At The Mermaid Episode 2 – ‘Punks, Politics, Performance’

“This was the magic, this was literally kids doing it for themselves. This was the real DIY. This was the real punk rock.”
Justin Broadrick

Today we release the 2nd episode in our podcast series ‘At The Mermaid’.

The Mermaid was a large, dilapidated pub in Sparkhill, a working-class neighbourhood three miles south of Birmingham city centre. The laid-back landlords welcomed teenage punks, hippies and rockers to play weirdo music in the upstairs room, charging very little money for very bad cider. The Mermaid became a hub of DIY music scene in the 1980s, with £1 gigs, punk all-dayers, zine and tape swapping. It was also a site of political education for many, and hunt saboteurs gathered at the Mermaid before taking direct action.

In creating this podcast series, we interviewed people who were part of the Mermaid scene, featuring contributions from Justin Broadrick (Napalm Death, Godflesh, Final), Nicholas Bullen (Napalm Death), Stig C Miller (Amebix), Steve Charlesworth (Heresy), Steve Watson (Cerebral Fix), Mark Freeth (Ausgang) and more musicians and fans who made the Mermaid scene a vital place for underground music.

Music heritage is all about the stories we tell around these little scenes, shining a torch on underground histories that could otherwise be forgotten in a haze of scrumpy and mushrooms.

Flyer courtesy of Stu Minal

Flyer courtesy of Stu Minal

Read the ‘At The Mermaid’ zine

Britain in the 1980s was dominated by the miners’ strikes. The Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had a neo liberal agenda to shrink the state, crush the unions and privatise services, led the country from 1979 to 1990. This was the starting point of late capitalism, where all aspects of public life are commodified. This was also the peak of the nuclear threat during the Cold War. In short, there was a lot to be angry about, and a lot to rally against.

Anti-capitalists and anarchists, animal rights activists and anti-nuclear activists found a sanctuary at the Mermaid and people describe the political activity at the venue.

1980s Britain was described as bleak place to grow up in, and this context informed the politics and culture of the Mermaid scene. A vital element to both the music and politics at the Mermaid was a DIY culture and ethics. To do it yourself is to live and breathe the anarchist slogan no gods, no masters. You get a real sense of people embodying their political views, moving beyond theory and debate to a politics in action, including hunt sabs, squatting, direct action against multi-nationals and campaign for nuclear disarmament protests. 

One political action was the spreading of information, sharing ideas and fostering community through creating and distributing fanzines and frequent letter writing.