Positive about The Negatives

Watching BBC’s Informer last night a snatch of music unearthed deeply buried memories. The song was ‘We’re From Bradford’ by The Negatives – a band who were together for less than a year, never performed outside Yorkshire and who released one single in a 500-copy pressing. It did not feature ‘We’re From Bradford’.

How such an obscure track made it on to prime-time telly 39 years after I first heard it, I can’t imagine.

Sometime around the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979, three friends and I happened, unprepared, upon The Negatives. Their set was basic, ram-a-lam-a rock of a kind familiar from the ’77 punk explosion, but yet to be rebranded as ‘Oi’.

Several factors distinguished the band. They were incredibly tight and powerful with a lead singer, Dave Wilcox, whose wailing sneer and crazed delivery merited comparison with John Lydon. Just as important was their travelling band of fans. They were a melange of day-glo, studded leather, rip-shirted, glue-sodden, spike-haired, po-going, puking punks, united by Doc Martins, bondage and Special Brew. They dragged us into their midst for 90 minutes of glorious rucking as the band thrashed their instruments. Our tribe had claimed us.

For the rest of that year, we saw The Negatives whenever we could. We may not have seen their every performance, but we came close. The only time I recall them disappointing was in a support slot for Stiff Little Fingers. The Negatives electrified the upstairs room of any pub, but struggled on the Queens Hall’s big stage.

When the band split in January 1980 my friends and I were bereft. The guitarist, bass player and drummer went on to form the Mysterious Footsteps – musically more interesting, but less compelling. Dave Wilcox recruited a true-to-punk but musically inept backing band in front of which his increasingly wasted frame appeared somehow lost. The tight-knit scene dispersed.

‘We’re From Bradford’ was always a favourite in live sets. In its recent tv outing it animates the raucous wake of a right-wing thug. Politically and culturally that setting was a travesty. A lot of the Negatives gigs, possibly most, were Rock Against Racism benefits. The gang of fans were racially mixed and included women and men.

Had they classified themselves politically, many would have identified as anarchists (several, myself included, would later turn up as early stalwarts of the 1-in-12 Club). What really characterised them, though, was openness and tolerance. Chanting ‘We’re From Bradford’ to a three-chord thrash – in the days before the Iranian revolution’s fallout, before Ray Honeyford’s obnoxious fame, before Satanic Verses – was an ecstatic statement that locality and common interest defined us more than anything else. It was a moment in time.