Freedom News

Punk Kaf the early years

Kaf came from the isle of Wight, and like most of us born in the early sixties she fell in love with punk rock as soon as she became aware of it, which was from the start. As a young teenager she discovered a new energy and lust for life in a world that seemed to hold nothing for the likes of us. Kids who grew up with nothing but the empty promises we were fed by head teachers who usually handed them out with the punishments they thought we regularly deserved. It didn’t take long before she turned her back on the small town mentality she’d been dragged up with from her earliest memories, and regularly jumped ship to the mainland for any punk gigs that happened to be located within hitching distance or possible to bunk a train to by a lone teenage girl.

Occasionally those gigs took her further afield, and inevitably she got to know others who had the same desire to escape the rat race as she did. She soon became used to the adventure of discovering new towns and city’s and the juvenile delinquents who inhabited or frequented them.

It didn’t take long before she became a recognised face on the growing punk communities that sprang up in every city she felt the desire to explore. And by 1982 was a regular down the Kings Road in London’s west end, she fit in so well that the same year she took part in the Stranglers video for their single ‘Strange Little Girl’, joining most of the punk girls who were already an accepted part of the inner circle of characters in the capitol by then.

Still from ‘Strange Little Girl’

Most runaways were angry youths who over compensated for their apprehension and impoverished upbringing with bitterness a loud mouth and a bad attitude, but Kaf never seemed to fall for that, she never really needed to. She genuinely fit in with the punk squat community from the start and people took to her because, unlike most, she never seemed to fall for the intimidation, nor worry about the shitty attitudes of those who usually ended up skinheads.

The squat scene in London had been growing for a couple of years already, fed by runaways from every town, shire, and juvenile detention centre in the country and when punk squats became over full a kind of cellular mitosis took place where the squat broke into at least two separate groups which split up, found other places and then grew themselves until the same thing happened all over again, leaving little rings of punks all over the more run down parts of the city, kids who all knew each other and became like links in a chain to form a new family of friends that were, for some, the closest thing to a family most of us had ever known. Of course, on any community that lived outside what was considered normal, you needed strong characters, not to lead so much, but people who could and would take newcomers under their wings until they’d learned the ropes for themselves.

Kaf and Cory RIP

Finding a squat was the obvious first step, and one of the most important, after all, how do you live in a city when you had nowhere to live? You could survive on the streets for just so long before you got picked off by the ever prowling gangs of skinheads or even worse, the police.

Then there was always the ever present need to feed. After all, how do you eat with no money for food? This is where people like Kaf were a godsend for the newcomers, people who needed to learn the ropes quickly enough to support themselves before they had to return to their parents, or children’s homes shame faced for their failure to survive by themselves in the big city.

First of course was shoplifting, which some became experts at, but there was always the chance of getting caught, at which point returning home shame faced was the least of your problems, many lost their freedom risking all to quell a grumbling belly. Some took it further, not just poncing for spare change but supplementing begging with menaces, basically robbing people, but that almost always came at the cost of a criminal record, not just for begging, the police usually charged us with ‘threatening behaviour’ and they also usually ended up either inside or were returned to wherever they’d escaped from in the first place. For the worst of those the underground became notorious as a way to make a crust if you were willing to go that far, again most of that lot ended up skinhead.

The easier and safer way to eat was joining in the skip run. After closing time the supermarkets (in those days the size of a single shop) would throw their leftovers in the large bins out back, which was readily awaited by whoever’s turn it was to do the skips that day, and then there was the soup kitchens, there were various charities that would turn up at some of the worst hell holes in the city to dole out cups of watery soup and a dry bread roll. You had to stand in line with the various classes of beggars, dossers, and thieves and there was never enough to quell the ever present hunger but every means of feeding yourself was valid to someone, the level of acceptability depending on how hungry you were at the time.

Some went on the game, many on the scene fell into the sex industry one way or another and no one was judged for it by the rest of us but for most of us that was a step too far, it was usually the last step that desperation left those who couldn’t learn to make a living like the rest of us. It was often the last step that would be taken before the embarrassment of the defeated journey home to mum and dad to beg for forgiveness at the price of being the normal kid they expected you to be (whatever that was).

There was also selling drugs, but most of us didn’t have the funds to get any more than what we consumed ourselves. Some got to know the dealers and were laid on small amounts to supply their friends back at the squat or out at whichever gigs were coming up, and in so doing usually didn’t have to pay for their own gear in the process. Nearly everyone took Speed because it fit in so well with the lifestyle. A load of us took downers like Tuinol which was sought after by those in more serious need of escaping reality. (Not one that Kaf got into). For others, the most lucrative way to make a living was in the ‘Sex Pistols’ line ‘tourists are money’.

This was a more refined way of earning a crust because you had to not only look the part, you had to back it up, which meant shaking the tourists down for money whenever they took pictures of you and your mates. That’s where people like Kaf were so handy, she not only looked the part but the size of her only required a stern look and the agreed on funds were readily handed over with no menaces required. People felt safe with Kaf, especially the newcomers, and they learned how to make a living on the streets and mostly retain a bit of self respect in the process. In that sense I was envious of Kaf, it was harder for a bloke to do the same thing without coming across as a bully but she managed it almost effortlessly while still keeping a smile on her face, most of the time. Usually there was a group of us, firstly you needed a location that the tourists would be drawn to, then make sure they knew the price of photos before they took any, which meant keeping your eyes peeled for any cameras pointed in your direction. Anywhere in the city would do but the best pitches were down the Kings Road.

Spit RIP and Kaf

While the main body of mates would go about their usual activities of meeting up with new arrivals, drinking cider, catching up on the latest info about bands, squats (old and new) and certain individuals more outrageous antics, we would generally ignore the tourists or occasionally glare at them with the kind of disdain these lowlife deserved, but we would always have a couple of mates informing them of the price for a picture, and shaking them down for it. In this way we all got a chance to make a crust which not only paid for the cider we were drinking and the drugs we took, but also it was a necessity which got us into gigs we hadn’t already blagged our way into through the band members we knew.

Despite the mixture of business with our leisure time there was also a more serious side to our daytime activities. Politics was always a part of punk but never really effected out daily life until about 82 when the skinheads started to become more organised. At the same time we also recognized that we had to add our support to the divide. The demonstrations that took place in the city were an obvious call to arms that most of us knew we couldn’t ignore, but politics in our case was more accurately considered as anti-politics.The Anti Nazi League demos were usually gigs in parks but occasionally there was a march which ended at a gig like Killing Joke in Trafalgar Square in aid of the CND.

By 1984 the first of the ‘dirty squatters’ had found their way onto the festival traveller scene. This was a time of distension in the ranks of the punk community, most of us had lived this lifestyle for about five years already and many had turned their back on it, either turning away to join another sub-sect or had become disheartened at the lack of a difference they made. Many had already lost their lives to drugs and many more had settled down into jobs to feed the first generation of kids that were being born to our mates.

The already old cry of ‘punk is dead’ rang out through the whole community, believed by some, used by others as an excuse, or reviled by those of us who obviously weren’t dead yet. The kids for whom punk had only ever been a fashion were the first to disappear, and few were sad to see them go, more personal were the mates who had to settle down and re-direct their energy into the embryonic families which were becoming more and more common. There were still plenty of punks left but we could all see that things had changed. There had evolved various different branches to the family tree of punk and Kaf, it seemed, had chosen hers.

She was one of the first of the dirty squatters who returned to the road. Most of us were already familiar with travelling the country on tour with various bands, whether working for them or following them but inevitably this crossed paths with the festival scene, where the old punks learned a slightly different skill-set, the lifestyle wasn’t hugely different to what we’d already learned in the city, it had just been moved to a different backdrop which in most ways was a lot more healthy than the one we’d just come from. This was when I first heard the word Punk being added to her name and she started being called and known as Punk Kaf.

Del Blyben

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