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Never mind the bollocks, here’s some unseen photos of the Sex Pistols in 1978
01.29.2016
09:01 am

Topics:
Music
Pop Culture
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Poly Styrene


Sid Vicious, Nancy Spungen, John Lydon and Poly Styrene
 
Sadly this isn’t a photo essay with the images—you’ll have to watch the video to see the photographs of the Sex Pistols by French photographer Pierre Benain. Benain shot these back in the Spring of 1978 for a French magazine. A few of these you might have seen before, like the one image of Sid Vicious holding a knife to Nancy Spungen’s neck, but most should be new to you.

For some odd reason in the interview, Benain makes no mention of X-Ray Spex’s frontwoman Poly Styrene being there. She was, as you can see from another photo from that day, which you can see above.

 
h/t Declan O’Gallagher

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Converse unveils its ‘Sex Pistols’ line of Chuck Taylors
01.08.2016
02:12 pm

Topics:
Fashion
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Converse
Chuck Taylor


 
Converse has unveiled a new line of Chuck Taylor sneakers with Sex Pistols iconography on them. There are four pairs of Chuck Taylor hightops available and two pairs of Chuck Taylor low tops. The sneakers are priced from $65 to $80. There is also a related line of shirts ($35 each) and a bomber jacket ($140).
 

 
The new products are available for purchase on the Converse website.

At this stage in history, it’s hard to get too outraged over yet another corporate appropriation of the original punk rock movement, but we thought you ought to know anyway. Back to your regular programming.
 

Chuck Taylor All Star Sex Pistols “Parchment” $70
 

Chuck Taylor All Star Sex Pistols “Thunder” $75
 

Chuck Taylor All Star Sex Pistols “White” $75
 
Much more Sex Pistols products from Converse after the jump…..

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
A sweet vintage Christmas jam from members of Thin Lizzy and the Sex Pistols: ‘A Merry Jingle’

The Greedies (aka
Members of The Greedies/The Greedy Bastards

Today’s Christmas-themed post brings to light yet another reason why the 70s were fucking awesome. Back in summer of 1978, Thin Lizzy vocalist Phil Lynott got the brilliant idea to recruit a few of his famous friends like former Sex Pistols Steve Jones and Paul Cook, the great Gary Moore, his Thin Lizzy bandmate, Scott Gorham, guitar hero Chris Spedding and Dio/Rainbow bassist Jimmy Bain to play a few live gigs together and The Greedies (formerly known as “The Greedy Bastards”) were born. Now if that isn’t the personification of a “supergroup” I do not know what is.
 
Phil Lynott and Steve Cook
Phil Lynott and Paul Cook

Later on in 1979, Lynott, Jones and Cook along with Thin Lizzy’s Scott Gorham and Brian Downey recorded The Greedies’ one and only song,  “A Merry Jingle,”  a riff on two classic Christmas songs—“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells.”

Since we all know that great things usually don’t last, The Greedies and their superstar friends only played four gigs before moving on to other things. Cook and Jones formed The Professionals and Lynott soon released his first of three solo records, Solo in Soho. Amusingly, the “B” side of “A Merry Jingle,” called “A Merry Jangle,” is the A-side played backwards. Nicely. There are a few copies of the single out there on eBay if you’re wanting to add this to your record collection.

The clip of The Greedies performing “A Merry Jingle” on UK television in 1979 follows.
 

Posted by Cherrybomb | Leave a comment
London punks mouth off five years after ‘Anarchy in the U.K.’
09.28.2015
12:54 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
photography


“I’ll be looking like this until I’m 22 and then I’ll take up motherhood. I’ll be looking just the same this time next year. This time in five years? I’ll be dead.” 
 
In December 1981, The Face magazine ran a spread called “Punk Rock: 5 Years On.” What they did was send photographer Virginia Turbett out into the field and photograph/interview any punks she came across. The magazine didn’t specify how to date those “5 years” precisely but it does happen that “Anarchy in the U.K.” was released in late November of 1976, so we can make it that.

It’s interesting to see the relatively uniform roster of bands most of these young punks name: Crass, Exploited, the Psychedelic Furs, plus a few that are mostly forgotten today: Anti Pasti, Theatre of Hate, and Vice Squad. Below are the results of Turbett’s investigations. Clicking on any image in this post will spawn a larger version.
 

“I wouldn’t class myself as a punk, I’m just an individual. I don’t like being put into categories.”
 

“Now there’s some great new bands: Exploited, Anti Pasti, Vice Squad, Theatre of Hate, Crass, the Subs. I liked the music at the beginning, but I didn’t start dressing up punk until after the Pistols split up.”
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Jazzercise takes on Sid Vicious. Nobody wins
09.01.2015
11:45 am

Topics:
Dance
Music
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Sid Vicious


 
The biggest-selling single the Sex Pistols ever put out wasn’t “Anarchy in the U.K.” or “God Save the Queen” or “Pretty Vacant” or “Holidays in the Sun”—it was “Something Else,” a cover of an Eddie Cochran hit from 1959 with Sid Vicious on lead vocals that was released more than a year after the breakup of the band—and three weeks after Vicious’ death on February 2, 1979.
 

 
Americans probably aren’t very familiar with Legs & Co., an all-female dance troupe that used to brighten up the proceedings on Top of the Pops in the late 1970s. The U.S. equivalent would be the Solid Gold Dancers.

Sometime during its run in the Top 10 of the U.K. charts, Top of the Pops managed to convince Legs & Co. to do a sort of Jane Fonda/jazzercise routine to the song. The over-abundance of spandex, the nice shiny colors in the leotards and wigs—not to mention the strange approximation of a stock market chart in the set design—it all makes this clip seem a kind of harbinger for the shiny and materialistic 1980s that were just around the corner, even if nobody knew it.

At the outset you can hear the closing strains of Elvis Costello’s “Oliver’s Army.”
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Filthy lucre ain’t nothin’ new: there are Sex Pistols credit cards now.
06.09.2015
11:45 am

Topics:
Class War
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Virgin


 
As if the punk-is-dead crowd needed any further ammo, Virgin Money (yes, it’s a thing, and yes, it’s an offshoot of the record label/airline/cell phone provider/whatever) is issuing Sex Pistols credit cards. Because nothing says “ANARCHY” like a line of credit from MasterCard.

Quoted in The Mirror, Virgin Money exec Michael Greene had this to offer, evidently in total seriousness:

For a long time now, UK banks have all been the same.

In launching these cards, we wanted to celebrate Virgin’s heritage and difference.

The Sex Pistols challenged convention and the established ways of thinking, just as we are doing today in our quest to shake up UK banking.

Virgin mogul Sir Richard Branson added:

The Sex Pistols are an iconic band and an important part of Virgin’s history. Virgin Money is a bank that can be proud of its past and I love the fact that the team have chosen to celebrate it in this way.

Even after nearly 40 years, the Sex Pistols power to provoke is undimmed.

 

 
Of course, given the band’s history it’s easy to argue that there’s nothing inappropriate about this at all, and that furthermore a credit card that has the word “bollocks” on it is, in a way, actually kinda punk as fuck. I’m unable to find any information on how much the surviving band members themselves make from this.

Here’s Branson, in what amounts to a hagiographic infomercial for the cards:
 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘The Filth & the Fury’: Sex Pistols comic from 1984
06.03.2015
10:12 am

Topics:
Art
Music

Tags:
Sex Pistols
comics
Smash Hits


 
Milestones on the road from terrifying societal scourge to mass-market-friendly cultural icons…. In 1984 Smash Hits put out a “yearbook” that contained this wonderful 4-page comic about the entire career of the Sex Pistols, from their origins in 1975 Chelsea to their final show in San Francisco in 1979. [Update: This was in 1978, of course; the comic had it wrong as well.] Flickr user Jon Hicks posted these a few years back—as he points out, the strip has no profanity at all.

The comic is signed by Arthur Ranson, whose art graced countless publications from the early 1970s up through as recently as 2013. The writer is Angus Allan, whose image (according to the above link) appears bottom left of third page, but I haven’t been able to figure out what that’s supposed to mean. (Maybe they mean the fellow who pops up in the “EMI” panel of the second page?)

Click on the images for a larger view:
 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
The Slits, Clash, Sex Pistols, Siouxsie, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag in ‘Punk Attitude’


 
Okay it’s been nearly 40 years since I heard The Ramones debut album for the first time and that means I’m fucking old. But I ain’t dead. In fact, I’m feeling pretty damned good. And part of the reason I feel so damned good is I’ve been on a steady diet of rock and roll since I was a itty bitty boy. Rock and roll has been the one constant in my life that has given me something that others might call a religion. From the moment I first heard “Alley Oop” by The Hollywood Argyles when I was nine years old (sitting in a tree with a radio in my lap), I was hooked.

I’ve always been a seeker, looking for meaning in life, searching for answers to the essential questions of what are we doing here and where are we going? I’ve read everything from Jung to Chogyam Trungpa to Kerouac and Crowley in my yearning for clarity and spiritual fulfillment. Aside from a few reveries and insights fueled by psychotropics or the momentary flash of cosmic consciousness you get in those special moments when something suddenly opens up your brain - maybe it’s the way a shard of prismatic light bounces off your rear view mirror or a fleet of perfectly white clouds rolling above New Mexico - my “religious” experiences have been seldom and unpredictable. But one thing, other than fucking, that consistently pulls me into the moment where bliss and contentment co-mingle is listening to rock and roll music. It’s the closest thing I have to an artistic calling or spiritual practice and when the music hits me in the right place at the right time it can be divine. And it seems that loud, fast, and hook-filled works best. The music doesn’t need to be about anything spiritual, lofty or significant. It just needs to grab me by the balls and heart, rattle my cage, and move me.
 

 
There was a barren period in my rock and roll life in the early ‘70s. Not much I wanted to listen to. I mostly bought blues and jazz albums and later reggae. Then in 1976 I heard The Damned’s “New Rose” and shortly after that I got my hands on The Ramones’ self-titled first album. These were momentous events in my life that drove me back into arms of rock and roll. Talking Heads, Blondie, Mink DeVille, Pere Ubu, Patti Smith, The Clash and Television were the second wave of musical salvation to land on my turntable that changed my life.  Punk, or whatever you want to call it, defibrillated my rock and roll heart and inspired me to start my own band. And I wasn’t alone.

In this fine documentary directed by Don Letts (who knows a thing or two about punk rock) a bunch of aging punkers talk about the roots of the punk scene and their love of the music they make. There’s not much new here but it’s good to see Steve Jones, Pete Shelley, Howard Devoto, Siouxsie Sioux, Captain Sensible, Mick Jones Jones,David Johansen, Jello Biafra, Wayne Kramer, Thurston Moore, Legs McNeil and Tommy Ramone, among many others, wax poetic about the music explosion that was detonated in the mid-70s. It’s amazing how many survived. And deeply saddening that since this film was made in 2005 we’re down to zero original Ramones.

“Punk is not mohawks and safety pins. It’s an attitude and a spirit, with a lineage and tradition.” Don Letts.
 

Posted by Marc Campbell | Leave a comment
Chillgroove to these 1978 ‘adult contemporary pop’ versions of Sex Pistols and Ramones tunes
04.08.2015
08:45 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Ramones
Paul Jones


 
We recently wrote about Bananarama doing a pop cover of the Sex Pistols’ “No Feelings,” but that cover is absolutely full-on-raging by comparison to this:
 

 
In 1978 RSO Records released this one-off single featuring ex-Manfred Mann singer, Paul Jones, crooning over adult contemporary pop arrangements of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and The Ramones’ “Sheena is a Punk Rocker.”  The “Radio 2 style arrangements” of these songs were considered a piss-take of the original punk motif, but hold their own as legitimate musical expressions of the light pop sound of the day. As punk may have been a reaction to the “soft rock” of the ‘70s, these Paul Jones covers can be seen as a meta “taking it back,” with tongue, we assume, planted firmly in cheek.
 

He did them HIS way.
 
We’re reminded of Pat Boone’s excellent 1997 album, In a Metal Mood—an artifact intended to have some fun sucking the shock out of a rough-and-tough genre, but with an end result that is interesting and well-played within it’s own musical idiom. Not merely a cranked-out goof, it’s clear a great deal of detail-oriented work went into the production of these covers, and particularly with “Pretty Vacant,” we get an insight into what great pop songsmiths the Sex Pistols actually were. One gets the feeling there’s nearly as much homage here as ballbusting.

The Ramones cover is slightly less interesting, mostly due to the sarcastic “out of touch old man” lyric changes in the intro, but the remainder of the track, especially the choruses, have a VERY late-‘70s-terrible-era Beach Boys feel. If you enjoy that sort of thing either ironically or legitimately, you may be impressed with the competence of its arrangement. “Pretty Vacant” is the hit here, though, with its James Taylor-ization of Rotten’s nihilistic lyrics.

Hear the cover versions after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Bananarama covering the Sex Pistols might be the punkest thing ever
03.30.2015
08:37 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Bananarama


 
Bananarama, the ‘80s UK female pop vocal group, were famous for their hits “Venus,” “I Heard a Rumor,” “Really Saying Something,” and “Cruel Summer.” Fans of the band’s bouncy bubblegum pop, might be surprised to learn the group once recorded a (completely awesome) Sex Pistols cover on an obscure 1982 soundtrack.

Stylistically, they may have been world’s apart from the UK punk scene, but actually it’s where they got their start.  According to their Wikipedia entry:

The trio were ardent followers of the punk rock and post-punk music scene during the late 1970s and early 1980s and often performed impromptu sets or backing vocals at gigs for such bands as The Monochrome Set, Iggy Pop, The Jam, Department S and The Nipple Erectors.

Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols helped Bananarama get their first record deal. In 1981 the members of Bananarama were living above Jones and Cook’s rehearsal room, and with their help, the group recorded their first demo “Aie a Mwana.” Further Sex Pistols connection came when Malcolm McLaren offered to manage them. McLaren’s proposal of sexually suggestive material did not fit with the group’s tomboyish image, and so Bananarama passed on McLaren’s management—probably a wise decision, as their later string of top ten UK hit singles would attest.
 
More after the jump…

Posted by Christopher Bickel | Leave a comment
Shitastic 70s cover versions of hits by Bowie, Blondie, Kraftwerk, Sex Pistols, Kate Bush & more
02.11.2015
02:30 pm

Topics:
Music

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Kraftwerk


 
In the few years before K-Tel and Ronco locked down the market segment dedicated to officially licensed compilations of recent rock and pop hits, there existed a demand for budget LPs with experienced session musicians reverse-engineering.recent hits to the best of their ability. If, as a listener, you are indifferent to craft and just want some recent chart-toppers pulsating through your stereo system, then why not buy an album like that, right? It’s 99% as good and costs less.

The world leader in this peculiar industry was, without much doubt, the “Top of the Pops” series put out by the budget Pickwick label between 1968 and the early 1980s, although their heyday was the mid-1970s. Listening to these tracks today yields an odd variety of delight, like watching a pirated DVD purchased on Canal St. or wearing an obvious knockoff of a Rolex watch.
 

 
As you can see, Pickwick’s strategy was pretty evident: Package together a dozen or so recent radio faves at the barest minimum cost and put a picture of a pretty girl on the cover. To put this into context, according to this affable enthusiast of these “TOTP” LPs, in 1970s England a full-price album cost about £2.10, and a 7-inch single ran 50p apiece. At 75p, the TOTP albums were a fantastic deal, and customers gobbled them up. They came out every six weeks or so.

The series was founded by a producer named Alan Crawford, but he quit after finishing work on Vol. 14 in late 1970. Bruce Baxter took over the project and was responsible for many of the most beloved/scorned volumes, taking care of the next 65 volumes, all the way into 1980. In its Sept. 2000 issue, MOJO Magazine took a look at the beloved old TOTP LPs, and Baxter was interviewed for that piece. These albums were recorded very quickly, usually in a week—Baxter would receive the dozen tracks to be recorded on a Wednesday, he would score the tracks for the session musicians on Thursday; on Friday the recording sessions would begin. By the next Wednesday, “in a state of abject knackeredness” he would deliver the completed tracks to the label. Baxter also mentioned that the session singers on these LPs usually were given no more than a quarter-hour to nail down their vocal track! Wow wow wow, that’s crazy. 

Most of the songs they covered constitute your basic classic treasury of disposable pop treasures. But every now and then they decided to mimic something more special, and the results are predictably jaw-dropping. Examples include David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn,” and the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant.”
 

 
Not all of the imitations are uniformly terrible—you can nod your head in a gesture of strained respect some of the time—but when they start trying to reproduce a dizzying track like Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” that’s when they get into trouble. For sheer awfulness it’s hard to top the Poppers’ versions of Kate Bush’s “Wuthering Heights” or Ian Dury’s “Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.” The Kraftwerk cover is particularly striking—Baxter told MOJO that it was “very hard,” continuing that “I did it all myself on an ARP2500 synth. It took the best part of the day.”

We’ve embedded six YouTube videos below of these reverse-engineered tracks; I opted to focus on some Dangerous Minds favorites here, like Bowie, Dury, Bush, Blondie, and so forth. But there’s tons more out there, you just have to do a little research, which is very easy (YouTube search string “dancing queen poppers,” et al.). Many of these bizarre tracks are available on Amazon; all you have to do is put in the title and the word “Poppers” or “Top Poppers” and it will come up if it’s available (here’s an example). Here’s a basic general list; I’ve gone to the trouble of linking to Amazon for the six tracks that follow.
 
TOTP “Life on Mars”:

 
TOTP “Wuthering Heights”:

 
More of these sublimely ersatz “hits” after the jump…...

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
Sex Pistols and Smiths covers are way more fun in Ukrainian
02.10.2015
10:19 am

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Smiths
Ukrainians
Wedding Present


 
Peter Solowka was the founding guitarist for the wonderful UK pop band the Wedding Present, and played with them on their first batch of releases up to and including 1991’s mindblowing and essential Seamonsters, after which he was shown the door. But during his tenure in that band, he was a mover behind one of the band’s more off-the-map projects—a series of Peel Sessions wherein TWP devoted themselves to interpretations of Ukrainian folk songs. That was a short lived phase for the Wedding Present, but it became Solowka’s career. Upon being jettisoned from TWP, he was able to devote his attention to a side project that grew from that Weddoes diversion, the Ukrainians. That band name is about as exactly-what-it-says-on-the-box as band names come: they play traditional Ukrainian folk music amped up with post-punk textures and aesthetic strategies.
 

 
The band’s somewhat narrow concept has proved remarkably durable—they’ve existed for 25 years now, and have not only been recording and releasing music fairly steadily, they are touring the UK in support of a new LP in May. But the works I’m keen to share today are two EPs, released ten years apart, that pay tribute to the music of the Smiths and the Sex Pistols. The Smiths covers EP, 1992’s Pisni iz The Smiths, is great fun while being reverently respectful to the source material. This doesn’t feel cheeky, just really robust. Even the originally dismal “Meat is Murder” kicks ass. Savour the flavour:
 

“Batyar (Bigmouth Strikes Again)”
 
Plenty more where this came from, after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘They wanted to be rock stars’: Crass co-founder disses Sex Pistols and Clash in Positive Force doc
12.16.2014
11:13 am

Topics:
Activism
Punk

Tags:
Sex Pistols
Crass
Clash

Positive Force
 
Positive Force is a Washington DC-based activist collective that’s been around since 1985. The documentary, Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 30 Years Of Punk Politics In Action, explores the history of this organization, which often stages benefits with like-minded bands to promote various causes. There’s a wealth of archival performances in the film—including footage of Fugazi playing in front of the White House on the eve of the Gulf War—and this updated edition of the DVD has another 30+ minutes of rare live clips. The documentary also features interviews with such notables as Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, Jello Biafra, and Dave Grohl, who talks about his first-ever live gig, drumming for the band Scream at a Positive Force benefit.

One of the highlights of Positive Force is the interview with Penny Rimbaud, drummer and co-founder of the UK group Crass. Rimbaud’s band, which existed from 1977-1984, very much influenced the principles of Positive Force. Crass not only put out their own records and were critical of the mainstream, but they were also activists, believing that it wasn’t enough to just sing about social justice, you had to practice what you preached. In the clip, Rimbaud accuses the members of the Clash and the Sex Pistols of not meaning it, man, as he feels their drive to make it as rock stars came before all else.

If you have any interest at all in the history of American punk and/or activism, Positive Force is definitely worth your time. Pick up the new edition of the DVD via PM Press or Amazon.

All right, here’s Mr. Rimbaud:
 

Posted by Bart Bealmear | Leave a comment
Mashup fun with Derek Jarman’s 1976 Sex Pistols footage
10.24.2014
07:04 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
Derek Jarman
Sex Pistols


 
So I was searching YouTube, like one does, for interesting obscure music stuff to watch (and post to DM, of course), and lo, laid before mine eyes in the related videos column to the right of a Sylvain Sylvain video was “Sex Pistols - 1976 02 14 Butler’s Warph (sic) Earliest Known Footage,” shot by no less a luminary than the legendary underground filmmaker Derek Jarman! Now, for all I know, there may be earlier extant Pistols footage, but one way or the other, I don’t care, as the stuff is captivating. The young band is captured here in its initial burst of brash glory at a time when punk was still too young for its tropes to have become tedious clichés, and a technical happenstance rendered the footage absolutely lovely—as the captions will inform you when you watch it, Jarman shot this on Super-8 film at a nonstandard frame rate, rendering the footage soft, choppy, gauzy, and otherworldly.

When I muted the sound to answer a phone call, I noticed something—absent the Pistols’ music, it kind of reminded me a little of the video for “Here’s Where the Story Ends” by the Sundays. (If you don’t know it, click the link and take a few minutes to check it out, it’s a very pretty pop song that begins to border on shoegaze. It was popular among the 120 Minutes set in 1990, and it holds up quite well.) So suddenly, I was on a mission. I opened some new browser tabs and tried playing a couple dozen shoegaze, indie, dream-pop and post-rock songs along with the silenced Sex Pistols footage.

There are far worse ways to kill an evening.

I found something out rather quickly—there’s such a thing as too slow. Stuff I tried by Slowdive, Mogwai, and Godspeed You Black Emperor just didn’t work well at all. The music that seemed to work most satisfyingly was dense and trippy, but still uptempo. I encourage you to do some searching on your own—and please post your wins in the comments, of course, as I’d love to try them out—but I included some embeds that I liked in the hope that might start things rolling. Oh, and tiresome punk purist fogies getting ready to agonize at me about how HORRIBLY WRONG it is to play a Lush song over this precious heavenly golden dewdrop of rebel history? It’s a bit of fucking fun, lighten the hell up. I MEAN IT, MAAAAAN.

Here’s that Pistols film, to begin with, and a pile of alternate soundtrack options follows. I don’t even have to tell you to try playing them all at once, right?
 

 
It continues after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Rumpole’ novelist John Mortimer defends Sex Pistols in ‘Bollocks’ trial, 1977


 
Nothing represents the Sex Pistols’ ability to push buttons as well as the choice of the word “Bollocks” to appear in the title of their first record in 1977. Unquestionably vulgar in an in-your-face way, the word was nevertheless not obviously obscene, or “indecent,” to employ the legal terminology used at the time. It was offensive enough that Her Majesty’s Government sought to suppress the display of the word in public—but not offensive enough for that position to carry the day in court. “Bollocks” clearly has some relationship to the word “Balls,” but it’s not a 1:1 relationship—it’s a little like the word “freaking” to substitute for “fucking,” but better and more vivid. Bollocks to that! “Bullshit” would be an a close synonym for American English. It’s the perfectly rude Sex Pistols word.

On Saturday, November 5, 1977, a policewoman named Julie Dawn Storey spotted the Never Mind The Bollocks display in the window of the Virgin Records store in Nottingham. She went inside, confiscated a couple of albums, and informed shop manager Christopher Seale that the appearance of the word “Bollocks” in the display violated the 1899 Indecent Advertising Act. Then she arrested him. For the couple of weeks before the trial, nobody could risk the legality of the album’s name—shop owners were forced to sell the album under the table, and a Pistols’ expensive ad campaign appeared to go to waste because no publications would dare to run it. Naturally all of this had the effect of adding to the Pistols’ reputation as the most controversial band in Britain.
 
Christopher Seale
Christopher Seale and the Sex Pistols’ immortal album art
 
On November 24, 1977, the court convened to rule on the fate of the shop owner, Christopher Seale, and Virgin Records. Defending the Sex Pistols was a fusty-looking chap who didn’t look like he belonged on the same continent as the Sex Pistols, much less the same courtroom. His name was John Mortimer, and by the time of his death at the age of 85 in 2009, his status as one of the most beloved attorneys and novelists in British history would be rock-solid.

Before the “Bollocks” trial, Mortimer’s primary claim to fame as a lawyer was his work on obscenity cases. He successfully defended the publication in Britain of Hubert Selby Jr.‘s Last Exit in Brooklyn in 1968, and three years later lost a similar case involving the scandalous Danish book The Little Red Schoolbook. In 1976, he defended Gay News editor Denis Lemon for the crime of publishing James Kirkup’s poem “The Love that Dares to Speak its Name” against charges of blasphemous libel; Lemon lost the case but it was overturned on appeal.

Although he would achieve much greater fame later, Mortimer had already been a writer of fiction for some years, which may partially explain his interest in obscenity cases. In the 1960s he had written A Voyage Round My Father, an autobiographical play about his relationship with his blind father (also a barrister)—it was later made into a TV movie with Laurence Olivier and Alan Bates. With his wife, Mortimer also wrote the script for Otto Preminger’s 1965 movie Bunny Lake Is Missing. In 1975 Mortimer began his lengthy series of bestselling comic novels revolving around Horace Rumpole.

In 1978, just a year after the Pistols trial, Thames Television launched Rumpole of the Bailey, its immensely popular series about a rumpled—if you will—and principled barrister who defends his clients against the weight of the Crown with everything he’s got. Rumpole was portrayed by Leo McKern, who became synonymous with the role—although DM readers might know him better as the heavy in the Beatles movie Help!.
 
Mortimer and McKern
Mortimer and McKern, in costume as Rumpole
 
As odd a fit as it may seem, Mortimer obviously had impeccable bona fides on free speech cases, which in fact made him a perfect choice to defend the Sex Pistols in court. The website 20thcpunkarchives describes Mortimer’s strategy:
 

John Mortimer raised the question of why Seale was prosecuted for displaying the sleeve while the newspapers that used the same image as an illustration were not. Mortimer continued to outline the history of the term “Bollocks” tracing it back to roots in the Middle Ages. Mortimer continued by bringing in a Professor Kingsley, head of English Studies at local Nottingham University. Kingsley told the court that the term had been used from the year 1,000 to describe a small ball (or things of a similar shape) and that it has appeared in Medieval Bibles, veterinary books and literature through the ages. He also revealed (not surprisingly) that it also served as part of place names throughout the UK. Eyebrows were raised when Kingsley said that the term had been used to describe the clergy of the previous century. In that connotation it was used in a similar fashion as the word rubbish and used to describe a clergyman that spoke nonsense. The defense continued to intimate that perhaps the prosecution was not interested in decency of the word in question but instead were waging war against the band themselves. After making the case clear, the judiciary deliberated for twenty minutes and felt compelled to dismiss all charges against Seale. The Sex Pistols’ cover was ruled as “decent” and set a precedent that would protect other shop owners who displayed the cover.

 
Johnny Rotten had attended the trial wearing a safari hat. As he exited the courtroom, a reporter solicited his comment—I remember hearing about this line when I was in high school, and it tickles me now just as much as it did then. Rotten was quoted as saying:

“Great! Bollocks is legal. Bollocks! Bollocks! Bollocks!

Posted by Martin Schneider | Leave a comment
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