Welcome to Manhattan
Setting the scene: Club 57, Irving Plaza, New York – September 1st, 1979. The second of two consecutive sold-out Buzzcocks shows in the ‘Big Apple’. This one was being simultaneously broadcast by local radio station WPIX-FM. I was heading for the dressing room following our final encore when I was collared by Mike Nolan, one of our road crew. He stuffed $20 into my hand, bundled me along the corridor to the fire escape, told me to hail a cab and head back to the hotel pronto. I could tell he was being serious. I did as instructed, legging it down a couple of flights of metal stairs on the outside of the building – just like the movies. Welcome to New York! More on this later.
As mentioned in the first part of this series, I didn’t take many band related photos during our first three tours of the USA. Aside from the performance aspect of life on the road, most of what happens between shows is often quite tedious. When I got the opportunity, I was out and about with my camera, wanting to experience America outside the band bubble. For example, the picture at the top of the page was taken in Union Square, the day after the shenanigans at Club 57.
Highlighted against the skyline in the centre of that photo are several roof mounted wooden water tanks. In the photo below… see that Rosenwach van at the stop light? Forty years later I’ve discovered Rosenwach are still in business and that they are the people responsible for making and installing all those round wooden water tanks that are such a familiar sight on the New York skyline.
Also in the same photo, a couple of doors to the left of Estroff Pharmacy: the Ukrainian Liberation Front. They’re no longer at the same location but interesting to see the current US president doing his bit to raise their profile.
While in New York we stayed at the Gramercy Park Hotel, which explains why many of my NY photos were taken at that end of town. With the aid of Google Maps and some advice from the knowledgeable people over on the Manhattan Before 1990 facebook page, I’ve discovered I ventured further afield, although it appears I mostly stuck to Lexington Avenue.
The pic below was taken one block north of the Gramercy Park Hotel, looking up Lexington Avenue towards the Chrysler Building – just visible in the distance.
My next stop along Lexington: a view of the Empire State Building from East 34th Street
Three streets further up, I snapped the Pan Am building, with the Shelburne Hotel on the right – featuring Billy Bud’s Chop House
Finally got to see the art deco splendour of the Chrysler Building close up.
‘No Parking Tuesday’ outside the Chinese Laundry, 972 Lexington Avenue, near 71st Street.
I wandered a couple of blocks west off Lexington to Madison Avenue – the posh bit.
Following my walkabout, I went back to the Gramercy Park Hotel to meet up with the rest of the band and a journalist from Melody Maker – one of the four main UK weekly music papers (along with NME, Sounds and Record Mirror). We went for a stroll around the China Town district with photographer Kate Simon. A couple of weeks later, we made the front page.
It’s only rock and roll
Going back to the hasty exit from Club 57 mentioned at the start of this post… I wrote up my version of what happened that night in 2015, sharing it as part of a Buzzcocks serialisation I was doing at the time. Shortly after, a key figure in the Club 57 incident reappeared. He made it clear – in no uncertain terms – he was still mightily pissed off with what took place that night. It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. I wish the guy no ill, but I can’t help wondering how things might have turned out if our sound man, Mike Nolan, hadn’t hastily ushered me out of the building and on to the fire escape with a taxi fare that night. Here’s my take on events…
Buzzcocks first trip to the USA. September 1st 1979. New York. The man in the not so white suit and how to piss off a radio station…
Sept 1st was our second consecutive night at Club 57, Irving Plaza. Both gigs were sell outs. This one was going to be a simultaneous live broadcast on WPIX-FM. When we turned up for our sound-check earlier in the day, I found a huge ‘WPIX-FM 102’ banner strung across the back of the stage. I couldn’t see the point – the people at the gig wouldn’t be listening to the radio show and the people at home couldn’t see the banner. Being an impetuous rock’n’roll teenager, I told someone from the radio crew it had to come down. They said it’d be taken care of before the show.
Turning up about half an hour before we were due on stage, we could see a huge crowd lined up outside the venue. When we got inside, the radio station people were getting seriously stressed about the start time – they were working to a specific time slot for the live broadcast. With about 10 minutes to go, the hall was practically empty. Apparently the doormen were being deliberately obstructive, insisting everyone show ID and subjecting everyone to a body search. As zero hour approached the whole WPIX team were going mental”
With the vast majority of fans still queuing outside, we refused to go on stage until everyone had been admitted. The atmosphere backstage between our crew and the radio people was tense! We eventually went on about 20 or 30 minutes late, but at least everyone who’d bought a ticket was now inside.
First thing I noticed when we walked on stage was the huge WPIX-FM banner. It was still there! Pissed off, I tore it down and threw it off the back of the stage. We did our set as per usual. When we finished, a couple of our crew grabbed us, rushed us into the dressing room and slammed the door shut. Apparently one of the radio guys was threatening to beat me up for tearing down his banner!
Sidetracking for a minute… one of the people standing guard in the dressing room was a friend of Richard Boon (our manager) – think he was called Ian. He’d flown over with us to act as tour photographer. For some reason he’d decided to wear a white suit when we left Manchester. When we arrived in New York, his suitcase didn’t. He was on his fifth day of wearing the same clothes and the suit wasn’t looking (or smelling) as fresh as it did the day we’d left the UK.
Next, there was a huge commotion at the dressing room door. The radio guy who was searching for me barged in, ranting and raving. In a flash, our man in the not-so-white-suit head-butted Mr WPIX in the face. Blood everywhere. Mike Nolan, our monitor man, grabbed the four of us, led us out on to a fire escape, gave me a fistful of dollars and told us to get a cab back to the hotel.
I found this separate account of events by one of the people working in the outside broadcast truck that night:
“Ahh yes, the Buzzcocks fiasco at Irving Plaza, NYC. Let’s get Jeff Rutledge in on this story. Jeff’s old pal ***** ****** got the brunt of the brawl. I was in the truck so I only heard about it on comm and saw the results of the aftermath when ***** and Jeff made it back it to the Aura-Sonic truck. If my memory’s not mistaken, ***** got his nose broken. One of the Buzzcocks’ techs head butted him straight on during an argument about the live broadcast (or something to that effect). He was really hurt bad… Even Jeff was full of *****’ blood because he tried to help his buddy out. Hey, one cool thing I found out from Jeff, ***** ****** ended up with the acting bug and got a sitcom role on the “Life with Bonnie” show. Bonnie Hunt rocks — it’s too bad her network didn’t think so.”