TRCH - Mindgames

The Grey Topper

9 January 12 words: Tony Hill and James Walker

"The energy was unbelievable - the kids went madder than anywhere else in England"

Jackdale's premier Nitespot, in its prime

In the days before Rock City, the Arena or even the Concert Hall, the best music venue in Notts was the Grey Topper in Jacksdale. Tony Hill, author of a new book documenting the club and the bands that passed through it on the way to something far bigger, takes us through his scrapbook… 

alt text

Night Club, I Paid In, Got A Stamp Upon My Skin, January 1971
“I was watching Oil City Confidential, a documentary about influential pub rockers Dr Feelgood. Their manager, Chris Fenwick, described their first gig outside London, at the ‘Silk Top Hat Club,’ when called the Pig Boy Charlie Band. Surely he meant the Topper? Indeed he did - he confirmed it over the phone. ‘I remember Lee Brilleaux making his entrance down these stairs onto the stage in his gig gear - denim jacket, gloves -  and putting on a great show, and the DJ (presumably Gay Lord Mick) saying something like; ‘Fookin’ ‘ell, you’ve got a star there mate.'’ So in 1971 an early incarnation of Dr Feelgood, playing stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll, were laying down the foundations of punk in Jacksdale.”


alt text

Life On Mars, 1973
“‘Wahrrdy’ looks on in his top hat as Ralph Amott attempts to take his yard of ale record. ‘Wahrrdy’ apparently used to have a light on his hat that lit up to signal he wanted serving whilst at the bar, was barred from one pub for eating a live mouse, had an alarm clock attached to a chain inside his coat and once broke his legs jumping through a pub window.”


alt text

Never Trust A Mr Whippy, February 1976
“An ice cream van pulled into the Topper car park playing a discordant tune. The occupants were The Stranglers, a full year before their debut single. They’d go on to release classics like No More Heroes and Golden Brown, but back then they had to pacify the Topper Teds by playing Great Balls of Fire. The van’s existence was fully confirmed by Stranglers drummer Jet Black in an interview for the book; it had been a legacy from an earlier business enterprise."

alt text

This Means Nothing To Me, 1981
“Taken from the ‘Bitz’ section of Smash Hits. The Topper made many a ‘worst gig’ list; Adam Ant had a pint pot thrown at him and his leather jacket pinched. He was later seen writing ‘I HATE TOPPER PUNKS’ on the toilet wall. Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders changed the lyrics of Stop Your Sobbing to ‘Stop Your Gobbing’. Judas Priest’s crew spent an entire day setting up an elaborate light show in their early days, only for a handful of punters to turn up. Even the legendary Bill Haley played to little more than a few flat-capped men and their dogs after the owner – out to make a killing – mistakenly made it all-ticket. The night of the gig and adverse winter weather meant few could make the perilous expedition down the steep, fog filled, snow and ice descent into the Dale.”


alt text

Do They Know It’s Jacksdale, 1979-85:
“From the nightmare of Friday the 13th in a tough old mining village (where they can’t even spell your name right) to playing one of the biggest gigs in history to a crowd of over 90,000 in the J.F.K. Stadium and a worldwide TV audience of billions, six years to the day later. Jim Kerr of ‘Simple Minos’ and Chrissie Hynde actually got married in 1984 - wonder if they ever reminisced about that weekend, when they took turns to dodge phlegm from a handful of scowling spiky-tops in Jacksdale?”

alt text

Go Where The Crowds Go, August 1979:
“Hmm, what to do? A bit of ‘popular dancing’ to Bert and Neall at the Miners Welfare, or get a new bed from the Co-Op? This is a great month at the Topper, which by now had become a notorious punk venue. The Ruts were one of the last - but arguably the greatest - of the punk groups to play there. Championed by John Peel, their second single Babylon’s Burningsmashed into the Top Ten, but less than a year later lead singer Malcolm Owen was dead from a heroin overdose. The Members - of Sound Of The Suburbs fame - remember it as one of the best places they ever played. ‘They were possibly the smallest but most enthusiastic audience we have ever played to. The energy was unbelievable - the kids went madder than anywhere else in England,’ said J C Carroll in an interview for the book.”

alt text

Out Of Control, September 1979:
“During the recent riots, Desmond Morris wrote that the trouble was a city problem and said; ‘Did you ever hear of a riot in a village?’ Hmm, I thought. In the 1970s the Co-Op in Jacksdale was regularly ram-raided for TVs and Hi-Fi’s, us little punk urchins kicked off a mini-riot in and around our yowf club (using Osmonds LPs for missiles after we’d been told not to play our punk records), and our elders were involved in a full-scale battle in the village after an infamous Angelic Upstarts gig at the Topper. ‘In them days you went to a fight and an Upstarts gig broke out,’ singer Mensi told me. A few weeks after the Upstarts riot, a tragic incident at another battle between lads from Eastwood, Sutton and Jacksdale - where one lad lost an eye - proved the death knell for the club."

The Good Old Days Before The Ghost Town, June 1979:
“When The Specials turned up at the Topper, it was a month away from the release of their first single, and a month into the Thatcher Government, which already had a club raised above its head ready to smash the industrial north and the working class. Factories closed, pits would follow, mods fought with punks in the Topper and Slab Square, and the seeds for riots were growing in the inner cities. Aptly, as the Topper wound down in 1981, so did the Specials with their last single. The line ‘This town is coming like a Ghost Town, all the clubs have been closed down’ was a fitting epitaph for the Topper and Jacksdale.”

alt text

Stranglehold Upon Me, May 2007:
“By the time I’d researched and written The Palace and the Punks, Topper owner Alf Hyslop had become a total hero to me. It was like his spirit and that of punk was living inside me - so much so that I had to have a go at putting on a reunion gig. I wasn’t prepared for how much of an arduous undertaking it would be; A Co-Op had been built over it, and many wanted its rotting corpse to lay there undisturbed. It was if the police, councils, and residents’ associations were terrified that I might dig it up and release its curse. After the first village venue pulled out under the pressure, The Welfare then agreed to put it on – until someone mentioned the curse of the ‘Black Horse’ (another nearby venue where a Subs gig ended in a riot), which led to an extraordinary meeting of t’committee, whose members and their views had not changed since ’79, who cancelled the gig. Ironically a lifeline was thrown to me by the drummer out of Showaddywaddy, who now runs the MFN Club at Eastwood. Which left me with four weeks to go to shift the tickets…”


The Palace and the Punks by Tony Hill, Northern Lights Lit, £9.95.

Buy The Palace and the Punks from Amazon



Tell us what you think

NTU - Degree Show