New Music News - July, 1980 (UK)
CHUM! WE'VE GOT OUR OWN MOVIE ALBUM TO DO
YOU'VE BEEN WARNED BEFORE, YOU'RE GOING TO BE WARNED AGAIN: THE GREAT ROCK 'N' ROLL SWINDLE WILL SOON BE UPON YOU.
THE CONCEPTUAL circus-ring is now declared open. Before the low-flying bullshit. Give them half a minute and the scandal-sheets will be dubbing it a thorn in the arse of The Universe, or the final cudgel-thrust in a dense cross-lattice of media manipulation, or a cultural napalm bomb cloaked in a sinister tableau of vice and insurrection. (I thought we did all that last week? -Ed.)
It's already being scrutinised as "the ultimate con", a cheapskate scam for fleecing the very last nickel from the sheep-like masses by detailing exactly how it's skinned them all along. Some even reckon it "an incredibly sophisticated, stupefyingly, multi-layered portrait"... "the 'Citizen Kane' of rock 'n' roll pictures".
There are those, however, who are about as likely to buy this brand of bologne as get struck by lightning. In fact, mere mention of such high-wire pontification causes outbreaks of furrowed brows and hoots of derision.
Two such people are currently slumped in armchairs, feet on desk, cans of lager in hand, drinking the heart out of an otherwise uneventful afternoon in an office on High Holborn.
"The film's just a laugh," explained Jones, economic as ever. "It's all bits and pieces. It was total fuckin' chaos from start to finish."
"It's a joke," intones Cook, typically expansive. "I forgot about the whole thing two years ago. It's everybody else who's still interested. Still, I guess it's -er ...", he musters up the ghost of a sneer, "it's nostalgic, innit?"
And nostalgic I guess it is, if you relish the thought (as I do) of a protracted wallow in the mire of bathos, back-biting, banner headlines, litigation, junk and general malpractice that hauled this rotting corpse of a script through more directors, rewrites and changes of local than most of its cast got wage packets while emerging - God knows how as something of a minor league classic at the end of it all. It's worth shelling out just for the cartoons, Malcolm McLaren's comedy tartan bondage togs or the archive footage of The Swindle Singers inking their smudgy pact with A&M outside Buck House or lurching through "God Save the Queen" afloat on the Thames on Jubilee Day.
Quite how director Julien Temple managed to piece it all together almost defies belief. Without wishing to labour an already well-worn saga, it's worth remembering - quite apart from the gross financial traumas and the friction of the eventual split itself - that feelings about the project were pretty disparate right from the first take.
Rotten, as Cook and Jones still refer to him - "ask us anything", is their clarion-call, "but don't ask us anything about Rotten!" - wanted no part of it, having nothing but seething contempt for his supposed role as king-piwn in McLaren's global chess game. It was his instinctive loathing for original director Russ Meyer (whom he saw as Malcolm's ally) which was a prime agent in Meyer's quitting the set after only three days filming and relieving Malc of a substantial hunk of his total budget.
Vicious, by the end, was so horrifically smacked-out that he looks like death on ice and his brain seems to have taken a permanent hike. Film crews made no secret of their major problems - keeping Sid vertical and pointing him in the vague direction of a camera - although Jones tempers the story by adding that Sid refused to go to Paris to shoot the "My Way" sequence without the guitarist by his side. "He kind of liked me," he shrugs, a little self-consciously. "He didn't want to do the song. It wasn't really up his street. He couldn't understand why they wanted to do it."
McLaren, meanwhile, tried even harder (and, ultimately, with much success) to assert his own ego over the movie, relegate everyone else to the backseat, and vindicate his various ideals against the massed ranks of his enemies by attempting to convince every single random twist of this miraculously lucrative saga was a part of his pre-ordained meisterplan, the film's title being his proven metaphor for - laugh, by all means - the demon Rock 'n' Roll itself.
Cook and Jones' performances do little but strengthen everybody's image of them as - respectively - the influentially passive beefcake, and the more effusive, self-lampooning streetwise stud, by graciously obliging with the required visuals whenever the malodorous Malcolm and his camera-clutching cohorts came bound-ing over the horizon.
At the time of filming, they claim they weren't too bothered as to whether they were adding fuel to the media picture of them as mere puppets in McLaren's grasp. According to Steve, they reckoned on having as good an idea as anyone of the finished product.
"No-one knew what it was goin' to turn out like. We knew it would be funny anyway. Also, they cut out about two hours of film, all the rude bits and bits like where we were meant to meet up with Malcolm at the end at that disused airport place. There was loads of bits cut, like where I was taking off in a helicopter and stuff. A real lot of money wasted.
"By the end, I was carryin' the camera around most of the time and then the next minute gettin' in front of it. That's how bad it got. It was total fuckin' chaos, no-one knew what was goin' to happen. Makes a good story, though, dunnit?"
So they were never really responsible for any of the design, not even the Biggs section in Rio?
"We didn't know he was goin' to do any filming with Biggs. I mean, we just met him there. Like we were actually goin' to play there after San Francisco and he was goin' to tell some 'poems' beforehand." (They wince in harmony.) He was goin' to be our support group," continues Jones, distractedly. "He writes' 'poetry', y'know. The words to 'No-One Is Innocent', they're all his."
"Poetry?" grits Cook, suppressing a shudder of fear.
"Well, yeah," Jones expands. "I mean it looks like poetry. I mean it rhymes and all that. Anyway, when we broke up, me an' Paul had these tickets and we didn't want to go back to London and face all that shit about why we broke up, so we went to Rio and met up with Biggs. He just wanted a laugh. He was bored " he adds, as if obliged to explain. "He was bored shitless."
It always seems that Rotten and Vicious took the process of becoming very famous very fast very badly. As you two didn't seem to resent all that in the same way, apart from the exit in Rio, it seems like it just didn't affect you as much.
Jones is matter-of-fact. "Depends if you let it get to you or not. There were times when it did get to us, like when there was all that trouble on the streets - punks gettin' beaten up - and it wasn't safe for us or any kids. But if you take things as they go," waxing philosophical, "and don't let it get serious.. I suppose Rotten did think was was something different … he trails off, subdued.
There was a passage in the original 'Bambi' script when someone asks if success will spoil Rotten, to which the answer comes: "No, he will waste, spoil, smash, blow up and destroy success". Did he seem that kind of person in the 'Swindle' script to you. Does he seem that kind of person now?
"I didn't really get that impression in the film," Jones, again, "but, yeah, the 'Bambi' script would 'ave been very different. It's hard to say. I mean the script kept getting rewritten to suit Malcolm's mood of the moment. With PiL, he's doing what he wants to do. I've never seen them. He's always been into bands like Can and Captain Beefheart, even when he was with the Pistols, but it didn't matter as he had nothing to do with the music, he just wrote the lyrics to the songs."
Rotten's the only one in the film who didn't have any power over the way he was projected. Cast as "The Collaborator" (with Malcolm's "enemies"), he's also the only one to come across as remotely "villainous".
"Yeah, right," agrees Cook; "the way it comes across is that it was all Rotten's fault, which it wasn't. It was just as much Malcolm's fault.
"What really pissed me off about him (Malcolm) was that he really believed in the end that that was the story, that he'd thought it all up like that from the beginning. I mean, he really started to believe it! He wanted to do more and more stuff with him in it. It was all his ego, he kept gettin' carried away about himself, y'know? He kept wanting to put these different scenes in and when it ran out of money he couldn't. I just didn't like all those personal digs, like Malcolm trying to get out his hatred against Rock. It's all egos, the whole fuckin' film. Egos -Virgin's, Malcolm's Rotten's ... ours.
"Yeah, yeah," Cook lights up. "There's another one, see? Everyone's havin' a go! Don't believe a thing anyone says. Everyone's a total liar!"
Opinions divide slightly on the subject of Temple. Jones considers him relatively harmless; Cook seems deeply suspicious.
"He's alright," Cook smiles weakly, "but he's changed a lot. I think he's got big-headed. I think he's got too much credit for what he's done. I mean he's goin' round doin' all these flash interviews sayin' 'yeah, we done this,' but it was mainly Malcolm who done everything.
"All these grudges are just petty an' stupid. Only kids who read the music papers or whatever are goin' to know the ins and outs of it. The rest'll probably treat it as a fairytale."
Jones picks up the thread. "Malcolm used to bollock him like anything and he used to fall for it like a mug, and now Julien's gettin' 'is own back. All the way through the film that's how it comes across. It's 'ard for us to look at it as a film 'cos there's so much needling. That's all we're noticin'. We're not really lookin' at it as a film."
I relay a recent quote from Temple on the state of the ex-Pistols' current employ. "I wish," he told New Music News, "that Rotten was a hairdresser. I think Steve and Paul should be sewage workers or they should be astronauts or something different, but not suck off the corpse of rock 'n' roll like all of them are doing now".
Jones sits bolt upright. "Who said that?". he snaps, "Temple?"
"What does anyone want to be a sewage worker far?" mumbles Cook, miles wide of the mark. Jones is livid.His opinion of Temple has just taken a nosedive. "What's it got to do with him what he thinks we should be doin'?"
I'm just telling you.
"And I'm just tellin.' you back. He used to be alright, that guy, but he's got right stroppy lately. He's gettin' too fresh," he cautions, slowly settling back in his chair. "He wants to watch it!"
Sure, but hasn't he got a point? For a long time you seem to have been milking your reputation for all it was worth without really contributing anything new.
"True," admits Cook, quietly. "We were lazy. But we didn't want to get a new band together straight away, and anyway, we still had a load of contracts. What everybody forgets is that in the end, right, everybody was left in the shit. The four of us were left in the shit. Everyone thinks we're rich from making the film but we ain't got nothin'." (The exact legal position, briefly, is this: All earnings under the name Sex Pistols go direct to an official receiver to be held until everyone is agreed upon a redistribution policy, and used, meantime, to pay off outstanding debts).
Their current manager, Boomtown Rats' supremo Fachna O'Ceallaigh, eases his soft Irish brogue into the conversation. "It's taken up to now to establish the procedure whereby they can get a band together, go out under a different name, record their own songs and put out records."
"We did the 'Swindle' album just to keep us out of schtook," is Jones' defence. "We didn't know Virgin were going to release about 30 singles off it. People thought it was us doin' it. Virgin have the tapes so as far as they're concerned they're just cashin' in on them for as long as they can. "Anyway," cracking an evil grin, "it's the only thing that sells on Virgin. I think they're releasing another single now. It's a joke. It's a fuckin'joke. I didn't even know those singles were comin' out. I'd go down Virgin and there'd be this fuckin' great pile of new singles and I'd say "Elk, what's all this? What's gain' on 'ere? And they'd say, 'Oh, it's your new single'."
Cook weighs in emphatically: "A lot of people even now still think it's us - still the Sex Pistols - still tryin' to make some money. It took everyone up to that Sid Vicious album to realise that it was Virgin that was doin' it all.
"As far as we're concerned, the band broke up in San Francisco"
Contractual problems accepted, it still seemed - at least to anyone who'd set any store by previous cataclysmic Pistols activity - that in the interim (break-up 'til now) Steve and Paul have been seen tripping into every available post-media star pratfall, pissing about and generally taking the fast elevator down south to obscurity.
Whether it was various short-lived, usually abortive liaisons - Joan Jett, Sham, Greedies - or just exhaustive ligging schedules (breaking up the Undertones' gig in Guildford, etc.), they were still managing to garner grub-street headlines with ever-decreasing merit.
Your reporter can scarce forget the time around last Christmas when she ran into Steve Jones backstage at a very duff gig at The Palace, Paris. The very picture of raddled sartorial sleeze, he was touting a razor-sharp spiv Tonic jacket, crisp freshly-creased strides, a wing-collar shirt and red suede boots, topped off with a brace of goofy-looking glamorous dames hanging limply off either arm (enough of this bitching, Reel, get on with it-Ed). They were on a day-trip from Blighty. Asked why, he said he was bored. Asked if a trans-Channel crossing had afforded him any light relief; he said, yeah, but they were off now 'cos he'd come over all bored again.
Wasn's it easy to get complacent when they weren't playing? Didn't they begin to lose the incentive to keep playing at all?
"Yeah," Steve again, "but we just got bored with the' whole thing for a while but, no, we didn't ever think we were 'rock stars'. We just liked going out on the piss and havin' a laugh. We weren't goin' to stay indoors and cry about it all" (Tribute to Steve Martin time )"We're a couple of waaaaaaald an' crazeeee guys!"
So what on earth possessed you to get into the Sham fiasco?
Cook looks as though he still can't believe he ever did. "We were crazy to even think about doin't that Jimmy Pursey thing. I think it was just out of sheer boredom"
Not on his part. He was using you ...
"Right. If you notice, we never done any interviews at all. We said 'don't say anything to anyone until we've decided if we're goin' to do it, an' he said 'yeah, yeah, yeah'. An' next week in all the fucking papers he's fucking mouthing it off an' sayin' 'this is the new band' and all that.
"The problem with 'im was that he wanted to join the Sex Pistols. He wanted to be a Sex Pistol really desperately 'cos he was really in awe of Rotten. An' we thought he meant 'oh yea, we'll just join a band with you - that's cool', and all of a sudden he's goin' 'here's the next Sex Pistols'. You know, what I mean? Fuck that. See ya later…"
With the the Sham debacle gone but hardly forgotten, and all chances of any long-term recording still nixed by the contractual backlog, they decided to capitalise on their infamous post-'Swindle' acting abilities by accepting parts in Lou Adler's upcoming fun spectacular 'All Washed Up'. With a bankroll of over £8 million in the balance, three months (back last week) lounging in the relative comfort of a Vancouver hotel broke stride pretty drastically with the breadline budget of the McLaren/Temple exercise.
The pair of them are cast (unsurprisingly) as drum/guitar axis in a fate-and-accident prone true-grit rock band. Jones brings his romantic perspective to bear:
"We go to America thinking we're on a right tasty tour and it turns out a real shit-hole".
Competing for the limelight in this tribute to the fab road lifestyle, its good guys, its schmucks and its all-purpose agents of wide-screen melodrama are Barry Ford, as the dread at the wheel of their tour bus, the ubiquitous Ray Winstone ('Quadrophenia', 'Scum', 'That Summer') as their vocalist - "we had to learn 'im how to sing an' move on stage"- and down-grade prank-rockers, The Tubes, possible quite at home in their role as an archetype hippy combo.
It's funny, it's real funny," says Jones, though he's none too sure if it's meant to be. "There's these girls who see us play an' go 'Oh Wow!' and it changes their lives, y'know what I mean?" (Rolls eyes, indicates gap where brain ought to be) "They're a group called The Stains and they have these fans who all dress the same called The Skunks, y'know with their hair dyed black an' white. All our scenes are funny, even when we're tryin' to be serious. Caroline Coon (one-time Clash svengali) had the job of lifting the cast, and she wanted us to be a real Clash-type group - y'know, all 'serious' and 'political' and 'we-love-our-fans', and we just thought 'fuck it' and we wouldn't do it, which upset every-body.
'No-one liked Coon on the film set. They hated her. Everybody hated her. We hated her. She was always gain' around tryin' to get 'er name on the credits at the end, and everybody knew it. She was always doing things so's the director would see her, She got on every-body's tits. She used to cry some-times...
"But all films are meant to be like that. There's always a lot of needle between the crew, a lot of backstabbing. Wherever you go there's some cunt talking about someone else on the film. Got on me nerves it did. Still, it was an experience to do it. It was totally different from the way we done ours."
SLEEK & INSIDIOUS
All of which finally hauls the Cook/Jones saga into the present tense, at which point the word 'Pistol' is declared null, void and sacrosanct while - fanfares, much drumming! - the word 'professional' leaps into its (slightly over-worn) shoes. Mention of The Professionals, and the dragging of your reporter upstairs to witness tape of the same, is right now (under-standably) almost the only interview subject that's remotely close to their hearts. It's the brand name of their first 'official' new band since that other lot knocked it on the head.
They're still a trio, though shortly to include another guitarist "gotta be good," confides Jones, "as good as me. No Telecasters" - incorporating Andy Allen of acid boogie unit The Lightning Raiders as anchorman, Jones having produced (and he and Cook both played on) the Raiders' classic current 45 'Psychedelic Music'.
Allen, something of an enigma on the eternal pub circuit, is perhaps best known for having the longest barnet in the entire Southern Counties. "'E's an 'ippy," snarls Jones, disparagingly, with all the tact of a Pest Control Officer. "We're goin' to cut his hair off when he's asleep one night."
Brief exposure to three unmixed tracks reveals, a much-matured sense of balance, "Just Another Dream", especially, indicating that 'hit single' is the target in mind, with the familiar powerchord axis and dead-centre drums sounding sleek and insidious in a steely, spacious production.
They make no clearer promises than a couple of test dates "soon" and "enough material for at least one album". On Virgin, of course. "You don't think they'd let us go, do ya?"
"'Ere," says Jones on his way out the door. "You're not goin' to put Sex Pistols in the headline are you? From now on it's The Professionals," he insists, as if already in the phone-book, under 'Army'.
You may find yourself forced to enlist.
All material ©1998/2002 'Philjens'/www.cookandjones.co.uk