The quote of the title belongs to John Lydon, lead singer of the Sex Pistols, the English punk group that shook England in the period from 1975 to 1978. Lydon was referring to band member Sid Vicious, known for his violent behavior, at the end of a benefit concert the Sex Pistols gave for the kids of striking firefighters in Huddersfield, on Christmas day 1977. The firefighters were on strike for nine weeks and needed to feed their children.
Lydon said about the childrens’ party: “That gig made me feel like I’d actually achieved something.”
Julien Temple, director of a film on the Pistols, who was present in the children’ gig has said:
“To most people they (the Sex Pistols) were monsters in the news. But seeing them playing to seven- and eight-year-olds is beautiful. They were a radical band, but there was a lot more heart to that group than people know.”
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Eventhough at the time the group was only two years old, they had made their mark on the map. But the conditions were difficult for them, because they were banned from the mainstream media and from performing almost everywhere in the UK.
They were hated by the establishment, shut down by the police, pilloried by the press.
There are no details of the location on the ticket, just the instruction to telephone a number two days before the event. The punters would call and get the details of the event.
Following the benefit gig for the firefighters’ kids, and the devouring of the car bonnet size cake, the band gave their last concert in the UK, in Ivanhoe’s Club on Manchester Road, Huddersfield.
In January 1978 the Sex Pistols toured the USA. At the end of the tour, John Lydon split and left the band. This was the end of the Sex Pistols as we know them. Sid Vicious died of drug overdose in February 1979. The other wmembers of the band reunited in 1996, and a few more times after that. But the real stuff was gone in 1978.
How did the Sex Pistols come about? To put it in simple terms, the context was provided by the punk movement of the early 1970s. The actors who made it happen, excluding the band members, were Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. Westwood was an elementary school teacher, and McLaren an art school dropout.
Without overstating it, one can say that the Sex Pistols were born in the shop that McLaren and Westwood kept on 430 Kings Road, London. Its name since 1974 was SEX, and it was the place to be for all who loved punk in London in the early 1970s. The shop’s main commodity was punk itself.
Glen Mattlock, the future bassist of the Sex Pistols was an employee of the shop.
The other members of the band were:
- John Lydon (aka Rotten, because of his bad teeth), lead vocalist
- Paul Cook, drums
- Steve Jones, guitar
- Sid Vicious (John Stuart Ritchie), bass – he replaced Mattlock in early 1977
As early as 1972, Mattlock, Vicious and Lydon were regulars at 430 Kings Road.
At this point, one must answer the question “What is punk?”
Oxford Dictionaries define punk as “A loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s.”
In 1975 there were over 1.5 million unemployed workers in the UK, most of whom were castoffs from its deteriorating industrial base. In this context, it would not be an exaggeration to say that punk expressed to an extent the frustration and agony of the disenfranchised British youth.
Punk would mean you were the lowest of the low.
Robert Ebert, an American film critic, puts things in perspective:
“The Catch-22 with punk rock, and indeedwith all forms of entertainment designed to shock and offend the bourgoisie, is that if your act is too convinving, you put yourself out of business, a fact carefully noted by today’s rappers as they go as far as they can without going too far.”
The Sex Pistols went too far for their own good.
On the 8th October 1976, EMI signs the Sex Pistols up for a period of two yers and a signing fee of UKP 40,000. But three months later, on the 6th January 1977 EMI fired the Pistols. They were too hot to handle.
On the 10th March 1977, A&M signed the Pistols for UKP 75,000, only to drop them a few days later!
It was the brave Mr. Branson and his Virgin company who signed the Pistols on the 18th May 1977.
“God save the Queen”, the band’s second single, was released on the 27th May 1977. It sold 150,000 copies in the first day and 200,000 in the first week. The song was banned by the BBC, as a song of “bad taste”. The members of the band were attacked in the treets by disgusted members of the public. Lydon had reported wounds in the knees by machetes and the in the face by bottles.
However, as Paul Cook, the drummer of the band has said: “We didn’t have a manifesto, but we wanted to shake things up.”
In terms of the ideological foundations of the punk movement, I would like to mention Situationism, the movement that was behind May 1968 in Paris. (8) Apparently, Malcolm McLaren was a committed situationist.
Guy Debord’s theory of the Spectacle is the foundation of situationism. Simply put, the world we see is not the real world but the world we are conditioned to see, and the Situationist agenda is to explain how the nightmare works so that everyone can wake up.
One of the famous pieces of Situationist graffiti to appear during the Paris ’68 riots was “art is an academic headache.”
It It is almost 40 years since the firefighters’ children benefit concert given by the Sex Pistols in Huddersfield’s Ivanhoe Club. The Sex Pistols are gone. Punk is gone.
Is revolt gone as well?
2. The Filth and the Fury, review by Roger Ebert
3. A Merry Punk Rock Christmas: Anarchy in Ivanhoe’s. For Malcontents Only
4. Get Pissed, Destroy (Or Eat Cake): The Sex Pistols’ Final UK Gigs, Christmas 1977. By Peter Alan Loyd. Bombed Out
5. God Save the Queen at 40: how the Sex Pistols made the most controversial song in history. By James Hall, The Telegraph
6. Anarchy in the EU: the Sex Pistols’ drummer on why Brexit isn’t punk. By Michael Henderson. The Spectator
7. How Vivienne Westwood’s Punk Revolution Changed Fashion Forever. By Asaf Rotman, Grailed.
8. Situationism explained! and its affect on punk and pop culture. By Amy Britton, Louder than War.