1976 is one of those years that doesn’t tend to be remembered too fondly in Britain. Unemployment was on the rise, inflation was on the rise and the government seemed to lurch from one crisis to another. Before the end of the year, chancellor Denis Healey announced an emergency mini-budget after having to beg the International Monetary Fund for a loan. A package of swingeing public spending cuts came into effect and headlines such as ‘Britain’s Shame’ appeared in the following day’s newspapers.

The long-running Grunwick dispute in London repeatedly saw violent clashes between pickets and cops – the Metropolitan Police’s Special Patrol Group even getting involved as tensions escalated. Interestingly, for younger readers encouraged by the media to think of 1970s Britain as a country where racism and sexism were the norm, the strikers were mostly female and this was first major dispute of its kind where a majority of strikers were from an ethnic minority, mostly East African Asian, yet throughout the bitter strike, hundreds of thousands of trade unionists and others supported the Grunwick workers on the picket lines and in many other ways.

The Special Patrol Group were also active that year during the Notting Hill Carnival, where they engaged, along with other police officers, in running battles with young, mainly black, carnival goers although Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon of The Clash were also there, events giving the band the idea for a new song, White Riot.

Over one hundred cops and around sixty members of the public had to be taken to hospital in the wake of the, em, clashes and, summing up events, the Evening Standard judged that: ‘Scotland Yard was too heavy-handed on Monday. The whole exercise was an error of judgement.’

Here’s one of that year’s most popular songs during the annual celebration of Caribbean culture. Written by Junior Murvin and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and produced by the latter, Police And Thieves was placed at #6 on NME‘s Singles of the Year list, just behind So It Goes by Nick Lowe and just ahead of Candi Staton’s Young Hearts Run Free. It was also named Reggae Single of the Year by Black Echoes and, of course, was covered by The Clash on their debut album the following year. This is Junior Murvin with Police and Thieves, this version coming from 1980:

 
Football hooliganism was also becoming an ever more serious problem and tabloids responded to trouble on the terraces by calling for tougher action on the culprits, headlines this year including: ‘Cage the Animals’ and ‘Birch ’em’ (Daily Mirror) and ‘Smash These Thugs’ (The Sun).

In Scotland, in the days when this kind of thing was unknown, early kick-offs for Old Firm matches were introduced in an effort to ensure that fans would at least have less time to get bevvied up before a big game. Behaviour didn’t, though, strike many observers as noticeably improved after the change. I guess alarm clocks were just set earlier.

Another worrying trend, particularly in the West of Scotland was the epidemic in glue sniffing. 1976 witnessed some disturbing statistics about young people and the dangerous craze. According to the Glasgow Health Board, thousands of kids in the city regularly sniffed glue and the year saw a spate of glue related deaths.

James Dempsey, an MP from nearby Coatbridge, had repeatedly called for a ban on selling solvent products to under 18s. When the parent of one solvent abuser contacted him that summer, it set in motion punk rock’s first ever newspaper front page, the concerned parent’s son having just bought an album by a new American band called The Ramones.

‘GLUE-SNIFF DISC SHOCKER’ was the headline in Glasgow’s Evening Times on the 19th of August, and that front page is now an exhibit in Berlin’s Ramones Museum. Yep, they even have a museum dedicated to them nowadays.

Live at the Rainbow Theatre in London in 1977, this is Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue.

 
Of course, the Ramones’ hometown was having a hard time too in ’76. In the midst of a fiscal crisis, the image of the city for many was that of an overcrowded, decaying hellhole inhabited mainly by violent gang members, junkies, hustlers, pimps and if you were lucky a vigilante or two. Think Taxi Driver, which came out early that year.

Muggings were rife and the subways covered in graffiti (which wasn’t ‘art’ back then). Local cops even handed out a pamphlet to tourists titled ‘WELCOME TO FEAR CITY. A Survival Guide for Visitors to the City of New York’.

This is how David Byrne describes in his book, How Music Works, the area around where he stayed in Chrystie Street on the Lower East Side in the mid-’70s: ‘In the winter it was sometimes hard to tell whether someone you’d see passed out in the snow was merely drunk or high, or if that comatose body on the sidewalk was a dead person. Our apartment was near an area with the cheapest, skankiest hookers in town. Further east, heroin was sold pretty much openly on the street corners, and the clientele used the abandoned buildings nearby as shooting galleries.’

Towards the tail-end of 1975, and with the Big Apple financially on the ropes, President Ford vowed to ‘veto any bill that has as its purpose a bailout of New York City to prevent a default.’ Or as the Daily News put it: ‘FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD’.

On the plus side, though, some of the finest new music in the world was produced in the five boroughs at this point in time, certainly miles better than the hipster indie of today’s gentrified NYC. Patti Smith or Parquet Courts? Television or Tanlines? The Heartbreakers or Haerts? Blondie or Cerebral Ballzy? You do agree with me, don’t you?

Released in America during the summer of 1976 on Private Stock, this is Blondie with X Offender:

For more on The Ramones controversy, click here.

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