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Rotten: No Irish No Backs No Dogs

(Feature from New Musical Express 2 April 1994)

Rotten by Brendan McCarthy

“I’m writing this book because so much rubbish has been written about us that it might be interesting for someone to get the correct perspective on it and see it for what it realty was, rather than what the fantasists of this world would have you believe”.
- John Lydon, from Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated? John Lydon certainly does.

Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs (the phrase is a reference to the archaic tenancy conditions demanded by post­war London landlords) is a 300-odd page account of the rise and fall of the Sex Pistols which, for all the author’s darkly humorous asides, ends up as an unrelenting exercise in spleen-venting.

Barely an incident goes by without the old master seething with contempt for humankind as a whole, or, heaven forbid, anyone involved in the Sex Pistols camp circa I 975-’78.

Needless to say, it’s an unputdownable read: Glen gets soundly trashed; Malcolm is scorned as the scheming money-maker and, of course, all the good ideas were John’s.

Got that? But don’t worry —all the best bits are here...


“I ADMIT I was an asshole when I first met Steve and Paul because I was nervous. They had this situation set up, and I didn’t know what they wanted from me.

‘They explained very little. When we sat in the Roebuck (West End pub) they just stared at me. I was awfully hard to come to grips with.

“I understand why Steve thought I was so deeply peculiar. I can be extremely unpleasant with people if I think they’re not playing the game fairly with me —and the other Pistols definitely weren’t playing fair that night. They were arrogant, smug, and content with their own cozy little group and they didn’t want anything that threatened that.

"My attitude was, ‘Fine. I don’t need this either. F— off’. Steve was antagonistic and annoyed because he and Paul had already formed in their minds what they thought a good band would be. Rod Stewart And The Faces, a good-time rock’n’roll band. I told them that was going nowhere. Too many imitators had already been out there doing that.

“Anyway it was dull and it wasn’t the music or the attitude I was interested in. 'No, I will not mime to Maggie May’. But Steve wouldn’t give it up. He was intrigued, even though he couldn’t quite work out why I had got to him.’

They made the first rehearsals very hard. The difficulties arose when they tried to change me into a Bay City Rollers sort —being nice and singing these daft old songs, which of course I would not do. But I stuck with it because when I get my teeth into something, I won’t let go.

“Even though it was a struggle, there seemed some point to it. I suppose spite was my major motivation. I decided not to let these f—s do this to me. I could prove I was better than them. I knew they couldn’t write songs, because when I asked to see what they had, they had nothing at all… not even three lyrics strung together.

“It was sad when they told me they’d been rehearsing for two years. So I started handing in my own lyrics. I mean, why not anarchy?”


“‘ANARCHY’ got good reviews and was generally well received. It was withdrawn by EMI straight away, so it was all over in five minutes. It entered the charts at about 28, then out. The Grundy incident happened immediately after the record’s release. EMI had us there to promote the single. We were getting ready to go on tour at the time.

“We were supposed to go on and be nice boys. Grundy must have had a drinking problem. Steve was goaded into swearing after something I mumbled. Grundy turned to me and asked, ‘What were you saying?’ and Steve just jumped on it. Bill Grundy was a fat, sexist beer monster who knew nothing about us and shouldn’t have been interviewing us in the first place. All we did was point that out. All he was interested in was tits.

“He behaved like a filthy, dirty old man, and that’s what came out in the interview. He more or less told us we were all filthy scum. (According to him) the only decent thing there were the tarts— and they were just about worth f—ing and that was it.

“It was so wonderful to read in the newspaper the next morning that a man in Liverpool kicked in his TV in disgust and was suing the TV station! The press loved it. I think they were meaning to fire Bill Grundy anyway, which they did not long after.

“Before he died. Grundy did these walkabout TV shows in places like Yorkshire and Lancashire called ‘pub routes’. He walked through the moors in search of pubs.”


“I WANTED Sid in the band because then I’d have an ally in all of this. It wouldn’t just be me out there. Sid couldn’t play? So what. Anyone can learn. I learned to sing, didn’t I? That was my argument. He took lessons and learned quick, actually.

“He wasn’t too bad at all for three-chord songs. It’s a bass guitar for god’s sake. Who listens to the bass guitar in a rock’n’roll band? It’s just some kind of boom noise in the background.

“Up to that time, Sid was absolutely childlike. Everything was fun and giggly. Suddenly he was a big pop star. He could do whatever he wanted. Hence vodka, beer, anything. Pop star status meant press, a good chance to be spotted in all the right places, adoration. That’s what it all meant to Sid. I never dreamed that he would perceive it that way. I thought he was far smarter.

“I’m not very good at handling stupid people, I must admit. I think that’s what it was. Sidney was basically stupid, so easily led into anything. You could tell him anything, he’d suck it up like a sponge and believe it.”


“THE SEX Pistols ended the way they began — in utter disaster.

Everything between was equally disastrous. That last Winterland gig was a failure, and I knew it more than anyone.

“We hated each other at that point. I hated the whole scenario. It was a farce; I realised that from our first week of rehearsals as a band back in 1976. I must have left that band so many times. We all did. It was just non-stop. In and out.. there was no progress or advancement all the way through the Pistols.

“While we were touring America, there were large periods of not doing anything at all. However, I was constantly writing. Turns out I wrote a lot of songs for my next group, Public Image Limited, during that period. But I could not get the Pistols interested. They wanted to go back to that quirky little Who ditty thing. Songs about religion absolutely killed them.

‘You can’t sing that! You’ll get arrested!’ Well I f—ing hoped so. That was the whole point.

“Chaos was my philosophy. Oh yeah. Have no rules. If people start to build fences around you, break out and do something else. You should never, ever, be understood completely. That’s like the kiss of death, isn’t it? It’s a full stop. I don’t think you should put full stops on your thoughts. They change.

“I’m a spiteful bastard. I always have been. If I can make trouble, then that’s perfect for me. My school reports show this thoroughly. Negative attitude. Well, of course.”


“I’VE NEVER liked The Clash. They weren’t good songwriters. They would run out of steam halfway through their gigs because they would go so mad at the beginning. The Sex Pistols learned dynamics on stage. To me, The Clash looked and sounded like they were yelling at themselves about nothing in particular - a few trendy slogans stolen here and there from Karl Marx. The Clash introduced the competitive element that dragged everything down a little.”


“WE SAW ourselves as the Pistols, and what the rest of them were up to was neither here nor there. Rat Scabies of The Damned, he used to say, ‘My band is better than yours!’ Yes, Rat. He used to roadie for us. It was made very clear that we weren’t distant superstars you saw on a huge stage 400 miles away from your seat. Yet a lot of bands that came after jumped on the superstar, ego shitwagon.”


“HE WAS such a mummy’s boy. He wouldn’t perform ‘God Save The Queen’ because his mum didn’t like it. That was the excuse given to us. I instigated Glen’s leaving the band. I definitely manoeuvred that. It was down to, quite frankly, either he goes or I go.”


“THE BRITS love wallowing in their misery. I have to say it. They love their phone system not working. They love British Rail being as goddamned awful as it is. It’s the joke of Europe, the scandal of the world. Inefficiency helps them moan their way through life.”


“I cannot understand why anyone would want to put out a movie like Sid And Nancy and not bother to speak to me; Alex Cox, the director, didn’t. He used as his point of reference — of all the people on this earth — Joe Strummer! That guttural singer from The Clash? What the f—did he know about Sid and Nancy? To me, this movie is the lowest form of life.”


“EDDIE AND The Hot Rods, to me, was everything that was wrong with live music. It was all about denim and plaid shirts, tatty jeans and long droopy hair. Looking awful and like nothing... looking like Nirvana! It really annoys me now, 15 years or so later, when these bands say they were influenced by the Sex Pistols. They clearly can’t be. They missed the point somewhere.”


“AFTER THE Pistols, that term New Wave was the kiss of death! Elvis Costello into Joe Jackson into Tom Robinson. Poncey journalists who read all the right mags came up with that term. The first time I heard the term it sickened me and turned my stomach. If you settle for something so flimsy and vacuous as New Wave, you certainly don’t deserve to buy anything I put out. I’d be appalled if that was my audience. I don’t want them, they can go to hell quick.”


“I NEVER felt Malcolm and I were ever in synch with the Sex Pistols. I never, ever liked Malcolm as a friend. I always thought he was a bit of an operator. There was never a feeling of camaraderie or teamship. You could never sit at a bar with Malcolm, because he wouldn’t buy his rounds. He wouldn’t buy sod all. He would never put his hand in his pocket — not ever! He’s as tight as skin on God’s earth.”

God Save the Sex Pistols

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