“We were all warriors together” (John Lydon, Manchester, 9th October 2014)
The launch event for his new autobiography: “Anger is An Energy: My Life Uncensored”, which was released yesterday.
From the publicity for the event: “John Lydon will be taking part in an exclusive no-holds-barred live onstage interview with DJ/writer Dave Haslam, discussing his turbulent life, from his beginnings as a sickly child of immigrant Irish parents who grew up in post-war London to his present status as an alternative national hero, via the Sex Pistols, Public Image Ltd (PiL), collaborations with Afrika Bambaataa and Leftfield, compelling opinions and celebrated TV appearances. He’ll also be signing copies of his autobiography. This will surely be one of Manchester’s most memorable pop culture events of the year.”
About the venue (from the website): “A Grade II listed Wesleyan chapel in Manchester City Centre closed and hidden for over 40 years. Resurrected by Trof, the people behind Gorilla and The Deaf Institute, as an unrivalled events venue, restaurant and bar. The grand and ornate chapel has been restored into a stunning purpose built music hall and is set to become one of the most atmospheric music and events venues in the UK.”
I arrived in Manchester early, around 6pm, had a coffee and then joined the queue for entry to the Albert Hall. I took a seat in the front row, and waited for the great man to arrive. Shortly after the advertised start time of 7.30pm DJ Dave Haslam walked on stage, and introduced John Lydon, who received a standing ovation from the crowd. For the next hour or so Dave and John discussed John’s life. Lydon was as controversial and opinionated as you might expect, giving us his views on politics and how all the parties have moved towards the same ground, his early life and ill-health and his respect for the NHS, his relationship with Sid Vicious, that Sid was a fan of singer Leo Sayer, was named after his mum’s hamster.and how he stills misses him, his belief in the working class and family values, and some thoughts on the birth of punk and how it was needed at the time, and is needed again. The man wears his soul on his sleeve, and in strongly protective of the punk values which he obviously holds so dear. The audience clearly loved him, showing this by giving him several standing ovations. After an hour or so, Dave opened up questions to the floor, and gave members of the audience a chance to throw questions at John, via a roving mike. One guy asked his favourite gigs; he quoted a recent appearance at Manchester and at a massive festival in Croatia; another complemented his music tastes, which are wide-ranging and include the Kinks and Van Der Graaf Generator. After another thirty minutes or so the first part of the evening concluded and we all went downstairs to the basement where John was doing the book signing. It was 9pm.
I rushed downstairs as quickly as I could, but by the time I got there the queue was already large. I reckon I ended up about half way back in the queue, which swirled around and around the basement, controlled by rows of barriers. Reggae music was blasting as we waited in anticipation for our individual audience with Johnny Rotten, all nervously clutching our books. To his credit, John took his time to talk to everyone while signing, spending a few minutes with each person, and there were 2 or 3 hundred waiting. Because of this movement was slow and it seemed to take forever to get to the front. In fact it took me over 3 hours to get to meet John Lydon. I had a quick chat with him, and asked him if he remembered the first Pistols gig, which I witnessed in Whitby in 1976. I foolishly mentioned that the “Pistols were thrown off stage”. John looked me straight in the eye and said “What did you say? Nobody ever threw me off any stage.” I quickly corrected my statement and made it clear that what actually happened was that the DJ turned the sound off. “Ah.. Now that’s different” said John, smiling. It was after 12.30am when I left the venue. Got home at 3.15am. Tired this morning, but glad I went; it was a fascinating evening spent with a true legend and ‘one off’. Everyone there had so many warm feelings and so much respect for the guy; a man who continues to “always tell it as it is”. Lydon is an enigma; challenging, frustrating, rude, fearless, authentic, insightful; all of those things and more. The things I do to see my heroes 🙂 Happy days.
Archive for the ‘Sex Pistols’ Category
“We were all warriors together” (John Lydon, Manchester, 9th October 2014)
Sex Pistols Brixton Academy London 10th November 2007
Support from The Cribs
John Lydon: “It started out as one night at Brixton….We thought maybe 5,000 will want to see us, but it’s turned into a bigger monster than any of us had any concept of.” In fact, the Sex Pistols ended up playing to 60,000 fans during their brief 2007 reunion tour, camping for five nights at Brixton Academy and then adding two massive arena shows in Manchester and Glasgow.
I’ve already blogged on the two occasions which I was lucky enough to see The Sex Pistols in their prime, once in 1976 and once in 1977. I passed on their 1996 “Filty Lucre” and 2002 Golden Jubilee reunion gigs. I figured it was never going to be the same. Well of course, it wasn’t going to be the same, but it could still be bloody great! When I saw that they were reuniting again in 2007 for a few dates at Brixton I relented and bought tickets. The dates were to mark the 30th anniversary of the release of the band’s seminal album Never Mind The Bollocks.
David and I arrived early for the gig, and watched support band The Cribs, who seemed very much out of the punk mould. By the time the Pistols were due on stage, the place was completely ram packed, almost dangerously so. The audience was, as you would expect, largely aging punks; lots of mohican haircuts and studded leather jackets. Before the Pistols came on stage, the hall was filled with the sound of Vera Lynn’s “There’s Always Be An England” which prompted mass singalong (and sadly quite a few right arm salutes). I’m not sure it was the most appropriate song to open the concert with, but it certainly got the crowd going.
The band walked on stage Rotten as wide-eyed as ever.
They hurling themselves into “Pretty Vacant” and the place went completely bananas. An atmosphere, a band, a crowd, and a punk anthem like no other. There never was, never has been, and never will be anyone who can touch these guys. Rotten was sneering, his snarling vocal as thrilling and powerful as ever. Flanked, as in 1976, by Steve Jones, ever the guitar hero, and Glen Matlock looking ever the cool guy.
All the hits and most of the “Bollocks” album are played; an immense crashing version of “Holidays In The Sun” with Paul Cock slamming the drums, Rotten spitting out the lyrics to The Stooge’s “No Fun”, and a backdrop of our safety-pin-sporting queen is lowered behind them for “God Save The Queen”. Half way through the set David and I make our way towards the back of the hall, its juts too full and too hot down near the front. Then there is the inevitable encore of “Anarchy In The UK”, at which point I swear every single person in the venue is singing at the top of their voice. They return again to play a cover of Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner”.
We walked out in the cold London air, stunned; knowing that we had experienced something special. I bought a bootleg programme for £1 (pictured).
Well, of course, no it wasn’t the same. We were older, and so were the Pistols. The crowd was bigger than those they played to in their heyday (when I saw them in 1976 there were 50 to 100 people there, a few hundred in 1977). We knew all the songs this time. But these old guys could still sneer at society, and play some of the best rock’n’roll produced by any band. Amazing. Scary. Stunning.
I have the DVD and play it every now and then to remind myself of that night.
Setlist: Pretty Vacant; Seventeen; No Feelings; New York; Did You No Wrong; Liar; Holidays in the Sun; Submission; (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone; No Fun; Problems; God Save the Queen; E.M.I.
Encore 1: Bodies; Anarchy in the U.K.
Encore 2: Roadrunner (Jonathan Richman cover)
The Sex Pistols Scarborough Penthouse 24 August 1977
The Sex Pistols were banned from playing almost everywhere. I’d had a ticket for their show at Newcastle City Hall in December 1976 and was really looking forward to seeing them. The gig was cancelled, as was most of the rest of the tour, in the aftermath of their appearance on the Bill Grundy show. Foolishly I got a refund on the ticket; now there’s a stub I wish I had kept 🙂 By mid 1977 the Pistols had released three classic singles in a row: “Anarchy in the U.K.”, “God Save the Queen” and “Pretty Vacant”. Glen had been sacked and John’s mate Sid Vicious had been recruited as the new bassist.
When they were whispers that the Pistols might be playing some secret dates I was determined to see them. I picked up on hints of gigs through the press and the radio; there was no internet in those days. I also rang around local venues and managed to find out the location of most of the secret gigs. The tour is now referred to as the S.P.O.T.S Tour (Sex Pistols On Tour Secretly) and took in Wolverhampton Lafayette (the Pistols were advertised as S.P.O.T.S); Doncaster Outlook (Tax Exiles); Scarborough Penthouse (Special Guests); Middlesborough Rock Garden (Acne Rabble); Plymouth Woods (The Hamsters); and Penzance Winter Gardens (Mystery Band of International Repute). The gigs all took place over the last week of August and the first week of September 1977. The most local gig for me was Middlesbrough Rock Garden, a venue which I often visited for punk gigs. But sadly I had a dilemma, as I had tickets for the Reading Festival that weekend, and the festival started on the Friday night, which was the night of the Rock Garden gig. And to complicate matters further I had a car load of mates who I had promised to take to Reading. I decided that the best solution was to go and see the Pistols on Thursday in Scarborough, drive home that night, and then get up the next morning and drive to Reading with my mates. And thats exactly what I did.
I rang Scarborough Penthouse, who would only tell me that a “Special Guest Band” would be appearing on Thursday night. They wouldn’t be drawn as to whether it was the Pistols, and when I asked the guy directly I was told that I would just have to come along and find out. But it seemed pretty obvious that the Pistols were going to play Scarborough. I figured that there might a lot of demand, and the venue wasn’t selling any advance tickets. So the only thing to do was to make sure we arrived early. So on Thursday morning, Marie, I and a mate set off for the seaside, and sunny Scarborough. We arrived around lunchtime and found the Penthouse, which was a small club in the town. There were a few punks hanging around but no queue yet. We went to find a chip shop and passed the Pistols walking down the street, which confirmed to us that the gig was indeed taking place. A few others arrived, so we formed a queue and waited. We must have stood for 5 or 6 hours until the Penthouse opened its doors, by which time the queue was right down the street. The Penthouse club was a pretty small venue, in an upstairs room as I remember, and it could only have held a few hundred people at the most. The stage was set up with large crowd barriers in front of it, to make it pretty impossible to climb on stage. The gig soon filled up, and by the time the Pistols took to the stage it was absolutely rammed. The atmosphere was electric and the Pistols were incredible. Sid was new to the band, and was just learning to play bass, but he looked great; just the part. John was amazing, sneering and snarling, hanging off his mike stand and at times covered in spit from the crowd. Steve Jones was the ultimate rock guitar hero, all swagger in his leather jeans, and Paul Cook was smashing away at his drums. And they were LOUD, and fast.
The set was quite short; they were on stage for less than an hour. They started with Anarchy and played most of the yet to be released Bollocks album. The setlist was something like: Anarchy in the U.K.; I Wanna Be Me; Seventeen; New York; EMI; Holidays in the Sun; No Feelings; Problems; Pretty Vacant; God Save the Queen. They definitely finished with No Fun. We braved it in the scrum down the front for some of the set, but I eventually bottled it and took up a vantage point at the back, standing on a chair. Too much spitting and pogoing down the front for my liking. My mate tried to tell some punks to stop spitting at John but they took no notice 🙂 The stairs were lined by the local police as we left; they were presumably expecting trouble, but there wasn’t any. Everyone started singing Pretty Vacant right into the face of the policemen as we left. Luckily the police took it all in good spirits.
We drove back home, getting back in the early hours of the morning. I had a few hours sleep, and then I got up, picked up my mates and drove down to Reading where the festival was headlined by Golden Earing, Thin Lizzy, and Alex Harvey. Not much punk on show that year (although Wayne County and Ultravox! played), but there was lots and lots of mud. Another mate went to see the Pistols at the Middlesbrough Rock Garden and said they were awesome. That was the last time I saw the Pistols until a reunion show at Brixton a few years ago, but the gig still sticks in my mind as a very special event. At the time there really was no other live band like the Pistols. The songs, the image, the energy, the volume, the secrecy of the event, all made their gigs occasions like no other. Another one for my time machine.
The Sex Pistols Whitby 11 September 1976
I’d read about the new punk movement and The Sex Pistols in NME and Sounds, and was curious and interested in going to see them. Unbeknown to me the Pistols has already performed in the North East at Middlesbrough Town Hall and Northallerton Sayers club as support for Doctors of Madness in May 1976. I wish I’d been at those gigs. Anyway, I saw that the Pistols were playing at the Royal Ballroom in Whitby on a Saturday night, so I persuaded Marie that we should go along and see what this punk thing was all about. Whitby is around 60 miles away from home, just a nice drive for a Saturday night out. We didn’t bargain for the rain that night, which was torrential. Still, when I’m determined to do something I’m not easily put off, so we drove through flooded roads and past broken down cars in my little old MG sports. When we arrived in Whitby we went straight to the Royal Hotel, which is the splendid white hotel which overlooks the harbour. We went into the bar and asked where the Sex Pistols were playing. The staff gave us strange looks and didn’t seem to know anything about the gig, but suggested it might be in the disco which was in a room somewhere around the back. I remember that we went back to the car and drove away from the hotel until we saw a poster advertising “Saturday Disco Night featuring Top Band The Sex Pistols” on a gate, which led us into a pub, or the back room of the hotel. I’m not sure which. We got absolutely drenched just going from the car to the door, the rain was so heavy. We paid our entrance fee which around 50p each, and went into the venue which was pretty empty. We soon spotted the Pistols who were sitting at a table in the corner, so we knew that we had arrived at the right place. John was wearing a tam, a pair of bondage trousers and a teddy boy jacket. I went to the bar to buy some drinks and John and Steve came and stood next to me and ordered some food (chicken and chips, I think). Malcolm McLaren wasn’t with them; it was just the Pistols (Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock, Steve Jones and Paul Cook) with Nils Stevenson. Nils was their road manager and drove them to gigs in his van at the time. The place started to fill up around 9ish with a regular Saturday night crowd of young people, all dressed up for their normal disco. I swear that Marie and I were the only people who looked like they had come to see the Pistols. There were no punks there at all (except the Pistols, that is 🙂 ). The DJ started to play some 70s charts music, from behind his set-up surrounded by lights, and a small group of girls took to the dance floor. After a little time, the DJ introduced tonight’s “group”: The Sex Pistols. The girls dancing at the front didn’t know what was happening. The Pistols were deafening and started with Anarchy in the UK, which hadn’t been released as a single yet, but I had heard John Peel play on the radio. I’d read reviews of Pistols gigs in London, so I knew what songs to expect. From memory, they played Seventeen (then called I’m A Lazy Sod), New York, No Lip (the Dave Berry song), and Stepping Stone (the Monkees song). By the time they were into Stepping Stone the crowd were getting restless, and couldn’t believe their eyes or ears. John was staring at them, snarling the lyrics. The DJ sensed that the Pistols weren’t going down too well with his normal disco crowd, who seemed totally phased by the whole thing; and between songs he turned their sound off, said “Thank you for tonight’s band the Sex Pistols, now its back to the disco” and started his disco up again. And that was it. The Pistols had played for around 20 minutes or so. But that was enough for me to know that I’d witnessed something pretty special. From then on I went to every punk gig that I could. We ran through the rain, which was still pouring down, back to the car, and drove back, passing more broken down cars on the way. The roads were flooded and the water was coming in to the car. How we made it back without breaking down I don’t know. The next night the Pistols played the Fforde Green hotel in Leeds, where they apparently played a full set and went down well. A month later they appeared on the Bill Grundy show and achieved notoriety. Anarchy in the UK was released a month after that.
I was back in Whitby with David a few months ago, and we went to the Royal Hotel to try and find the venue where I saw the Pistols. We drove around all of the streets near to the hotel, but couldn’t find the venue. Maybe it doesn’t exist any more. I saw the Pistols again the following year, again at the seaside, and this time in Scarborough. I’ll write about that gig tomorrow.
Note. My scan: “Anarchy in the UK” is the front cover of the first issue of a Pistols magazine which was released in 1976 or 1977. To get my copy I sent a cheque off to Glitterbest, which was Malcolm McLaren’s company. I’m not sure if there were ever any further editions after No 1. The large newspaper size mag contains picture of the early Pistols, incuding both Sid and Glen, although I am pretty sure that Sid was not a member at the point I bought it. The girl on the front cover is Soo Catwoman: http://www.soocatwoman.com/
The bus is from the back cover; this image was used to promote the Pistols on tour.