My first band, 4 Minute Warning were formed in 1980, after punk's initial wave had evolved into more innovative, and enduring, post-punk. 42 years ago today we supported First Priority at The Astoria.
In early 1980s Edinburgh there was still a retrograde scene scornful of 'post' or any other prefix being associated with punk rock; a fast, aggressive, vitriolic sound that Sounds journalist, Gary Bushell was now proudly labelling, 'Oi' music, a clarion call for youths sporting mohicans or skinheads. But just as 'Oi-oriented punk' became increasingly insular and rooted in the past, resolutely refusing to do anything as remotely arty as 'progressing' or 'experimenting,' post-punk was soaring into new dimensions.
John Lydon hadn't been Rotten for a couple of years, and his post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Limited, were exploring soundscapes light years beyond three-minute rock 'n' roll anthems. (My blog from 2017 waxed lyrical about watching their first appearance on national TV in February 1980). Along with the likes of Wire, Magazine, Joy Division, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Pop Group, The Slits, Gang of Four, and many other captivating bands who could trace their origins to the musical maelstrom of 1976/1977, alternative music was spiralling off into myriad intriguing directions.
4 Minute Warning had performed our debut gig at The Astoria in February 1981, when we'd been Killing Joke-fixated teenagers. We returned to this venue on November 25th that year, supporting First Priority in a benefit gig for muscular dystrophy.
David Bell, Edinburgh promoter, 1948-2022
This gig was arranged by First Priority's manager, Dave Bell, who sadly passed away in May 2022 after a battle with cancer. A longtime champion of live music in the capital, Dave began his lengthy career as a promoter of local talent in 1978, running a club at the Annandale Street bus depot under the banner ‘Super Bop at the Depot.’ Attracting hundreds of revellers, this venture’s success encouraged him to launch Midas Promotions with business partner, Les Wilson. Searching for a permanent location, they scouted the derelict Regent cinema at Abbeymount (where Dave remembered first falling in love with music after his father took him there, aged 8, to see Elvis in Jailhouse Rock). Midas Promotions took out a 20-year lease on the building, offering rehearsal rooms to local bands, and starting a club, The Moon, in what had been the main theatre. Dave enlisted the help of former Bay City Roller, Alan Longmuir to help restore the plumbing! Midas Promotions also ran gigs at Eric Brown’s in Dalry Road, including the earliest performances by cult Dundee band, The Associates.
Dave went on to manage or promote numerous bands, including Scars, Bhundu Boys, The Thompson Twins, Another Pretty Face, The Last Detail, The Cadets, Thick Pink Ink, Blues in Trouble, Rossetta Stone, The Mafia, Razor, Tam White and the Dexters, Rootsie Tootsie Band, John Otway, Angelic Upstarts, The Two Canoes, The Flowers, Twisted Nerve, Blues Conspiracy, Cadiz, Q Street, The Valves, Strutz and The Metrognomes. Along with many of these bands, 4 Minute Warning rehearsed in the dingy basement rooms of the former Regent Cinema on Abbeymount (now student accommodation), a few hundred yards from The Astoria. Other groups who have utilised these practice spaces include Napalm Stars, Random Factor, Sceptix, Visitors, Wild Indians, and Gallery Macabre (who became Fini Tribe).
The Astoria and Regent Buffet
One good thing about practicing so close to The Astoria was not having to hire a van when we played there - we just humped our gear up the steps from Abbeyhill, up the slope to the venue, then downstairs to the stage.
After most band practices, we'd adjourn to the pub on the corner of Abbeymount, then called The Regent Buffet. A slightly less abrasive version of the Mos Eisley bar in Star Wars, youths from every 1980s sub-culture would drink in separate clusters: punks, post-punks, mods, bikers, skinheads, rude boys, New Romantics, and soulboys. It was the pub's manageress that approached Dave about organising the fundraiser.
First Priority had a following, so a decent amount was raised for muscular dystrophy research. And it certainly spurred all of us to keep on making music.
I recall Dave popping into our practice room to make arrangements, and also offering to add us to the growing roster of bands he managed. One of his first suggestions was changing our name to something less overtly political. The Pandas. As it happened, we'd been contemplating a change in direction in any case, veering away from Killing Joke-influenced apocalyptic post-punk to surf the latest wave hitting alternative music: New Romanticism. Although we dug our heels in about becoming Pandas, and insisted we were billed as 4 Minute Warning for The Astoria show, we were already making plans to ditch DMs and creepers in favour of pointy suede boots! In a telling fanzine interview we undertook with our mates in Insane Society (who became Napalm Stars), we listed our musical influences as Bauhaus and Duran Duran. We were on the verge of renaming ourselves after one of our newest songs, a danceable slice of pop/funk somewhere between Boots for Dancing and Haircut 100, entitled 'Radiate Away.'
Radiate Away lasted for one demo tape, before we settled on Desperation AM, a nod to our latest musical heroes, Gang of Four. First Priority, who'd opened for The Clash when they played the Glasgow Apollo in January 1980, eventually became The Crows. Their guitarist, Donald MacLeod, remains passionate about the promotion of music, opening The Cathouse in Glasgow, as well as The Garage. Iconic bands he has promoted over the years include Oasis, Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Queens Of The Stone Age.
I remember that Astoria gig on a bleak Wednesday night in late November not being too well attended. But First Priority had a following, so hopefully a decent amount was raised for muscular dystrophy research. And it certainly spurred all of us to keep on making music.
Back then, 4 Minute Warning's bassist, Ross, worked in a paper merchant's warehouse, which meant having access to a machine that printed off stickers. In the late 1970s and early 1980s these festooned LRT buses, bus stops, Gorgie chippies, and sundry locations across the city.
My memoir, 1976 - Growing Up Bipolar, also touches on my own small part in Edinburgh's post-punk scene, and that gig 42 years ago!
P.S. Regarding Dave extolling Alan Longmuir's plumbing expertise. The former teen idol may have fixed the piping in the main building. But down in the Regent's basement where we practiced, all the bands used the old boiler room as a communal toilet!