Catch 22 : You can’t play in a rock band for nothing and draw the dole at the same time, because if you do you’re not available for a job you might be offered. But there are no jobs available.
Catch 22′ : DHSS investigators never tell you they are investigating you because the majority of those they investigate are ‘bad types’ who ‘run and cover their tracks’. So how do you convince them you are not a ‘bad type’ who will ‘run and cover your tracks’?
With unemployment among young people reaching previously undreamt-of heights you might naively suppose that the Government would want to encourage enterprising self-starters in the rock world. After all, there are worse ways of keeping off the streets than by starting up a band and slaving away for next-to-nothing in the hope of making a living you liked.
That at least is what Rhyl-based four-piece Seventeen imagined when they joined forces in the summer of ’79. The boys (Michael Peters, Edward MacDonald, Nigel Buckle and Dave Sharp ‘ still at college) were not lucky with the record company receptions given their demos. So they decided to strike out on their own with the help of manager Peter Buckle (Nigel’s step-father). He agreed to supply some equipment and cover travelling expenses but declined to provide pocket money.
Three of the band were on the unemployment register at the time, so Mr Buckle advised them to report their situation to the Rhyl benefit office. This done, Edward MacDonald reported back that a counter clerk had told him it was unnecessary to report that they were playing ‘ as they were not getting paid and their playing time did not exceed one hour.
Shortly after, a new indie agreed to produce and market a debut single for the band, but refused to pay any royalties until after production costs had been recouped. The record was produced and marketed quite openly.
This February however, a chain of bizarre investigations was instigated by the Department of Health and Social Security which, according to Peter Buckle, began with an investigator obtaining the band’s date-sheet by deception and concluded at the end of July, five months later, with the proprietor of a Huddersfield venue cancelling a booking. He told Buckle of a visit from an investigator who travelled from Liverpool to quiz him about the bands’ timetable and fee.
In between, according to Buckle, the band were subjected to a ‘witch hunt’ which stretched from Rhyl to Cardiff to Sheffield, but involved benefit payments of no more than a hundred-odd quid. This was money the band repaid with alacrity when challenged to do so by the investigators.
During the course of these events, the three band members involved each received a letter instructing them to report to an unemployment office at very short notice. Upon arrival each was confronted individually by an investigator who told him he must make a statement which could be used as evidence. One band member said he wanted to make a phone call but was told it had nothing to do with anyone else and was not allowed to do so. He refused to make a statement; so did a second band member. But the third made a statement because, he says, he was terrified by the investigator’s ‘aggressive attitude’.
This happened after the band had repaid dole money which their local office told them they were not entitled to as they had been wrongly advised by the counter clerk. The local office manageress told them it didn’t matter that the dates they played were for charity ‘ or that they weren’t paid. Just that whenever they travelled to a gig they were unavailable for ‘work’ and were consequently ineligible to draw unemployment benefit. This despite the fact that there were no jobs in Rhyl at the time.
The DHSS has refused to comment to Thrills specifically on the band’s apparent harassment ‘ although Peter Buckle claims a Mr Snowdon (apparently in charge of the investigation ion Cardiff) told him they ‘never tell which people they are investigating because the majority are bad types who would run or cover their tracks’.
Sir Anthony Meyer, MP, however, told the NME he is undertaking an investigation of his own and has written to Reg Prentice asking him also to look into the case.