In June 1970 I was sixteen and a half years old and had just attempted my ‘O’ levels. I had done very little work for them as I was more interested in the burgeoning ‘underground’ scene emanating out of London.
I had by this time immersed myself in the hip media of the time namely The International Times and the lavishly illustrated eye-stunner that was Oz magazine. Thus I was well versed with all that was happening in the counter-culture in this country as well in Europe (mainly Amsterdam, Paris ’68, and West Germany) and the U.S.
The cracks had already appeared in the hippie dream of universal love, peace and understanding as events of the late 60s, most notably the brutal treatment of the anti-Vietnam war protesters in America (or Amerika as was the hip spelling at the time). The behaviour of the CRS (the riot police of Paris) towards students and workers in the events of May 1968 sent shock waves throughout western Europe but the ‘establishment’ were still in control. The new society would have to be postponed.
As a backdrop to all this ferment were the MC5. The International Times or IT as the paper was commonly called championed this band and the whole Detroit scene centred around John Sinclair, the White Panthers and the Trans Love Energies commune in which the MC5 were the house band.
A small group of us had already heard the seminal (and still to this day, best) live high-energy rock and roll concert record Kick Out The Jams by the band and could believe the attitude and vibe given off by this incendiary LP.
The underground press announced a concert at London’s Roundhouse which hosted many fine concerts by the new ‘underground’ or ‘progressive’ performers. The MC5 were to top the bill (which included Matthew’s Southern Comfort!) one Sunday in July.
We couldn’t believe it – our new heroes who preached revolution and advocated getting stoned delivered through high-octane rock ‘n’ roll were coming to these shores. Of course we had to go and see them.
The great day soon came and being only an hour away by tube we were soon queuing on the steps of the venue. This was my first time at the Roundhouse but my companions had been to the Sunday concerts many times. Once inside we found somewhere to sit. The old railway loco-turning shed was already quite full so where we sat was where we would stay.
The music started at around 3 in the afternoon but I can’t really remember who was on. Possibly Edgar Broughton or The Pink Fairies but certainly Matthew’s Southern Comfort who were riding high on the success of Joni Mitchell’s song Woodstock.
I do remember the scheduling of the bands falling behind as the evening wore on so the MC5 came pretty late and I for one was wondering how I’d get home as we’d almost certainly miss the last train out of Baker Street. As soon as Fred Smith burst out with the chords of Ramblin’ Rose and Rob Tyner started belting out the words I knew that any further consideration of traintimes was out of the question.
Surprisingly, several of the people I knew left half way through the 5’s set to catch that last train. That left three of us and we began to spread about now there was a little more room. Also the whole audience was standing – how could you not when this blistering wall of guitars/drums and voice energized the whole place.
One guy I remember was completely out of it. He was standing naked and kept making a series of peace-sign gestures alternating with the revolutionary clench-fist. Wayne Kramer delighted us all by his machine gunning posture that he would adopt intermittently, using his guitar to waste us all with a mischievous grin on his face. These cats were working hard! They were all dripping with sweat at the end of their set.
Sonic overload or what. None of us had ever heard anything so loud, fast or heavy. This must have been the best concert we’d ever seen and remember most of us had been to Hyde Park to see the Stones in ’69 and/or the Isle of Wight and Bath festivals.
No, the MC5 seemed to be riding the wave to the future. There was a blast of the garage-band about them but mixed in was punk, psych(edelic) and the far-outness of Sun Ra.
We poured out into the night at about 12.45 a.m. not knowing what to say or do . We were stunned with our ears still ringing from the intensity of the sound from the MC5.