Vinyl Memories #1 – Sex Pistols ‘Never Mind the Bollocks… Here’s the Sex Pistols’

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The first band I ever saw was Pink Floyd. I was bored.

A few days later I first heard the Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy in the UK’. I was enthralled.

In those few moments my life was changed forever. I went home, took in my flared jeans, ripped up my t-shirt, cut my hair shorter, swapped my platform shoes for baseball boots and declared myself a punk rocker. My parents were… disappointed.

So what was it that captured my imagination with such passion? The thrill seeking, breakneck speed, three-minute songs with snarling vocals was certainly part of the appeal. The outrageously attired band and fans was definitely another. The combination of horror and disgust among older music fans was also an important attraction. But the main thing was that this felt… real. Where Pink Floyd seemed arrogant and distant, the Sex Pistols was close up, in your face and about as personal as music could get. This was ours.

It’s surely every teenagers right to consider their music to represent the defining moment of their lives. Punk was our rock’n’roll, our prog rock, our glam rock – only it was better than any of the dinosaurs that had gone before. Put simply 1976 was my year zero and punk became my defining youth moment, and as soon as it had touched me my Sensational Alex Harvey Band and Todd Rundgren albums were shoved to the back of the cupboard and gradually replaced by wonderful slices of 7″ vinyl by the likes of The Ramones, The Clash, The Damned, Eater, The Buzzcocks, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Penetration and The Adverts.

But no one seemed quite so relevant, quite so threatening to me as a 14 year old boy as the Sex Pistols. For a brief moment they felt like the most dangerous band on the planet. Singles like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ and the later ‘God Save the Queen’ were pure outsider uproar with Jamie Ried’s cut and paste sleeve-art designed to challenge society’s sacred cows as much as the music did.

When my dad, an otherwise level headed, intelligent man, saw the band swear on national TV he declared that he would smash any records by this filth if I ever brought them into his house. So I hid my Sex Pistols records under my bed, in a space marked ‘my generation’. Such was his hatred of the band I think he’d have preferred me to keep a collection of porn there.

But the Sex Pistols felt like porn. They felt forbidden. And when the album came out in 1977 that generation divide seemed to gape like the Grand Canyon. An aching chasm between what once was and the here and now. Shopkeepers were taken to court for displaying the album cover. Woolworths, Boots and WH Smiths refused to stock it. TV and radio adverts for it were banned. Red top papers wanted to ban it. Every upstanding citizen had an opinion on it. It was surely a work of some evil.

And what was it that upset people so much? Was it the challenging lyrics about women taking control of their own bodies, chaos replacing order, the monarchy deposed, contractual rape or cultural tourism? What did you think Johnny Rotten was singing about; punch ups in the streets? No it was the sleeve that brought the nation’s finest citizens to the letters page of the Daily Mail. To be more exact, it was that word stenciled large… bollocks.

A simple, seemingly dumb image of cut-up newsprint and stenciled letters over fluorescent yellow backing (pink on the back), Jamie Reid’s sleeve-art looked like a ransom note. And in those few words the Sex Pistols debut album seemed to declare that popular culture had been taken hostage and it could never be the same again. There was no future… and England’s dreaming.

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Ironically Never Mind the Bollocks… Here’s the Sex Pistols also represented the end of the punk dream. The album and band were now part of everyone’s lives, the focus of everyman’s conversation. Sex Pistols was as mainstream in the nation’s cultural consciousness as Shaking Stevens and as the album sleeve moved from under that bed and into the cultural mainstream suddenly it didn’t feel like ours anymore.

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” asked Johnny Rotten from the stage of the band’s final gig only eighteen months after they’d first emerged. The answer seemed like a resounding ‘Yes!’ but that short journey from Pink Floyd to Never Mind the Bollocks lit a spark in me that would never die. And there was a future after all.

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Siouxsie Sioux – a teenage obsession

Just found this unpublished piece about following Siouxsie and the Banshees as a youth. Thought I’d share it… 

SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES

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From a scream to a whisper – an everyday story of teenage obsession

The date is May 5 1977. Britain is gearing up for a summer of Jubilee parties, Denise Williams is at number 1 with ‘Free’ and Star Wars is about to premiere to a generation of kids who have just started to feel the shock waves of punk rock which are reverberating through school yards everywhere.

In the crammed and airless upstairs room of the Nag’s Head, High Wycombe a fledgling Siouxsie and the Banshees battle against an inadequate PA system to win over a cynical crowd here for headliners Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers (if memory serves).

On the tiny stage Siouxsie Sioux, punishes us with a series of caterwauled demands to sit up and listen. Dressed in bondage gear and permanent snarl she twists herself up in a mic lead while howling barely audible lyrics. Meanwhile bleached blonde bassist Steve Havoc (later to be known as Severin), drummer Kenny Morris and guitarist Pete Fenton deliver an explosive set of uptight, angst ridden and slightly awkward punk statements; each one a taut and minimal exercise in rock annihilation.

This gig happened only three days after my fifteenth birthday. It was an event that not only saw the confirmation of my personal love affair with punk but also saw the start of an obsessive infatuation with Siouxsie Sioux that would last for the next two years – a lifetime for an adolescent boy.

Satisfying my love of punk was easy; the Nag’s Head regularly boasted punk’s elite bands thanks to the fact that promoter Ron Watts also put on the gigs at the infamous 100 Club in London.

Following my Siouxsie obsession however was a much more complicated thing. It would involve subterfuge, cunning and strategic lying as I attempted to ‘leave home’ and chase the band on the road without my parents noticing. It would also lead me into a life of wanton vandalism, introduce me to the crushing nature of unrequited love and ultimately leave me stranded in Scotland with no band left to follow.

In the months that followed that first Siouxsie gig I ‘left home’ a number of times for Banshees gigs. I even made an aborted attempt to follow The Clash, but the experience had only brought me face to face with the reality of having to share your band with other fans. I was attracted to The Clash and their last-gang-in-town stance, but I wanted to be a part of their gang, not one of the faceless mass of followers.

With The Banshees it was different though. For starters they hadn’t even been signed up yet so they still seemed like our property.  Despite cover features in music weekly Sounds and sessions for the John Peel Show they still had the underground air of a band in opposition with the status quo – which appealed to the fans’ elitism. To follow Siouxsie and the Banshees then was the sign of the true hardcore punk.

Over the course of the twelve months that followed that Nag’s Head gig I turned up to see them at some of the seediest dives the UK gig circuit could throw at the band. I took in venues like the long lost Vortex in London, Hitchin Technical College and Brighton Polytechnic. I witnessed original guitarist Pete Fenton being replaced by the floppy fringed John McKay who brought in a more angular and experimental aspect to the band’s sound.

My parents remained blissfully unaware throughout; thanks to my masterful use of that well used teen lie ‘I’m staying at my mates house’. In my young mind I was becoming a part of a new family, the Banshees clan.

Gradually the band started to notice me and my mates hanging around before and after the gigs. Their tour manager, the effervescent Les Mills even started smuggling me in to the over-18’s venues. I shared occasional conversations with the band (usually I would talk to Severin about David Bowie!), but whenever Siouxsie was close I was instantly dumb struck. Partly because of my own infatuation, but also because she seemed to want to create a distance between herself and her fans.

It was April 5 1978 at the Bones Club in Reading when we (my friends Nutty, Gerard and I) finally struck up the courage to talk to her. The rumour had gone round that she was actually only sixteen, suddenly I could see her as one of my peers. When they’d finished their soundcheck I asked her if it was true. The look she gave me was a cross between horror and disgust before she burst out laughing. I felt crushed.

Not that this stopped me from the greater cause that came with being a Banshees fan. Following the example set by Les Mills we all set about scribbling ‘Sign Siouxsie and the Banshees’ on any wall we happened to be near. In a more resourceful moment I made a ‘Sign Siouxsie’ stencil in art class and proceeded to spray the school walls. I denied being the vandal of course. Despite the evidence.

When The Banshees finally signed to Polydor the sense of achievement was quickly over shadowed by the knowledge that they would no longer be our property. Indeed as their first single ‘Hong Kong Garden’ went into the charts and all of the other kids in school became fans I took the ‘cooler than thou’ position and sold bootlegs albums of their demos and Peel sessions (the real debut album to the hardcore) to finance further adventures on the road.

There were moments of pure joy. Like ripping out the seats at The Rainbow in London and bringing the traffic to a standstill in Plymouth as loads of us lay down in the road in some adolescent show of pro-Banshees solidarity.

But the downside was already taking over. I saw skinheads at High Wycome Town Hall beat up support act Spizz Oil while he was still onstage. I watched punks heckle the Human League who, in their earliest form, toured as support. I even looked on in dismay as so-called punks attacked someone about my age to steal his leather jacket in Aylesbury. Punk was changing, the Banshees were no longer a part of it. And neither was I.

At the end of August 1979 I packed up my kit bag and vowed to follow the entire tour in support of their second album “Join Hands”.  Until this point the majority of my adventures had been limited to the Home Counties and the south coast. This way I could get back home as if nothing had ever happened.

I had spoken to manager Nils Stevenson who suggested I might be able to hitch a lift of the band’s tour bus for the Scottish dates. So, with hair newly grown out into a long fringe and straight-legged trousers replaced with voluminous Bowie bags I headed off to Bournemouth for the first date. The following night it was Aylesbury Friars where I sat backstage after the gig watching Siouxsie being swamped by a whole load of new fans. They were all getting autographs, something I’d never lowered myself to do. I was after all an idealistic youngster.

Suddenly, marker pen in hand Siouxsie grabbed my kit bag and signed her name alongside a cryptic Iggy Pop lyric ‘sweet sixteen in her leather boots’ (see photo above). I was elated. Siouxsie had volunteered the fact that she’d noticed me for the first time in almost two years. Not that I’d actually made any effort to talk to her again after that first attempt. Truth was I liked it this way. It kept the illusion alive.

With a renewed spring in my step I hitched my way to Aberdeen to see them again a week later. I’d got there just before they were due onstage. Almost an hour later Siouxsie and Steve appeared. But Kenny was no where to be seen and The Cure’s Robert Smith stood where John should have been. They launched into a venomous version of The Lord’s Prayer before storming off again. The band I loved had split. Leaving me stranded in Scotland in the process.

The love affair quickly followed. I was older, that dream had moved on and so had the music I loved. And anyway, I would always have Aylesbury and that brief moment in Siouxsie’s gaze.

MARTIN JAMES – 2013

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