Forty years of the Finchley Boys

Forty years ago, on 14th November 1976,  a Guildford based band, who were being swept along with the new wave explosion, played yet another inauspicious pub gig on the London circuit. They were veritable veterans of the Capital’s pub rock treadmill and, for them, nothing about this specific gig at the Torrington in Finchley made it stand out from the numerous other such concerts that they’d played so far that year.

The band had already started to pick a small but loyal following around London, including the likes of Garry Coward-Williams and Dagenham Dave, as well as grabbing the attention of many of the fledgling punk fans. Prior to the gig, the band noticed a group of rough & ready youths who also were eyeing them up menacingly, trying to get the measure of this latest band to stray onto their manor… Once the band took to the stage, and stormed into their set opener Grip, the gang flew into action, immediately grabbed by the frenetic pace of the set and the aggression and energy of each successive track. They tried to join the band onstage but, as they had done on various occasions before, it wasn’t to test the band’s bottle, it was because they were enjoying the gig! When the set finished, their new found fans introduced themselves to the band and it proved the start of a long and eventful partnership-The Stranglers had met the Finchley Boys.

Advert for the Torrington gig, 14th November 1976

The Finchleys Boys, christened with their new moniker provided by Hugh, proved to be a dedicated and loyal bunch. They and the band were almost inseparable over the next few years. They travelled the length & breadth of the British Isles following the band, providing vital support to the trailblazing group who took punk away from the capital and into the provinces. They were always far more than just fans, especially as they weren’t much younger than the band themselves, and they became close friends and allies to JJ and Hugh in particular. They were violent times too and the opportunity for local hard cases to come and attack a London punk band called for the Finchleys to provide muscle if the need arose…which it did…many times. As the band started to travel the world, so did the Finchleys, who had taken jobs within the band’s crew. Eventually, they started to drift away one by one, off to work with other bands or settling down and, by 1979, they had all but gone from the band’s world.

As JJ had the closest relationship with the Finchleys, who were often referred to as his personal army, we thought that we should take this opportunity to mark this important anniversary by asking him about this legendary group of supporters…

Firstly, please can you set the scene of the autumn of 1976 for the band?

We were starting to get an audience, people were coming to see us regularly and everywhere we went there was a bit of a crowd, whereas a year before there was nothing. That was on the back of playing with the Ramones and Patti Smith as well as having residencies of our own at the Nashville, the Hope and Anchor and the Red Cow. We were starting to be noticed on the London scene…

It had already been a frenetic year for the you gig wise and, with some record companies showing interest & a building fanbase, did it feel like you were starting to win?

Yeah, we were definitely starting to get somewhere, to earn a wee bit of money, getting a few girls interested and some journalists were even dropping our names! The whole London scene was starting to get noticed a bit further afield and we were around at the time, although we weren’t part of that scene. A lot of the bands had been coming to see us since March of ’76, people like the Pistols and Chrissie Hynde. Joe Strummer had mentioned to us that he wanted a band like ours and he started a new band. We were seeing him regularly. There was a bit of a reputation building up around us and the other bands.

Had you played the Torrington previously?

I don’t think we had but I can’t swear on that. We played so many gigs that year, it’s hard to remember. Sometimes we were playing two gigs in a day going from the Nashville to the Speakeasy. It was a very busy year.

What were your first impressions of the Finchleys at the gig?

A bunch of guys suddenly erupted from the audience and tried taking over the stage. We weren’t going to have that! We were battle hardened by then. We started playing Tits, which was our fall back position anytime we had hassle. Tits was our trumpet call for retreat, our circling the wagons in a Zulu kind of way. We wouldn’t let them get on stage and they seemed to like that. I’d heard that they’d tried the same thing with The Damned a few weeks before and the band had run off stage! They were slightly scary but we didn’t really have time to be scared. They seem to warm to us and we were grateful for anyone warming to us at that time. They started coming along regularly, they adopted us I think…

They seemed very proud of their links with the band

Justifiably so. They had decided that we were their band and I suppose that they were proud of their association with us as we had developed a reputation that we looked after ourselves and that we didn’t take any prisoners. We’d had a few years of being put down or dismissed as things progressed, everything became polarised between The Stranglers and everyone else, they wore their loyalty with pride. They went out of their way to confront lots of other bands fans. I don’t think anyone stood in their way. They became notorious…

The Finchleys invade the Nashville stage, Dec.’76

They had grown up supporting various football teams, including local teams Arsenal & Spurs as well as Manchester United, and this had led to them being swept up in the crowd trouble that was rife at that time. Were they a tough bunch?

Yeah, they stuck together and they were quite tough. They proved their toughness over the next two years when they decided that they were our kind of Praetorian Guard. They stood up to the Hells Angels, they weren’t going to let the Hells Angels muscle in on us. They stood up to quite a few people… Their ranks tightened when there was a threat and they became a formidable force.

You were at the vanguard of the burgeoning new wave movement and your forays far & wide led to you getting into various violent situations in places like Cleethorpes or Canterbury. How important were the Finchleys in defending your equipment, and occasionally the band, at those times?

There were quite a few incidents like that. The Battle of Cleethorpes has gone down in the annals of history, that was just a pitched battle, just unbelievable. I remember Canterbury distinctly, as one of the Finchleys saved my life that night! We were faced with a hundred or so metal fans outside Canterbury Odeon who had been picking off little punk fans as they were leaving the venue. I heard that there was trouble outside and there were about a hundred of them against five or six of us with mic stands. We charged them and had a big punch up in the High Street. I was on top of one guy with a big circle around us watching and one of the Finchleys grabbed hold of a knife off a guy trying to stab me in the back. I also remember that we were driving back to London afterwards and it came on the radio that there had been a disturbance in Canterbury. We were quite chuffed with that…

Initially, how did your established fans and the Finchleys take to each other?

100 Club, Dec ’76-the Finchleys with Dagenham Dave visible in background

I think that they got on OK, I’m not sure about Garry (Coward-Williams) though. I think that (Dagenham) Dave took umbrage though as he thought that we were his band. Things came to a head a soon afterwards…

A few short weeks after the Torrington, the band signed a record deal with UA and played a gig at the 100 Club on London’s  Oxford Street. At first things with the volatile Dagenham Dave and the Finchleys were fine at the gig, but a fight broke out between them which Dave lost, resulting in his hospitalisation. What do you recall about that night?

Dave did drink quite a lot sometimes and take different kinds of drugs, but I don’t know what went through his brain that night at the 100 Club. Suddenly there was a huge commotion, with chairs flying. I was onstage while it was kicking off so I didn’t actually see how it started. We didn’t know what the fuck had happened! What I do know is that Dave tried taking on far too many people and got a serious beating. I heard afterwards that he’d attacked them with chairs and they had retaliated in kind. There was a huge macho element to it, geezers and honour.

Dave’s life took a turn for the worse from that point and, sadly, within three months he’d committed suicide by jumping off Tower Bridge into the Thames. Did any of the Finchleys express their remorse at the events leading to his death?

Well, they had actually made up before he died. We played a gig at Aylesbury Friars a few weeks later and he just turned up. Obviously we hadn’t seen him for weeks as he’d been injured. He turned up and it was friends all around, shaking hands.

The new year and new record deal led to a hectic schedule of recording of your debut single and album coupled with numerous gigs. Were the Finchleys omnipresent throughout that time?

Yes, they were. They were there a lot of the time. Sometimes 12 or 15 would turn up, other times just two or three.

How did they travel to gigs?

They had a Transit van which they used to get around. A few of them had motorcycles, Daddy (Chistou) & Pete (Enter). We later had a Stranglers’ car, a big powerful Granada, which I used to lend to Dennis (Marks).

Dennis & JJ, Bracknell ’77

Around this time in the press, the Finchley Boys name was synonymous with The Stranglers and accusations of bully boy tactics were levelled at them by punk journalists like Parsons & Burchill, likening them to Mishima’s private army or, bizarrely, a ‘coterie of SS homosexual youth’. Why do you think they attracted such bile?

He came on the road with us to the Cambridge gig on the No More Heroes tour. His piece was a bit condescending about our relationship with the Finchleys. You’ve got to realise that he hadn’t done the circuit like we had, hadn’t been bottled, attacked, criticised and had the plugs pulled on him. He just came from his little London-centric intellectual bubble. What he called the Finchleys bullying tactics was them protecting us from the bouncers. At that particular gig, the bouncers had tried to get us after the gig to beat us up and the Finchleys were there to protect us and wouldn’t let them in the dressing room. The bouncers there were big blokes, all local thugs and were trying to get us for telling them to get out of the way of the fans. The bouncers used to beat up the kids around that time, we had that quite a few times.

During the run up to the release of No More Heroes, various of the Finchleys were present in TW studios during the recording sessions. How did they react when you namechecked them in the lyrics of Burning Up Time?

You’d have to ask them. They were part of our everyday life by then. Our world was still quite narrow at that time and we were writing about things around us that concerned us.

Shortly after Heroes was in the can, you played a low key date on Hugh’s birthday at the Herbert Wilmot Youth Centre which the Finchley Boys arranged. It was a closed affair too with no journalists or photographers being admitted. What do you remember about that gig?

I didn’t think that there were so many Finchley Boys! They’d mustered all their school friends, people that they’d grown up with on their estates, it was great. From the 12 or 15 that we saw on a regular basis, there were hundreds!

By this time, various of the Finchleys had started working in your crew. Can you recall who did what?

Lots helped us with lugging the equipment. They were keen so we tried using them as much as possible, up to what their skills were. Graham (Hayhoe) became semi-professional with us, he was a lovely kid and willing to learn. Steve (Hillier) did merch with us for a few years. We called him ‘Lord Hillier Of Finchley’. Dennis became the Assistant Road Manager.

Around this time, rumour has it that the Finchleys would join you onstage during Go Buddy Go. Is this true?

They did a few times but it wasn’t a regular thing. A lot of people came up onstage with us in those days…

Any other memorable events around that time?

Around that time, we were banned from playing in London by the GLC and we met up at Sheds’ house (band’s sound engineer) near Seven Sisters. We had a convoy of cars and a couple of bikes and went around London grafittiing ‘Let The Stranglers Play’ on police stations, a wall at Ally Pally and other places. Katoh-San from our Japanese record company came along too and he even wrote it in Japanese!

Late in 1977, you travelled to Amsterdam to play two nights at the Paradiso where you were ‘befriended’ by the Amsterdam Hells Angels. Various of the Finchleys made the trip too including a pair on your beloved Triumph Trident. What do you recall about that trip?

It was a big press junket, our press guy Alan Edwards was there, as was Martin Rushent and some record company people. We were locked out of the dressing room in the vaults and we were been followed by a TV crew who captured the moment when I kicked the wall down. The audience was wild. The Angels took it on themselves to be our security but they weren’t very good at it as they just threw everyone back into the audience.

Roundhouse dressing room- Hugh, Al Hillier, Dennis Marks, Chris Green, Tommy McGonnall, Steve Hillier, Bruce Foxton, JJ

How did the Finchleys and the Hells Angels get along?

The Finchleys were wary of the Angels, they thought that they were up to no good. They were quite protective of us at that point and they thought that the Angels were encroaching on their band. I heard stories that the Angels offered cocaine to a few bands and then presented them with a bill for it, suggesting that the band play a gig for them to pay the bill. They did that with Motorhead and the Stray Cats.

JJ & Leigh Bull

Into 1978 and the release of Black & White which was supported by both European and American tours before the UK jaunt. Some of the Finchleys came Stateside with you and part of their duties including helping comedian Johhny Rubbish on to the stage. Can you elaborate?

Johnny Rubbish was carried onto the stage in a dustbin by a couple of the Finchleys, he would come out of his bin with an umbrella to protect him from the spitting and berate the audience. At the end of his act, he was carried back off again.

Following the US dates, and the legendary album launch in Iceland, you travelled to Scandinavia for the start of a gruelling European tour and immediately encountered issues with your old friends the Raggare. Did your crew and the Finchleys do battle with them?

That was another famous battle-the Battle of Klippan, which we kind of lost to be honest. Fifty of these American cars turned up at this gig in the middle of a forest in a big wooden chalet. They began to trash the whole hall, our equipment and our crew. We’d been locked in the cellar of the venue by the promoter. We managed to escape and Molotov Cocktailed one of their cars. The police finally turned up and we were escorted to the port and took the ferry to Copenhagen.

The tour went off relatively peacefully until you arrived in Cascais, Portugal for and ill fated gig that descended into a riot. Due to power issues at the venue, you had remained in your hotel whilst your crew and Finchleys bore the brunt of the audience’s frustration. Can you retell the events of that day?

That was another riot! The crew and Finchleys were ahead of us at the venue when they realised that we didn’t have three phase power so we couldn’t play. There was a big crowd already there as they were starved of rock music as this was before the revolution. The fans were outside the venue enclosure but they could see our crew putting all our equipment back into the trucks. Things got ugly at the gates to the enclosure and the audience were attacking anyone they could get to. One of the crew got a brick in his head, everyone was getting pelted with stones and shouted at…

On your Euroman tour in spring ’79, a kidnapping incident involved the FBs and a journalist Ronnie Gurr. Can you elaborate?

Ronnie Gurr had befriended the band a couple of years before. I first met him outside the Roundhouse when we did the five nights there on the No More Heroes tour. There was this young Scottish kid with a rucksack and he asked us if there was anywhere he could put it. We said that he could put it in our dressing room and he could pick it up later. He started contributing various pieces to the music papers and, when we went to Scotland, he would interview us. Bit by bit, he befriended us and then became a staff writer at one of the music papers. One day, he wrote a scathing critique of us, for Nosferatu I think, and he betrayed our trust. He wanted to interview me for the Euroman Cometh album and, by then, I wasn’t so well disposed towards him. I said ‘Yeah, come & meet me on the tour bus before I go up the A1 to Hemel Hempstead’. We got him on the bus, shut the doors & took him up the road to the gig. We captured him, tied him up and put in him a storeroom for a few hours while we soundchecked. Then, during the gig, we forced him to sit on the stage and listen to the bands. He managed to escape from the stage, hotly pursued by a couple of the Finchleys and ran to the police station next door. The police came looking for me just before I went onstage so I hid in the women’s wardrobe in with the ballet costumes!

Hugh and Al Hillier (pic courtesy of Al)

By the time that The Raven was released in autumn ’79, most of the FBs had drifted away. Was this caused by a particular incident or did they just drift away?

I don’t know… We were going further afield by then, taking us away from the UK. We’d been to Australia and hadn’t taken any Finchleys with us, Japan as well. I do recall playing in San Sebastian in the Basque Country (in Spain) and three of the Finchley Boys turned up at the gig. We asked what they were doing there and they were a bit sheepish but it seemed that they were having dealings with the Basques. They were getting into all kinds of ‘stuff’ by then. One became a bodyguard for Toyah, others became involved in some illegal activities, they were branching out in to ‘business’. They were getting older and getting involved in other things…

Did you keep in touch even though you were leading separate lives?

Yes, because we’d become friends by then. Like I was trying to help Pete Enter who was a really promising motorcycle racer, I was trying to help him with sponsorship. We were so busy around then, we couldn’t be hands on with anything. They would still turn up from time to time, but less and less frequently.

The sad & untimely death of Daddy led to you meeting up again. That must have been a bittersweet experience?

I kept in touch with Daddy for years and he used to come up to my house in Cambridge. He’d been doing all sorts of eco-stuff, he was running a company doing alternative sorts of energy. It was especially sad for me as I’d fallen out with him shortly before. I hadn’t heard from him for a couple of years and he’d rung me up before a London show to ask for tickets, which I took badly as he hadn’t been in touch for a while. We had words and left it at that. We hadn’t resolved it and then he died. I completely regretted all that, what a stupid thing to happen really.

The Finchleys and I kept in touch a bit more after Daddy’s funeral, but not much more because we had our own lives, wives, divorces, children and businesses by then. We weren’t children anymore. We still kept in touch. Now we’re all dying off, Chris, John, Daddy, Leigh have all passed away and sadly things are going to carry on like that.

A group of the FBs gathered at the Croydon gig in 2013 and there’s a great photo of you in the midst of your ‘Boys’. Do they feel like family to you?

Yeah, they did. The things that we all lived through were very intense. The number of punch ups we had together, there were some big ones and lots of lesser scraps. We’ d sleep on each others floors, spending a lot of time together and sharing girlfriends and stuff. That was a very intense period and it kind of binds you, you know. They are my over-riding memories.

JJ & the Finchleys, Croydon 2013

In retrospect, how do you view your friendship and experiences with the Finchleys?

I thought it was a fortuitous and wonderful combination which was of its time. I don’t think that The Stranglers’ legacy would have been the same without them. I don’t think that they would’ve been the same if they hadn’t met The Stranglers either. I think that some of them had their worlds broadened by their association with The Stranglers, not necessarily about our music or us, but the situation that we found ourselves in. Getting them out of Finchley basically…

Thanks to JJ for his recollections of his experiences with the legendary Finchley Boys.

The Finchleys held a 40th anniversary bash on 12th November 2016 in Watford which raised the incredible sum of over £7000 for selected charities close to their hearts. In memory of Chris, Daddy, Leigh and John-Finchley Boys forever…

40th Anniversary Bash, Watford 12th Nov 2016