Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Best of British

If I could choose to see any band from any time, that I didn't see either because I was too young or just because I missed them for whatever reason, then I think I would choose to see The Who.

Well I guess I'd better qualify that statement since I've seen a band called 'The Who' lots of times- but I mean the actual Who, with Keith Moon on drums. They always seem to me to be pretty much the perfect band, even more than The Beatles (mind you, I wouldn't have minded seeing them either!) where the sum is greater than the parts and something called 'rock'n'roll' is available in almost incalculable amounts. If I was being really picky then I'd choose to see them in 1971 when, with 'Who's Next' just released and Townshend toting a Gibson SG, they surely justified the title of 'the greatest rock'n'roll band in the world'- but any gig with Moonie behind the kit would seem to me to be well worth braving the time machine for.

And if I could see any instrumentalist then it would have to be Jimi Hendrix. Well, what electric guitarist wouldn't? I watch footage of him regularly, and when doing so I often try to imagine the impact he must have had on the British pop music scene when he arrived here in the Autumn of 1966. I've spoken to so many people who saw him, met him, even played with him, and almost without exception they sound as astounded now as I'm sure I would have been 40-odd years ago. The original guitar hero- and the original is still the best.

But I've been lucky- I've seen bands (The Clash, The Jam, Led Zeppelin and The Ramones to name but a few) whose names cause young people's jaws to drop when you tell them that you actually witnessed a performance by them, and I've seen guitarists as diverse as Wilko Johnson and Jeff Beck that have made me want to literally run to the nearest guitar and play it, such was the inspirational force of their performance. But, most of all, I've been lucky enough to see a punk rock group called The Sex Pistols.

Surely more nonsense has been written and spoken about The Pistols than about any other act in the wild'n'wacky showbiz world:-
'They can't play'- rubbish, of course they can play. As musicians the way that they play cannot and indeed should not be compared to the perceived virtuosity of the bands that they helped to make sound obsolete back in '76/'77- but what's the point of being able to play 'well' if all you do with your ability is create the sort of mindlessly pompous self-indulgent drone that I saw on T.V. the other night when I stumbled across a Yes concert from The Montreux Festival a few years ago; the long-suffering Shirley, who up until this point had been lucky enough to have never heard them before, thought that that were tuning up when they were actually halfway through their first song.
'They were a manufactured band'- only if you believe 'The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle', and I'd hope that we can all think for ourselves by now. And surely the only person capable of manufacturing 'Johnny Rotten' was John Lydon himself?
'They shouldn't have reformed'- why not, exactly? They sounded so good in 1996 that even their detractors went some way towards eating their words. And it was extraordinary how contemporary they sounded, and how relevant many of the lyrics still were- maybe they were right all along after all, or perhaps just ahead of their time?
And on and on it goes ('they're stupid'- Lydon's a lot of things, but 'stupid' definitely isn't one of them; 'They're hypocrites for making all that money'- why? Do you work for nothing?) with the blind leading the blind and the bland leading the bland, united against a group that can still ignite hatred bordering on hysteria amongst the non-believers. I've written a lot about them in these hallowed pages, both from the perspective of an audience member and as a guitarist playing their songs in a tribute band, and last November I wrote words to the effect of 'nothing anyone says or does ever changes anybody's opinion on them'. I still think that's true, particularly after seeing them last night at The Hammersmith Apollo (it's still the Odeon to me!) which to someone who doesn't for want of a better term 'get' them would probably have been 100 minutes of pure torture; on the other hand to those of us fortunate enough to 'get' The Sex Pistols it was surely one of best things we'll see all year, maybe even ever. Yes it's still the same songs ('though rumours abound of a new album) but how much better does a setlist get than one which includes 'Pretty Vacant', 'Submission', 'No Feelings'... and there may be rock'n'roll songs that are as good as 'God Save The Queen' but at this moment in time I for one can't think of any that are better than it. And by that last statement I don't just mean the quality of the songwriting- I'm talking about the idea of rebellion, of self-expression, of all the things that hopeless romantics such as myself get from listening to something as simple as a three minute long piece of pop music. I've never played any other songs like theirs, and I don't think I ever will; there's a genuine sense of power contained within them that is utterly unlike any other music that I've encountered, to such an extent that it's almost as though when you sing 'I wanna be, anarchy' that you actually are. And if that sounds pretentious, then I don't care- it'll never sound as pretentious as a band that sounds as though they're tuning up, when they're actually halfway through a song...

Like I say, you either 'get' The Sex Pistols or you don't- rather like the way that you either 'get' rock'n'roll or you don't.
I do. And I do. And The Sex Pistols are very likely to be the greatest rock'n'roll band that I will ever see.

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