History of Punk Rock, Part 2 - Britain

Posted Dec 7th, 2015.

Malcolm Mclaren, after having been a part of the NYC punk scene, moved back to London and attempted to kick start a similar thing there. He formed the Sex Pistols to be just like the New York Dolls, added in fetish clothing, and encouraged others to get in on it. The original intent was for the band to be a means of advertising his and Vivienne Westwood's shop and drive sales. Clothing was meant to be a large part and the idea of confrontational style, where just the clothing being worn would cause a reaction. This was the origin of the band's name as whatever the band was called, it had to have the name of the shop, SEX, in it and it was settled on being the Sex Pistols. Later the show and clothing would instead be a means to sell the band.

The original two people picked to be in the band were Steve Jones and Paul Cook, friends from the wrong side of the street that had been hanging out at McLaren's shop. Steve Jones was a criminal having already been arrested for burglary and the two of them acquired all of the equipment the Sex Pistols needed by stealing it all from other bands. Their PA was stolen from David Bowie out of a club the two had hidden in before closing and his guitar had been stolen out of Rod Stewart's Mansion. The other members, John Lydon and later his friend Richie Stevens, aka Sid Vicious, were also known around the shop and brought in to be in the band.

The first record company to sign them was EMI. At the last minute, due to a cancellation by another EMI band, a spot opened up on the Bill Grundy show and the Sex Pistols were put in at the last minute almost as just an excuse to fill the spot. Bill Grundy was drunk (as the Sex Pistols were) and made some moved on Siouxsie Sioux. Glen Cook called him a dirty old man like he would in any pub and was egged on by the host to say even nastier things. The event exploded across the country as it was broadcasted live (which was not really known by the band at the time until they left the studio) and the papers. Hostility was immediate and not just from strangers as Steve Jones had told their family including his younger nephew to watch the show and received a stern talking to from his mother. From there, things just seemed to more outrageous. People were making up news stories about their outrageous behavior that they never even did.

When booking the Sex Pistols across Britain, there was already a small band circuit for pub bands that had been put together mostly for emerging Teddy Boy bands that played 50's covers and original music. At one such event, the Sex Pistols opened for the 101'ers, Joe Strummer's pub rock band at the time. He was amazed by the performance, especially that of John Lydon, realized that while his band was begging the crowd to like them, the Sex Pistols were just doing what they wanted to do and didn't care. He quit 101'ers the next day. Joining together with a friend, they formed The Clash, incorporated the confrontive fashion ideal with clothing that had political slogans painted it it and dealt with political ideas in their songs.

In 1977, as the British punk rock scene was picking up, the Sex Pistols were pretty much unseen as Mclaren sought to keep them out of the limelight to drive up demand to see them. Meanwhile other bands such as Siousxie and the Banshees, who were created at the last minute to fill an empty spot for a band at the 100 club festival, and The Clash kept things going.  Siousxie and the Banshees had signed up to play before they even had a band together. Sid's first band and played the Lord's Prayer. This rising tide of punk rock bands, Sex Pistols or no, would be what was called the Spirit of '77.

Eventually, during the American tour, the Sex Pistols broke up due to differences. One of the main ones was dealing with the money that Malcolm was supposed to be holding for the band members. There was a lawsuit and it came out that Malcolm had been using the money to create a movie, that would become the Great Rock and Roll Swindle. All the money from record sales and other sources had been poured into that and as there was no hope of recovering any money otherwise, the judge saw the only solution as Malcolm finishing the movie and then splitting the results of the movie.

By that time, John Lydon and Sid had quit the band and had nothing to do with the movie. Lydon formed a new band, Public Image Limited, and Sid left for NYC with Nancy seeking to create his own career back in her old stomping grounds, where after a few mostly unproductive shows, Nancy was murdered. Sid was arrested for the murder. However, the night Nancy died, the couple were having a party in their Chelsea Hotel room. Ten or eleven people were inside doing drugs and hanging out. One of their friends claimed that when he left, the only people still there were Sid, who was already passed out, Nancy, and their drug dealer who nobody knew. Sid later told friends that when he woke, he went into the bathroom and found Nancy on the floor dead and the last of their money missing from a bathroom drawer.

Sid died of an overdose after getting out of jail on bail at a party thrown by his mother. He had already overdosed once that night on some pure heroin that another friend OD'd on but it has looked like he was past the worst of it. From there, it is speculation if he did more drugs, a friend shot him up again at his request (as claimed by one friend), or he just fell asleep and continued to OD. His mother later did say that after the funeral, she was going through his jacket and found a suicide note written by Sid saying that he and Nancy had a death pact that if one died the other one would too and he was just fulfilling that. He wanted to be buried with Nancy but as she had been buried in a Jewish cemetery, the family declined and neither would spreading of ashes be allowed. So, Jerry Only (of the Misfits) and Sid's mum broke into the cemetery later in the night and spread the ashes on Nancy's grave.

"England's Dreaming" by Jon Savage, St. Martin's Griffin, 2001
"1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion" by Caroline Coon, Hawthorn Books 1977