It was the mother band of punk rock, which changed the musical landscape. A concert interrupted by a fight at an art school and the goal of bringing the voice of the working class to the mainstream of pop.
Forty-five years ago, on Thursday, November 6, 1975, in the auditorium of the Saint Martins College art school, in King’s Cross (London), the band that made the punk movement worldwide popularity, the Sex Pistols, debuted.
It was a show that ended in a fight up and down the stage with the musicians of the band they were opening for, Bazzoka Joe. Apparently the Sex Pistols maxed out the amps lent by that group until their guitarist Danny Kleinman, fearing they would destroy them, cut off the power and a fight started between him and singer Johnny Rotten on stage, which he continued backstage. . An auspicious beginning that did not discourage the group, which after a few days began to play in youth centers and school gyms. At that time, the repertoire included a few own songs and themes such as Substitute, de The Who; Whatcha Gonna Do About It, de Small Faces; y (I’m Not Your) Steppin Stone, song that made known in the sixties The Monkees. Although they were not the first, The Sex Pistols were the emblem of English punk culture making fast versions wrapped in a dense guitar sound that managed to return something of that wild spirit that rock and roll knew how to have.
“We didn’t set out to be seen as a countercultural force, but we did have one goal: to bring the gaze of the working class into mainstream pop, which for that time was unheard of,” noted John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten).
Three months later, on February 12, 1976, the band, with Rotten, Steve Jones on guitar, Glen Matlock on bass (replaced by Sid Vicious in early 1977) and Paul Cook on drums performed at the Marquee, a veritable institution in London and they already knew where to direct their music. It was an incendiary concert in which Rotten shook Jones to the ground, got off the stage to push the audience to participate in this veritable chaos in which chairs and spit were blown up and, incidentally, destroyed the amplifiers that Eddie’s band lent him and Los Hot Rods, who were unable to close the night. The magazine comment New Musical Express collected a statement from Jones: “We don’t like music, we want chaos”. And really, they did.
The success of the Pistols among London’s youth was due to the fact that far from being positioned as a new musical proposal within rock used music as a vehicle for an anti-establishment stance. On the one hand, they were savagely criticized for their lack of musical technique, but the truth is that they ended up becoming a tight and fierce band on stage. Magazine Rolling Stone, for example, ranked the Sex Pistols in the 58th position of the hundred most important bands in history; others defined it as the most radical rock group of the 1970s. Its simple Anarchy in the UK (Anarchy in the UK, 1976), the sarcastic No Future (God Save The Queen) (There is no future, God save the Queen, 1977), which coincided with the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and Holidays in the Sun (1977) are still impeccable snapshots of those years and his only album Never Mind The Bollocks, Here The Sex Pistols (1977), far from being a discordant album is a polished work, with good backing vocals, tense riffs and solid lyrics. The band lasted just over two years that reached to indelibly hit the world of rock.
The genesis of the Sex Pistols began in 1972, with The Strand, a London garage rock band consisting of Jones, Cook, and guitarist Wally Nightingale, who also sometimes called themselves The Swankers; working-class youth who according to Jones had started their musical career stealing the instruments. At that time the meeting place of these musicians was a clothing store in the King’s Road neighborhood, west of London, which had various names, Let It Rock, Too Fast to Live, Too Young To Die and Sex, but always the same owners, the controversial Malcolm Mc Laren and Vivianne Westwood, who were an important part, if not architects, of the Pistols.
Around 1974, Cook and Jones asked McLaren to be their manager, a job that he accepted, although except for a site to rehearse and have managed Matlock’s entry as a bass player (he worked as a clothing salesman in the McLaren store) there was almost no progress until that after a trip to New York where the manager worked with The New York Dolls and saw the Lower Manhattan prepunk scene live and Richard Hell, from Television, took his managerial work with The Strand seriously and hired Bernard as an assistant Rhodes.
There is no doubt that the political and social context of the United Kingdom had a lot to do with the birth of a band like the Pistols who embodied like no other group the language of that crisis and the decline of a country plagued by a recessionary economy with high levels of unemployment and a sense of lack of a future that overwhelmed the young especially. Both the administration of the conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath (1970-1974) and that of the Labor Party member Harold Wilson (1974-1976) did not achieve encouraging results for the spirits of the citizens subject, in addition, to strong tax increases.
Along these lines, Lydon said: “Britain in the early 1970s was a dreary place, completely run-down, rubbish everywhere, total unemployment, and those with jobs were on strike. The educational system, at least in the working-class suburbs, gave you to understand that you had no chance of promotion in your life and that’s where the Sex Pistols came out and then a lot of imitators came. “
Meanwhile, McLaren had been trying to convince Sylvian Sylvian of the New York Dolls to come to the English capital as leader of the Strand, which had been renamed QT Jones and The Sex Pistols, an issue that did not prosper and led to manager to have to find a singer to be in front of the band. “In principle we were looking for someone who did not have long hair, that was essential in our search. I remember stopping someone with short hair and asking if they sang, ”Matlock said. Meanwhile John Lydon lived with Simon John Ritchie (Sid Vicious) in a busy house in King’s Cross and earned some money playing the violin on the street. “I came to that house when I was 16 and soon after I dyed my hair green; One afternoon when I was playing in a corner with my “I hate Pink Floyd” T-shirt, a person came up and asked me if I wanted to audition for a band. Why not? ”, The singer later said.
One hot August afternoon in 1975, Rhodes meets Lydon on the street and invites him to the Sex clothing store, where he introduces him to McLaren; that night in a pub they meet Jones and Cook. “He had green hair, an interesting face, and that Pink Floyd T-shirt with I hate handwritten over the band’s photo; He had something special about him, when he started talking he seemed like an idiot, but smart, ”Jones recalled. When the pub closed they went to the clothing store where they made the famous audition; Lyndon sang about the theme I’m Eighteen, Alice Cooper and the only thing that caused was laughter, although, McLaren convinced them to join the band.
The rehearsals began in a rarefied environment, as Cook had a formal job and did not want to leave it for the band while insisting that Jones was not up to the task to be the only guitar in the group, they needed another guitarist. An ad in the magazine Melody Maker it attracted a significant number of interested parties, although all quite weak, according to bassist Matlock. Only one approved, Steve New, but in the meantime Jones progressed on his instrument and his raw sound contrasted with New’s, who only spent a month in the group.
The band was ready, Jones baptized John Lydon as Johnny Rotten (Juancito Rotten), apparently due to his lack of oral hygiene and they ended up being called the Sex Pistols, after several proposals such as Le Bomb, Damned, Beyon and others. McLaren noted that the name belonged to him while explaining that the band was looking to give the idea of a group of bad guys. Along with a repertoire with some versions they began to write their own songs; Rotten put words to the music that Matlock brought him, although one of his first compositions, Pretty Vacant, It was composed entirely by the bassist, however, on stage the lyrics underwent modifications and the songs were signed by the band.
Years after Rotten won a McLaren trial and was able to recover much of the material from those little more than two years that the Pistols lasted, he admitted that he was afraid of facing all those videos. “Seeing them made me realize how good we were. I thought I was going to be ashamed of myself, but it didn’t. It’s like when your parents show you old family photos. You become less insecure as you get older. “
The Sex Pistols separated on January 17, 1978, at the end of a tour of some cities in the United States due to the deep discomfort that Rotten felt about the attitudes of Cook and Jones, which made him feel isolated, and fed up with drug addiction. by Sid Vicious, who died of a heroin overdose on February 2, 1979. The last concert was on January 14, at the Winterland Ballroom, San Francisco, where they only did an encore with the theme No Fun, from The Stooges, who interrupted to say “This is no longer fun” – in line with the lyrics of the song – and at the end of the song he addressed the audience to say “Have you ever felt ripped off? Goodnight”. Somehow, Rotten was stranded in Los Angeles, short of money, without a plane ticket, or a hotel; He was rescued by the president of Virgin Records, Richard Branson who, after paying for a ticket to New York, shipped him to London via Jamaica.
Another of the important groups of English punk, The Clash, played as the opening act in July 1976, for the Pistols. About his singer Joe Strummer, Rotten noted: “I liked him as a person, but not as a musician. They did not go beyond an abstract socialism, without content. When the Melody Maker He said they were going to be bigger than the Sex Pistols. I realized that he had lost his humor and that the only thing that interested him was the crown.