Danny Fields, Manager Of The Ramones
As part of this summer’s celebration of forty years of punk, I interviewed New Yorker Danny Fields at Leila’s Cafe last week about his enduring relationship with London and the crucial events of July 1976. The feature is accompanied by Danny’s photographs of The Ramones.
Danny Fields by Sarah Ainslie
The Gentle Author – When did you first come to London?
Danny Fields – In 1958. I was nineteen, I had just graduated from college and I had a book called ‘Europe on Five Dollars a Day.’ One pound was $2.80 then, it had been devalued from almost five dollars. So literally, I had five dollars a day for food and lodging, not for party time or cocktails, but yeah I was nineteen and I stayed in Russell Sq.
The Gentle Author – Why did you come here?
Danny Fields – It was the grand tour. I had finished college, I was about to go to law school but first you had to go to Europe: London, Amsterdam, Munich, Rome, Venice, Florence… I’m sure I left somewhere out… Paris, of course.
The Gentle Author – What was your impression of London at that time?
Danny Fields – It was overwhelmingly beautiful. It was London! My mother’s family was from Yorkshire, from Leeds. She was the youngest of six children and the only one who was born in the United States – her brothers and sisters were all born here, so I always felt a little bit British in my blood and I’m a great anglophile.
It was way better than the United States, more civilized and the people speak better, and they’re just smarter and prettier, and the whole place is way more wonderful than dreary pathetic America… which has good natural scenery, let’s be honest.
The Gentle Author – What did you enjoy in London?
Danny Fields – I stood in front of Buckingham Palace and then I went to the Royal Parks. I enjoyed cramming in as many of the ‘must-sees’ as one could. Especially, the Elgin Marbles. The forty or fifty times I’ve been here since, that’s the one must-see for me. When I see the Iosius, the river god lying there on the pediment from the Parthenon, then I know I’m here in London and I’m happy.
The Gentle Author - So after that first visit, when did you return?
Danny Fields – I started coming back regularly in the seventies when I began working in the music business. One would come then on trips and junkets, record companies would fly reporters and journalists first class to London to see a new band. In those days, the record companies were immensely rich. I don’t even remember the details, it was just: ‘Do you want to go to Copenhagen?’ ‘Oh sure!’
The Gentle Author – Do you remember any of those bands?
Danny Fields – No, I don’t remember any because they all sucked! I only remember the city. But forty years ago this week, I came as manager with The Ramones to play the Roundhouse and apparently made some kind of vibration in the existing musical plasma in this country. It was meaningful in ways that I didn’t realise until much later, because we were only here for three days.
The Ramones played at the Roundhouse on the Friday night and sold it out, which was remarkable. It proved that this amateurish do-it-yourself band, who were not musically virtuosic, not blessed with the gift of knowing anything about music, but with a power all their own, were viable commercially.
The promoters saw that and it became the catalyst for the creation of bands here that weren’t even invented yet, those still toying with the idea of becoming a band, perhaps getting together and playing but were not good enough.
The first afternoon we were here Paul Simonon of The Clash, which became the greatest of the British bands in ensuing years, came into the dressing room and asked, ‘How do you guys do it? You must be really good, because we just aren’t good enough to play in public.’ Johnny Ramone said, ‘You haven’t seen us – we stink! We can’t play, we just put it on and we’re fast and loud.’ It was the velocity of the music that was a revelation to musicians here. ‘Wow, they like it when we play fast!’ The Ramones liked playing fast because no one noticed when they hit a wrong note. ‘Don’t ever tune up in between songs it’s not sexy – just shoot that rocket and keep it moving.’
You don’t tell a rocket to stop, it’s got to keep going or it’s going to fall. The same thing happens in the mind of an audience when a band starts playing. The Ramones, as another musician said of them, ‘you could not slide a cigarette paper between two of their songs.’ One song ended and the next song began before you knew it, so there was no disruption of the moment and that became definitive for Punk Rock.
The Ramones got called ‘Punk.’ I don’t know how we became ‘Punk,’ but it’s a very handy term. It has such scene stealing tendencies. Four letter words are great, they last a long time, they’re easy and then they become umbrella terms, covering fashion and politics. Punk has lasted now for forty years and it’s not going away. The death of Punk is predicted frequently but this year is the year of Punk in London. There’s Punk tattoos and Punk ballet and Women in Punk, an entire year sponsored by the Mayor’s Office and the National Lottery. So it occurred to me that London is trying to own Punk Rock, which they should because anything exciting to do with Rock ‘n’ Roll since the late fifties was born here, I mean except for Elvis.
Punk is an idea that it changes its hue and dimensions, but elements of it were started by The Ramones. They were poor kids from New York who came here on July 4th 1976, which – ironically – was also the Bicentennial of the American Revolution when the American colonies fired George III. It was like a Brexit in reverse: Britain got fired. Then, two hundred years later, four guys from the former colonies, now the United States (an unfortunate agglomeration of areas) came here and triggered Punk.
The Gentle Author – Why had The Ramones not made it in America yet? Why did it happen in London?
Danny Fields – It’s much smaller and denser here, geographically, whereas America’s so spread out. There’s all those time zones but here something can happen instantly. Whether you were in Belfast or Cornwall or Edinburgh you read the New Musical Express and the music weeklies had immense influence. There were brilliant people writing for them, and bands-that-wanted-to-be-bands were reading them and dreaming – everyone at once. John Peel was playing the music on Radio One, so you could have the igniting of an entire culture in an instant, which you couldn’t have in America.
The Ramones were struggling to get into Cincinnati before they took London by storm, yet when they came back to America it was as it was when we left – very few places to play. Meanwhile, here’s another irony, the whole of America knew what was happening with the Sex Pistols, that they were trouble and they vomited wherever they went. The shenanigans of the Sex Pistols at that time – it was a watershed moment when these drunks went on a TV show and said a dirty word – they went from coverage in the music section to front page news.
The Gentle Author - As manager, did you feel vindicated by the success of The Ramones in London?
Danny Fields – Oh no, it was too astonishing. As manager, I was still struggling to get them into Cincinatti. Of course, I loved their music, but it was hard.
The Ramones came to London with an exotic musical aura. There was interest here in the downtown New York scene and British music weeklies sent reporters to cover what was going on at CBGBs. So that was glamorous and it was why thousands of people turned up at the Roundhouse. The band played for more people that one night in the Roundhouse on July 4th than they had played for in their entire two year career until then. I expected nothing to come of this except a trip to London. This was a delightful surprise, kind of like – ‘Pinch me, did two thousand people really come? Oh my God!’ In the photos, you can see the astonishment of the band. ‘It’s us!’
It was the London heat wave of July ’76 but there was no air-conditioning anywhere. Business men were walking down Piccadilly in wife-beater shirts and there were no ice cubes. The band couldn’t believe it, because we were used to totally air-conditioned New York in the summer. But we had an air-conditioned room at the Holiday Inn in Camden, so all the kids came back and stayed at our hotel and there were wild sex romps. That was just a little extra something. We did not ask for the heat wave but it was part of it. I’m sure it was part of it. So little of it you can plan. You book the hotel rooms and the venue, but then ‘Who’s there?’ and ‘What do they think?’ and ‘Do they want more of you?’ and all that. There’s no planning for that, just wishing.
The Gentle Author - Why do you keep coming back to London?
Danny Fields – I love it, especially the history. I’m a great fan of the Royal family (not as human beings, except for the Queen!) because they’re so hilarious and wonderful, and you can trace the history of civilization by the British monarchy.
Oh it’s just, yes, there’s an affinity… there’s no word for it but I know it when I see it, and I feel it in London. It feels correct and right and civilized here, far more civilized than America. We have New York which is a little oasis of civilization – but Britain is totally civilized wherever you go.
London is the busiest city I’ve ever been, except maybe Tokyo. The people are so creative, everybody here looks self-invented, not cookie-cutter identities, they all have a personal style. I love everything about it as a culture. I love the National Gallery and I love the Tate and I love the neighbourhoods and I love Bloomsbury and the squares. We don’t have anything so perfect as London. What a perfect idea of a city, it’s just punctuated by green, beautiful green spaces. Yet to think that it was pulverized between 1940 and 1945. Some of my favourite movies of all time were made here in the thirties and forties, and my favourite actors and actresses are from here. Even Middlemarch is from here – the best book of all time! I have no problems, it’s quite the perfect civilization. I can’t imagine the human race has come up with anything better than London.
Transcript by Rachel Blaylock
Danny’s portrait of The Ramones in Washington Sq, Greenwich Village, New York
Dee Dee & Johnny Ramone at Heathrow Airport
The Ramones on Park Lane
Joey Ramone outside the Roundhouse
The Ramones play to 3,300 people at the Roundhouse on 4th July 1976
Dee Dee Ramone
Linda Clarke, Lee Black Childers, Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious, Dee Dee Ramone
Stuart Keen, Tommy Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, Keith Levene, Paul Simonon, Johnny Ramone
Danny Fields (right) and friends at the Bottom Line, New York 1978
Archive photographs copyright © Danny Fields