Don Letts at The Roxy

Andy Czezowski was an amiable Cockney whose enterprise gave punk it's first permanent home. The ROXY was formerly a gay club in Neal Street, Covent Garden before Andy C. turned it into a rendez-vous for blank and spiky teenagers. In any year in any decade there are hundreds of footloose suburban kids on the streets of London's West End, looking for action, something different, exciting and preferably cheap and 1976 was no exception.

Most of the original fans came square London suburbs like Bromley, where entertainment choices were almost nil and youth had more time to be bored, alienated and restless. At The ROXY these kids could meet others who considered themselves rebellious, and take part in an underground scene where bands and kids were re-writing the rules of rock'n'roll energy exchange. The audience became part of the show as never before.
Punk fashions took the form of zany hairstyles, ripped T-shirts, trousers with 17 zips, safety-pin jewellery, and dustbin-liner skirts with fishnet stockings. Black was the favourite colour, hard-wearing leather and denim the favoured fabrics. Studs, chains and badges were added emblems of identity and machismo. Even the punk girls liked to look firce.

In this bizarre nursery Andy installed rastafarian Don Letts as disc jockey. Don had previously worked in the rag trade, and was manager of Acme Attractions, a boutique in the Kings Road, here he played music in the shop. He had no previous experience as a DJ. He had met a lot of punks at Boy, a neighbouring boutique, and sympathised with them. Despite the doubts of his black friends, he accepted the Roxy offer, and became a key figure on the scene.

All the early punk bands played The Roxy: The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Jam, Siouxsie, Buzzcocks, Generation X, Slaughter & The Dogs, Eater, The Slits, The Subway Sect, among others. American acts such as Wayne County and The Heartbreakers also appeared.
In the early days there were few appropriate records available for Don Letts to play between the groups. Fans heard a bit of Iggy Pöp. The Velvet Underground, Eddie & The Hot Rods, and then it was back to Lou Reed again. None of the groups did long sets, either, since they were fast and furious players, and too new to have had written an extensive repertoire of original material.

Don was interviewed by his pal Mark P in Sniffin' Glue N°7:
"Like, to me, the reggae thing and the punk's the same fuckin' thing. Just the black version and the white version. The kids are singing about the change, they wanna do away with the establishment. Same thing the niggers are talkin' about, "Chant down Babylon", it's the same thing. Our Babylon is your establishment, same fuckin' thing. If we beat it, then you beat it, and vice versa."
"Cause like Johnny Rotten was telling me the other day. He's walkin' down the street now and the cops are hittin' on him. Takin' him in the van and tryin' to bust him for this and that. Cause of the way he looks... It's the same shit we go through. Like with me hair, and the red, gold, and green. Copper stopped me in me car and tell me I should walk! cause like he said, "People with red, gold and green hats shouldn't have enough money to drive flash cars" and all this crap, you know?"
And, like it's fuckin' heavy. Once you put that hat on your head you're takin' on a whole lot of shit, you know what I mean? Same as a punk, right, a punk wears his clothes. He's makin' an outward sign he's rebelling."

Don said that at the club he was getting more kids asking him for reggae than punk. "At first I wasn't sure whether to play it or not but then again, there ain't enough punk material out. like, they say I'm DJ'ing at The Roxy...there's no DJ'ing to do. You got like 10 LPs, right, and about 20 singles and that's it. How the fuck can you DJ? You just tearrange it every night. I had to pad it out with something and I can't stand soul, the soul right now. The soul now is, sort inspired. I prefer punk rock to that shit. I prefer most of the white music now to most of that shit.".

Reggae had become fashionable and hip^and was now being patronised by college girls, something found disguting. When he slagged off Caroline Moon, Mark, reminded him that Coon used to go down to black clubs in the sixties, but don was unconvinced. "You see her with her T-shirt carefully ripped between the tits. Punk, my arse. You can tell she dresses up like a punk to go to a punk do and probably puts on a red, gold and green hat to go to a reggae do."
"It's like me cuttin' my hair to go a white pop show. There's nowhere I don't go lookin' like this...I been to church like this, weddings, court, I ain't ashamed. I just speak and when I talk, that gets me by, not how I look. As far as I'm concerned, I'm above clothes, I don't need it no more because all the kids that come into the shop, they put so much importance in clothes. They're building up a force identity."

One minor event in Don's life was to assume major importance as the first 100 days of The Roxy passed quickly into legend . A lady fashion editor called Caroline Baker had bought him a 8-millimetre cine-camera as a present, and as practice with his new toy Don began to film the punks, and went to Harlesden to film The CLASH. Soon it was reported in the papers that he was making a punkmovie and evryone was asking him when it was coming out, so he filmed for three months, and as it become prohibitively expensensive he had to flog off all his possessions to buy film.

In August, September 1977, a 60-minute version of the film was shown twice at the ICA, admission 50p. It was a natural for a cover story of Time Out: "Punk Home Movies". Don was interviewed and explained how it had all fallen into place:
"I found that because I was the DJ and people knew me - they thought I was a crazy nigger and they couldn't figure out why I was there in the first place - I could get what the TV cameras couldn't get; the real background, the real truth. Every time they'd announce that London Weekend were coming down to film, all the guys that are really important stayed away. The rest of kids found some more safety pins and some more make-up and jumped around in front of the camera - and it's a real distorted view of the whole thing."
"Of course with Super-8 film you only get three minute cassettes but the punk bands seem to cram everything into about 2 1/2 minutes which is really fortunate for me. Even when I speak to them they seem to runout of things to say in about three minutes. It seems to be good time for them".

The spikiest home movie of the Seventies captured an embryonic rock revolution. The footage was primitive and unique. Johnny Rotten was in charismatic form, and smoked a joint in the DJ booth, Billy Idol did a Presley imitation in the dressing room., and The Slits were featured playing at Sussex University. They were shots of kids fixing smack, fans having a bash on the Jam's drum kit, and wild, uninhibited vertical dancing, soon dubbed 'pogoing'. Verité rock had become verité celluloid almost by accident.