Reflections of being a Punk for a day

Oct 24, 2010

‘The Barclays building in Canary Wharf has a green roof designed by former punk and urban ecologist Dusty Gedge of Livingroofs.org, who thinks it’s time there were more:’

Well there it is –  I was a former punk, according to Lucy Siegle in the Observer.

Well it is not actually true.

I was only a punk for a couple of days. I could perhaps extend that to a couple of months until my hair had grown back. So for all the people I meet who ask me if I can play the guitar and who say to me ‘I was a punk too’ I am coming clean. I was more of a long-haired hippy of a peace and love inclination rather  than an anarchic in your face punk.

Are you sure you can play that thing!
Are you sure you can play that thing!

However it was certainly interesting lesson in human behaviour being a punk for a couple of days. So here’s the story…

Way back when in 1986 when I was studying theatre I was part of a street theatre group ‘The Banana Brothers’ with my friend Ben Cornish. We did silly juggling, acrobatics, unicycling and a daft escapology routine. It makes me laugh to remember! But we did actually make quite a bit of money. And I think we were quite good. Well Ben’s brother was a photographer and he had done some photographs of punks for postcards in London. The trouble was the punks wouldn’t do anything but stare at the camera and look mean, disgruntled and disinterested. They wanted punks who ‘did’ things. He turned to Ben and I. Well we both had longish hair and were living in Devon far from the rush and crush of London.

We travelled up to the City having borrowed a couple of leather jackets from mates and as much punkish paraphenalia we could muster.

On arrival we were driven up to some place in North London – I know it well now – Islington, where a professional hairdresser took his clippers to our long locks. The ensuing transformation of our heads – my head compressing into the classic thick setted GI look and Ben’s elongating into more of hari krishna style had us laughing. Now having a number one shave, the hairdresser preceded to shave a bald strip down the centre of our heads. the place where the mohicans would shortly be stuck!

Mine was pink, Ben’s was yellow.

Dusty Gedge as a punk

We started to notice things when we walked into a local supermarket not long after our reinvention. The two of us wandered around the aisles picking up bits and pieces. But something was a miss. After a few minutes we look at each other and said ‘Everyone’s keeping their distance!’ People were literally moving out of the way and slightly changing their body language to an alert, ready for action mode!

The next day during the ‘shoot’ we were down in the Latimer road area of London (where they filmed the Sweeney). It was a run down sort of industrial landscape. We were sitting smoking a cigarette at one point, whilst Ben’s brother was doing things with his camera. A police car past about 100 metres away. Ben’s brother had his back to us and we happened to get up at that very moment and walk toward’s him. The police car braked hard and two coppers leaped out of the car shouting ‘OI’ ‘WATCH OUT’ or something like that.

To cut to the quick, they thought we were about to mug him!

The next day, our mohicans removed, we went to catch the train back to Devon. We now sported a bald strip down the centre of  our thin crew cut heads. We entered a carriage and sat down putting our bags on the other seats to lay claim to our territory. Other people got onto the train, noticed us and thought twice and moved on. Just like today the trains are packed but we had half a carriage to ourselves as we hurtled across Southern England to the green, pleasant and peaceful sanctuary of Devon with our new mean and lean look!

It was nearly two years later, the postcards were published and on sale in the capital. By then I had moved to London. One day reading the Guardian newspaper there was a feature with a headline that read ‘These thugs should NOT be the face of London’ or something along those lines. The feature referred to Ben and I as we greeted the world to London with our fingers!

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