For the families of the striking fire fighters, Christmas 1977 was going to be a difficult one. With little or no money coming in, celebrations, presents, and even food were on ration. But something quite wonderful happened on that Christmas Day in Merrie England, when four of the country’s allegedly most reviled people brought happiness and festive gifts to the firefighters and their families.
This was Christmas Day 1977, when The Sex Pistols played a benefit gig for the families of striking fire fighters at the Ivanhoe’s club, Huddersfield, in the north of England.
As has often been recorded, The Pistols were the most hated and feared group in the country, portrayed by the press as the biggest threat to any nation’s children since Herod slaughtered the innocents. They had been banned from nearly every civic venue in the UK and were on an MI5 blacklist. For many a politician or council member, the very mention of The Sex Pistols could cause the veins to ominously throb on their sweaty, flabby brows.
But it wasn’t just The Pistols who these politicians and their obsequious press feared, it was the unions—in particular the fire fighters who were striking for a 30% wage increase.
For two years, the fire fighters had waited for the Labour government to negotiate a pay raise, but nothing had happened. As the cost of food, fuel and taxes skyrocketed, the pay-in-the-pocket of the average worker was worthless. Therefore, a ballot of the 30,000 strong Fire Brigades Union was held, which received 97.5% support for strike action. On the 14th November, 1977, the fire fighter’s strike began.
On Christmas Day, 1977, the Pistols quietly organized a benefit gig for the Fire Brigade Union. This was done as surreptitiously as possible, for if the council discovered the Pistols were playing (especially on the Lord’s birthday), the venue would be closed immediately. Two shows were arranged at Ivanhoe’s club: the first was a matinee for the children, at which cake, food, presents were distributed by the band, as John Lydon later said:
”Huddersfield I remember very fondly. Two concerts, a matinee with children throwing pies at me, and later on that night, striking union members. It was heaven. There was a lot of love in the house. It was great that day, everything about it. Just wonderful.”
While drummer Paul Cook recalled:
”It was like our Christmas party really. We remember everyone being really relaxed that day, everyone was getting on really well, everyone was in such a great mood because it was a benefit for the kids of firemen who were on strike at that time, who had been on strike for a long time.”
The Pistols paid for everything, and according to one young audience member “you could just have anything you wanted!” It was a Christmas Day to remember, as another young attendee Jez Scott later wrote about the gig in The Guardian:
Johnny Rotten came out in a straw hat and they had a cake with Sex Pistols written on it, the size of a car bonnet. He started cutting it up but it soon degenerated into a food fight. He was covered head to foot. It was fantastic. I took a photo of Steve Jones, who did a rock’n'roll-type pose. I took one of Sid and he asked, “Do you want to put Nancy [Spungen] in as well?”
Eventually the Pistols came onstage. I think they only played about six songs. I remember they did “Bodies,” but omitted the swear words because of the children. Steve Jones’s guitar sounded very raw and exciting. During “Holidays in the Sun,” Rotten held out the mic and people were shouting out their names, but because I was probably the only punk there I tried to shout the lyrics: “Cheap dialogue/ Cheap essential scenery.”
The gig itself was great. Sid had his leather jacket open and was hammering the bass. They were really on form and I was a bit overcome, really. I’d taken my album along but I was so excited talking to the Pistols, I forgot to get it signed. Sid was the easiest to talk to because he was like one of us, like a kid. I asked him what he was doing next and he said they were going to America. I’d like to think I said, “Don’t go, it’ll all go pear-shaped,” but I didn’t. Within a few weeks the band had split, Sid had been remanded for murdering Nancy and then he died. I wore a black tie with a Sex Pistols badge on it for a year in mourning.
The following clips are from a longer program, but contain the memories of the fire fighters and their families who attended, as well as some actuality from The Sex Pistols and a very prissy politician. The Huddersfield gigs were the final time The Sex Pistols played in Britain before going to America and splitting-up.
With thanks to Trevor Ward!