Conversations With Punks : Dek Drongo

“Actually, it wasn’t such a big deal to see The Sex Pistols at the time, it was only later on that it seemed like a big deal. Cos at the time, nobody thought it was going to last, you weren’t thinking of the future, or “Wow, this is going to considered important one day”. You’d just go from one band to another band to another band.”

I started the Conversations With Punks project a while ago but this is the first public evidence of it. It’s attempt to look at punk on a deeper level than the facile celebration of the same small crowd of movers and shakers that we’ve all seen interviewed far too many times. It’s time to leave the celebrities behind, and find out what the real punks have been up to all these years.

“Funny thing, before I started going out with my wife we were both at a Slaughter and the Dogs gig and it started getting rough between the skinheads and punks. I remember seeing her kick a skinhead in the head and I thought “Yeah, she’s for me”.”

Dek was a teenager at exactly the right time for punk’s initial wave, taking in gigs by a lot of the key players (“Generation X played at Barbarellas and someone threw a class at Billy Idol which hit him.”) However, this went deeper than a string of cool gigs.

“You’ve heard of the Crown Punks? We all used to go there, to The Crown. I met my wife there. This is moving on a bit, but we got married in 1981. We had a wedding reception in a hotel somewhere in the morning, and an evening do at The Crown, with GBH, Drongos and Suspect Youth playing. We’ve been friends with a lot of those people that were at the wedding ever since.

It wasn’t so much the 76/77 punks who stuck around, it was the people who came later, say 79–84, alot of them are still around now. There was a real bonding when it wasn’t fashion any more.”

Not only are the marriage and friendships still intact but Dek joined Drongos For Europe to play bass in 1982. He rejoined the band when they reformed in 1999 and has played with them ever since. If that wasn’t enough, he formed the still active Spirit Bomb in 2013. But let’s not get bogged down in chronology just yet, let’s hear some more about the Crown Punks, and about the atmosphere of a much rougher era.

“We’d go to The Crown even on week nights when there wasn’t a gig on. The used to have The Crown Disco there and Ranking Rodger (The Beat)would DJ, playing punk and reggae. The faces of the scene would be going to The Crown. They became very close and kind of a gang. When there was a lot of all that violence at concerts, it was mostly caused by skinheads, but they weren’t attacking The Crown Punks. Some of us were big geezers and we could handle ourselves but they {the skinheads} were picking off kids who’d just started coming to concerts. Basically they were bullies. They wouldn’t have a go at us that would up the front roughing it up. Eventually there was a lot of violence at gigs and it did spoil the scene. People didn’t want to go to gigs where skinheads were and it did ruin it.”

It’s almost impossible to talk about punk gigs from that time without mentioning the violence. Sitting with Dek in his front room, it’s hard to imagine him ever being the aggressor in a violent situation.In fact, he’s much more like the sound rock and roll uncle you never had that’s always grinning, but could throw a punch if absolutely neccessary. I ask him what he thinks the root cause of the skinhead phenomenon was.

“I think it was just a macho thing. People who weren’t into music got into going out and they read stuff in the media about violent punks with razorblades when all that was really going on at the gigs was pogoing. It looked violent to people because before punk, gigs used to be full of hippies sitting down or nodding their head. Football hooligan types saw it and thought “Yeah great”, they got the wrong idea. They weren’t people who were really into the music. I used to look at a lot of them and think they couldn’t get girlfriends, sexual frustration. I’m prettty sure a large percentage of them still haven’t got girlfriends!
 The original skinhead thing was a cool fashion, and listening to black music. How they got into the violent racist thing is beyond me but I don’t think people really look at the history of it. They shave their head and they look meaner, for a start, then they’re in a gang too. A lot of the violent hooliganism thing went on in two tone gigs like The Specials which was crazy. In London, alot of their bands like Madness tended not to be multi racial but up here we had The Beat, The Specials and The Selecter which were multi racial so they attracted a lot of right wing violence. I never really understood it all and I’m glad it’s not like that now.”

Despite being marred by violence, the punk scene at the time was vibrant enough to pull some pretty big crowds, though Dek is just as keen to tell me stories about Drongos For Europe using a pram to get their equipment to their first ever gig, or “needing an adult” to drive them to gigs in other cities.

“My first gig with em was in october 1982,at The Crown with Dead Wretched. The night after we played Bingley Hall , which was a big venue of Broad Street that isn’t there any more. It was with GBH, Abrasive Wheels, all the big bands of the time and I think we were second on. There was thousands of people there, it was when punk was really big, so my second gig was in front of thousands of people. We used to put on gigs at Digbeth Civic Hall ( now the Institute) and we’d sell 800 tickets without any famous bands on the bill, it was just the local bands.”

So what of Drongos For Europe nowadays? Well they’re a band who play the mainstage at the UK’s biggest punk festival (Rebellion), “tour Europe once a year and DIY it”, get namechecked by famous punks like Lars from Rancid and so forth. However, Dek’s views on all this are coloured by the kind of down to earth honesty that makes true Brummies a joy to interview.

“Nobodies insane enough to think there’s a career in it. I’m the booking agency and the record label, I’m all of that. We toured in America twice, with good American bands so there were lots of people at the shows but we never came back thinking “yeah, we’ve made it” or “yeah, we’re going to get money out of it” because the reality is nobody is. We know people in more well known bands and they’re not making any money out of it.”

“There’s a lot of bands that believe you’ve got to do this specific thing or get in this magazine. We’ve been in magazines and we’ve been on the cover mounted disc on magazines and it makes no fucking difference. It makes no difference if you have a great review in a magazine or a shit review in a magazine. The only thing that makes a difference is going to these places time and time again and playing a good show.”

Viewed in isolation, those quotes might make it sound like Dek doesn’t appreciate the position his band is in. But he seems more appreciative than most musicians I know.

“We’re so lucky to be in a band and make music that people actually buy and listen to. And it sustains itself. We don’t have to pay for rehearsals, we get the money back for recording, and that’s enough. It’s taken us all over the world. I’ve been to places I would never have gone to, we’re lucky in that way.”

It’s clear that the touring side of the band has made a big impression on Dek. And that’s as it should be. Having toured that way myself, I can testify to what an incredible experience it can be.

“It’s fantastic, I think that’s the beautiful thing, seeing other people’s hospitality and generosity. You see how things are done in Europe and it inspires you to try.

In England it’s very difficult because the venues give you nothing, promoters tend not to give you very much either. So when bands come here, we make sure they get paid and looked after.”

When Drongos reformed, Dek insisted that they write new material. Can a punk band with an on/off history spanning nearly forty years still find stuff to shout about? I ask him about “City Without A Soul”, a song from their latest album, “Who’s Got The Power”.

“It’s about a lot of cities really. I was in Berlin and we were talking about gentrification. Princeberg was where I used to go, it used to be really cool there and now properties are really expensive, a lot of the clubs and bars there are shut down , and they’re doing it now to Freidreikstein and Kreuzebuerg. There was this squat they were trying to shut down whilst we were there, the cops were all there and there were helicopters . It’s the coolest area, everythings’ so cheap, I have the greatest time there but now it’s all getting gentrified.

Digbeth will be the same. All our rehearsal rooms and venues are down there but it’ll all change when that train comes through. Everything’s going to get really expensive, it’s going to be really difficult for bars. I don’t know what will happen to our rehearsal rooms when the rent goes up.”

Inevitably the conversation turns to nostalgia. The modern punk scene has forty years’ worth of bands touring simultaneously, which doesn’t exactly favour younger acts. Dek tells me about seeing The Sex Pistols for the second time at a recent reunion show.

“I wasn’t that bothered because I’d seen them the first time round but Loz {Dek’s wife} hadn’t so I got some tickets. John Lydon always winds me up when I see him on telly and I don’t know why, even though I used to love him as a kid. I was determined not to enjoy the gig but actually when I got there it was fucking great. I likened it to having great sex with a woman you don’t like. — “Fucking hell, she was horrible, but we had great sex!”

“But punk rock can’t survive on old bands and nostalgia. But there are new bands coming along all the time, there seems to be a really great midlands scene. Every new band that comes along, you’re watching them and you feel inspired. Brassick are great. I love Angry Itch, there’s a band called Suckerpunch.

I go and see some old bands that we’re on the same bill as and I’m thinking “fucking hell, you look like someone’s fat old uncle who just put a t shirt on for the day” . I’m sure those bands are having their fun but I’d rather go and see some rat thin, venomous new band doing something exciting. I’m still waiting to see some band that are so good it makes me want to jack it in cos we’re irrelevant now.”

A few weeks after this interview was conducted, Dek suffered a stroke. It’s been a difficult, painful time for him but he’s on the road to recovery and hopes to be onstage by the Punkapollza gig at the Wagon and Horses (Digbeth, Birmingham) on July 29th.

Click the links below to find the Facebook pages of Dek’s bands -

Drongos For Europe

Spirit Bomb

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So far, 4 “Conversations With Punks” have been made, the other 3 will be written up shortly. There are more in the pipeline. If you want to support this project more than you have done already, please consider donating a small amount to the go fund me link below. Thanks.

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