Filmmaker 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 sold 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.”
In 1978, at a time after the end of the Sex Pistols, but before Public Image Ltd. was formed, John Lydon gave an actual friendly interview to Janet Street-Porter. Cheerful, not at all rotten Mr. Lydon—seen here looking even more Dickensian than usual in a top hat he says he purchased at Disneyland—discusses how he’d like to see Malcolm McClaren dead, how he made no money whatsoever from the Sex Pistols and he touches ever so briefly on his recent trip to Jamaica, where he’d been scouting reggae talent (and meeting some musical heroes) for Richard Branson’s Virgin Records.
Lydon also reminds us that tickets for the USA Sex Pistols tour cost two bucks!
Via Dorian Cope’s always interesting On This Deity website, we find that today is the thirty-fourth anniversary of the Sex Pistols expletive-filled appearance on the Today program, December 1, 1976:
Today we recall the bizarre events of thirty-four years ago, in which television presenter Bill Grundy – clearly ill-prepared for the motley posse sat before him, and possibly himself quite drunk – half-wittedly and quite inadvertently handed to the already notorious Sex Pistols the kind of extraordinary media opportunity that was beyond even the wildest dreams of their Machiavellian manager, Malcolm McLaren. Goading the Pistols mercilessly and without good reason, Grundy then appeared genuinely shocked when the lawless (and law-breaking) Steve Jones – resplendent in Vivienne Westwood’s highly inappropriate ‘tits’ t-shirt – unleashed such a barrage of ‘fucks’ and ‘fuckers’ that this merely regional early evening TV news programme catapulted the Sex Pistols onto the national stage. Nobody outside London even saw it. What did they actually say? Overnight, the Sex Pistols legend grew enormous.
Within months, Grundy would be relegated to presenting a book programme on the radio; while the Today programme was cancelled soon after. With hindsight, it’s easy to say that the Sex Pistols were opportunists. But what an opportunity it was that the fool Bill Grundy had handed them. Indeed, we may now even feel pity for this hapless, smarmy half-cut oaf whose destiny it was to be cut down brutally by the fearless and flashing curses of Steve “Never Mind the Bollocks” Jones.
The clip below was put together from various sources. You always see a snippet of this appearance in every single documentary about punk, but never the full thing seen on British television that fateful day. Note future Banshees, Steven Severin and a white-tressed (and flirty) Siouxsie Sioux onstage with the group.
For your weekend viewing pleasure: The complete final Sex Pistols show at Bill Graham’s Winterland, in San Francisco, 1978. For years all I’d ever seen was the B&W Target Video-shot version of this show, then this improved color version popped up on a quasi-legit Chinese DVD about ten or so years ago. Everyone always rags on their supposed shitty last performance… au contraire, folks, they’re incendiary here.
After this show, the supernova that was the Pistols was no more. Say what you will about John Lydon’s later career, in his youth, the man changed the face of music twice, first with the Sex Pistols and later with Public Image, Ltd. Who else can something like that be said about? Miles Davis is the only person who comes to mind.
I’ve seen and heard of some pretty out there tribute bands in my day. For instance, there was a lisping Elvis impersonator who (literally) sang for his supper in a fast food place. He was quite good, but when he sang “Suspicious Minds” the folks eating at the tables near him got their food sprayed with spittle. (As we watched him sing, Lux and Ivy from the Cramps walked past the place and waved to him).
Then there were the fake Beatles I tried to hire for an event who came with their own Linda and Yoko in tow, who fawned all over their personal “Lennon” and “McCartney”—they even had a manager named Brian whose only qualification seemed to be that he was from Liverpool. And named “Brian.” They kept asking me if I knew of any labels that might want to give them a record contract (“No” I told them, honestly).
I also saw a Velvet Underground tribute band in Tokyo, complete with Nico (although Moe Tucker was played by a boy!).
But one band that seemed immune to the tribute band treatment was John Lydon’s Public Image Ltd. Until now, that is! A group formerly making the rounds in the UK doing a Sex Pistols tribute act decided to think outside the (metal) box and do a PiL panto as well, morphing in the process from The Sex Pistols Experience to Public Imitation Ltd.!!!
As someone who saw the original PiL line-up (post Jah Wobble, but with Keith Levene and Martin Adkins) in 1983—a life-changing experience for me as a teen (I decided then and there to not go to college)—I was expecting the worst, but this guy can actually do a better Lydon in 2010 than Lydon himself can, take a look:
In this news clip from the Dallas ABC news affiliate we see the borderline hysterical coverage of The Sex Pistols gig at cowboy dancehall The Longhorn.
I love the marquee with ‘The Sex Pistols’ hovering over Merle Haggard’s name. That would have been one hell of a double bill.
It’s amusing to hear people complain that they had to pay $3.50 to see what was in effect a historic piece of music history. The date was January 10, 1978.
Texas punk band The Nervebreakers opened for The Pistols that night and recently re-united to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their once-in-a-lifetime gig. I’ve included some video footage of them playing in Dallas last year.
See footage of the Pistols Longhorn show and a recent Dallas performance by The Nervebreakers after the jump…