VIDEO AND PICTURES: Punk's not dead for Viva as TV fame comes calling
An 82 year-old great-grandmother from Cornwall – who may hold claim to the title of Britain's oldest punk rocker – is to be immortalised in a documentary.
Sprightly pensioner Viva Hamnell's story of her rise to fame as a vocalist with legendary Cornish punk band The Bricks in the late 1970s and her later notoriety during a sensational drug trial is charted by award-winning director Amanda Bluglass and cameraman Danny Cooke.
After the breakdown of her marriage in 1976, the then 45-year-old mother-of-two moved to a secluded farmhouse in the village of St Anne's Chapel, near Gunnislake, South East Cornwall, to face what she perceived would be a bleak future.
"After the marriage split my life changed and I sat down on the front step of my new home and cried my eyes out," said Viva.
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But as the musical and cultural explosion of punk rock gripped the nation over the long, hot summer of 1976, she soon found herself leading an unlikely double life – as a lollipop lady by day and a backing singer with her 21-year-old son's punk rock band The Bricks by night.
Simon's popular seven-piece band – generally acknowledged as Cornwall's first punk outfit – soon gained a cult following and garnered favourable comparisons with new wavers the Rezillos, as they toured Devon and Cornwall with tracks such as High Rise Harry and Dole Queue.
"There was a spirit and energy about punk – it had great freedom with no rules," explained Viva.
But she fell foul of the law in February 1979, when an early-morning drugs swoop found cannabis plants in her garden – and the bizarre circumstances of her trial made the national press.
"I was in bed on a Saturday morning when the police burst in," said Viva. "When they asked me what it was I said, 'I thought they were tomato plants'."
During the subsequent court case she was found not guilty after claiming she had received the plants from a friend and, unaware of their true nature, had intended feeding them to her pet goat.
While Viva has moved on from the black tights, girl guide outfits and safety pin earrings of her heyday, her current look echoes the creations of Dame Vivienne Westwood, the pioneering designer who brought punk and new wave into the mainstream.
Film-maker Ms Bluglass whose recent project Ray: A Life Underwater received 12 international film festival plaudits, explained how she was attracted to Viva for her latest project. "A friend told me about her and the minute I met her I just knew this film had to happen," she said.
"We've followed Viva from her farmhouse to Glastonbury, where she has worked for the last 30 years, and relived her years of leading a punk band to setting up the Elephant Fayre – the forerunner of Cornwall's renowned Port Eliot Festival."
With the short-edit version of the film soon to be screened on Channel 4, Amanda hopes a crowd-funding scheme will allow the purchase of the only known footage of The Bricks performing live and a much longer version of the documentary to be completed.
"This footage, owned by the BBC, is such a find and will transport the viewer back decades," she explained.
Viva keeps a high profile despite her advancing years, with an audience-participation performance at Glastonbury each year, where she shares her experiences with small, intimate audiences.
"To me it's just my life history but there's been so many people along the way, and the punk era in particular brought something alive in me.
"I never think I'm 82 – in my head I'm just Viva. It's Latin for 'to live' and that's what I've got to do."