Exile On New Street (Sex Pistols)

Carl has been a friend of mine for over 40 years since he would hang around my flat while playing truant from school. We have shared many adventures & he has featured in the stories I have told here on the blog. Now, for the first time, he has a story of his own to tell & it’s a good one. Over to you Carl.

 

The alarm went off at 7:30 a.m. I had a wash, dressed in my work uniform, quick cup of tea & jogged slowly down the hill to catch the bus. So far so “Groundhog Day”. The 20th of October 1976 was a day that changed my life but first I had to get to work  then through work. It was a Wednesday & tonight was training night…a long day. I was an apprentice hairdresser. I had quit on my miserable secondary school in May, before sitting any exams now I was learning how to cut women’s hair. You’ve seen Warren Beatty in “Shampoo”…nothing like that !

 

The salon (really !) was in Birmingham’s city centre near to “Pizza Corner”, one of the country’s first pizzerias. I was there getting the lunches, ordered the food, went upstairs to the gents for a piss & a smoke. The toilet was empty except for a couple of guys who were shocked to be discovered preparing to shoot-up ! I don’t know who jumped the highest with surprise. Now music was my thing, still is. I recognised Johnny Thunders & Walter Lure, half of The Heartbreakers, Johnny a former New York Doll. My fledging Early Punk Rock threads were a dead giveaway, they knew that I knew who they were. I played it cool, had a jimmy, passed on the smoke & left them to their doings…an intense 2 minutes. That evening we caught the band at Rebecca’s nightclub (Severn St, off John Bright St…you know it). Whatever they were on did the trick. they were fucking great !

 

Right…training night could not end quickly enough because tonight I was going to see the Sex Pistols.  This was before “The Filth & the Fury” headlines were gobbed over the front pages of the tabloids, when the Pistols were the best unrecorded band in Britain. There had been a small flyer on the door of Bogarts since Monday   I met my friend Gary & we went straight there. Bogarts was a biker Hard Rock/Metal bar, a windowless upstairs room that felt like a basement. It wasn’t so bad, they might play Todd Rundgren’s Utopia but never Rick Wakeman. It mostly just, you know, rocked. We got to the club at about 8.45  but there was no sign of the band.

 

No drum kit, no bass head & speaker unit, nor the Fender Twin Reverb amp which I had checked in the N.M.E. Where was Steve Jones’ white Gibson Les Paul with the 3 gold-plated pick-ups  “allegedly” nicked off  Mick Ronson at Bowie’s Ziggy Breaks Up The Band gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. Straight from under the noses of the Spiders’ road crew, in the afternoon pre-gig hubbub. What a rotter ! The prevailing thought was “they’re never gonna arrive now. are they ?” when, at almost 10 o’clock, their crew, two roadies & another couple (McLaren & Vivienne maybe ?) traipsed through the pub to the postage stamp stage in front of the DJ booth with guitars & amps. Their “management” must have thought that it was nightclub hours, this weren’t no Speakeasy this was the provinces & closing time was quickly coming round. The Quinton biker locals helped with the load-in, pushing through the crowded “dancefloor”. “Mind  ya backs ! Hot Soup! Coming through”, polite lads. The Sex Pistols are here but it’s got to be 2 songs tops & finito, innit ? Oh no, for the next 45 minutes this was the best place to be.

 

At around 10.15 “Anarchy in the UK” came to scythe us down, hitting a spot untouched since the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. This original line-up, no Sid Vicious yet, assembled by Malcolm McLaren over the past 12 months were, relatively speaking, musically astute. Glen Matlock was & still is a proper musician with an understanding of song structure & all that boring stuff. He was an asset in those early days, a fine bassist, he & Paul Cook were as tight as…insert your own tight thing analogy HERE! Steve Jones & the pasty boy singer, Johnny Rotten, had the drive & confidence of people who knew they were on to something good, something better than the rest. They played “I Wanna Be Me”, a motherfucker version of “Substitute”, “No Feelings”, “No Fun”, the old Monkees’ hit “Stepping Stone, an hilarious “17” (a.k.a. “I’m a Lazy Sod”), “Pretty Vacant”, “Satellite” & “Liar”. A set list to be committed to memory, cherished like the names of your team that won the European Cup…that big !

 

We were buzzing & bouncing on the journey home. I was 16 years old & music was everything. There had been musical heroes before the Pistols but these boys, short, sharp & shocking, not much older than me, were surely the way forward. The band I was in played Bad Company, Status Quo covers, it got us gigs. That would have to stop for a start.

 

 

Things escalated quickly after that. A very funny TV interview put the Sex Pistols on the front page & caused a moral panic. The shits hit the fans by banning them from many venues & it was December 1977 before I saw S.P.O.T.S (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly) at 2 gigs at the Lafayette nightclub in Wolverhampton.These nights were a different kind of tension. Kids all over the country had safety pins stuck in their shirts.They all wanted to see the most notorious band in the land. Matlock had been replaced by Sid Vicious who was turned down in the mix. It was an unviable option to let him be heard above 2 (It’s important, I play bass). He was Johnny’s mate & McLaren chose style over substance. “Anarchy in the UK” is the best debut single ever but the Great Rock & Roll Swindle was on. Sex Pistols’ gigs were skirmishes in Malcolm’s campaign of outrage rather than a chance to hear the best band in the world.

 

It’s my own hindsight that moans about the part-time Punks, the gobbing, the violence (I got enough of that on the terraces thanks). In 1977 I did a lot of crazy things, saw & heard some great music & it all revolved around Punk. The chaos was part of the creativity. There was nothing better than seeing the Sex Pistols play live. God save ’em, they were our boys.

 

 

                              
                                                      
Advertisements

A Day In the Park (Stop the Nazis)

I was too old to be a punk. I was 23, married and had been too committed to being a hippie for the last 10 years. Through someone’s older brother there were four 16 year old boys who used our flat as a second home/crash pad. They were Bowie/Roxy boys just starting to go to clubs in 1976. It was there that they saw the Damned, the Clash and the Pistols. They loved bringing me this new music after using our record collection for so long.
I loved it as well. Talking Heads, Television and ,of course, The Ramones were all friends to our turntable. I bought “Horses” by Patti the day it came out. The next day my wife cut her hair and bought a leather jacket. My first non-flared jeans were not far behind. Through the punks we knew it was about more than fashion. All this history of the Punk Wars reflected through the media that didn’t get it is misguided. It was about doing music yourself, about cheap amphetamine, about no longer buying your big bro’s worn out hippie shit. A weekend in Amsterdam where the “punks” were an expensive fashion parade showed us how serious our friends were.


We saw Patti Smith twice. She was serious and joyous. She was Art with a heart. A scorching band with a real connection to us.
Throughout the 70s I was very politically involved, mostly through my trades union. I was being fast tracked on to national committees but, as I progressed, feeling separation from the people I wanted to help, my workmates. Punk brought a new force into politics. The National Front, a bunch of perverted neo-nazis , were becoming more prominent. As a reaction to this the Anti-Nazi league formed Rock against Racism. It succeeded instantly. Young punks knew what side they were on instinctively. This was my kind of politics. confront the Nazis with 3 chords and a dub reggae beat as the soundtrack. I was active in the ANL, organizing gigs and fighting on the street. Doing something important.
At one anti-Fascist rally, turning into a riot, we pulled a small boy from the floor. “Hello Miss” he said smiling to my teacher wife. “Go Home NOW” she sternly said to one of her class, as I fell about laughing.

                         
Rock against Racism decided to go national. A march in London followed by a gig in Hackney .X Ray Spex, Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse and THE CLASH .No-one was gonna miss this.
We came down from Birmingham for the weekend. The bunch of merry punks joined us on the Saturday. Boy did we party on that night. My friends in London knew the Birmingham boys and wanted to show them a good time in the big city.The next morning there was no chance of getting 15 people in the same place, in the same shape,never mind walking 10 or so miles to the gig. A decision was made. We would go to the gig in the van, picking up friends along the way.
It was a massive turn out. These were the biggest public rallies since 1840. People were streaming in from every direction. The atmosphere was celebratory. Today the city was ours. A couple of our posse fell under the nearest tree, refreshments had been taken again. We arranged a meeting place for later and went off to have fun.
Any crowd of 100,000 people inspires awe. When they are all there for the same reason, all in it together, it’s the greatest thing. the music started “2-4-6-8 Motorway”, “Glad To Be Gay”, crowd pleasers. I had worked and played football with Steel Pulse’s soundman, Horace. We went over to the sound desk to say hello. He was well pleased to see two old friends and “Bingo” we were sat by the sound desk to see the Pulse, a band we had known about from their start. Best view in the house over 50,000 heads.
It was the Clash everyone wanted to see and the crowd were gonna make it an event whatever. We said our goodbyes to Horace and re-joined our friends. It was time to POGO !
They didn’t let us down. They raged through “Janie Jones”, “London’s Burning”, “Garage Band”, the first album. The whole crowd just went nuts for the anthem of the whole day. All of us there will never forget “White Riot”. The park just went nuts. It was not a riot but the point was there could be if we were not heard. Unforgettable, the soundtrack to 30th April 1978.

For many it had been a long day travelling and marching. Some of our brave crew had never really shaken the morning’s hangover. Lucky we were driving against the traffic and were not far from our friends’ place in Greenwich. The British political world had shifted. All who were there went back to confront and isolate racism. The NF were broken. One – Nil to the good guys.

Those punky boys ? I am still in contact with 3 of the 4. Unfortunately one of them, the only black punk in Birmingham, had a breakdown in the 80s. Three of us shared a flat in London as the self styled “Last Gang In Town”. We were a rubbish gang. For 2 years (until 2002) I lived with the other in Birmingham helping to repair an old house. He was unhappy then but is now a very happy man He lost his children and now, through their choice, he has them back.
C  looks after his elderly folks who helped him break a 20 year heroin habit more than we did. M lives with the woman he always loved, just 20 years later than he should have. These two men are the best people I have ever met. I am proud to call them my friends and to have shared so much of their lives.