; "Now everyone coming in and out of Corby will know about our fight and we are determined not to give away 6000 jobs." Another mass meeting at the Festival Hall on July 20th attracted thousands of Corby people cheering and carrying banners, the biggest demonstration the town had ever seen. Gathered outside the Civic Centre, where a series of emotional speeches inside were relayed outside, Secretary of ISTC Mick Skelton was overwhelmed by the response; "This shows the country is united in its determination to keep the works open. Response has been overwhelming." AUEW member Ken Dawson spoke for all with his promulgation "Let's not forget we are fighting for our children's future either." Emotions finally boiled over during September when violence erupted during a massive demonstration by 10,000 Corby people as yet more talks on future of steelmaking, held at Graham House in Cottingham Road, got underway. Workers laid siege to the building, scuffles broke out when they attempted to bypass a police cauldron to gain entry. Bob Lochore, leader of the Corby Branch of the UCW, Post Office Union, had a painful memory of the momentous day. Carrying the huge UCW banner with his pal Cliff Hughes at the head of the Royal Mail delegation, the surge towards the gates of Graham House caught Bob off guard, and the pole of the banner crashed back onto his head! Cliff Hughes;” It was hilarious; Bob thought a copper had hit him with a truncheon!" Peter Floody, Corby Council Chairman was pragmatic when asked to comment on the events; "This kind of emotion had to break out sometime. But no damage was done. It was an impressive show of strength and I have to praise the police for their handling of the situation."
Social activities provided a distraction in these uncertain times, though even these weren't without their problems. There was chaos at the Welfare Club before the start of the Forward Chemicals £10,000 Snooker Tournament semi final between John Spencer and Doug Mountjoy when part of the seating gallery collapsed and sent spectators sprawling. One woman broke her leg. The tournament continued after the interruption with spectators standing on chairs and tables. Snooker fan Jeff Stewart, a Fitter in the EWSR Engineering Shop, said it was a shambles.
Another catastrophe occurred on March 24th when the town's Library was gutted by fire. 40,000 books, some of them irreplaceable works on the history and development of Corby were destroyed. Damage was estimated at £1million. Police suspected arson. A new modern building was promised to replace the George Street Library though not many held their breath. It did turn out to be modern of sorts, having been built just six or seven years earlier, on top of and at the back of beyond in Queen's Square. Handy for a pint in the Corinthian though.
The Civic Centre was also in the news when a report revealed the 'startling facts after six ears of legal wrangling' that the building, built at a cost of £230,000 in 1965, was wrongly designed. 'Only way to make it perfect would be to pull it down and start again' was the consensus. This was what a whole host of people had been saying for years! A settlement figure of £87,000 against the designers of the building was agreed. 'The money will be used to repair and maintain the building' a spokesman claimed.
Sir Geoffrey DeFreitas, Kettering and Corby MP since 1964, retired in April and said goodbye to his constituency with a verbal lashing in his farewell speech at Northampton Guild Hall, 'for successive governments refusing to allow Corby to diversify long after it was apparent that the steel industry would not need the enormous manpower for which Corby had been designed and built.' The former barrister and Squadron Leader during the Second World War, began his parliamentary career by winning the Nottingham Central seat in the 1945 election and being appointed Private Secretary to Clement Atlee. In the 1950 general election de Freitas became Member of Parliament for Lincoln and held a succession of front bench posts throughout the decade. De Freitas was appointed British High Commissioner to Ghana in 1961 and was knighted in October of that year. From 1975-1979 Sir Geoffrey was a delegate to the European Parliament.
Opening its doors for the first time in March, The Grampian Club with Eric McKenna as Steward boasted a membership 'already at 1200 with a waiting list of 2000.' A 'Halloween' gig in October gave the punters an opportunity to run the rule over a new band called Cherish that had evolved out of the recently defunct Honey. Frank Mullen, Corey Gray, Frank Malone, Mick Ogden and Ian Palmer, played the gig wearing Corey's clothes. Frank Mullen; "We were actually a smart band, wearing suits but we thought it'd be fun to dress up for the Halloween night. Oggy had one of Corey's slips on playing the drums. The Grampian crowd must have thought we were a right bunch of queers! Corey was always a good singer. She went on to do a Tina Turner tribute act which I told her she should have been doing years before. She was a natural. An Australian guy called Dom started hanging around with us, I didn't like him, thought he was a scrounging git, a right tosser. He decided to get up and sing with the band one night and then the rest of them wanted him in. I said no way and left. Corey jacked in as well. The guy had started acquiring some gear, PA stuff and that, left the band with two grand of debt and headed back to Australia. 'We should have listened to you Frank', they wailed.
I joined up with Mick Harper and played with him for around 14 years. What a guy and what a singer. Mick stole a lump of cheese off the yanks one night at an Air Base and stuck it in my guitar case without me knowing. When I went to put my guitar away I said 'what the hell's this?' Big piece filled my guitar case. Mick said 'it’s ok. I'm taking that home with me.' We used to have some right fun with his false arm. He'd take it off and throw it on somebody's table! You can imagine the reaction! I’d grab his fingers and bend them right back, people used to look and think I was a right cruel bastard. Mick used top crack up. Frank Malone's dog took a bite out of it one time so Mick took it off and gave it to him! Mad as a hatter. I used to try and get Mick to pack in the smoking. Putting his fags in the pocket behind his false arm! He would always struggle to twist his other arm around to get the ciggies out. His mate Billy Mathieson on drums was another case, who had a habit at the end of every gig of standing up and dropping his biggest cymbal right on the floor. Crash! It would go and everybody jumped with fright! Mick, Billy and I recorded a song at the Stardust Club called Corby’s Army, written by Johnny Mack, to the tune of Ally’s Army which was dedicated to the steelworkers at the time of the closure. It was written to coincide with the march on the House of Commons. The first verse was;
'They're going to close the steelworks and put us on the dole,
Put us on the scrapheap and so destroy our souls;
But we might just surprise them all and give them such a fright',
For we're not going to let them do it, we'll put up a fight.
We're on the march with Corby's army; we’re out to get a fairer deal,
With our target square in sight, we will carry on the fight,
For we're going to save our jobs at British Steel.
We changed the name of bands regularly. 'Dynasty', 'Happy Days', 'Scotch and Rye'. I think it was all tax dodges! Scotch and Rye was Mick and I with ex Carnations bass player John Hill and drummer Barry Bryden. John was a wee bit deaf. I said to him during one gig, 'we’ll play Do You Wanna Dance? next. John proceeded to play the Shadows’ Dance On! When I stopped him he broke his finger nail and started whining. It became a standing joke.
Gigs at the Welfare were always good. Peter McKay, the committeeman, was always moaning, 'not you shower again, you're crap!' A regular who was affectionately known as Daft Raymond would get up after Billy introduced him with ''let's have a big hand for the star of the show!' Raymond would get up and sing There's A Hole In My Bucket. Billy would then get all the women to queue up and ask him for his autograph. He loved it!
My last proper band was Prisoner with Harry McCormack, Mark Plant and Jim Muircroft who was a right evil looking guy, dour looking with his droopy moustache but he was a great drummer and good crack. We played down London a lot and in the end it got too much for me. I couldn't whack the travelling anymore, not when I was up for the 6-2 shift in Avon next morning. I've only played jam sessions really since."
Energy finally announced their intentions of making the huge step of going fully professional. The Leicester Trader's 'The Insider' was optimistic of their chances.
'Like most other things, the music industry bares large, seeping wounds, inflicted without mercy by the recession's cast iron teeth. Hardly a week goes by, without news filtering through the record and entertainment jungle, that somebody or other has been released from what looked like and indeed was, a mouth watering, zillion dollar contract. Bands, like trends and fashions, come and go. Some disappear as if in their sleep, while others are condemned to a series of ups and downs, followed by slow, painful erosion which can and has broken the spirit of each individual concerned. It is with this in mind, why I have the utmost respect for the voice of voices who say goodbye to 9-5, cross 'no mans land' and plunge headlong into the uncertainty of the professional musicians world. Four such voices belong to Energy, a rocky type, all round entertaining quartet from Corby. "This will be a real test for all of us, in every respect" said vocalist Stephen Fulton. In a recent conversation we had, when the band played The Windmill. Steve is a front man par excellence and the same can be said for the guitar, drums bass combination of Iain Wetherell, Mark Bosnic and Mark Stewart. In the last three and a half years since the bands inception, Energy have averaged twelve to fifteen gigs per month, playing everything from seedy backroom bars with wall to wall sawdust, top plush nightclubs where even the Gents and Ladies powder room don expensive shagpile.
Playing regularly up to four, five gigs a week around the country, Mike told me that Energy will go 'pro' sometime this autumn, possibly in early October. All four members giving up careers 'to pursue the golden trail in the music business.' Iain was a trainee accountant, Bozzy a trainee computer programmer, Steve Fulton a fitter and Mark Stewart a trainee engineer. As they handle all their own affairs, all are aware, that once the bridges are burnt, the future will be full of animal traps, parasites and hollow promises. But all are equally aware, that at the end of it all there could be success. Will they stay the course? I think so.'
Iain Wetherell; "It's going to be a bit of a struggle and I suppose cars may have to be sold but we mean to make a real go of this. We are planning to record another EP soon and it should be pressing about 2000 copies. And of course we will be after a record deal. Giving up our full time jobs means we will have more time to chase these things. Of course, now, it's just a case of bookings for exposure - we need money to live!"
Self sufficiency extended to taking care of the group van. Before a tour of Scotland Boz decided it needed a service; "so outside Iain's house in Studfall Avenue I changed the plugs, HT leads, rotor arm, oil, points, everything. Then when I finished, I couldn't get the thing going! Checked everything again, got the set of feelers out to recheck the gap in between the points, distributor cap was clean, etc. Still nothing. I said to Iain, 'tell you what, we're on a hill here, lets' give it a push and see if we can jump start it. Well, the van rolled down the hill, failed to kick in, and we were standing there bemused and scratching our heads when a taxi pulled up. The driver, Robert Knight, got out and asked us what the matter was. We told him the story, he said he'd give it a go, turned the ignition key, just a grunt as usual, then he discovered there was no fuel in the tank! That was my last attempt at being a motor mechanic! Mark Stewart would later complain, 'I'm only in the band because a drum machine can't push the van!'"
Iain used to do most of the driving. He was the only one who'd passed his driving test. Coming down long lonely highways, like the A1, often in thick fog, or so it seemed, I'd be sitting next to Iain steering the van while he kept his foot on the accelerator, trying to keep his eyes open and stopping from falling asleep! When we reached Stamford I'd give him a shake, 'right, come on, this is a bit more tricky from here on in!'
Another trick the band came up with was to join both the AA and RAC motoring organisations. Iain; "We thought it was a good idea. We could use one to tow us to a gig if necessary, and the other one to tow us back home afterwards! I said we were organised!'
A headline making night to remember for Energy, for more than one reason came the night the band competed in a RCA sponsored 'Battle of the Bands’ contest in Birmingham. Three coach loads of supporters travelled from Corby, and only two made it back! One of the coaches had to be abandoned on the way home when it went on fire on the M6! '52 escape coach fire' screamed the Birmingham Evening News. 'Passengers had to scramble to safety when a coach burst into flames. They escaped the smoke filled coach through emergency doors and windows after a night out in Birmingham. Passengers were transferred to two other coaches and police were called. The three coach loads of people, who were delayed for three quarters of an hour had been to Birmingham to support their band Energy in a contest.'
On board was a shaken Cathy Bates of Corby; "Somebody shouted that there was a fire and a man banged on the window of the bus and told everyone to get out."
The England v Scotland game at Wembley as usual attracted hordes of exiled Scots from Corby. Coach and train loads made the trek to Wembley - and to get blootered! The anthems 'We will follow' and 'Flower of Scotland' were rendered enthusiastically on their way to the match. The 'Welfare Crew' of Tom Farley, Jimmy Graham, Dave Dellow, Jimmy Carson and co caught the train from Kettering, bringing bemusement to railway staff who feared there was another invasion on. Tartan scarves and 'tammies' added some colour to the surroundings and dark decor of the old station. Arriving at St Pancras, fuelled up with ale, a shock was in store when it was discovered that London Transport had suspended all services to Wembley Stadium, an action which was supported by the capital's Black Cabs. "Too much bovver mate" a cabbie disclosed, "last time this lot were here, it was bedlam. Drunkenness, foulmouthed, it was decided we didn't need the hassle."
"How are we supposed to get to the ground now wee man?" Jez McCluskey asked a cabbie. "Start walking sport" came the reply. With no other choice, but with time on their side, they started the yomp across London, the bravehearts heading west along Euston Road towards the Edgware Road. "You sure you know the way Jez?" Jimmy Carson enquired. "Aye, nae bother, comonte, Edgware Road, carry on to Neasdon at the other end, turn left and you canny miss it," Jez voyered. However, the yomp after bevvying on the train soon had the boys withering, but fortune was on their side. Joe Duffy happened to glance down a side street, and there parked up, was a furniture van, with the driver leaning against a wall having a fag. "Hold it" Joe shouted. "How about asking this guy if he'll give us a lift to Wembley in the back of his van." "Brilliant idea!" said Jez. The 'furniture man' saw his chance for some easy money, "£1 a head" he said, and told the boys to jump into the back. "I'll need to close the doors though 'cause I'll get into trouble if anyone sees you." "No problems pal" Relief and joviality resumed with cans of beer opened in the back of the van. "Here we go, here we go" they sang as the ale soothed parched throats. "We're on our way to Wembley, we shall not be moved, we're on our way to Wembley, we shall not be moved." Couldn’t have been more inappropriate as it happened! Half an hour later, Jimmy Carson realised they were still stationary. "Wait a minute boys, we haven't started moving yet". When reality set in, they started banging the inside of the van, "hey, let us out!" A passer by came to the rescue and phoned the police. Opening the doors, a startled Plod asked; "What are you lot doing in there?" A cry from the back told him. "That bastard took our money and told us he'd take us to Wembley!" Turns out, he wasn't the driver at all! Just a typical 'Cor Blimey' seeing an opportunity! Little joy was to be had when they did reach their destination; England beat Scotland 3-1.
The European Cup was won by unfashionable Nottingham Forest who beat Swedish champions Malmo 1-0 in Madrid. Young defender Bryn Gunn, who came on as substitute for Forest, became the first Corby boy to play in the European Cup Final. An unbelievable achievement for the former Lodge Park schoolboy. Forest’s goal was scored by Trevor Francis who had recently become football's first million pound footballer. Liverpool were league champions again and Manchester United beat Arsenal 3-2 in a thrilling end to the Cup Final.
Kettering Town reached the final of the F.A.Trophy, disappointingly losing 2-0 to Stafford Rangers in front of a crowd of 32000. Stafford skipper Bob Ritchie was magnanimous in victory and praised the Poppies, stating that he thought ‘the best side lost. It’s impossible not to feel sorry for Kettering when they've had so much of the game."
Wembley fever had gripped Kettering prior to their visit to Wembley with banners like 'Our Poppies Will Bloom' adorning the town. On the team's return, a sea of red and white swamped Kettering Town Centre as thousands greeted the defeated heroes home, hanging on to lampposts, standing on bus shelters all along Rockingham Road to the ground. A memorable day for the defeated team of Frank Lane, Roger Ashby, Jeff Lee, Freddie Easthall, Richard Dixey, Sean Suddards, John Flanagan, Billy Kellock, Peter Phipps, Roy Clayton, Nicky Evans and sub Lyndon Hughes.
Defeated they may have been, but it was still a day out to remember for all who were there. Kettering postman and life long supporter Tim Pell recalled the day when bragging to his new workmates at Corby Post Office; "We had a great day." To which Corby postman and Steelmen supporter Cliff Hughes asked him; "What happened? Somebody split a pound!"
Whilst the Poppies were enjoying the headlines and a trip to Wembley, Corby Town were entrenched in turmoil. Secretary Matt McIllwain had assumed temporary control as manager after Don Martin's departure in March, saw his team record a record defeat of 9-0 at Merthyr Tydfil, and a game abandoned at Enderby Town when his goalkeeper Jimmy Lamond swung on his crossbar at the start of the second half and the goals collapsed! Corby were winning 2-0 to make matters worse. The Steelmen finished bottom of the league and during the summer they lost two of their best players, John Powell moving to Kidderminster Harriers for a fee of £1000 and David Dall who moved to Grantham for a fee of £1500. McIllwain stepped aside to give former Leicester City full back Alan Woollett a go at handling the team as player/coach and a player to arrive at Corby who would make a terrific impact and move on to a brilliant career at Northampton, Manchester City and West Ham was 18 year old Trevor Morley. A final twist in the saga at Occupation Road was a move, albeit deemed illegal, to sign Rushden Town players Andy McGowan and Ross McKinnon. Rushden's manager took umbrage, reported Corby Town to the Football Association who subsequently fined Corby Town £20 and gave them a 'severe censure'.
At the start of the new 1979/80 season, things continued as normal. The Steelmen lost their first seven games! A moment of joy came in game eight when Morley scored the only goal of the F.A.Cup game against Irthlingborough Diamonds but it was then a long haul for Steelmen fans who had to wait a further 30 games before they saw their team taste victory against another motley crew, Milton Keynes. Progress in the F.A.Cup came to a halt when they played away to Bedworth United in the second qualifying round. Their plight not helped when Morley and his pal Tony Barrowcliffe failed to turn up for the game, having travelled to Bedford instead of Bedworth! It came as no surprise that the club handed their resignation in to the Southern League the following February...but that was just the start of another eventful chapter in the story of Corby Town F.C.
Rock 'n' roll fans were given a treat when Bill Haley and the Comets appeared at Corby Civic Centre, supported by the Flying Saucers and the Wild Angels in March. Eight hundred 'Teds' and fans rolled up from as far away as Leicester, Northampton and Wellingborough to join their local counterparts and jive the night away to Razzle Dazzle, Piccadilly Rock and all the old favourites. "The whole show took me back 25 years" said Theatre manager Ross Jones, "There wasn't a hint of any trouble from the fans. They were all very polite to my staff and helped to make it a really memorable evening. The atmosphere was tremendous."
A familiar figure locally, having settled down in Northampton, was British rock and roller Freddie Fingers Lee who had a reputation for the bizarre; 'He doesn't play piano by ear - he plays it by his nose! He's also been known to tickle the ivories with his feet!’ Fred was a regular around the Kettering Working Men's Clubs performing his own brand of Jerry Lee Lewis style piano bashing. Having moved to London from Newcastle in the early 1960s Fred taught himself piano on an old upright belonging to his landlady. Reading the Melody Maker he saw an advertisement by Screaming Lord Sutch who was looking for a piano player, ‘There were millions of guitar players but not many piano players around in those days', Fred explained and he duly introduced himself to the Lord as an established pianist and got the job, staying with him for a number of years, which included numerous stints in Hamburg.
Billy Mathieson, musician and entertainments secretary at Corby Rangers Club booked Lee for a gig this year, a night well remembered by John Black who went along with his pal Charlie Johnson. John; "I lent a pile of my old Sun records and 78s to Chris Madden who was the DJ and I was standing by the doorway when Freddie Lee came in, a short stocky guy, he stood there posing for a minute and then turned to me and asked, "Who are the local scrubbers in here then!" I was flabbergasted, told him I didn't know I never went to the place as a rule. Then he asked me and Charlie if we could do him a favour. He told us part of his act was standing on his head when he played Great Balls Of Fire on the piano! Only he needed someone to hold his legs. The time came and me and Charlie grabbed a leg each, Lee started belting out the number, it was a ridiculous sight! After a couple of minutes I got fed up and said to Charlie, "I'm going for a pint" and let his leg go. Charlie looked at me and said "Yeah, me as well." Course, Lee went sprawling and the whole place erupted in laughter!"
Freddie Fingers lee also made an appearance at the Stardust Centre where he was best remembered for taking his glass eye out and putting it in his pint while he sang. Guitarist John Grimley was there; "I was actually asked if I would join him. We didn't know each other but somehow he got hold of my phone number and rang me up. Told me he had a gig in the Stardust the following week so I could go and see him. Yes I went, no I didn't approach him. You can guess my reasons why."
The last throw of the dice in the fight for Corby's future continued when coach loads of steelworkers travelled to Brighton for the Labour Party conference in October. Mick Skelton in a passionate appeal, urged the Labour party to support action 'against the destruction of communities brought about by the policies of the BSC' and had the conference cheering with a fighting speech as he pilloried the men who run BSC. "These bankers and so called intellectuals are getting paid a fortune for being butchers.' Mick then turned the focus onto the Conservative Party for pressurising BSC to make cuts. "The Tories are not going to stop at Corby. They are on the road to destroying the industrial base of this country." Skelton was backed up by Iron and Steel unions boss Bill Sirs; 'If Britain allows the steelmaking industry to collapse we would lose the seedcorn of industry. If we allow the Tories to close these industries - they will never come back."
Two weeks later, on Friday November 1st 1979, 5,000 townspeople led by Corby's Purple Flute band took part in an emotive march from the Tubeworks flyover to the Town Centre - the second mass protest in three months. Waiting for them was an estimated 10,000 men, women and children, supported by union colleagues and political groups from all over the country. Thousands of police were drafted in from four bordering counties, and a helicopter kept watch from above for disturbances. Finally, the announcement everyone dreaded and which tore the heart out of Corby was made by BSC Chief Executive Bob Scholey, confirming closure the following year. A decade of rumour and speculation was at an end. At a stroke, half a century of work, hope and development had been wiped out. The town was stunned. The once proud iron and steel industry which gave birth to an expanding new town was doomed, with the loss of almost 6,000 jobs. The quarrying of ironstone began in Corby during the 1880s. When it was a tiny village. The slump in worldwide demand for steel in the late 1960s led to Britain being priced out of the market. Corby Works was losing millions at the end of the 60s. In 1978 it lost a staggering £29.5m.
Asked for his thoughts, Bill Sirs was solemn; 'It is absolutely shocking - A national steel strike is now not out of the question.' In the evening a lone piper played Amazing Grace at the start of a special vigil of prayer at the town's Church of Epiphany. Over the coming weeks as workers fought to come to terms with the prospect of unemployment, Keith Joseph announced that government aid would be given to find jobs for the stricken town - declaring Corby an assisted development area.' It was estimated that the redundancies pay off for 5500 could be a staggering £38 million. Turning the screw, Maggie Thatcher refused to meet a delegation from Corby steelworkers and reaffirmed that the government would not intervene to save the doomed works.
Meantime, as if they hadn't suffered enough, Corby people were outraged by remarks from Kettering county councilor Bill Asprey who called Corby's workforce 'third rate, lazy and inefficient.' Bill had apparently heard of 'men taking sleeping bags to work, clocking in for nightshift and then going off to a club, reading books and playing games of darts and dominoes'. He later retracted his comments, admitting that some of the stories were all hearsay.
Asprey was clearly a controversial character, shortly after these stinging comments he had a go at local members of the Tory party who he called 'a bunch of old women.' His angry comments followed his failure to be re-elected as treasurer of the St Michael's ward in Kettering, a post he'd held for the previous nine years.
On December 15th, it was declared that the fight to save Corby was over when 2000 steelworkers voted for shutdown to begin and told union leaders to start negotiating for the best redundancy pay available. George McCart was disappointed; "but this only shows that sometimes money is more important than people. These men may get redundancy pay but we do not know whether they will all get jobs in the future."
Casting aside their blues, many people reacted by going on a spending spree. 'Business is booming as travel agents find it hard to keep up.' "We never expected this" a delighted Garth Webster, manager of Travelounge admitted.
The threat of a national strike became ever more real when the BSC offered a derisory 2% pay increase to its workers when they were asking for between 20% to 25%. 8000 steelworkers at Corby BSC then forced closure for first time in its history in support of 100 men who lost £5000 wages following union instructions to defy BSC management's decision to start the rundown of the plant, which wasn't due to begin until January 1st.
On January 2nd, Corby steelworkers walked out.