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.

 

 

                              
                                                      

A Day In the Park (Stop the Nazis)

In 1976 I was 23, married & almost a decade long adherence to Hippiedom made me too old to be a Punk. The four young guns, just 16 years old, who treated our flat as a second home/crash pad were however in the right place at the right time. These Bowie/Roxy Music kids were just starting to go to clubs & it was there that they saw the Damned, the Clash and the Pistols. After rifling through our record collection for so long now it was their turn to introduce new music to us. They loved this switch around & we did too,Talking Heads, Television, Buzzcocks and ,of course, The Ramones were all friends to our turntable.

I bought “Horses”, Patti Smith’s debut album on the day of its release. My wife cut her hair & bought a leather jacket, my first non-flared jeans of the decade were not far behind. Of course we knew from our friends that this was about more than a new fashion. The history of the Punk Wars, initially chronicled as a moral panic by an oppositional media & even now by those who were there does seem to sometimes misguidedly emphasise haircuts rather than attitudes. Fuelled by the energy from cheap amphetamine Punk was about doing music for yourself & extending that ethic to get other things done, your big brother’s hippie shit was worn out & it was time for a new generation, blank or otherwise to have their say. A Saturday night in Amsterdam where the  “punks” were an expensive fashion parade showed us how serious our friends were. A Patti Smith concert was Art with a heart. A scorching band with a shared connection to the audience. She was serious, joyous & G-L-O-R-I-O-U-S.

Index of /wp-content/uploads/2018/07Punk brought a new force into British politics. In the 70s my own activism was through my trade union. A fast track on to national committees felt like progress but monolithic bureaucracy & archaic attitudes felt like a separation from the people I wanted to help, my workmates & that would not stand. The National Front, a bunch of perverted neo-nazis , were becoming more prominent. The Anti-Nazi League was formed in 1977 & linking with the already existent 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, fighting on the street, doing something important. At an anti-Fascist rally turning into a riot we pulled a young teenage boy from the floor. “Hello Miss” he said smiling to my teacher wife. “Go Home NOW” she sternly said to one of her class. I was glad the kid was safe, pleased that he knew the importance of showing out against these thugs & amused at my wife’s off-duty activities becoming known at her school.

Rock against Racism had the best new bands at the best gigs & in 1978 they went national. A Carnival Against Racism was organised, a march to Victoria Park in Hackney where X Ray Spex, Tom Robinson Band, Steel Pulse & the Clash would play. No-one was gonna miss this. We travelled down from Birmingham for the weekend. The bunch of merry punks joined us on the Saturday. 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. A decision was made. We would go to the gig in the van, picking up friends along the way.

The History of Rock Against Racism | Redbrick MusicIt was a massive turn out. These were the biggest public rallies of the century. 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. “Sing if you’re glad to be gay” said the Tom Robinson Band & we were all happy to do so. I had worked and played football with Steel Pulse’s soundman, Horace so we went over to the sound desk to say hello. He was well pleased to see two old friends & we found places 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 bobbing to “Ku Klux Klan”. Those Birmingham boys were making good. It was the Clash everyone wanted to see, the size of 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 !

Clash/Buzzcocks/X-Ray Spex – Rock Against Racism/Anti Nazi League 1978  Carnival PosterStarting with “Complete Control” the Clash were our band playing for their audience. London was burning with positive energy not boredom. Everyone was anticipating “White Riot”, a riot of our own & when it came the release & celebration was cathartic. This was by no means a riot but there were enough of us & it could have been. The British political world had shifted that day. All who were there went back to confront and isolate racism. The NF, so emboldened by resurgence in the local elections of 1977 were smashed in the 1979 general election. The youth had done the right thing. It felt then & still does like the most significant gig I have ever attended & you know what they say, some of it was true.

Those punky boys ? I am still in contact with 3 of the 4. Unfortunately one of them, the only black punk in Birmingham, a talented animator, didn’t make it. he is fondly remembered & much missed. 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 having little contact with his children but, through their own choice, they are back with him & he’s cool. 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.