On 7th May 2021, the fourteenth anniversary of the death of Nigel Lewty (Toot!), SIMON McKAY wrote this tribute to his old school friend, who in the 1980s became so central to the north east punk scene.
TOOT IN A BOOTH
Probably taken in 1981, shortly after we left school
Toot died 14 years ago today, I've been thinking about him a lot recently. I was at school with him. I've been listening to old John Peel shows on Mixcloud and they took me right back to 1979/1980. (It was one lunchtime at school when he got his nickname, courtesy of Steven Lamb. Lewty became Tooty - like Tooty Frooties the sweets - then Toot. It became Big Toot later, so his brother, Stephen, could be Little Toot.)
Toot's name came from Tooty Frooties
Toot and I shared a love of music. Twice a week, we sat together in English Literature classes where we seemed to be endlessly studying MacBeth. Our teacher was always late for class and would leave the room at some point too, which gave us lots of time to talk about the bands we were listening to. Usually, we'd heard them on John Peel in the last few nights. Toot would often give me a full-blooded rendition of some chanty chorus, "I saw you walking down the street, flares and slippers on your feet." Or his interpretation of Gary Numan's 'Cars', which went, "Here in my coal shed, I feel safest of all..." Not Shakespeare! Music took him to another place. He had to have it. (Both of us did.) The list of bands he liked would be endless, but from that time I remember he liked: Cockney Rejects, Rudi, Outcasts, Damned, Sid Vicious, Sex Pistols, Adverts, Stiff Little Fingers, UK Subs, Menace, Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias, Clash, Ruts, Killing Joke, PiL, Angelic Upstarts, Siouxsie & The Banshees, Crass, Punilux, Lurkers, Generation X.
Toot could draw the Rezillos log perfectly
Always very impressive was Toot's ability to draw the Rezillos cut-out lettering logo of their name. It was permanently on his pencil case, but he'd keep his hand-in by sketching it on the cover of an exercise book.
Toot told me about a local venue, The Garage where Total Chaos played most Sundays and that it was 20p to get in. It took me a while, but I took his advice and went a few times. It was a fantastic place. A place like no other. Run by kids for kids, yet it was far from being chaos. (The band turned out to be excellent too.)
I remember clearly, his nervous conciliatory laugh when he was caught out on something - groups of kids always trying to outwit each other. This was his good nature, already evident, which I think was a big part of what later made him such a star in the north east punk scene. He was competitive too. When I first met him, we were both 7. (He lived on Whickham Bank.) Back then, we were talking about comics. I told him I had a collection of Beanos. He told me his father had the very first edition! That was me trumped. We never tried to trump each other on music though. Maybe music was more accommodating. I don't suppose it's because we were so grown up at 14!
Toot at home in Priory Court (1985)
We both left school in the summer of 1981. I'd see him around town and at gigs and record fairs. At one point, he was working at Northern Goldsmiths. We had lunch together. He was wearing an ill-fitting jumble sale suit. His hair was cut short and quite neat. He still looked very much himself though.
Local press report on The Gateshead Collective, who set up The Station
It was probably shortly after I last saw him at Northern Goldsmith's that he really found his way - the thing he's best known for: being a central figure in setting up and running The Station punk club. (It picked up where the Garage left off.) When I've read tributes to him, it's always been about his enthusiasm and ability to make things happen, his love for community and also that he could calm down explosive situations as they would arise. That's very much the man who grew from the boy I knew. RIP Toot, a great friend and a brilliant antidote to Shakespeare.
Guardian article & photos about The Station