Ah yes, The Sex Pistols. If ever there was a band that polarises opinion it's these boys. Some will tell you that none of them could play their instruments; others will tell you that they wrote some of the most vital, exciting rock songs ever. Some will tell you that they were just a creation of their manager who had a plan to swindle 'a million pounds' from the music industry; others will tell you that they changed the face of rock music forever at a time when it was at it's most sterile and uninteresting. And so on. And so on.
So- what really happened? And- since as I write this they're in the middle of a run of 5 London gigs- what's happening now, 30 years after the release of their only 'real' album?
I first heard of them in the spring of 1976. I was 14 and an avid reader of 'Sounds' magazine. (I thought 'Melody Maker' was a bit 'old' for me, and couldn't understand The New Musical Express'!) I liked '60's music- The Who, The Beatles, The Stones, Hendrix- while my mates at school were 'into' bands like Yes, Genesis, Pink Floyd... some of that music sounded ok to me but I liked Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath- a bit heavier generally. But I really liked Dr. Feelgood, who I'd first seen playing live on a teatime T.V. programme when I came in from school (I've since found it was called 'Geordie Scene') and at whose music I'd thrown my pocket money at all too enthusiastically. Few were they of my age that agreed with me on this, to such an extent that when the Feelgoods played at Brunel University I couldn't find anybody to go with me and so I missed the show. But more about them another time...
So I read an article on a new group from London called The Sex Pistols. They hated everything, and were going to change it all. Their singer, who sounded a bit of a handful, seemed to rant at anything that moved- when asked 'why are you doing this John?' answered 'because I hate shit'. The piece ended with the guitarist saying something like 'I wish I could go and see us' on the grounds that none of them thought that there was anything around that was even remotely worth considering as interesting. I'd love to be able to say that I agreed with every word that they uttered- but to be honest I didn't. They just sounded scary, and like they knew something that I didn't- which of course they did.
Well, we all know what happened next. After gigging around they signed to E.M.I. in the late summer, released a single and appeared as last minute replacements for Queen on 'Today', a teatime T.V. programme in the London area- and changed everything. Overnight.
Throughout 1977 something called 'punk rock' was everywhere. Hard to believe now but it's true- you couldn't move for it. Bands were cropping up all over the place, pocket money was now being thrown at singles by groups called The Clash and The Damned and I'd somehow managed to persuade my Mum and Dad that it would be a really good idea for me to get an electric guitar. There were loads of good bands about, but The Pistols were the kings- despite the fact that no one could see them play they were always in the papers, not least because they'd thrown their bass player out and replaced him with an interesting looking chap called Sid. Rumours abounded that the original bassist had been too 'nice' but had been the main songwriter which had left them in an awkward position- nevertheless they released 3 singles that year that are among the greatest rock releases ever, and an album that almost defies analysis, such is it's legendary status. And, incredibly, me and my mates got to see them play live- though not all of my mates, because a lot of them wouldn't have anything to do with 'punk rock' because they said it wasn't 'real music' like Yes, or Genesis, or Pink Floyd.
When they spoke they sounded to me like they were about 100 years old.
It all ended in early 1978. You can watch their last gig on DVD; it looks terrifying to me, like something dying in front of you- which if you think about it, is what it is. The original line-up got back together in 1996, and again in 2002, to the usual mixed opinions and revues. But I've always thought that with The Sex Pistols you either get it or you don't- and if you get it you can't understand the people who don't, and vice versa. When I told people that I was going to some of the current Brixton shows it all started again- some said that I was wasting my time, that I was being ripped off, that they thought that I liked 'real music' not that rubbish, whilst others asked if I had any spare tickets, or said that they were going too and couldn't wait for the shows, or that they'd waited years for this and were finally going to see them play at last.
So- what of the Brixton shows? Well, here's what I think-
The best bass'n'drums rhythm section to come out of London since Entwistle and Moon have combined with a guitarist of almost limitless rock'n'roll power and a frontman who has literally redefined the role of a rock singer, to play some of the most visceral, incendiary music ever created, and have delivered performances that match anything that I have ever seen, or will probably ever see.
I could say more- I could go on for hours, and I probably will next time I see you if you're not careful. But the point here is of course that it doesn't matter what I think, because almost everyone has an opinion about The Sex Pistols, and nothing anybody ever says changes that opinion, whatever it may be. So here's an opinion from me-
If you don't like The Sex Pistols, you don't like rock'n'roll.