It has been said that everyone who bought a copy of The Velvet Underground & Nico went on to start a band. The same has been said about the attendees of the legendary Sex Pistols gig at the Manchester Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4, 1976, which included future members of Joy Division/New Order, The Fall, A Certain Ratio, Simply Red, Buzzcocks/Magazine, Tony Wilson and producer Martin Hannett.
One punter who was not impressed, a then 17-year-old Steve Morrissey, who let his feelings be known in a letter to the editor of the NME. What an insufferable, supercilious brat he must’ve been! Turning his nose up at The Sex Pistols???
There’s an entire book about this concert and the seismic cultural repercussions it caused in it its wake, I Swear I Was There: The Gig That Changed The World by David Nolan and a TV doc with eyewitness accounts of this infamous gig:
John Lydon’s handwritten response to the U.S. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame regarding the induction of the Sex Pistols in 1996:
Next to the SEX-PISTOLS rock and roll and that hall of fame is a piss stain. Your museum. Urine in wine. Were not coming. Were not your monkey and so what? Fame at $25,000 if we paid for a table, or $15000 to squeak up in the gallery, goes to a non-profit organisation selling us a load of old famous. Congradulations. If you voted for us, hope you noted your reasons. Your anonymous as judges, but your still music industry people. Were not coming. Your not paying attention. Outside the shit-stem is a real SEX PISTOL
Malcolm McLaren unleashed the greatest revolution of the last quarter of the 20th century. This was in part because McLaren was really a shop-keeper, a haberdasher, a boutique owner who knew his market and, most importantly, knew how to sell product to the masses.
Unfortunately, when it came to music, the talent was more than just product, and McLaren regularly mis-used and manipulated the musical talent (New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Adam and The Ants/Bow-Wow-Wow) for his own personal gain. It was the behavior of a man who couldn’t and didn’t trust anyone—perhaps because (as he claimed) he had been abandoned by his mother—an act of betrayal he never forgave. There is the story of how years later, McLaren was have said to have traveled on a London Underground train, only to find his mother in the same carriage. The pair sat opposite each other, with neither acknowledging the other’s presence, and each alighting at their separate stops.
McLaren was bewitching, relentless and always on the make. But for all his scams and incredible machinations, little is really known about the man himself. He re-wrote his biography so many times it is almost impossible to know what is the truth. He also carefully edited out those who had helped his success, and fabricated wonderful, picaresque tales of misadventure—-for example, the time he failed to have Nancy Spungen kidnapped, in a bid to remove her insidious influence over Sid Vicious.
In essence, Malcolm’s greatest talent was his own self-promotion—his unique role as a cultural PR man, who changed history. If there is anything to be learned from his particular type of genius, it is to make headlines out of even the worst situation. On his deathbed, Mclaren’s last words were said to have been: “Free Leonard Peltier.” As he had done in his life, McLaren had once again grabbed hold of someone else’s notoriety.
Kevin Eldon has one of the most familiar faces on British television today, working on virtually ALL of the A-list comedy programs of the past decade and beyond (I’m Alan Partridge, Jam, Black Books, Spaced, Attention Scum, Brass Eye, Big Train, Nighty Night, Smack the Pony, Green Wing, Look Around You, Nathan Barley, Saxondale, The IT Crowd), but he’s never had his own show until now, titled It’s Kevin, and it’s really fucking good.
Also featuring Matt Berry and Peter Serafinowicz, never mind the modern tecnology, here’s the Amish Sex Pistols:
The infamous clip of the Sex Pistols swearing at TV host Bill Grundy on the Today program in 1976, below, so you can see how note for note perfect this inspired sketch truly is. Bravo!
Thank you kindly Mr. Steven Daly of New York City!
Rather than actually pay Virgin a licensing fee, el cheapo Spanish record label, Dial Discos hired “Los Punk Rockers” (rumored to be Spanish prog-rock band Asfalto) to cover the entirety of Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. The point was to basically confuse music fans in post-Franco Spain into thinking that this was the real thing.
The Shit-Fi blog nominated Los Exitos de Sex Pistols for “the most shit-fi album of all time,” adding that it “simply does not get any stupider, stranger, more poorly played, funnier, or nigh-psychotic (and possibly psychedelic) than this record”
Los Exitos de Sex Pistols was obviously recorded in a flash, before the next trend could take hold. The musicians more-or-less learned the songs from Never Mind the Bollocks, but the singer must not have spoken much English, because his approximations of Johnny Rotten are complete nonsense. (Here are “Holidays in the Sun” and “Pretty Vacant”) Even when singing the song title, as in the chorus of “Seventeen,” he seems to be making words up: “I’m a lazy seven.”
He does have the snottiness down pat, though. The vocals are clearly the best part of the record, simply because they’re so hilariously terrible. The guitar sound is thin and fuzzy, quite unlike the multi-tracked wall of guitars on NMTB—actually, it’s a lot closer to what one associates today with DIY punk of the late 70s than the Pistols’ sound. Few punk sleeves are as iconic as that of NMTB, but this album’s sleeve does fit the music well. It’s dumb. The woman on the sleeve appears to be some random person a photographer pulled off the street and dressed in moderately “punk” duds.
Recorded at a moment in time when the young Mr. Rotten was routinely getting his head kicked in by skinheads and hassled by the police, this is probably my single favorite bit of punk rock audio ephemera (actually, it’s a tie with the infamous Slits college radio interview, but that’s another blog post…).
What am I talking about? A guest appearance by Johnny Rotten on the Capital Radio program of deep-voiced DJ Tommy Vance. Rotten/Lydon was invited to play records from his own collection and talk about them. He comes across as whip-smart, honest and refreshingly free from much—if any—social programming and religious brainwashing. He discusses the Sex Pistols, Malcolm McClaren (he calls him the fifth member of the band), being educated in a Catholic school he despised and his passionate love of music. There’s no put-on here or any hint of the deliberate obnoxiousness of later years.
Where did you go to school?
[sighs] This poxy Roman Catholic thing. All they done was teach me religion. Didn’t give a damn about your education though. That’s not important is it? Just as long as you go out being a priest.
Which you haven’t become.
Well no. That kind of forcing ideas on you like when you don’t want to know is bound to get the opposite reaction. They don’t let you work it out for yourselves. They tell you you should like it. And that’s why I hate schools. You’re not given a choice. It’s not free.
It’s an inevitable question, and a corny question, but can you think of any better system of educating people?
No I can’t [laugh], I just know that one’s not right. I wouldn’t dare, it’s out of my depth, I have nothing to do with that side of things. I haven’t been to university and studied all the right attitudes, so I don’t know. No I haven’t.
[fades in Doctor Alimantado - ‘Born For A Purpose ‘]
This is it, ‘Born For A Purpose’, right? Now this record, just after I got my brains kicked out, I went home and I played it and there’s a verse which goes, ‘If you have no reason for living, don’t determine my life’. Because the same thing happened to him. He got run over because he was a dread. Very true.
The music he plays is a revelation. Can, some rare soul, Tim Buckley, Peter Hammill (he accuses Bowie of copping the Van Der Graaf Generator front man’s moves), Captain Beefheart (he plays “The Blimp”!), Nico, John Cale and of course, lots of reggae. When Rotten plays the dub b-side by Culture (the track with the lopping bass, barking dogs, crying babies and blaring car horns) you can hear the blueprint for the PiL sound that would come along just a few months later.
It must be said that for a 20-year-old he’s got astonishingly good taste in music and for that time period? Please! This really is an incredible thing to listen to. For the musical education alone, it’s great, but listening to the thoughts of this controversial, brilliant young man at the height of powers is a sublime pleasure.
It even contains the radio commercials from the broadcast. This has been making the rounds for years, but this version is clean and in real stereo, the best I’ve ever heard.
A transcript of the interview and a track listing can be found here.
Film-maker and musician, Don Letts was working as a DJ at the Roxy club in London in 1977, when he filmed most of the Punk bands that appeared there, with his Super 8 camera. Letts captured a glorious moment of musical history and its ensuing social, political and cultural revolution.
Letts decided he was going to make a film with his footage, and had sell his belongings to ensure he had enough film stock to record the bands that appeared night-after-night over a 3 month-period. Eventually, he collated all of the footage into The Punk Rock Movie, which contained performances by the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Wayne County & the Electric Chairs, Generation X, Slaughter and the Dogs, The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Eater, Subway Sect, X-Ray Spex, Alternative TV and Johnny Thunders and The Heartbreakers. There was also backstage footage of certain bands, and Sid Vicious’ first appearance with the Sex Pistols, at The Screen On The Green cinema, April 3rd, 1977.
Rather grateful to ace musician Fleabag Jones (aka Woody Mcmilan) for reminding me how well this mash-up between the Sex Pistols and Madonna works.
Called “Ray of Gob” (“Ray of Light” / “Pretty Vacant” / “God Save The Queen”), it was created by Mark Vidier, the Watford based DJ who has produced a whole jukebox of bootleg mash-ups via his Go home Productions.
“Ray of Gob” is rather special as it was the one which “broke the camel’s back” and allowed Mark to give up the day-job in February 2003. Still sounds as good today.
British journalist and TV presenter, Janet Street-Porter has always had a finger on the pulse, been ahead of the curve, you know, has always been able to avoid a cliche. Her career as a TV journalist in the 1970s put most of her contemporaries to shame, as she brilliantly explored subjects and cultural trends the mainstream decidedly ignored. The week Chicago were at number one in the UK’s Top 40, with the vomit-inducing “If You Leave Me Now”, dear Janet was out making the first TV documentary on The Sex Pistols, The Clash and Punk Rock.
Broadcast on 22 November 1976 as part of The London Weekend Show, Janet’s film “Punk” featured interviews The Sex Pistols (still with Glen Matlock), a band called Clash (before they added a ‘The’) and Siouxsie Sioux. The Pistols also perform “Pretty Vacant”, “Submission”, “Anarchy in the UK” and “No Fun”.
There’s some drop-out, and the video tape is a bit mashed at the start, but otherwise, this is an important moment in pop culture history.
John Lydon must get fed up being asked the same olde questions year-after-year by interviewers who should know better. Just see how many interviews over the past thirty years have kicked-off with rumors of a Sex Pistols reunion, as if Lydon has done nothing since the summer of 1977, and then ask whether he’s still Punk and why isn’t PiL any good?
Understandable, therefore, that Lydon is often contemptuous of those who pose such dumb questions.
That said, I sometimes think Lydon’s aggressive behavior stems from a genuine shyness, as he displays a set of tics and mannerisms consistent form his first appearance on Bill Grundy’s infamous swearfest. You’ll recognize them - the mumbling, the staring, the dismissal of questions with the word “Next” - all used to deflect the more personal probing. Oo-er.
We can see examples of both here in this short interview with Jonathan Ross, from his chatshow The Last Resort in 1990.
It begins with Lydon antsy as Ross reels off cue card questions about The Sex Pistols. Lydon is dismissive, which is interesting in light of the Pistols reunion later in the decade.
When questioned about the rumors of a reunion for £6million, Lydon says he wishes such offers would be given to him direct. Even so, he wouldn’t reform the Sex Pistols at any price.
“I would never repeat myself. And I think everybody knows that about me. You may not like me, but at least I am damned honest.”
He is harsh on Sid Vicious, defending his comments as honesty.
“When you start messing with heroin, you’re kissing goodbye to your life, and good riddance too.”
Fair commnent, but I tend to agree with Oscar Wilde that sometimes honesty is not the best policy, and the truth is never simple.
As for Malcolm McLaren he is dissmissed as “an imitation alcoholic”.
He lightens up about his brief acting career in the Harvey Keitel film Order of Death, going on to tell how he was offered “the ratty little git” in Drugstore Cowboy, a part he would have taken but couldn’t because of commitments. Shame for it would have been interesting casting.
The end cuts off just as Lydon gives a 4-word summing up:
“Life first. Money second.”
A nice thought, which reminded me of Picasso’s line about wealth: how it was always best to be rich enough to live poor. O, that we should be so lucky.
Bonus clip of Lydon interviewed by Margenta Devine from Network 7, from 1987, where the same questions about Sex Pistols, Punk and what he’s been up to all come to the fore. Lydon sticks to his honesty and having fun routine.
Bonus interview with Lydon from ‘Network 7’ in 1987, after the jump…
This Channel 4 UK program from the mid-80s compiles some incredible performances culled from Tony Wilson’s late 70s Granada TV series, So It Goes. Includes the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Buzzcocks, Iggy Pop (with horsetail sticking out of his ass and saying “fucking” on 70s TV), The Fall, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Blondie, Penetration, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Tom Robinson, Magazine, John Cooper Clarke, XTC, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sham 69 and ending with the classic clip of Joy Division performing “Shadow Play.” Many of the groups represented here were making their TV debuts on So It Goes, a regional tea-time program.
A revealing interview with Sid Vicious conducted by Judy Vermorel in August, 1977. In it Vicious rails against “grown-ups” and “grown-up attitudes”, TV host Hughie Green, insincerity, and why “the general public are scum” (his opinion about “99% of the shit” out on the street).
Vicious sounds incredibly young, perhaps because he was, and claims he “doesn’t like anything particularly” and that, “Nobody has to do anything”. There is some interesting thoughts on Russ Meyer’s plans for a Sex Pistols’ movie, which Sid dismisses as a “cheap attempt to get money.”
At the end, he rails against Malcolm McLaren, slightly incredulous to the information that Johnny Rotten and Paul Cook thought McLaren was the fifth member of the Pistols:
The band has never been dependent on Malcolm, that fucking toss-bag. I hate him..I’d smash his face in…I depend on him for exactly nothing. Do you know, all I ever got out of him was, I think, £15 in all the time I’ve known the fucking bastard. And a T-shirt, he gave me a free T-shirt, once, years ago. Once he gave me a fiver, and I stole a tenner off him, a little while ago, and that’s all. I hate him.
..But he’s all right. I couldn’t think of anyone else I could tolerate.
This is the interview where Vicious famously made an eerie prediction:
“I shall die when I am round-about twenty-four, I expect, if not sooner. And why my friend will die soon.”
His friend was “that girl” Nancy Spungen, who can be heard in the background of this interview.
This excellent documentary on Malcolm McLaren was originally shown as part of Melvyn Bragg’s South Bank Show in 1984, when McLaren was recording Fans—his seminal fusion of R&B and opera. Apart from great access and behind-the-scenes footage, the film and boasts revealing interviews with Boy George, Adam Ant, Bow-Wow-Wow’s Annabella Lwin, Sex Pistol, Steve Jones, as well as the great man himself.
Everyone whoever came into contact with McLaren had an opinion of the kind of man he was and what he was about. Steve Jones thought him a con man; Adam Ant didn’t understand his anarchy; Boy George couldn’t fathom his lack of interest in having success, especially when he could have had it all; while Annabella Lwin pointed out how he used people to do the very things he wanted to do himself.
All of the above are true. But for McLaren, the answer was simple: “Boys will be boys,” and he saw his role was as:
“To question authority and challenge conventions, is what makes my life exciting.”