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.

 

 

                              
                                                      

Music And Movies (Punk)

In recent years Michael Winterbottom has made films in Estonia, India & one which took 5 years to shoot as the director waited for his child actors to grow. His last brush with the mainstream was a well-judged adaptation of “The Killer Inside Me” (2010) with 3 proper Hollywood stars. At the first whiff of controversy this enjoyable film was buried. If you are at all serious about apprehending the spirit of Jim Thomson then your film will contain brutish, amoral, psychopathic violence…I mean really ! Winterbottom’s new film is his 3rd (plus a TV series) made with Steve Coogan, a very funny man who’s big screen career does not reflect his talent. A re-make of “Around the World in 80 Days” ?…with Jackie Chan as Passepartout ? Oh yeah, that’ll work. The Alan Partridge movie has been a long time coming. The Winterbottom films & a cameo in “In The Loop” are, up to now, the only work to stand alongside his TV character comedy.

“24 Hour Party People” covers the Manchester music scene from the arrival of the Pistols in 1976, the adventures of Factory records to an inevitable bankruptcy in 1992 as excess, a groundbreaking but loss making club & allowing the drug-fucked Happy Mondays to record in the crack capital of the world converged to cause a crisis too far. Tony Wilson (Coogan) is the bulls-eye of the tale. As a presenter on local TV news he was already a face but if you lived in Manchester & liked music (as I did) then he was bloody ubiquitous. OK, he had the best club, the best bands were on his label but really he was always there. Just as he was at the Lesser Free Trade Hall for that first Manc punk gig. Winterbottom informs us who the players are in his story & how he intends to tell that story in a different way.

This ain’t no rock/mock/doc/biopic “I Walk the Line” nonsense. It is a proper attempt at rock & roll myth making, playing fast & loose with the facts when it suits, being more concerned with the substance, energy & ideas. The Rock Gospels, from Elvis walking into Sun Studios to Woodstock/Altamont are affidavits guarded by a generation who have taken themselves way too seriously. Let the new fables kick against the pricks, show the art & the artifice.The clip of the real Pistols fused into this scene is from an entirely different gig & it really does not matter. In the later “A  Cock & Bull Story” Winterbottom & Coogan mix it up even more exhilaratingly. It is a cliche about Tony Wilson that he got things done but he was a wanker. He really did seem to love any kind of attention. Well he may have been a fool but he was our fool & “24 H.P.P.” is one of the best films about music around because it is about the people, the drugs, the city. To quote Don Logan,” It’s the charge, it’s the bolt, it’s the buzz, it’s the sheer fuck off-ness of it all” .

“Bringing Out The Dead” (1999) is the 4th &, to date, final collaboration between director Martin Scorsese & writer Paul Schrader. So there’s faith, guilt, redemption then, it’s what they do. This character study (there’s little plot) of a paramedic struggling to see anything good in an Infernal New York is more than “Taxi Driver II”. Frank’s (Nicholas Cage) contact with the doomed & the dying give him  nightmares which have infiltrated his days. Cage gives one of those performances which will prevent you from watching any more than 3 minutes of “Ghost Rider:Spirit of Vengeance”. The script, cinematography & direction grab you by the balls & the throat. The reason “Bringing Out..” is not regarded as classic Scorsese is that there are fewer touches for a broader audience this time around. No Joe Pesci swearing & killing motherfluffers imaginatively, this is black & barely comedy. It could be Scorsese/Schrader “fin de siecle” but I prefer, in the spirit of New York punk, End of the Century.

The film has the usual classy & spacious soundtrack from both Bernsteins through Motown & reggae to R.E.M. But this is Scorsese’s punkiest movie & the use of “Janie Jones” is perfect in this scene with Cage & ready-for-rehab Tom Sizemore crunching through the mean streets taking direction from the disembodied voice of the man himself. Hey, I’m so bored with the USA.

Hey ho, let’s go. I have finally managed to get “Repo Man” (1984) on to one of these posts & about time too. It is not good enough to invoke the spirit of the B-movie, the exploitation movie,  then just stand back & expect to be admired. That spirit, one of imagination & audacity wins over any budget restrictions. I am going to give Tim Burton “Ed Wood” but “Mars Attacks !” had a $70 million dollar budget & $5 of that was for ingenuity. “Repo Man” is as ramshackle as “Dark Star” & “Eating Raoul” , like both these films,it nails an attitude so adroitly that it transcends any cult status & is just a great film.Of course it takes a film made away from Hollywood to get punk on to celluloid properly. Stuff happens in my life every week that makes me think “what would Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) do ?” Look at those assholes, ordinary fucking people. I hate ’em.”…Only joking, or am I ?

Emilio Estevez as Otto, “a clean-cut kid in a dirty business” makes his case to be regarded as the likeable Sheen brother. 30 years later there has been no reason for anyone to doubt him. Director Alex Cox, an Englishman abroad, talked a good fight too, looking back to John Ford & Nicholas Ray as touchstones for his punk rock, sci-fi, B-movie comedy…cheeky beggar. He got the “Sid & Nancy” gig because of “Repo Man”. I thought he did a good job. Both films have a fine sense of the ridiculous, playing fast & loose with facts or reality. Subsequent movies were criticised for being too political, too rough, too clever or too stupid, as if any of these was a bad thing. He had to spend too much time scratching around for enough money to just make the films & they are all worth a watch. Any road up, here is the closing scene of “Repo Man”. “What about our relationship ? Fuck that !”, a flying, glowing car & a song that Iggy Pop wrote for the film. Gotta send you out of the cinema with a smile on your face & a safety-pin stuck in your heart.